Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Truth about Sharks and Pigeons by Matt Phillips: Interview & Excerpt

It’s not paranoia, if they really are out to get you...

Bill Posters is an ordinary kind of guy. He’s put a great deal of effort into it. So why does he think he’s being stalked by pigeons? That’s not normal, is it?

As if being harassed by winged vermin isn’t bad enough, Bill’s day is just about to get a whole lot worse. He’s got twenty four hours to save the world. Armed with a secret weapon more suited to the bathroom than the battlefield, Bill is joined by Fern, chunky knitwear aficionado, and Gregor, Chile’s second most dangerous assassin.

Bill isn’t the Chosen One, but for now he will just have to do.

Prepare to learn the Truth about Sharks and Pigeons.

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The pigeon sat there, chest puffed out and eyes intent.
“Right, okay, so I am the chosen One am I, destined to save humanity?” said Bill.
A slight pause.
“Err, not quite.” The pigeon shuffled his feet.  “Actually you are the chosen 12b.”
“The chosen 12b!  What the hell does that mean?”
Clyde looked distinctly uncomfortable. 
“Oh dear oh dear,” he muttered.  “This is all very embarrassing, but I can explain.  You see, long ago we initiated a program to progressively scan the genes of every newborn human, identifying those with the necessary qualities.” Bill opened his mouth to interrupt.
“No, please, let me finish first.  Thank you,” continued Clyde
“As I said, we identify all those with the necessary qualities for great deeds.  Every generation has a chosen One, but we worked out long ago that you need backups, so we also identify a chosen Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and so on, ranked in the order of their likelihood to be able to save mankind.  Once the process to identify individuals was established it turned out to be very easy to extend this as far as we liked really...” Clyde trailed off, shuffling his clawed feet uncomfortably.
“Oh, I see,” said Bill, somewhat mollified at being number twelve.
“So I am the twelfth most likely person to save mankind?  That’s not bad!” he said, feeling his injured pride picking itself off the floor.
Clyde flapped a wingtip around his neck as if trying to loosen a collar that wasn’t there.
“Err, again, not quite correct.  You see, the numbers were getting quite high, so we designed a tranche system with letters, each tranche representing a subset below the tranche above.”
Bill thought he could see the logic in this, but he had a sinking feeling.
“Ok, so I am in b, how many in a?” he asked.
“Erm, each tranche has 99,999 members, but I am afraid that the lettering system is not alphabetical.  You see, first we have tranche (e), who represent an exceptional chance of success, then we have tranche (v) with very high, then tranche (w) with well above average, then tranche (a) with above average, and then...” Bill interrupted.
“Okay, okay, I get the picture.  So what is (b)?”
Clyde hesitated.  He didn’t look comfortable at all.
“Errrrmm, ‘below average’”
“Below average!  I am the twelfth person with a below average chance of saving humanity?”
After the ‘grave importance to the world’ bit this felt distinctly like a kick in the teeth.
“Tell it to me straight Clyde, out of all the tranches that makes me...”
“Number 768,271,” said Clyde, no hint of apology in his voice.
“Brilliant, so I am humanity’s 768,271st best chance of survival?  The chosen 768,271?”
Clyde nodded.
Bill grumbled something he wouldn’t want repeated, and then a thought occurred.
“If this is true, then why am I sat here and not Mr or Ms 1(e)?”
Clyde’s small black eyes were clear, unblinking.
“Because they are dead Bill.”
 “Err, 2(e)?”
“Dead, Bill.”
The sinking feeling in Bill’s stomach was back and dropping like a stone.
“Listen Bill, this could go on for some time.”
Bill fought against a rising panic.
“What about, err, 1(n)?” he blurted at random.
“Oh, very much alive,” said Clyde, as Bill sagged in relief, “but tranche (n) represents ‘not a hope in hell, not on your nelly, no way, nu huh, not happening’.”
“Oh,” the relief fled.  “What about 1(a)?” he asked, remembering this was a good one.
“Listen, Bill, suffice it to say that everyone, everyone higher than you is dead.”
