Author Interview The Island Blog Tour

How long have you been writing?

I first started writing in 1989 when having struggled to find work after graduating, an opportunity arose to commence writing for the then newly established Quality Matters Newsletter. This continued until 2000 when I had to decide between continuing with the Newsletter or using the information to produce a book. I chose the second option as the first would have entailed a large IT investment as publishing became more geared to the electronic age. The book ‘Quality Matters: The Decade of Quality 1989 – 2000’ was published by Spire City Publishing in 2002.

What is your favorite genre to write?

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact genre, my novel straddles several, but adult fiction based on a theme is probably the best way of describing it. Some genres, such as crime writing, I would not touch.

Which genre have you never tried before, but would you like to try out?

This is more difficult, but I would have to say something along the lines of creating theory, as Marx and Engels did with The Communist Manifesto. I would very much like to develop my Non-Capitalist Economics principles using the philosophy of W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran in place of Marx and Engels, which I believe to be flawed and outdated. This links in with Q14.

Please tell us about your book.

The story is set in the future and begins by placing a young man (Gary Loman) into an environment that has similarities with that which I experienced at about that age. This is coupled with the passion for ice skating that I had at the time.

Unbeknown to him a place existed where a few skaters could be invited to go, following receipt of the prestigious Queen’s Ticket. Only people who already had a way of thinking that was compatible with the place, The Island of Dreams, would, having been observed by an agent, qualify to receive the Ticket.

The Ticket brings Gary to The Island, a constitutional monarchy established some seventy years before, which had set out a path of revolution that was designed to endure through time to provide  the world with an alternative to capitalism that was completely new and based on quality incentives rather than profit.

On The Island he is matched with Connie, from Alaska, who is assigned as his principal (fiancee) and his secondaries (setmates) with whom he and Connie would live and work as they train to live their dream of becoming skating stars for the Kamchatskiy Auto Company.

In parallel with the skating theme is the purpose and development of The Island itself, and its progressive revolution that drives it forward as an entity, acquiring new lands, notably Kamchatka where it has established a ‘superparliament’. As the superiority of Non-Capitalist Economics becomes more and more apparent the number of people who are eager to buy in to the concept increases markedly, ultimately generating a challenge to the traditional law of the sovereignty of nations.

The importance of The Island’s Queen (Queen Katie of Kamchatka) becomes more apparent as the story progresses, as does that of her Prince Regent, and the roles of supporting characters such as The Prime Minister, Concierge and Reverend, who each play a part in educating the setmates to enable them to adapt to the new system. People have to be taught this because it does not come naturally to those who have lived their lives previously under capitalism, even when their thinking is well aligned.

The other major character is Jobine, the skating mistress, whose job it is to harness the skating talent of all of the 240 setmates so that they can all take pride in their achievement and produce results that surprise even themselves. She, in turn, is scrutinised by the twenty skating trainers of the four Kamchatskiy companies whom the skaters will eventually join as they prepare to take to the ice and tour the world.

Which character was your favorite, and why? Which character was your least favorite, and why?

It is difficult to find ‘favourites’ in this book because the characters are all important in some way. It is possible to admire them all for different reasons. The Queen, for example, is the one who makes the dreams happen in the first place. The Prime Minister is in charge of managing The Island and educating the setmates. Jobine is the implementer who provides the technical skills. The Concierge and Reverend are educators, but also ambassadors abroad for The Island helping to spearhead the revolution. Then, of course, there’s Gary, the key character, who lives the dream that I once had. So, there are many characters to like in different ways. I make no apologies for the fact that the story lacks a villain, other than the minor one (Ivan) who is encountered at the very beginning.

What was the hardest part about writing your book?

Collecting ideas together over a long period of time and being able to connect them to produce original work is never easy. Then getting these ideas down in the first place, getting started, can take several attempts, many of which may be poor to begin with. Getting dates and other technically accurate information can also be difficult as sometimes the answer can be hard to locate or research. Establishing the credibility and legality of information also is frequently difficult. A major issue for me was obtaining rights clearance for The Prisoner – the book was originally planned as a sequel to Patrick McGoohan’s classic, but inability to obtain clearance meant that large parts of the book had to be rewritten and characters changed. Another major problem was ensuring that all subplots connect with others elsewhere in the story or, in the few cases where they do not, they will relate to ideas in the sequel.

What is your writing routine? Are there things you absolutely need to start writing?

