Greetings Otherworld travelers! We’ve been working with Stephen Llewelyn for the past couple of months, as he’s delivered one great sci-fi after another. Today, we have the great privilege of sitting down with him to see what makes him tick. With a huge series coming to its halfway mark, and an awesome collaboration on an audiobook he’s working on, you’re not going to want to miss this one. Read on to find out more about Stephen Llewelyn.
Tellest: Hi there Stephen. We started conducting this interview in the days leading up to your third book’s release, so I know you’re busy getting that ready. Thanks for taking some time out to answer some questions and give readers a chance to know you a little better.
Stephen Llewelyn: Hi Mike, thanks for your continued interest in the series.
T: You and I have worked together spreading the word a bit on your first two books, so it’s nice to have you back for the third. Completing the first book is an accomplishment. Completing a second and a third is an achievement! And I’ve also just learned that there are to be four more follow-ups, so color me both impressed and excited. What’s it like to stick with these characters and this world for so long?
SL: The first book was naturally about setting the scene, but more than that, about getting to know those lost souls, fighting for life. Writing them gets easier, I think. I now know them all so well, I hardly need to think about what they’re going to do or how they’ll react before I write it. In a strange way, it’s as though they exist – the least I can do is keep writing and let them finish what they’re about!
T: I’m sure as familiar as you’re getting with them, and as much as you have planned for the series, there’s a lot set in stone. Do they ever surprise you anymore, or are you pretty much on rails, heading toward the grand finale?
SL: I certainly have finales planned, but the characters do still surprise me – quite often actually, and I enjoy that when it happens. I begin to write one thing, then a random comment comes from one of them, sending the story down a different path. I know this is straight-jacket talk, but I sometimes wonder who’s controlling who. Especially with regards to some of the more emotional scenes. Now and again, a reader will tell me they were genuinely moved by this or that dialogue, or by something one of the characters did. I really don’t know where that comes from – it’s just not me at all!
T: Do you ever have to fight with yourself to let things transpire organically when your characters go off on their own? Did anything surprising come out and throw you for a loop as far as how distant the story ended up straying?
SL: Interesting question. It seems there are two kinds of writers, largely speaking. The ones who plot and plan every detail to the tiniest minutiae and stick to it religiously, and the ones who write by the seat of their pants. As I’ve mentioned in previous interviews, my writing style is total pants! :o)
Everything I write grows organically. I imagine a very basic frame with a ‘from’ and ‘to’ point, with perhaps a few other major events along the way, the rest seems to write itself. When I wrote the most recent release, Allegiance, it occurred to me that there were so many complicated threads that needed tying up for the end, I needed a plan! I wrote several pages of notes, listing and categorising every event leading up to the finale. I saved the document, believing I’d done a good job of work. By the next time I came to write, I’d completely forgotten about it. I found the file after finishing Allegiance and had to laugh – excepting the broadest sense, it was absolutely nothing like the finished book at all!
So, to answer your question more concisely, everything happens organically for me, whether I want it to or not. Almost everything is a surprise and, other than a major event or two, I rarely know how the end will tie up until I get there. I’m probably a hopeless case study for other writers, but for me, writing that way is just so much fun!
T: Your books take the already sort of sci-fi elements of humanity interacting with dinosaurs and crank it up a notch by being set in a world where space travel is possible. You strike you readers as someone who has done a tremendous amount of research. What is that like for the sake of Dinosaur and its sequels?
SL: Thank you. I’d love to take credit for all that hard work, but the truth is, I’ve done very little research for these books per se. I am always reading palaeontology and history anyway, and so simply write about the things I love to read about. Writing is one job where a headful of nonsense is a useful tool! Essentially, I wanted to write about the mid-Cretaceous. The animals are very much alive and masters of their world. Monster movies are great fun – I’ve always been a fan – but this story was never going to be about Trex rampaging through Manhattan – or mankind slaughtering their way through the natural world. I wanted to offer another choice.
