Greg Byrne is the author of Nine Planets and also a teacher of English as a Second Language to overseas adults, part-time university lecturer and grammar consultant to schools and teachers.
He lives in Perth, Australia, with his beloved wife and family, and believes that everything before dead is young. He has so many stories to tell, exciting projects to complete, places to visit and adventures to experience that he doesn’t plan to die until he is 150, and maybe not even then.
Q: Please tell us about Nine Planets, and what inspired you to write it.
A: Nine Planets was a more a full-scale ambush than an inspiration. Nine Planets leaped out of a flat unremarkable landscape under an empty blue sky with an armoured division fully loaded and firing, abducted me and ran off screaming. I had never experienced anything like it before that moment, and doubt I will again. It appeared in my head, with fireworks going off and massed choirs singing, in a ten minute period of incandescent clarity. To give you an idea of the force of this inspiration, I immediately abandoned the high fantasy tetralogy that had consumed me for two decades and started Nine Planets. It was clear from the outset that it was going to be a remarkable story – not my own, I should point out, but one that was granted me to write, a gift if you like – and so one of my concerns was whether I had the ability to write it as it demanded to be told.
Nine Planets is a thriller that is not only hiding a surprising ending, but also an entirely different story. It’s a secret story disguised as a thriller.
Q: What themes do you explore in Nine Planets?
A: First and foremost hope, but also its opposite, suicide. Suicide is a subject that depresses us all and, when it confronts us, we say things like, “Didn’t he have anything to live for? Didn’t he have any hope?” Nine Planets makes suicide into a cultural norm, something that people just accept, and then frames the search for a solution as a thriller.
Q: Why do you write?
A: Because I have no genetic choice. Words, languages and stories were hardwired into my DNA at conception and so I have always known that these things are central. I have blue eyes and brown hair and I write. It’s part of my genetic and personal makeup. Writing defines me. It also delights me, fulfils me, energises me and gives me a project. I am very task based. I adore big meaty projects that require substantial thought and have a fulfilling result. Writing certainly offers me that.
Q: How picky are you with language?
A: VERY. The best advice I ever heard about stories is this: Write something you think is amazing, then print it and stick it in a box for a month or two. If, when I take it out, it is still shiny, then it is worth keeping. If not, I need to lift my standard.
The other side of this is the editing process. I am aware that I overwrite, and reviewers have commented that it is as though I don’t trust the reader. It’s also because I just love exploring the language and trying to find different ways to say the same thing, much like the writers of the Psalms did those thousands of years ago.
I am both picky and exploratory. I want my words to say one thing only, but I love exploring how that thing might be said.
Q: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?
A: Not really.
Q: What is your best time as a writer?
A: When I have uninterrupted time, wakeful energy, the story is there, and the words are flowing. There is an almost miraculous sense of wonder and joy as the words come pouring out, almost without correction or editing, and I rarely need to go back later to rewrite. I recall writing about three thousand words in a night once in such a state. It’s not common or usual, but when it happens, it is fabulous.
Q: Your worst?
A: When none of the above are true.
Q: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
A: Apart from lack of time, no.
Q: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
A: Receiving the first printed copy of Nine Planets and holding it in my hands with my family around me. The idea that the contents of my head was now a physical, holdable thing was quite amazing. The idea that people could now share what had only been a private story in my brain was also quite gloriously strange. What had once only been a combination of neural connections and was now paper and ink!
Q: Is writing an obsession to you?
A: Obsession connotes negativity and a lack of control, which is certainly not true for me. Let’s just say that writing is a natural extension of my person and spirit. Do I enjoy it more than many other activities in my life? Yes. Does it control me? No. I’d rather call it a passion than an obsession.
Q: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?
A: Nine Planets certainly is, but in very subtle ways. Many of the characters, names and places in the book have some kind of personal link, some obvious and some only to those who know me. Family members have told me that they chuckle at things they recognise in the book. Other readers won’t see those layers, but still hopefully enjoy the visible layers on top.
Q: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?
A: Not really. Firstly, reality is not at all destructive. Since it is all we are granted, it is a rather dangerous idea to think it might somehow turn against us. Secondly, it is our task as writers to use a well-told story to illuminate reality and make readers understand life better. Even the cheapest airport timewaster book has something to say.
Q: Where is your book available?
A: On Amazon and at all good bookstores. Pester your local bookseller until he stocks it.
Q: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
A: A website, no. That will come later, hopefully. I do have a blog, though, at nineplanetsblog.wordpress.com/