THE GREAT ZOO OF CHINA
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
When and why did you move to America?
I moved to Los Angeles at the start of 2015. I felt that, in addition to writing my novels, I wanted some new challenges and venturing into the movie world is a huge challenge. My life took an unexpected turn a few years ago, so I needed a new beginning of sorts, new surroundings. I love it here. Everything is so big and non-stop. You have to be at the top of your game.
What is your favourite book?
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.
What books would you recommend fans of your books to read?
Anything by Michael Crichton, especially JP, Eaters of the Dead, and The Great Train Robbery
Fatherland by Robert Harris
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
The Long Walk by Stephen King
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
Searching for Bobby Fischer by Fred Waitzkin
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman
Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
How many different languages and countries have your books been printed in?
Gosh, it must be over 20 countries, and about 20 languages. To list some of them off the top of my head: Australia, UK, US, Germany, Italy, Holland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, India, China.
Which country gets the best sales? And overall?
I’ve sold nearly 8 million copies overall.
I did a count recently, and it was 3 million copies sold in Australia, 2 million in the US and 2 million in the UK, with another 500,000 or so in Europe. Holland, Italy and Germany have been very good markets for me. And also I’m big in Bulgaria!
Tell us something unusual about your work, something we wouldn’t know.
Okay. How about this: I grapple with titles.
Contest was always the title of that book.
Ice Station, however, came well after the book was finished (it was called Starfighter once, then South Pole, and I wanted Twelve Swordsmen at one point, as a reference to the Marines’ dress-uniform swords – I may still use that title, I like it!).
Temple was always the title.
Area 7 came about halfway through writing that book. Its working title was POTUS, standing for President of the United States, but I kept mentioning Area 7 and it just gave the book an instant sense of place.
Scarecrow came about halfway through as well. Its working title was The Most Wanted Man in the World, but I decided that that was a little too long and static. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had made the titles of the Scarecrow books more obviously “connected”, so that people would know immediately that they are a series. I have met readers who started with Scarecrow or Area 7, not realising that they were sequels to Ice Station. That’s why I made sure Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves had Scarecrow’s name in the title, so that people would be very clear.
After writing Seven Ancient Wonders, having learned from the Scarecrow experience, I thought any sequel should have a title that seemed connected to it, so I thought, “What about a countdown?” That’s how I got The Six Sacred Stones and The Five Greatest Warriors. I now find myself contemplating The Four…and The Three…and that’s fun!
The Tournament had a really long working title: The All-High Sultan’s Invitational Chess Championship of 1546 (yes, that’s true!). My publisher asked for something simpler and so we went with The Tournament.
The Great Zoo of China always had that title. It was a nice play on the Great Wall of China.
Troll Mountain was originally called The Hall of the Mountain King, after the great musical piece about Peer Gynt. Again, simplicity won out!
Did you find that your friends and family were supportive while you were writing?
Yes. I always write in the Acknowledgement page of my books “To anyone who knows a writer, never underestimate the power of your encouragement.” One kind supportive word will obliterate one hundred critical words.
What is happening with the movie versions of your books?
I think I’ve found out all the different ways a movie can not get made!
Regime-change at Paramount left Ice Station without a champion. Hover Car Racer went through many screenplays at Disney, but ultimately wasn’t made. The Writers Guild strike of 2007-8 killed my original TV show, Literary Superstars. And ABC(US) decided not to make Seven Ancient Wonders.
But I hang in there! I just optioned The Great Zoo of China to TriStar and am, once again, very hopeful. You never know! And you’ve got to be in it to win it.
Are you a fan of the screen? What are some of your favourite movies and TV shows?
I love a good movie. I thought GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was simply awesome, one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. I enjoyed the stunts and virtusoso filmmaking of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (even if Max himself was a little passive!).
As far as TV shows are concerned, I love GAME OF THRONES. I also like BONES, WEEDS and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK.
Do you play any kind of organized sport?
I play golf regularly, off a handicap of 4. It works well with my writing and is something I can do with friends or on my own.
Do you collect anything?
I collect two things: movie memorabilia and books.
I have a life-size Han Solo in Carbonite, a Delorean Car and a full-size Jango Fett Helmet. I also have the Idol from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (which a friend once stole and replaced with a sack filled with sand, just like in the movie!)
As for books, I love to go into second-hand bookstores and find old hardbacks of my favourite books. I love the US hardback covers of Jurassic Park and The Lost World, for example. I also have an old illustrated edition of Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, one of my favourite novels. I sometimes even buy books just for their production value.
Favourite Cartoon Character?
Homer Simpson. I have a photo of myself at the Duff Brewery at Universal Studios!
What about food habits? Do they change when you’re writing?
I’m not a keen chef. I eat anything that can be cooked in a few minutes. But when writing, good coffee is a must. I’m also kinda susceptible to chocolate of any variety.
Dido, my labradoodle, is now 11 years old!
One brother, Stephen (who wrote Ninety East Ridge).
Do you have a dream car in mind? Is it in your garage, too?
A DeLorean. And, yes, it is!
Is there anybody you would most like to meet?
I’d like to meet my creative inspirations: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Joss Whedon.
What single thing has been said to you that you’ll never forget?
“Never let the sun go down on an argument.” My mum told me that.
“You are not an aspiring writer. You are a writer.” Jeff Arch, the writer of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE told me that.
What is your single best accomplishment?
I think it’s still to come.
If you could have any one gadget in the world, fictional or real (from movies, etc), what would it be?
Boba Fett’s rocket pack.
What has been your biggest hurdle during your writing career?
Getting inside. The publishing industry is a tough one to get into, but once I was in, I was away.
As an author, how much control do you have over:
– The final copy
I take a keen interest in the formatting of my books. With all the diagrams, I like to make sure that they have been reproduced correctly. Since I often use those diagrams for twists, it is crucial that they be done right, so I keep a close eye on them.
– The front cover
This is more of a collaborative thing –cover design is something my publishers and I talk about as a group.
– The blurb
I write my own blurbs (except for the US paperback editions of my books – they get their own guy to do it, and he comes up with very good blurbs). Obviously, I did the blurb for the self-published version of Contest, but when it came time for Ice Station to be released, I just thought about it and drafted my own blurb and it was used. I like to think that, as the author, I know the story best, but I also know that some authors can’t stand condensing their 140,000-word novel into a 150-word summary! I just think of it as drafting a movie poster and go from there.
– The diagrams
I used to do them myself, but now we get a professional artist.
– The advertising coverage
Publishing decision. Although I do help with the content – again, it’s like designing a movie poster!
Have you ever had an adventure that could appear in one of your books?
Hiking up to the base of Mount Everest was an adventure – and will certainly appear in something soon!
Would you ever consider writing a book with another author? If so, who would you like to co-author with?
Thing is, I don’t think anyone would want to write with me! When it comes to writing, I’m a bit of a control freak, and I don’t think I’d be fun to write with.