Clayton Graham - The Future Adventures of Mankind in an Expansive Universe
As a youngster growing up in the cobbled streets of Stockport, UK, Clayton Graham read a lot of science fiction. He loved the ‘old-school’ masters such as HG Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov and John Wyndham. As he left those formative years behind, he penned short stories when he could find a rare quiet moment amidst life’s usual distractions. A retired aerospace engineer who worked in structural design and research, Clayton has always had an interest in science fiction and where it places humankind within a universe we are only just starting to understand. Milijun, his first novel, was published in 2016. The second novel, Saving Paludis, was published in 2018. They are light-years from each other but share the future adventures of mankind in an expansive universe as a common theme. The sequel to Milijun, entitled Amidst Alien Stars has just been published, and Clayton tells us all about it.
Please give us a short introduction to what Amidst Alien Stars is about.
Amidst Alien Stars is the sequel to science fiction thriller Milijun where Laura Sinclair and her son, Jason, become involved in a terrifying First Contact scenario that goes bizarrely wrong. Challenged to breaking point, Laura fights for the survival of Jason and several others who are unwittingly being used as pawns in a cosmic game of survival.
In Amidst Alien Stars, following their abduction from Earth, Laura and Jason lead a group of desperate humans in a bid to forge their own future and that of their home planet. To succeed, they must solve the mystery of alien races in the throes of a perplexing and historic conflict.
But they are in a strange, new universe; on a curious and very dangerous planet. Who can they really trust as they struggle to understand the challenging and hostile environment that holds them in a grip of iron? And what do the aliens really want?
What inspired you to write a series set on an alien world?
Science Fiction takes events on Earth, current and historic, shifts them up a gear and moves them into the cosmos and, more likely than not, into a different time. All the characters in my books, human and alien, would be at home floating on a canal in Venice, or sight-seeing in a ‘canal’ on Mars.
For Amidst Alien Stars, it was the natural flow of events that moved them off Earth. The aliens have a plan, after all, and it is the continuation of their cosmic strategy which necessitates bringing humans to Glieze, their home planet.
Science Fiction and Fantasy writers are lucky that they can invent and explore new worlds and new life-forms, new galaxies even, without anything more than a keyboard involved. How wonderful is that!
You are a fan of 'old-school' masters such as HG Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov and John Wyndham. How have these authors inspired your writing?
Finding these authors was a way of escaping the starkness of the post war Britain into which I was born, an escape to other worlds in the company of possible nuclear attack and the ‘generous’ four minute warning; the ever-present threat of devastating war. All of them had vivid imaginations, and ‘vivid imagining’ does tend to rub off onto the reader.
How is your own background as an aerospace engineer helping you when writing sci-fi?
There is no link really. I was at the frontier of the composite revolution for aircraft structures and I guess the constant challenge of ‘doing things differently’ nurtured an enquiring mind. New and upcoming technologies are often the subject of my blogs.
This is a sequel - can it be read as a standalone? How does it tie in with book one?
Amidst Alien Stars can be read as a standalone. The prologue gives a reasonable summary of preceding events. That being said, it is always better if readers also have a look at the First in Series, or at least check out Milijun on my website. Incidentally, reading Milijun after Amidst Alien Stars is also not a bad idea, especially if your imagination is stirred sufficiently to want to know more.
Events in Amidst Alien Stars continue the trials of the human abductees, but we get to know a lot more about the aliens, their planet, and the reasons for their actions. To some people, this may seem more like the truth than they would ever dare to admit!
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Very few I’m afraid. I enjoy Lego with my grandchildren, but they are much better than me. Used to be reasonably good at soccer, tennis and cricket but time has taken its toll.
Oh—I am also quite good at keeping secrets.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
Definitely. Whilst the two ‘Sinclair novels’ certainly explore the relationship between a mother and son in very challenging circumstances, and how far that mother would go to protect her son, there is a deeper message within the pages of the books.
I hope the novels encourage readers to think about their place in the universe, how they react with others on Earth, and how they relate to the wider cosmos. Perhaps even how they would interact with a being beyond their immediate understanding. To think well outside the square, if you like, and consider the possibilities out there: both spatial and inter-dimensional.
I want them to escape for a while, and take their minds away from the everyday necessities of life we all have to tolerate in order to survive.
It’s our connection with the rest of the universe which fascinates me, and hopefully, that comes across in the books.
Do any of your characters take off on their own tangent and refuse to do what you had planned for them
I love to share my characters’ adventures with readers. Describing new worlds. Interacting humans with other-worldly circumstances. I want readers to spread their own wings and share the journey.
But more often than not, it is my characters who take the lead in deciding what happens next. I ask myself what they would do in their current circumstances. How would they react? Obviously, I have a basic ‘overall scheme of things’, but what occurs along the way is always a result of the strengths, weaknesses, and personalities of my characters.
I am never sure whether they have taken off on their own tangent or not. I certainly do not impose restrictions on their actions, and I would be quite pleased if they turned out to be innately rebellious!
When writing from these sorts of perspectives, did you feel you had to sidestep certain stereotypes?
I don’t put my characters in pigeon holes, they are much too precious to me for that to happen. Like most of us, they are made from a cocktail of numerous thoughts and emotions, and I believe that makes them more appealing. The same goes for any aliens that are about, too.
What has most surprised you about the response you've received from readers from your previous book?
I was most pleasantly surprised when the second novel Saving Paludis won a 2018 International Award from Readers’ Favorite. It was the first time I had entered a book for any award, so it meant a great deal to me.
In terms of the general reader, I trust their reviews and have been lucky that so far most of them have been generous. I also love their insights into many of the plot concepts.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do to combat it?
Fairly infrequently. If I reach an impasse on any particular page or at the beginning of a chapter, I usually go for a walk, or even start writing a completely different short story. One door shuts, another opens! Something usually clicks into gear fairly quickly.
Do you consider yourself a disciplined writer? Do you have a schedule that you stick to, or is it more in the moment?
Most certainly in the moment, which can be quite early in the morning— when I often scribble down a few sleep-induced ideas. I write when time permits and am lucky enough not to be lost for words on too many occasions. In my writing, I like to keep the action treadmill turning, but always have contemplative moments to let the reader mull over the plot and perhaps have a coffee or tea or whatever.
What are you working on right now?
Another collection of short stories, following on after Silently in the Night, and the beginning of the Third in Series for Laura and Jason.
Do you have a message for readers?
I invite all lovers of Science Fiction and Mystery to join the interstellar adventures and enter the new worlds represented by all the books I have written so far. They represent First Contact with a difference. To quote a reviewer of Saving Paludis: “By the end, I felt as if I’d witnessed an interstellar adventure of truly epic proportions.” Barnsey’s Books.
I love to combine humans with other worlds, stir, and see what happens. What is our future anyway? Where are we going [if anywhere]?
And I really want to share the journeys!
Best Wishes to all readers out there, on Earth or elsewhere
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I have a web site, a Facebook Author Page and a Street Team, as well as the usual pages on Amazon and Goodreads. I am also on Twitter. Links are given below:
STREET TEAM: https://www.facebook.com/groups/381070669015354/