Today I'm sharing an interview with James Flynn, author of Conservation.
- Hi James, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name's James Flynn, I have a love for gritty science fiction, and my recently published novel is called 'Conservation'.
2. Tell us about Conservation. Do you have a favourite quote or excerpt?
I have chosen to share this excerpt with you because it captures the evil and deceit that I tried so hard to create throughout the book. This chapter focuses on a character called Dolph Veale—a warped, dangerous crew member on board Conservation—as he receives a video call from earth. His ability to lie and manipulate others is displayed best in this section I think.
Unusually for him, sleep still had a grip on Dolph as he sat in the dingy depths of the control room. His night had been filled with wild dreams of eruptions, violence and glory, and he felt high from the visions that still drifted past his eyes. On the exterior, he still appeared sharp and well presented nonetheless and was ready to take on the task that was required of him. His silvering hair looked crisp and neat, and under the blue-green lights of the control room he had the appearance of a man half his age. He sat in the main station of the vast control room unit, perched in a large padded swivel chair in front of a sea of dials, waiting for the switchboard to start indicating an incoming signal from Earth. He knew full well how he was going to conduct this call, and he was using the last remaining minutes to prepare himself for some of the awkward questions that may be asked of him. Something very unexpected happened. The red neon light underneath the huge screen in front of him started flashing prematurely.
He glanced at the clock a few rows below it—0852 a.m. GMT. He stared at the flashing light in puzzlement. It was highly unusual, if not unheard of, for Earth communications of any kind to be forward or behind the hour, even by a few minutes. He swiftly ran through some mental lines one more time and then hesitantly leaned forward to answer the call. The air around him was suddenly filled with bustling, crackling noise as the speakers kicked in.
“Dolph? Dolph, are you there?”
It was the voice of Damien Lowe.
“Yes! I’m here! What are you doing calling the main control room for fuck’s sake? I’m expecting a call from Planet’s Reach any minute now!”
Damien sounded worked up. His heavy, panting breaths shot through the intercom jarringly. “I’m sorry I…I couldn’t reach you on your normal line. Something’s…something’s not right, Dolph!”
Dolph was furious. “What are you talking about? What’s not right?”
He waited impatiently for a reply, but all he could hear was muttering and stuttering while Damien struggled to get his words out, choking on his own breath like a hyperventilating child.
“Hurry up! I’m getting ready for an important call!”
“W…we’re less than a mile south of the control room. W…we were on our way to the meadows and…”
Damien paused to catch a breath.
“Yes? And?” cried Dolph, watching the digital clock as it switched over to 0856 a.m.
“There’s…There’s dozens of them…there’s…there’s fucking swarms of them!”
“Swarms of whom?”
“Outsiders! They’re advancing north and coming this way. They’re just a few hundred yards away from us now!”
The sheer enormity of the situation would’ve been too much for most, but Dolph upheld his calm equanimity. Despite his swimming head and the imminent video call, he calmly ran through the corridors of his mind and dealt with the situation that was upon him.
“Radio back to supply sheds and have them gather up everyone we have, including all the plantation workers. Get everybody armed up, and let them know your exact position so they can head out there with you. In the meantime, stand your ground and form a barricade. Keep them back as best you can, and I’ll be with you shortly.”
“OK, I’ll get to it,” replied Damien. His voice was echoed with shouting and distant cries.
The clock switched over to 0900 a.m. He knew that the intercom would start flashing any second now. He sat patiently in the neon glow of the dials and monitors, and right on cue, the red light started to flash up like a beacon among the surrounding blue hues, indicating that the call was coming through. If Dolph felt excited when he’d woken this morning, right now he felt ecstatic. His eyes were ablaze with fire and life; he felt galvanised from within. He leaned forward and confidently answered the call. There was a moment’s interference, and then a voice rang through the line.
“This is central HQ; do you receive?”
There was no video link just yet, just a voice emanating from the speakers.
“Receiving loud and clear,” said Dolph.
“Switching over to video link.”
“Ready. Switching over now.”
The large monitor burst into life up in front of Dolph, illuminating his neat, shaven face. There was an office, with two men at a large desk. One looked well-groomed in an immaculate-looking suit, and the other was an overworked looking man with glasses, peering through the screen at him with an intense level of curiosity.
“I presume you are…Mr Veale?” said the suited man.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“This is Paul Tringley, and sitting next to me here is my projects manager, Mr Adam O’Donnell.”
For the ten seconds or so that the video link had been up, Dolph had already sized the two men up, peering deep into their souls for any signs of habits and weaknesses. He’d already worked out that the two men were in contrast to each other and that there was a certain amount of tension in the air between them. As they spoke, he continued to mentally strip them, assessing what they were worth.
