When I won the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, it brought many new experiences into my life. One of the most rewarding has been meeting fellow winners of the contest. So not to deprive you of the same, please join me in welcoming 2015 winner, Matt Dovey, a very tall, very English fellow who has stopped by with a cup of tea.
Stuart: Hi Matt! Welcome to Sputnik’s Orbit, don’t mind the cables, and whatever you do, don’t touch that lever.
Matt: Thanks, I won’t.
Stuart: So tell us a little about yourself.
Matt: Well, I am, predictably, a geek. I work with computers for a living, and the only reason I don’t spend all my time playing computer games anymore is that I’m too busy writing now. I am a proper country boy– a Yellowbelly, in fact–and live in a quiet market town with my amazing wife and three children. The sunrises here are glorious.
Stuart: A yellowbelly eh? I should point out to my American readers that in the UK, that means someone from Lincolnshire, not someone who runs from a fight. So what dragged you away from the sunset and into the writing life?
Matt: I’ve always just felt like a writer, even if I’ve not particularly been writing at the time. I read an awful lot of books as a child, so I suppose it’s based in that. I met my best man at primary school when I saw him misspell Martin the Warrior as “Martian the Warrior” on a book report. Reading is a fundamental part of who I am.
Stuart: Ha ha! That’s me too. I used to write all the time as a kid, just never took it seriously.
Matt: My first fiction was Skies of Arcadia fan fiction. I’m not ashamed (though it is pretty terrible. You could Google it, but you shouldn’t).
What got me started on trying to do it properly? Hilariously enough, because I needed some money, and thought the world would be falling over itself to shower me with praise and money. I have been severely disavowed of both those notions in the three years since.
Stuart. That goodness. You know what’s the last advice Tim Powers gave me at our workshop? Marry into wealth. You did say you have a pretty amazing wife. Does she put up with your writing space?
Matt: I have a man-cave. I’ve got my first Amiga 500, an N64, Gamecube, Dreamcast, Wii and 360–along with my PC, all hooked into a big plasma TV. There’s shelves full of books and DVDs and old Warhammer figures. I am surrounded by all my accumulated nerdery there.
Stuart: Cool. What do you do when your aren’t writing.
Matt: I’ve spent half my life live-roleplaying, which turns out to be marvellously useful for writing. I also homebrew wine and take my SLR with me everywhere I go.
Stuart: Aweseom! You will definitely need it at the workshop. How long have you been entering WotF?
Matt: This was my sixth entry over the course of two years. I’d had two honorable mentions before this. It’s my first sale of any kind, though I’ve just signed a contract with Flash Fiction Online for “This is the Sound of the End of the World”.
Stuart: Well all right! Go man! Tell me this, Star Trek or Star Wars?
Matt: I reject your false dichotomy. Star Trek is science fiction at its best: an examination of humanity, the best and worst of us, our hopes for the future and our fear of ourselves. TNG did it best. Star Wars is fantasy at its best: there has never been another piece of escapism as fine or as successful. Who amongst us has never pretended to be a Jedi? Anyway, the correct answer is “Firefly”.
Stuart: You are correct sir! Have some lovely tea. Do you prefer fantasy or scifi more?
Matt: I love both–and write both–but I am a fantasy geek at heart. Warhammer still occupies a huge part of my imagination, all its gothic spires and overwrought high fantasy.
Stuart: You will probably be meeting Jordan Ellinger, who’s written a lot for Warhammer. He says it has it’s pluses and minuses professionally, but is a great foundation to add to.
Matt: It’s a magpie world, made of stolen shiny bits from a hundred other places, jumbled together and turned up to eleven, and I love it uncritically.
Stuart: There you go. What else?
Matt: Discworld is almost a third parent to me, it’s such a large part of my moral education. I strongly suspect my atheism and humanism was born on the streets of Ankh-Morpork and in the hills of Lancre and the grey plains of Death’s Country.
Stuart: Thanks a lot, Matt. The Texas Talliban will be writing all our great state’s school librarians in the morning.
Matt: Ha ha. Fantasy is so much more than the traditional definition though. It’s the cracks between the pavements that people fall through, it’s the world on the other side of the mirror, it’s the magic you see out of the corner of your eye. I love Gaiman and Miéville and Moorcock, the incredible imagination they bring to bear. I think, even more so than science fiction, fantasy is the one truly unrestrained genre. Laws of physics? Consistent biology? Extrapolated technologies? Such limiting concerns. But magic–magic can take you anywhere.
Stuart: Indeed. Speaking of which, if you had a superpower, what would it be?
Matt: Invisibility. Because I am a writer, and thus an awkward introvert. So long as my SLR could be invisible as well, so I could get some glorious candid portraiture. (Not that kind, you perverts.)
Stuart: Ha ha! Tell us about your winning story
Matt: I can’t say much, because the story is still being blind judged for the Golden Pen award. But it is, objectively, the best thing I’ve written to date: it has characters I like, and characters I dislike but admire, and an actual plot structure to it, and hopefully some cool world-building to it (I think so). It is also a story & setting that has fundamentally grown out of who I am, and it absolutely embodies my politics and my opinions. It’s the sort of story where I looked back on it and thought, “Huh. So that’s what I believe.” Writing really is thinking on paper for me.
Stuart: Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Matt: Mostly plotter. I have to know where I’m headed with a story, else I end up just noodling around going nowhere in the story, and by Dickens does that result in some boring passages of prose, ripe for later deletion. But my plotting comes out in a rush of inspiration and excitement as a core idea sparks off implications and interesting scenes and snatches of conversation and gorgeous visuals. I scribble it all down frantically in no sort of order. If I could type at 2,000wpm I’d be a pantser, but the limitations of this frail corporeal existence require me to be a plotter.
That said, any plot as originally envisioned is never complete, and is never adhered to wholly. It seems that half my brain is in my fingers, and the best ideas come while I’m typing. This half-brain-architecture also has limited capacity, such that I have to write down what I’ve already got in order to make room for the rest of the idea to fill out. This is where the role playing comes in handy–I can feel the shape of where an idea should be when I’m writing, and I can just reach out and grasp something from the aether. Occasionally, it even turns out to be something good.
So as long as I have a reasonable idea of where I’m headed, I can pants along the way. (There’s a quote to confuse non-writers.)
Stuart: I think you have the right idea. Plan the work—then wing it. So aside from the WotF workshop, and Flash Fiction Online, what have you got coming up?
Matt: I’m also shortly to appear on a BBC TV quiz show, Pointless, with my wife sometime early this year. That was a surreal experience to film. As soon as I know an airing date, I’ll shout about it on my website/Twitter.
Stuart: How awesome? Well leave a comment with a link when you have one, and soak it in at the workshop. They put on one hell of a show.
Matt: Thanks, I will!
To watch Matt receive his WotF award live on the Internet the second week of April, Google the Writers of the Future contest as the date approaches. You can also follow Matt at mattdovey.com | facebook | twitter