Max is one of those precious people who’ll attack you with sudden bouts of helpfulness, and if you ask them whether there’s any way you can repay them, tell you that a virtual hug will do.
I probably owe Max quite a few of those.
But that’s not the reason I’m banging his drums here. The reason is, pure and simple, that he’s written a great book, and I thought you should know.
This is him. (and, psst, don’t tell anyone that when my husband saw that picture, his first and only reaction was to mumble ‘Vatican mafioso’)
Now, let’s talk about Max.
Who are you?
My name is Max China, it’s a pen name. If I sell loads of books, I’ll reveal my true identity.
Ha! Now I’m curious! Let’s narrow the suspect group down a bit…Where are you?
I’m in my study, at my house in a quiet Essex backwater, not far from London.
And how are you?
I’m very well, thank you.
Which book do you want to talk about? Tell us briefly what it is about.
My first novel is called The Sister. In a nutshell, it is about a man having the chance to make sense of his life in his dying moments and the story of what he sees as his last breath escapes. It is based on the concept that you see your whole life flash by in those last moments.
Why did you write it?
I’ve always wanted to write a novel and I guess it had been building in me. It went through several incarnations before becoming what is is today. I had some things I wanted to say about choices and what can happen if under pressure the wrong ones are made, how easy it is to do that and the possible consequences of getting it wrong.
Tell us about your main character. What does he/she look like, love, hate, dream of? What qualities/flaws/principles does he/she have?
The book is written in an unconventional way so that a variety of people are introduced fairly quickly, cameo fashion. The early lives of Bruce and Vera are explored, the effects on Bruce from witnessing a killer disposing of a body when he was seven years old, and of course, the effect it had on Vera viewing the same thing remotely from two hundred miles away. She is older and born with a wisdom that belies her years and other properties which enable her to cope so much better than he does. Bruce develops mechanisms that shield him from the fear, but blind him to the truth . . . I think I have to just clarify at this point that there are several main characters which come and go throughout the book. You never know when they will appear next.
Is there a song you’d associate with your book?
There is a scene in the book when Bruce is reminiscing on a lost love which I imagined would have gone down well accompanied by Rivulets’ I Told Jesus Christ How Much I Loved Her. I didn’t hear the song until after I’d written the scene, but it summed up the loneliness Bruce felt so well . . . it choked me up a bit.
I promptly went and listened to the song, and I fully agree with your choice. The slightly psychedelic sound would make a very fitting soundtrack. Speaking of soundtracks, which actors would you cast for the movie?
I could see Sean Bean in the role of Bruce when he reaches his forties, Kevin Spacey as Kennedy, Michael Caine as Doctor Ryan, Julianne Moore as the ageless Sister, but don’t ask me about the serial killer. I’d have to think about that one . . .
If you could make up your own genre for this book, what would it be?
Not an easy question, that. It is a genre crossing, multi layered book with hidden depths and many themes.
Is there a message in your book? Do you want your readers to take something home?
There are many messages in the book, koans deliberately seeded throughout. Find one and you’ll find others. On a more straightforward level, as I said earlier, it is about choices and living with the consequences, good or bad. I refer to the poem by Robert Frost on a number of occasions, it’s included at the back of the book in its entirety, taken from ‘Mountain Interval’ it is called ‘The Road Less Travelled‘ – it wasn’t the inspiration for the book, but it is used as inspiration by one of the characters, who then passes that inspiration on. In a way I’m doing that too. It is a fine poem.
What are you currently working on?
The Life and Times of William Boule: Serial Killer, it’s a spin-off featuring some of the characters from The Sister. I also have some other projects on the back burner.
Which target audience do you write for? What do you think makes your book especially appealing for that audience?
I didn’t write for a target audience, but I would imagine if someone is into thrillers, there’s something for them, same with crime suspense and mystery. A bit of a jamboree bag really, something for the mystics in there too. And even a little romance. Horror? Did I mention horror?
Why are you a writer? Were you born to be one, did it just happen, was there some moment of epiphany…?
I wrote my first short story when I was in primary school, I still remember how it felt to have the teacher choose to read it out in front of the class. Perhaps a seed was sown back then. I also remember telling a friend when I was seventeen years old that I’d write a book one day . . . it took me a while to get around to it.
Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
Stray thoughts, usually. They pop into my heard and my brain turns them around. If I can see a story there, I have the first pieces of a puzzle to work with. Once I start, I’ll wake at three in the morning with fresh ideas or solutions to things that weren’t working. I think it helps that I remember my dreams as I’ll sometimes dream a sequence that fits.
Plot or characters? Which is more important and why?
Interesting question. You have to have a plot to have a story and without strong characters to carry the plot what are you left with? I’d say equally important.
Do parts of you shine through? Are some characters like you, or friends, or family?
My secretary often jokes that Miller is me, and given where he comes from it’s inevitable that we share some traits. Given the nature of some of the things I write about, much of it comes from the news, mostly long past and converted by my imagination into something else. Friends and family? I’d hate for them to recognise any part of themselves and think it was based on them, so the answer to that is no. Aquaintences? That’s a different story.
How does a typical day for you look like? What do you do when you’re not writing?
I work full time and these last few years have filled most of my spare time up with writing. I like to keep fit so I do kettlebell training three times a week. I like to cycle, walk, read, listen to music, family things. I said elsewhere that I love to dream, and I do. If you can remember your dreams, then that time asleep doesn’t seem such a waste.
Who is your favorite author?
That’s a tough one, I’ve had favourite authors throughout different phases of my life, my early favourites were Harold Robbins, Stephen King, Trevanian.
Is there an author you’d love to be compared to?
I wouldn’t compare myself to another, but some have said they see shades of Dean Koontz and echoes of King in my work.
Who is your biggest supporter?
I have many supporters that I’ve never met and I feel blessed to have had that support, but in the flesh, it has to be my secretary, Anya.
What’s your favorite book of all time and why?
A Stone for Danny Fisher, probably because it was the first adult book I read. It just gelled with me.
If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
The ability to travel through time.
What are you addicted to or can’t live without?
The thing I miss the most when I go on holiday is my computer, there I said it, shock, horror.
What’s the most stupid question you’ve ever been asked?
Can’t think of any that stand out, but when I’ve filled in a form and I sign it, it says position. I always think that’s a stupid question.