An author's life after Pulp Idol
SFX reader Colin B Harvey won the first ever SFX Pulp Idol writing competition back in 2006. Since then, he’s finished his time as a PhD student and gone onto continue writing short stories with great success. We caught up with him three years later…
SFX: You’ve recently been published in Steampunk Tales. What’s that and when can we see it?
Colin Harvey: Steampunk Tales is billed as “The “Penny Dreadful” for your iPhone!” and boasts loads of really first-rate steampunk stories. Part one of my story is in the current issue. It’s downloadable from www.steampunktales.com. Part two is out soon. By the way, I’ve switched to writing under the name ‘CB Harvey’ because understandably I keep being confused with the Bristol-based science-fiction author Colin Harvey!
SFX: Okay! Without giving away too much of the plot, can you tell us what we can expect from your story in Steampunk Tales?
CB Harvey: The story’s called Convergence Culture and it’s set in a Victorian London. The main character is John Cogan, a journalist for the London Peculiar, a Penny Dreadful. The Penny Dreadfuls report on stories of the magical and bizarre, just like they did in the real world: the difference in this reality is that those stories are actually true, but Her Majesty’s Government are bent on suppressing them for their own nefarious purposes…
SFX: What is it you dig about steampunk as a genre? Do you think it’s getting bigger all the time?
Harvey: There certainly feels like there’s more of it about but maybe that’s because I’ve immersed myself in it of late. The Victorian age gave us a lot of the things in embryonic form that we use today so maybe that accounts for the fascination. I kind’ve feel we’re still living in the Victorian era really.
SFX: How did you come to appear in Steampunk Tales – did you approach them with an idea?
Harvey: I’ve become online friends with Stephen Hunt, author of numerous steampunk novels, and he flagged up Steampunk Tales. I’d already done a lot of work on the idea so I wrote the story and pitched it to them – which fortunately they liked.
SFX: How much other SF writing have you been able to do since Pulp Idol 2006?
Harvey: My main concern was finishing my PhD but that’s all done and dusted now. Even so I managed to do a few commissioned things for Big Finish along the way, including a couple of Doctor Who stories for the Short Trips anthologies. I also wrote Love and Hate, an audio adventure for Big Finish’s new Highlander range with Adrian Paul reprising his role of Duncan MacLeod – that was great fun.
SFX: How much did your Pulp Idol 2006 experience inspire you in your writing work?
Harvey: It’s about confidence as much as anything: I’d spent years trying to do fiction and getting nowhere and was close to giving up. Also, the Big Finish commissions came straight off the back of Pulp Idol. I’m hugely grateful to Big Finish – it’s been like an apprenticeship and I’ve made friends with a lot of really talented people in the process.
SFX: Did you read the Pulp Idol 2007 and 2008 books too? What did you make of them?
Harvey: I thought the standard and diversity of stories was really impressive. Both the 2007 and 2008 winners were awesome, though they were very different to each other. And there were some humdingers amongst the other published stories too.
SFX: We skipped 2009 because of other mag activities like the upcoming Weekender event, but we might bring it back next year. Any advice to people who might want to enter?
Harvey: Read and write loads of short stories so you understand the form. And rewrite. In fact, rewriting is absolutely key to the whole process, but ironically the thing new writers seem to spend the least time doing.
SFX: Now that you’re writing SF regularly, any insights for others who’d like to pick up their pens and typewriters and embrace the writer’s life as a career?
Harvey: I run a Creative Writing degree at London South Bank University, and I constantly tell my students that talking about writing is considerably easier than actually doing it. It’s dead easy to get distracted – if you really want to do it you’ve got to commit the time and effort to it.
SFX: How were you able to skew your academic work towards SF and fantasy?
Harvey: My PhD explored the interrelationship between narrative and playing in video games, so I’ve got this ongoing interest in storytelling in different forms. Science fiction and fantasy are such prevalent genres in games, so moving my current research closer to those genres wasn’t so very difficult. I’ve already written on Battlestar Galactica and I’ve got various academic papers in the pipeline that look at very kinds of science fiction and fantasy. Plus I’m in the early stages of organising Remembering The Future, an academic conference at London South Bank University exploring science fiction and memory – I’ve already got a lot of interest in this from fellow writers and academics.
SFX: What things (writers, books) have you read recently that have inspired you?
Harvey: I’m simultaneously trying to read a lot of the classics as well as keeping up-to-date with newer material – Joe Abercrombie’s stuff is pretty awesome. At the moment I’m a bit obsessed with Robert E Howard and the whole Conan the Barbarian mythos.
SFX: What else have you got in the pipeline these days? What will we see from you next?
Harvey: The main thing I’m working on is my novel, which is finally coming together now the PhD is out of the way. Meantime, there’s more short fiction in the pipeline. I’ve written a non-fiction piece for Shouting At The Telly, a humorous anthology published by Faber and due out in time for Christmas: there’s a lot in there for fans of television sci-fi. Plus I’m a contributor to The Mythological Dimensions Of Doctor Who, an American academic anthology due out next year and published by Kitsune.
SFX: Thanks Colin!
You can see a little bit of this interview in SFX issue 191 as well, on sale from 16 December to 13 January.