“We’ve been informed that you have kindly volunteered to take the call. We very much appreciate you taking the time to do this,” said Paul.
“It’s the very least that I could do.”
“It’s come to my attention that our interaction with you guys over there has been very limited. Mr O’Donnell is of the opinion that more personal contact with the ship from now on would be a good thing.”
Dolph was surprised and delighted by the way that Paul Tringley came across. He carried a casual attitude that he hadn’t expected to see from someone within the higher echelons of the Mining Agency. This one will be easy to win over.
“It’s a pleasure for all of us to be part of such a pioneering venture like this, and we’re all willing to do whatever we can to help.”
Paul was nodding away while the other man was preoccupied, apparently looking around for someone.
“We can see from the latest report that the ship is running its course very smoothly although we thought a video call would give us a better insight as to what was really happening up there among the crew,” said Paul.
Dolph worked his magic, speaking mostly to Paul Tringley. He answered everything that was asked of him whilst simultaneously answering nothing at all. The formality of the call helped him to avoid certain subjects, and the unprofessionalism of the man who’d introduced himself as Paul Tringley eased his process of deception. Adam O’Donnell had hardly uttered a single word to him, and for the next ten minutes he only joined the discussion here and there, trying to push Dolph for a clearer picture on the ethos of the ship. At some point during the call, a third man came through the door behind them both. Dolph watched intently as he entered the room, knowing that he may have to deal with him as well and answer some of his questions. He didn’t look as executive as Paul and Adam did; he was dressed in a more casual outfit with an old satchel under his arm. Paul seemed to take this as a cue to round up his questions and leave, leaving Adam to take over. As the projects manager organised himself, Dolph glanced down at the clock and wondered how events were unfolding outside the control room. He considered it tragic that he wasn’t able to witness the action.
“Erm, Dolph, from what I can hear, things are going well up there for you and the crew, but what I really wanted to get from this call was an insight into what the morale was like at the moment. I seem to know plenty about the cultivation figures but very little about the crew itself. So, how’s the politics up there on the ship?”
Dolph studied Adam curiously as his twitching face illuminated the screen. Despite his fragile appearance, he seemed to have more of a desire to find out the inner workings of the ship, and it was this that forced Dolph to raise his guard.
“We’ve formed a very close-knit team up here over the years, as you might expect. We’ve all seemed to have settled into a comfortable way of life, where everyone’s needs are catered for. It really is a beautiful thing. We all manage well with maintenance, too. We’ve discovered that the best way to maintain morale is to keep well on top of things in advance; that way things don’t get too strenuous.”
Dolph knew that his unfaltering eye contact was having an effect on Adam. The man was starting to retreat into his shell, hesitating to push him any further than he might have otherwise done. Adam nervously adjusted his glasses and continued.
“Well, morale is very important. I mean, our main objective is to keep the ship running healthily and to keep morale high. It’s vital that we do that to ensure the success of the mission. We…err…we’d also like to speak with other crew members in future, I think. Is there anybody else over there now? In the control room, I mean?”
Dolph’s mind was alive with vivid images as he imagined the carnage that must’ve been taking place just outside the control room where he sat.
“It’s just me in here today, unfortunately. I was hoping that there would be more of us here, but it was decided by the crew that I should take the first call, as some of the others are taking care of stock.”
The second gentleman who’d entered the room a few minutes ago awkwardly hovered around the room behind Adam, not wanting to intrude on the discussion.
“And how about the scheduled study time in the library? Are you all managing to get enough rest and leisure time?”
“The library is a treasure chest of knowledge that we all appreciate, Mr O’Donnell.”
Adam saw something in Dolph’s eyes and recoiled, though he didn’t mention it.
“I, erm, I couldn’t help but notice that the wildlife reports have been a little vague lately, Dolph. Have you been surveying the animal population closely enough? The wildlife’s ability to live on Conservation will determine whether we will include animals on further projects in the future.”
“The wildlife here is abundant. You must understand that our farming duties take up a lot of our day, but I’ll make a personal effort to spend more time on it in future if that’s what you want. We all understand that certain tasks must be adhered to, Mr O’Donnell.”
Adam now seemed to be looking over his shoulder towards the other man in the room, gesturing for him to sit down next to him.
“It needs to happen; it really does, but as for the wildlife, this man here is the one we need to speak to. Dolph, this here is Mr David Kingston. He is a donator to the Conservation project, and all of the wildlife on board the ship Conservation project, and all of the wildlife on board the ship Conservation originated from his stock. He is a well-established zoologist, and he would appreciate a few minutes of your time if you would be so kind?”
