by Sebastian Starcevic, Age 14, Australia
Aspiring young writers will enjoy this rich and informative interview with Steven Lochran, author of the Vanguard Series
How did you come up with the idea for Vanguard Prime? Where do you draw your inspiration?
I originally came up with what would eventually be Vanguard Prime when I was 15. Being a fan of comic books, I wrote a story about a teenager being dropped off by his parents at a military facility so that he could be trained to become a superhero. I got a few thousand words into it before I abandoned it, and left it untouched for over ten years before finding the document on my computer again.
The timing was lucky, as I was looking for inspiration for something to write after the first book I’d tried to get published hadn’t met with success. Reading through the old story, I thought it could make a good book, so I sat down to rework it. Nine months later, I’d written the first book in the Vanguard Prime series.
Like all writers, I draw inspiration from a variety of sources, books being the greatest. As a children’s author, you reflect on the kind of stories you enjoyed when you were young. For me, that includes books by John Marsden, Roald Dahl, Gillian Rubenstein, Emily Rodda, Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman. I also try to pull ideas from my childhood as much as possible, as that way I feel I’m tapping into something that kids today will enjoy. ‘Goldrush’, the main character’s codename in the Vanguard Prime series, is from a list of superhero names I created when I was 12.
But books you read as an adult also influence you. Audrey Niffenegger’s use of first person/present tense in The Time Traveller’s Wife convinced me to try my hand at that kind of voice when I wrote Goldrush. Stephen King’s advice in On Writing also informed my use of prose a great deal.
Of course, film, TV and music all play a part as well. I’ve written on my blog about what songs inspired what scenes in the first book in the Vanguard Prime series, and intend to do that for the other books in the series as music plays a big role in seeding my imagination.
And finally, I recommend travel as a fantastic source of inspiration. It’s true what they say about it broadening the mind. And, if you’re doing it for research, it’s tax deductible! Well, partly tax deductible. I’ll leave it to you and your accountant to work out the details. Don’t blame me if you get arrested for tax evasion.
I’m rambling now. Next question…
What do you think makes a good story?
That’s a very hard question that looks deceptively simple! I could go on about balancing the mechanics of plot with character development and the use of theme, but I think what it comes down to is whether or not the reader finds the story engaging and whether it stays with them after they’ve finished it. If you can create something that lives on in somebody else’s imagination, you’ve pulled off the magic trick that we’re all hoping to accomplish.
…though the inclusion of explosions always helps.
What was it like being published for the first time?
Overwhelming, in so many ways! Before you’re published, you imagine what it would be like to walk into a shop and see your book with your name on it up on the shelf. What you don’t take into account is all the time and effort that goes into making that moment happen.
In the end, the happiest, most thrilling moment would be when a publisher first makes an offer on your book. After that, so many things develop at such a sporadic pace that, by the time you actually see the finished product, you’ve experienced about a dozen other milestones and the glow has worn off a little. But that’s not to undercut the sense of accomplishment you feel in achieving one of your major life goals.
Being published for the first time is just the first step, though. After that, you focus on building your career. So the goals are always changing.
How do you prepare for writing a novel?/What type of planning do you do beforehand?
I used to plot out every moment in the story meticulously. I saw it as being the same as using a road map; you could make deviations and pit stops along the way, but you knew where you going turn-by-turn. I did that for Goldrush, the first Vanguard Prime book, but when it came time to write the second book, Wild Card, I found that process incredibly restrictive. I knew exactly where the plot needed to go but, in being so formal, I’d cheated myself out of the fun of discovering the story.
I tried to strike more of a balance in writing War Zone, the third book in the series. I knew the broad outline of where I wanted things to go, and I knew what I wanted the ending to be, but otherwise I came up with the story scene-by-scene as I was writing it. Having that extra degree of spontaneity made things more fun.
In the end, you have to work out what process works best for you – and what works best for you may well change from story to story.
Do you have any peculiar writing habits?
I’m disappointed to say that I haven’t developed any particularly eccentric writing habits at this stage. Maybe the strangest one to witness would be when, in trying to describe an action, I’ll mime the movement over and over until I’ve found a way to convey it on the page. I was comforted to find out that Neil Gaiman does the same thing…though that doesn’t stop my wife from laughing at me when she catches me doing it.
Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
My best advice would simply be to not give up. There are times when things feel hopeless, and that you’ve been trying and trying in vain for so long that you can’t possibly see things being any different. But the only time your goal is guaranteed to not happen is when you stop trying to make it happen. So just keep trying!
And because it’s worth repeating; the inclusion of explosions always helps.