My routine starts with visualisation – trying to think in terms of possibilities rather than just facts. Then a course of actions needs to be thought through so that they can match the ideas. Characters and their roles need to be invented and then placed. Any background information then has to be incorporated and a decision made as to whether it is relevant to the story or not. So I had to work to limit excessive background information to keep the story entertaining, yet with enough detail to ensure that the reader can understand how everything fits together. It involves balancing attention to detail and padding and then assessing where the optimum is, which can be quite challenging. Chapter headings can be useful early on to join the topics together into an orderly sequence. I found that this makes planning the plot much easier.

My routine then involved writing out a first draft, not worrying too much about how well it flowed or whether everything was relevant, because it would later be scrutinised for dead ends and inaccuracies. Usually a lot will be found in the first draft, so the process is iterative. It needed to be done about four times and even then the odd bug may still remain. Large parts of early drafts may need to be rewritten in the light of new ideas and opportunities for improvement.

How long did it take you to write your book from start to finish?

The actual writing of the book took around four years, during a period of unemployment, but this was just writing time. If thinking time and research is included the period was much longer. I had the ideas for The Island of Dreams about a decade before I actually got down to writing it.

Can you tell us about your editing process?

The editing process is important to the writing of any book because it is necessary to try to be right first time when it comes to the eventual publishing. This is easier said than done. It is therefore necessary to allow plenty of time for the editing. It can be tempting to rush through and distractions don’t help as it can sometimes be hard to pick up again from where you have left off. Frequently an edit can affect something else in another place and it can be difficult to correct something without introducing another defect. Editing is all about quality and it will almost certainly have to be done several times on each draft. Checking for technical accuracy and dead ends in the plot is required, as well as any obvious language or grammatical deficiencies. It is always necessary to ensure that the correct meaning is conveyed at every stage, and so sometimes the choice of words is critical and has to be questioned. It is also necessary to try to avoid being overly repetitive both in terms of ideas and words. Ensuring that the story flows is essential.

Is this book part of a series? If so, how many installments do you have planned?

Yes. I have definitely planned a sequel to this book. After that I have in mind a third book on a related theme, but this will most likely be a stand-alone story.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

There are a lot of things that could be said here, but I think being prepared to commit to the work over a long period has to be considered. This kind of activity rarely if ever gives quick returns. Then there is the need to learn to be self-critical. I am a great believer in using benchmark books, not necessarily from the same genre, and testing one’s own work against certain criteria. For example, I used Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone as a benchmark for creativity, The Day of The Triffids for writing style, and 2001: A Space Odyssey for technical content and scientific accuracy. I had to be prepared to be honest with myself and admit cases where my own work clearly fell short of the benchmark. I then had to be prepared to tear up large parts of my work and rewrite them.

Sometimes it may be necessary to place oneself in the position of the reader and ask the question ‘do I really want to carry on reading this?’ If not, why not?

Learning how to use ideas to convey messages or concepts to a reading audience is definitely an acquired skill, but whilst it is always useful to read widely, I believe that it is perhaps more important to learn how to be selective in what one reads. It is possible to read many books yet take in nothing, so I advocate asking oneself the question ‘what do I want to get out of this book?’ before selecting it. There is always an opportunity cost when selecting any book.

Learning to gather information is an acquired skill and reading certainly helps with this, but it is not the only source. Films, television and personal experiences can all contribute, and, of course, there is no substitute for experience of life, which simply comes with time.

Why should everyone read your book?

With this story line I have attempted to write a story that is like no other. It is distinctive. I have combined a skating theme with politics and science so as to create a unique learning experience for the reader. Completely new concepts are explored and developed in a way that links with the ideal of Utopia. It is designed as a thought-provoking rather than an action book, with everything designed to be plausible at least to a degree, so distinguishing it from a work of pure fantasy.

Many people will hopefully identify with many of the issues that are raised and see the purpose behind raising them. Some readers may, for example, identify with some of Gary’s problems and related them to their own life. Answers to long-standing problems are also considered, such as what can replace capitalism given its flaws and the fact that communism is also flawed. Some people may see new solutions to old problems (as well as future ones), quite apart from the skating theme that embellishes the story. It is my claim that this book offers something different that the reader won’t find elsewhere, and the simple style should suit all ages.

If you could meet three authors, dead or alive, which authors would you choose?

I think I would have to start with Thomas More way back in 1516, and look at what led him to conceive the idea of Utopia in what was a very different and much harsher age. Much of my own incentive comes from wanting to contrive a better place and a better way of doing things and exploring the differences and similarities in thought would be interesting.

My second choice would probably be J.K. Rowling because I am fascinated to know how she managed to piece together such an intricate set of ideas as went into the Harry Potter series. I would be most interested to learn how to harness such a wealth of creative skills.

