Thursday, 15 May 2014

Interview with Ian Miller



Ian Miller is a British artist, illustrator and writer best known for his macabre sensibility, and surreal, quirkily-etched Gothic style. He is a graduate of St Martin’s School of Art Painting Faculty, and is noted for his detailed book, magazine, and graphic novel illustrations, including covers for books by H.P. Lovecraft, contributions to David Day's Tolkien-inspired compendiums, work for various Games Workshop-published fantasy gaming periodicals, role-playing and war gaming books and supplements, including popular Warhammer titles. His experience also extends to feature films such as Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards and Coolworld, and pre-production and production work on numerous short films and highly successful movies including ‘Shrek’.




  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your artistic creativity?
My mother worked for one of the leading theatrical costumiers in London during the early part of the fifties; so I was, from the outset, caught up in the most intimate workings of the Illusion Machine. My toy chests overflowed with the cast offs and oddments from a score of film and theatre productions. I was receptive to everything that was weird and wonderful. Fact and fiction were not in contention. Strange worlds could still be reached through the backs of cupboards, if you knew where to look. Bubble gum was made from Everglades swamp water - that was a fact. I remember, whilst travelling to Manchester on a steam train, seeing a herd of headless cows from the carriage window. When I mentioned it to the other occupants of the carriage, they just smiled, and said such things where commonplace in the North of England.



  1. Your work is meticulous, highly detailed, dark and often humorous. What creative works inspired you or first drew you to your preferred forms of artistic expression?
Most everything, if truth be known. We are bombarded by detail wherever we look. I have always had an enquiring mind, and for me, making marks seemed like an appropriate response (making sense of, if you will). I used whatever tools were to hand; and by elimination, found the ones that best suited my needs. I do not think I set out with any preconceptions about how I wanted to express myself as an artist, nor how I should achieve that. I studied painting at Art School, but seldom went near a canvas. I think I got lost in seven years of Art History and Theory and always found myself painting like, after, or in the manner of, some other person or school. Etching and dip pens felt more like me, a more direct conduit to expression if you will. That said, however, I have a wide remit and my studio is cluttered with a plethora of large images and constructions. I started off at St Martin’s in the Sculpture Department and switched to painting in the second year. I think of this as a slow meander to God knows where? But I’m still drawing; so, “Huzzah!” for that.


  1. Tell us about your learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.
First, magic colouring books - you added water and the colours magically appeared. My father bought them in London somewhere. After this, twelve coloured pencils with a different colour each end. It was my sixth birthday. The vivid quality of the colours was startling; and even now, all these years on, I can still remember the excitement they aroused in me. Their arrival prompted my ‘Ancient Egyptian Phase‘. Frontality, hieroglyphic pillars, pyramids, and Ancient Egyptians was all that mattered. It must have been the desert yellow that started it. But whatever the reason, sand, asps, striped towels, palm trees and pyramids, filled the pages of my drawing books until every one of those twelve pencils was all used up. That was a very sad day for me. Then school, and those bloody awful powder paints, and small yard brooms they passed off as paint brushes. I remember I used to paint papier-mâché buns with the paint then eat them. I seem to remember I liked brown paper bags as well.

I took up etching in my first year at Art School and flirted on and off with the process for the next seven years of study. Needless to say, I was wholly intrigued by the process, but eternally frustrated by the difficulties of securing time on an etching press. The printing facilities at St Martin’s School of Art in the late sixties were not brilliant, and always heavily oversubscribed. This was a real shame because the staff and technicians were really very good. In any event, I came across one of my friends drawing with a Rotring Rapidograph and after trying one out myself, knew I’d stumbled on the solution to my problem.

The drawing point of the technical pen, although different in so many ways from that of an etching needle, provided a precise substitute. Although every image was now an edition of one, it did allow me to create the type of line work I wanted; and most importantly, when I wanted. This was a sheer joy. Admittedly, the mono line quality of these pens imposed limitations; but they were clean and efficient tools, and I found I quickly compensated for any shortfalls. In fact, building up surfaces / veneers, was so much easier and so much faster that my image production quadrupled. Laying down one pattern of lines on top of another, for so many years, in all manner of configurations and permutations, was perhaps the perfect preparation for understanding and manipulating the levels feature in Photoshop. Some might say, “What about working a knitting machine?” and I would have to say, “Yes, but I prefer the former.”


  1. Of the work you’ve created, do you have a favourite? If so, why this particular work?
I do not have a fixed favourite. Mood dictates ‘favourite’ and, for the most part, all I see are the shortfalls in my imagery. That said, I always view this as a healthy state of mind, because it motivates me to try harder. My favourite painting is Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough in the National Gallery. I love this image in any mood.

‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.’ ~ Walt Whitman


  1. Tell us about The Broken Diary.
The Broken Diary is a natural extension of my working practise, a necessary development. I have always loved storytelling, and picked the right tool and vehicle for the job. Transposing my thoughts and images into words is always an exciting process. I was inspired many years ago by Alfred Kubin’s book, The Other Side. The Broken Diary is a real life diary, juxtaposed against a twisting tale of delusion, dream and nightmare. Perhaps they are one and the same thing?

It was a very generic process. There were no real constraints. All things were possible. I’m now reworking a theatre project, which nearly made it to the London stage some years back, called The Shingle Dance for an animation project/film in the Netherlands. I also adapted it for opera, but the lighthouse collapsed in the Shetlands. Third time lucky, maybe?


  1. You are a writer and artist who successfully applied imaginative skills to several creative outlets, including graphic novels and feature films. Tell us about any challenges you have faced with the adaptation of your work.
The creative imperative, in my view, is to push constantly at the boundaries of one’s practise, beyond the comfort zones, if you will. I try hard to do this. I do not always succeed, but I do try. I find the process of image making hard, and always have done. Sometimes I’m astonished I found a way through, despite a lifetime of application.

A tale about Hollywood?

