Ex-ad man, Clinton Smith, has won over 30 awards for commercials and another 14 for fiction. He has had many books and short stories published, has sold screenplays and had theatre work performed. But his opinion of writers is low. Here's Smith on the obsession of writing.
YOU'VE WON AWARDS FOR LITERARY FICTION. SO WHY DID YOU PUT SO MUCH EFFORT INTO THE THRILLER GENRE?
It's blokey stuff. Fun. Meaty. Engaging. I find most "blockbuster" thrillers slow-moving and dreary, so try to write something fast-paced, quirky, absorbing. The aim, as someone once remarked, is intelligent escapism.
YOUR DESCRIPTIONS ARE ALMOST FILMIC.
After a lifetime writing TV spots and docos, you learn to visualize.
YOUR CHARACTERS AREN'T STOCK TYPES. YOU HAVE AN UNUSUAL TAKE ON THE THRILLER.
Although thrillers are plot-driven, I prefer interesting characters. And despite sexual, religious, race and political differences, people are people.
HOW LONG DOES A THRILLER TAKE YOU TO WRITE?
Up to three years. I don't have to knock out one a year. I'm self-funded, long retired, can take the time to do it as well as I can.
FOR INSTANCE, A BOOK LIKE 'EXIT ALPHA' MUST HAVE BEEN A HUGE RESEARCH TASK.
It was. I had to find out about systems and survival in Antarctica, Catholic Church hierarchy and doctrine, Pakistan political life, C-130's, nuclear aircraft carriers, airships, weapons systems. Then there were arcane subjects such as electrocutions, poltergeists... It takes enormous checking and the help of many experts. You do your best to keep egg off your face - not to slip up too much.
WHY THE ESOTERIC EMPHASIS?
I'm interested in comparative religion and what interests you comes through.
YOUR FIRST THRILLER, 'THE FOURTH EYE' IS EXTREMELY DARK. AND YOUR SECOND, 'THE GAME', DISTURBING.
So is the evening news - which the networks have reduced to the distraction called entertainment. By the way, free to air TV is now struggling - driven by available footage and celebrity obsession. So coverage there has no relation to levels of importance. As for newspapers - they've become living skeletons, can't afford in-depth reporting and are always a day behind events. If you want news, listen to the radio. Of course, pick a station that agrees with your bias.
But back to the world. It's often brutal. Should we ignore that? Note that they've tried to attribute Titus Andronicus to everyone but Shakespeare but there's good evidence he wrote it and academics have to deal with it.'The Fourth Eye' was mostly social commentary. But 'The Game' was a romp - described by the publisher as 'a romance for men'. I agree with him. 'Deep Six' was a techno-thriller that took on the military establishment. The latest, 'Project Thunder', is another male romance set mostly at sea.
HOW DO YOU WORK?
Patricia Highsmith said that writing a book is a process that should be interrupted only by sleep. I have a life of minimum distraction. Wife and children gone, pets dead. Freedom. Writing is rewriting and I endlessly rework.
WHAT'S IT LIKE ADAPTING YOUR OWN BOOK TO THE SCREEN?
Demanding - a distillation. For instance, a feature won't work unless you stick strictly to the three-act structure. And you have to throw away most of your novel, reinvent, start again. Bit of a wrench but you get over it.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
It's a character flaw. Writers are obsessive/compulsive and their excretions are their daydreams. Writing attracts anal retentive, egotistical monsters. Some naive people still believe that writing is not only easy but - God help us - an occupation! They, of course, belong in a home for the bewildered.
As for collectors of books - bibliomania has long been equated with a perversion of the sex instinct.
Then we come to that decreasing and threatened category called readers - those who wish to escape, be entertained, to ignore a world deconstructing around them - to be told through calming fiction, such as crime novels where the detective always gets his man, or romances where the guy ends up marrying the girl, that everything will come out right. It's the same lie that the parasites called politicians foist on the public each election.
YOU DON'T SEEM TOO POSITIVE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE BOOK.
