Interview with Arlan Andrews, author of ‘Riders on the Storm’

Arlan AndrewsArlan Andrews is another writer who has written previously for Alt Hist, his ‘Lament for Lost Atlanta’ appeared in Issue 1, and his new story ‘Riders on the Storm’ has recently appeared in Issue 3.

In ‘Riders on the Storm’ several of the characters use slang from a future language. How did you go about creating the language they use?

I let my mind go “out of gear” and try to feel what might pass for slang/language in about 50 years. Look at today’s converstions versus those of 50 year ago — half of what we say would make no sense: “tweet”, “OMG”, online, email, stimulus, neo-con, jihadi, 9/11, UAV, stealth, Mbit, VR, Facebook, apple, iPad/Pod, and many more. I just try to slide into a natural progression of things. (Actually, I have no idea where any of it comes from — it’s just there when I need it.)

What’s your favourite time-travel story and why?

Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove; because he is the master of the genre, and easily makes one believe in the story as it unfolds. As a Southerner, one always has a slight tinge of wishful thinking that perhaps Things May Have Been Otherwise.

Tell us a bit more about SIGMA.

When I worked in the White House Science Office 1992-1993, I was appalled at the lack of imagination when government bureaucrats tried their hand at forecasting. I wrote a manifesto — “The Future is too important to be left to Futurists!” — and asked some fellow science fiction authors, mostly Ph.D.s (to avoid the Washington, D. C., “giggle factor” to join me in providing the government and others with our own brand of science-fiction-based futurism. Our website,, has the background details, list of membrers, their bios, and some news clips. In January 2012 some of us will be appearing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as guest panelists at the Global Competitiveness Forum 2012.

How did you get into writing?

My father read to me before I could read, and family members made up stories. I also wrote. I began submitting science fiction stories after I met some writers and began to read stories I thought I could have written better. My first publication was a poem, “Rime of the Ancient Engineer,” in Asimov’s Magazine, in 1980, followed by stories in Analog. I’ve done about 500 pieces, fact and fiction, in 100 venues, most lately with fiction in, Analog and Kindle e-books. My factual pieces appear in Atlantis Rising Magazine, and a regular column in UFO Magazine.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I have a real job as an environmental engineering supervisor, coordinate SIGMA activities, travel to ancient sites, and otherwise enjoy a real life with wife, children and grandchildren.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

My e-novel, Valley of the Shaman, will be available on in January 2012. I usually do short stories or articles at the drop of a hat, typically on a weekend, and they are most often not planned ahead of time.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

To join the Kindle Million Sellers Club.

Union or Confederacy?

Heart – Confederacy; intellect/patriotism – Union; with a time machine I would probably go back and assassinate both John Brown and John Wilkes Booth ca 1850.

Don’t  forget to take a look at Arlan’s website at, and also his story ‘Riders on the Storm’.

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Interview with Seamus Sweeney, author of ‘Dublin Can Be Heaven’

Séamus Sweeney is a writer new to Alt Hist, but with a number of writing credits in publications such as The Times Literary SupplementThe GuardianThe SpectatorNew StatesmanThe Lancet andThe Scotsman. We asked him a few questions about his story for Alt Hist Issue 3, ‘Dublin Can Be Heaven’, his other writing, and what he thinks about breakfast.

Are the Organisation and characters you write about based on historical reality? How did you come up with the idea for them?

Andrija Artuković was a politician of the Croatian fascist Ustaše state, and was nicknamed “the Himmler of the Balkans” for his part in genocidal war crimes during World War II. He fled to America via Switzerland and Ireland, where he spent 1948 and where one of this children was born. A good online source for reading about him is Hubert Butler’s essay “The Artukovitch File”, available at Obviously in reality he went to America, rather than meeting the fate described in the story. The Organisation was made up by myself out of whole cloth; probably the proximate inspiration for the story was Daniel Leach’s Fugitive Ireland, a book about the various minority nationalist groups (Basques, Bretons, Scots and others who looked to independent Ireland as an exemplar) and collaborationists who fled to Ireland post World War II. Leach’s book shows just how marginal such groups were, and how the still-new Irish state trod the difficult path between asserting its sovereignity and avoiding Allied opprobium. While it is a scrupously unsensationalist and sober look at this issue, it contains enough imagination-provoking titbits to launch a host of counterfactual stories.

What was the status of Ireland during World War Two?

