Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I’m a physician and a specialist in kidney disease working with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders); I’ve just finished a mission helping to treat people displaced by the conflict in Syria in the city of Irbid, in northern Jordan. When I’m not on mission I live in a big old house in the countryside of the north-west of Ireland with my wife, Gwen, and far too many animals. I have published short fiction in Flash magazine, but Final Diagnosis is my first published novel.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
It’s called “Final Diagnosis”.
Although it wasn’t something often discussed, I had known since childhood that dinosaurs, a technologically-advanced culture, had not been destroyed by accidental catastrophe but rather had left Earth deliberately, in order to escape an ecological disaster of their own making. The realisation that this fact is not universally accepted dawned on me only very gradually.
How to correct this knowledge deficit without appearing a crank? Fiction struck me as the best method. I would allow a member of a rump faction of dinosaurs who had remained on Earth to explain the situation in a psychiatrist’s office, and how he had come to realise his own genetic heritage.
Vampire novels (a category that definitively does not include Final Diagnosis) are extremely common, but very few attempt any biological explanation of the vampire phenomenon. Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow had introduced me to the concept of an alien predator species mimicking the phenotype of an otherwise completely different prey species. In Firefall, Peter Watts’s vampires are also aggressive mimics, but of a species closely related to humanity. Phenotypic convergence by aggressive mimics from a completely different species struck me as more likely, and more satisfying.
The part-Celtic, part-Nordic city of Searcy had been created as the setting for a planned novel. When the novel’s ambition outgrew the scanty framework of my talent, the project collapsed and Searcy was left unpopulated. And therefore ready to be the setting for the psychiatrist’s office of the new tale.
I was pleased with the resulting short story, seeing it as complete in itself, so was surprised when peer readers asked, what happens next? I hadn’t considered this possibility but, once it was raised, the answer came very quickly: a post-modern detective story.
Once this had been decided, the piece wrote itself over a six week period. The only remaining problem was how to insert the self-awareness of one character into the nervous system of another. The answer to this involved misappropriation of Roger Penrose’s quantum theory of consciousness, expounded in The Emperor’s New Mind, as well as a sexually-transmitted xenovirus.
If the symmetry of the structure suggests intricate plotting, this is a false impression. The plot is in fact very simple: one of the main characters meets a series of interesting individuals in the course of a murder investigation, while the personalities of other two coalesce into a single entity who goes on a mountain walk and then returns. Events merely follow their course.
Although writing Final Diagnosis has been enormous fun, it could not have happened without the help of my peer readers (Fergus Smith, Rachel Sargent, Gillian Walker, Jennifer Sanders, Gwen Garrett, Jen Becker, Lyvia Dabydeen, Colin Lancely, Steve Becker, and Matthew and Sarah Garrett), the support of Robert S Malan and Francesca T Barbini at Luna Press Publishing, the firm but sympathetic hand of my editor, Kat Harvey of Athena Copy, and, of course, Simon Walpole’s stunning illustrations.
If readers have anywhere near as much enjoyment reading Final Diagnosis as I have had writing it, then I will have succeeded.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Most of my writing work isn’t actually writing. I like to think up words walking, driving, lying in the bath or just sitting on a sofa while gazing at a wall with my mouth slightly open. This can go on for weeks with nothing committed to paper (or, more exactly, to electronic script). Once I have a clear idea in my head, though, I can sit at a keyboard and type for hours on end.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
I was introduced to the power and wonder of science fiction by the syndicated Flash Gordon comic strips scripted by writers such as Harry Harrison. This sense of awe was enhanced (in very different ways) by exposure to writers such as CS Lewis, Ray Bradbury, JG Ballard and, especially, the wry irony of Kurt Vonnegut.
All these authors influenced M John Harrison, whose dreamlike evocation of an imaginary city (Viriconium) was also shaped by the beautiful imagism of Italo Calvino, and in turn fed into the fiction of New Weird writers including China Mieville and Catherine M Valente, as well as the literary fiction of Kevin Barry (City of Bohane). The concept of Searcy owes much to this tradition. I think my style and content have also been influenced, in different ways, by William Burroughs (The Naked Lunch) and Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
I regard the compact but high quality oeuvre of Irish literary fiction dealing with violent death (including work by Samuel Beckett, Eugene McCabe, John Banville, Edna O’Brien, Eoin Mcnamee, Patrick McGinley, Robert McLiam Wilson and Patrick McCabe) as a major influence. Finally, Scandi-noir authors, especially Peter Hoeg and Kerstin Ekman, have helped to develop the landscape and atmosphere of Gnesta.
I should add that, other than Dracula and fiction by Brian Stableford and Peter Watts, I have never read any vampire novels.
What are you working on now?
I’m drafting plot lines for two sequels to Final Diagnosis: one exploring the concept that faery changelings are afflicted by a mitochondrial myopathy, ameliorated by feeding on human empathy; and another about a genie (an artificial intelligence from the dinosaur era) unearthed by Russian airstrikes in Syria. My active project, though, is a crime thriller involving a cynical gay detective in Andalusia. Peer reviewers consider it my best work yet… and I’m inclined to agree.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I strongly recommend Awesomegang.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
As a newbie myself, I’m in the position of looking for advice rather than providing it. Do however make sure to craft an Author Page on Amazon.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
In writing technique, break up blocks of dialogue with stage direction, but make sure this is well observed and avoid banality (raised eyebrows, clenched fists, tapping fingers) if possible.
What are you reading now?
Rachel Sargeant’s “The Perfect Neighbours”: a chilling study of psychopathy in an encapsulated society. Highly recommended.
What’s next for you as a writer?
I hope to follow up on “Final Diagnosis” with my publisher, Luna Press.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
Jean-Paul Satre’s “Roads to Freedom”: how can the individual perceive the world in a meaningful way, and avoid bad faith.
Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, which described for me the concept of quality.
Gilbert Ryle’s “The Concept of Mind”: a demolition of the notion of mind/body dualism.
And… Kurt Vonnegut’s “The Sirens of Titan”.
Author Websites and Profiles
Peter Garrett Amazon Profile
Peter Garrett’s Social Media Links