Jude Austin is the author of the multi-award-winning “Projects” series. This post is a follow-through on an earlier BREW article, “Meet our Author: Jude Austin.”
BREW Question: Did you love reading books when you were little? Why or why not?
Author’s Response: Yes, I did. I was something of a book prodigy (I read Lord of the Rings from cover to cover when I was eight, to give you some idea). I also enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia, especially The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. When I was a child, BBC adaptations were on every Sunday at 5PM during the winter, and LWW was the one I remember most.
I’ve also had problems sleeping from a very early age, so most nights as a child, I would wake up at around 2-3AM and read with a torch under the covers until it was time to get up and come downstairs. We lived in the middle of nowhere, so there were no other kids to play with, and computers and computer games were still in their infancy. My choices were basically play outside with the animals – which I did a lot of – or stay indoors with a book.
BREW Question: At what age did you start reading books? What were your best memories of that time?
Author’s Response: I could read fluently by the time I was 2-3. That sounds like a boast/hyperbole, but it’s really not! In 1985 (I was born in December 1982, for reference) was a kid’s TV show I adored called “Mop and Smiff” about a dog and a cat. I wanted to watch the next episode, and my mom said that we could, but she wasn’t sure what day/time it was on.
Five minutes later, I toddled back into the kitchen holding the TV guide and announced, “It’s on today at half past one!” Keep in mind, TV guides didn’t print pictures in the same way that many of them do now, and even if they had done, I would still have needed to read the day and time next to it.
There was also a series of reader books in the kindergarten that I attended, starting with red and going through all the colors of the rainbow until it got to an actual rainbow-striped book. The day I went there, my mom apparently told the teacher, “Just so you know, my daughter can read,” and got a vague response along the lines of, “Yes, dear, of course she can.” Two hours later, she got a phone call from the teacher to say, “You know what? You were right!” I don’t remember what any of the books were about, but I do remember blasting my way through them and feeling the next day that something wasn’t right, that my teacher hadn’t called me for reading practice, followed by, “Oh…right…there’s nothing for me to read.”
Unfortunately, my memories of my two-year-old self are very vague, so I can’t really answer your second question!
BREW Question: What was the first book you loved reading? Why?
Author’s Response: The first book I can really remember making any kind of serious impression on me was called Ludo and the Star Horse by Mary Stewart. Basically, it tells the tale of Ludo, who follows his horse, Renti, into the snow one winter and finds he has to travel through the Twelve Houses of the Zodiac to get home. It goes as you might think – he encounters the Crab in Cancer, the Twins in Gemini etc – but the simple imagination of it really struck a chord in me. It was partly the inspiration for a short story that I wrote many years later called Seven Days, taking place in the Dreamlands where a girl has to travel through the territories of various mythological creatures such as Kekeko, the Ouzelum Bird and the Tikbalang (I wanted beings that wouldn’t be well-known by the majority of US readers!)
BREW Question: When did you first think about writing your first book? Why?
Author’s Response: I never thought about writing a book; I just kind of fell into it. My first book was written when I was about 17, and was a sci-fi novel called Danshi, which started off as a fanfiction posted on a forum for a particular actor (the actor wasn’t mine, obviously, but the story was). When I was done, I figured I’d just copy-paste all the entries so I had the whole thing in its entirety, and it turned out to be around 65,000 words. That’s kind of on the short side for a sci-fi novel, but it worked.
So I figured that since I’d inadvertently written a book, I might as well try to get it published. I changed the name of the actor and a couple of references to his work, turning him into an OC, and sent it off to an agent who took me on. We later parted ways without a publishing contract, but the fact that someone had had enough faith in me to accept it was what really made me think that maybe I could make a living doing this. I’d also won writing contests when I was younger – my first success was age 12 in PONY magazine, where I entered a contest to write a serial photostory and won; I was asked to write Episode 5 – so I knew I could do it. Danshi then got two more books added (Kheshen and Tarra) making it a full-fledged trilogy, and then came Tsunami (don’t ask) and after that, Project Tau, which is where most of my readers came in! Project Tau is my first published book, but it’s the fifth one that I actually wrote. Likewise, Homecoming is my second published book, but it’s my eighth completed novel, as there were two novels in-between. For those of you wondering about the timing, there was roughly a 12-year-gap between the first draft of Project Tau and the first draft of Homecoming. I think I’m pretty well caught up at this time, so Nowhere to Hide will be my third published novel and the ninth that I’ve written.
BREW Question: What was the greatest obstacle you’ve encountered when you were writing your book? What made you overcome it?
Author’s Response: Honestly, I can’t say I’ve encountered any obstacles. Some of the medical knowledge in Nowhere to Hide, maybe, but I just went on a couple of Ask-A-Doctor sites, explained who I was and what I wanted and asked my questions.
BREW Question: What pieces of advice can you give aspiring authors? What worked for you?
