Creatives in profile - interview series

Creatives in profile: interview with C.R. Berry

“Do it wrong and you can end up with plot holes bigger than a temporal rift”, sci-fi and fantasy author, C.R. Berry wrote (in these very digital pages) about the challenges that writers must overcome when writing about time travel. Yet the very real difficulties that can be found in navigating all the timey-wimey stuff haven’t been enough to deter Berry from writing entire novels dedicated to the topic. His first book, Million Eyes is a refreshingly fun, fast-paced conspiracy thriller that goes all-in on the time travel side of things.

In writerly terms, Berry is one of those authors that hits 88mph and keeps going. After a short stint as a lawyer, Berry turned to writing full-time, and works as a freelance copywriter and novelist turning out new stories and fantastical capers at a light-speed rate.

In 2018, Berry was shortlisted in the Grindstone Literary International Novel Competition and has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including StorgyDark TalesTheme of Absence and Suspense Magazine. He was also shortlisted in the Aeon Award Contest, highly commended by Writers’ Forum, and won second prize in the inaugural To Hull and Back Humorous Short Story Competition.

We caught up with Berry to discuss writing, time travel, and more besides…

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle?

BERRY

I live in a little town called Haslemere in Surrey, UK. I grew up in Farnborough, Hampshire, but Haslemere’s much nicer. I’m a bit of a country bumpkin at heart. I like small towns and pretty scenery, not so much a fan of busy cities and big, concrete blocks of flats everywhere you turn.

I’m lucky to be a writer full-time these days. Not fiction writing, mind, but copywriting. Basically I do promotional writing for businesses—websites, brochures, blog articles, that sort of thing. I still do fiction on the side, although I’m hoping one day my books might make enough money that I can scale back the copywriting. My girlfriend and I recently made a long-term plan to one day run a creative retreat for writers and artists (if there’s anything 2020 has been good for, it’s making plans beyond it!)

Oh, and I used to be a lawyer. Of the “Objection!” and “I put it to you that your pants are on fire” variety. 

INTERVIEWER

Is writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

BERRY

Writing’s my main love, but I’m also a massive nerd. When I was younger, I could recount the names of all 172 Star Trek: Voyager episodes in order, and guess which one was on TV in about 10 seconds. I’m also a big fan of the other Star Trek series and films (apart from the abominations that are Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek: Enterprise), Doctor Who, Star Wars (not the horrendous sequel trilogy), Lost, 24, Black Mirror, Game of Thrones, the Alien movies, the Back to the Future trilogy, the Scream movies… I’m a huge Disney nerd, too. I’ve been to Disneyland Paris, urm, 11 times.     

INTERVIEWER

Who (and what) inspires you?

BERRY

I’m inspired by the conspiracy theories I read and write about on my blog. They’re the reason I’ve taken to writing conspiracy thrillers in recent years, because I love the paranoia and suspicion they elicit, all the moles and masterminds, all the convoluted plotting and scheming. As you’ll know from Million Eyes, I also lace my conspiracy thrillers with sci-fi and/or fantasy, and that comes from the TV series and movies I watch. Mainly Star Trek and Doctor Who.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve written for Nothing in the Rulebook about the complexities of writing about time travel. What draws you to science fiction, and why do you think so many of us are so captivated by the idea of time travel?

BERRY

I love the imagination of sci-fi. I’m particularly drawn to anything with aliens in it. Particularly non-humanoid ones or ones with clever abilities, lifecycles or origins. I’ve always loved the Daleks, the ‘Thing’ monster, the non-humanoid Species 8472in Voyager. I find the lifecycle of the Xenomorph in the Alien movies fascinating and terrifying, and I particularly enjoyed the recent Prometheus movies for giving us a glimpse into their origin. I bloody hope there’s a follow-up to Alien: Covenant or I might have to hunt down Ridley Scott.

