This week we're sitting down to chat with Bev Allen, author of the military space opera thriller, Jabin.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Bev. For those who haven't yet had a chance to check out Jabin, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.
I’m married, I've got two kids and I’m old enough to remember the first series of Star Trek being shown for the very first time. I’ll leave you to do the numbers. I've been a published winner of SFX’s annual Pulp Fiction competition and I was commissioned by Big Finish to write a Dr.Who story for one of their anthologies.
I fell in love for the first time at a very young age, he was a Coldstream Guardsman on guard outside Buckingham Palace and I was four. He never wrote or phoned, but my life long adoration of the military has never failed. I married a military historian and work for a military history research society.
I like sci fic and the sort of “ripping yarn” you get from people like George MacDonald Fraser. I thought it would be fun to combine the two. My book follows the trials and tribulations of a teenage boy (Jabin) as he struggles against injustice and a load of really nasty pirate slavers, combined and contrasted against the story of the soldiers sent by Earth to deal with said nasties.
Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and what has the journey to publication been like?
I was always trying to write, but I’m dyslexic, not badly, but enough to make writing the old fashioned way difficult and unsatisfactory. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the wonder that is a Word Processor that I had the tool I needed. I wrote five novels in five years. Were they any good…not really, but like the curate’s egg, they are good in parts.
I also wrote a lot of short stories and it was one of these my son talked me into sending to SFX. I had no expectations and no-one was more gobsmacked than me when it was picked as one of the 10 runners up to be published in their anthology.
A bigger smack in the chops was when Big Finish commissioning me, on the strength of the SFX story, to write a Dr. Who one. They published under license from the BBC and there were strict rules on what you could and could not write. It was a real challenge, but also huge fun.
Armed with this ego boost, I re-wrote one of my five novels and “Jabin” is the result. It made the desk on Authonomy and I went looking for a publisher.
I found one, an indie, but things didn’t work out there. When I left them I approached Thorstruck and they accepted me.
Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?
I find dialogue the easiest. In fact, I sometimes feel like a bit of a cheat because I can hear my people talking to each other and all I do is write it down.
I struggle with place, I’m not good at describing landscapes. I’m working on it, but honestly, it’s the people and how they react to each other which is most important to me.
My other main worry is titles – it took me six months to come up with “Jabin”. I think that sums up ability with titles.
Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?
I don’t think any of them took the story in a direction I didn’t want to go, although I will admit a couple of them tried. What did surprise me occasionally was the layers of emotions I discovered in then, nothing and no-one was black or white, everyone (by and large) was a shade of grey.
I think Antonia surprised me. She should have hated her captor and she did hate the things he had done to her and made her do, but she had lived with him for a long time and she couldn’t hate him, not entirely. I hadn’t expected that, I had imagined her triumphant at his downfall and jubilant at his fate, but she wasn’t and it was only as I was writing it I realised how right and how normal her reactions were.
Q: When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?
I write for me, I write the sort of stories I would like to read. I am delighted when others like my stories, I adore sharing them, but I don’t think you can write if you are constantly looking over your shoulder for approval from a stranger.
Even with the commission and the constraints it posed, I wrote the sort of Dr. Who story I liked.
Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?
Possibly the reviewer who condemned me roundly for the bad language, sex and violence. To be fair to her, it was the first edition of “Jabin”, the one brought out by my previous publisher. He had added “and the Space Pirates” to the title for some reason and she thought it was a book for kids.
Poor woman was shocked.
Fortunately, Thorstruck have removed the add-on and I no longer sail under false colours.
Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?
Too many! How much time have you got? I would list George MacDonald Fraser, Patrick O’Brian, Arthur Ransome and Robert Heinlein as influences. Also Georgette Heyer, Ben Aaronovitch and Dorothy L Sayers…oh, dozens and dozens of others, many of them non-fiction writers.
The one who refreshes me and the one I go to in times of trouble is Terry Pratchett. In my heart of hearts I want to be Granny Weatherwax.
Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were your work to be optioned for the big screen?
I have absolutely no idea. I would be a casting director’s dream candidate - they would have to lead me by the hand.
Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?
Not in Jabin’s world, but I have just finished a tale of eco warriors and tattooed tribesmen all set on a forest world, where the bad guys are out to destroy a fragile and beautiful environment. The juvenile lead is called “Lucien” and unless someone comes up with a better title…..:-)
Sounds like an interesting read coming up - thanks for joining us!
About the Author
I fell in love with my first soldier outside Buckingham Palace. He was a Coldstream on guard and I was four. Later I fell in love with reading and writing, and later still with scific and tales of fantasy and high adventure, but that first admiration for the military has never faded. Now I am married to an amateur military historian who drags me around every military museum he can find. We are both members of The Victorian Military Society.
I’ve always told stories, but I am dyslexic and the process of writing them down was always hard, and the results unsatisfactory, until I discovered word processing, and for a few years I just wrote and wrote and wrote. Most of it wasn’t good, but I was learning my craft and eventually I sent a short story to SFX for their Pulp Fiction competition and I was a winner! One of ten authors whose story was printed in an anthology. Soon after I was contacted by Big Finish, who published Dr Who stories under licence from the BBC. On the strength of my SFX story, they commissioned me to write for one of their anthologies. It was a real thrill.
I have always loved pulp sci fic and adventure stories, the sort of book that is now called YA, but I still think of as FUN. My small success made me take a serious look at what I had written during my learning time and one story stood out as having potential and after some extensive rewriting “Jabin" was the result
You can find Bev on her Website and Twitter
About the Book
by Bev Allen
The space colony is rife with religious and political rivalry, and prey to the vicious maraudings of pirates whose cruelty is savage. In New Wales the pirate attacks are relentless and merciless. Having lost both his parents Jabin is adopted by malicious relatives.
Jabin altruistically surrenders to a raiding gang, he does so believing nothing can be worse than his current suffering. He discovers circumstance does worsen when megalomaniacs rule. When the King of New Wales is assassinated the colony threatens to collapse into total anarchy, leaving the pirates free reign to mutilate, kill, and profit. Earth's law enforcement are ready for retaliation. Jabin has a vital role in the ensuing war, if he can survive the current mayhem.
Interstellar espionage is visceral in this masterpiece of cosmic suspense.