Nick Cook - An Unusual Blend of Hi-Tech Action Thriller and Mystery Sci-Fi
A former games' industry art director, Nick has a passion for science and astronomy, often blogging about the latest mind-bending discoveries made in areas such as quantum physics. Forever influenced by growing up during the era of the Apollo moon landings, Nick developed a life long love affair with science and science fiction. It's that early influence that moulds much of his writing today. He loves nothing better then to let his imagination run riot in his books, loosely constrained by science and to pose the question, "What if?" As our Author of the Day, Nick tells us all about his Earth Song series.
Please give us a short introduction to what Earth Song is about.
Earth Song follows the story of Lauren Stelleck, a former radio telescope operator at Jodrell Bank who was one of the first to intercept a very unique first contact signal from an alien race. Ever since she’s been on the run from both MI5 and a mysterious organization known as the Overseers who are desperate to suppress the truth she’s learned about UFOs. However, when strange crystal runic symbols start to appear across the Isles of Orkney, Lauren becomes convinced that once again an alien intelligence is reaching out to humanity, but if so why? With a ruthless enemy closing in fast, Lauren teams up with Jack Harper, an archaeologist and UFO skeptic, in a last desperate attempt to unearth the truth. Together can they discover the source of the strange activity on Orkney? If they fail, humanity will stand alone to face a threat coming for us from the stars.
What inspired you to write about an alien hunter?
I think there have been so many influences in my life regarding this, from old series like UFO to of course more recent shows like X-Files. But also films like Close Encounters and even Arthur C. Clarkes, Rendezvous with Rama. Both of these left a lingering impression about how humanity might cope with a first contact situation. My own view here is that any alien intelligence that has taken the effort to reach out to humanity will quite likely come in peace. This is a key theme I explore in Earth Song.
Another major influence is actually based on my own experience near Silbury Hill in England. I was there one night for a stargazing session with a group of astronomers when we all witnessed a bright white light traveling about two thousand feet up and in utter silence. One of the astronomers managed to get a lock onto it with a telescope but couldn’t see any form of aircraft navigation lights. However, it’s what happened next that was truly extraordinary.
Until that point, it had been traveling at a normal aircraft speed but then it accelerated and reached the eastern horizon in a matter of seconds. It was at this point that we started muttering to each other, “Did we just see a UFO?” Much nervous laughter ensued. And you must remember this was an experienced group of astronomers who saw this phenomenon. Also, I’m a former light aircraft pilot so I’m very aware of what planes at night look like. It also certainly wasn’t the usual mistaken candidates for a UFOs, namely Venus or even a fireball.
To this day I’m not sure what I saw, maybe a very top-secret experimental aircraft or maybe something far more esoteric. It was this not so close encounter that created an idea that would one day grow into Earth Song.
Did you plan from the start to make this into a series? How do the four books tie in with one another?
Yes, it’s always been planned as a series as I have always adored epic storytelling. There are seven planned books in the Earth Song series, but it doesn’t stop there. Earth Song is part of my Multiverse Chronicles series, a series of interlinked stories that include the Earth Song series, its prequel The Signal, and also my Fractured Light trilogy. And I’m planning other Multiverse Chronicles series after that. Each book builds upon the last in the Earth Song series to the big reveal in book 7. What is it? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.
I have always really enjoyed epic stories where as a reader you can get lost in the universe of the story.
I once had the great pleasure of seeing Iain M. Banks give a talk and he was definitely a major influence on me with his Culture series. But I mustn’t forget J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings here and who actually inspired me to become an author myself one day.
Tell us more about Lauren Stelleck. What makes her tick?
I love creating strong female characters who are on their own journeys of discovery and Lauren absolutely personifies this.
Lauren was happily pursuing her dream job as a radio telescope operator when she was plunged into the alternate world of suppressed secrets around UFOs. With a determination to discover the truth she turned her back on her old life to pursue that personal crusade whatever the cost.
As the book progresses, we see Lauren starting to adapt to the extremely dangerous situations that she's dropped into. She is forced to evolve from someone like you or I, to someone who is effectively a frontline solider which comes with a significant emotional cost for her.
But Lauren is a grounded woman who deeply cares and also has a sharp sense of humour. And I can’t talk about Lauren without mentioning that she also has a condition called synesthesia where her sense are mixed up. In Lauren’s case she can literally see certain sounds and this is a key plot device within Earth Song. Can you imagine what it would be like to see the world through her eyes?
Why is Jack Harper such a good teammate for her?
Jack is a former military field surgeon who lost his wife in an awful accident. Emotionally scarred by what happened, he turned away from the military to pursue his other quieter passion, archaeology.
