Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

The Irradiated Series Continues – Interview with S. Elliot Brandis

A baby is thrust into Jade’s arms with one instruction: escape from the tunnels and never return. The world outside is sun-scorched wasteland. Jade has a sister; she is irradiated.

Thirteen years later, her sister, Pearl, is coming of age. Rows of suction cups line her arms and hands, and her skin is coral pink. Each night, her dreams fill with visions of violence, depression, and fear.

On the surface, people have grown wild and dangerous. They scavenge, fight, and steal. Below, in the tunnels, they’re controlled by a ruthless leader and an army of beings known only as Shadows. When both groups come searching for Pearl, sensing the power her dreams may hold, only Jade can stand in the way.
— Irradiated

IRRADIATED is the first book in The Tunnel Trilogy. The sequel, DEGENERATED, was released yesterday, July 31st, 2014.

What was the catalyst moment which made you decide to write for publication?

For me, it was a slow awakening. I exclusively wrote short stories, with the hope of publishing them in science fiction and fantasy journals and websites. I was operating under the misguided assumption that novel-writing was a fruitless endeavour. I know this sounds crazy, but I had the traditional model of publishing firmly imprinted on me. I knew the odds of having a publisher pick up a novel that I wrote, which are close to zero for a debut novelist. 

So I wrote short stories. They only occasionally got picked up for publication, but people loved them. Authors in my writer’s group urged me to write a novel. Yet still I thought, What’s the point? It pains me to say it now, but the idea of spending months working on something that would never see the light of day seemed silly.

Then I ‘discovered’ self-publishing. I’d owned a kindle for a while, and stumbled across a ‘little’ book by Hugh Howey called Wool. That was the catalyst. I thought, How can a book this good be self-published? And then I realised, Well why in the hell not? The walls came crashing down. That was the moment I realised I could do it alone.

How long do you generally research before beginning the first draft?

This really depends on the topic. To me, it’s not really the research that takes time, but the idea. Research takes many guises, but you need to have faith in an idea before you begin. So many writers get part-way through a manuscript, and then lose hope. So for me, the passion in an idea is key.

I am a firm believer that you should keep pushing forward. I keep writing. If I have a question that would take more than ten minutes to look up, then I save it for later. It’s not worth breaking the flow of writing. I find it far easier to research, revise, and retune facts after the word is on the page than before or during the process.

Irradiated and Degenerated (the first two books of The Tunnel Trilogy) are set in my hometown of Brisbane, Australia. Only once in the novel series do I mention the name of the city, yet the setting in crucial to the work. Many of the locations are based on real places—the tunnels, bridges, buildings, graveyards, waterways, and mountains that I know well. I work day-to-day as a civil engineer, so the infrastructure of Brisbane is second-hand to me. I’ve also visited the outback, which influences the character of the sun-scorched wasteland portrayed in my novels. 

So, I suppose could say I did much of my research without even realising.

What are the keys areas you research? Where does your inspiration tend to come from?

Following on from the last question, the degree to which I research (and the areas) depends on the story I’m writing. I’m presently working on a Post-Apocalyptic Western, which has been a good challenge for me. I don’t have much firsthand experience with either guns or horses, and found myself doing a lot more research to compensate. I really wanted the world to feel authentic.

I also found myself watching a lot of Spaghetti Westerns. I’ve always been a fan of the genre, but I wanted to nail the feel and tone. Of course, other influences have bled in, too, which helps create a unique style.

As for inspiration… it’s hard to say. Most of my ideas come when I’m doing mundane things—running, walking, travelling on the bus. I don’t claim to know how my mind works. I just get out of the way, give it space and time.

Where were you when you had the idea for the Irradiated series?

A while ago I started to write a novel about a young girl, trapped in a hospital. She was a genetic experiment—a one in a million shot at finding something new, a sample destined to be discarded.

But I got stuck.

Months later, I sat down to write a post-apocalyptic novel. My city is hot and humid. When I was in school we were in drought. When I was at University my city flooded. Now, again, we’re in drought. I wanted to write about how things would be—our weather will get worse, and the patterns will continue to exaggerate. I was running home from work one day, my backpack weighing me down, and the heat became overwhelming. My nostrils filled with the smell of rot, as I strode over a dead possum on the sidewalk. The air was sticky and thick. And I realised—this is the feeling I want to channel. 

I started to write and it happened. That little girl, the genetic experiment, the mutant, came back to say hello. What if, she said, I’m not an experiment. What if the sun did this, its radiation. We destroyed the world and so it destroys us. We expose ourselves to it and our children are born with defects, mutations. What if our children are born irradiated.

The ideas collided and created a spark. And that is how the story started.

How long does it take you to write your first draft?

I’m not the world’s fastest writer. I tend to write between 600 and 1200 words a day, six days a week, so it usually takes me between three and four months to write a first draft. Bearing in mind that I work a fulltime job, I’m comfortable with this pace.

How many times do you edit that draft yourself?