It was whilst my wife and I were wandering penniless around San Francisco in 1974 /5, that Ralph (Bakshi) tracked me down via London and New York, and offered me a job working on his film, Wizards in Los Angeles. At that time, the working title for the film, as I recall, was War Wizards. This hunt was prompted by Ralph having seen a Gormenghast Castle image I had created for Pan Books some months earlier. After our frugal time in the old Gaylord Hotel near Union Square, where the lift threatened to die every day, and the event of the week was the free doughnuts and coffee on Sunday mornings, West Hollywood was a startling contrast. Although the scenery was not so good, the material gains were quite dramatic - in short, a fairytale transformation.

Seeing my work enhanced and animated was astonishing, as was interacting with so many talented people in the Bakshi studios. Ralph allowed me immense freedom of expression; and I worked all the better for it, I think. Such licence is rarely given or found. My association with Ralph was a dynamic, and never to be forgotten experience. Sometimes, I liken it to trench warfare for the artists. You lived ever second of it - whizz, bangs, screams, and all. It was sometimes exhausting; but it was never ever boring, or middle of the road.


  1. Where do Orange Monkeys come from, and why are they so dangerous?
They pop into your head when you’re dreaming. Some people dangle them in cocktails by their tails and giggle a lot. I suspect that that pisses them off, big time. I swore I’d never say a thing, if they left me in peace. Even the spiders are frightened of them. Just pray they never visit you in your dreams.


  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
By taking a very deep breath, three in fact; and saying mantra style, “I can do this,” as many times as it takes to get me moving. I remind myself I have served my time and that I have the skills and discipline to follow through. The magic comes through application. The experience is always different, tantalizing even. There is always so much to learn, so much to hone and perfect, then there is magic.


  1. You have worked on popular films such as Shrek. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding the continuing application of your work to film and television?
My last stint working on a film was in Vancouver. It was a wee bit ‘humourless and sweat shop’. I went to work on development imagery, and everything was being pushed to finish from the very start. I did not feel it was an environment I could function well in. I left early. I have no problem with applying my work to film or any other medium. As I mentioned earlier, I’m adapting a script and imagery for an animation project. Wonderful stuff, if we get the funding. I’ll be working with some superb and talented people. It doesn’t get any better than that. I love the vital interaction these situations throw up, and I am always open to suggestions and offers. If somebody thinks I can contribute something useful, then why not give it a go?


  1. Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal client?
Somebody who trusts me to do what I do well, pays an equitable fee, has a sense of humour, and sees beyond the pound or dollar signs associated with the project. Whether you attach a small or big ‘A’ to the word art that is what I try to do. I care a great deal about the process of image making.


  1. Tell us a little about any good art you’ve seen recently, and good books you’ve read.
The Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition at Tate Modern is a superb exhibition in my opinion. I hope to see it several more times before it finishes. I loved the Mira Schendel show, also at Tate modern, and the Lowry at Tate Britain, a month or so back.

Books: The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk, Berlin Letters by Robert Walser, and A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. I’m about to start reading What is Madness? by Darian Leader, and War and Cinema by Paul Virilio, if the madness doesn’t take me first.


  1. What other interests do you have?
Walking, sailing, staring at the sky, and talking to rabbits and dogs. Also, planning my next move in the search for my long-lost green sock, with the orange windmills on it - last seen by the ornamental lake, in Victoria Park, Rangoon.


  1. Where can we find you and your work?
In dark cupboards; and if you look me up on: Wikipedia. In places I’ve forgotten I’ve even been. I’ve been scratching away for a very long time. Some of it would perhaps be best buried and forgotten.

Editor's note: I found Ian on his official website: www.ian-miller.org and you can too.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Interview with Christopher Guinness



Christopher Guinness is an animator and director from Trinidad and Tobago. Graduating from Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada, he is a multi-award winner in the advertising and animation circuit and a former President of the Caribbean chapter of the American Advertising. Having worked as an Art Director at McCann Erickson Port of Spain and Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi, Christopher now operates a design, film and animation agency, Bepperton.

His work has won over 70 awards including two Animae Caribe Awards, the Advertising Agencies Association of Trinidad and Tobago Campaign of the Year Award, Caribbean Advertising Federation Best of Show TV, Print and Overall Award, Ads of the World Best from Emerging Market, Adobe Cut and Paste People’s Choice Award and three American Advertising Federation US National ADDY® Awards.

Recently his short film, Pothound was selected as a finalist at the 2012 Vimeo Awards.

  
  1. Tell us about your studies in Trinidad and Canada that led to your career choices.
My interests in visual mediums have always seemed to direct my educational choices. Art class was one of the few I showed up for in secondary school. Otherwise, I was notorious for being absent and always in some arcade throwing Hadoukens. So I pursued studies that complimented that artistic expression in college, which was truly a joy. An expensive joy but the experience was wonderful - the people, the mentors, the creative energy. Advertising and filmmaking both rely on similar principles, getting the story across in an engaging manner.


  1. Tell us about your work as an animator, art director and filmmaker.
The majority of my work has been corporate. The art director/ad-man projects pay the bills. The filmmaking stuff is a recent development, a throwback to earlier days. I’m only now getting to the fun stuff, doing work that speaks from my conscience.


  1. How was Bepperton Entertainment Productions realised?
My wife and I decided to form a company! LOL. No epic story behind it.

Captain T&T


  1. Growing up in San Fernando, I immediately identified with the connection to the ocean in your films. What other aspects of your childhood in Trinidad inspired your artistic creativity?
The natural curiosity I hope never dies at the hands of complacency; that insatiable yearning to know why, when, where, how. And well, like most kids, media - the endless stream of cartoons, comic books and novels. Also, my family - the contrast of their personalities; my grand father was a strong silent gentleman, my father a cussing loud mouth with a chip on his shoulder, my mother a hypochondriac. Real characters. Lastly, experiencing the diversity of a Trinbago culture. I’ve been jarayed, baptised, attended a Muslim school, and lived on a Carnival route since a baby. The sum of my experiences shows in my work.


