A half hour with Hugh Howey

Search catalogue for WoolMy first author interview was scary enough, but having to do it on the phone without those useful visual cues, and the whole experience became all the more challenging.  Hugh Howey, author of Wool and Shift was a very kind and patient man however, and he coped well with all my long-winded and rambling questions.

As a member of the team that purchases stock for the library I was particularly interested in Hugh’s approach to self publishing.

Although the library does buy e-books it is not always straight forward.  Publishers and authors have at times had a reluctance to sell e-books to  libraries as it will be borrowed as opposed to individuals purchasing their own titles.

Thankfully this is not an issue for Hugh, he is happy to get readers any way he can and sees libraries purchasing e-books as a boom for the writer. Random House has now picked up this series, but Hugh is totally committed to the self publishing route for authors. As an aside, the editors of his self published books are his wife and mother.

I was keen to find out what Hugh thought about libraries.  

Hugh grew up with three kids in his family with a mum who had several jobs and probably not a lot of spare cash. The library was his favourite place as a child. He reads widely and believes that to write you need to read, and used the analogy of playing football without having watched the game. Watching or reading is how you learn the tactics, get ideas and generally broaden your point of view.

When I was doing some background research I discovered that he makes great use of social media.

Hugh sees writing as an unsocial act and he enjoys connecting with people via his blog and Facebook page.  You can tell this – he responds promptly and seems to enjoy the interactions. He also keeps in contact with others writers via a forum called Kboards. Signing up with Random House has meant the opportunity to travel and meet many of his fans. Next time he plans to come south and bring his wife – we will hold him to that.

The latest book is Shift, and I inquired as to why he had decided to write a prequel at this point in the series.

Hugh felt that there was a need to explain the reasons behind Wool and the Silos before progressing with the series, he also wanted to give us a break from Juliet the main character, but you will be pleased to know that she does make a brief appearance at the end of Shift.

Dust, the last title will be published in October. Hugh is not a writer who is content to let his books evolve, he has already written the last chapter of Dust. He knows exactly where he is taking us. I asked if he considered himself an optimist (considering that both books so far have been quite dark), and he said he is – so I’m hoping for a happy ending!

Shift is more political than Wool. We learn why thousands of people were bunged into silos, and it’s not pretty.  Without giving the plot away, certain quarters of the Democratic Government feel that are one step ahead of the terrorists, and what they are about to do is for the good of humanity. I was curious to ask if this series would have been written if 9/11 had not happened, and Hugh agreed that yes the events of that day and afterwards has shaped him and had definitely helped create this series.  Although he follows politics, he is interested in how politics and political decisions shape people.

Wool and Shift are very visual books and I asked Hugh about his involvement in the proposed film directed by Ridley Scott.

Hugh said that writing for him is like watching a film and that he is a very visual writer. I wondered if he would therefore have a problem with someone else taking his vision and making it their own, but he has no problem with leaving the film completely up to Ridley Scott. Hugh is very happy for the film to stand on its own.

I was interested to know if Hugh agreed that there was a lot of snobbery around reading Science Fiction.

Hugh recounted working in a bookshop and making the decision to move all the great science fiction, eg  Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Philip K Dick etc into the general fiction section. He hoped this would  break down the barriers between the so-called geeks and anoraks, and encourage readers to see that great fiction is just that – great fiction regardless of the genre. Librarians of course are completely hooked on genres and fitting books into categories, the likes of Hugh Howey could come as a bit of a challenge! Perhaps Wool and Shift would fit into what Margaret Atwood regards as speculative fiction, but in the end we agreed that  it is all semantics, and if you enjoy the book then that is what matters.

On that note my half hour was up. Hugh could now get on a plane and go home from his whirlwind tour. This is a writer who we will be hearing a lot more of –  a romance is in the process of being written and he’s rather fond of mystery and horror – something for everyone. I for one couldn’t be more delighted.

Wool that has nothing to do with sheep

Search catalogue for WoolEarly next week I have the opportunity to interview Hugh Howey, author of Wool. I stumbled upon his book in the New Titles list and had no idea that the author was quite such an internet sensation. It wasn’t until I had finished the book and wanted to find out if he had more titles that I came upon his blog and Facebook page. Here I learned that that Wool had been self-published as a novelette in e-book format, and demands from customers had encouraged Howey to continue writing this series which has spent considerable time on the Amazon top 100.

Random House has published the hardback version and the film rights have been optioned by Ridley Scott. What intrigues me about this book is that not only is it a great read, but also the process by which it has become a bestseller, as it has skirted the usual channels of traditional publishing. I am looking forward to discussing some of these issues with Howey next week.

Wool is set a few 100 years in the future. The inhabitants of this future live in a silo – a massive silo in fact. It takes days and days of hiking to go from top to bottom via a staircase. Generations have now lived in this environment, life is considered normal and everyone is presumably going about their business from the mechanics on the lower levels deep underground, to the hydroponic gardens and farms further up, IT who keep the computers going and the nursery where the babies are born. Top level consists of screens where the outside world can be seen. Outside is uninhabitable, the air poisonous,  tall buildings (perhaps the residue of a city) crumble in the distance. It is a wasteland.

Life in the Silo is safe – organised, and controlled. Strict rules are adhered to, and if not then you are sent outside to die, but before the poisonous air takes you everyone who goes outside cleans the screens with a piece of wool so that the residue of dust and film is cleared, and for a while at least the view of the outside is uninhibited. Why people sent to their death choose to clean the screens doesn’t make any sense, but as this and other questions are answered and the characters develop  a really good mystery/science fiction/adventure book emerges. The strength of Wool to me was that is doesn’t  fit a genre, it’s a bit of everything and it rollicks along at a great pace.

The Library has the prequel Shift on order where we learn why the silos were set up in the first place. Keep an eye out on the blog for the interview next week.