I set the story circa 100 million years ago in Patagonia because it was a time and place where life was arguably at its most vast and terrifying, yet it often gets overlooked. Obviously, the word ‘Jurassic’ dominates, for the obvious reason of the enormous success of the films. This is fair enough, but I wanted to inject a little more natural history into the story. The Jurassic Period actually ended eighty million years before Tyrannosaurus rex lived – Rexy was in fact much closer to us, in time, than the Jurassic. Subsequently, the animals I chose really were alive more or less around the time and place where the story is set (beginning in South America and later expanding to Britain and North Africa).
However, to create a story in the Cretaceous – with wide appeal, at least – I had to introduce people. The only way to do that believably, was to include some form of scientific abuse or misuse. Also, the idea of history repeating itself was irresistible, too. Let’s face it, neither concept is too hard to imagine for our near future, is it? I think that for most readers, the dinosaurs and related creatures and places are little more than an interesting ‘set dressing’, the story being very much a character driven adventure at its heart. However, the dinosaurs were the starting point for me, with humans very much on the back foot, lacking the resources or the numbers to affect the world around them in any significant way – at least at first. In a nutshell, the story is about us, about who we are and where we’re going, but the world in which it is set belongs to nature.
Most importantly, I write to entertain and to provide escapism for my readers (and myself) – if I can put a lump in their throat one minute, then make them laugh the next, it’s all been worthwhile.
T: What has been your favorite interaction between your humans and your dinosaurs or other cretaceous creatures since the series began?
SL: I’ll try to avoid any spoilers here. Naturally, I have many interactions still to write, but if I had to pick a couple from back catalogue, as it were, I think the first would be from the last title REVENGE, where Reiver (border collie) interrupts his mistress, Natalie, as she feeds the hypsilophodontid known as Mayor – and takes a pee on his lunch! The second would be from the current book ALLEGIANCE, where two of the characters are trapped in the middle of a river ford with nowhere to run in any direction. I don’t want to ruin the scene for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but suffice to say that the situation escalates into a really bad day for all concerned (although I will say that the guy I was rooting for the most, gets what he wants in the end!).
T: You know, and I suppose your readers know, how your characters reacted when they ended up looking at these extinct creatures. What do you think your reaction would be?
SL: I suppose that would depend on which creatures they were! Honestly, I would give almost anything to see a real dinosaur – preferably one of the giants. I know many people will say, ‘if you want to see a dinosaur just look out of the window – your garden’s probably full of them!’ but I need something a little more interesting than a sparrow to float my boat. To answer your question directly, if I could view them from safety, I would LOVE it! If I was dropped in the middle of the Cretaceous, I would just crap myself and die pathetically.
T: What do you think about all the talk about recreating extinct life? I think they mentioned that the half-life of dinosaur DNA has long since expired, but what about things like woolly mammoths, or even animals who have gone extinct while we’ve been around?
SL: A huge amount of large fauna has been lost during the time of man, including mammoths – some of it because of the time of man. Bringing back extinct elephants and rhinos, in one respect, seems like a good idea to me. Hopefully before we lose the ones we have! An injection of new (or old, depending on how you look at it) genes into the gene pool could potentially give new vigour to species that are in a lot of trouble at the moment. Should cross breeding be possible, this could be another turn on evolution’s wheel, providing more strength to endangered animals. I would rather see them evolve than disappear. With regards to dinosaurs, we can only live the dream! Some Tyrannosaurus rex cells have been discovered, I believe, but it seems likely they will be too damaged or incomplete for geneticists to work with. Would I like to see a real dinosaur rescued from time? HELL, YES!
T: What jump-started your fascination with animals through history (or in the present day, if we’re talking about the New World Series)?