My third choice would be Arthur C. Clarke for his combined technical and creative ability. He had a wealth of scientific knowledge at his disposal and tapping into that would be very valuable. I admire the way he could develop ideas into concepts that one day had the potential to become real. This is something that I am trying to emulate.

What inspired you to write your book?

I always had a passion for ice skating and practised regularly for 14 years in the hope of one day meeting a partner or of possibly qualifying as a skating coach. This didn’t happen so writing about it had to be the next best thing. I then had the idea of writing a story around a skating theme, but I wanted to do something original just as Torvill and Dean had done on ice. I was inspired by their Dancing on Ice series which showed what was possible when novice celebrities were trained expertly over a few months. With this demonstrated I then imagined what could happen if skaters of moderate ability were subjected to the same principle, but extended over a complete year.

In parallel with this I wanted to consider the idea of Utopia and weave a modern-day story around making a step change to the world. The rise of Japan in the second half of the twentieth century showed how a steady, sustained and largely imperceptible revolution based on Quality could achieve outstanding results in the long-term. Two men, W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran played a very large role in this and I wanted to try to make their lives and works known to a much greater number of people using adult fiction as the vehicle. The contribution of these two men is, I believe, grossly undervalued. I have therefore sought to link the concept of Total Quality Management to that of Utopia – both involve the pursuit of excellence in a never-ending journey. I believe that everyone has the ability to change the way they think so as to eventually make a better system work.

I also wanted to bring the subject of Quality Management, my own field, to the attention of a wider audience because I believe that not enough people are currently able to appreciated the enormous benefits that a study of it can bring. I believe Quality Management to be a very undervalued and far-reaching science that is rarely taught in schools, colleges and universities.

I have a strong desire in my life to do something to contribute to the improvement of the world in which we live using storytelling, and this book represents an attempt to do that. I believe we do not have to accept the unfairness of capitalism forever, hence my phrase ‘the world deserves a choice’.

Are you working on something at the moment? If so, can you tell us more about it?

Yes, the sequel as mentioned. This is intended as a companion book to The Island of Dreams in which The Prince Regent replaces Gary as the key character. The ideas introduced in The Island of Dreams will be further developed with more about where The Island is heading as it enters the second stage of its revolution, noting, of course, that a slow revolution is not the same as evolution – a revolution has a purpose whereas evolution is merely driven by nature.

The skating theme is retained to preserve the writing style, with The Prince and The Queen becoming the world’s first true skating King and Queen. Their roles politically are also developed as The Prince tackles a variety of troublesome problems presented by the Kamchatka Parliament – a ‘superparliament’ that is slowly working on continuous improvement throughout the world as a system in a way that is compatible with the teaching of the late W. Edwards Deming.

The Island of Dreams

In 2107, twenty-four year-old Gary Loman is disillusioned with life. There are scant opportunities in the capitalist world that surrounds him. When he receives a prestigious invitation, Gary knows that the change he has been waiting for has finally arrived; it’s a ticket to fame and glory as a skater.

Leaving the old world behind, Gary embarks on a new adventure on The Island of Dreams, led by the world’s newest monarchy, where he is introduced to the woman who will become his wife and a wildly different social order, one which has evolved over the previous seventy years by virtue of a slow, quiet and largely unnoticed revolution. By 2107, however, The Island is poised to become one of the most powerful states in the world, acquiring, most notably, the territory of Kamchatka.

The Island Queen, Queen Katie of Kamchatka, with the help of her devoted Prime Minister and her faithful staff, then attempt to educate and train the 240 receivers of the distinguished Queen’s Ticket, both for their roles as skaters and within the Kamchatskiy organisation, for whom they will be working under a completely new concept in political economy, based on quality rather than profit motives, and which is replacing Marxism as the world’s rival to capitalism.

As Gary progresses on The Island, and as its Queen seeks out her new King, the world is on the brink of a breath-taking transformation.

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About the author

Born and raised in Lancashire, Gregory James Clark went on to graduate with a BSc Honours in Maritime Studies from the University of Wales followed by an MBA from Manchester Metropolitan University. In his professional life he has enjoyed working in the field of Quality Management and the design of programmes including; The Programme for Global Quality Promotion (PGQP) in Russia and the African Nations. Previous publications include Quality Matters: The Decade of Quality 1989 – 2000 (Spire City Publishing 2002) and Deming and Juran: Gift to the World (Spire City Publishing 2007). He is currently the editor of The Electron Newsletter for the Institution of Electronics. In his spare time he enjoys ice dancing, ballroom dancing, golf, chess and snooker and speaks numerous languages including; Dutch, German, Portuguese and Swedish.

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