As I mentioned recently, I was interviewed on local radio.
On Monday, I received the audio file, which I posted.
Since then, I’ve used some online software to transcribe the interview. It did an OK-ish job, but I’ve just spent most of the day correcting its grammatical errors, and compensating for the fact that it’s not so hot at detecting various English accents…!
So, if you’d prefer to read it than to listen to it, here it is.
Fenland Radio Interview
with Stephen Oliver and Rob Windal
Rob Windal: And it’s time for another interview. And I’m very pleased to have in the studio, Stephen Oliver. Hello, Stephen.
Stephen Oliver: Hello.
Rob: Hello there. Now then, you’re an author?
Stephen: I am, yes.
Rob: And all I can say is, at the moment, the studio has been transformed into a library. At the moment, we’ve got quite a few books in here. Probably not as many as Julie’s dining room where there’s a few books in there as well. Julie, isn’t there that you’ve written any?
Julie Windal: No. There many history books?
Rob: Yes. And my claim to fame is just writing a who’s who of community groups and sports groups in Whittlesey. That was my claim to fame. But, Stephen, you’re an author. How long you been an author?
Stephen: I started writing 10 years ago, Although I had been writing as such for 30 years before that because I was a software engineer. I… I did specifications, designs, analysis, wrote the programmes, the handbooks from A to Z. And I was working in Switzerland primarily for Swiss banks, a nuclear research facility, insurances, that sort of thing. So, I was writing probably millions of words there, and then when I had to shut down my company in 2012 and come back to the UK because my parents were moving back —
Rob: And that was a programme writing company, was it, then?
Stephen: Yes, I was a software engineer, and I wrote programmes for various companies. Including, as I said, a nuclear research facility, Paul Scherrer Institute. That’s number two in Switzerland after CERN and they… But my parents, what happened was my parents… decided to come back to the UK because my father wanted to see my two sisters and they lived in the UK, and since I was their carer, I came with them. Unfortunately, at the time I was in my mid-fifties, and people don’t want software engineers who are in their fifties. They want young and dynamic, and they don’t want old, dynamic, and experienced because we are too expensive.
Rob: How did you find life in Switzerland.
Stephen: It was great. They are a little bit uptight, quite honestly. It’s not so easy to make friends, even though I am half Swiss. But in Switzerland, so many friends are friends from school or friends from the military. Making friends at work… They tend to be a little more standoffish.
Rob: So, you came across to the back, well, to the United Kingdom. And where were the best then? When he first came across?
Stephen: Well, we first of all, we were in Resto for six months. And then we came to Whittlesey in 2013.
Rob: So, you got your visa?
Stephen: I’m half Swiss… I’m half Swiss.The other half—
Rob: The visa to come to Whittlesey.
Stephen: Right! Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No, I’m… We moved in here, and I was I started writing and I haven’t stopped. I’ve written in the last 10 years 1.3 million words. That may sound like a lot, but I worked out yesterday, that’s only about 350 words a day.
Rob: Yes. Mind you, that’s okay, If you’ve got the imagination and the flow to be able to write them words because lots of people could have a piece of paper in front of them, I’m sure, and would love to do that thing but would not know where to start. What advice would you give to them?
Stephen: Well, if you’ve got a block and you just can’t write, just write something even if it’s “I can’t write, I’m having problems writing. I hate writing. I don’t want to write. I think I’m not getting any ideas. Just a minute. I’ve got an idea.”
You’ve got to get the pen moving or the fingers typing. If you don’t, then nothing will happen. But once you start going, something will happen eventually. I mean, I’ve had days when I’ve just sat there and I thought, “You know, I’ve got to finish this story. Where am I going to go? And then I sort of typed, He stood up. Question. Why did he stand up? The doorbell rang a second time. Ah. Now somebody else coming.’ And that’s how it goes and you just build from there.
I do have an advantage over a lot of writers in that… Let’s put it this way. You have to know how you write. Are you one of these people that has to have it all planned out, you know? You know exactly when the character is going to discover that his sister isn’t his sister or whatever the point is; my mother watches a lot of soap operas. But you have to have everything plotted out. Then, there you’re a plotter.
Or you can be like me, and I’m what’s known as a Pantser.
Rob: A Prancer?
