Some Thoughts with ... Rex Burke

19 Apr 2023

The Author/s

Rex Burke

Rex Burke

Rex Burke is a SciFi writer based in North Yorkshire, UK.

When he was young, he read every one of those yellow-jacketed Victor Gollancz hardbacks in his local library. He’s sure there are still thrilling SciFi adventures to be told – even if he has to write them himself.

When he’s not writing, he travels – one way or another, he’ll get to the stars, even if it’s just as stardust when his own story is done.

The Interview

1.- What made you choose self-publishing?
I was a travel writer for many years – still am, in another name! – and have been traditionally published. But I dipped my toe into self-pub when I started writing travel adventures, and I really wasn’t going to do anything else with my SciFi books. I’ve got no real interest in querying – or the so-called validation of trad-pub. I just wanted to get a story out there quickly, and retain all the control over how and when I published. Plus, I enjoy the marketing and promo side of things, and I have the time, so it suits me to stick with this model.

2.- Your novel, Orphan Planet, is called “feel-good sci-fi”. Could you tell us more about the idea behind this?
I’m not a technical kinda guy – you might spot that if you’ve read the book. I love SciFi but I couldn’t tell you how a spaceship works, or what a fusion drive is, or even if that’s a thing. So the SciFi novel I wanted to write was never going to be hard or military SF. And I’m not the most enthusiastic world-builder either, so space opera was out. But I loved the humour and relationships in books like The Hitchhiker’s Guide, and I wanted to write a book with heart and soul too. One that would make you laugh and cry – as, in fact, one of my earliest beta readers said that Orphan Planet did.
So I call the book feelgood SF, or others might think of it as ‘cosy’ or ‘hopeful’ SF. Basically, it’s entertainment at heart – there is a villain (coming up in Book 2), and there are obstacles and events to overcome, but no one dies (or do they?), and everyone’s story will be resolved. I think it’s realistic – the characters talk and behave like regular people, I hope – and I want readers to like the people they’re reading about. And while I love a good dystopian read (The Road is probably my favourite), it’s just not how I choose to spend my time when writing. I want to be uplifted! ‘High stakes and wholesome’ is how someone described the story in Orphan Planet, and I think that’s spot on.

3.- Despite this being your first fiction novel, this is not your first book. How would you say it changes the process from writing non fiction to fiction?
I honestly can’t say that I write any differently, whether it’s SciFi or travel. I like to keep my style open and accessible – easy to read, though not simplistic. I’ve been told that my writing is like listening to someone in a pub – that it flows easily – and I take that as a compliment. I do work a lot on the style – making the text do its job, not overwriting anything, and keeping the story moving. I don’t write chonkers, that’s definitely not my style – but I hope that you get the same sense of satisfaction when you get to the end of one of my 70k sprints.

4.- How would you say your previous writing experiences have influenced your whole creation of the Odyssey Earth series?
Only in the sense that I knew what to expect when starting to write a new book. Sorting out a story arc was a different experience, but otherwise, I’ve just followed the same process – some rough notes here and there, making myself sit down and write on a daily basis, getting the work done. It’s a job for me, at the end of the day – and by now it’s a job I know how to do.

5.- Could you tell us more about your writing process?
It takes me a couple of months to get a first draft together for something like Orphan Planet. I tend to write fairly clean, and make revisions as I go along, so at the end of a few weeks, I had something I could share with my beta readers. That’s a grand name for a small and select bunch of other writers and reviewers who I either know through the travel world or have met on social media. I took quite a few suggestions on board and revised again, and then I started on a draft of the sequel, Book 2. Once that was done, I took a final look at Orphan Planet, because now there were all sorts of plot holes and things to fix and add! But that gave me a final draft that I could have proofread – and with two books written, I really knew where the story was going and how it would end in Book 3.
It was important to me to know that I could write the whole trilogy in one go too. I didn’t want readers to have to wait a year for a sequel – and risk them losing interest – so from the start, it was my intention to have Book 2 ready before publishing Book 1. And that gives me time to put Book 3 together while launching the first two in series this spring and summer.

6.- From the group of characters you created for Orphan Planet, would you say is there anyone you would call your favourite? Why?
Tough one! I mean, I do love the crochety AI, Reeves, who is in the grand tradition of such characters – Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide, HAL in 2001, Holly in Red Dwarf. His interactions with Jordan and Juno, two of the main characters, are really fun to write. I put in a few side characters too who I have really grown to love – Gerald the botanist in Book 1, and the hulking ex-marines Dave and Tillie, who really come into it in Book 2. And the two medics, Terence and Cliff, keep popping up with their double-act routine. Of the kids, my favourite is Dana, who’s a sort of nerdy know-it-all with a dry sense of humour, and of course, Poole, who everyone thinks is an idiot but really has a heart of gold.

7.- Personally, I find writing a good humorous book a really difficult task. Would you mind sharing some of your secrets of how you made Orphan Planet so good in that sense?
It is difficult! The trick for me was not to make it a straight comedy. I think too many humorous SciFi books fall into the trap of thinking everything has to be funny – from the character names to the implausible situations. I wanted to write a book that made people laugh, but that also had some heart and soul in there. I had a few set pieces that I knew would make it into the book – funny scenes that I had written at the start, that just needed some context. And I keep a separate file of phrases, snippets, news stories, overheard conversations, and the like that eventually all make it into the story somehow.
Dialing back the humour also helps – there are whole scenes, even chapters, that really aren’t funny, but that separation helps the jokes hit home when they do come. Finally, I write with a light tone throughout, which ties together the various scenes and events. So even when it’s not explicitly humorous, I like to think that it’s an easy, fun read.

8.- Which books would you say have influenced your writing?
The funny SciFi classics, of course, but also – any SciFi book I’ve ever read. I started off in the library as a kid, picking up those yellow-jacketed Gollancz books, and there’s a sense of adventure in some of those old SciFi books that I wanted to replicate. Funnily enough, though, I think I’ve been just as influenced by TV and film. I can see these characters as I write them – I have them all cast out for when the studios come calling – and I think there are all sorts of influences there that inform the story. Any set-on-a-spaceship show you’ve ever seen, plus Lost in Space, that kind of thing.

9.- What can we expect from Rex Burke in the future?
The whole trilogy will be out during 2023, so that’s this year mostly taken care of. I’m thinking of alternating travel with SciFi for a while, so it might be another year before Rex gets back to work, but when he does I have an old dystopian novel that I never finished and that I might dust off. Give it the old feel-good treatment, and see what happens. In the meantime, though, I think there will be a short story or two set in the Odyssey Earth universe – they’ll be available through my website and newsletter.