Sean E. Britten is an author and radio presenter from Sydney, Australia. An avid consumer of everything from classic literature to pulpy paperbacks, Sean channels his love of horror, serial killers and things that go bump in the night into writing in an attempt to stave off the dark mutterings at the back of his mind, to varying degrees of success. He is also the host of the American news and politics-centric podcast “U.S. of Ed”.
1.Why storytelling? What made you yearn to tell a good story, and how long was this story within you before it came out?
As one of my favourite authors (me) said once, “It’s funny when people ask me why I write, because it assumes I ever had a bloody choice in the matter.” I want to write a good story because I want to read a good story, and read it in that intimate way that comes from experiencing its creation firsthand. If I could never publish another single word ever again I would still be writing for myself. The first draft of Kill Switch was inspired by a conversation with a friend and came out really quickly, within six months. Although some of the characters had probably been hanging around the joint for a few years, waiting to be given something to do.
2.What is it about your genre that speaks to you?
One of the great things about science fiction is it allows creators to explore modern trends or issues but in an exaggerated way. Kill Switch, as it’s set around a deadly reality TV show in the not-too-distant future complete with advertising, let me exaggerate a lot of tropes in reality TV, advertising and day-to-day life to the point of comedy. The comedy is also extremely dark at times but the exaggeration and distance of the future setting means people are still free to laugh while recognising what can be some very real, very serious issues in real life.
The story is very clean and straightforward – take fifteen pairs of death row criminals, drop them into an arena with a heap of weapons and let them turn the whole place into a meat grinder. I like straightforward stories because it gives you a great big canvas to cover in bright colours, the action, the extremely diverse range of characters and backstories, the humour, and the imagery. It was a lot of fun to write and hopefully to read.
4.What character from your work frightens you, makes you feel dirty to write?
For Kill Switch, the main character’s partner / antagonist Dali Dawson, a serial killer with a penchant for staging elaborate art pieces with the bodies of his victims as extremely petty acts of revenge. He’s a total sociopath but sees himself as more of a vigilante. I couldn’t have gotten inside his head though without, on some level, agreeing with a few of the things he has to say and way he thinks throughout the novel.
5.You have unlimited money to buy a gift for your main character. What would you buy?
Lots and lots of therapy, given his backstory and what he goes through in the novel I’d say he’s going to need it.
6.When you are writing, tell me about the emotions that are running through you and what it takes to work alongside them.
Excitement, at the best of times writing feels less like I’m creating something and more like I’m just letting it happen, and I want to see what happens next as much as anybody else. The best way to work with that feeling is just to get out of its way. Frustration usually comes from feeling like I physically can’t keep up with how much there is coming to me, that the story is running ahead without me. At times like that I’ve got to take a breather and accept my own pace.
7.How did you find the time to write this book with your busy life? What ideas do you have on how others can make time in their lives?
Writing should be an addiction, you never see an addict failing to make time for whatever their vice of choice is. Write on the train, write on your lunch break, write before you go to bed, whenever you get the chance. That said, you should work to your own rhythms. If you’re a morning person then maybe get up a half-hour early to give yourself some time to write and put a couple hours aside on weekend mornings to focus purely on sitting down and writing. If you’re a night owl, give it an hour before bed. And try to keep notes or make lists to stay organised so when you do get a chance to sit down you know exactly what you want to be writing.
8.Everyone has at least one specific challenge that holds them back. What is that challenge in your work and how do you overcome it?
That frustration I mentioned before that sometimes I feel like I just physically can’t get the words out fast enough to satisfy the story. Writing is a beast that demands to be fed. When that frustration builds, sometimes it starts looking around at other stories and ideas like they’re going to be a quicker and more satisfying meal. The trick is knowing when to pull back the reins and force it to focus on one story with the promises there are some extra tasty morsels in the future and when to just let it run wild for a little bit to shake out some of that jittery energy. I’m usually carrying around three to five notebooks with completely different stories and ideas written in them so I physically don’t lose sight of what I’m supposed to be working on. I find that visual reminder a comfort and a good way of keeping stories on the burner.
9.You’re going to go back and visit yourself when you first started writing, at whatever age it was, and you can give yourself one piece of advice. What would it be?
Start at the beginning, then write the middle, and then write an ending. I lost momentum on too many projects by getting ahead of myself and trying to jump around to different points of the story because I was overexcited. That, and “Just because most of your favourite authors are / were drunks doesn’t mean alcohol is magical writing juice.”
10.Let’s talk about tools. Do you have a word processor that you would tell us to use? Is there a certain computer that has become your favorite? What do you look for in a keyboard? What would you absolutely have to have if you were to sit down and write your next book?
Pen and paper, know it sounds a bit old fashioned but hear me out. Writing by hand, you can’t keep going back and retooling that one section you don’t feel quite right about, you can only keep moving the story forward. Worry about retooling and editing later. There are no red or green squiggly lines under your words or grammar to distract you, no temptations to click on another window and visit social media for a minute, and you can take a pen and notebook with you wherever you go. When typing and editing my latest thing is Google Docs. It saves as you go, you can access your latest version on any device with internet and besides checking your spelling and grammar it also checks for misused words better than any other word processor I’ve come across.
11.If you could live anywhere other than where you are, where would it be?
New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town, especially when thinking about writing. I love urban environments that are rich with history and stories and it doesn’t get much better than there. Even when a city is undergoing a lot of gentrification I love the way new and shiny juxtaposes with old and gritty.
12.A publishing house gets ahold of you and wants you to take over writing an established character. For instance, DC Comics calls you and tells you they want you to take over writing Batman. What is the dream? What established character would you love to write?
Mack Bolan from The Executioner series, love the thought of writing some of that old school, pulpy, two-fisted action. Other than that I would love to write something in China Miéville’s ‘Bas-Lag’ setting and the city of New Crobuzon, which is a character unto itself.
13.If you could choose any other writer, living or dead, to be your mentor, whom would you choose and why?
It’s an obvious answer but I would have to say Stephen King. His books were a big part of what inspired me to become a writer. I love the fact that even though he’s known as a master of horror he’s actually really prolific in other genres. ‘On Writing’ is a great book about the craft and I feel like I already approach writing and thinking about writing in a very similar way to him.
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