Stephen: We write by the seat of the pants.
Rob: All right. Sorry, yeah.
Stephen: Technically, Discovery Writer. We don’t know what we’re going to write until we’ve written it.
Rob: It’s sometimes like that with the show, ain’t it Julie?
Rob: We start the show. We’ve got a rough idea what’s going to happen. But things can take a change in a deviation.
Stephen: Just a case in point: a story of mine. Julie has it on the list there, actually, called Santa’s Little Secret. I started writing it and it changed direction five times. And each time it surprised even me, and I was writing it.
Stephen: So, we don’t… often don’t know where we’re going, or if we know where we’re going, we’ve got no idea how we’re going to get there.
Rob: So, who inspired you to start writing them?
Stephen: Well, it was actually the first book that I published, self-published, called Unleash Your Dreams. I had years before created a course with a couple of friends of mine for goal setting because we discovered… One of them was doing a course to train to be an Alexander teacher, and we discovered that nobody was teaching people how to set goals in that course. My friend did, but that was for different reasons. But we designed a course. Three of us designed a course together. Unfortunately, it was in 2008, around the time of the crash, and nobody was interested in paying for a weekend course. So eventually, when I came back to the U. K, I thought, “Well, I might as well do something with this material.” And so, I converted into a book, took out bits that, you know, the group exercises and all the rest of it, and basically wrote the book. Self-published it. That was quite a learning curve. And once it was done, I actually started on the second book.
Unfortunately, I also had an idea for a novel, an epic novel.
Then I made a mistake. As I said, I’m a pantser, and I came across a book called Take Off Your Pants, which is how to turn you into a plotter. And I followed all the rules and the story died. And it wasn’t until someone pointed out that it was because my subconscious thought I’d already finished the story, so it didn’t give me any more ideas. So, I scrapped that. And it’s now over 100,000 words and will probably be about 50,000 words by the time I finished.
But during that time when I couldn’t write, I had another idea, something that didn’t fit into that story. And it’s in fact, the first book, the first story of the book Paranormal City, which you have a copy there. I had this idea of a man who was half angel, half demon, and a private detective. And so, I created the story only took me two or three days, actually, and by the time I finished, I realised I created an entire universe. And most of my stories have been in that world ever since, and we are talking about over 200 stories already.
Rob: Already. Welcome to it. We’ll talk more with Stephen after this record, and it’s Sam Smith and, yes, Writing’s on the Wall.
You’re listening to Finland Youth Radio, and it’s the interview show here. We’re very pleased that we’ve got Stephen Oliver, author Stephen Oliver, and as we know, Stephen started out in Switzerland and made his way across the United Kingdom. A computer software programmer, own business, and now an author. Now, Stephen, talk about what’s the sort of genre of the writing what you’ve produced so far.
Stephen: Well, so far and I must admit it is a “so far”, I’ve written, and I’ve got a list here. Self-help. science fiction, space opera, cyberpunk, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal magic, realism, horror, fairy tales, fairy stories, slipstream, interstitial, noir, detective, action, thriller, humour, young adult, and children’s stories. The problem is, I often have more than one genre in any particular story.
Rob: We say that just does sound like the library. If you want to walk down the library in town, you’ll probably see all these headings. You know how you get the little stickers with the names on each row. I think you just filled the library, I think.
Stephen: Well, I… Actually, no. I haven’t got done any Westerns, erotica, pornography, or paranormal romance. Yet!
Rob: So we’ve got… So, I’m right in saying, from what you said earlier, that your first book was Unleash Your Dreams.
Stephen: That’s right.
Rob: Now, and you talked about, I mean getting that published. How hard is it to actually to get a publisher to believe in you and to, you know, get that book out there for you?
Stephen: Well, actually Unleash Your Dreams is self-published.
Rob: You did it yourself?
Stephen: I did it myself. I found a course online with a guy called John Thorne, who does… does this course and it takes you week by week through the steps you need to make, you know. How to format it, how to get your covers done, how to publish.
And actually, it’s not as difficult as people think because I did it originally through Amazon. And then I discovered a company called CreateSpace, which is now owned by Amazon, where you can publish the paperback version. But I’ve also done versions for iBooks. I’ve done versions which are available on Nook and Kobo, and all of these. Okay? So, the thing is, it is possible to do it. It takes time, but it’s free, and that’s the important thing.
