Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Steve Turnbull – When he’s not sitting at his computer building websites for national institutions and international companies, USA Today bestselling author Steve Turnbull can be found sitting at his computer building new worlds of steampunk, science fiction and fantasy.
Thanks so much, Steve, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
ST: I never “always wanted to be a writer” and certainly not “from an early age”.
I was always making up stories that I would tell myself. I was a voracious consumer of SF and Fantasy, and read every book in the library, every book owned by my SF-loving father.
But my stories were acted out. And at school I drew pictures of those stories.
Then, by accident (sort of), I read the autobiography “Cider with Rosie” by Laurie Lee and discovered words could also be beautiful. And everything changed. I was 15, and wrote two Science Fantasy novels (about 50K each) in quick succession. They were terrible but even the second one was an improvement because, at least for part of it, I used my own experience to give it some reality.
I didn’t write another book for 20 years but I became a magazine journalist/editor and that taught me how to write to length, to style, and to deadline. Then in the 90s (off and on) I wrote a fantasy novel. After which I could see money for writing was easier to get in screenwriting. So I did that (and got paid).
Finally, self-publishing appeared and through a series of coincidences I started to write Steampunk stories. Then more fantasy and science fiction – and erotica set in my steampunk world.
I never doubted I could write competently but after some of the reviews I’ve had, I think I’m confident I’m pretty good at it. Not that I’m complacent, I always try to do something new and challenging with each book.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
ST: Trust the process – although I wouldn’t listen to me then.
I don’t even listen to me now.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
ST: Yes. All of them. I bask in the loveliness of the good ones, and get grumpy at the others for a couple of hours (thankfully, very few).
But there is nothing any book review can say that could ever match having your words torn to shreds, to your face, by a sociopathic editor-in-chief. Been there; had that; survived.
(And I’ve been publicly accused of destroying an entire national industry single-handed. Yeah, there’s nothing a reviewer can say that could touch that. No, I didn’t do it, but as a magazine editor I was the public face.)
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
ST: Ignore it. Ideas are the cheapest things in the universe. I already have too many series, and within the settings I’ve created there are infinite stories.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
ST: Always. I’m not 100% sure why representation is so important to me (being old, white, middle-class and male) but it is perhaps the most important part of my writing.
Maliha Anderson is mixed race in a prejudiced world. In my Iron Pegasus books (rollicking steampunk action-adventure) the heroines are Harriet “Harry” (white, daughter of a diplomat) and her adopted sister Khuwelsa “Sellie” (African). In Frozen Beauty (more steampunk action-adventure), Qi Zhang is Catholic-educated Chinese. There’s Veronica who is severely disabled – and that’s the steampunk erotica. Even the second-world fantasy has Kantees, a POC slave, for the main character.
Maliha is bi; Veronica is pan (a fine distinction, I know); Harry and Sellie end up in a polyamorous marriage (though that’s not covered in their books); and Kantees is, well, spoilers.
I have supporting characters who are deaf, dumb and neurodiverse.
Yes. It’s important to me.
JSC: What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in writing your books?
ST: That I’m bi. That was a hilarious moment.
I’d always known there was something slightly different about my viewpoint but growing up in an ordinary middle-class, white, London suburb in the 60s/early 70s, I was completely unaware anything other than cis/het.
We were not a religious or bigoted household just ordinary (an elder sister had a POC boyfriend for a while – “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” it wasn’t).
But there was always something I didn’t understand nagging at me – for the next 55 years.
I was writing Book 4 of my Maliha Anderson series, WIND IN THE EAST, and it turned out Maliha is bi (my characters let me know these things eventually). It’s also a book of powerful emotions and one particular scene affected me for weeks after writing.
Something about that scene just nudged me over into “OMG, I’m bi! That explains everything.” (In fact, it didn’t explain everything but then I’m not totally up to speed on quantum entanglement.)
JSC: Name the book you like most among all you’ve written, and tell us why.
ST: It’s not the one I love most (because I refuse to choose among my children) but it’s the one I’m most proud of: THE TALIESIN AFFAIR, which is book zero in the Maliha Anderson series, and the one I wrote after all the others.
Apart from being, in my opinion, a very good book, it had a particular problem: All through the other books in the series, Maliha keeps referring back to the first crime she solved: The Taliesin Affair. There are lots of comments about it and, in writing the book, I had to make sure I included everything (or didn’t contradict anything).
I would have failed if not for my amazing continuity editor, Adriel Wiggins, who manages to spot everything and pointed out a major omission. I would have made so many terrible mistakes if not for her.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
ST: As Dean Wesley Smith said “Every writer is different. Every project is different.”
I’m mostly a pantser—except that I know how the story starts and how the story ends (mostly). Everything else is up for grabs. Having said that, when you “pants” a 100K word crime thriller sometimes things change. As the story developed for The Taliesin Affair the end was not quite the one I was expecting.
But there is always that lovely “Of course!” moment when all the pieces finally fit together and everything makes sense.
It’s the joy of pantsing. Discovering the story as you go.
On the other hand, my multi-POV, epic, SF book, MONSTERS, was plotted within an inch of its life because every through-line had to end up at the same place and the same time. Even then my Continuity Editor had me moving things around to make the times fit.
Every project is different.
JSC: What was the first book that made you cry?
ST: I actually have an answer for this: “Mister God, This is Anna” by Fynn. It made me cry twice. At the end? Sure. But in the middle too, with a truth so simply stated it just cut through all my defenses.
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (if any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
ST: At various times I have sculpted, painted (and sold them), and written music. Played guitar, sang, been in a band, co-wrote songs. And I have been paid for screenwriting.
Nowadays I just write, and recently started a new business in cover design.