  1. Tell us about your learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it. 
I learn from doing. Usually, I pick a project first and research how to get the technical stuff done along the way. I get stuck all the time in the process, sometimes in the heat of the moment, but improvising usually saves the day. College was kind of the same thing - more discovery than instruction.


  1. What are the underlying themes and messages in your films, and why are they important to you?
Oh man, so many - from overcoming adversity, redemption, good conquering evil, taking responsibility, but most importantly, to love. To practice love, that kind of encompasses everything good.

Pothound


  1. Bubbercin is every bit the star in her titular role as ‘Pothound’. Who owns her, and what were the challenges involved in filming her?
She belongs to Leizelle, my wife. She handled Bubbercin on Pothound. She’s a really smart dog and somehow comprehends what needs to be done. The biggest challenge though was getting the shots before she got bored! Yes, this dog gets bored, so we have two or three chances to get whatever, then she’s like, “I’m bored, what’s next?”


  1. “Never work with animals or children” is the stern advice of the American comedian W.C. Fields. You have valiantly ignored his advice and produced superbly heart-warming and inspirational results. What is your secret?
Ha! Yeah, I’m well aware of that piece of advice. I like kids and animals though, so I was like, “Fuck it, the worse that can happen is failure.” My pig headed ways don’t always work out, but on these occasions they did. Kids are harder to work with than animals though. You have to be patient, and be really good at bribing.


  1. You’ve won many prestigious awards. Tell us about them.
The three National ADDYs were pretty special, still unprecedented in the Caribbean at that tier. Also, the Adobe Cut and Paste Award, and the Finalist selection at Vimeo.
But BS elitist classifications aside… they’re nice call cards for more work. They open doors - little testaments for new clients and investors to put their trust in you. Besides that, just another ornament on the shelf that gets dusty.


  1. What advice would you give to anyone considering a creative career? 
Go for it. Things fall into place. Be sure to experience stuff. Whether it is through travel or just on your computer or at the library with a book. Transport your brain to a place where it can learn and grow. Creativity is the sum of your knowledge and technical skill moulded into something unique.


  1. Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal client?
Someone who actually knows what she wants and pays on time, without reminders, threats or lawsuits!


  1. Who is your biggest fan?
My wife first and foremost, she supports all my little ideas. And Brunty, a dog that took an entire year to get off the street. She was the untrusting type. When I finally got her, I couldn’t leave a room without her following. She was my shadow. Very attached, very loving. She died though.



  1. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding the continuing application of your creativity to film and television?
Just to continue doing work I’m proud of. I’ll strive to do bigger stories and larger formats.


  1. Tell us a little about any good artistic work you’ve seen recently.
Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park. Just wonderful!


  1. What other interests do you have? 
Guy stuff I suppose - football, combat sports, and video games.


  1. Where can we find you and your work?

You can check our website at Bepperton.com and I can be reached at dream@bepperton.com, thanks Wayne.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Interview with Dr. Camille Wardrop Alleyne



Dr. Camille Wardrop Alleyne currently serves as the Assistant Program Scientist for the International Space Station (ISS), a science laboratory in space.  She is resident at NASA- Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas.  There she is responsible for managing the communication strategy for ISS Research and Technology that conveys the benefits of ISS scientific research to stakeholders, the public and potential users.  She also leads the integration of all international education programs across the ISS Partners (US, Japan, Russia, Europe and Canada).  Prior to this, Dr. Alleyne has held several positions at NASA, most recently as the Orion Crew Module Systems, Integration and Test Technical Manager at Johnson Space Center, the Systems Engineering and Integration Lead for Constellation Systems Requirements at NASA Headquarters and as a Flight Systems Test Engineer at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She has also held positions as an Aerospace Systems Engineer at the Missile Defense Agency and the Department of Defense, where she led analysis and integration of several ballistic missile defense projects.  

Dr. Alleyne holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University in Washington DC.  She also holds a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, FL, a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Houston. 

Ms. Alleyne is a licensed Private Pilot whose accomplishments include being a Finalist in the 2004 Astronaut Selection Program.  She is the Founder of the Brightest Stars Foundation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to educating, empowering and inspiring young women around the world to be future leaders through the study of science, math and technology. She has received numerous awards and commendations both from NASA and other national and international organizations.  She has been honored as a Caribbean Woman Icon in Science and Technology by the National Institute for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology in Trinidad and Tobago.  She was also honored as an Outstanding Woman in Aerospace by the National Society of Black Engineers.

  1. You were born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. How did your life and upbringing in Trinidad equip you for your successful career in science and assist in the realisation of your achievements?

My early childhood was very instrumental in helping me to become the person I am today.  Besides an innate curiosity about the natural world around me and about space, I had parents who held deep values for education and for allowing me to nurture my gifts and talents.  My mind was very mechanical and analytical and so I gravitated towards building and fixing things around the house, which my mother encouraged.  Additionally, I attended all-girl schools in Trinidad and Tobago, which I believe played a critical role in building my self-confidence that allowed me to navigate the career path I had chosen.


ISS and Earth (Credit: NASA)


  1. During your childhood, was there a film, television show, comic or novel, which acted as a primary catalyst to your passion for science and your desire to venture into space?
My affinity for science truly was one that was innate.  Along with maths, these subjects were just things I naturally excelled in, again because I think my brain was wired to think that way.  My love for space started long before I knew what I was dreaming about, when at the ages of 6 and 7 years old I would sit on the trunk of my dad’s car and stargaze every night – wondering what was “out there”.  Two of my favourite shows growing up were The Jetsons and Star Trek, both of which seemed far-fetched at the time, but I enjoyed tremendously.

  1. You are a role model. Did you have role models of your own?

My mom was my first role model in a very subconscious way.  I say subconscious because I was too young to know what being a role model meant.  She was a very strong and independent woman who along with my dad raised their three daughters to be strong, independent and self-sufficient.  In the last 20 years or so, my other role models were people who gave their lives in love and service of humanity – Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

US Spacewalk / 1st EVA on ISS (Credit: NASA)


  1. You were a finalist in the 2004 Astronaut Selection Program. Please tell us about this program and your desire to be an astronaut.

