Here's an interview I did with Neal Asher for a graduate presentation several months ago. If you haven't read any of Neal's books, I highly recommend that you do. He writes high-energy action driven space opera like nobody else, and he's one of the top SF writers working today. Check out his blog at http://theskinner.blogspot.com. His latest novel, Zero Point, is now out from Tor books and is available on Amazon and Amazon UK.
TP: Do you feel that writing short stories has helped you develop a distinct narrative voice which has translated into novels?
NA: I suspect that a distinct narrative voice comes about through writing lots and development over time. I reckon all writers start out basically copying the stuff they love before they head off in their own direction; before they gain a clear vision of what they are aiming for. However, certainly my brevity came about through writing short stories and I still find that after editing my typescripts end up being added to rather than cut. Also the ‘hooks’ I have at the end of each section in a book arose from the short story format i.e. if I was to take each section I write, add in some background detail and some clarification, they could be turned into short stories in themselves.
TP: Why the Polity? How has your vision of that setting changed and evolved since its inception?
NA: I started off with the short stories and in each of those I often used common elements: the runcible, the augs, U-space drives, the AIs and drones, sometimes the same characters. When I came to writing Gridlinked I wanted everything in there, including the kitchen sink. I wanted a canvas large enough to tell just about any story I wished. This has evolved over time what with the sheer weight of the stories told, incorporating the necessity for a chronology, a history. It has also turned into a constriction I hoped it wouldn’t be.
TP: What are the advantages of developing a world in short fiction before writing novels set in that milieu? The disadvantages (if any)?
NA: The advantages are that the short stories work as a test-bed for ideas, technologies, ecologies, characters in fact everything you use in the later novels. For example: you can create superman but soon learn in the short form that without kryptonite there’s little story to tell. The disadvantages are the constraints you put on yourself if you want to ensure those stories are to be included in that milieu. It all needs to slot together and there’ll always be some fan pointing out your errors.
TP: Do you find that short stories can spawn ideas for longer works like novels? This certainly seems true for The Technician, which has many ties to "Alien Archaeology" and "The Gabble."
NA: Yes, definitely. The prime example is The Skinner. I picked up two of my favourite short stories – Spatterjay and Snairls – and used them as the basis of that book, the character Erlin appearing in the first and Janer appearing in the second. They can be handy leg-up and can contain ideas and characters to develop into the longer form.
TP: Do you still write short stories now that you are publishing novels full-time, and if so, what do you find so appealing about the form?
NA: I keep meaning to write more short stories and, sometimes when I get a request I will produce something, but generally the novel writing keeps getting in the way. First off it is the bread-and-butter work. I’m fairly certain now that just about any short stories I write will get published somewhere, but their earning power is limited. Also, liking to have something in the bank, I want to be always ahead of Macmillan. Right now I’m a year and a half ahead, but keep thinking wouldn’t it be great to be two or maybe three years ahead? Maybe that stems from a fear that if I lay off the novel writing for a while I might not be able to do it again, which is silly.
Thanks again Neal! Check out his Amazon page and order some of his books! My personal favorites are Gridlinked, The Skinner, and Brass Man as well as the short story collections The Gabble and Other Stories and The Engineer ReConditioned.