Interview with Australian Author – Judith Rook
“Australian Authors” – Tell us a little about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?
Judith – There are two major influences on my writing: the place in the north of the UK where I was brought up, and music.
I trained and worked as a musician, and I believe that music deeply affects my writing style. I’m not speaking about the emotions which music activates; rather, I mean the structures and architecture of music – of all kinds. I use concepts such as rhythm and phrasing, tone, pitch, duration and motif in my narratives. I don’t do it consciously, but they are there, and to an extent they explain why I sometimes really struggle with word choice and placement.
For a number of years my family lived in a moorland village in the north of the UK. Without going into great detail, the particular environment influenced my writing from the outset. It was a quiet place with a mystical charisma, and it was where I wrote my first set of reflections on the life around me and on the other life I sensed was there but which I could not see.
“Australian Authors” – What made you want to become a writer?
Judith Rook – I remember when I wrote my first important piece, which was a letter to my parents about why I wanted to leave school. I might have been eight years old. Writing about something that concerned me seemed a good idea at the time. My parents did not write back; they talked to me instead, and I remained in school. Since then I have not stopped writing, mainly imaginative material of all sorts – reflections, plays, poetry, short stories and novels. So I think I never “wanted” to be a writer. It was a question of simply getting started.
“Australian Authors” – What gives you inspiration for your book(s)?
Judith – As much as I can, I keep up with contemporary developments in popular physics and cosmology. I accept the fact that the laws of physics are probably universal, but I can’t help speculating about other possibilities. My speculations, mixed with drama and characters as colourful as I can make them, appear in my novels.
“Australian Authors” – Now, the big question, are you working on another book?
Judith – I have just completed a book, as yet unpublished, about a human colony on an exoplanet. The main character, the colony director, is one of the few “new” humans with highly developed psychic abilities. He has a lot to put up with, from contact with more or less benign alien beings to immensely powerful Earth-based corporations who try to take control of the colony. It’s only to be expected that such a storyline will generate its own future, and I am working on the second book in what will probably be a trilogy.
“Australian Authors” – What genres do you prefer to write in?
Judith – Mainly, I write Science Fiction novels; it seems to be the genre that suits me best. On the other hand though, I have built a reasonable body of short stories, generally about ordinary Australian life. I see them as a perhaps necessary balance to my novels, which can become quite lengthy, if I let them.
“Australian Authors” – What do you think about the ebook revolution?
Judith – With the appearance of the word processor, the ebook revolution was inevitable. As writing became physically so much easier, people took to it, and why not? However, this has created an unlimited quantity of ebooks, and now we are faced with considerable problems of finding and choosing. I won’t get into the question of quality. My preference is the print bookshop, despite limitations. Although no traditional bookshop can carry all the titles that are available, a large advantage they hold over ebook shelves is that browsing is so easy, flexible and varied.
“Australian Authors” – Do you start a book with a definite plot, or do you just write?
Judith – My first two books were written as they flowed. The result was all right, but I am not satisfied with them now, and gradually I am re-working them. For later books, I first establish a clear theme (so that I know what I am writing about) then I block out the complete shape of the storyline, including the main events, settings, and character movement. This builds to around three pages of single-space text. I don’t think I could begin a novel now without this type of planning.
“Australian Authors” – Pen or type writer or computer?
Judith – I began writing novels with paper and a variety of fountain pens. There was a certain formality to that which I enjoyed, and I was able to see how my thoughts changed during the writing process. I never took to the typewriter, probably because of its quite hard percussive action. Now I write electronically; it’s quick, comfortable, and typos have no power over me. Highlighting and font colouring deal with idea changes, and what would I do without the cut and paste facility? However, if one day I lose access to my computer, I will quite happily revert to the manuscript method, although my output will become slower. Perhaps that would be a not altogether bad thing.
“Australian Authors” – Do your characters seem to hijack the story, or are you always in control?
Judith – My characters respond to the planned situations I place them in; to that extent, I am in control of the story. However, the characters’ reactions and attitudes to circumstances sometimes surprise me. They sometimes respond in ways I would never live out in my own life, and that can introduce a development of the storyline I have not planned. In that sense, the characters can seem to hijack the story. I particularly enjoy my villains, although I am not a villainous person. But it should be remembered that everything in the book — all the ideas, all the events — ultimately come from different layers of me.
“Australian Authors” – Are your characters based on real people or completely imagined?
Judith – I have never based a character on a person I know or on someone I have met casually. But I am probably like many authors; a glimpse of a figure in the distance, a single gesture, a response I witness… all these can be catalysts and set the creative energies flowing. If that happens, I don’t need a notebook to record a new impression. My memory will hold it until I can get to my PC, then off I go.
My latest book began in this way. A stranger politely stood aside for me in a crowded shop, and immediately I had a new main character and a new novel.
“Australian Authors” – Have you thought about joining with another author to write a book?
Judith – I have thought about a writing partnership with another author – one day. In the SciFi genre, there have been a number of very successful author co-operations; a good example is the collaboration of Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter on the “A Time Odyssey” series. It seems to me a key factor in such a relationship would have to be a mutual liking of the other person’s writing style and admiration for their ways of thinking. If I was lucky enough to find myself in contact with such a person, I would not turn down the possibility of co-writing a book with them.
“Australian Authors” – Who are your favourite authors?
Judith – My favourite authors are those whose writing refreshes my spirit in different ways. So anything from the Romantic era of literature (the Brontë sisters, for example) can stand in the ranks of my “favourite” authors, alongside the classic fantasists of the early 20th century (E.R. Eddison, for example, who wrote “The Worm Ouroboros”).
When it comes to more contemporary writing, particularly in the SciFi genre, I began by reading Isaac Asimov; he is my all-time favourite, and will remain so. He is followed very closely by Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Julian May, Sherri S. Tepper, Arthur C. Clarke and C.J. Cherryh. And I could go on…
“Australian Authors” – What’s your advice to Authors? On writing? Publishing? Marketing?
Judith – I could say a great deal to my fellow authors on the subject of writing, but I’ll limit my advice to one very general point: be prepared to spend an enormous amount of time, and also some money at first, to produce a readable and potentially influential book. Don’t just write “The End” and think your book’s ready for publication, because it won’t be.
On the subject of publishing, my advice is to try both independent and traditional publishing. Gone are the days when ebook publishing was seen as the fall-back position for books which had failed in the print publishing field.
However, if you do publish your book independently, you will meet the terrible Marketing Monster, and how you get around that will depend on your determination, patience, insider know-how and finances. Some authors have marketing ability; most others don’t, and if you can afford to pay someone to market for you, then count yourself very fortunate.
But never allow marketing to interfere with regular writing. If you stop writing in order to sell what you have already written, you may not find the way back.