My desire to fly in space (the job of an astronaut) started when I was a freshman in college in 1986 when the Space shuttle Challenger accident happened.  At the time, just having moved from my home in the Caribbean, I did not know anything about NASA, the space shuttle or the career of being an astronaut – but I was hooked! I had just commenced my undergraduate studies in aeronautical engineering but the tragic event of the Challenger, opened my eyes, and instantly moved me, to switch my major to a focus on space and aerospace.  Six years later, after completing my college and graduate studies, I was driving into the gates of Kennedy Space Center to start what has been an amazing 18-year career.

The Astronaut Selection program is NASA’s process for recruiting candidates who train to be astronauts.  In the 2003-2004 selection process, I was one of 100 finalists who were selected from a pool of 4000+ applicants and who were invited to interview and undergo medical evaluation.  This was a week-long process that resulted in the selection of 12 of the 100 who undertook 2 years of training to be US astronauts.  Even though I wasn’t selected as one of the 12 candidates, going through the final selection process was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. 

  1. Tell us about your role within the International Space Station Program.

The International Space Station (ISS) is a multidisciplinary (biology, physical sciences, human research, just to name a few) laboratory in space where we conduct scientific research and technology development in a microgravity environment.  As an Assistant Program Scientist, I am responsible for the development and implementation of the communication strategies that effectively convey the benefits of microgravity scientific research to stakeholders, the public and potential users.  I also lead the integration of all international education programs across the ISS Partners (US, Japan, Russia, Europe and Canada) that have engaged and inspired millions of students globally, in their studies of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
 
  1. What is an aerospace engineer?

An aerospace engineer is a person who designs, develops, integrates and tests rockets and spacecraft vehicles and their systems.

  1. What advice would you give to someone with a desire to pursue a career in engineering?

Firstly, your career choice should be something that you are passionate about.   Engineering itself is a very challenging but fulfilling career.  Engineers are trained to analyse problems, develop solutions and think critically about the world around us.  It requires determination, perseverance and tenacity to successfully complete a college engineering program, especially for women, because it is traditionally a male-dominated field.

  1. Tell us about your role as a designer.

In the design of rockets or spacecrafts there are many sub-areas or subsystems that need to be designed first and then integrated to make a whole system.  The subsystems of rockets include the structures, propulsion, navigation and controls, aerodynamics (flow of air over a structure), avionics, thermal protection (specific to spacecraft).   Each of these areas is a sub-speciality in itself.  Then there are systems engineers who are responsible for integrating each of these parts into a whole and testing the whole to ensure that it meets the requirements it was designed for. Most of my career was spent involved in the design of spacecraft systems, rocket systems and the integration and testing of both.  In the last few years however, I have moved away from engineering into leading and managing projects and programs.

  1. As a child, I expected jet packs, flying cars, sub-orbital commercial flight and moon bases to be a part of our everyday life by now; but after just 6 missions, manned lunar landings ended in 1972. Since then, we’ve seen Concorde retire in 2003 after 27 years of service; and after 30 years of service we’ve witnessed the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. Is science fiction unreasonably optimistic with regards to human technological potential?

Sometimes it seems that our human potential lags what we coin as “science fiction” and sometimes we have surpassed science fiction in many ways.   There is nothing wrong with human beings dreaming big and using our imagination; in fact, it is a part of our nature! But there are scientific and physical realities of how our universe works that, regardless of how innovative and imaginative our thoughts are, the universal laws always dictate. Having said that, in 2013, we are on the verge of sub-orbital commercial flights for everyday people; we have smart phones in our pockets that are revolutionary- I never would have imagined 15, 20, or 25 years ago, this small device would allow me to respond to voice commands, access the internet and give me a capability to video conference with friends and family across the globe.  We have athletes with artificial limbs competing in able-bodied Olympics.  There are cars that don’t require gasoline. Finally, something that’s near and dear to my heart, and that is our Space Station in low Earth orbit built and operated by 15 countries working together to explore and further human knowledge.

  1. What does the foreseeable future of aerospace engineering and manned space exploration hold for us?

The development of a transport capability that would take humans to an asteroid by 2025 with the goal of reaching Mars by 2030. Our goal and objective is to advance space exploration capability that would allow humans to travel beyond Low Earth Orbit.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in your career?

Most rewarding about my career is being in the very unique, specialized and highly technical field of human space exploration.  Also, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most brilliant people on the planet.

  1. What do you find most challenging, and how do you overcome it?

Most challenging is the fact that I am a woman in a very male-dominated environment and career, and one that has very, very few people of color (male or female).  One is not always given the benefit of the doubt because of those physical attributes.  But what I know for sure is that there is no substitute for excellence – it transcends ethnicity, gender, culture etc.  So striving for excellence is the way to overcome those barriers.



  1. Tell us about your involvement with the Caribbean Youth Science Forum.

The Caribbean Youth Forum is an annual educational event that hosts about 300+ Sixth Form students from all over the Caribbean.  The weeklong event hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago National Institute of Higher Education, Science and Technology, provides students with the opportunity to be exposed to various aspects of science and technology through a mix of academic, social and cultural activities.  In 2011, I was invited to participate as the keynote speaker at the event’s opening.  I was also able to organise for the students, with the assistance of the Trinidad and Tobago Amateur Radio League (TTARL) and NIHERST, their participation in one of the International Space Station education programs called Amateur Radio on ISS (ARISS).  This allowed the students to talk to astronauts on board the space station in real time, as it passed over Argentina.  This was an historic event for the region, as no Caribbean students had ever conducted this type of contact with the ISS.  Later that week, I also gave a public lecture on ISS Research and its Benefits to Humanity, to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

  1. Rationalism versus mysticism and the intersection between science and religion is often explored in works of fiction. Do you come from a religious family background, do you have strong religious views, or do you believe that there is no place for religion in science?