“Dear God!” gasped Bill.  A minute ago he had not known of the existence of this elite group of people, but now he felt their passing like the death of a fourth favorite cousin.
“That’s right Bill, you are humanity’s 768,271st best hope for survival, and you are the best we have left.” 
For a second Bill didn’t know how to react.  Hunting though a lexicon of emotions he opted for indignation.
“How could you let this happen!” he cried.  “How did they die?”
“Well, some would have been of natural causes.  Some, definitely some.  But the majority have been systematically hunted down and assassinated by the Sharkosians.”
Bill swallowed.
 “How do you assign numbers to people anyway, what on earth are you looking for?” he huffed.
“Honestly no idea,” replied Clyde.
“What do you mean, no idea?”
“Well, a computer program does it all, but to be honest with you no one really understands how it all works any more, it just kind of does.”
 “So, if you don’t know how it works, how do you even know that it works at all?”
Clyde had clearly been expecting this.
“Empirical evidence of course, you think this is the first grave threat the world has faced?  History is littered with the work of many a great 1(e), and more than a few passable 2(e)s.  Winston Churchill, Augustus Caesar, Genghis Khan, Barry Manilow.”
Bill interrupted.  “Wait, you say 1(e) and 2(e)s.  This whole down to Mr 768,271 business.  This has never happened before, has it?”
A long, barren pause.  Despite being in an entirely enclosed space a whistle of wind passed through and, if it had been even remotely possible, a tumbleweed would have rolled past.
 “Look, this is a really poor show, I know, administrative cock up and we are all in the guano, but you really are our least worst hope.”
“You mean best,” Bill insisted.
“Of course.”
Bill thought for a second.  It was all a bit much, but he was aware of how many people there were in the world.  768,271 must mean he was up there...
“Okay, I’ll do it,” said Bill, making an attempt at gusto.
“Oh jolly good,” said Clyde, a fragile smile on his birdy features.  “It was either that or we would have had to kill you.  Can’t just have those that know The Truth wandering around.” Clyde nodded to something just over Bill’s shoulder, and Bill turned in time to see the girl tucking something into her baggy jumper.  She was quite pretty, he thought absently, before a cough from Clyde caught his attention.
“It’s not all doom and gloom though,” Clyde continued.  “We may not understand how it all works, but every person on the list receives a secret weapon.  Something to aid them on their way.  It’s always something that they need, above everything else.”  The pigeon paused.
“Of course, we don’t always understand what the item is for,” he continued, “and in some cases it is more cryptic than others.  Weaponry is a common choice.  Back in the bronze age a 1e) got the most fabulous shield.  Amazingly strong but feather light.  It was clear what that was for, while others...  well, here you are.”  He slipped something black and rectangular across the table, an ungainly action for a pigeon which involved a lot of flapping.
The thing looked like a small notebook, black and leather-bound.  A delicate silver clasp on one edge held whatever it was closed, and it had an embossed logo on the front.  A pigeon in flight was displayed proudly, together with the motto ‘Ferr Lap Ing Peck Ingspr Ed Indis Ease’.
“That’s ancient pigeon,” explained Clyde.  “‘Watch, defend, protect.’”
Bill fumbled with the clasp.  It seemed to be made for smaller fingers than his and it was a little tricky to work.  He could feel the girl hovering over his shoulder ready to offer assistance, but this was his magic mission critical tool not hers, so he clawed at the silver with his well trimmed fingernails.  With a delicate click the clasp slid open and the two halves popped apart.  Bill stared at the contents.
“Ah, now I know what you are thinking,” said Clyde.
You do? thought Bill.
“Like I said, we never really know what the item is for, but we are told that it will assist the one chosen in their darkest hour, and could very well be the difference between death and victory.”
Uh huh.
“And often the meaning is clear, and sometimes it is not, as in this case...”
“This is a, a...” Humanity’s 768,271st best hope for survival stared at his ultimate weapon and was unable to finish.
“Yes, that’s right.  It’s a manicure kit.”