Neutral, but on the Allied side. Not entirely a sophism; one of the strengths of Leach’s book (and many others) is that it shows how Ireland’s neutrality, in the early years of the War, was beneficial to the Allies. Entering the war on the Allied side not only would not have been very popular (less than twenty years previously the Irish Free State had violently acheived independence) but would have required the Allies to protect Ireland militarily against the inevitable Axis attacks. Not to mention the pretext provided for a German invasion which would have tied up Allied forces quite severely. In any case, as the war proceeded Ireland’s neutrality was more openly derided among the Allies.

How did you get into writing?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. When I was a child, I was into books about dinosaurs and Usborne’s fact books. I began to write my own versions in copybooks. In school I was always writing ideas for stories and poems, although I rarely finished them. What boosted my confidence in terms of trying to get published was being involved in the university paper, The University Observer, where I was writing a few thousand words for publication every couple of weeks. While this was non fiction rather than fiction, it gave me confidence in approaching editors and I later began to review books for the TLS and The Lancet and other outlets.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I work as a doctor which is rather busy, and spend time with my family. Which is also rather busy.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

I am trying to finish a longish short story about time travel. A couple of years ago I got thinking about the emotional cost of time travel, especially if you couldn’t go back to your own time. I guess it reflects universal concerns about the passing of time. My time traveller is a father whose child has a seemingly incurable disease, at least in our time. The songwriter Jule Styne had a saying: “its easy to be clever, the really clever thing is to be simple.” It’s quite easy in a way to be drawn into long pseudophilosophical bits, and harder to focus on the emotion.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

To have a fidelity to the characters, the ideas and the emotions I want to explore, and to follow where they lead. At any one time I have a few particular threads I want to follow. Sometimes I think “this would make a novel” and when I plan and write, the idea naturally coheres into a short story. The other day I was reading JG Ballard’s introduction to his collected short stories, and he remarked how many writers – himself included- saw the novel as the great virility test of a young writer. And yet while there are no perfect novels, there are perfect short stories. On one level I would love to write a novel, on another it would have to be for the artistically right reasons and not “because it’s a novel.” So I’ve answered your question with an answer about how I don’t want to write a novel, which is not something I have done in any case.

Where and what is the best Irish breakfast, what’s the difference to English and American?

The contrast is probably more with continental breakfasts! The classic Irish breakfast is sausage, egg (fried or scrambled), white pudding, black pudding, rashers and toast. Laterally you get a hash brown or two, and in a lot of cases a tomato or mushrooms. There are many places that do wonderful Irish breakfasts, and many places that do terrible ones. The last one I had, which was pretty good, is a place called Howard’s Way in Churchtown in Dublin,

Séamus Sweeney’s stories and other pieces can be found at

Don’t forget to take a look at ‘Dublin Can Be Heaven’ too.

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Interview with Ian Sales author of ‘A Light in the Darkness’

Ian Sales has written two stories for Alt Hist so far: ‘Travelling by Air’, which appeared in Alt Hist Issue 1, and now a new story ‘A Light in the Darkness’, which appears in Alt Hist Issue 3. We thought it was about time that we found out a bit more about him!

How did you get the idea of combining Wilfred Owen and Nikola Tesla in the same story?

Back in the early 1990s, I read a book titled Team Yankee by Harold Coyle. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill WWIII technothriller, but focusing on titular crew of a main battle tank. At the front of the book was printed Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. I remembered the poem from school, but something about the version in Team Yankee struck me as wrong. So I went and looked it up in the library – which was what you had to do in those days – and, sure enough, the version in Coyle’s book had a couple of lines wrong. I’ve no idea why. But after reading Owen’s poem I decided to read more of his poetry. I became a fan, and started reading about him. Later, I wrote a story in which Wilfred Owen featured. It has yet to be published.

Some years afterwards, I read a biography of Nikola Tesla, and he struck me as a fascinating person. I thought he would be a good subject for a story. And since I already knew quite a bit about the life of Wilfred Owen from having read several books about him… and both Tesla and Owen were alive during the First World War …

Both of your stories for Alt Hist have used what could be called a Triptych structure. Could you tell us more about that and what attracted you to that structure?