I do come from a strong religious background and was raised Catholic, but I believe strongly that there is an intersection between religion and science and they are more tightly intertwined that most people are willing to admit.  I am not religious even though I am deeply spiritual (there is a distinction) and am extremely open-minded and consistently in an “inquiry” about our place in the scope and vastness of the universe.

  1. Tell us about the Brightest Stars Foundation.

The Brightest Stars Foundation is a non-governmental organization I founded in 2007 with the mission of education, empowering and inspiring young women to be future leaders through the study of science, technology and engineering.  I travel all over the world, on behalf of my foundation, advocating for the rights of girls to have access to quality education, specifically STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  I also spend time speaking to and inspiring youth (boys and girls) to believe in themselves and live up to their fullest potential.  A vision of my foundation however, is the establishment of Science Academies for Girls in the developing world, the first one being in Kenya.  These are residential high schools that will educate girls in highly scientific and technological fields, with the goal of educating the next generation of Nobel Laureates in Science. This project has been slow getting off the ground because of the financial commitment needed, but this year it is finally taking off and I am hopeful and determined that by 2016 we would be opening our first school.

  1. Do you read science fiction or fantasy? If so, tell us a little about a good science fiction or fantasy book you’ve read recently.

No I do not read science fiction or fantasy.  I often read biographies of extraordinary people and books with social consciousness like “The End of Poverty” By Dr. Jeffrey Sachs.


Mt. Etna Eruption from ISS (Credit: NASA)

Eye of Hurricane Isabel from ISS (Credit: NASA)


  1. What new developments, in the world of science fact, excite you?

In the world of science, what excites me is something I am exposed to on a daily basis and that is the discoveries we get from conducting scientific experiments in the microgravity environment of space.  What we don’t often realize is that gravity affects every biological, chemical and physical process that occurs on Earth.  So when we take gravity out of the equation and are able to control it via the International Space Station – a science laboratory in low earth orbit – we advance our knowledge significantly on terrestrial systems including human beings. The new discoveries such as vaccine development for Salmonella bacteria, candidate treatments for a certain type of Muscular Dystrophy, development of countermeasures for osteoporosis patients, the possibility of finding real evidence for how our universe started, the ability to take images from 400 km above the Earth that assists us in natural disaster response.  All these and more are new developments courtesy of the International Space Station and ones that excite me daily.

  1. Tell us about your other interests.

Besides space exploration, I have a passion for travelling the world and experiencing people of other cultures and traditions.  I also have a passion for dance (hip-hop and jazz) and flying planes (something I don’t get to do as often as I would like).  But as a mom to an amazing teenage girl who is an extremely gifted athlete and excellent scholar, I spend most of my time investing in her upbringing and ensuring that she has the supportive environment (like I did) that will allow her to realize her capacity for greatness.

     Links:

               ISS Research and Technology

               The Brightest Stars Foundation

            

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Character Interview with Chi-Ro Jin



General Chi-Ro Jin is a hero of the first and second Psychic Wars. He was born on the planet Talis, the son of Space Commodore Jin Lan. He is a master of Hatari Ikou - the Way of Matchless Power, an extremely ancient martial art developed by Mara Kai fighting monks. While a sentinel in the Imperial Court of His Majesty The Emperor Sakara Rey I, he was secretly assigned the role of shamira or protector of Prince Armon of the Blood and has been a key figure in the pivotal Battle of Miru. Chi-Ro is one of the most highly-decorated veterans of the Psychic Wars, having been awarded the Star of Ra, Star of Enki, Order of the Tordon Raptor, Verlaine Star, Sentinel of the Cosmic Sea, Distinguished Aerospace Service Medal, and Commander of the Order of the Eternal Warrior.

  1. How did you first meet Wayne Gerard Trotman?
I am Chi-Ro, son of Jin. I first met Master Wayne, the writer of ‘Veterans of the Psychic Wars’ in a waking dream of my design.

  1. Did you ever expect your adventures to be written in a book?
Certainly not in a Kian book, and my recent portrayal in Talisian opera is somewhat disconcerting. However, I have dedicated my life to the service of His Majesty The Emperor Sakara Rey I; and he has entrusted me with a most important task – the safety of his only son. As shamira to the prince, it seems, my life has become of interest to others. May the scribes record it.

  1. What are your favourite scenes in Veterans of the Psychic Wars: dialogue, romance, action?
I am a warrior not an orator; and I fear that at the hour of succession, the Prince Armon may abdicate for love of his Kian consort. Romance leads to folly, and in times of war, folly leads to death. So I say to you, my favourite scenes involve action, for it is by action that we will bring the Psychic Wars to an end.

  1. Did you have difficulty convincing Wayne Gerard Trotman to write any particular scenes for you?
At times, I sensed a great struggle in the mind of Master Wayne regarding whether some characters should live or die; then there were times when he displayed wanton recklessness regarding the lives of his characters. Often, we were left to wonder who would die when the page was turned. To compound matters, I soon discovered that Master Wayne is also exceptionally stubborn – I suspect he may be Talisian. But, with considerable effort, I was able to influence a few of his decisions.


  1. Have you ever infiltrated Wayne Gerard Trotman’s dreams?
Verily, I am Chi-Ro son of Jin, master of Hatari Ikou, and a veteran of the Psychic Wars. Dream infiltration is but one of my skills. Have you not read the book?

  1. What do you enjoy doing when not on active duty?
I enjoy playing my Sythenian wax wood flute.

  1. Are you currently in a relationship?
No, my beloved consort is no longer in a plane of existence that is accessible to me; and I will love no other.

  1. Are you pleased with the genre you have been placed in?
Verily, military science fiction is a noble genre.

  1. What would you rewrite in Veterans of the Psychic Wars, if you could?
I would completely erase the Kian character known as Dr. Zachary Silverman. I found his frivolous attitude to be most irritating; but he is the loyal friend of Master Armon, and I must admit I gained a measure of enjoyment from sparring with him. Alas, in the end, his portrayal was particularly poignant.  So, in retrospect, perhaps I would not rewrite anything.

  1. Do you like the way your epic adventure ended?
A most satisfactory conclusion; however, I sense that the story has not ended. I expect I will be called upon to wield my sok-bou again.

  1. Would you be interested in a sequel written by Wayne Gerard Trotman?
Verily, even if it were not my sworn duty to serve the Talisian Empire, I would be most interested in the continuation of this epic. Rest assured, I have every confidence that my psychic projections will be successful. There will be a sequel. May the scribes record it.

  1. Are you happy being portrayed in digital editions or would you rather be in paperback versions only?
A veteran of the Psychic Wars cannot be limited by formats - paperback books, eBooks… All formats are suitable. In fact, I believe I would even be quite suited to that archaic form of entertainment, which Kians refer to as ‘movies’. Verily, the Kian known as Jackie Chan would be most ideal for my portrayal. Perhaps I should infiltrate his dreams…


  1. Were you able to contribute to the cover design for Veterans of the Psychic Wars?
Alas, I had been engaged in Imperial duties when the cover was conceived. You will note the conspicuous absence of my image from the book cover. Instead, Kiya Mankuria was granted that honour. It seems she has also been infiltrating Master Wayne’s dreams. I must remind him that beauty can be a deadly weapon; and this is especially true of the highly trained Kiya Mankuria.

  1. What is the lamest characteristic attributed to you by Wayne Gerard Trotman?
You dare to suggest that the son of Jin is lame? Ahhh… Your thoughts are transparent. You refer to the most displeasing characteristic. Forgive my outburst, the Kian use of language is often imprecise and years of combat have left me prone to intolerance. On occasion, Master Wayne made the most unsettling suggestion that Chi-Ro Jin is capable of panic, especially with regards to the protection of the prince. I assure you, I have engaged in the dance of death countless times. Panic, however mild, is not something I am capable of.

  1. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I suspect, by Kian standards, any well-trained veteran of the Psychic Wars would appear to be superhuman. Nevertheless, despite my attempts, the secret of astral projection continues to elude me.

Author Bio:
Wayne Gerard Trotman is a British writer, filmmaker, artist, photographer, composer and producer of electronic music. Born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Trotman immigrated to England in 1984, where he lives with his wife and two young sons.

A martial arts enthusiast, he wrote and directed 'Ashes to Ashes', Britain's first martial arts feature-film. He has a cosmopolitan and multi-cultural approach to all his artistic work, which has received recognition internationally. His epic science-fiction novel, 'Veterans of the Psychic Wars', is the first of a proposed 'Psychic Wars' series.

Synopsis:
In a distant galaxy known as the Cosmic Sea, Baron Seti Aljyk has caused the Second Psychic War by seizing Najura, the last of the ancient swords of power, and usurping the imperial throne from Sakara Rey, the True Emperor.

On Earth, young schoolteacher Roman Doyle remains unaware he is Prince Armon Sakara, heir apparent of the True Emperor. That is, until he encounters Chi-Ro Jin, a Veteran of the Psychic Wars. Chi-Ro’s mission is to return Roman to the True Emperor, but Roman believes that Chi-Ro is crazy. When Roman’s wife, Soraya, is abducted by the Baron’s assassins, Roman is forced to make the epic journey to the Cosmic Sea.

However he does not go alone. He is joined by his shamira Chi-Ro, Nuri Nemsys a beautiful secret agent, Anah Sadaka the mysterious captain of the Starglider Sanura and Roman’s friend, Zachary Silverman, a quantum physicist.

With his dormant psychic and astral abilities awakened by an alien drug and pursued by the Baron’s assassins, Roman, his friend, and the Veterans of the Psychic Wars face evil and danger in uncharted space and on alien worlds.

Roman must overcome his fears, master the martial art of Hatari Ikou, and learn the secrets of astral projection, in order to rescue his wife, retrieve the sword of power, and bring the Psychic Wars to an end.

Amazon links:
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk

Smashwords:

Official site:
waynegerardtrotman.com

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Interview with Samuel Z Jones



Samuel Z Jones is a prolific English fantasy writer. He lives on the Isle of Wight, and is perpetually working on several novels simultaneously alongside other projects. 


1.               Tell us about the Akurite Empire series of books.

Well, it's epic fantasy, but I've been told by some readers that what I'm writing goes beyond that definition. This isn't just another Lord of The Rings knock-off about elves in the woods and dwarves in the mines fighting orcs and goblins. There's none of that.

Can I summarise the plot of the whole series? Um... five immortal heroes quest across the history of their world to defeat an enemy from the distant future that plots to invade the past.

The story follows several generations of characters through the rise and fall of nations on a mountain plateau isolated from the rest of their world. Events sometimes take the story beyond this region, but fundamentally the books concern the wars and alliances between Silveneir, Kellia, Daricia and Uria.

The Silvans are a matriarchal, religious culture that arrived from the east several centuries previously, while the Kellions are a patriarchal nation from the distant west. These two cultures are fundamentally polarized and their politics and conflicts comprise much of the back-story underlying the setting. The Darians are a non-human race that dominate the southern half of the plateau; they have as much in common with elves as they do with trolls, being ageless and immortal but also massively strong   and muscular. They are the giants, the titans of this world. Finally, Uria is populated by hybrid beast men who are explicitly not natural races but rather the results of medical experiments involving humans, Darians and animals.

The structure of the series, which now runs to over a dozen books beginning with the Akurite Empire trilogy, is dynastic, so talking about one or two particular characters isn't really helpful; the lives of several hundred fictional people are interwoven so each novel is part of a vast tapestry.



2.               Why did you write this series, and what do you hope to achieve with it?

You've heard of the Neverending Story? Spoiler; it ends. But the idea at least was of a story that didn't. It's something of the holy grail of fantasy; The Worm Ouroborous, or Moorcock's Eternal Champion, Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, and others, have all tried to create a self-contained fantasy world that runs like a perpetual motion machine. Donaldson, I think, came closest quite recently with his Last Chronicles.

