Taking the Back Road to Writing: An Interview with Andrew Lane

Yesterday Andrew Lane’s Day of Ice hit the shelves, a a fast-paced follow-up to Dawn of Spies. The series is an update on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe that finds the titular hero reimagined as a 17-year-old, recently escaped from the island he was marooned on. He’s recruited by undercover London spy organization Segment W, and is soon ascending the undercover ranks alongside a genderbent Friday. When Friday spies her dastardly father, who once made an attempt on her life, walking through the city, she and Crusoe set off to uncover his part in the nefarious workings of a secret society.

The book was written in partnership with Adaptive Studios, which develops books based on unproduced screenplays—which they in turn hope to see adapted into films. Here’s author Lane to discuss writing, revising, and his working relationship with Adaptive Studios.

What’s your writing background?

I’d always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a small child. I used to tell my brother stories to get him off to sleep at night, and I used to make up stories continuing on films that I’d seen on TV. Later I wrote a whole load of fan stories based on the British TV series Doctor Who for various fanzines. At the time, in British further education, I couldn’t do a graduate degree in creative writing, so I did physics instead (odd choice, I know, but…). After university I got a full-time job working as a scientist for the British Ministry of Defence, but when Virgin Books in the UK got the license to do original Doctor Who novels I jumped at the chance. Virgin liked what I submitted, and so I started working with them. I then used that opportunity to broaden my writing career into other areas, and three years ago I went freelance as a full-time writer. It’s a pretty unique way of getting into writing, and I wouldn’t recommend that anybody tries to replicate it…

How did your relationship with Adaptive begin?

Very simply, Adaptive read my Young Sherlock Holmes novels and decided I would be ideal for writing the Crusoe series, which they already had in mind. I think it was because of my experience in writing historical thrillers for the YA market, and not my winning personality. They approached me through my agent, I did a little bit of work for free, generating some ideas they liked based on their original proposal, and we came to an agreement about me writing a trilogy for them.

What’s your process like, and how long did it take you to write the manuscript?

I tend to start work late in the afternoon (I’m an evening person) and write in one-hour bursts, with a break for a cup of tea and some Facebook time in between. I stop sometime before midnight and then catch up on any TV or DVDs that are on my list to watch. Doing that, the whole book took about four months to write.

What did you read or watch to get inspired to take on this project?

I did a lot of research on the actual facts. I downloaded a lot of stuff Daniel Defoe had written onto my ereader, then bought various books from my local bookshops on what life was like in the court of King Charles II, what people ate and the way they lived in the late 1600s, what ships were like and, specifically, what coffee houses were like in that period, as that’s where people got together and discussed things.

What was your familiarity with Robinson Crusoe before you took on the project?

Tragically, and rather embarrassingly, I’d never read the Defoe original (having looked at it now, it and its sequels are rather stodgy). My main familiarity with the story was a European TV series that was shown, dubbed, on UK TV back in the late 1960s. It had the most haunting theme tune—I can still remember it now.

Books published by Adaptive will ultimately be turned into TV series or movies. Did that affect the way you approached the project?

I tried not to let it affect me—I just wanted to tell a really good, thrilling story with interesting characters. Having said that, I did try not to put in stuff that couldn’t be filmed. Of course, these days almost anything can be filmed, using computer graphics.

What was the revision process like?

Very simple. I try my best to deliver a manuscript that needs as little revision as possible—it’s polite, if nothing else—and I think the majority of Adaptive’s editorial comments were to do with the potential film or TV version: making sure the narrative line was clear, the characters had an obvious arc, and so on. Oh, and there was the standard “taking it out of the British passive voice and replacing it with American active voice,” so, saying “Crusoe entered the room just as the chair exploded” rather than “Crusoe was entering the room when the chair exploded.” That’s an example I’ve just invented, by the way. There are no exploding chairs in the books. Not yet, anyway…

How did writing for Adaptive differ from working on your other novels or projects?

Honestly, it was exactly the same. There’s some initial group discussion on things like characters, locations, and themes, then I go away for a while and work alone, then there are some more group discussions on how close I got to the bullseye. Probably more phone conferences and fewer long emails, but the principle was the same.

If you had to write a logline for your life thus far, how would it go?

“He thought his life was going to be simple and straightforward. He was wrong.”

Day of Ice and Dawn of Spies are on sale now.

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