Fenland Youth Radio interviewed me again on Monday, the 24th of July, 2023.
We discussed two of my books sharing an award from THE WRITERS FORM, and one of them, Paranormal City, being shortlisted for the Imaginarium Convention’s Imadjinn Awards for the best short story collection by a single author. I also talked about how I write as a pantser, which differs from many others who are plotters,.
Interview Fenland Youth Radio 24/7/2023
Rob Windle: Emily Sandé and Read All About It. Yes, you’re listening to Fenland Youth Radio. And we’ve got an interview. Yes, we’ve got an interview. We’re famous for our interviews, and we’re welcoming back for a second occasion. Apparently, it was September in 2022 when Stephen Oliver came into the studio, and author Stephen Oliver is back in the studio. Hello, Stephen.
Stephen Oliver: Hello.
Rob: Now, Stephen, just to remind people. You are a local – well, I say a local person. How long have you been in Whittlesey?
Stephen: Whittlesey, I’ve been here about ten years now.
Rob: Yes, ten years. And where did you move from?
Stephen: Well, I spent a brief stint in Wistow, but I’ve actually lived for thirty-two years in Switzerland.
Rob: In Switzerland. OK. So, I trust then, you’ve been living in Switzerland, you’ve got a few languages behind you. Under your belt.
Stephen: I can speak High German, Swiss German. I’ve also learned a little bit of Spanish because we used to go on holiday in Spain. So, I’m a bit of a polyglot.
Rob: So, does learning languages come easy to you? And I find it very, very difficult.
Stephen: Well, I think—
Rob: I think once you’ve got one under your belt, that will… it’ll trigger from there, won’t it?
Stephen: It probably is. But you’ve got to remember, I’m half Swiss. So, my grandparents on my mother’s side, we used to visit them. So we’d be hearing Swiss German from them, and it just sort of sank in. They say, until the age of seven, you can learn more than one language.
Rob: Yes. And did you get any inspiration for any of your work through, uh, living abroad at all?
Stephen: Not really. Most of my stories, fantasy, science fiction and so on, they can be set pretty much anywhere and tend to be. They, I suppose the best way I can explain it is, they’re international, cosmopolitan.
Rob: Yeah. So, universal. [Laughs]
Rob: There we have it. Now we’ve got… I know you’ve produced at least three books. One being Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting. That’s one. Tell us a little bit more about that book or what inspired you to create such a book like that.
Stephen: Well, years ago, back in the early nineties, I trained to be an NLP practitioner.
Rob: A what, Sorry? What’s that?
Stephen: Neuro Linguistic Programming. It’s a psychological system for understanding how we think. How we learn how we do things. And it has a great collection of techniques for improving that, for dealing with psychological problems, for learning how you think. Because not everyone thinks the same way. For instance, most people think in pictures. I’m a writer. I think in words. There are also people who think by feeling. I actually worked with a guy like that once. He used things… It’s easy to tell how someone’s thinking by listening to their words. If someone says something about, “I’ve got to get a grip on this”, “We need concrete proof”, They’re thinking with their gut, their feelings.
I tend to say, “That resonates with me”, “That sounds good”, “I’m playing this by ear.”
A visual person would might be saying something like, “It’s crystal clear” or “You’re wearing rose-tinted spectacles”, and all this sort of thing, and that tells you exactly what they’re thinking at the time.
And once you can do that, it’s easier to communicate with them because you can speak their language.
Rob: Yeah, so that is something about helping yourself.
Stephen: Basically, yes, it is. And what happened was a friend of mine was, uh, studying to be Alexander technique. The Alexander technique is a way of dealing with tension in the body because Alexander noticed that if you’ve got tension anywhere in your body, you will also have it in the neck. So, he starts from the neck and works backwards, and that’s what she was learning to do.
