Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed science fiction writer C.R. Berry about his life and career, what inspires his stories, and the work that goes into his Million Eyes trilogy.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is C.R. Berry. I’m an ex-lawyer turned full-time writer who loves theme parks, mountains, and Christmas, and hates carpet, rom-coms, and chilli.
I’m Head of Content for a software company and I write conspiracy thrillers crossed with science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’m the author of the time travel conspiracy thriller trilogy Million Eyes, published by Elsewhen Press. One of my short stories won a place in the Best of British Science Fiction 2020 anthology from Newcon Press.
I live in a village near Portsmouth, England, where I bought my first house with my girlfriend in 2021. We’ve spent the past year theming all the rooms; our kitchen is an American 50s diner, our living room is a forest and our bedroom is a spaceship.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was four. I couldn’t really write then, so I got my mum to do the writing and I scribbled some pictures. My first story was just me going about a normal day: watching TV, reading a book, going for a walk, making a cake etc. My mum helped me staple the pages together and I remember running to show my dad when he arrived home from work, so excited that I’d created a book!
When did you take a step to start writing?
All through my childhood I was writing books about monsters, mad scientists, man-eating trees, evil time-travelling headteachers, and the occasional Dalek. Kids don’t let that little thing called copyright get in their way.
I wrote a children’s fantasy novel called The Pendulum Swings and was persuaded by my friend James to self-publish it in 2011. It was a fun experiment and my first taste of a very difficult and competitive industry. After that, I self-published a series of five children’s Christmas books, The East Pudding Chronicles, about the ‘alternative’ origins of Christmas traditions.
The Million Eyes books are my first professionally published books.
How long did it take you to complete the first Million Eyes book from the first idea to release?
Er, 12 years! But that’s because I started in 2008 and wrote drafts for the whole trilogy. After writing those drafts, I needed to hone my writing skills. I finally found a publisher, Elsewhen Press, in early 2019. They published my short story collection, Million Eyes: Extra Time, in late 2019 and the first Million Eyes book early 2020. So it’s been a long old journey.
How long did it take you to complete Million Eyes II: The Unraveller from the first idea to release?
Technically I had a draft of Million Eyes II: The Unraveller by the early noughMilties. But I started rewriting it in about 2017 and it came out September 2021.
What made you want to write the Million Eyes books?
I was inspired to write Million Eyes by the inquest into the death of Princess Diana in 2007. It was at that time I started researching the conspiracy theories surrounding her death and thought it might be fun to take all the unanswered questions from that fateful night and give them an explanation of my own.
I thought about other royals that have been associated with conspiracy theories and was reminded of the suspicious death of King William II and the still-unsolved disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. Since these events span 900 years, there was only one way to link them together: time travel! Hence, they are part of a thousand-year time travel conspiracy that my protagonists, Gregory Ferro and Jennifer Larson, investigate.
Million Eyes II: The Unraveller incorporates other famous people and events have been the subject of conspiracy theories, including Jesus, the Gunpowder Plot, and the disappearance of Flight 19 in the Bermuda Triangle.
Basically, I just like a conspiracy theory. They make great stories. I don’t believe many, but I like to imagine that they could happen. Not counting the stupid, racist or global-health-damaging conspiracy theories that have been swirling about in this post-Trump, post-Covid age!
What were your biggest challenges with writing it?
All the historical research! The amount of time I’ve spent trying to find out what the Tower of London looked like in three different time frames, or what people were wearing in the Iron Age, the Middle Ages, Tudor times, Victorian times, in Britain, Nazareth and beyond, has been positively exhausting. It’s why I’m taking a break from time travel after this trilogy!
Who or what inspired you when creating your protagonist?
The protagonist of Million Eyes is Jennifer Larson and the protagonist of Million Eyes II: The Unraveller is Jennifer’s best friend, Adam Bryant. Jennifer is very much an amalgamation of myself and a couple of friends. She’s a nerd (like me) but also very direct and honest (like my friend Fabs). Her relationship with Adam is based on my relationship with my oldest friend, Kerrie. Adam and Jennifer didn’t like each other much in school till they found each other again in college and discovered they had an affinity.
Who or what inspired you when creating your antagonist?
The antagonist of the whole trilogy is the highly mysterious Million Eyes corporation, which makes computers, phones, software, TVs etc. Nearly all the tech people use was invented by Million Eyes. It’s inspired by fears people have about technology companies watching us, listening to us, tracking us. It turns out that Million Eyes’ power stretches far beyond consumer technology, and its history is long and complex. You learn a lot about this in Million Eyes II: The Unraveller.
There are also some important figures within Million Eyes who come to the fore over the course of books one and two, mostly notably the company CEO, Erica Morgan.
What are the inciting incidents of Million Eyes and Million Eyes II: The Unraveller?
The inciting incident of Million Eyes is when Jennifer Larson makes contact with a conspiracy theorist and ex-history teacher called Gregory Ferro, who is writing blogs about how time travellers are messing with history.
The inciting incident of Million Eyes II: The Unraveller is when a dinosaur is discovered in East London with something impossible in its stomach; this discovery leads Adam Bryant to join forces with paleontologist Samantha Lester to bring down Million Eyes.
What is the main conflict of the Million Eyes trilogy?
It’s a struggle between ordinary civilians and an all-powerful corporation that’s up to no good. It also explores questions about free will and whether our fates are pre-destined.
Did you plot your book in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I am 100% a plotter. But I think with a trilogy of this nature, you have to be. There are causal loops and predestination paradoxes all over the shop. These need careful advance planning because things characters do at the end are directly affecting things that already happened earlier.
If I didn’t plan, I’d be left with plot holes the size of a temporal rift.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did the Million Eyes books need?
I’ve had loads of support over the years, from friends, writers’ groups, and ultimately Elsewhen Press themselves. I probably reworked the first book one hundred thousand times 😉. But that’s because I was learning as I was going. Million Eyes II was a much quicker book to edit—months rather than years.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Join a writers’ group! Seriously, joining Rushmoor Writers was the best decision I ever made. You get feedback on your writing from a cross-section of people, which is important because feedback is very subjective. You also get advice from people who may have valuable industry experience.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m working on the third book in Million Eyes trilogy, Million Eyes III: Ouroboros. I’m also hoping to release one final short story collection set in this universe, called Million Eyes: Over Time.
After I’m done with Million Eyes, I’m going to write a conspiracy horror called The Puddle Bumps, about a criminal lawyer who remembers a lost, violent episode of an 80s children’s TV show, and discovers a link to a client she defended for murder.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely. After a decade-long journey full of editing, re-editing, submitting to agents, and getting rejection after rejection, finally getting my first endorsement from a traditional publisher was a powerful and invigorating feeling. I also wanted to get the first Million Eyes published before having my first child, and I’ve done that now thanks to Elsewhen Press! So next up: babies!
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Here’s the link to my website.
Here’s the link to the Million Eyes series on Elsewhen Press’s website, with links to Million Eyes, Million Eyes II: The Unraveller and Million Eyes: Extra Time.
You can watch a trailer for the first book on my YouTube channel here.
If you want, you can also buy the Best of British Science Fiction 2020, which has the newest Million Eyes short story, What Happened to 70?
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