8th September 2018
Interview with John Prescott
Good afternoon Mr Prescott. Thanks for your time. Could you tell us a little about your novel - 'Something Deeper'?
Something Deeper follows Simon Travers, a troubled man who just died. All alone on the other side of things, he’s left to find his way in the afterlife. As he starts learning the ropes, it becomes clear that beings greater than he have started paying attention to his travels in the afterlife.
So is the afterlife an idea you’re interested in exploring?
I’ve always been interested in the afterlife. Something Deeper was influenced by movies like The Crow and Beetlejuice. Both movies make you consider what lies beyond, sometimes right in your own living room. There’s a lot of room for experimentation there.
Those are both excellent films. What do you think makes the story of Something Deeper uniquely compelling?
I think the extent to which it seeks to map out the afterlife. What happens after death? What is it like being dead? How do Heaven and Hell work? Are there other realms? All those questions are addressed. I put a lot of thought behind how everything would work.
What do you think the key is to creating a believable alternate world?
I think you have to have a sense of reality to it. There has to be an anchor for people. The world can be upside-down, populated by purple monsters, whatever… so long as people have a frame of reference that grounds it in our universe. Go wild, but make it make sense.
Do any particularly strong examples spring to mind?
One favorite positive example is from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. The main character Sarah has just entered this odd new world. Next here’s this goblin named Hoggle randomly urinating right in front of her. I thought that was a great way to ground the story in a single throw-away gag.
Labyrinth is an excellent film; I’m waiting very patiently for my children to get old enough to watch it. You are absolutely right about the world they create. Despite it being clearly fantastical, it’s grounded enough to help you suspend disbelief. Do any bad examples of worldbuilding spring to mind? Worlds that you just can’t get into?
My mind goes to Disney’s live-action Alice in Wonderland. I enjoyed the movie, but I never really felt like anything was solid. Even the beginning and the end where Alice is in the “real” world just doesn’t feel real at all. There was no proper nagging doubt about whether she was dreaming everything. It definitely felt like she was dreaming everything!
You’ve published a post-apocalyptic novel, a novel set in a future with androids and a novel set in someone’s afterlife. What inspires you to write in such a broad range of genres?
I’ve always sought variety in my life, I think. My father was a bit of a movie buff when I was growing up, so I was constantly exposed to all of the major genres. There was something to love about each one. I know I’d get bored if I settled into writing one genre.
I understand that you’re writing a sequel to your post-apocalyptic novel 'After'. Does this genre have more of an attraction for you?
Honestly, I was unsure about writing a sequel. I felt some pressure to do so as it is - hands down - my most popular novel. That said, I do feel drawn to the genre. It’s fascinating to consider how the world would move on after an apocalyptic event. I also wanted to see what became of Alex, I think.
I think post-apocalyptic stories or - at least - darker, grittier works are very popular currently. Do you think there’s been a general mood around for that kind of story for the last decade or so?
I definitely agree, though I feel it’s a bit misguided. I think people are looking for more realism, not necessarily more darkness. That said, the world we live in certainly does lead one to consider the dire consequences, to wonder what the result of all this nonsense would be. Nobody wants to stare at a corpse, but everyone wants to peek.
That’s a very pithy way of putting it (*steals for future character dialogue*) You write short stories as well as novels. What do you think are the different skills required for the two forms?
Writing a novel is running a marathon. You’ve got plenty of time to explore ideas and experiences. You have periods of action, followed by reflection on that action. You have a lot less room to move about in a short story. You have to convey a large amount of information in a short period of time. The tradeoff is that short stories can be much more vibrant and emotional.
Do you have a preference between the two forms? I know that you post short stories on your website.
I like both equally. One complements the other, I think. Writing short stories has helped me develop my skills in delivering emotion and impact in my novels. I think that growth really shows in 'Something Deeper'.
Is it your favourite novel you’ve written so far?
I think so. It shows the most growth as a writer, certainly. It was also incredibly fun coming up with the different realities, beings, and such. There’s an immense freedom in not being tied to any particular physical location, or even physical reality.
Your books have got excellent reviews and ratings on Goodreads. What do you think is the secret of their positive reception?
I’d like to think that people gravitate to the realness of the worlds I create. The characters interact in a believable manner. They are imperfect. That extends into the fictional worlds they inhabit. For example, even in the shining future of 'Preservation Protocol', Max Kincaid drives a car that breaks down at the most inopportune times. I think people can relate.
Yep...very much so! I think that speculative fiction writers sometimes forget that the more complicated and sophisticated a system is, the more likely it is to break down. How do you go about creating a believable character in your stories?
I rely heavily on my own experiences. I was a “people watcher” when I was younger. I spent a lot of time at the mall just watching people be people. I also try to insert myself into a character’s shoes. While keeping their own personality in mind, I ask myself, how would they respond in this situation? What would they be feeling? When I read it back I ask myself, does this sound like a realistic interaction?
Someone once told me that short stories were powered by ideas rather than by characters, so they could get away with less characterisation. What’s your take?
I totally disagree! Short stories are all about the characters. They are what thrusts the story forward. I will say that they don’t need to have a deep background--I’ve written stories in which characters are never named--but everything begins and ends with them, for sure.
What are your thoughts on storytelling in the Fallout universe (a favourite computer game series of yours)?
I love the Fallout universe. There is a deep richness to the games that I feel often goes unacknowledged. It sends a powerful message about war and humanity. A good example is the NCR(New California Republic,) a faction from the western US looking to “civilize” the country once again. Some of their actions better the lives of the people they touch, while others reveal the dark, dangerous side of unchecked power. I’d love to write something for this series!
Ah...now the killer question. Which of the Fallout games has the best story?
Ha! It has to be New Vegas, hands down. That’s the origin of the NCR example. The core of the story is the fate of New Vegas. Will it be controlled by the NCR, the Legion, or House? Each faction has a carefully crafted backstory that weaves together with the others. The add-ons are also beautifully written and add significantly to the main story. You feel invested in this world by the time you’re through. It feels real. I crave that in my own writing.
Correct answer! What did you think of Fallout 4? I found the base story interesting, but it lacked any real emotional connection for me (and as a father I should’ve got something from the twist ending!)
Fallout 4 suffers from the same problems as Fallout 3: They wanted to tell a story, their story, and don’t you dare try to change it. You no longer sculpt your world. The story is far too linear and too safe. I get a sense that they want to cement a specific narrative for future endeavors and it just falls flat.
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