But there was nothing about how to set up a practice afterwards. Nothing about goal setting anything like that. So, she and I and another friend, the three of us got together, and we created a course, no takers, and a year later, she was the only one who actually had a practice. All of them had never set a goal or saying, “I want X number of people”, and then going about it.
But I’d written a course, and then some years later, I thought, “Well, nobody wants courses at the moment.” Money problems, you know, the 2008 crash and all the rest. So, what I did was I wrote it in a book and self-published it ten years ago. And that’s the book that you’ve seen.
Rob: We’ll talk more about the books of Stephen Oliver after this, and music grab a bit of Gloria Estefan and Rhythm is Gonna Get You.
Rob: A little bit of Gloria there, and Rhythm is Going to Get You. Hey, you’re listening to Fenland Youth Radio. Very pleased to have Stephen Oliver, author, in the studio. He’s holding two books. We’re going to talk one more, about one of the books now, and it is Shuttlers. Now. I believe that’s the second book to actually be published.
Stephen: No, Actually, it was, it was the first one to come out.
Rob: I do apologise.
Stephen: It was the second contract I signed, but they were quicker off the mark.
Rob: Okay. [Chuckles] So tell us a little bit about the… What is the genre to that, then? What is it about?
Stephen: It’s what’s called Young Adult, which means basically from 12 to about 18, which is the area it was in. I actually wrote it for an adult, but an agent who looked at it said, “No, this is something for youngsters.” So I rewrote it to take into account a younger audience, and it’s, for want of a better word, it’s inter-reality space opera. For those who don’t know what space opera is, think Star Wars or Star Trek. You know, huge events going on around the main characters, but in a science fiction world as opposed to high fantasy. So, Lord of the Rings is fantasy. This is science fiction.
Rob: Okay, so there we have it. And I mean, just sort of give us a flavour of the… How many pages are in that particular book? So, just sort of give us a —
Rob: 380. Now…
Stephen: But it is… it is printed fairly wide. It is for younger people.
Rob: I was just… I was… that was actually my next point that it is very easy, readable. And that’s so important. There’s nothing worse than books what would put me straight off if it’s small type, you know, 10,000 words to a page type stuff? Yeah, I exaggerate, But you know what I mean. That would put me straight off. But something was nice and easy. Easy, readable, easy to pick up. The important thing is to pick it up, read it a little bit, then maybe put it back down again and go from there. So, yes, that is Shuttlers.
And another book which I know you’ve got in front of you, Which I do know that we have also mentioned in the past. But I know you’re very proud of it as well, I’m sure you’re proud of all the books, is Paranormal City? Is that a sort of… sort of same sort of genre as well? Is it?
Stephen: No. This is what’s termed dark urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is where the modern world has magic and the supernatural hiding in it. For those in the know, this would be things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Dresden in the Dresden Files, and so on. It’s magic in the modern world, often hiding, but not always.
Rob: Yes. So, that’s three books we talked about. Julie, you wanted in your time to write a book, haven’t you?
Julie Windle: Yes, I would have liked to.
Rob: You’ve sort of got… You’ve mapped it all out, haven’t you? The storyline, without giving too much away —
Julie: Historical drama.
Rob: — in case anybody nicks it for a film.
Julie: Historical drama.
Rob: A historical drama. But you’ve been doing this for quite a long time now, haven’t you?
Julie: Yeah. Just writing family trees and notes and everything about the characters.
Rob: Yeah, so it’s the background. You’ve got the basis, the backstory from all your characters.
Is that, is that a good thing? Is that a good thing, Stephen? How, how would you lay out your book in your mi… Not necessarily… I’m sure it’s obviously in your mind, but do you actually lay out rough on a big, like a… sheet of paper? I mean, just tell us that that… how — practically — you put a book together.
Stephen: Not that way!
Rob: No, no, no, no. I need to learn, though.
Stephen: The point is, Julie is what we call a plotter or a planner.