I'm going to do it, though. The overall plot forms a time loop, which when complete will allow a reader to pick up the story at any point, at any volume, and read on from there until they come full circle back to the place they started from. At this point, they will discover that the first book they read has a second main plot woven through it that they didn't notice first time around. And then a third time around. And a fourth; each revolution revealing deeper and more detailed stories that were previously invisible. I have the whole thing in draft, I'm halfway through publishing, and already a few readers have noticed the interweaving and layering of plotlines building this marvellous story-machine.

3.               Is there an underlying message in the Akurite Empire series?

I don't set out to make any particular point when I write a novel; the theme or message emerges from the process. Every book, conceptually, is an exploration of human psychology; the way people perceive and construct reality. From that arises the central theme of each book. I think in the current work-in-progress I'm saying something about gender-roles and post-modern feminism, but that's honestly not important if what you want is to read a good yarn about questing knights and women with guns.

4.               Of the characters you’ve created, do you have a favourite? If so, why this particular character?

I approach characters as if I'm getting to know a real person; after all, how well can you really know someone? A supporting character I know about as well as someone I've had a few drinks with, a main character is someone I know as well as a close friend. Conceptually, I wander through an imagined forest meeting various people camping there. Sometimes I spend weeks or months camping with one character, hearing their stories and meeting their friends, before we part ways, perhaps to cross paths again in the future. The first character I had this experience with was Montesinos DeKellia, a character now so well developed that someone actually succeeded in channelling him. The person in question had never read the books; the mannerisms and expression of DeKellia simply overtook him for a few seconds and told him to get lost. He was very shaken afterwards, he'd done a lot of channelling and I sandbagged him with a fictional character.

Eventually, DeKellia told me he was off on his own for a bit and left me to chat with Sabra Daishen. She was his fencing student, a very aggressive but spiritual young woman who in her turn introduced me to knights, outlaws, assassins and a whole host of other people. I've also spent a great deal of time with DeKellia's son and Sabra's sister, who eventually settled down together in a nice house in the woods.

5.               What do you find most rewarding in the writing process?

Reading it when it's done. When writing, the story and imagery are changeable, reading it unfinished is part of the writing and editing process. Once finished, reading it again is like reading something written by someone else, but someone who actually writes what I want to read. I want emotional realism, fully developed ideas, vivid imagery, and that only crystallizes in the finished novel.

It's equally rewarding to know that someone else has read and enjoyed one of my stories; writing is in many ways an exercise in telepathy, I spend a great deal of time creating a highly detailed thought, and writing is the only form we have of transmitting that thought directly to another mind; even film doesn't quite do that, the imagined world is on the screen, while with a book it takes shape within the reader's mind, becomes a place they visit rather than a performance they watch.

6.               What do you find most challenging in the writing process, and how do you overcome it?

Making a living. The modern world keeps hassling me for money. I'd like it to stop, please, and the only way I can find of doing that is to sell enough books so I can write in peace.



7.               Just how do you produce so much work?

The way to learn any skill is to practice every day. The way to get good is to practice every day for hours. To write a book, you open your document and write at least one word per day. With a little effort, you can train yourself to turn out 2000 words a day reliably. With dedication, you can write 5000+ words a day, every day. Emotional and material concerns do affect this; in the best possible state (which isn't, incidentally, being happy and wealthy), I can write 10-15k words a day fairly consistently. Akurite Empire, all 300,000 words of the trilogy, were written in two months. Editing and proofing took a lot longer, but I left it alone for a long time and wrote several other novels in the meantime.

On average, I write three novels simultaneously and finish one or two a year.

8.               Tell us about your interest in martial arts and sword fighting.

From a purely literary perspective, one should write what one knows, even in fantasy. Others disagree, but logically if your genre features large amounts of horse riding, camping, and sword fights, it really isn't tenable to know nothing about them.

Let's see... my grandfathers on both sides of the family were boxers, one a professional coach and the other a bare-knuckle contender. I started Karate aged six and have pursued every opportunity to train any martial art or combat system since; I have about twenty five years of training. I hold a black belt, I've taught martial arts and self-defence in some of the roughest areas of London. Over the past few years, I've pursued Kobudo and Kobujutsu, which broadly means archaic weapons; I've taught nunchaku and fencing, among other things. I really will take any opportunity to grab a shinai (that's a Kendo sword), and bound out into the garden to fight anyone who's willing. Without body armour; padding is for sissies. I'd like to do more work with shields and pole arms, and I've yet to find anyone brave enough to let me come at them with my two-handed war flail... but we really would need armour for that (anyone reading my work may have noticed that I hold a special fondness for the terrifying two-handed flail, aka the threshal, corn flail, or a giant set of nunchuks).

I make an effort not to get technical when writing about swordfights and combat, but I can't help think that direct experience and study can only improve the way I write about these things.



9.               What have you done to promote and market your books, and what advice would you give to other authors?

Until quite recently, I was running all over Facebook waving links at people. I have used Twitter, and it does work, but I really don't like the site, it's like YouTube without videos. Currently I don't have the regular Internet access to make serious marketing efforts, but I do what I can. I'm looking forward to a near future where I can use YouTube and similar media again. Without a huge publicity budget, one really is down to WoM, even if we do that now online.

Advice... unless you can afford to hire a publicist, don't pay for anything. Anyone asking for money to read your book is ripping you off. The writer gets paid to write, they do not pay to be read. If you're already making a living from your books, you might consider hiring an editor or a proof-reader just to speed things up. If you really can afford it, or you're lucky enough to find someone who'll work on commission, hire a publicist.

Don't waste time canvassing blogs and vlogs that purport to review books: these folk are either fan geeks who want to bask in the reflected glory of their existing favourite authors, or money-making enterprises that are only interested in well-known writers (who already get tons of reviews anyway from both of the above).

If you want reviews and interviews, talk to fellow writers who run their own blogs and need regular posts (hi Wayne), these people are far more approachable and professional.

