Following the launch of The End Of All Worlds in May this year Kevin Domenic of the Searching for Heroes book website was kind enough to interview me about my story, and, umm… me. That was back in June, and here’s the interview I gave:
Today, we sit down with T E Shepherd, author of The End of All Worlds. A storyteller since the day he wrote his first word, Shepherd has written a tale about the bleak possibilities our planet might face in the not-so-distant future.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I was born in 1973 and grew up in Lowestoft, Suffolk before moving to Cheshire to study a degree in Creative Arts. Having worked as an electronic production editor for science and academic publishers in Oxford, I now work as a Web and Digital Media Officer for a top modern university. I live in Oxfordshire with my wife Emma and our seven cats, four chickens and two bunnies and I’m different. I’m not your usual person. Lots of people can say that about themselves but with me it’s true. Just ask my wife! I only discovered how different in the last ten years when I discovered that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the mild end of the autism spectrum. In subtle, subconscious ways I think this does affect my writing. For someone who is, on occasion, somewhat clueless and inept in social situations, I have been praised on my dialogue. As a person I also have difficulty reading visual cues and body-language and consequently my editors often tell me I’m ‘telling’ too much when I should be ‘showing’. Show not tell they say and I have to really work hard to achieve that!
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember, and probably writing them down as soon as I could. It was aged 9 that my Grandpa gave me a toy theatre that he had made and I started writing plays. My first play, co-written by my cousins Tracey and Judy, was a stage production of Star Trek for ‘play people’ actors and featured an exploding washing machine complete with real soap suds! My next was the infamous and endless Rome, for which I would sell tickets to my family and friends and sit them down in front of for entire Sunday afternoons. It wasn’t the greatest creation but one that seeded in me the fun of creating and sharing stories.
Q: What is The End Of All Worlds about?
A: At its heart, the story is about how we, as the human race, are changing and destroying our planet. It’s also a modern day saga pulling together different strands into this, so we get various explanations of what is causing the storms, and the fragile, erratic and dangerous changes in climate, geography and geology…
Q: How did you come up with the plot?
A: I have Icelandic cousins but it wasn’t until 2001 that I made my first visit to their country. I knew from the beginning that with a country so rich in folklore I had to write a story set there. In August of that year there was a story on the news of a girl, hiking with her family in the Peruvian mountains, who got lost. For a few days there were signs that she might have survived, but I cannot now remember what the final outcome of it was. That idea of beating all the odds and emerging out of the wilderness and back into civilisation was all I needed for the idea to sow itself in my brain.
Q: Tell us about your main protagonists.
A: The novel begins and it is Eleanor’s story, but she is only one of the three main characters in The End Of All Worlds. Eleanor is the artist with the passion for, and the belief in, the old legends of her father’s country. Ben is her brother with the background in science and the certainty of man-made climate science. Their cousin, Hanna is the bridge between them – the polymath with the science knowledge and the intellectual understanding, but the unswerving faith in her own country’s mythology.
Q: Did you have any specific goals when writing The End Of All Worlds? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?
A: I wanted to write a good story, first and foremost, and through it bring out the importance and the truth of climate science. So for every mythological occurrence there is a scientific explanation. The story is one where the myths and legends of Icelandic folklore come alive in the twenty-first century. Eleanor sees, and talks to – wants to help – the huldufolk or the ‘hidden people’. These unexplainable events need explanations though, and those explanations are very relevant to our world. Think of Ben and Eleanor as the Mulder and Scully of Norse sagas.
Q: What do you feel are the most important aspects of a great book?
A: It has to be an engaging story, well-told. It also has to have the ability to be read again for a second, third, or fourth time, and to get something new out of it every time. A book with layers would be a great book in my eyes. Firstly, there has to be the story but then on further reading there should be levels to it that you can only get to as you yourself learn more experience more.
Q: Describe your ideal protagonist. What traits do he or she embody?
A: Eleanor, Ben and Hanna? I would hope that all three were my ideal protagonist. I like heroes to be those that fall into the story, and get caught up in the events, rather than who are born into it. Polly in Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire & Hemlock would be just such a protagonist, whilst I find Will in Susan Copper’s The Dark Is Rising to be – particularly in the later books in the series – a little bit annoying because his position as an Old One. I think that Cooper herself might have felt a bit like that too, as these same feelings are expressed by the other children in series.
Q: Can you tell me about the first thing you ever wrote? Was it a short story? Book? Magazine article?
A: I’ve already talked about the first story I ever wrote, but what I consider to be my first novel I wrote when I was 16. I remember being excited by the idea that I was going to defy convention and be published at such a young age by Puffin (or Penguin even?!) or Methuen Teens! My Dad’s secretary typed it up for me before I subsequently submitted it as both part of my A-Level English coursework, and, illustrated and bound for my Art exam. Ruins Of The Old was to be a four-part novel made up of individual tales involving the Greek Gods in human form, magic, with modern-day-Merlin, and an unusually evil King Arthur. Looking back I can see now how derivative it was of so many of my then favourite books. There were sparks of originality in it though, and I never say never to pulling ideas back out the draw and reworking then in the future.
Q: As I’m sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links you’d like to share?
A: I have an online journal that I have been writing in for the last 10 years. It’s nice because I can limit the visibility of individual posts according to what I’m talking about, but allows me to keep everything in one place. I remember it becoming ‘cult’ reading in the workplace of a previous job. With the emergence of social media I think it really can connect you to you reaches in a way that you never could before. It has to be the writer themselves who tweets and posts on facebook and I do think it needs to be about more than books. You need to be able to see the personality of the writer there and not feel like it is one or more marketing executives posting as the writer. I can be found at http://twitter.com/shepline and facebook.com/teshepherd, and if you would like to follow a couple of other writer’s worth following, try www.twitter.com/rhi_lassiter and twitter.com/MHarrison13
Q: What do you think of the changes taking place in the publishing industry? With authors gaining more control over the creation and distribution of their work, what do you think readers stand to gain/lose?
A: More than ever the publishing industry are only taking safe choices: the work of ‘celebrities’ or authors already famous elsewhere or writers for whom they can attach a marketing spin. They pay these few individuals massive advantages when really they should be using half that amount to pay many, many new writers tiny advances in the knowledge that only a handful will be successful but that the ones that are will be genuinely, unexpected finds. With the rise of Indie Publishing there is a real chance for the democratisation of the publishing industry. Ebooks can do for writers what mp3s did for bands and musicians…
Q: Were there any other authors in particular that inspired you to pen your own novel?
A: I have perennially favorite authors who inspire me but the work of the late, great Diana Wynne Jones always tops that list. Alan Garner and Susan Cooper are always also firm favorites, and particularly with this book, Garner’s dark fantasy of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I am not much fussed about sword and sorcery and other-worldly fantasty, preferring instead what I call real-world fantasy: stories that take place in the here and the now but where magic intrudes.
Q: And just for fun, favorite movie or television series?
A: Can I name a favorite movie and television series? Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in which two people meet on a train across Europe, talk, become friends, talk some more and depart. And on television, Steven Moffat’s pre-Doctor Who, early 1990s children’s drama Press Gang, I love the way the language they use is so unrealistic and yet it feels so completely real. Brilliant.