Rob: She was a Trotter before. [Chuckles]
Stephen: The point is, there are people who need to have everything. They need to know exactly when someone is going to spot the red bandana, which is going to be the main clue that somebody was where they said they weren’t or whatever.
I am what’s known as a “pantser”, as in “writing by the seat of my pants”. Technically, we’re called Discovery writers because we discover the story as we’re actually writing it. Most of the stories, I have an idea for the beginning or a scene, or it might be the ending, but I don’t know how I’m going to get there. I mean, I’m working on an epic novel at the moment. It’s already 108,000 words —
Rob: Put that into context, as to the book you’ve just shown us here, How many words would that be in this? In the Paranormal City?
Stephen: This would be about 103,000 words.
Stephen: This one is about 75
Rob: Just to help those people…
Stephen: Shuttlers is 75. The other one is 105. The new one that’s with the editor, the sequel to Paranormal City, is about 95,000 words, but there are shorter stories in there, so it spreads out a little bit more. I’ve got one book that’s got 74 short stories in it. What the Americans, not the Americans, the Australians apparently call “Smokies” because it’s just long enough to read during a smoking break.
Rob: Is that right?
Stephen: Yeah, but I write by feel, as it were. I’ve written stories where I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I was as surprised as the reader probably is when I changed direction. Because, for want of a better word, my Muse just sits there and says, “Now this, and you write this, write this”, and I’m going “What? I didn’t expect that to happen.” And then I have to work from there, which is, for me, a wonderful way of writing. Almost all of my stories are written that way. I don’t know where I’m going. I may have an idea or feeling, but I don’t actually know what I’m going to write.
Case in Point; Another story, which is in the fifth book of the Paranormal City series, called Imaginary. I was planning to be about 2,000 words long with six scenes. By the time I’d finished, it was 8,000 words long and had 17 scenes.
Rob: So if these were translated to a film, would there be dark films.
Stephen: Paranormal City most certainly would be. That’s why I said it’s dark urban fantasy. I’ve got murders in there. I’ve got demons. Vampires. I haven’t written a story about not a mummy yet, but there are some werewolves.
Rob: Sounds like something from the fifth floor, Julie.
Julie: Yes, yes.
Rob: That takes us nicely to another bit of music. It’s Alan Walker and Dark Side.
Rob: Alan Walker there and Dark Side. Although it said, Alan, I thought that sounded like my female voice on this. Alan is a female. Julie, what do you think?
Julie: You never… It was American.
Rob: Yeah, they’ll do all sorts over there, don’t they?
Rob: There’s no rules, is there?
Stephen: I had a friend at university who was a countertenor who sounded like an alto when he sang.
Stephen: So, it could be something like that.
Rob: It could be, and that was the voice of Stephen Oliver, author, who was in the studio who been talking about the books. When did you start writing, Stephen?
Stephen: Well… [Chuckles] I’ve been writing most of my life. I spent 30 years as a software engineer, and you do an awful lot of writing; programmes —
Rob: Code and things like that, is it?
Stephen: Code. But also, once you get up to the point of being an engineer, you’re also writing the specifications, the designs, the handbooks. All of that has to be written. So, I probably wrote, in a 30-year career, I probably wrote a couple of million words. And then 10 years ago, I had to shut my company down because of the financial problems. Nobody wanted freelance programmers anymore, and I also came back to the UK.
And since I couldn’t find work here, I went on and started writing. The epic novel I mentioned earlier, that was the first one, and I was stuck at about 35,000 words. But I had ideas, and the first, the idea, is the first story in this book, Paranormal City. That was the first idea I had, and so 10 years ago I started writing seriously I’ve now passed a new milestone, and that is 1.4 million words I’ve written, plus nearly a quarter of a million words more in submitting to all sorts of places.
Rob: A fair bit of work there, a fair bit of work. People will complain at university about having to do some sort of thesis or whatever. Come on, beat this man here. So, what success have you had?
