Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Robert Carter: The IAN Interview

As a child I lived in Sydney, Australia, returning to England aboard the P&O liner Orcades. I went on to study Astrophysics at Newcastle University where I read  a lot of science fiction, wrote my own stories and launched the university's first science fiction society.  

I worked in the oil industry in the USA,  and was posted to parts of the Middle East and  the war-torn heart of Africa. It was both dangerous and well-paid.  More than once I came close to being killed - and plenty of good men I knew never came home.

I travelled around Europe, China, Japan, took tea with the heir of the last king of Upper Burma near Mandalay, and on the road to Everest base camp I ran into Sir Edmund Hillary. After travelling around the Far East, I returned home and got a job with the BBC. Four years later, I left the BBC to write. Robert Carter

IAN.  Please tell us about your latest book. 
R. Carter.  Walter E. Scott - Scotty to his friends - was passing through Death Valley, California, when he happened upon a dead man. Beside the corpse was a dog dying of thirst, and in the man's pocket was a piece of rock glittering with pure gold ...

Scotty seized he day. He buried the body, saved the dog and worked out a plan that would change not only his own life, but that of many others. One of the lives Scotty changed was that of Albert M. Johnson, a wealthy but disabled Chicagoan who yearned for adventure. Johnson wanted for nothing in material terms, but he had suffered a broken back in the train wreck that had killed his father. Despite inheriting the biggest insurance company in the Midwest, he was not a happy man, until Scotty appeared, that is.

Scotty loved to have a good time and to be the centre of attention. He was a romantic soul, a natural-born showman with a talent for making things happen. He used whatever money that came his way to enjoy life and enhance his reputation as a gold miner, but he also enriched the lives of others in a way that was his and his alone.

"Death Valley Scotty" is reminiscent of "True Grit." It has the uplift of "It’s a Wonderful Life."   Set in a time when freedom seemed easier to find, this is a read that will surely make you smile.

IAN. Is Death Valley Scotty published in print, e-book or both?
R. Carter. Some of my backlist is available in print, depending on which book and which country, but now I have moved to indie, I am just concentrating on ebooks.

IAN.  Where can we go to buy Death Valley Scotty? (links)
R. Carter.  All my books are available on Amazon and here is a link to Death Valley Scotty. 

IAN.  What inspired you to write Death Valley Scotty?
R. Carter.  I was travelling through Death Valley on a trip that was chiefly inspired by my geographical interest (from my days in the oil industry) when I happened to see Scotty’s Castle.  It was a most unexpected discovery, and so I stopped to explore. The Castle is run by the US National Park Service and so I took the tour.  I got a really good picture of the man – a most extraordinary fellow as it turned out.  When I got home to London, a screenplay and a friend of mine tried to sell it as a film.  It never got made, so I re-wrote it as a novel.

IAN.  Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?
R. Carter.  I work in phases.  In Phase One I do general research.  I learn everything I can about the period in which my story will be set.  In Phase Two I prepare a detailed outline regarding story and characters.  Then in Phase Three, I do deeper research around the specifics that comprise the story.  It’s only when I’ve completed these three phases that I sit down and start the first draft.

IAN.  What do you hope your readers come away with after reading Death Valley Scotty?
R. Carter.  I hope my books have an extra dimension over and above most adventure or historical fiction books.  As I like to research the settings very closely, I want my readers to get a real sense of the period in which the story is set, and to know more about the feelings and emotions that were prevailing at the time.  Lord Reith, the first Director-General of the BBC said that the job of the BBC was to educate, inform and entertain.  I aim for my books to do exactly this – but not necessarily in that order.

IAN.  How much of Death Valley Scotty is realistic?
R. Carter.  I write stories set in exciting periods of history, in places and times where emotions run at their highest. These are periods of great change, uprisings and wars, in which the characters find themselves embroiled. I want my readers to feel as if they are going on a trip to a strange and different place. Today, you can book a trip to just about anywhere in the world and be there inside 24 hours, but my books take you to places you can't go, places that have vanished forever - the worlds of the past.

The only way I can really take you there is to create a world that is satisfyingly authentic. I feel I've succeeded if the world I've described is all-consuming, and that you are sorry to leave when come to the end of the book. I felt like this when I read James Clavell's "Shogun." What impressed me most was how mindful he was of his readers' pleasure. He really was a writer who wrote for his readers, and I was determined to do the same.

My hope is always to write about dramatic circumstances that have arisen in history, and to make them as factually correct as possible. This means that my books can take many months to put together because you can’t write about the opulence of Peking's Forbidden City in the 19th Century, or describe Queen Elizabeth I's court unless you know a great deal about it.  Many of my readers are experts in these fields and sometimes they write to me to congratulate me, which is gratifying, or to point out an error, which is also gratifying, but in a different way!

IAN.  Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
R. Carter.  The old cliché that “travel broadens the mind” is true.  I was taken abroad as a child and that sparked an interest in maps. Later I  developed an ambition to travel on the entire Trans-Siberian railway, which I did while it was still Soviet.  I spent a good few months travelling to the more unusual parts of Asia, seeing the old ways before they vanished for ever, and making it to exotic places such as Komodo, Mandalay and Everest Base Camp.

I worked for a Texan oil services company, which took me to war zones and other places that are generally hard to get to like the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia and the Congo in Africa.  Very exciting and rather dangerous at times, but I’m glad I did it.

I like to write about dramatic and exciting events and I feel I owe it to my readers to have had some sort of first-hand experience.  When I wrote Barbarians which is set in 19th century China,  I had to go and take a look myself. Travelling in Manchuria in the depths of winter was no picnic.  I find it’s essential to visit the places I write about to pick up on the local culture and how people behave, to make things authentic. 

IAN.  Did you learn anything from writing Death Valley Scotty and what was it?
R. Carter.  For virtually all of my books I spent as much time researching as it takes to get a Bachelor of Arts degree, so I have become knowledgeable on a whole range of subjects.

IAN.  Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand-alone?
R. Carter.  I am working on a big new project!  I am close to finishing the first volume of a quintet set in the early 20th century in the Great War.  It is 100 years since the war started in 1914, although the US did not enter the war until April 1917, and it was the start of enormous changes to the way people lived.

My tale encompasses espionage, romance, warfare and the world of the English aristocracy.  The first volume will be out soon, but I am looking for volunteers to read advance review copies and write reviews.  Volunteers should contact me on

IAN.  Do you have any advice for other writers?
R. Carter.  Definitely.  Would be writers MUST apply discipline to the exercise of compiling 100,000 well-chosen words.  Without discipline, it’s almost impossible.  So the best help you can get is to develop a habit.  Set aside regular time when you do nothing else but write, and try to never, ever miss a session.  For people who can manage it every day, if you write 1,000 words a day for 100 days, each and every day you will have created the first draft of a novel in 4 months.  Then it is just a question of editing, and editing is much easier than creating.  A real good tip is to print your novel on paper and put it in a drawer for at least 30 days.  When you come back to it, you will find that household gremlins have re-arranged all the words and made it read like garbage.  You will find the second draft is so much better, and the third you can probably be proud of.

IAN.  Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
R. Carter.  I like to write about people who appear at the right time and turn that moment into a fulcrum of history.  Events turn turns on those points – if those individuals had not done what they did, then the world would be extremely different. Most people never get near to a fulcrum of history, and would probably rather not!  Others are never far from one – and that is what makes them different.