SL: I think I was seven when another little boy in my class brought a model into school. This was the 1970s and there was very little popular knowledge of the subject then. What I saw was a little lad, called Daniel, playing with a toy ‘monster’. Being seven, I thought this was super-cool! Then he explained to me that it was not a monster, but a real animal. Also, that it was only a mid-sized creature but would have filled our classroom. It was a dinosaur – and my life changed forever! More specifically, it was a Styracosaurus – a cerotopsian related to, and more or less contemporaneous with, the much more famous Triceratops. Obviously, your interests expand as you grow up, but when I see a dinosaur, I am still and will always be seven years old.
T: What other historical eras are you interested in? Can we expect to see any other works from you that focus on our past?
SL: To answer your second question first – definitely! I already have a story based in historical fiction on the go (a full-on comedy set in AD1399), and have notes sketched out for another series which will involve history and the paranormal.
I have a love of history, as well as palaeontology. We’re very fortunate to have at least ten thousand years of human history in Britain. Almost everywhere you go there are signs on the landscape of human endeavour and occupation, even sometimes in the built-up places (if you know where or how to look). Our ‘built history’ alone spans nearly two thousand years from Roman to the present day.
I’m certainly no expert, but I’m fascinated by it all, particularly the Saxon era (the so-called Dark Ages). The expressions on the landscape are so much more ephemeral from this time, largely because they built mostly in timber. This lack of structure drives the imagination all the more, in my opinion. Just look what it did for JRR Tolkien!
T: When we last spoke, you dropped some awesome knowledge on me. Chris Barrie, who plays Arnold J Rimmer in the sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf, along with several other comedies, such as Brittas Empire and Spitting Image, is narrating your audiobooks for the New World books. How did that happen, and how exciting has it been to work with him?
SL: Chris Barrie is well known in Britain for his comedy career, but also as an impressionist with interests in science and a background in engineering, which made him ideal. To pull off the entire crew and passenger list of the New World, we knew we needed someone special. I had Chris in mind when I first began to write this series – I never thought anyone would make it actually happen! However, my publisher approached Chris Barrie via one of his agents, he took a look at the story, liked it, and most importantly signed up!
Naturally, I was ecstatic when we pulled it off! Unfortunately, due to the current problems we have only been in touch by telephone and email (so as not to complicate things for the studio in London where the recordings have taken place).
What I can say is that, although Rimmer is a fairly awful person (he has always been my favourite Dwarfer because of this), Chris could not be more the reverse – a genuinely nice guy, an incredible talent and so diligent. I couldn’t be more pleased with the considerable effort and skill he has brought to this project. Furthermore, he has agreed to perform the other books, too. So, it’s an exciting time for me and for all the devourers of audiobooks out there, and certainly a treat for Chris’ fans. He is a perfectionist and bless him for that – because everyone involved with the New World Series has given all to make it the best we can. Now time will tell…
T: How do other people react when you tell them the calibre of people you’re working with? Has it made it easier to get the word out about your stories?
SL: I think my friends suspect that I must have sold my soul to the devil. This is of course, nonsense. He didn’t want it! With regards to getting it out there, I believe and certainly hope it will help to give the series a push up to the next level. My publisher hopes to get this to screen down the line but wants another couple of titles under their belt first, so I’ve got it all to do! Unfortunately, as the big launch and related press releases are yet to happen (hopefully November 2020), I really don’t know yet. Maybe if you interview me for REROUTE next year, I’ll be able to fill in the blanks. Fingers crossed, eh?
T: That’s huge! So then, of course, that brings up a whole new slew of questions. When you set out to work on these books, did you ever even muse for a moment that it would get that far (even in theory)? Who would be your celebrity choices for some of your characters?
SL: Hoped, yes. Believed, no! I feel incredibly lucky to work with someone like Chris Barrie. He has torn my words from the page and turned them into places, people and lives – it’s wonderful. My publisher is working with Mr Barrie on a press release for the national press, sci-fi mags, etc. It will be along the lines of ‘what actors are doing during lockdown’, that sort of thing. I’ve stolen a brief excerpt from his words – you will probably be the first people to read this, as the main releases will take place after the release of Dinosaur Audio Book.
