Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Author Interview – Geoff Nelder

at 6:30 AM

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? Finding a writing place free from distraction is a challenge. I am too easily waylaid by the internet and domestic issues at home so whenever I can I take off for a writing retreat either in a library for a day, or in a cabin for a week. Other challenges are making the plot gripping overall, the characters three dimensional and the narrative engaging. Belonging to a critique group and having good editors help enormously.

Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it? I found that although the notion of infectious amnesia was mind-bogglingly ghastly and amazing, the feeling wore off only slowly after having to seriously get down to writing it. Similarly, the critique group of Orbiters at the British Science Fiction Association also became used to the idea as if it was always around us until we reminded ourselves – then the exhilaration of this new idea energised us again. I have spoken at book signings and writing workshops about ARIA’s infectious amnesia and you can see their eyes light up with the ramifications of people losing memory backwards being infectious. Yes, we are all used to the elderly being forgetful and of Alzheimer’s but generally not of middle-age workers forgetting how to do their jobs or even where their new workplace is – hospitals, power stations and essential services would break down in weeks. After those meetings I receive emails from some of the attendees still excited about the idea.

Because one way of coping with amnesia is to make notes to read when you wake up, that idea made me think about what is so important I had to make sure it was noted. Hence the quote from Brad Linaweaver, who writes Starship Galactica novels, said, “Geoff Nelder’s ARIA makes us ask the most important questions in life….”

Can you share a little of your current work with us? This work is the first volume of the ARIA trilogy.

As I puffed, riding my bicycle up a steep Welsh hill 5 years ago I had an original idea. What if amnesia was infectious? Then what if no one was immune. I researched like crazy for 4 months to discover a) there was no known medical event of infectious amnesia, and b) that the concept – especially with retrograde amnesia (lose say a year’s worth per day backwards) – hadn’t been used in published stories, nor on TV or film. It took a year to create the first 100k draft. I showed and discussed it with SF luminaries such as Jon C Grimwood, Charles Stross and US writer, Brad Linaweaver, who all endorsed it. Also to pal, Allan Guthrie, who is an agent, editor and author of hard-nosed crime. He wanted me to rewrite and tighten like crazy. So I joined the BSFA Orbiters and it went through SF members that way – very useful. An agent took it on. Scottish publisher, LL-Publications snapped it up last autumn and the first volume of ARIA had its release on August 1st 2012 – yeay.

How did you come up with the title? The original premise in the ARIA trilogy is that of infectious amnesia. It doesn’t exist in reality – I know because I interviewed a professor of neurology. There are infectious diseases such as meningitis from which some patients can suffer memory loss but their amnesia is often temporary and not retrograde (lose memory back from now). I and my agent and friends researched databases of science fiction plots and found no story using the idea of infectious amnesia. There is a Star Trek episode where the crew are made to forget what happened but that is quite different. The amnesia virus is planted as a kind of Trojan horse by aliens. Hence we have an Alien Retrograde Infectious Amnesia (ARIA). If you were anticipating a musical story I apologise. Just hum arias from Wagner or Puccini while you read ARIA. Left Luggage because the virus is planted in a suitcase that is deliberately left in the struts of the International Space Station.

Who designed the cover? Award-winning Andy Bigwood is the artist for the ARIA trilogy. I send him great ideas then he sends back completely different and better ones! We meet at conventions such as FantasyCon and BristolCon so we know each other’s work and ideas.

Who is your publisher? LL-Publications wisely took me on as one of their authors. Established in 2008, LL-Publications is run by the husband and wife team of Jim and Zetta Brown. They are proud to be a small, independent press. Their aim is quality over quantity and their motto is “taking the reader down a different path” because the titles they produce are not recycled plots with reused characters in uninspired settings but compelling tales that readers will remember.

One of the reasons they accepted ARIA: Left Luggage is because the concept of infectious amnesia is unique. No one has used that idea and it doesn’t exist in medical reality either – thank goodness! Just imagine the ramifications. Website

How do you promote this book? I created a facebook page for it at and refer to it probably too much on readers and writers forums and twitter. I arranged signings at conventions and libraries. I and the publisher sent media releases to newspapers and magazines along with copies of the book for reviewers. For my blog and discussion groups I created a list of unusual facts about the book:

  1. Infectious amnesia is an original concept in that it is an unknown medical condition and has not been used before in novels or films.
  2. Research help and support was emailed to me from space! Astronaut Leroy Chiao answered my questions about the nature of the struts on the International Space Station, and in 2012 wished me luck with the book.
  3. All the places on Earth used in the book are real geographical locations, including the ‘hidden’ valley – Anafon – in North Wales.
  4. The cover art is designed by award-winning artist, Andy Bigwood.
  5. The idea of infectious amnesia came to me while I was riding a bicycle up a steep Welsh hill.

I obtained quotes from the famous and the good SF writers eg

Jon Courtenay Grimwood  – “Geoff Nelder inhabits Science Fiction the way other people inhabit their clothes.”

Robert J Sawyer calls ARIA a “fascinating project”.

“Geoff Nelder’s ARIA has the right stuff. He makes us ask the most important question in life and science fiction–the one about the true limits of personal responsibility.” – Brad Linaweaver.

ARIA has an intriguing premise, and is written in a very accessible style.” – Mike Resnick.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? One message is that when and if aliens contact us, be prepared for the unexpected. They are unlikely to appear, speak English, and wait for the trigger-happy among us to fire first.

Another message is to consider what is of vital importance for your survival, and for happiness. If you forgot all your friends and family, what would that feel like, and could you devise coping strategies? I hope this book helps readers to re-evaluate their lives as well as be a great adventure story.

How much of the book is realistic? I spoke to a professor of neurology about whether there was such a medical condition as infectious amnesia. He decided there wasn’t, but a woman colleague couldn’t say that it would be impossible. They both looked aghast that perhaps we’ve all been lucky that it hasn’t already happened! After all the world has experienced pandemics such as Bird Flu and some infections are very difficult to combat. It is not outrageous to envisage a variant of a SARS or ebola virus for which no one is immune and one of its effects is to wipe memory. I could have written ARIA along those lines – ie a pandemic virus that wipes out most people but there have been many books and films of apocalyptic viruses (even if not amnesia) caused by pollution or chemical warfare. I have to be different.

How important do you think villains are in a story? Every story has to have conflict. Often the plot line is the gradual resolution of that conflict but along the way the protagonist has his or her stress compounded by an antagonist, the villain. It is slightly different for science fiction. Conflict still plays an essential part but the villain might be a situation such as a crash landing on a planet with extra strong gravity, or an attack of infectious amnesia. Martin Amis said, “In science fiction the plot is the main character.” That main character, as the plot conflict, might be the villain.

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Genre – Science Fiction / Medical Mystery

Rating – PG

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