Hi Stuart, congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. How does it feel to hold your published book in your hands?
Even better than holding my new-born children! No, it's nice of course, especially after being involved in every stage of publication and development, so it really does feel like 'my book' rather than the vision of other people, so that's been massive for me.
Yes, I adore sci-fi - it's always my go-to in terms of TV or movies or books, but it's not as popular as other genres so good material is harder to come by. I love fantasy very much, too. Anything considered 'speculative' is definitely a vibe for me. In terms of this book, I read two books about five years ago, called Red Rising and The Martian in succession (both set on Mars) and it fuelled my desire to create my own version of a future colony on the Red Planet. The character of Eva came afterwards, and she is moulded by the restrictions the world has on her personally. I also wanted the world to be realistic in the timeframe between now and when it's set in the 2040's, so lots of research went into possible colony base designs and the level of tech and equipment we'll see over the next 10-20 years.
Your main character, Eva, has Type 1 diabetes. Although this is not the focus of the story, how important do you think it is to represent character’s with disabilities and medical conditions in children’s fiction?
The most important thing. Even above the story, in some ways. As you say, it's not the central focus and that's conscious - I could have written about those struggles more specifically from my own experience, but when you have a condition or disability, you want a release from the daily struggles and reality of living with it. There's definitely room for stories which explore the conditions and disability as a focal point, but this wasn't what I wanted for this story. Characters with disabilities can be heroes too, and it doesn't need to be about overcoming their disability to be the hero, it's being the hero while living with it, and its complications and barriers. Because that reflects life and what diabetic kids are looking for - a life like everyone else, or even more extraordinary, alongside managing their condition.
If you had to describe Ghosts of Mars in three words, what would they be?
Ghosts, Sword, Mars (sorry, that's basically the title!)
Yes, and yes! I thought about doing it for a long time, and always dithered. But the moment I decided, there was clarity and there was certainty. I was empowered and felt fully autonomous in my own destiny. A feeling that had deserted me after years of querying and rejection, the odd (mistaken) acceptance, and my general mood about writing and publishing. It has transformed me on both a creative and a personal front. And it's only the beginning - my 18 month plan is well underway and I'm excited about what the future brings.
Can you tell us something about this book that you are most proud of?
I am proud of the disability representation, of course, but also the standard of the finished product. Self-publishing has a, perhaps fair, reputation of people uploading sub-standard books with poor covers and very little/no editing etc, and one thing I wanted to achieve with this book was to produce something that would sit comfortably alongside books produced by top publishers, and I think it does. Much love has to go to my brilliant editors and illustrator, who made the difference in that regard. Any sub-standard components in the book are purely down to me! :-)
Thanks so much for talking to us, Stuart. Just before you go, do you have one tip for any aspiring writers out there?
Stop looking around, hoping and waiting, gazing enviously at others, and go your own way. You're not a side-character. Be the hero in your own story.