Dolph let out a discreet sigh, realising that his questioning wasn’t yet over and that he was going to miss yet another ten minutes of the glorious bloodbath that was surely erupting outside.
“Of course,” he said.
“Thank you, Dolph.”
He watched as Mr Kingston sat down. He seemed to be embarrassed by Adam’s flattery and had an air of humility about him. He had neatly combed white hair and a slim face that was rosy in colour. The zoologist looked like he was around sixty years old and obviously had a kind of classical English taste. He wore a tweed waistcoat with a pale collared shirt underneath and trousers to match. In many ways he looked like the stereotypical zoologist—reserved and slightly introverted. He appeared animated on the big screen in front of Dolph, as if his whole life had been leading up to this call.
“Good morning,” he chimed.
“Good morning to you,” replied Dolph, feeling like a spider luring in its prey.
He knew that this man would have a lot of specific questions to fire at him, but he also knew that he would be putty in his hands.
“From what I can see in these reports, it looks like the ecosystem is in a fairly good state. Are all the forests flourishing well?”
The man’s words were brimming with class. To Dolph, he looked out of place among the technology in front of him. He looked like a throwback from another era, like he’d been teleported back from the nineteenth century perhaps. He would’ve looked better sat in an old Victorian house somewhere. Are all the forests flourishing well? His mind once again drifted, this time towards the southern end of the ship, towards the terrain that he had not laid eyes on in decades, where outsiders who refused to take part in his brutal regime had been left on their own to rot.
“We’re all thankful for the beautiful surroundings that we’re treated to up here. The sights are superior to what most of us have ever seen, even back on Earth.”
Keep it vague.
He held David’s gaze and felt as though he had him in his grip.
“Oh, I’m sure they really are superior compared to what we have left here on Earth now,” replied Mr Kingston with more than a little irony.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“That is the grim truth, I’m afraid. I think you all made a wise decision by boarding that vessel when you did. Mr Veale; here on Earth, due to the numerous extinctions that have occurred over the years, we have very little wildlife to actively study. Certain species are now completely lost to us forever. Colleagues at my foundation have requested information on the population of green-winged macaws on board the ship. The reports do not contain any data on these particular birds, but a colony was introduced to the habitat prior to the ship’s launch. This is a matter of importance to us as they all went extinct here on Earth many years ago. We are simply unable to study these birds first-hand on Earth, and we are very hopeful that the batch that was released on board Conservation have survived and flourished.”
David’s grey eyes flickered with hope at the prospect that the ship may still be harbouring large colonies of these birds. He leaned forward, pushed his thin wire glasses up a little, and continued.
“If there are colonies of these birds on board, close study and documentation of the species is of the utmost importance, Mr Veale. We would love to know about their coexistence with other animals on board, as well as the impact artificial gravity has had on them. We have a generation of students back here on Earth who have only textbooks and videos in which to study green-winged macaws, and we’d all love to be able to monitor some remaining living specimens.”
Dolph had no choice but to admire David’s passionate enthusiasm.
“I assure you that it will be treated with the utmost importance by all of the crew.”
“Now, according to the notes in front of me, the greenwinged macaws were originally introduced towards the southern jungles of the ship. I imagine somebody must know if they’re still around there?”
Dolph once again tried to picture the wild squalor that must’ve been present in the southern territory by now, and then pondered the possible war that could be raging in the closer vicinity. It was time to round up the call; he now simply had to attend to the matter outside.
“I’ll ask the relevant people if we can get some crew members together and attend to this, Mr Kingston. I’m very eager myself to see if we can find some of these beautiful birds. I shall consult the library for reference and then put the word out accordingly.”
He now spoke to David in a conclusive tone, suggesting that he was ready to end the conversation. David backed up and obeyed—manipulated by Dolph’s powerful presence.
“I am very grateful for your cooperation, Dolph. Do keep us informed.”
David awkwardly looked up and met Adam’s gaze, as if asking him to take over. Adam dropped what he was doing and sat back down.
“Well, we all thank you for your time, Mr Veale, and I will look forward to receiving the wildlife reports. I also think that we should continue to conduct these calls as the ship reaches a point of no return.”
“I agree. It will be a pleasure that we will all look forward to,” Dolph replied.
“Yes, I’m sure it will. Do remember what we have discussed today, and we will conduct another call in four weeks’ time. We’ll be sending a confirmation message over shortly with the exact date and time. Thanks again.”
“Thank you,” said Dolph, ending the call.
He sat in stunned silence, staring at the tall blank monitor in front of him as it once again displayed a plain blue screen, illuminating his puckered skin with its glare. A mellow silence rang through the air around him, with just the buzz of screens and computers complementing it. He was feeling glory, bordering on elation. Deep inside his veins an adrenaline surged through him, but he still could not quite bring himself to move. His years of commitment had finally led him to this point, and he was determined to savour the moment as best he could. Electricity charged the air like the calm before a storm; he had so dearly hoped that this day would come. He took deep breaths, and through heightened senses tried to capture the moment and imprint it upon his memory. Finally, he dialled Damien’s number on the large panel in front of him. He answered on the first ring and sounded out of breath and panicky—even worse than he did before.
“We’re in big trouble! There are hundreds of them…fucking hundreds! It’s some kind of ambush. We’ve managed to keep them back out at the edge of the plantations, but they just keep on coming.”
Damien was not a man who panicked easily, and so the distress in his voice was all the confirmation Dolph needed that his day had indeed arrived. He rose to his feet with a newfound relish as the sound of toil and struggle blared from the speakers.
“I’m on my way.”
3. What inspired you to write this story?
I think I'm a bit of a pessimist at heart, and so my predictions for the future are quite often grim. I worry about the future of the planet regularly, and so I thought I would harness my worries, put them all together, and then use them to create an apocalyptic, dystopian vision.
4. Do you have any other projects on the sidelines?
I have a second novel in the pipeline that I've been working on for about a year and a half now. It is set in a fictional city in the future, and has many different themes running through it. This one explores a plethora of different subjects including the pharmaceutical industry, cryonics, and cloning. Like Conservation, this one will be a disturbing read, although the two books are very different. I hope to have it finished by the end of 2017.
5. What draws you to science fiction?
I think you have to write about what interests you, and I'm interested in science. I'm always reading about things like astronomy, evolution, and advancements in biology/medicine and things like that, so when I think of new ideas they are usually science fiction based. I've thought about writing a fantasy novel but I like there to be a bit of plausibility, so I haven't yet committed to such a venture.
6. Who or what is your writing inspiration?
Funnily enough, I'm massively inspired by authors who don't really write science fiction. Thomas Harris has had a huge effect on me with 'The Silence of the Lambs' and 'Hannibal', and Bret Easton Ellis' 'American Psycho' will be a book that I always remember. I'm drawn to dark, evil themes and characters, and always try to create antagonists who chill readers to the bone.
7. What do you do if inspiration won't come?
I first decided to write a book in 2012 with Conservation, then in 2015 I began my second book after having a second idea. I've already got a vague idea for a third novel, so I suppose a complete lack of ideas and inspiration hasn't happened to me so far. That's not to say it won't happen though, so maybe if I run out of ideas I'll just stop writing until something does come to me.
By the time I finish my third book it will probably be about 2020, so maybe I'll just have a rest! I'd rather write just three decent novels instead of dozens of mediocre ones anyway.
8. What's our favourite part of the writing process and what do you dread?
I think I prefer writing the rough drafts more than the final edits. By the time I'm writing a final edit I will have already gone through each section of text several times, and the whole process starts to become torturous. Reaching the last sentence of Conservation and pressing save was a happy moment for me. I was full of relief.
9. What's your biggest distraction?
I suppose its got to be social media—or just general laziness.
10. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I like to do a certain amount of planning before I commit to writing a novel just so that I don't end up wasting my time on something that will never work, but I find that once I start writing, one idea leads to another and the book can end up writing itself.
11. Tea or Coffee?
Tea all the way. I've never drunk coffee and there's no point in me starting now as it's not really that good for you. For about seven years now I've been drinking green tea, and I've never looked back.
12.What are the most important three things you've learned about writing, editing or publishing (or all of the above!) since you started your journey?
1- Know your characters and settings, even if you're not going to include everything you know about them. If you don't know that much about your characters it will show, no matter how much you try to hide it.
2- Everything takes ten times longer than you think it will.
3- Writing your book and getting it published is only about 10% of the work. You will then be faced with the gargantuan task of marketing it and getting people to read it.
13. What's your favourite quote about writing?
'We are all stuck inside a prison of words.'
14. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Don't wait until tomorrow, do it today. And be prepared to work for years to get to where you want to be.
15. Where can we connect with you?
Twitter is the best place @james__flynn (that's two underscores!)
I also have an author page on Amazon—just search for 'Conservation by James Flynn'.
There is a Conservation Facebook page.
Also, if you like artwork you can see a gallery of my drawings and paintings on Deviantart—