Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Carl Goodman about his life, his career, and what inspired his new audiobook, Lifesign.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a graphic designer by training, but over the years I’ve become deeply involved with computer graphics and computer animation. I currently work for a consultancy firm developing CGI and VR simulations for FMCG clients.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was about nine! I’ve always loved writing so it’s probably a bit odd that I got into graphics, but in a way the satisfaction you get from them is very similar. It’s just great when you get to see something on paper or on a screen and think: that works.
When did you take a step to start writing?
Eight or nine years ago now. I’d just been made redundant but I’d managed to secure some consultancy contracts, so it was a bit of a near miss really. It was a Friday night and I was sat on my own in several thousand square feet of empty office space. I’d taken a look at the snarled up traffic in the Kingston one-way system and realised there was no point at all leaving for home just then, so I turned back to my computer and just started to write. It was mostly rubbish of course, but there were a few sentences that made me think it might be worth persevering.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It took me four or five months to write, then another year or so until it was published. In the middle was finding an absolutely brilliant agent.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
This was probably closer to two years because of release schedules, but it overlapped with the first one.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Lifesign?
I’d seen a number of articles on anti-senescence treatments in various science publications, and then seen the way they were treated in mainstream media. I was just struck by the way the stories went from dry-but-interesting to something more hysterical. It was also about the time Jennifer Doudna was in the news with CRISPR, and new gene editing techniques were being talked about a lot. We were also seeing a lot of really crazy conspiracy stories floating around. It struck me that combination of dry scientific method and hyped-up media coverage was quite a toxic mixture, and I wondered what might happen if somebody took all the wrong messages away from it.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Lifesign?
I guess the research, although that was pretty enjoyable really. And quite shocking! I’d used transhumanism as a starting point, and although it can seem strange it’s something that’s generally aimed at some legitimate area of research. Body modification was jaw-dropping – I had no idea you even could tattoo your eyes! After the initial shock though I think I came to understand these are people who are just experimenting with a new aesthetic – it might not be something I’d go out and do, but that doesn’t make it any less innovative.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
I hadn’t initially intended to write a female protagonist. She was a secondary figure in another story, but I’d shown that to an agent and they’d commented on her, so I thought I’d explore her character a bit further. She’s a very ordinary person at heart, but she’s been through some difficult, life changing situations and come out the other side. Now she’s mentally very tough. She’s persistent and relentless, sometimes too much so because that persistence can get her into dangerous situations. She’s technically very competent too. She knows she’s bloody good at what she does, and she’s not going to let anyone tell her otherwise.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
There are a couple of antagonists in LIFESIGN. The first is a character from the previous book, 20/20, although his story is more about continuity at this stage. Mathew Harred is an artist and a killer, and Eva, the protagonist, has locked him away. Harred is delusional, but then ultimately so is the second protagonist although in an entirely different way. Delusion is a theme in the book because it feels like a topic that’s worryingly contemporary.
What is the inciting incident of Lifesign?
When Eva pulls a series of clues together and realises not only are there victims being experimented on, but there are also a number of them who must be still alive and being held somewhere. It’s only then she starts to understand the depths of the killer’s madness, and the deluded, but worryingly plausible, parallel reality they’ve created for themselves.
What is the main conflict of Lifesign?
It’s Eva painstakingly unpicking the threads of the killer’s mind, and in doing so having to circumnavigate the interference of secondary characters who have equally complex motivations. Ultimately though it becomes a race against time as she realises the killer is only keeping his victims alive so long as they’re useful to him.
Did you plot Lifesign in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
Plot in advance! I always make sure I’ve got the plot worked out as thoroughly as I can before I start because that means when I actually begin writing I can relax a bit and enjoy it. It’s never perfect; there are always surprises along the way but getting that list of what happens when right just means the actual writing of it can be more fun.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Lifesign need?
I worked with a brilliant editor named Sophie Wilson on both 20/20 and LIFESIGN. Fortunately there wasn’t anything structural that needed changing with either of them, which I think is down to plotting in advance, so Sophie’s comments were really sharp and focused. Although there wasn’t huge amounts of editing needed with either of them Sophie made some key points much crisper – and also picked up on a couple of really annoying plot holes I’d missed.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Write! Don’t think about it, get in front of a keyboard and just do it. The first draft is going to be rubbish but you can go back and fix it later. There’s no substitute for putting words down and not being precious about it. You can – and should – go back and do the first round of editing yourself before you expose anyone to it, but it’s a huge amount easier to edit something you’ve already written than polish sentences you’re still only thinking about.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’ve drafted a few more Eva Harris stories, but we’ll have to see how these two do before going to the next stage. Earlier this year I thought I’d try something different and started a long and fairly ambitious SFF story. That took about six months, but I was really lucky that my agent, totally brilliant Sandra Sawicka at Marjacq scripts, liked it, and chose to pitch it at the Frankfurt book fair this year. THE ORPHAN GOD is a quarter of a million words long so I’m not expecting a quick response, but it was a lot of fun to write.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I think writing is always worth the effort, whether it goes anywhere or not. Just the process of getting your thoughts in order and putting them on a page is worth it, if they go any further than that it’s a bonus. I don’t know if proud is a word I’d use about anything though. A fairly long time ago now a project I ran was lucky enough to win a couple of Bafta awards. I’ve got one of those heavy brass masques sitting next to my desk. Mizzi Cunliffe, the woman who designed it, was a total genius. It’s got this kind of Mona Lisa smile and it looks at you as if to say: yeah, but what did you do today?
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
I’m not big on social media but I occasionally tweet @carl201010. My website is 201010.com, but you’re as likely to find pieces on ray-tracing in real-time graphics engines on there as anything about writing!
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