“The Last Days Of” series: Q&A with C.A. Powell

Our Q&A series with creators of War of the Worlds-themed media continues this week with C.A. Powell, author of the Last Days novels and naval history aficionado.

Q: Tell me a little about your Last Days stories?

Author C.E. Powell

The first story came about by a happy accident. I used to attend a writing class and our tutor used to set 1200 words homework each week. Tales with a twist, a slice of life etc. One week she asked us to do 1200 words of someone else’s story from a different perspective. When I read this out in class, many encouraged me to go for a full pastiche story with a beginning leading to the actual event. This I did and it developed as a full project novel. Afterwards, other ideas came about with new story lines.

Q: How did you first discover War of the Worlds, what attracts you to using that setting for your own stories?

I always liked H.G. Wells’ many story lines. The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, The First Men in the Moon and, of course, War of the Worlds. I often wondered about the ship HMS Thunder Child and tried to imagine other things about the vessel. I also liked the 1950s movie, but liked the Victorian setting of the novel too. I saw the film before I read the book as a youth.

Q: What kind of research did you do for these stories? How did you approach that research?

I had a fascination with a British turret ship called HMS Devastation (1871 – 1903). She had a sister ship called HMS Thunderer. Each ship had a ram and sat low in the water. I tried to model the fictional Thunder Child ship on these particular vessels that would have been outdated in 1898 but still in service. I also wanted to retain old muzzle loading guns for Thunder Child. Even though the Royal Navy got rid of such guns after a dreadful accident in 1879 on board HMS Thunderer. They all converted to breech loaders after this. I used poetic licence and invented a big (whopper) of a lie to keep fictional Thunder Child more obsolete. She is the only ship overlooked for breech loading conversion in the story.

I looked up many of the ships of the day, including the paddle steamer (Southend Belle.) Many of the areas Thunder Child visits, and also the land-based characters visit, are places I know. I had to learn a few things concerning naval personnel etc, but by and large, I was containing the story around areas I know. I often get criticised by some fans who wanted the ship to be like HMS Polyphemus. I wanted Thunder Child to look like HMS Devastation or HMS Thunderer. Therefore I had architectural plans of the ship and roughly knew the vessel inside and out.

Cut-away of HMS Thunder Child (Peter Moran, artist)

Q: It’s clear you have a great interest in the technological aspects of this the Victorian world (reflected both in your stories and in blogposts such as the one on the technical aspects of HMS Thunder Child) tell me about the background of that fascination and expertise as well as how it informed the way you wrote these stories?

I knew some historical things about revolving turret ships because of a book I read about HMS Captain. A revolutionary ship that was designed by British captain Cowper Phipps Coles. It was a revolving turret ship that retained all its sails and rigging etc. It capsized at sea during stormy weather taking almost all of the crew including Captain Cowper Phipps Coles to the bottom of the sea. There were arguments afterwards in the British Admiralty. A man named Sir Edward J. Reed was part of the investigation or review of the catastrophe. He would design HMS Devastation and Thunderer using the revolving turrets like those of Cowper Phipps Coles’ HMS Captain. I twisted and used some of these things, in the story, to explain the fictional HMS Thunder Child.

Q: What was the greatest challenge of creating the Last Days stories? What aspect of it did you enjoy the most?

To be honest, there was no great challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure as it unfolded before me. I knew the ending before I started and went on an exciting journey to get to the ending. It was terrific fun all the way with ideas falling into place as I went along. The following stories of Last Days were formed in the same way. They are fun to do and I’m like a school boy reliving my version of the Victorian War of the Worlds fantasy.

Q: Do you have plans for future WotW themed stories?

I have had another idea form. However, I am doing two new projects at the moment. That all said and done, I know I have one more idea. That means sooner or later, I’m going on another Last Days – WOTW adventure again.

Q: Talk a little bit about yourself and your other works?

I’m always looking at new ideas. I have always wanted to write a novel that people would enjoy. This ambition has been with me since I left school back in 1977 at age 16. I knew I wanted to write a fictional story. I liked historical fiction and loved science fiction. Especially post-apocalyptic. I would read novels all the time and often read historical documentary books too.

I travelled from the suburbs of East London and county of Essex into the city of London every day. The fifty minuets journey each way was my reading time. I was a glutton for so many books. I was inspired by good stories and some rather dreadful ones too. I would think of the dreadful ones, “If they can get published, surely I can.” I was certain I could create something worthwhile. It was the one little ambition that always remained with me.

I started to write a story set in Britain’s Dark Ages. Then I did another set in Ireland of 1920. I also tried one about an ancient British queen called Cartimandua. She reigned in the Brigante areas of Roman Britain when Boudicca led a rebellion against Rome. Then I did The Last Days of Thunder Child and the follow ups etc. Gradually over the years things began to develop. It has been a forty-three-year journey so far. But I have enjoyed the writing quest, and continue to enjoy with new enjoyable ideas and drafts to complete.