The only thing that actually cost me anything was the course, and the cover. Everything else I did myself. So, if you see someone that says, “We will publish a Kindle book for you”, run, don’t walk. Because they’re doing everything you could do for yourself.
Rob: So, that would be a tip for anybody. Just don’t have maybe look in that direction first.
Stephen: Exactly. And you’ve got to remember some of the most famous books were self-published: Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, Eragon. They were self-published books originally, but they were so popular that a publisher then took them up.
Now getting published is a completely different kettle of fish because you have to submit, and submission means you’ve got to do an awful lot of research and work. Again, I was doing statistics yesterday, and in the last three years since I started submitting, I’ve written over 235,000 words of submission letters and emails, which is a heck of a lot because you have to individualise them. You can’t just send out a shotgun to everyone. You’ve got to take into account, there might be a little detail, like, “I see that you specialise in… I don’t know, fairy mermaids or something, and I’ve got a story for that.” But you have to point out that why you’ve chosen them, okay? That’s a thing.
So, you you’ve got to do that and you’ve got to be prepared to put in the work because to get 15 short stories and two books published, I had to send out over 430 submissions last year alone.
Rob: That’s quite time consuming. And you doing that on your own?
Rob: Yes. So, yeah, so hopefully you get the rewards from that eventually. Now, the first book where you say you brought out there Unleash Your Dreams; Going Beyond Goal Setting. How many books did you actually create? Produce?
Stephen: How do you mean produce? Print?
Rob: How many? How many are available? Yeah, print.
Stephen: Well, it comes through CreateSpace, and that’s what they call a Print On Demand system. So, literally, if you were to order yourself a copy, Amazon would tell, CreateSpace, their daughter company, “Print one copy and send it to this address.” And, you know, it’s as simple as that.
Rob: So, it’s none of this. You know. You have to know you have to have to do a minimum number of—
Stephen: No, no, nothing like that.
Rob: 1,000 or 2,500.
Stephen: No, nothing like that. One copy. In fact, I helped a friend of mine. I didn’t, didn’t finish the project, in the end. He was going to do his father’s memoirs. But his father, unfortunately, passed away before they could do that. And he wanted to literally print one single copy, and that was to be given to his father on his birthday.
Rob: Ah, yes.
Stephen: So, you know, you can do this. One single copy is all you can need to print. And it’s actually not that expensive, if it’s a so-called author copy. An author copy is present is done at cost, i.e., you’re not paying any profits to them, and then you get to send it out or pay it whatever. That’s what I do here. I’ve got a book signing. Well, the U3A Whittlesey is having a literally meeting next month, in October. I will be there, and we are also having, on the fifth of November in the library, there’s going to be a book signing of the Literacy Wordsmiths, which is the local writers’ conglomerate of the U3A. So, we bring along copies which we’ve produced, and then we sell them at a price, but we got them at cost.
Rob: Yes, is there are many authors in which well, to your knowledge.
Stephen: Well, there’s a dozen of us in the Whittlesey wordsmiths, plus one or two members who are no longer with us. They went their own way. We had, for instance, a poet who decided, she loved working with us, but she wasn’t getting support for poetry. So, she’s now founded her own poetry group.
Rob: Fair enough. Yeah.
Stephen: And there’s also another group, which is just starting up now, which is basically writers who can’t join the U3A for various reasons. In case of one of them, is because she has a baby and the insurance of the U3 A won’t cover children.
Rob: Okay. So, your next book, then that obviously the first one was Unleash You Dreams. What was the next one you brought out?
Stephen: The next one was Paranormal City.
Rob: We got a copy in front of me here and… Who designs the covers for you, then?
Stephen: That cover was designed by the publisher. I had my own design, which they liked, but they decided they wanted their own version. And they did this, and we had a bit of back and forth.
Rob: To describe, people, because obviously, this is radio. The recovery’s a greenish cover with a gentleman wearing a long leather jacket. Probably looks in the age of about mid-thirties, possibly looking over his shoulder while he’s in a cobble street. A hotel. So, I’m sort of trying to give people a flavour and roughly probably not as well described, as I’m sure you could have done it, but that’s the book. They’re very chunky. I mean, we’re talking 300, 89, 88, 89 pages.