About two or three times, although it’s rare that I make substantial edits. One of the benefits of my slow-writing pace is that my first draft tends to be, story wise, quite close to the end product. My secondary (and tertiary) edits are about tightening the prose, removing redundancies, making sure I have the facts straight and my character’s voices right.

What is your writing background and how have you developed your craft?

I have a bit of a weird background, writing-wise. I had written two theses, and many reports, before I ever wrote my first novel. The grammar and mechanics of writing I’ve always been strong with, it was the craft of fiction-writing that I had to study.

So, I read a range of books on craft, and joined a writer’s group in my city. The writer’s group was a great decision—I received almost immediate honest feedback on my short stories, which allowed me to refine my approach. 

All that said, my style is somewhat intrinsic. I find it hard to describe exactly where it come from, and I don’t like to over think it. 

Do you use a professional editor? If so, for what – developmental editing, line editing or copyediting? Or a combination?

Always. I find as time goes on that I need an editor less, but they’re always required. So far, I’ve only required copy-editing. My editor, Felcia Sullivan, is adept at tightening the flow of my prose. Often it’s only the little things. She can rearrange a sentence to make it smoother, or pick up on the typos I’ve overlooked. These days, I’m seeing less and less red text on my edited pages, but I will always use an editor. A second pair of skilled eyes is invaluable.

How do you choose your editor?

I had multiple criterion for choosing an editor, but I think the key attribute for me was that I wanted somebody respectful of authorial voice. This is the biggest thing that separates good editors from bad editors. Bad editors will try and rewrite the text the way they would have written it, while a good editor can adapt to an author’s individual style, and make improvements that are consistent with it.

I also wanted to work with someone with a strong track record of editing novels, and experience within my genre (post-apocalyptic sci-fi). 

I found Felicia Sullivan, an editor for Permuted Press that also takes on freelance work. 

Tell us about the cover design for Irradiated and Degenerated – how were they put together and what input did you have?

My covers were designed by Jason Gurley. Jason—as you know—is extremely talented. I gave Jason a lot of information about my story, the themes, plots, symbols, and then let him run with it. I told him that I wanted covers that stood out, rather than blended in. I also wanted something more abstract than photographic.

And that’s it. I figured the best thing I could do was to stay out of the way and let him work his magic. I think talented, creative people are at their best when they have the freedom to experiment.

Jason came back with a range of different cover concepts. We both had the same favourite, the cover you see now. So Jason got to work designing matching covers for the second and third books, and that was that.

What marketing do you tend to do to increase your public face?

Marketing is hard. I don’t think I’m a very good marketer—I’m polite and rather quiet, so the idea of self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t like to talk about myself, or beat my own drum, or any of that. So, you can say that I’m learning on the job, trying to find methods of promotion that I’m comfortable with.

Recently, I’ve been working on improving my website. I love author’s websites, so I knew early on that I wanted to create my own. I can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads, which I see as secondary presences.

Soon, I’m running my first big promotion. I’m dropping the price of Irradiated to just 0.99c for an entire week (31-July to 6-August) to celebrate the release of its sequel, Degenerated. I’m using a number of promo sites to across the week.

How do you see the landscape of publishing developing over the next 24 months?

Ask Hugh Howey. 

Seriously, though, I’m not sure. The ‘negotiations’ between Amazon and Hachette are interesting. I’m sure their upcoming discussions with other traditional publishers will be similarly controversial. Will they effect indie authors much? I’m not convinced.

I don’t think Amazon will tinker with the royalties it offers independent publishers. If anything, they will value us more now. We make up a significant slice of their eBook sales, and our terms of business are constant. Effectively, we are the lowest risk option for Amazon now.

The Hachette discussion has focussed on the big, obvious things. Delivery delays, pre-order buttons, and discounts. But the single biggest thing that Amazon can do is to tinker with their algorithms. They can shift the balance of purchases without anybody ever seeing how. If they wanted to, they could draw away attention from the big five publishers, and focus more on independent fiction. Will they? Who knows. 

I do think we’ll see more competition in the eBook market, especially with Google Play. I can see Apple and Google taking 10-15% of the market, each.

What is your next work in progress?

I have a couple of things on my plate. 

As I mentioned before, I am working on a post-apocalyptic western. Now, I know a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction has western elements, but this is truly something different. This is a real western set in a post-apocalyptic world. It follows the story of an android, seventy years after the war that levelled most of America. It has outlaws, anti-heroes, gun fights, horses… all of the things you would expect from a western, but with a heavy dose of science fiction blended in. 

I’m also about to start work on Aberrated, the follow up to Degenerated and the final novel in The Tunnel Trilogy. I can’t say too much at this stage, but I’m looking to conclude the series with a bang.

S. Elliot Brandis is a speculative fiction writer from Brisbane, Australia. He writes about societies on the brink of collapse, and civilizations that have long since crumbled. When he’s not putting his characters through the wringer, he’s actually kind of a nice guy. He loves hearing from readers, and can be found at many locations across the internet:

Mailing List:

Irradiated: (US) (UK)

Degenerated: (US) (UK)


All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015