“When I first heard about DINOSAUR, I immediately thought that it would be along the lines of ‘STAR TREK meets JURASSIC PARK with a soupcon of JAMES BOND’. Well, I was wrong. It is much much more than that. It is an excellent adventure story in its own right, packed with action, suspense, humour and emotional drama played out by a wonderful gallery of characters. There is no denying that the prospect of recording a 500 plus page novel with a very broad range of characters and hellish pronunciations was initially quite daunting, but the more we recorded, the more I relished the challenges of ‘owning’ the characters and bringing Mr Llewelyn’s fantastic descriptions and observations off the page. It has been a great privilege to be involved in this project and I hope people enjoy listening to DINOSAUR as much as I enjoyed recording it!” ~ Chris Barrie.
With regards to celebrity choices, that’s a great question and it would be fun to fit faces with characters. I know this is a game some of my readers have already enjoyed – they’ve written in to tell me so :o) I suppose it’s inevitable that actors spring to mind for the various roles. If these get as far as screen in the next couple of years, I would love Chris Barrie to play Geoff Lloyd – one of my favourite characters.
With regards to the other main cast, I think I’d like to bow out on that one. I give only very loose descriptions of the characters’ physical appearance, and then only when it’s important to the story. I prefer to focus on ‘who’ they are, rather than what they look like. My reason for that is, I want the reader to see their own Douglas or Baines or Tim Norris, rather than force one on them. So often actors in films or TV shows bear no resemblance to characters described in books. I would rather let everyone have their own vision, and just see what comes.
T: At some point in all my interviews, I like to ask a pretty typical question: what inspired you to start your writing journey? Were there any books or authors that influenced you? Any family members or friends who were known for telling stories?
SL: Believe it or not, my specialism before becoming a writer, was in structural waterproofing and the construction industry. Working on construction sites can be a lonely existence if you loathe most pop music and don’t understand football. Sometimes, I think I wrote just to have someone to talk to! We often worked away and while stuck in one hotel room or another, I decided to stop putting off the writing I had been considering for over twenty years, and just get on with it! I often used to write through the night and go off to site in the day – completely knackered – but I couldn’t leave it alone, once I’d started. There’s also something cathartic about throwing an even crappier day at your characters than you’ve had!
I think the ‘small bites’ style of writing came from this, at least partially. I had to fit it in when I could, but also, I had to read any books I had in the same way. I hope readers can either devour these stories in large chunks or in tiny morsels, to fit in with their lives. Some books, although worthy, can be a mission. I hope the New World will be a companion – whether you keep it in your suitcase or in the loo!
My interest in words and witticisms, weirdly, came more from the music that influenced me when I was younger than from books. As a musician myself, I have always loved bands that test me and push the boundaries, not just with music, but also with the topics they sing about (quite often science and even history) – and most tellingly, by their word use. I used to devour sci-fi mostly when I was a kid, but now I mostly read history (fiction and fact – I really like Bernard Cornwell, Robert Harris and CJ Sansom) with a smattering of palaeontology (both Steve Brusatte and Dave Hone have been kind enough to assist with answers to my occasional questions – as world renowned experts in dinosaur palaeontology, I’m very grateful for their time) – I’m particularly interested in mass extinction events (believe it or not the one that dealt the death knell to the dinosaurs is considered a ‘medium’ event!).
T: Speaking of music: there was a revelation of yours I caught on your website – a sort of six degrees from Kevin Bacon sort of situation. Evidently, there’s a sort of circular path between your books and a certain audiobook narrator that could not better demonstrate some sort of cosmic coincidence. Care to tell readers a little more about that?
SL: I have always been a huge fan of the BBC comedy RED DWARF and am immensely proud to be working with Mr Chris Barrie on the unabridged audio books for the New World Series.