Stephen: It’s over 100,000 words.
Rob: And what I do like about it myself, is it looks easy reading on the eye in terms of font size.
Rob: I think that’s important to get people on board.
Stephen: It is. Very. Especially since the other book, Shuttlers, which we can come to afterwards, I’ve already got an order from a 90-year-old lady who likes science fiction, and if you look that is even better because it’s actually got spacing between the lines, which makes it easier for older people to follow the lines.
Rob: Yes, that’s so important, actually. It’s okay, coming up with some fantastic work. But if people struggle to actually read it…
Rob: Who proofreads this stuff?
Stephen: Well, I… That’s something I had to learn from my… from my writing coach, who is also my editor. She helped me with that, but basically, I do a lot of the work myself. I use a programme called Grammarly, which you can get free on the Internet. Grammarly.com. And I also purchased something called ProWritingAid, which is literally goes through. But the thing is, don’t take what they say as gospel, because with Grammarly, I’m disagreeing at least 50 to 70% of the time. Because they’re computers, they’re stupid, they don’t know what I want to say, but it makes me sit up and look and say, “Did I want to say that this way?” Actually, the biggest complaint that this seems to have is that I use too many commas. I’m British; we use more commas than the Americans.
Rob: Time for another song, and it’s Peter Gabriel now, The Book of Love.
Rob: Peter Gabriel There; The Book of Love. And we’re with author Stephen Oliver, who’s in the studio here at Fenland Youth Radio. Julie, you’ve always fancied writing a book, haven’t you?
Julie: Yes, I have. I doodle a bit.
Rob: You doodle a bit.
Julie: Especially when we’re on holiday.
Rob: You got it all mapped out, haven’t you?
Julie: Yeah, it’s mainly a historical saga. I stole… A lot of it’s in the head, a lot.
Rob: But I’ve seen the paper, some of the paperwork as well. Yes, it’s all mapped out, isn’t it? It’s not like fly off the pants there stuff with you, is it?
Julie: No. It’s—
Rob: And you want to like it, you know…
Julie: — connected to a family tree as well, which is another one of my interests.
Rob: Yeah. Yeah, we go, Stephen. We talked about, obviously, Unleash Your Dreams, Paranormal City. You touched upon Shuttlers. What’s next?
Stephen: Well, firstly, Paranormal City is a part of a series. It wasn’t intended to be that way, but it ended up that way because I just kept getting ideas and couldn’t stop. I’ve now written four books. The fifth is already being written, but the second one is already in the hands of the publisher. They are evaluating it, i.e., editing it, making sure that I haven’t got too many typos in there. Hopefully, it will be out in time for Christmas, but it might be the new year because they lost several months due to covid problems within the company.
Rob: I say, because most people you will see, now they’re all on television, will be all on the breakfast settee pushing their book out. And usually that always tends to happen around between now and November.
Stephen: Exactly. Exactly.
Rob: If they haven’t got it out now then they’ve had it.
Yeah, which is why the Whittlesey Wordsmiths are at this U3A literature show, because we’re trying to get people to buy the Christmas presents from us.
Rob: So very marketing, very sensible. And you say, once you’re about marketing. But that’s good. Now, is the chance of… let’s shall we say, these books becoming onto the big screen at all.
Stephen: I have an agent in America who, when I was introduced to her, was absolutely delighted, not only with Paranormal City, which was the book I was pushing, but the fact that I had a number of other books already in development. Paranormal City; She… the first thing she said was, “Right. I need — what’s the technical word? — an elevator pitch, which is 30 seconds, i.e., you’ve got two sentences. I want the synopsis. I want the long synopsis. I want the manuscript, and I want a list of everything else you’ve written or are writing.
So, I said, okay. I sent it off to her, and a couple of months later, I got the information back. Paranormal City is out with four production companies in America, which are looking into whether they want to make a TV series or a film. So, who knows? One day, the cover might say, as you know, the latest Netflix blockbuster or the latest Hollywood show, whatever. It’s there, it’s being done.
And also the publisher of Shuttlers has already also, has an option there that they… that I signed up for graphic novels because that is now also a huge market these days.
Rob: So out of all the characters you’ve written about, would you like to be one of them characters?