Today I'm excited to sit down with Matt Phillips and find out a little about him. So without further delay let's get started. 
 How did you start your writing career?

I’ve been writing, on and off, since I was a child.  My first book was called ‘The Adventures of Kit the Kat’.  I am not sure if I had issues with spelling or the ‘Kat’ was being creative.  I used to write backwards then too, starting on the last page of the notebook and working back to the beginning.  Thinking about it now, this and the spelling thing does suggest I was dropped on my head as a baby...

 Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
I’ll go back to childhood with this one too.  I loved Redwall by Brian Jacques.  Matthias was my kind of hero: the archetypical underdog, destined for greatness and with a series of trials to overcome.  Plus he was a talking mouse, and that’s kinda cool.

Tell us about your current release.
The story is called ‘The Truth about Sharks and Pigeons’.  Bill Posters, our hero, discovers that Sharks intend to take over the world using a network of diabolical wind farms.  He’s humanity’s last hope, which is rather a shame as he’s completely unprepared for the task.  He has help though, but I won’t say anymore and spoil it.  As you can tell it’s a very serious piece of writing, in no way satirical and laugh out loud funny.

Tell us about your next release.

I’m currently editing a new story called ‘Mnemosyne’.  It’s nothing like my first book.  I wanted to try something darker, so this one is a psychological thriller.  In honesty, I wanted to see if I could write a full length novel without breaking out the humor every few pages.  I managed it (but it did give me headaches). 

I also have some of the sequel to ‘The Truth about Sharks and Pigeons’ on paper, and hope to get that done before the end of the year.  Working title: ‘The Punchline’.

Has someone helped or mentored you in your writing career? 

My wife, Cathy, has been an enormous help.  She finally got tired of listening to all the crazy stories and insisted I write them down instead.

How do you describe your writing style?

Always developing.  I like character driven plot and sweeping storylines, but I am always working to tighten up my writing.  Every project I undertake usually has two goals: write something I enjoy and work on a particular writing skill.  I wrote ‘The Truth about Sharks and Pigeons’ as I wanted to work on dialogue.  At the time I was writing a fantasy epic and was struggling with how the characters interacted with each other.  I wrote my next book, ‘Mnemosyne’, as I wanted to see how I would cope without humor laced through the story.

Do you hear from your readers? What kinds of questions do they ask?

What is wrong with you, are you seeking help, can I get a refund?  Hahaha, just kidding.  I love hearing from my readers, it really makes my day.  It’s great to hear what they liked, what their favorite characters are, what didn’t work for them.  Writing is a fairly solitary business; it’s like a breath of fresh air when you hear from a reader.

Do you use a pen name? If so, how did you come up with it?

I considered writing as Phillip Matthews, but I realized that unless I was setting up a bid for ‘most penetrable pseudonym’ I shouldn’t bother.

When in the day/night do you write? How long per day?

Any time of day really.  I am often most creative late at night, but then that coincides with when my writing can be at its ‘loosest’ (which means I get great plot but it needs a lot of editing). 

Where do you research for your books?

Mostly online, as it’s easy to get access to a great range of information.

What does your significant other and family think of your writing career?

They think it’s great; I bother them far less with the crazy stories.  I have an audience for that now!

Do you listen to music while writing? If so what?

Yes!  Anything really – from 80s techno to metal to classical.

Cool!! That's all from me for this time. Thanks so much for stopping in!

Matt Phillips was born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire and raised in Bedfordshire, UK. He studied Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and graduated in 2000.

Reading and writing has always been his passion. One of his earliest memories is presenting his mother with the adventures of Kit the Kat, complete with illustrations. While this book remains the pinnacle of his artistic achievements his writing has since improved. A bit.

His debut novel "The Truth about Sharks and Pigeons" is a product of his wife's request to stop bothering her with all the crazy stories and write them down instead.

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