I was told just the other day that the pretend band ‘Smeg and the Heads’ in the background during the episode ‘Timeslides’ were actually two rather excellent musicians from the band Carcass – although they were only messing about on the show! What is strange about this is that one of their songs ‘Death Certificate’ contained the word ‘contabescent’. The reason that word stuck with me was because of a friend’s father, who was a schoolteacher, back then. He had no understanding of their music, but was so impressed by the band’s word use that he decided to include the word contabescent in some poor lad’s school report, to describe his overall grasp of the subject! Contabescent means something like ‘slowly withering away’ but as he taught in a school back home in the West Midlands, the lad’s parents probably thought it was a compliment!
I wrote an homage to that incident in Dinosaur, during Woodsey’s school leaving conversation with his father. Now, it struck me that while filming that episode of Red Dwarf, Chris Barrie was standing very close to Jeff Walker – he probably had no idea who he was – but Jeff would very soon write that word into a song to influence me, so that I would write it into Dinosaur, decades later, for Chris Barrie to read out to the world! Small world, innit?
T: With this third book ending, it begs the question: how deep are you into the next book, Reroute, and what can you tell us about it? What about the series in general? Like I said before, it’s a huge accomplishment to even finish three books in a set like this—what’s it like to know that you’re at about the halfway mark now?
SL: Thank you. I kind of think of it as Wednesday – you know, over the hump day? I think I’m more excited than ever about where the story is going. Although I have a rough sketch plan of events, the story seems to take on a life of its own the more I write. Book Four is a little different from the previous instalments, as only half of it is set in the Cretaceous, but it is a very important half, nonetheless. For any dinosaur fans out there, don’t worry, this will always be a dinosaur themed story, but it now includes other elements too. REROUTE (Book Four) and REMAINS (Book Five), introduce another theme – another hurdle for the long-suffering crew of the New World to clear. At least, that’s one way of putting it. Another would be – a string of well-meaning cockups that change everything!
It’s difficult to share without spoiling the surprises and shocks in store – as you know, I delight in the odd twist, here and there. I always like to end on a ‘bombshell’ of some sort and Book Three ALLEGIANCE ends on about four of them, I think. I hope the fans enjoy them – I know they’ll probably also be furious with me again, but please know I’m writing the next one as quickly as I can for you :o)
T: What would you say to other writers who want to start their own writer’s journey, but are too nervous or hesitant to start?
SL: Reasons for writing are personal, we all have different starting points. There’s no need to be nervous. Writing’s a journey where you never stop learning, so it doesn’t matter where you start – when you were small and wrote your name for the first time, it was a huge achievement, but you wouldn’t hold it up as your best work, would you? So never be afraid to start – it’s hesitation that’s the killer!
ll I can say, from my own experience – and I think this applies to life generally – is that there will never be a perfect time to start writing, nor a best time. It is highly unlikely there will even be a good time, so just crack on with it now, don’t wait, and let the rest take care of itself. One of the few positives to come out of the mess the world is in at the moment, is that it does seem to have sent people back to books in their droves – or maybe the situation is more prosaic than that, and the crisis has simply given them the time to once again enjoy reading. If any writers, or would-be writers, ever needed a sign, surely this is it. I say, the sun is shining, let’s make hay, so enjoy the work and good luck.
T: Where can readers find out more about you and your books?
SL: The publisher runs these pages/accounts
I sometimes write on there myself, too, or www.stephenllewelyn.com
We usually release updates on progress for books and audio, sometimes there are competitions too. Three of my fans have their names (not real-world personalities) enlisted on the New World’s crew roll and are now part of the saga (and the madness) forever!
T: Thank you to Stephen Llewelyn for making the time to let us see what’s going on behind the curtain. With everything he has going on, it was great that he was able to shed some light on all the goings-on behind the New World series. Be sure to check out all of Llewelyn’s work, but if you’re just getting started, why not check out the first book in his series? Pick up Dinosaur: The New World Series Book 1 on Amazon today!