Interview - Neil Vogler

Neil Vogler

Steve Taylor-Bryant sits with Tripler author Neil Vogler and talks, bullets, books, and Bowie...

Just recently I had the absolute pleasure of reading Tripler, already one of the top titles I have read in the last twelve months (Review Here), and I was lucky enough to talk to its author, Neil Vogler, about researching weapons, the love lives of spies, and whether Tin Machine are really an okay band.

Quick basics to start. Why writing? Who are your influences?

Firstly, thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to briefly distract people from their social media feeds with this interview!

Er, I’m a writer, always have been. Before I really understood that there were writers, I was making up stories and writing them down, and somewhere along the line I developed a compulsive need to do so. These days I enjoy the sense of control, release and catharsis I get from the process. But let’s not kid around – it’s playing god, basically! You create people and put them through the wringer, as they flail and squirm and struggle and try desperately to understand what the hell is going on. So, uh, yeah, apparently I have a god complex that I can’t help but indulge. May as well admit it early.

In terms of influences – how long have you got? There have been so many. If we’re looking at sci-fi, then just like every other author these days Philip K. Dick was an early one, because he conquered so much fertile territory in such great style (I still think Galactic Pot Healer is my favourite Dick novel, controversial I know). Greg Bear worked a number on me too as a teenager – Eon and Eternity were serious mind-expanders for my teenaged brain. Back then I used to hoover up anything I could get my hands on that looked vaguely interesting, and devour it as quickly as possible, and that included a whole lot of Star Wars and Star Trek novels and dodgy movie novelisations too. But then I consciously stepped away from sci-fi for a few years and got caught up studying Literature and the Classics, darling, and then after getting punchdrunk from all those recommended texts I got into reading influential American authors like Paul Auster and Charles Bukowski, segued into crime fiction via Elmore Leonard, and honestly I could go on and on and on about who I like to read nowadays and it’s probably best to wrap it up here before you fall into a coma.

I have to say I really enjoyed Tripler, on many different levels, what kicked off the original idea for you?

Short short version: I wanted to write an action-based sci-fi book where the protagonist could literally be in three places at once, in the blink of an eye. I had this idea where the MC’s field of vision would split into three when it was happening. Once I had that visual everything else followed.

The idea of a meta human or person with certain powers is not a new one. How did you approach trying to do something different with the concept?

Wow, it’s really hard here not to trot out phrases like “I wanted to give it some kind of grounded reality” or “I wanted to make it feel fresh”. Effectively I was looking for a way to make the idea of being a Tripler feel compelling, frightening, exciting, and astounding all at the same time. It’s exhilarating having this power, but it’s wrong, too, on some fundamental level. Humans should not be able to do what Triplers can do. I wanted the notion of you being able to split into three and be in control of all your physical selves at once to feel transgressive and dangerous, and I worked really hard at making it feel believable.

One of the ways to do that was to put you directly inside Harry’s head, where he has his two other selves for permanent company, regardless of whether they’re interacting with the physical world or not. You don’t just hear Harry’s voice at any one time – often you hear the others, too. Narratively, it’s complex, because Harry has three points of view, and sometimes three different reactions to the same situation. But that felt new to me; it felt like something that hadn’t been explored in any great depth before. And it was a blast to write it that way.

You write in a straightforward style that makes it very easy to visualise the story as it develops. Was this an intentional choice for this book?

Well, the book is written in the first person, and that style you refer to is very much Harry’s style of thinking and talking. I’m aware that many people seem to have an almost pathological hatred of first person narratives, but personally I prefer them, both to read and to write. I like getting immersed inside someone else’s mind. Harry has very little time for bullshit – he’s not going to spend several paragraphs appraising a building’s architecture, for example – so his style is (mostly) just to get on with it. “Here’s the info, here’s what I’m doing, here’s what I’m thinking, this is what’s going on.” That’s also why the book is written in the present tense, which can be tricky to get right – I wanted Harry’s words to have an immediacy to them. Making it present tense gave the prose a kind of potency that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

The level of humour in the story is great, even in a dark situation like death or torture you manage to fit one liners that really work. Are you a humorous person in reality? The kind of man that can find the funny in anything?

No, in reality I’m a lot like Saruman as portrayed in the Lord of the Rings movies, po-faced and humourless, with eyes that are basically dead, and a mind controlled from afar by an entity of pure evil.

Uh, yes I suppose is the real answer? I am the sort of person who pleases himself with his sense of humour, and it is not always appropriate, I guess. I do make a lot of jokes in my everyday life. Not all of them land, and some of them are stupid in the extreme, and some of them are surprisingly dark. I’m pretty good with impulse control these days, but in the past, if you’ve wanted a guy dropping inappropriate one liners at an otherwise sombre and sober occasion, I’ve been your go-to man. The benefits of age and wisdom, eh?

Tripler

The military and espionage traits in the book are remarkably realistic (if you have only ever watched Spooks like me). Was a lot of deep research into arms or spying undertaken?

I’m sure anyone with actual military training will find things to laugh at in the book, but I was highly preoccupied with tactical thinking more than anything else. Harry’s battle tactics are informed by his character, and his character is always thinking about the fastest, most efficient way to achieve his objectives. Harry looks at a situation and is never afraid to take shortcuts, to be ruthless, or to think outside the box. He’s supremely analytical, but he’ll take risks if he believes it’s worth it. Harry looks at the tools he has available and then thinks: What’s the quickest way out of this?