Stephen: Success? Well, Paranormal City and Shuttlers. I put them both up for a competition on something called the Writers’ Forum. That’s an online forum, over 110,000 people, and they asked for people to send them the manuscripts of books that were published or about to be published. And I sent both of the books in with the idea, “double my chances.” So, you can imagine my surprise when I got an email one day —
Rob: Is this around the world, this forum? Or is it —?
Stephen: I assume so. I certainly know there are Americans and Australians, of course, Brits in there. It’s an English-speaking forum, so most of the people will be from the English-speaking world, but it is pretty much worldwide. I mean, they, the founder, actually lives in France now, but he was in the UK. Anyway. I sent this off; double chance, sounds good.
And then I got an email saying, “You’ve won”, and I thought, “Oh, great! Which one?”
Both of them!
And I read on, and it turned out that they loved the books so much they were arguing with each other, the judges, which one should be in first place? So they decided in the end, “We’ll just do it for both of them.” And so I have —
Rob: So, was it a quarter of a million pound check?
Stephen: [Chuckles] No, it’s kudos —
Stephen: — and the fact that I can put the badge saying “Writers Forum First Win… First prize on the books—
Rob: You’ll have to put “joint first prize.”
Stephen: Joint winner.
Rob: But the trouble is, if you do that, you people will think that you’re joint winner with somebody else.
Stephen: Joint with myself.
Stephen: That’s why I use the term co-winner instead of joint winner.
Stephen: Because both of my books won. I also was put in for another one, the Imaginarium Convention, which was just over a week ago. They have the so-called Imadjinn Awards spelt “I’m a Djinn”, and I was put in there for “Best Short Story Collection By a Single Author”. I didn’t win, but I was shortlisted.
Stephen: And so, you know, there’s… There’s the kudos of there of being one of the runners up, even if I didn’t get the main prize. So, you know, I’m beginning to get out there. I’ve been trying various local bookshops. I’m still waiting to hear back from them, if they do. I know some of them do readings. There are others where you do book signings. I’m trying to get in on there now, and I’m trying to establish a presence at the moment on places like Twitter. I’m thinking about moving on to Threads as well. See if that’s any good. And, of course, I have my YouTube Channel.
Rob: YouTube channel as well? So mainly fantasy, science fiction we’re talking about here. Ever thought of writing a book of love?
Stephen: I have tried. I have been trying, but they do tend to get a little bit steamy. So, it’s not just romance, it’s erotic romance.
Stephen: In fact, I tried to come once from the other direction. I tried to write pornography, and it ended up turning into an erotic romance.
Rob: Oh dear.
Stephen: I’m not sure that’s ever going to be published, but it was fun doing it.
Rob: Okay. well, let’s have Peter Gabriel, The Book of Love, then.
Rob: The Book of Love and Peter Gabriel. We’re talking books this morning and got author Stephen Oliver with us. Now we’ve talked about what you have published and what have you got now, what’s your project at the moment?
Stephen: At the moment, I’m in the middle of the editing. I just finished the editing phase, actually, for the sequel to Paranormal City. My working title is Paranormal City II: Tales From the Underbelly.
I have Volumes three and four completed already. Volume five I’m writing, and I’ve got seven or eight offshoots from there, various aspects of the same narrative world. The only difference is they specialise, for instance, as one with fairies and fairy tales. There’s another one about the reapers who work for the Grim Reaper and so on.
I’ve got a couple of others. There’s a four-part series, Young Adult, about straight hard science fiction, but that’s sitting on the back burner at the moment.
And I’ve got an epic fantasy I’m working on, which I mentioned earlier. I think it’s going to be about 150,000 words by the time I finish, so I’d better establish myself a little bit more before I get on to that.
But I just write. Every day I write. The thing is, as I said before, 1.4 million words. That’s only about 350 words a day, effectively, because there are days when I’m editing and working. Or I’m doing something else; I’m submitting. Or, as I did this weekend, I did a so-called book trailer, a little video, which you can watch on your on your phone for Paranormal City. I’ve already done one for shuttlers.
