'Far Far Beyond Berlin', A Humorous Tale from Craig Meighan - Interviewed by Mark Iles
These days it's not easy to come across good quality writers of humorous Science Fiction &
Fantasy. Today, however, I'm delighted to interview newcomer Craig Meighan, who's leaping into the limelight with his first novel, 'Far Far Beyond Berlin'.
A lot of writers use experience in their settings to get thing just right, for instance you could sit in the grounds of a castle to drink in the atmosphere. Your tale is about God’s other dimensions. How easy do you find it envisioning both your characters and settings?
Yes, when you’ve written a fairly daft book with a talking space goose, some of the normal writing tools do go out of the window! I am writing a book right now set in 1940s LA and I’ve got books, maps and photos from the period etc, but that kind of research isn’t really useful for worlds that are completely invented. For me it’s as basic as just closing my eyes and imagining I’m there. If I don’t immediately know what every blade of grass looks like, what it would smell like and what the temperature would be, I would discard it. The settings have to arrive fully formed or I don’t end up using them. It has to be somewhere I can almost touch because it seems so real to me. At that point, I can start playing out scenarios for my characters. In the book, each and every setting is designed by God and then he drops the creatures into it. I found it useful to follow the same pattern when writing the story, so I’d do the setting completely and then the character design afterwards.
When writing this book, did you use a critique service or have feedback from others – and how did you find that?
I found it absolutely terrifying! I used a small number of kind volunteers who read the book,
provided written feedback. I then put together a list of questions and had a group session where we discussed their suggestions and got a consensus. I incorporated most of those changes into the final submitted draft.
That all sounds very measured, but if I am 100% honest - as soon as I sent the book to them, I wanted to delete their numbers from my phone and avoid them until the day I died. I didn’t imagine I would find it so distressing to show it to people, but I’d worked so hard on it and was so proud of it, I just was dreading all the terrible feedback I convinced myself must be coming. As it happened, it was mostly positive, constructive and helpful. I would never submit another book without first going through that process. It is vital.
Your inclusion of God and (his best friend) Satan makes me wonder if you are religious and, if so, how did your faith interact with your writing?
I was certainly raised to be religious. My father was a Baptist minister for most of my life (he’s an NHS chaplain now, a fine servant to his community) and my mother is a devout Christian. I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as religious now, but obviously I do find the imagery and subject matter interesting still. The aspect I’m most nervous about with the book’s release is the mix of comedy and religious figures which will certainly irritate some people automatically. It’s done with great affection though and hopefully that comes across in the book.
I know that you enjoy science fiction as a whole but is your writing based solely on the humorous side, or are there other specific genres you write about
I’m at my most comfortable when writing humour. I have started a superhero book which will be funny (hopefully). I do have plans to write a straight SF novel, I have an outline done, but it’s on the backburner at the moment. I have the beginnings of a space opera trilogy written. I have finished writing a crime novel also. I absolutely love reading serious hard SF, epic fantasy and the more literary end of speculative fiction, but you have to be honest about what you are and I could not do any of those genres justice in a million years. Once you find your voice it opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, but if you’re even moderately self-aware it also lets you know what you can’t do. What you absolutely must NOT do, for everyone’s sake. I broke my own rule once and started writing an epic fantasy book. It was absolute arse-gravy that I have thoroughly expunged from every computer system and notebook to an extent that the CIA would probably be quite impressed by. As we say north of the border, it was a load of pish.
My last question is whether there is there more to this tale in the offing?
There would be a conceivable way to do a sequel or prequel to Far Far Beyond Berlin, but without giving spoilers I’ll say that the book is designed to be a one-shot and has a definitive ending. Any sequel would cover a lot of similar ground. I would only return to it if I thought I would be adding something, rather than re-treading the same story.
Craig Meighan was born in Lanarkshire, in central Scotland. Both a keen drummer and a fan of science fiction, he grew up wanting to be either Animal from The Muppets or Douglas Adams. This has led to an unfortunate habit of smashing up his computer at the end of each writing session.
