As regular readers will be aware, Andrew P. Weston is an author with Perseid Press who I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing before. To make things more interesting this time around, we’re not focusing so much on the writing, as we are on the writer himself. We’re going to concentrate on a specific topic – and through that – get to know more about the face behind the books.
So, welcome Andrew!
What topic have you chosen for us today?
I thought I’d chat about my love of science and how it influenced my early years – and later life too – along with the obstacles I overcame to achieve my goals. Far from being boring, I’m hoping my little story will highlight how life can sometimes throw unexpected hurdles in our way that we have to work hard to overcome.
Why did you choose to talk about your scientific background particular?
Because it’s an interest that went on to become far more than a hobby or pastime. I look on it as a love that’s been with me for as long as I can remember.
As some of your readers will be aware, I was born in Birmingham, in the UK, and grew up in the early 1960’s, a time when the world was focused on the race into space and the proposed onward leap to the moon.
It was an exciting time. TV schedules of the era were swamped with all sorts of innovative sci-fi programs and forward-looking trends: Lost in Space, Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the Time Tunnel; Tomorrow’s World, How, Horizon.
I suppose it was inevitable a young boy with a love of science would turn his thoughts toward the stars.
How did that occur, exactly, and what sciences are we talking about?
The best way to describe it would probably be natural progression.
I could read before I went to school. My parent could see I loved anything to do with science fiction and with the cosmos and planets in particular, so they brought me a wonderful eight-part scientific encyclopedia The Natural World and Solar System and a specialized astronomy book for beginners, The Night Sky. I devoured them from cover to cover, multiple times.
As I progressed through formal education, I gave serious thought toward becoming an astronaut. Childish ambition perhaps? Some would think so, but I went about taking steps to turn my dream into a reality.
At school, I excelled at math and the sciences – astronomy and physics in particular – and determined to increase my chances of success by following in the footsteps of five generations of my family before me, by enlisting in the military.
How would this help?
Well, I might have been young, but I was astute. By the early 1970’s I’d noted how the latest space missions were expanding to include crew members outside the USA. The thing was, they all seemed to be military. Pilots, engineers, other techs – all the selected teams, in fact – had that same background. Good news for me, as my parents wanted me to follow in the family tradition, and I was happy to oblige.
Graduating with honors in the aforementioned subjects, I applied to become – what in those days was termed – a Control Electronics/Engineering Warfare Officer. A bit of a mouthful, but just the thing to provide the qualifications I needed with all the very latest, hi-tech computers. (And hopefully, just the skills NASA might be looking for in future candidates).
So the road toward achieving your dreams progressed rather smoothly?
Sadly…no. Those hurdles I mentioned earlier? Well, a rather big one came out to play and slap me about the head.
While I’d been accepted to join the Royal Navy, I nevertheless had to wait until the following year to commence the specialized five year initial training program my commission would entail.
In itself, no problem. However, the years leading up to the end of my formal education witnessed some major changes at home. My parents had divorced, dad disappeared, and that left me supporting my mother and sister.
We managed okay, and it didn’t stop progress toward my goals until mom met someone who would later become her new husband.
Let’s just say, the atmosphere at home became rather tense. My new stepfather and I didn’t get on, and the environment gradually deteriorated until it had reached the stage where something was going to snap.
By this time, I still had six months to wait before I could join the navy. Thinking laterally, I visited the recruitment center to see what could be done, and ended up transferring my acceptance through into another branch of the Royal Navy – The Royal Marines – and was able to leave home the following month. Conflict avoided.
And…Bam! My dreams of a future where my every working day would be spent up to my elbows in the guts of the latest state-of-the-art technology came crashing down around my feet. Think about it. Although I qualified for a specialized role, it involved being dropped off from submarines in the middle of the ocean, throwing myself from perfectly good airplanes, and prancing about in the jungle getting up close and personal with the local wildlife. Not much call for an astrophysicist really?
One cloud that had a silver lining was the fact that the Corps was supportive to my educational potential, and I was able to complete my Master of Astronomy degree and moved on to other things.
So you never got to be an astronaut?
No I didn’t. But it’s a strange old world, and as the years passed, unexpected doors opened up in other ways…Just not in the way I would have preferred. Let me explain:
After my time in the Royal Marines, I went on to become a police officer, expanded my education to include a higher law degree, and diversified into other areas of specialty. Lo-and-behold, that’s when another one of those life’s hurdles jumped on me and proceeded to stomp me into the ground.
I was so badly injured on duty that I had to spend a couple of years in and out of hospital undergoing numerous procedures, and was told I’d never walk again without the use of crutches…
Not the kind of thing you want to say to someone who happens to possess a focused and positive attitude.
Yes, it did lead to my early retirement. Yes, I did have to move abroad to warmer climes to help speed up my recovery…but recover I did. I’m obviously heavier now than I was, but I can run again, train again, and was able to return to teaching martial arts. But even better, I now had something I’d never experienced before.
