The Questioning – Adam Hamdy and Nick Clark Windo
Adam Hamdy and Nick Clark Windo take part in our Q & A piece, The Questioning - discussing their new and forthcoming novels, their writing processes and our world's increasing dependence on technology.
Posted on November 2, 2017 in Author Q&A, Guest Author, The Questioning
NCW – Hi Adam, how are things?
AH – Good, thanks. I’m currently writing the last few pages of the third and final Pendulum book, so the adrenalin’s pumping. What’s going on in your world?
NCW – Congratulations! Well…I’m ramping up for The Feed coming out at the beginning of next year. It’s been in the pipeline for a while now, so it’s getting dangerously close to reality. I’m really looking forward to reading Freefall, even closer to publication. It’s the second novel featuring John Wallace, and there was the novella Run, too. When did you realise that he wasn’t a character for just one novel, that he’d be someone you would see develop over numerous books?
AH – I have to give the credit to my original editor, Vicki Mellor. She was so taken by Wallace and his world that she asked whether there was life after Pendulum. As soon as I started asking myself questions about how Wallace and the others would cope with the aftermath, the ideas for Freefall and the final book in the trilogy jumped out at me.
NCW – That’s great that world and those ideas were lying there, waiting to be found. Do you need to know where a story is going, or do you jump in and investigate?
AH – I write a fairly detailed chapter by chapter outline and then almost immediately deviate from it. I write the outline to get a sense of the key emotional beats, rather than specific plot points. That gives me a feel for the characters’ arcs. The emotional beats rarely change as I write the book, but the plot is often radically different. What about you? What do you find most challenging about the way you write?
NCW – I think probably having the faith that it’ll all come together. I like letting things ‘cook’. Research, characters, situations, simmering away, often for a very long time. And then they seem to coalesce. Usually they do that around one particular moment, or one of the character’s specific ambitions, and that’s when I get a sense of what the story is, and the story’s structure. So there’s a lot of looking at this stuff out of the corner of my eye and trusting it’s going somewhere, which is worrying if I think about it too much. Sounds like I could learn a lot from your methodology!
AH – I’ve heard great things about The Feed. It deals with a pretty big theme. How much can you give away and what made you want to tackle it?
NCW – Thank you, that’s great to hear. There are some things in there better left to be read, for sure, but the main theme in the book I can give away with pleasure: it’s about our relationship with technology, and how that’s increasingly not something we consciously control. Rather, technology is something that we’re kind of attached to now and we’re being taken along for the ride on it whether we like it or not.
AH – It’s interesting to hear you talk like that. I’ve been saying something similar for a while. We’re living through a period of immense change, but no one seems to be asking whether we should do things just because we can. And now we have people like Elon Musk, who made his fortune from tech, warning against its unchecked advance. We’ve been content to leave everything to market forces, but the market is simply the collection of billions of individual interests. It might be in one person’s interest to invent a robotic car, but surely it’s not in the interests of the millions of people who work in the transportation sector?
NCW – Absolutely. The difficulty with progress for progress’s sake is no one knows where it’s leading us. Certainly, it feels like we as individuals have no say in the direction it’s taking us as a global society. In The Feed, as well as the social impact of tech, I’m really interested in how technology affects us individually. How it’s changing our human nature, almost invisibly. A few years ago, I had a bit of insomnia. After one particularly bad night, I realised that I had been sleeping, but I’d been ‘refreshing’ my dreams constantly. I’d seen every dream through a screen, with my thumb swiping down every few seconds. I recognized the rhythm of my dreams – it was the pumping heartbeat of waiting for my timeline to reload – and I realised a few things that morning: first, a lot of slow-cooking ideas coalesced around how the technology we use, our supposed tools, affects us psychologically, and I wondered what will happen when tech becomes embedded within us; second, I knew the title of the novel; third, I knew I had to stop checking Twitter before I went to sleep.
Obviously, though, a theme isn’t a story. Our dependence on tech is the world of The Feed in that the novel explores what might happen to us when that technology goes down. But the story is about two parents who, while trying to cope with the loss of this absolutely fantastic communications tool called the Feed, have to find and rescue their abducted daughter. Did you find something similar? That, while technology is there at the heart of a novel, it’s set dressing rather than the actual story? And yet technology affects the characters quite profoundly?