I have a new supernatural book coming out very soon. The edit and proof reading is all but done with a cover design to follow. The novel is called:  Never Let Them Kiss You. It’s about a group of mischievous fairies living in England’s New Forest area. It is set in today’s modern times.

Q: What are the best ways for my readers to find you online? 

I have the usual blog, Amazon, and Facebook Author page, etc. I have listed the other main sites below. I usually update the sites on a regular basis and they all have links to various books.

Twitter

Goodreads

Check out the first installment of my War of the Worlds Q&A series, with H.E. Wilburson. Next week, we’ll talk with musical comedian to discuss his WotW podcast.

The Martian Diaries: Q&A with H.E. Wilburson

For the first in my Q&A series with creators of War of the Worlds-themed media, I had the pleasure of “sitting down” with H.E. Wilburson, author, musician, and creative driver behind The Martian Diaries, a soon-to-be-completed trilogy of audio dramas complete with original soundtrack.

If you’re too impatient to read the interview first, go ahead and click to listen to samples of H.E. Wilburson’s The Martian Diaries.

H.E. Wilburson and the Red Planet

Q: Tell me a little about the Martian Diaries trilogy?

My sequel to The War Of The Worlds is based on a second, more devastating Martian invasion. The astronomer Ogilvy–from H.G Wells’ original book– has kept a record of everything he has learned about the Martians, and his account becomes The Martian Diaries.

In volume one The Day Of The Martians, an unopened Martian cylinder–that had crash landed at the time of the first invasion–is discovered in the mountains of Wales in 1913 and transported to London for examination. Separately, it becomes evident that the Martians are actually on their way back to Earth, in a huge armada that looks like a green comet. Ogilvy and other original H.G Wells characters remain key to the new plot.

In volume two Lake On The Moon, we learn the back story of how Ogilvy survived a Martian heat ray attack on Horsell Common during the first invasion. Then in 1919 an unexplained outbreak of Red Weed occurs in southern England, just as Ogilvy discovers that fresh water supplies are widely contaminated by mutant alien bacteria, responsible for a sinister water borne plague that is spreading  around the world.

Ogilvy is convinced that the cure for this mutated bacteria lies within the Martian shadow-weapon carried inside the 1913 comet, and which he believes is now on the moon. His idea to locate the weapon comes to fruition in 1945 with an early manned mission to the moon–pre-dating NASA and Apollo spacecraft.

Volume three Gateway To Mars, the final title in The Martian Diaries trilogy, covers what happens on the moon in 1945 and moves forwards in time to the first human colonies on Mars. Right from the start of The Martian Diaries, it was my intention to bring H.G Wells’ story full circle and to give my interpretation of why the Martians came to Earth. To me, it is important to keep the element of hope and surprise running through the series, as it is in the original War Of The Worlds.

Q: How did you first discover War of the Worlds and what attracts you to using that setting for your own stories?

In the 1970s, when I was about twelve, I saw the 1953 film on TV in black and white. Of course the film is loosely based on the book, however I could not imagine how it would turn out for humans, after they did all that they could to defeat the Martians. Over the years I longed for a continuation of the story–but none came. In 2015  I decided to create a sequel myself and now I am always being asked ‘Does it turn out well for humans?’ It gives me hope that I am doing something right!

Q: How long has it taken to do this trilogy so far.

I came up with the idea of doing a sequel to The War Of The Worlds in late September 2015 and the first version of volume one was finished and recorded by early April 2016. After a few months doing other projects, I revisited the manuscript again and this time I lengthened it. Then I re-recorded with Harry Preston as the main narrator.

Q: What kind of research did you do for the trilogy? How did you approach that research?

My research was done using an old copy of H.G Wells’ book. I also spent many hours listening to an audio version from LibriVox which is a great place to find audios of published books that are in the public domain. Then of course there is Jeff Wayne’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ from the 1970s, which I still listen to from time to time.

Q: What was the greatest challenge of creating the Martian Diaries?

Sitting in front of three blank pieces of paper and trying to come up with something H.G. Wells would find entertaining as a sequel!

Q: What aspect of it did you enjoy the most?

No one was happier than I, hearing Harry Preston’s opening lines of volume one: “The terror of the coming of the Martians was all but a distant memory–a bad dream that had faded with time.” And later with volume two: “Are your dreams your own?” To hear his performance for the first time, together with the music I had specially composed, was definitely something. I’m looking forward to releasing a remastered version of The Day Of The Martians in the near future.

Q: You created the trilogy as an audio drama. Tell me a little bit about why you chose that format.