In the story Jack quickly becomes Lauren’s rock, the person she can always rely on to be there for her and push her when she needs pushing. And Lauren becomes part of Jack’s own healing process, helping to come to terms with what happened and to allow himself to begin to move on. They are both survivors, strong people who are even stronger together and who are also just so good for each other.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I love cooking and much to the delight of my wife I do all the cooking in our house! It’s always been my go to happy place and however stressful a day has been I find it always can totally wind me down. And apparently my food is rather good too although I always let others be the judge of that!
Why sci-fi? What drew you to the genre?
My love of science fiction has its roots in growing up during the space race era. The moon landings left a lasting impression on me.
I strongly believe that humanity's longterm future is to become a multi-planetary species. And the science fiction I grew up in was filled with that compelling vision. There was one film in imparticular that had an enormous impact on me during my formative years and that was 2001 – A Space Odyssey. And it was through this movie that I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s books. After that, I was hooked for life and have forever dreamed of going into space myself one day.
You are a former games industry art director. How has this influenced your writing?
Yes, it’s had a huge influence on the style of my writing. My readers have often told me how visual they find my work and that’s probably everything to do with being a graphic artist. As I write, I often visualize the scenes in my head and the more real I can picture them, the more vivid they come across on the page.
However, the trick here that I’ve learned with experience is to not spoon-feed your reader every single detail of a scene. It’s important to leave room for their own imagination to do some of the heavy lifting and fill in the blanks. I sometimes think of this as a creative contract between the author and the reader where getting this balance right allows the real magic to happen where the writing takes on a life of its own.
Please tell us more about the covers and how they came about.
Once an art director aways an art director.
I left the games industry in 2006 to pursue my dream of becoming a full time author. Eventually I landed my first traditional contract where obviously the cover was provided by the publisher. However, it was when I made the jump across to indie that I decided to stretch my own creative wings and I have never looked back since.
Most recently I produced the covers for the Earth Song series. On the front cover them is the ship Ariel and this actually comes from the third book. But a UFO was an ideal visual metaphor for all of the covers as it quickly conveys the core theme of the books. That’s why I ended up modelling Ariel as a 3D graphic and one day I really must get it 3D printed.
I absolutely adore producing artwork. Whenever I do, I completely hit flow state where hours can evaporate whilst I’m working on them. I am also a ridiculous perfectionist and love to tinker, the latest evidence of which are the new Fractured Light covers that I’m about to release.
Another author once suggested I should produce covers as a sideline business, but the problem there is that as much I’d love to do that it would take me away from the writing... which of course is my other love.
What is your favorite line from Earth Song and why?
I am going to cheat here slightly and reference The Signal instead, which is the prequel to Earth Song. The reason I’m going to choose this particular line is that it so completely sums up Lauren’s character in one neat sentence (and maybe my own love of astronomy and space exploration too). And that line is…
“For someone like me who could literally see sound, Lovell was like a love poem from humanity to the cosmos.”
And right there is everything that Lauren, and I, are all about, dreamers who gaze up at the stars.
How did you go about creating your extraterrestrials?
Slowly and over many books.
I have a traditionally published trilogy, Cloud Riders where the idea for an ancient ancestral race, the Angelus, was first born. I knew when I created them that I would be building around that idea in later books. It is the Angelus AIs that Earth Song is based around.
But how could alien AI arrive on Earth?
I quickly hit upon the idea of a fast radio burst (FRB) being captured by Lovell in The Signal. This contained the core code of Sentinel. However, with Earth Song I needed a slightly different plot device as the AI’s had been here as long as humanity has. I don’t want to go into plot spoilers, but I came up with something that I think works really well in the story and also taps nicely into Jack’s archaeology skills. And that’s as big a hint as I’m going to leave here!
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I have tried all sorts of writing habits, from the classic working in coffee shops routine to wandering around the three-mile circumference of the reservoir that’s a few hundred meters away behind our house as I dictated a story. These days I tend to write at home in my study with its views out to Wytham Woods that features in another of my books. But to be honest, the world melts away as I write and I could literally be anywhere.
My daily routine involves getting up with my wife Karen who’s a teacher, putting the world to rights with her over a cup of coffee. Then I head up for my first session of writing around 7am. By 10am I head out to our home gym and often listen to an audiobook whilst doing a 5K run. Then back to writing up to 1pm, then lunch, and followed by the afternoon session. I usually finish between 5pm - 6pm when my wife gets home from work and I need to start to cooking dinner! I don’t write at weekends as I believe in time away from the keyboard to feed the imagination and the soul. Besides, authors are always writing, even when they are not at their desks.
What are you working on right now?
I have just sent the second draft of Earth Howl, book four in the Earth Song series, off to my editor. Whilst I wait for her comments to come back, I’ll be starting to plan and begin the first draft of book five, Earth Yell. Life never gets creatively dull around here!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I’m all over social media, but interact most with my readers over on my Facebook author page. My website is also worth a look at there are quite a few science-related articles that connect to my work on there. Anyway, here are my links: