Writer in Training


Writer in Training

Interview with Damon Wakes


My regular readers may remember that I recently reviewed Face of Glass by Damon Wakes. Well, I recently had the privilege of interviewing Damon for the blog an I'm excited to share that interview with you today. Damon is currently crowdfunding his novel Ten Little Astronauts with Unbound and I know I'm looking forward to reading it.

Welcome, Damon!

1) To start with, could you introduce yourself and tell us about your current project?

I’m Damon L. Wakes, and my project is Ten Little Astronauts: a sci-fi reimagining of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.


2) Would you mind sharing an excerpt with us, or a favourite quote?

Without gravity, every direction was down. Away from the wall of suspension tanks and handrails, the darkness of the hallway yawned like an endless chasm. Gradually the smell of scorched plastic grew stronger. The end of the passage loomed in the torchlight, and Blore pulled himself hand over hand towards the steel door of Computing Hub Five. He heaved it open, and the torch picked out a blizzard of extinguisher foam. Someone else was already here. Sweeping the torch across the room, he spotted a figure in the far corner, clutching an extinguisher, but the man hung motionless in the air. A ball of blood was forming on his back, held by surface tension to the axe planted between his ribs.

In the event of an emergency, the ship defrosts ten crewmembers. 

Blore wheeled round to see a black-haired man, and a small group behind him, clinging to the handrails at the doorway to the next cryonic bay.

With you and your friend over there,” the man continued, gesturing to the corpse, “I make that eleven.”


3) What inspired you to write a murder mystery set in space?

I really enjoyed reading And Then There Were None. I mean, I really enjoyed it: it’s not hard to see how it’s earned its place as one of the best-selling books of all time. However, it struck me that it’s quite slow to get started. There are chapters and chapters devoted to setting up the scene, to explaining how these ten people come to be stranded on an island with the knowledge that one of them is a murderer. Even after the story gets going, there’s a fair bit of discussion about whether or not they might be able to send for help, or to escape to the mainland. That got me thinking: “What if there was no mainland? What if there was only a complete vacuum stretching out for trillions of miles in every direction...”

The moment I moved the story into interstellar space, I found that I could set the whole thing up within the first page. There can be no escape because there is nowhere to escape to. There can be no waiting for help because help will never come. In space, no one can hear you scream.


4) Do you have any other projects on the sidelines?

Every July I take part in Flash Fiction Month: an annual challenge to write 31 stories in 31 days. Since starting in 2012, I’ve been publishing anthologies of my flash fiction, and this year’s is due out soon: you can find the others right here on my website.


5) What draws you to science fiction? Have you always been drawn to it?

I’m not especially drawn to science fiction in particular. However, I have always been drawn to are stories that allow me to ask “What if?” and sci-fi as a genre offers a great deal of opportunity to do that. While it’s possible to ask “What if ten people were trapped together knowing one of them was a murderer?” in a modern day setting, sci-fi allowed me to explore that question without also answering “How long are they trapped for?”, “Won’t their friends worry about them?” or “Don’t any of these people have phones?”. Beyond that, in this case it allowed me to have the story take place in an environment with no lights and no air, where all the characters are in danger of gradually freezing to death.


6) Who/what is your writing inspiration?

Agatha Christie was naturally a massive influence on Ten Little Astronauts. Her mysteries are expertly constructed, and though a spaceship might seem a strange place to set one alongside all the sleepy little villages and grand country houses, she herself relied on a detailed understanding of science to write her books. Having worked as a dispenser during World War One – making medicine by hand at a time when this required a great deal of knowledge and skill – she was something of an expert on poisons. She was also one of the first British people to surf standing up. Her books alone make her someone to look up to, but there was so much more to her beyond that.


7) What do you do if inspiration just won't come?

Grab a harpoon gun and hunt it across the seven seas, Captain Ahab style. However, it’s never come to that: my main problem is not having time to write all the stories I already have in my head.


8) Which part of the writing process is your favourite, and which part do you dread?

I love starting a first draft. I love finishing a first draft. I love editing the thing afterwards and seeing it turn into something I’m satisfied with. It’s tough to pick a favourite. The one part I’m not keen on is formatting books for publication: it’s tedious work. However, it feels good finally seeing them ready for readers to enjoy, so I’d hesitate to say that I dread that last step.


9) What is your number one distraction?

At the moment my number one distraction is spreading the word about Ten Little Astronauts. I’m regularly stuck with a choice between working on something new or promoting the books that are already out there. However, as this was the novella that got me my MA in Creative Writing, and it’s the first of my books to be accepted by a publisher, this time around it’s an easy choice to make.


10) Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a pantser, primarily. I always have the main plot points lined up in my head before I start, but I find it easier to connect them as I write than I do to summarise every single scene before I start.


11) Tea or coffee?

Coffee. So much coffee.


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?

The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is that you have to stick with it. You have to keep writing in general if you want to improve, and you have to stick with what you’re working on now if you ever want to finish it. Finishing stories is how you learn to write better stories, either by editing them when they’re done or by learning from your mistakes and producing something new and different that works better all round.

The most important thing I’ve learned about editing is to tackle the big problems first. There’s no point combing through your novel for every single typo if you then have to completely rewrite it from another character’s point of view.

The most important thing I’ve learned about publishing is that the best thing you can do to promote your book is to write another book. If people stumble across one book and love it, they’ll probably go looking for another one: you want that other book to be there for them to find!


13) What's your favourite quote on writing?

“In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.” ~George Orwell


14) What is the best piece of advice you've received?

“I have no problem with this, nor any useful comments!” Jasper Fforde wrote this on one of my short stories at the Winchester Writers’ Festival one year. Admittedly it’s far from the most helpful advice I’ve ever received, but in my opinion it’s certainly the best!



15)  Where else can we connect with you?

The main place is my website, www.damonwakes.wordpress.com, where you’ll also find a subscription for my monthly newsletter (the best way to stay up to date with my work without getting notifications every single time) as well as links to all my other social media accounts. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, and while the Ten Little Astronauts campaign is running I’ll be providing updates through the shed at Unbound: some for supporters only!