With ebooks, its possible to tap those people who read so much that they'll review anything in their favourite genre in exchange for a freebie. You can get a small fan club going like that, but it's unlikely to be the foundation of wealth and fame.

Ultimately, if you're serious, you have to approach the industry. That means contriving to sit down and have drinks with people already working in some capacity in entertainment: most deals are done at the bar, not over the phone, for what should be the obvious reason that people deal sooner with their friends than with strangers.


10.            Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal reader?

My readership seem to be mostly women. The most common thing people say about my stories is that they love the strong female characters... I'm puzzled by this, I just work for psychological realism. That means all my characters are products of their emotional traumas, as are real people.

My ideal reader, I think, is someone who wants to explore the frontiers of their own mind, and finds my stories a useful map in an infinite territory.

11.            What advice would you give to help others build the confidence required to write novels?

Give up! Give up now! I started writing a novel and it's completely devoured my life! Seriously, don't do it, think of your family, your children, your career...!

...It's not really about confidence. Writing is a learned skill, talent is just the desire to learn. Let the first rule be “Rules are there for a reason”, learn what they are and why they are the rules. Let the second rule be “Rules are there to be broken”, and go wild with your imagination. Let the third rule be “No they're not, get over yourself”, and put in the work necessary to develop technical skill.

Writing a novel is a massive undertaking, and I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who don't seem to realise that the primary skill of a writer is mastery of written language. When you write well enough, in the technical sense of actually knowing what you're doing as with any other skill, then confidence is not a major issue; competence begets confidence.



12.            Tell us about The Flame of Freedom.

This was actually a paid commission; there is a whole world of writing-for-hire which is hard to get into and easy to fall out of, but when you're in it is a great boost: you're actually getting paid a working wage to write! Break out the good booze and smoke a fat cigar.

Flame of Freedom is a story of two halves; George Washington at war, and Betsy Ross in British-occupied Philadelphia. Everyone (I hope) knows who Washington is. Betsy Ross is the woman who physically made the first American flag. It's officially considered an apocryphal story, but having researched it in depth I can say it is absolutely true.

Betsy lived directly across the street from Ben Franklin and was close friends with his daughter Sarah. Betsy was literally at the centre of the Culper Ring, Washington's spy network in Philadelphia.

So The Flame of Freedom follows the men's war on the battlefield and the women's war of espionage.

I'm currently working with the same publisher who hired me for Flame of Freedom, Gabriel Murray. We're working on a screen-adaptation of Hamlet. Gabriel's recent work includes Kingdom of The Crystal Skull and Obama's Irish Roots.

13.            Would you like to see your books adapted for the screen? If so, do you have any aspirations or reservations regarding this?

Yes! Give me my movie cheque! I want to sit in casting sessions while Johnny Depp and Viggo Mortensen literally fight it out to play Montesinos DeKellia! I want to lose my temper with executives who keep presenting willowy bimbos to play the six-foot female body-builder Sabra Daishen! I want to be presented with an endless queue of tattooed models vying to play Sorcha! I want to point out to censors that if Dr Manhattan can spend the whole of Watchmen literally balls-out naked, then there's no reason Isa Maxine can't bound around topless the whole time!

Reservations? Yes, obviously; there are great adaptations and awful ones. The great ones usually let the actual writer of the actual book actually call some shots.

I envisage adaptations of my stories as having the style and sensibility of Excalibur; if I'm writing with a director in mind, it's John Boorman (armed with modern FX and a massive budget). Much as I love the Lord of The Rings movies, the notion that all fantasy should be like that is sorely mistaken. Look at the Narnia films; someone in Hollywood thought that the way to do it was to smash Harry Potter and LOTR headlong into each other. Doing a LOTR treatment on my stories would have roughly the same effect; it's not LOTR, treating it as if it was would not make a good movie. There's no sex in LOTR, just for a start.

14.            Tell us a little about a good fantasy book you’ve read recently.

Currently I'm reading Joseph Campbell, which should say something about my grasp of mythology. I think the last fantasy novel I read was Unseen Academical by Terry Pratchett. I'd avoided this one because it's a fantasy about football, and I have no interest in footie whatsoever. I actually devoured this book in two days flat though because it had something unexpected; a good modern treatment of orcs.

I used to love Orcs as a kid, far more than I liked elves. I've always been disappointed though that Tolkien never went near the orcs as a culture or as characters, and attempts after him to write something about Orcs have always been LOTR knock-offs.

Pratchett's treatment of orcs in Unseen Academicals was brilliant, a well-spoken orc football player... I almost gave up writing completely when I read Pratchett's Nation, but then I thought “He's been writing professionally for over thirty years, of course he's better than I am!” Then I pushed on and finished Akurite Empire, and I personally reckon it's pretty good. I'm not as funny or as sociologically incisive as Pratchett, but then I'm not trying to be: He's definitely an influence, but I'm no more writing Discworld than I am LOTR.



15.            What are you doing now?

Writing or generally? Currently I'm working on the final draft of book three of The Lord Protector series, which is the sequel to Akurite Empire: While Sabra Daishen is away crusading, her most trusted knight attempts to rebuild the nations shattered by war. At the same time, I'm developing the rough drafts of three or four other novels in the same series, getting ready to bring the epic around into its complete loop. I'm also, as I mentioned, working on an adaptation of Hamlet.

Generally, I'm just waiting out the summer before taking a place at Portsmouth University as a mature student. It's about time I got a degree in Creative Writing, and Portsmouth quite reasonably offered me a place on the strength of being a published author, even if I am virtually unknown.

16.            Where can we find you and your books?

BOOKS BY SAMUEL Z JONES

ROMANCING THE SWORD

AKURITE EMPIRE

THE LORD PROTECTOR
Book Two: Fortress of Knighthood

THE SORCHA STORIES

OTHER BOOKS

OMNIBUS EDITIONS

E-book formats available at Smashwords.com
Hardback and paperback editions exclusively from Lulu.com