A native Northern Irishman living in England, Seth Patrick is an Oxford mathematics graduate who now works as a programmer in a games company. His first novel, Reviver, was recently published by Macmillan.
Thank you, Seth, for taking the time to chat with us.
First off, I’d like to explore the origins of the world you have created in Reviver. What was your starting point, and how much work/research was involved in making something essentially so off-the-wall seem so grounded and realistic?
A friend pointed out the Wikipedia date entries that let you see who you share your birthday with. I found I share mine with Edgar Allan Poe, which brought to mind two Poe stories: The Facts in the Case of Monsieur Valdemar, and Murders in the Rue Morgue. In Valdemar, a terminally ill man is hypnotised at the point of death, then speaks from beyond the grave; Murders in the Rue Morgue is considered the first modern detective story. They collided in my head as an image of the detective interviewing Valdemar’s corpse, and it went from there.
Making sure it was grounded in reality was something I knew would be both crucial and damn hard to achieve, so I read up on forensic science, especially pathology. There were things in my favour, though – TV depictions of forensic science all portray a version that is sheer fantasy. Every CSI-style franchise takes such ludicrous narrative shortcuts that as soon as you see something striving to be remotely genuine, it gives it much more authority. I hoped the same thing would happen with Reviver, that nurturing an air of credibility would pay off even though the premise is outlandish.
And how close to your original vision was the end result?
For a debut novel it was a tough thing to pull off, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
You’ve left the ending wide open for a sequel, more than hinting that there is much more to come. Can we expect to see Jonah and Never again? Do you have a plan for what happens next, and have you a feel for how long it’s going to take to tell the complete story?
Absolutely! It’s a trilogy, and I’m finishing book two now. I have a broad plan for book three, but I’ll be getting started on that over the next few months.
Never Geary, a technician from Northern Ireland, plays a central role in the story. It’s an unusual enough occurrence to stand out (and something only a local would ever attempt!), and I found myself intrigued by the character. Is there any of you in Never, or were there any motives behind the choice of his nationality?
There’s a lot of me in both Jonah and Never, I think, together with plenty of what I would like to be. I’m nowhere near as principled as Jonah, or as sociable as Never, for example. When Never showed up, in the second draft of the book, his nationality emerged from the way he was speaking. It was only later that I realised Never was saying exactly what I would have said with a pint or two in me…
When the movie rights sold it occurred to me that finding a Northern Irish accent done well in a film is hen’s teeth – although maybe that’s just because being attuned to the accent makes you less forgiving. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis did a great job of it in Burke and Hare, mind you, so it can be done, but the key thing with Never would be getting the big-hearted cheeky-bastard aspect right. The nationality is secondary. I mean, they kept Noomi Rapace’s character in Prometheus as English for no discernible reason, and… Well, don’t let me get started on Prometheus.
The concept of revival is an intriguing one, and you have tried to answer a lot of the questions it might raise in the novel. One thing that does intrigue me, though, is whether you would use the service yourself if it existed, either to say goodbye to a deceased family member, or to say your own final goodbyes?
That’s the big unspoken question for the reader – would you do this? Would you go through it, from either side? That was why revival had to feel real, and accepted, so the reader could believe in people making that choice.
In the book, the journalist who first announced revival to the world, Daniel Harker, finds it impossible to go through with his own wife’s revival, leaving his daughter to face it alone. Even he wasn’t sure about it.
As for me being revived, I think saying goodbye would be such a powerful thing for those left behind, it would have to be their decision. If anything I did would make it easier for them, then the answer would have to be yes.
What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?
My reading took off with Terrence Dicks and the bazillion Dr Who novels. It was probably Stephen King who cemented things, The Shining and The Stand were the first two massive books I read, then Clive Barker, Arthur C Clarke, Greg Bear, along with 2000AD and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Watchmen.
And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?
I’m an absolute sucker for short stories – Stephen King’s Night Shift and Skeleton Crew played a huge part in my falling in love with reading, as did Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. I’d have to go with Greg Egan’s collection Axiomatic, though, as probably the time I most strongly recall being so awed and jealous simultaneously.
My other memorable so-good-I want-to-kill-them works have been Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Greg Bear’s Blood Music, and the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which is perfection. Bastard.
What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Seth Patrick look like?
My day job is as a games programmer on the Total War series. By the time I cycle home in the evening it’s past seven, so I grab something to eat, help get the kids to bed, then hurry down to my writing shed to play some urgent games of FreeCell and read a thousand tweets.
With all the critical stuff out of the way, it’s time to knuckle down and get on with it. Given that I’m typically knackered by then, cola and coffee come in handy. I give myself forty minutes, though – forty minutes of genuine, focused effort to get things flowing, and if it’s not happening I let myself call it a night. It’s a devious little trick, because if I’ve been genuinely trying things almost always flow.
And when things really flow, and suddenly I realise it’s two in the bloody morning but I’m still annoyed because I have to stop, well… that’s what it’s all about.
And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?
Pursue it as something you love to do for its own sake. Making a career out of writing is tough. It usually takes a while to build an audience before a long-term career becomes viable – if it’ll even happen at all. JK Rowling’s recent reveal as Robert Galbraith drew a few gasps when people discovered that her glowingly-reviewed book had only sold 500 copies in three months, but that’s the way it works for debut authors.
Most writers I’ve met still make more from their day job than from their writing. Trying to write a big hit is like filling in a really, really long lottery ticket, and it’s only the winners you’ll hear about.
But if you love to write, your aim should be to write a book that’s fit to publish, and then write another, and another, learning and getting better all the time. Don’t expect perfection from yourself, but do expect competence and improvement, and plug away at it.
Oh, and one other thing: write something you’d want to read. It may seem obvious, but it makes all the difference.
What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?
Always for pleasure! I’ve just finished the superb London Falling by Paul Cornell. Once it got into its stride, it was the most enjoyable thing I’ve read in a long time. Right now I’m half-way through Greg Egan’s Clockwork Rocket, which is what you expect from Egan – often a tough read, not for everyone by any means (and I’ve been finding myself clinging on for dear life at times) but it’s awe-inducing intellectual SF with a soul.
Reviver has already been optioned by savvy film executives. If it ever makes the jump from page to screen, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?
It’s a hard question, but Alfonso Cuaron is the only director I’ve thought of so far who seems to fit. As for cast, any time someone throws out a well-known name it jars, so I’d opt for unknowns in the core roles. Just really talented future-star unknowns. How hard can that be? It’s with the Man of Steel producers, job done.
And finally, on a lighter note…
If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?
Drink choice first. This is presumably a pub we’re in? Guinness is always an option, but I tend to pick a random draft ale and see how that turns out.
I’d love to meet Greg Egan or Stephen King, but I’d either clam up or drone on and on about how amazing they are. Either way I’d come across as an idiot. A better option would be listening in to those two chatting, with a few other favourite authors thrown in for good measure. I’d be the one who keeps the drinks and salty snacks coming, mind. Priorities.
Thank you once again, Seth, for taking time out to share your thoughts.