Alps, Spies and Marmalade: An Interview with Derek Haines

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Derek Haines is an author of genre fiction, essays and poetry. His works range from historical fiction with Louis, to The Glothic Tales, a trilogy of science fiction farce, to dark contemporary romance, including One Last Love, Dead Men and For The Love Of Sam. We spoke with Derek about his range of works, and what it’s like being an expat in Europe.

Ed: What was for breakfast this morning?

DH: As usual, I had Google News, Cricinfo and email for breakfast. But in recent weeks I’ve added my rekindled passion for Scottish Marmalade to my breakfast menu. I wash all this down with coffee and little procrastination before attempting anything more challenging.

“Money is nice to have but so quickly disappears. There are more important ways in which to measure one’s success as a writer.” That’s a quote from your Vandal blog. What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out on dealing with the pressure and uncertainty of self publishing. 

Keep your day job. I read just yesterday that 248,000 books were published in 2003. In 2011 it was over 3 million, so clearly there are a lot of people trying to find fame and fortune by publishing books. If your motivation in writing is only about making money, then forget it. The pyramid is just too big now. The satisfaction and motivation must come from wanting to tell a story and sharing it with readers. If it’s any good, readers will find it. 

With social media, online book reviews and book forums, it’s very easy now to receive feedback from readers and if they like it, they’ll say so. In the end, my personal measure of success is in discovering that one of my stories connected with a reader and they gained pleasure from reading it.

Your works range across satire, sci fi, historical fiction and dark romance. In other words, you’re a hard author to pin down. How do you select your plots and settings. Is it a gut instinct, or is there more of a method to your process?

My genres and settings change, but there is a common thread in all my stories. I like anti-heroes. Maybe it’s the ‘Great Aussie Battler’ syndrome at work in my mind. My main protagonists are always less than perfect, perhaps even a touch naive, and then I give them a problem or two to sort out. When I start planning a story, I always start by developing my main character first, and then finding a setting that will create challenges. From there I plot the story into just a few sentences, and then start writing.

Louis is the story of a real life spy who you met and befriended in Australia. It’s clear from the opening pages that this is a work close to your heart. Was it tough to balance the ‘real life’ circumstances of the man you knew while telling a good story. Do you think you were successful?

Writing the book was a process of re-telling the stories Louis told me as a child and teenager, so this was quite easy. The most difficult part was the amount of research I needed to do to get the historical elements of the story correct. Once it was finished though, I did have some concerns about the fictional elements I added to the story. 

Luckily for me, there was one person who could judge. I sent a copy to Louis’ wife, Maria, and she not only approved, but loved the story. She sadly passed away last year, but her approval was all I needed to know that I was successful.

As an ex-pat, what advice do you have for people living away from home? 

Enjoy what your new home away from home gives you. Although Australia is home, so is here in Switzerland for me. I enjoy both cultures, but I must admit to having been in love with Europe from a young age, so I feel very fortunate to be able to live here and enjoy the history, culture and especially the food and wine!

Your farcical sci fi trilogy The Glothic Tales supposes that Earthlings are not alone in the galaxy, but simply unpopular. What’s your take on the rise of social media platforms like Twitter. Where do you think popular fits in relation to what is good when it comes to fiction. 

Popular is such a difficult concept to measure and define. As we have seen with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, what was once deemed unpopular or unsaleable by established publishers, is now hugely successful. This current popularity of erotic fiction was born out of self publishing and social media, and not mainstream publishing. Whether it is well written fiction, I’m not so sure. But that’s irrelevant in the end because readers have decided that it’s popular, so it therefore it must be good fiction.

It’s a cloudy, dreary day in Sydney. How’s the weather in Switzerland? Do you ever think you will return to Australia?

It’s cold and sunny this morning. Just the way I like my weather here. As for returning to Australia, I’m not sure. Perhaps when I need to decide which country offers me the best deal on a nursing home, I might make a decision. 

Derek’s books are available through most eBook stores. You can find a full listing at his website. You can also contact him via twitter @Derek_haines