The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Author Interview: Neil Arksey, author of Intelligent Life

Following our review of Intelligent Life, I'm delighted to host an interview with the author, Neil Arksey.  If you read yesterday's review you will be in no doubt that Neil is super busy right now discovering the Higgs partical etc. but has luckily (for us, for you) been able to take some time out from changing the world to answer the questions quizzically put to him by our very own Cannonball Jones:

It at times appears that Douglas Adams was an influence on your writing due to the sci-fi/comedy mish-mash. However the book seems more slanted towards absurdist British humour in general rather than just the sci-fi element. Who would you say mostly influenced the comedic aspects of Intelligent Life?

Douglas Adams was a very funny man. I quite liked the first Hitchhikers book but I didn’t manage to read the others. Yes. I wanted it to feel as if the sci-fi elements in Intelligent Life – the extra-terrestrials, the devices and so forth – were almost incidental. I would say the humour is largely character-based. It’s more The Odd Couple and Blackadder than Monty Python. But there were no specific influences, it really came out of the story and from spending time in schools, working with young teens and listening to what made them laugh.

I loved the snarky trivia snippets heading each chapter and they really helped to draw me in and hook me on the book. Where did that idea come from and how on earth did you collect them all?

Thanks. I originally imagined the factoids as being collected by the Sidereal character who is trying to gather information about our planet on his journey to Earth. The factoids are actually integral to the structure of the story too – each one is connected in some way to its own chapter and so also connected to the development of the plot. It took a lot of twisted sideways thinking to get them all to fit together. And my brain is still hurting.

The randomness generator is central to the plot and seemed like immense fun to play with, as well as freeing you to introduce deus ex machina without it seeming like a cop-out. Was there ever a temptation to get carried away with it?

Yes. When I first came up with the idea, I could see that this would be a danger. But as I was planning to write a sequel, I realised I would need to pace the amount of randomness and not let it get out of hand in the first book. I think a lot of the humour in our lives comes out of the bizarreness of everyday random moments and I wanted the reader to be left wondering if the random moments in Intelligent Life were natural or artificially generated.

The relationship between Jonathan and Dennis was very carefully handled and the portrayal of Dennis's alcoholism seemed extremely detailed and realistic. Was there any real-life inspiration for this?

I think Dennis and Jonathan are probably two different facets of my personality. I’m not an alcoholic and neither is my dad. But I am addicted to cake. And when I was writing Intelligent Life I was suffering from gastritis, as a result of which I was burping a lot!

Intelligent Life is generally humorous in tone but now and then flips to more serious subject matter (like the alcoholism, peer pressure, etc). How did you handle the tone shifts and know when to switch back to levity before it got too serious?

I knew the tone I was aiming for, but it was much harder than I’d expected to achieve. In the end it comes down to trial and error. Whenever I could, during the writing, I would try out passages from the book in schools or on friends and see how they reacted.

Obviously the final chapter is a set-up for a sequel. Are there any plans to flesh out the backgrounds of the aliens?

Yes. But it’s top secret, so don’t tell anyone. 

And on that mysterious note we'd like to thank Neil for taking the time to answer our questions and encourage you all to pick up a copy of Intelligent Life sooner rather than later.  We can't guarantee that it'll suddenly imbue with an understanding of the Higgs-Boson but can certainly say that you'll enjoy a cracking good read. Intelligent Life is available now.


Anonymous said…
Seems like my kind of read! How can I get it in Taiwan? Is it electronic?
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