Harry can be in three places at once, and he’ll only get hurt or killed if the damage is inflicted onto him and not any of his other selves. He uses that to his advantage, and he pushes it as far as he can. It’s about logic, I suppose, and lateral thinking. In real life I’ve got an analytical mind and I like a bit of lateral thinking, so maybe Harry and I have some similarities there.

I didn’t do any specific research into espionage, but I did spend ages trawling sites looking at existing weapons and next-level weaponry that is currently in development. That’ll open your eyes, let me tell you. It’s pretty scary stuff, looking at all the endlessly creative ways people are developing to kill each other. Anyway my web history is almost certainly red-flagged on some government database now as a result of all that research!

The emotional relationship between Harry and Shannon (Harry’s ex-wife) is written like a man who knows loss. Was this you as a writer hoping you got it right or a man laying out his personal experiences within the pages? When Harry meets Kajsa (an old flame) again it’s especially uncomfortable.

Well, you don’t get to my ripe old age – 38 – without experiencing loss, and without understanding regret. But there’s nothing autobiographical about Harry and Shannon’s relationship. In real life I’m very lucky because I’m married to the love of my life, a wonderful and patient woman who, against the odds, puts up with all of my crap, and we have two fantastic kids together. That’s great for me, but terrible for fiction, because it’s not exciting to read about stability and enduring love and respect!

We want drama on the page, people ripped from one another, people doing terrible things, life and death situations, people making horrible or impossible decisions. That’s the good stuff, from a reader’s point of view. It’s fun to imagine, fun to read about, but you wouldn’t want to live through any of it in real life. Harry’s regret about the mistakes he’s made are a huge part of his character, and they inform the decisions he makes. And (BOOK SPOILER) when he meets Kajsa, the woman he ruined his marriage by sleeping with, that’s just me piling on the agony. Because I can. God complex, remember?

Your descriptions of what people look like all help with the film I have playing in my head now. Do you have particular people, maybe actors, in mind when you start with character development?

No, not really. I get a sense of how a character thinks and feels and acts first, and then I go back and refine their physical descriptions after I know who they are and what makes them tick. I don’t really do fantasy casting with actors; otherwise those actors and their previous roles will start influencing my choices, and I don’t need that extra baggage clouding my headspace!

Where next for the Tripler idea? More of the same? Perhaps a different genre with the basic idea? I imagine the porn industry would be able to do something quite special with a Tripler and a Tracker.

Ha, “more of the same” – you make that sound like it’s somehow a bad thing! I’m working on book two of the trilogy right now. This book is a different beast, because in many ways – without giving anything much away – Harry is a different beast. This book takes the world of Tripling in a new direction and furthers and deepens the story – as it must, because otherwise I’d just be writing the same book. And that’s something I definitely don’t wish to do. So, broadly speaking, what you can expect is havoc wreaked, emotional and physical devastation, some spectacular peaks and troughs, and to learn a whole lot more about what it feels like when the world is no longer on the edge of an apocalypse, but genuinely tipping headlong into one. "Blood, bullets, broken people, and Bowie" – there's your tagline!

As for Tripler porn – hey, never say never. And “Tripler XXX” kind of has a nice ring to it (if you’ll forgive the expression).

I think one of the underlying things in the book that really spoke to me, and might be missed by others, was the sections where Bowie albums are played and listed in order of greatness. Firstly, why include something so random and unrelated to the plot? Secondly, can we have the Neil Vogler official top five?

It’s no secret I’m a huge Bowie fan. The thing is, Harry is human, at least to begin with, and he has his obsessions just like the rest of us. I was listening to a lot of Bowie when I began writing the book and at some point the man made it onto the page, and I realised that Harry was a superfan. Something clicked, and I felt like it made Harry more three-dimensional and relatable.

As for my top five Bowie albums … ok, here goes. There are really two lists I could make. One would be the top five albums he’s ever made, the pieces of work in his catalogue that I consider are his biggest achievements. I’m not going to list those here. Instead I’ll list the five that I personally listen to the most, because maybe that's more relevant to this conversation!

5. Aladdin Sane

4. The Next Day Extra (Collector's Edition)

3. Heroes / Let's Dance (TIED. I'M CHEATING)

2. Hunky Dory

1. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

David Bowie

How do we really feel about Tin Machine? Personally I love them but appreciate it is a minority opinion.

Well, I'm one of those people who feels Bowie's Tin Machine period is unjustly maligned, because those albums are far from his worst. Tin Machine came at a time when he needed to rediscover his vitality, and I'm of the view the band ultimately helped him do just that. I’m with Harry on this one, who thinks the albums have their place, and are quite good.

What next for you the author?

Book two is my main preoccupation at the moment, but I'm also working on some non sci-fi alcohol-related murder stories (yeah, I know how that sounds. Trust me…). And later in the year I should be contributing a few twisted short stories to a collection of supernatural tales. So as you can see, I like to genre hop.

Explain to our readers where they can find your words and how they can stalk you on social networking.

Oh, I don’t recommend stalking me – I’m bloody-minded, I always hold a grudge, I can kill a man using only my thumb, and I’m very well connected to law enforcement. But if you want to see my sporadically dumb thoughts about whatever’s in the news or read about how much coffee I've drunk, you can find me @NeilVogler on Twitter. Tripler has a Facebook page too HERE.

Also, I have a poorly-maintained and sadly neglected blog where I occasionally wax lyrical about whatever music I’m listening to, which is www.awriterhemuttered.blogspot.com. Everyone cool neglects their blog nowadays, right?

Otherwise, if you’re curious about my body of work thus far, here's my Amazon writer's page My work is available in numerous other e-formats too if you're not part of that ecosystem or are allergic to Amazon.

Thanks a lot Steve!