An excess of free hours in the day.
I used it positively. Not only did I start to write – something I’d wanted to do for years, but never had the time for – but I was able to resume my astronomical studies and travel to places like Jodrell Bank (Now called The Lovell Astrophysics Center) in Cheshire, England, and the 30m IRAM telescope in Andalusia, Spain. (I have my own telescope, a Skywalker Esprit refractor). It’s a good bit of kit. But compared to what they have? It was like being in another world.
As part of my endeavors to “get back in touch” I also started to teach basic astronomy to youngsters, began writing educational articles for astronaut.com and commenced several courses designed to bring scientists up to speed with the latest developments at NASA. It was while I was perusing the NASA site several years ago that I saw an advert asking for suitably qualified volunteers to take part in various remote analysis projects.
I applied, completed a series of tests – and would you believe it – became a certificated member of the Planetary Society and joined them on their hunt for interstellar particles.
How about that! I might never have fulfilled my dream of becoming an astronaut, but I did manage to find a way to NASA’s door (On a realistic point – although what I do sounds special – in reality, I’m just one of thousands of other volunteers playing their part to help further the realms of space exploration). And even better, I’ve just applied to take part in the Wise Mission, surveying the night sky in infrared in the hunt for system discs that might be similar to our own asteroid belt. How cool is that? 🙂
Seeing as you mentioned writing. How do you feel your scientific background has contributed to the success of your books, and the international bestseller, The IX by Perseid Press, in particular?
By allowing me to adhere to a very important maxim. Write what you know.
I’ve often stressed how important it is for the writers of speculative fiction to base their narrative in fact. And all the more so when you extend the boundaries of science and the imagination.
No matter how entertaining your story, if you make it too fantastical or nonsensical, readers will switch off. More importantly, you’ll probably lose the mature audience whose opinion can do much to promote the novel itself in other ways.
I’ve read attempts at sci-fi where it’s evident the author doesn’t know what he/she is talking about, and like it or not, it does flavor your attitude toward the story itself.
However, when the science is based on solid foundations and the combat scenes are grounded in reality? Well, it makes one hell of a difference.
As my readers are aware, The IX is an alternate history, space opera of a science fiction action adventure. A lot goes on, so I ensured the tech was based on the very latest breakthroughs in theoretical science to leave the labs of NASA, MIT and Johns Hopkins. (A good pedigree if you intend to stretch the realistic into the realms of…hey, what if)?
I’m also “fortunate” in having served in the military during times of conflict. War colors those it touches, and true life factual experience adds realism to fight scenes that veterans will spot a mile off (Battle has its own reality, you see. Sights and sounds, smells and texture are distorted. Even time seems to flow differently). Some of you out there reading this will know exactly what I mean.
This essential – write what you know – combination was reflected superbly in The IX and made it the success it is. I mean, how many authors can say their favorite creation has been a number one sensation in multiple countries around the world?
I’m sure the same will ring true with the powerful sequel, The IX – Exordium of Tears, (Available from the end of February 2016 through Perseid Press) where the realms of battle, astrophysics and theoretical science will be portrayed in a whole new jaw dropping way. (You’ll see) 🙂 hee hee.
As you’ve selected a rather interesting topic. I thought it might be fun to conclude on a handful of related quickfire astronomy questions:
Q: What’s the most distant object you’ve ever seen with your own eyes?
With my own eyes, I’ve managed to spot the Andromeda Galaxy.
One of the great things about living on the edge of a tiny Greek village in the middle of the Aegean Sea is that light pollution is next to nothing. A cloudless night can bring heaven to your doorstep. (Reminds me of my wife…all together now, aaah!)
In this case, you only have to spot Cassiopeia and flick across to Pegasus and Andromeda, use your arms to line a few distinctive stars up and…Boom! Another galaxy before your very eyes.
Q: What is the furthest planet you’ve seen through a telescope?
Q: And your favorite Solar System object?
That has to be the aptly named Perseid meteor shower. The night skies here are so clear, I’ve seen literally thousands of meteors. They never cease to be amazing.
Q: Growing up with the Apollo Missions, which one stood out to you?
For me, it had to be Apollo 13. We’ve always been a little complacent when things go well. That mission could have ended so differently, but ended up being a testament to thorough training, prior preparation, planning, and teamwork. (The building blocks of ever successful mission) And no bones about it, Apollo 13 was a success because everyone came home safely.
Q: Have you ever experienced weightlessness?
I have. Sadly, only for a total of a couple of minutes in an Airbus whilst in the military. A most awesome experience of micro-gravity as can be had this close to the earth. (Mind you, it did make me sulk a bit about my life’s course and what might have been if I’d continued through into the Royal Navy and onward to the stars?
Links to The IX:
Link to Exordium of Tears:
Thank you so much for being my guest, Andrew! I could have continued this interview for hours as I feel it really opened up a bit of your soul to me and revealed the man behind your stories. Excellent answers! Maybe one day we can get your memoirs from the books store!