I have long wanted to have the opportunity to be involved with something significant, and with so much competition for projects, and with many fine artists vying for work, I decided to create my own audio sequel to The War Of The Worlds, even though I had not done much writing in the past. Having been composing music for years I felt I wanted to include some of my own compositions and so an audio drama seemed a good way to present my trilogy. Hopefully the synergy between it all–music, text and the fact that everything came from the same mind–will come through and be entertaining. Just like the composer Hans Zimmer, I love creating melodies and painting pictures with music. Given a choice between writing a book or composing film music, the music wins every time.

Q: Involving actor Harry Preston to voice the narrator in The Martian Diaries was a huge coup. How did that come about?

Harry Preston

Pure chance. I got talking to someone who loved The War Of The Worlds while waiting for my car to be fixed in a garage. He gave me the number of an actor with a great voice who turned out to be Harry Preston. Things might have been very different if my car didn’t have a problem that day.

Q: What was the recording/production process like?

I had to build my own studio and learn how to use Apple’s Logic program. It was the only way to stay within budget. Then I spent many hours learning how to produce and master my own tracks in a quest to get the recordings up to a recognised quality. The whole trilogy will be re-mastered one day. The sounds you hear on the radio, film and TV, whether it is music. films or plays, are delivered by sound engineers who hardly get a mention. It is ironic that the better they are, the less you are aware of  the amount of work they have done.

Q: Do you have a background in radio/recording/audio production?

I do now! And I feel I am getting better at it. Here are my two best tips for anyone hoping to make a decent recording, 1. LEARN HOW TO USE AN AUDIO COMPRESSOR and tip 2. LEARN HOW TO USE AN AUDIO COMPRESSOR…

Q: Original music is interwoven throughout The Martian Diaries. Tell me a little bit about that. What inspired your take on the music? Tell me about the composition and recording process. What is your background in music and some of your main influences (both for Diaries and generally)?

I enjoy musical sounds and for me they conjure up pictures. I love using a variety of instruments and putting them together in unexpected ways–it could be as diverse as a harp matched with a distorted mosh pit electric guitar. I am not too bothered about the instrument used, but rather the mood it creates.  Although most of the tracks have been composed specifically for The Martian Diaries trilogy, the music used for the ‘Arrival of the Comet’ (track 15, volume one) goes way back to 1994 and is one of my earliest compositions.

I find composing very easy and enjoyable to do, unlike writing. One of my most recent tracks for volume three, took only two hours to create and produce from start to finish and I think it’s one of my best, so I’m looking forward to sharing that.

My favourite instrument to compose with is the piano because from the tone of a single note on a given day, can come a new and finished piece. Inspiration can come in most unexpected ways and track 11 in volume one, ‘Laura Has Gone,’ was inspired by seeing a spontaneous pirouette.

I don’t have a favourite music genre–I enjoy each piece for what it is. I absolutely get the music of Hans Zimmer, and if it were possible, one day I would love to work with him on a score. (Dreamers do what they do I guess!)

Q: The conclusion to the trilogy, Gateway to Mars, is coming out soon. Do you have a release date? What can listeners expect? Do you have plans for future War of the Worlds themed stories beyond the trilogy?

I am aiming for a release date around February 18th 2021. NASA’s Perseverance Rover is slated to arrive on Mars that month and so it seemed to be fitting and rather apt for me, especially with the word ‘perseverance’ as its name.

As for future War Of The Worlds themed stories from me–well, I deliberately designed my sequel around the diary idea so that I could insert short spin-off stories featuring some of the characters. Actually, I make a fleeting cameo appearance in Gateway To Mars–as a writer–in the second half of the book, set in the year 2135 on Mars Base Three.

This last volume is going to sound rather different to the previous two, and I hope listeners will be pleased. The Martian Diaries trilogy will be released as digital ebooks later this year or early next year, so those who would prefer to read, rather than listen, can also access the story. The audiobooks can already be purchased at most online digital platforms.

Q: Talk a little bit about yourself and your other works?

Composing music has always been in the background of my life. My first attempt at a project combining text with music was my own adaptation of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, which I did a couple of years before starting my trilogy. I am hoping to release it in the near future–perhaps later in 2021 when I have five minutes to spare. I also have several hundred pieces of music that I would love to see used in some way.

Q: What are the best ways for readers to find you online?

I am most active on Twitter which is a great place to connect with creative people of all types. s 

Joining my email list via the website is another way of getting updates and news, such as release dates and broadcasts of the titles. Volume two is going to be broadcast by Radio Woking soon, together with a re-run of volume one–dates to be finalised. Readers may remember that Woking is the town in England where the Martians first landed in H.G Wells’ original book. He lived there for a couple of years while he was writing it during 1896-97.

Check out other installments of the War of the Worlds Q&A series, including author C.A. Powell.