AH – Dressing? I like that. I think we’re all fascinated by other people, so you’re absolutely right, it’s the effects of technology, rather than the technology itself that are most interesting. I could talk about technology all day, but it would make for a very boring book. Writing is quite a lonely, time-consuming endeavour, so I have to be enthused by the story I’m telling. I always look for entertainment first. Am I excited, thrilled, sad, happy or somehow engaged with the book? Is there enough emotional engagement for me to keep working on the book for months? As a reader I always know when I’m being lectured, so I avoid ‘messaging’ within my books. The most I hope for is that I’ll address a theme as part of the story and cause a reader to look at some facet of life in a different way, prompting thought rather than seeking to direct it.
NCW – In terms of engaging entertainment, you’re a screenwriter as well. Has writing for TV and film influenced the way you approach a novel?
AH – Almost certainly. Screenwriting is all about economy. A screenplay is somewhere between 80 – 140 pages and if you just take a step back and look at them, there’s more white space than there is text. Screenwriters get very few words to conjure a world, character, emotion and story, and the limited running time of a feature film or TV episode means that people have to be propelled through the story. That doesn’t mean non-stop action, but it does mean that once you’ve established a story-telling rhythm, you honour it. You’ve also got a film background and have produced a number of shorts and a feature. What are the most common mistakes screenwriters make, and how has your awareness of them helped your novel writing?
NCW – Over-writing, definitely. In any written form, you have to trust the audience to get stuff. In fact, it’s way better when an audience has to lean in to understand things, whether they’re watching, reading or listening. I think this is especially obvious in screenplays because, as you say, there are so few words to play with – there’s very little to hide behind. But it’s the script that underlines that joke, or overly explains how someone is feeling or what’s going on, that doesn’t connect with an audience on an emotional level because we’re not allowed to think more deeply about the characters and empathise with them. Apart from that, it’s structure. Story is structure. Structure the hell out of what you’re writing: even if people aren’t looking for it consciously, they’ll be aware if it’s not working. I guess that’s partly what you mean by rhythm?
AH – Partly, yes. I think another way of describing it would be ‘truth’ or ‘voice’. A screenplay is an architectural plan that helps others bring a film to life. The final ‘voice’ of any film is the result of dozens – sometimes hundreds – of people coming together, and yes, some contributions shape the voices more than others, the director, producer and writer, but a film is ultimately a collaborative endeavour.
Books are solitary things. We write them alone and usually read them alone. They create a direct connection between two minds, and I believe an author needs to honour that intimacy by being true to the voice she or he has created. It’s jarring when a book changes its voice, meandering when it previously hasn’t, underlining a joke, overly explaining emotion, using your examples, has someone suddenly acting out of character, or any of a multitude of other sins. Every work of fiction is a lie, but they all have their own truth. Once you’ve found it, stick to it. Other than putting an end to you checking Twitter before you go to sleep, has writing The Feed prompted you to make any changes in your life?
NCW – Well…there’s something that’s revealed deep into the book which has made me think a lot about how I live. I’ve taken some actions there, but not enough. Not wanting to sound too cloak and dagger about it though, I’m afraid that really is one of those things better-left-read rather than explained here! That aside, the biggest change in my life at the moment is that we’ve recently had a baby. That’s been interesting in terms of The Feed because the driver of the novel is a couple’s daughter being abducted. When I wrote it, their emotional response to this was purely imagined. Thinking about that happening now…well, it’s impossible. I do wonder how I might have written that part of the novel differently now. How about you? What have you learned from John Wallace?
AH – Try to be kind at all times. John Wallace is responsible for his own downfall and doesn’t even realise it, because he does something that was of no consequence to him, but had a massive impact on someone else. Our connected world gives us all tremendous power to influence the lives of others. We can reach hundreds, thousands and sometimes millions of people, and while it’s easy to create sensation with something cruel or rude, we’ve got to consider those affected by the ripples when we throw a stone into the social media pond. I know you’ve got an exciting time coming up with the publication of The Feed in January, but what’s next for you?
NCW – I love it. The good side of human nature, working as an antidote to the poisons that technology has the potential to unleash. There’s hope! Well, I’m working on my next novel, slow-cooking those ideas and looking at them out of the corner of my eye. And, rather excitingly, things are looking very promising for a TV adaptation of The Feed. So, fingers crossed there. How about you?
AH – Congratulations on the TV adaptation, I hope it goes well. Once I deliver the third Pendulum book, I’m looking forward to spending more time in the mountains, running, climbing and hiking. It’s been a real pleasure chatting. I wish you every success with The Feed and hope you enjoy publication and the fantastic achievement of bringing your first novel into the world.
NCW – Thanks, Adam. Wishing you all the very best with your multitude of stories, too. It’s been a pleasure talking.