And these are all things that you need for the marketing side of things, which is something which is completely unnatural to me. I’m not a marketer, but I’m learning about it and how to push yourself out and how to get yourself established. This is a part of my marketing, talking to you.
Rob: Good. Hope we0 can help you get to that next step and next level. Apart from book writing, have you got any other interests?
Stephen: I do like playing with graphics and videos and so on. That’s why I made the trailers. In fact, on a book… the fifth book. No, it’s not the fifth book. It’s an offshoot book, which is straight science fiction, working title, Paranormal Universe. Some of the stories have actually got pictures in, which I made, which act as almost like inspirations for a particular part of the story. They won’t be published because that jacks a price up like you wouldn’t believe. If you’ve got a colour illustration in a book, that adds about 150 per cent to the price. Most of these pictures won’t work if they’re just black and white. But they are guides for me, and they might be guides in some way for the publisher. They might decide to use one of those pictures instead.
Rob: Have you contributed to other book publications?
Stephen: Oh, yeah, I’ve got about 30 short stories now in various publications. I think it’s 15 different publications now.
Rob: [Shows a cover]
Stephen: Yeah, the one… Yes, exactly. That’s the one.
Rob: We’re just looking. For those people who are listening on radio. [Laughs]
Stephen: This is the local writers’ group, the Whittlesey Wordsmiths, which is our name. We, basically, every year, we get together stories, and we publish. We did several: Where the Wild Winds Blow, A Following Wind, Three Sheets to the Wind. But we’ve also done Christmas, two Christmas ones, for adults, one’s for children, and we are now working on the next one. We’ve decided we’re going to start, instead of doing general ones, we’re going to start specifics. So, the new one is going to be about murder and ghosts, and it’s called Dead-End Stories. Well, that’s our working title.
Rob: I wonder if DJ McCoy will get a part in that at all. So yeah, he was there smiling away still, very smiley. So yes, there, there we have it.
So, we’ve got Stephen Oliver in the studio. So finally, Stephen, if, if anybody is… Well, no, actually, one other thing I did want to mention before I go on to where you can get the books from, is that you have done a little bit of a tour of Whittlesey. You did visit the Whittlesey, Women’s Institute, didn’t he Julie?
Julie: Yes, I think that was in June, and two of the ladies really were into that sort of… they were really into your books anyway. Stephen.
Stephen: Yes, I noticed.
Julie: Joan and Sue.
Stephen: In fact, one of the ladies wanted to know where I was on Amazon because she wanted to see my other books. Because most of my books are available on Amazon.
Rob: I was just gonna say that. And so that’s how you can get hold of them. Is it?
Stephen: Yeah. Just be careful. There are a couple of other Stephen Oliver’s on there. One is —
Rob: [Chuckles] Are they better than you?
Stephen: No, they write different. One is a religious writer who I believe lives in Australia.
Stephen: Okay. And the other one is no longer with us. He was a bishop.
Rob: Okay, so there is a connection between them two anyway.
Stephen: Yeah, I suppose there is. But mine. Just make sure you get the ones… with the one with all the horror stories and the science fiction, then you’ll know it’s me.
Rob: So how do you spell Stephen just for people to know?
Stephen: Stephen PH as usual. No, nothing special. But if you look up Stephen Oliver, Paranormal City, and then click on the author, you’ll get me.
Rob: There you go. So, if you’re interested in purchasing any of Stephen’s books, then Amazon is a good place to go to and have a look on there. And hopefully you’ll enjoy them.
And no doubt Stephen will be back and join us sometime in the future. It won’t be a fantasy future, it’ll probably be a reality future when Stephen comes in to talk about his other projects. So, thank you. Stephen, for coming into the studio.
Stephen: Thank you for having me.
Rob: Chatting away. I thought I’ll just quickly put this one is a bit of sense of humour. It’s The Jungle Book.