With the ambition of becoming a screenwriter, he attended film college in Glasgow. He spent a short time making corporate videos and then after attending one chance meeting, he accidentally joined the civil service. Intending to stay for one summer, he ended up staying for 12 years (so think carefully before inviting him round for tea).
He is too polite to say which of the killer robots, demons and other assorted antagonists that appear in his book, are based on his interactions with actual government ministers.
His first novel, Far Far Beyond Berlin, was written in the evenings, after work, every day for a year, at the end of which time his wife Jen convinced him it was time to finally leave the safety of the office job and pursue writing full-time. She cunningly incentivised him by promising that if he managed to get his book published, he could get a big dog.
Craig lives with Jen, just outside Glasgow, where they like to play softball, enter pub quizzes and do escape rooms. He is delighted to announce that they are expecting a greyhound.
Even geniuses need practice
Not everything goes to plan at the first attempt… In Da Vinci’s downstairs loo hung his first, borderline insulting, versions of the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo’s back garden was chock-a-block full of ugly lumps of misshapen marble. Even Einstein committed a great ‘blunder’ in his first go at General Relativity. God is no different, this universe may be his masterpiece, but there were many failed versions before it – and they’re still out there.
Far Far Beyond Berlin is a fantasy novel, which tells the story of a lonely, disillusioned government worker’s adventures after being stranded in a faraway universe – Joy World: God’s first, disastrous attempt at creation.
God’s previous universes, a chain of 6 now-abandoned worlds, are linked by a series of portals. Our jaded hero must travel back through them, past the remaining dangers and bizarre stragglers. He’ll join forces with a jolly, eccentric and visually arresting, crew of sailors on a mysteriously flooded world. He’ll battle killer robots and play parlour games against a clingy supercomputer, with his life hanging in the balance. He’ll become a teleportation connoisseur; he will argue with a virtual goose – it sure beats photocopying.
Meanwhile, high above in the heavens, an increasingly flustered God tries to manage the situation with His best friend Satan; His less famous son, Jeff; and His ludicrously angry angel of death, a creature named Fate. They know that a human loose in the portal network is a calamity that could have apocalyptic consequences in seven different universes. Fate is dispatched to find and kill the poor man before the whole place goes up in a puff of smoke; if he can just control his temper…
Fate was the board’s assassin; a born killer who relished his work. His role was in deciding
people’s ultimate fate; he chose whether people were allowed a painful or peaceful demise. In popular culture he was known by many names; The Angel of Death, Death, The Grim Reaper – well not that many names actually, but they were all a bit deathy, so he preferred to be called Fate because he thought that was much cooler.
He was also God’s henchman, sworn to deal with threats to the stability of the universe. However, as you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear, threats to the stability of the Universe are few and far between so, in times of peace, he indulged in a little unilateral population control. He picked favourites, he developed grudges, he watched the theatre of the world play out then intervened when he saw fit. He roamed the earth taking human form. He has killed men to get to women he wanted to sleep with, from time to time he killed people for their political beliefs, but it can be far pettier than that.
He has killed people for choosing the wrong snack from a vending machine. Basically, he is a big evil bastard.
When people meet after ten years of being apart and lonely, they say “Fate brought us together” “It was destiny”. Well they’re wrong; it’s just life. Humans are predictable; they go to the same places and do the same things. Events will coincide from time to time; it would be strange if they didn’t. Fate has nothing to do with it. He doesn’t bring people together; he’s a cold-blooded killer.
And, if you’re wondering, it was a Twix.
Please follow the next stage of the tour with author Geoff Nelder on 21st March 2021: https://geoffnelder.com/blog/
Book page on Elsewhen Press website: https://bit.ly/FarFarBeyondBerlin
Books to Read: https://books2read.com/FarFarBeyondBerlin
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