As for time travel, there are many reasons why it captivates us. Seeing how things used to be done, how people used to think, makes us re-evaluate the things and values we have now. It’s fascinating to see the distinction and it creates fish-out-of-water scenarios that are perpetually entertaining. Time travel to the future, with writers imagining how things will be done, fires imaginations and creates a sense of hope (well, unless it’s a dystopian future as many are nowadays!). I think people are also drawn to time travel because we always yearn to do things differently and change undesirable outcomes. I wonder how many time travel stories will incorporate Covid in the coming years…

INTERVIEWER

You published your first book, Million Eyes, with indie publishers Elsewhen Press (and readers can check out our review of it right here on Nothing in the Rulebook). If you were in an elevator with someone who had never heard of the book, how would you describe it or pitch it to them?

BERRY

What if the timeline we’re living in has already been corrupted by time travellers? Former teacher Gregory Ferro stumbles upon evidence that time travellers are sacrificing history to recover a mysterious book, and learns that events like the 1997 death of Princess Diana and the 1483 disappearance of the Princes in the Tower weren’t supposed to happen. When he teams up with uni graduate Jennifer Larson, the time travellers get wind of what they’re doing and send assassins to bury them. So begins a chase across time, with countless innocents caught in the crossfire.

INTERVIEWER

Will we laugh? Will we cry?

BERRY

There are twists, turns, famous historical faces (including some you won’t expect) and conspiracies galore. You may shed a tear at points, and there’s some tough stuff my characters have to go through to get to the truth. That said, though Million Eyes is certainly not a comedy, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are definitely some lighter bits. One reviewer said that some of the scenes in Million Eyes had her chuckling, even the “very bloody ones”.

INTERVIEWER

What triggered your idea?

BERRY

It was the inquest into Princess Diana’s death in 2007. A number of questions were left unanswered, such the white Fiat Uno. So I decided to create my own answers—with a sci-fi, timey wimey twist. As a lover of history and conspiracy theories, I thought I would draw in some other events that have always intrigued me at the same time. Events like the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the supposed ‘accidental’ shooting of King William II.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about your publisher, Elsewhen Press. What’s it like to work with an indie printing press, and what can we as readers do to support indie presses and authors (apart from buy their books, obviously!)

BERRY

Elsewhen Press have been great. They have a good grasp of what works and what doesn’t and I’ve learned a lot from them. Together we hosted a very successful launch at Waterstones in Farnham (right before Covid hit), selling way more copies than either of us expected. And it was their idea to launch a fun fake website for Million Eyes, the mysterious tech company that takes centre stage in the book. You should check it out.

Elsewhen also published an extended universe short story collection, Million Eyes: Extra Time. It is free to download for all ebook platforms and has stories set in the Million Eyes universe about the Loch Ness Monster, JFK’s assassination and Paul McCartney and Queen Elizabeth I being doppelgangers.

The best thing to do for indie presses like Elsewhen and their authors is spread the word. If you like what you read, leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever, and tell your friends/family about it. Social media is absolutely saturated with new books, so word of mouth remains a powerful tool.

INTERVIEWER

We live in a pretty crazy, unpredictable, and often chaotic world. As a writer, do you ever feel any personal or ethical responsibility about the work you put out there?

BERRY

Well, I believe completely and wholeheartedly in freedom of expression, without exception, and I don’t think writers (or anyone) should censor themselves if they have something to say. If a person doesn’t like what they say, that’s what debate and argument is for. I would say my only responsibility as a writer is to tell good stories. Oh, and if I start selling a trilogy or series, like Million Eyes, then I believe I have a responsibility to my readers to finish it. Not naming any authors who might disagree. *cough* George R. R. Martin *cough* 

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for you? Could you tell us a little about any future projects you’re working on?

BERRY

Million Eyes II and III! The second book in the trilogy is done and in the editing process. It’ll hopefully go off to Elsewhen Press in a few weeks. Meanwhile I’m working on some new Million Eyes short stories, like the ones featured in Million Eyes: Extra Time.

I actually have a new Million Eyes short story coming out soon. It’s called What Happened To 70? and is a Doctor Who-esque tale about the disappearance of the number 70 from the universe. It’s set to be published in the Rushmoor Writers 70th anniversary anthology The Thing About Seventy, coming out in November from Midnight Street Press.

I’m also working on Million Eyes short stories that feature the Mandela Effect and the Green Children of Woolpit legend.

INTERVIEWER

Finally, could you write us a story in 6 words?

BERRY

We’re here. Earth. Human population: 2.

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