JSC: What are you working on now?
ST: Well I recently finished the second novel in the Veronica’s Life erotica series, and I’m currently writing the second in the Patterner’s Path books. This is the sequel to the first fantasy book I wrote, so is only about 20 years late. After that I’ll write the third book in the series and then the sequel to MONSTERS.
My life is defined by sequels.
And now for Steve’s book: The Taleisin Affair:
So far from her home in India, Maliha Anderson did not enjoy life in her British boarding school, but discovering the school bully murdered certainly made it more interesting.
And when the police chose the wrong person as the most likely suspect, Maliha decides to investigate and reveal the true culprit.
But, as the bodies mount up, the murder becomes a plot, and the plot becomes a conspiracy aimed at the heart of the British Empire.
When Maliha herself comes under suspicion, she realises her only chance lies in a dangerous gambit that risks the lives of herself and the people she’s come to know.
“Why would someone kill, Jordan?” and that was Jane Porter-Smythe. Maliha shook her head, this was never going to work. She sat up again and realised everyone was looking at her as if she was going to answer—except Constance Oliphaunt who was fast asleep.
It was a perfectly reasonable question, of course, precisely the question the police would be asking, along with who and how.
She realised there hadn’t been a murder weapon in the room.
“Jordan was the least popular girl in the school apart from me,” Maliha said. “Is there anybody here she hasn’t hit?”
“Me,” said Jennifer.
“She was probably in love with you,” said Margaret.
The whole place became very quiet, it was almost as if no one was even breathing. Constance snorted and mumbled in her sleep. Nobody laughed.
Everyone knew about the relationships, the crushes, the little night noises, and the things that went on between certain girls. Nobody talked about it. Nobody ever mentioned it. Margaret had crashed straight through that rule and Maliha was not even sure she realised what she had said.
But it was fair comment, if ill-judged. In fact, almost certainly true.
“Yes,” said Jennifer. “She probably was, everybody else is.”
The awkward silence deepened. That Jennifer herself was now admitting what everyone knew just made it worse.
“I’m not,” said Maliha in attempt to lighten the mood, and then realised she might hurt the girl’s feelings. “But I do like you.”
“So what reasons could someone have for killing Jordan?” said Tenby. “Perhaps we can solve the crime.”
“Money,” said Porter-Smythe.
“Love,” said Jennifer.
“Jealousy,” said Margaret.
“That’s part of love,” said Tenby.
“It doesn’t have to be. Lust then.”
There was some embarrassed laughter.
“That’s even more part of love than jealousy.”
“Keep your voice down,” said Jennifer. “We don’t want Mrs Lancaster in here.”
“She’s got a man-friend.”
“And don’t gossip, it’s unbecoming of a Roedeanian.”
“Secrets,” said Maliha. It was always secrets. She glanced at her watch. It was now eleven o’clock how could she get them to sleep in the next forty-five minutes?
The door opened and Mrs Lancaster stepped in silently in her slippers.
“Girls, I understand that this is a very upsetting time but I insist you go to sleep. And if, when I come back in ten minutes you are not asleep I will be forced to issue demerits against you all. And some of you—” she looked pointedly at Eliza Tenby, “—cannot afford that. Lie down and go to sleep.”
Maliha thanked whatever deity might be responsible for making Jennifer’s warning come too late. Now all she had to do was make sure she did not drop off herself.
She came awake suddenly not entirely sure why there was light in the dormitory. It all came back to her and she grabbed her watch. Ten to midnight. She cursed herself for being weak-willed but congratulated herself too on being so concerned about the meeting she had managed to wake up.
But she would be sensible. She did not get up immediately but listened to the breathing in the room. She did not think anyone else was awake. She sat up and slipped on her slippers then picked up her dressing gown and headed for the door. The squeaking of another bed caught her attention and, with her hand on the knob, she turned to see Margaret sitting up in bed and staring at her.
Unable to do anything else Maliha put her finger to her mouth and opened the door just enough to let her out but, as she pulled it closed, someone else’s fingers wrapped themselves around the edge and pulled back.
Not wishing to start a fight of any sort Maliha left the door open and Margaret padded out after her. By mutual and silent consent, they did not speak until they had gone down the first half-flight of the stairs. It was cold and Maliha’s dressing gown did not provide any protection. Margaret was only wearing her nightgown and no slippers.
“I knew it,” she said. “I saw the note. What did it say? Where are you going?”
“Just go back to bed, you don’t need to get into trouble.”
“If you don’t tell me what’s going on I will wait five minutes in the dorm and then tell Mrs Lancaster you’re missing. Can you imagine the uproar?”
Unfortunately, Maliha could imagine exactly the kind of uproar. She would be lucky if she wasn’t expelled from the school—which she wouldn’t mind except for the shame it would bring to her parents—there was even the possibility the police might consider it proof of guilt. Regardless of how impossible it would have been for her to have done it without getting blood on her uniform.
She sighed and checked her watch. There was no way she could get to the assignation in the five minutes remaining.
“Someone wants to talk to me I think it’s someone from Jordan’s dorm.”
“But why you?”
“I do not know, Margaret. And if I don’t go now I may never know because I’ll miss them.”
“Very well but if you don’t tell me everything when you get back I will tell on you.”
When he’s not sitting at his computer building websites for national institutions and international companies, USA Today bestselling author Steve Turnbull can be found sitting at his computer building new worlds of steampunk, science fiction and fantasy.
Technically Steve was born a cockney but after five years he was moved out from London to the suburbs where he grew up and he talks posh now. His life-long passions have been writing computer software (yes, that is weird) and creating stories (which might also be weird).
He likes cats, chocolate and Robot Wars.