In the 21st Century, reading for entertainment or escape is a dying occupation. There are far more strident distractions - visual, electronic, chemical. So now endless desperate writers pursue a dwindling number of readers. And, despite all their self-promotion, they are increasingly talking to themselves. That is - to other writers - not readers. It's a self-referential feeding frenzy where all involved fall into the pit.
Of course, there are kinder ways to put it. Writers write for the intellectual joy of constructing an imagined world that's concrete, meaningful, real. That's valid, too. But the writer, alas, will eventually become the only person to inhabit his fandangled world.
PRETTY GRIM. SO WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WOULD-BE WRITERS?
Find something more sensible to do. I started long before the net. And it took me forty years to get a book up. I dumped three in the garbage one sad day. If you can be discouraged, you won't make it. If you can't, you won't either. And if you get published - equivalent to the chance of being struck by lightning - your book sits on a shelf for six weeks, then it's pulped. With eBooks, everyone can publish. But, as some sage once said, most eBooks will now be read by fourteen people. In this post-literate age, writing is becoming an anachronism.
SO WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THE WORLD?
It's in chaos. Obvious enough. The population explosion's made us locusts - stripping, denuding the planet. But we're so self-obsessed, we still see ourselves as apart from nature. The problems we have caused - destruction of biodiversity, pollution, lack of resources - mean that continuing this way is unsustainable. That means we're unsustainable, that we're becoming the only resource.
Soon we'll be farmed like cattle. You can see the indications now. Entrenched conglomerates disseminating misinformation to protect their franchises. The subversion of education by business. Drugs and the corporatization of crime. The corruption of professions, institutions, governments.
We're victims of our own violence, inertia, mental slavery and greed. I'm not making anything up. These are hardly new ideas.
AND YOU'RE TRYING TO HIGHLIGHT THESE PROBLEMS?
I'm not trying to ignore them. Some forms of corruption are too dangerous to tackle directly and fiction, being at one remove, can lift these into awareness. There are brilliant examples through the years.
For instance '1984' is with us. The only mistake Orwell made was imagining it would be overt rather than covert. Popular fiction's often predicted the future correctly. And it probably has a better strike-rate than most economists, futurists, historians. It can also have a devastating critical punch. For instance, 'The Good Soldier Schweick'.
BUT SURELY WE'VE HAD IT GOOD IN THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS? THE GENERAL STANDARD OF LIVING IN WESTERN DEMOCRACIES IS...
Despite all it's faults, that euphemism for self-interest rather laughingly called Democracy has had a grand run. It's still being kept afloat by advances in science and technology - but notice how each new solution spawns a dozen new problems? Progress is a myth. We're moving in circles. Everything eventually becomes its own opposite.
CAN YOU GIVE AN ILLUSTRATION?
Which century would you like? Christianity spawning the inquisition and the crusades? The war to end all wars? Communism reverting to hierarchy and decimating the masses? And, in our time, religions engaged in Jihads and the sodomy of minors? There are examples on all scales. Antibiotics that cause more resistant bugs. Claims exploitation that makes the cost of insurance prohibitive. Cane toads destroying Kakadu.
But people cling to the notion of progress - because the alternative is despair. What is forgotten is that civilizations die and ours has been terminal for years.
ARE YOU SAYING THERE ARE NO SOLUTIONS?
No. I'm saying direct means don't work. Violence, which is generally ignorance, provokes the equal and opposite reaction. We think we can do something but we're symptoms, not the cause. Real doing is self-change. But that's almost impossible. Real change isn't on the level of general life at all.
I'M NOT QUITE ACROSS THAT. CAN YOU EXPLAIN?
We need to transform our values. Nothing less will make any difference. That begins with a new kind of wish and a new direction and refinement of attention. But we're so unbalanced, ignorant, destructive, we've no inkling of our inner potential. We're atomized, in pieces - hearts, bodies, minds disconnected. If we could move toward an inner unity, the inner would transform the outer. And that would be real action. Not reaction but response.
YOU CAN FIND CLINT'S BOOKS ON BUZZWORD