Stephen: Actually, one of the characters, we haven’t mentioned him, but one of the characters I would love to be is Michael Sana
Rob: Which book's that in?
Stephen: That’s in Paranormal City. It’s the first story. It’s the man who’s half demon, half angel, because of who he ends up working for.
Rob: All right. Okay.
Rob: So, no spoilers.
Stephen: No spoilers. But I will say he does have several unusual careers, including his new one.
Rob: So, I mean, is it easy to all this come to you very, very easily, in being able to put these numerous books and you’ve already mentioned the big figures, like 200 maybe projects in your mind, I think it is. Is that easy to come to to yourself?
Stephen: I find it easy. But then I’ve been a science fiction, fantasy, and horror reader since my very early teens over 50 years ago. So, I have… They say, “Write what you know.”
What I know is science fiction, fantasy and horror. Also, Children’s stories, of course, because I was young once, and detective stories, because I used to be a great fan of Agatha Christie.
But the ideas come to me. I have a list on a programme called Evernote of all my ideas, and I also collect writing prompts. You can find those very easily on the Internet. You just say “writing prompt” and then whatever genre. And then you’ll find hundreds of thousands of them. And I pick, pick a few out, and I’ve done that. I’ve collected them and I’ve probably got 5000 ideas I could write.
I am not going to stop writing until they peel my cold, dead fingers off the keyboard. Mind you knowing what I write, It’s probably one of my own creations that did me in.
Rob: Have you done a Who-Done-It before?
Stephen: I’ve written a couple. Actually, they’re… They’re not sort of Who-Done-It. They're detective thrillers rather than Who-Done-It. I.e., you’re following the detective rather than trying to work it out for yourself.
Actually, something I’ve been thinking about doing, but I haven’t got — I’m going to need to plan for that — is a Why-Done-It. You know who did it, but you’ve got to work out why they did it. There was a great series on television once called Motive, which was about that. You know who the killer is. You know who the victim is. But why? And sometimes it gets very, very twisted.
Rob: Do you have to be very careful that, because I’m sure you watch science fiction, then. You must watch some science fiction. And I’m sure you’ve read, obviously. Like you caught in the trap of anybody saying, “Well, your work sounds very, very much similar to my work.”
Stephen: I’m sure—
Rob: Something which is a an issue, could be an issue. You know what I mean?
Stephen: I don’t know. The thing is, you see what comes up, it comes out of my subconscious mind, so I don’t know what it’s doing. So, it’s a possibility someone might say, “That’s like my story.”
The problem is proving it. I mean, there was this famous case with the Beatles, years ago, when they said someone had stolen, they’d stolen the theme from someone else. And it turned out that they had actually both taken the theme from a piece of classical music.
So, you know you can’t invent. There’s nothing new under the sun, literally. There is nothing new. I write my stories. I’m sure there’s been similar stories and there will be similar stories. They will. But Dr Joe Vitale, who’s one of my favourite self-help authors, has said, “Don’t let because somebody else has done it. Don’t let that discourage you. You will bring your own spin and your own version of that story, and somebody might be wanting to hear that version.” So do it.
Rob: Now, if anybody is interested in the work what you’ve produced so far and may be following in the future with anything else that comes out, how can they get in touch or, you know, grab a book or…
Stephen: Well, you can go on to my blog. I have a blog… only do it occasionally. I once or twice a month, and that is—
Rob: You don’t write much to that.
Stephen: I’m too busy writing other things but it’s www dot StephenOliver dash author dot com. Stephen with a ph. There’s my blog there, but if you look on the side, there’s a section that’s called “Books”. You can click on that. You can see the books I’ve written, the books I’ve been in co-operations on, the books of my friends that I recommend, and other books that I recommend, as well. So, you can see what I do, what it is.
Also, look me up on Amazon. You can find me, Stephen Oliver. Make sure you pick the right one because there’s a religious writer called Stephen Oliver. That’s not me. But if you look in, say, “Stephen Oliver Paranormal City”, you’ll find Paranormal City. Click on the Link that with my name, and you’ll see all the books I’ve written or have been involved with.
Rob: Stephen Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us here on the interview show here on Fenland Youth Radio.
Stephen: Thank you for inviting me.