Author’s Response: Write what you want, not what you think or what other people tell you will sell. That was my biggest mistake when I let well-meaning but clueless people talk me into putting sci-fi aside and writing Tsunami, which is the only book I’ve ever written that I hate with a passion and would unpublish in a heartbeat if I could. Not because it’s a bad story – the story itself isn’t too bad – but because it’s not me, it’s not my genre and it’s not a genre I want people to associate with me. (Technically, Tsunami was my first published book, but I hereby disown it and ask everyone not to buy it…especially since I won’t even get any royalties if you do, as the available copies are all secondhand!)
BREW Question: Who are the authors or what are the books that had the greatest influence on your own writing? Why?
Author’s Response: With me, it’s more games and movies than books. Part of the reason I write sci-fi realism instead of straight sci-fi is that I was sick of every author taking the view that sci-fi has to be set in space, feature epic space battles, AI, androids, evil governments and dystopian/post-apocalyptic societies. I figured if I wanted to read sci-fi with relatable characters doing relatable things – albeit in the future on other planets – I’d have to write them myself. With me, it’s all about the characters and the world-building, not the science.
So for me, it was games like Shining Force that really unlocked my imagination. In the UK, there’s a huge anti-fantasy/anti-sci-fi bent in schools. I don’t mean that the teachers actively speak against it or discourage those books in the libraries – they don’t, by any means – but they do look down on them. I lost count of the number of times I got back stories marked, “Pure fantasy, but still very good!” And it used to really annoy me as a kid, because I was like, “You know, the two aren’t mutually exclusive!” The other thing was an Excel exam that we all took in my school. Basically, you were given checklists with the notes that this is what you need for a pass, and this is what you need for distinction. So I’ve always been a computer nut, and I was working two days a week in an office doing administrative and secretarial tasks during every vacation I got, so I knew my way around MSOffice pretty well at that point. I did everything required for “distinction” and even got my teacher to double-check it for me to make sure it was all perfect and there was nothing wrong. She confirmed that it was.
I don’t remember exactly what we had to do, but it was something like calculating averages and comparing them to previous totals; basically, the kind of thing you’d do for stock-taking and ordering. The other kids all did things like ordering books or CDs. Me being the sci-fi nut that I am, however, my Excel chart was “Number of races that entered the Xefoom star system this year.” I came up with about 10-15 alien races, compared genders, whether they wanted tourist visas or residencies or whether they were students etc, and calculated and Excelled (ha!) my little sci-fi realism heart out.
The examiners gave me the bare minimum required for a pass, despite my ticking all the boxes for distinction, because it wasn’t something dull and mundane like books. I’m convinced that they only passed me at all because I would have appealed strongly against them if they hadn’t.
But getting back to what I was saying, there’s this huge demand to justify everything in the UK. Snooty people will nitpick the heck out of whatever you write, especially if it’s fantasy/sci-fi. Shining Force, however, just threw in things like centaurs and birdmen and a weird kind of bluey-green race for your adviser and nobody cared how they’d come to be there, or what their races/backgrounds were. They were just treated by the game and game world as regular people, because the story, the world and the characters themselves were seen as far more important. I think that’s a huge difference between UK and Japanese attitudes toward fantasy and sci-fi: UK people demand, “Why?” while Japanese people just shrug and say, “Why not?”
So yeah; Shining Force, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, early Sierra games…anything from the adventure/console RPG era/genre is what really inspires me to write. It tells me that it’s okay to let my creativity run wild, because why not?
However, if you absolutely really want an author/book, then Terry Pratchett and Rick Riordan have to be up there. For much the same reasons.
BREW Question: What are your current or future writing plans? What can readers further expect from you?
Author’s Response: The third book in the Projects series, Nowhere to Hide, will be out next year. I also have plans to adapt Homecoming to audiobook format. After that, I intend to take a break from the Projects series to focus on a brand-new comedy-fantasy series, which I’m hoping will secure me a good agent. I really want to become a hybrid author (one who uses both self-publishing and traditional publishing). Once that’s done, well, it depends, but Books 4-5 (The Worlds We Knew and Zero Hour) will both come along.
I also give you fair warning: The Worlds We Knew will probably – not definitely, but probably – mark Tau’s last appearance in the series, at least for a long while. He was only ever written as a supporting character, never an MC, and there’s nothing more I can really do with his character. Unlike Kata, Tau’s story arc pretty much ended when Homecoming did. He’s in Nowhere to Hide, but plays a much, much smaller role (he will, however, have a large role in The Worlds We Knew, even if it is his final one). The Projects universe is ever-changing and expanding, and there are other characters and stories to focus on: Kata and Alan from the other books, and Diran and Neil from Nowhere to Hide, plus so many more in the future!
I also want to write the Amy Saunders Chronicles at some point. For those of you who may have forgotten, she was the female superspy in Project Tau. That mission turned out to be her last, but there are plenty of other untold stories about her previous missions.
If you want more up-to-date information about my plans, my official monthly newsletter (available at https://www.judeaustin.net ) is the best place to go.
Know more and connect with our author via the following links: