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Interview: Neil Ayres, Web Director of Creative Review and author talks Science Fiction, Social Media and e-books!

 

Neil Ayres is an author and digital producer. He has had more than 30 pieces of fiction published, including stories in two award-winning anthologies for Elastic Press and an audiobook read by Christopher Eccleston for Tate Modern. He shares - and even occasionally contributes to - a blog with sometime collaborator Aliya Whiteley, who's a far more successful novelist than him: http://veggiebox.blogspot.com

Neil's enhanced ebook app, The New Goodbye, featuring the novel of the same name, plus a music video, illustration and photography, can be downloaded from iTunes for free: http://bitly.com/newgoodbye

Two of his short stories are available to read on Run-Riot, the sordid Halloween special 'A Fiend in the Clouds', and 'Annabelle’s Birthday', a mysterious Wickerman-esque November 5th tale.


RR: So, Neil. Let’s get the tough question out the way. Are you related to the deceased cult musician Kevin Ayers? Secondly, what was the inspiration for ‘Annabelle's Birthday’?

NA: I confess I have no idea who Kevin Ayers is. Definitely not a relation. If it's any help, I also know I'm not related to poet and national treasure Pam Ayres, or jazz supremo Roy Ayers, though have admiration for both of them. I have it on dubious authority that my surname is inherited from some of the original Romany migrants to enter Britain, who came in via Scotland and picked up local names in an attempt to integrate.

The setting for Annabelle's Birthday is the Brockham bonfire celebrations (which actually pre-date Guy Fawkes' Night, though they now take place on 5 November), second in fame probably only to the Lewes madness. For a writer, it's easy to imagine something a little sinister about the event, given the scores of torch-bearing children in white smocks and the mountainous, firecracker-packed woodpile. Anyone who had walked into the event unaware of what was happening (and you have to walk unless you live there as all the roads are closed down in the afternoon) would think they'd stumbled onto a real-life version of the Wickerman playing out.

RR: You’ve been involved with magazine publishing for over ten years, you’re an author, and you’ve worked at the Battersea Dogs home. It sounds very colourful and satisfying. What’s the soundtrack to your story so far?

NA: It's had its ups and downs. Lots of people think it would have been lovely to work at Battersea. It's true it was quite rewarding, but there were drawbacks too, not least the emotional investment. The main focus of my role there was assessing and working with dogs with behaviour problems, so outcomes weren't necessarily always happy ones. I was fairly young when I started there, and relatively serious about music too. Practically all my spare cash back then went on records or assorted instruments, and every other week was usually spent somewhere in North London as at the time (a dozen or so years ago) there were no decent places in the eastend, where I'm from, as far as guitar music went. Typically now I'm out in suburbia, the place has grown to suit my tastes rather nicely. The same goes for books.

RR: Click, Creative Reviews annual conference for creatives and businesses working in digital media is coming up (11 Nov), one strand includes ‘making Social Media work for you’. From your work as Web Director at Creative Review, can you share your key tips for making the most of Social Media?

NA: I think you have to question, if you're a business or a brand, why you're interested in social media. I think for publishers it's a bit of a simple answer to that, in that you're producing content people want to know about, and social networks facilitate the act of informing an audience that you've new stuff available. I suppose the crucial thing is to be there as a service; to expect to support your main objectives, rather than expecting to build a fanbase up around a brand if there's no reason for one to be there in the first place.
 
RR: With over thirty pieces of fiction published, is there a particular subject matter that threads them together?

NA: My writing is fairly wide-ranging. I've a collection of about twenty pieces where certainly a thread running through the lot is one of separations or endings, and no doubt it's possible to read something into that. Readers seem to be most responsive to my science fiction writing though, so that's what I've resolved to concentrate on. I'm close to finishing a science fiction book which I suppose is close to the most commercially-viable piece of writing I've ever produced. Feedback to it has been pretty good.  
 
RR: Your enhanced e-book app for the iTunes (iPhone, iPad), The New Goodbye is your digital novel, accompanied by animation, photography, illustration and music was released a few months back. How has it been received? Have you collaborated with Foyles in promoting the digital novel?

NA: I've pretty much got out of it what I've put in I suppose. Regardless of the writing of the book itself, it was a huge amount of work producing the various elements. I feel it was a good experience to have gone through, but I won't be repeating the process unless someone is paying me for my troubles. There've been well over a thousand downloads, so that's a 999 more readers familiar to some degree with my work than were beforehand.

The tie-in with Foyles was something I was keen on more to demonstrate to publishers the value bookshops could still have in this burgeoning era of digital books. For a limited time owners of the app were able to get discounts off Foyles books have free entry to quite a few events in the Charing Cross store for the autumn calendar. Crucially, and I believe this is a book publishing first, anyone who visited a Foyles store with the app installed on their iPhone would find they automatically unlocked additional content (a bonus chapter, illustrations and an extra short story).

 

Neil's enhanced ebook app, The New Goodbye, featuring the novel of the same name, plus a music video, illustration and photography, can be downloaded from iTunes for free: http://bitly.com/newgoodbye

Two of his short stories are available to read on Run-Riot, the sordid Halloween special 'A Fiend in the Clouds', and 'Annabelle’s Birthday', a mysterious Wickerman-esque November 5th tale.