One of the problems with writing alternate history is that the reader may not always know or understand the piece of history that’s been changed. Many years ago, I read a story about Fidel Castro as a professional baseball player. Apparently, he nearly was one. But for the story to really work, the author had to explain that in an introductory note. To me, that meant the story had failed. And the same was true of my Tesla/Owen story as originally written. Unless the reader knew that Owen was diagnosed with neurasthenia, sent to
Craiglockhart where he met Sassoon, and subsequently began writing the war poetry for which he is famous, ‘A Light in the Darkness’ didn’t seem to say much. I needed some way to tell the reader what happened to Owen in the real world. But a lack of inspiration meant the story was consigned to the bottom drawer for a number of years.

Then one day, I pulled it out, reread it and thought it was definitely worth having another bash. Gitmo was in the news at the time, so I decided I’d have an unnamed prisoner at a similar facility as my commentator on the history I had changed. I don’t think I’m naturally
drawn to the triptych structure, but in this case it seemed the best way to tell the story.

Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon?

Owen, definitely. Not only a better poet, but a much more interesting man. His attitudes to the war were conflicted – he felt he could only criticise it if he actually fought in it, though he disagreed with it intensely. Even when offered a home posting after leaving Craiglockhart, he refused it and returned to the front. He died shortly afterwards, a week before Armistice. He was almost certainly queer (just read his poem ‘Who is the God of Canongate?’), though almost none of his biographies say as much. I suppose his life wasn’t especially unusual for the time, or for the set he briefly belonged to in London, but he strikes me as a man who tried very hard to reconcile the many opposing beliefs he held, though not always successfully. That, I think, makes him a man worth admiring.

How did you get into writing?

I’ve always been a voaracious reader, so it just seemed a natural step to want to tell stories of my own. I used to play role-playing games back in the 1980s, so I started out writing up the sessions as stories. Then I discovered sf fandom, and the small press, and started writing original fiction. But I then spent ten years working in the Middle East, and while I was there I started working on a novel, the first in a big fat commercial space opera trilogy. When I returned to the UK I submitted it to John Jarrold and he took me on as a client, but no publisher bought the trilogy. It’s only in the past three or four years that I’ve started writing short fiction again.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Read. Or watch films. And I usually write about them on my blog: I also read lots of books on space exploration, and review them intermittently on my other blog: I also review books for Interzone and the SFF Chronicles website, and review DVDs for The Zone website. And I run the SF Mistressworks website too.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

My big project at the moment is Rocket Science, an anthology I’m editing for Mutation Press. The table of contents was announced on 18 November – It will be launched at the Eastercon in London in April 2012. My agent, John Jarrold, currently has a novel treatment being looked at by various editors. It’s a hard sf/space opera trilogy, very realistic but with lots of sense of wonder.

Then there’s a novella I hope to have out next year, which is set at a Moon base in an alternate present in which the Cold War continued and the Apollo programme became militarised. I have four stories due to be published in the next few months: a flash fiction piece in The Future Fire next month, a fantasy story about an ATA pilot during WWII in the Exagerrated Press’s anthology The Monster Book for Girls, a Nazi occult science story in Anarchy Press’s anthology Vivisepulture, a story set in the deepest part of the ocean in Eibonvale Press’s anthology Where Are We Going?, and an alternate space story due some time next year in PS Publishing’s biannual Postscripts anthology. I also have several stories out on editors’ desks at the moment, though I’ve yet to hear back on them.

Works currently in progress include a Marxist hard sf story, a hard-edged fantasy featuring angels, and an alternate space story about a mission to Mars. I also had a bash at nanowrimo, with a novel about an underwater simulation for a mission to the nearest star, but that stalled at 15,000 words (November was not a good month to do it). These days, it’s not coming up with ideas for stories that’s the problem, it’s finding the time to write them…

What are your ambitions as a writer?

Fame, fortune, and critical acclaim, of course. But seriously, these days I find I’m more interested in writing about things, rather than just writing stories. For example, I saw a TV programme about the female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary during WWII, and decided I wanted to write about them. It would, of course, be a genre story. And I sold that story to The Monster Book for Girls. Last year, I discovered that 2010 was the 50th anniversary of the first, and only, descent to Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the ocean. I found that fascinating and wanted to write about it. That story I sold to Where Are We Going?. One of my interests is space exploration, and I’ve read a number of books on the topic. And written a number of stories based around it. In part, that’s what inspired me to put together Rocket Science. As long as I can air my “enthusiasms” in fictive form in public, then I’m happy.

Ian’s stories in Alt Hist:

‘Travelling by Air’ from Alt Hist Issue 1

‘A Light in the Darkness’ from Alt Hist Issue 3

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