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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, Stuart Harvey talks about the creative writing process that went into his Covid-19 inspired dystopian thriller, Survivor.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Stuart Harvey about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, and the story of his new Covid-19 inspired dystopian thriller, Survivor.
Tell me a bit about who you are
My name is Stuart Harvey, 30 years old, living as a writer and truck driver in the country of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. I’ve always had a bit of a writing bug about me, and had even managed to create my own sort of short stories before I’d even reached puberty.
When I was in my early teenage years, I was told by my family that I was born with a learning difficulty called Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition that we would now know to be called high functioning Autism. It’s given me a far different view of the world, and especially in my writing work.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I’d been writing short stories from as far back as I can remember, and I felt that it was a fantastic skill that I should be putting to good use.
Due to my Autism, I felt as if I was creatively writing to almost compensate for the fact that I found social situations difficult and challenging to be in. With the market having a demand for real life stories, I felt as if I needed to be a voice within the writing community, which is still very small and underrepresented.
Autistic writings in the past have always been linked to almost autobiographic books explained how those lived with Autism, hence why I felt that my first story needed to be half reality, half fiction.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I first took the steps into writing all the way back in 2016, when I first started work on a book which later became known as ‘Wheels Of Thunder’. This was the story of a young Autistic man, who had multiple challenges to overcome, including getting over his fear of the opposite sex. As Autistic people have the tendency of not being able to communicate as well with others as they would like, this was the sort of story that would be of great help to the wider community. It was the first time that I’d ever released my writing to the world, and I’ve not looked back since.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My first ever book took about four years to properly write up and work out, as it was a story which was particularly based on a semi-autobiographical genre, so it needed time and dedication being put into it. My other published works since have taken less time to put together, but have been just as much of a success as the previous book.
When I write, I tend to lay out a basic storyline, which then goes onto the character creation, and then finally, how each character fits into the story. This also reflects a very Autistic way of thinking, as day to day living has to be planned out almost to the letter.
What made you want to write Survivor?
When you have world changing events such as the COVID-19 pandemic going on right in front of you, it can be somewhat difficult not to write about it, as it’s an event in history which affected the entire planet, and one that will be taught about for generations to come. I felt that it was for this reason, why I had to write and publish the book Survivor, because it tells the alternative reality to a world and a time that we all lived through.
I’ve always found with writing that it’s all about the timing of when you write and attempt to release a book, as it’s guessing what the market will see. As Covid-19 is a pandemic has only lasted a few years at the most, with the height of the pandemic being in 2020-2021, it’s only now in 2023 and beyond that everyone will want to read about it.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Survivor?
The biggest challenge when it came to writing Survivor, was the fact that although being a fictional story at heart, it still had to contain certain elements which were based on real world truths. Although a lot of the actions of the characters in the book are based on my own thoughts and ideas of what a post COVID society would look like, in the wake of the COVID apocalypse, you still have to keep as much to the facts as possible. For example, it was reported that the outbreak of Covid-19 came from China, cases of Covid-19 were found on a cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean, both facts of which appear in the book. Although after this, it was more of the case of trying to speculate of how certain survivors of the virus would react. For one thing, there would be an immediate breakdown of law and order, communication networks would go offline, as well as a sudden struggle for food, water, and medical supplies.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
The main protagonist is a 26-year-old female truck driver called Samantha Bonham, who is your stereotypical average twenty first century ordinary young woman. Before the Covid-19 pandemic comes along and trashes the world, Samantha is very much your average go lucky lady, who funnily enough, is based on my own personal experiences of being a truck driver during the UK Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.
Even now in 2023, I’m still driving trucks for a living, so my character was fairly easy to create, as all I was doing was drawing straight from my own front-line experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. I did decide to create a female character instead, as I felt that my story needed a female protagonist, rather than a male one, because I felt that a female character would be more appealing to the readers.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The main villain of the story is one Helen Dukes, who is a politician turned rogue Member of Parliament, who has grand and rather sinister plans of what to do in the post Covid-19 society. Helen Dukes character is very much based on a real-life individual, who I was rather unfortunate to come across in a driving job that I was working for back in 2018. On that occasion, that person actually did me a very great injustice, although I was able to get some kind of karma, as I used their personality to create the character which is Helen Dukes. Helen Dukes comes across on the surface as a calm and collected human being, but underneath, she is quite a nefarious and narcissistic individual, who allows herself to be corrupted by power.
What is the inciting incident of Survivor?
The most obvious incident in the book is of course a pandemic, which unlike other forms of dystopian virus-related books out there, is more closely based on factual events, rather than wild speculation. Even though the stories in the book look into a real-life event in history that happened, its alternative reality element is far more closely related to the general population as a whole. Even now, we are still widely unaware of how close we came to the complete collapse of the twenty first century society, so this is why a book like Survivor is really going to make the words and actions of the characters stand out long after the reader has finished reading it.
What is the main conflict of Survivor?
The main conflict in the book is by far focused on Samantha Bonham’s struggle to try and fit into the new world, which has come about as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The modern society, protections and luxuries that Samantha has been used to since birth, are now nothing more than a fantasy, as the new world survivors dictate the rules of how they want to live. Some of them choose to uphold some form of shivery and community, whereas others live by their own rules, and do whatever they like, whenever they like, in which the UK mainland becomes a whole Lord of the Flies episode, with the survivors becoming like lost children in a world that’s going against them.
Did you plot Survivor in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
The book was sort of plotted out in a way that meant that I could easily create the aftermath and major line of the story, although some of the scenes prior to the Covid-19 strike were a little less easy to write, as it was still very much based on what was going on at the time. The characters themselves however are very much based on certain aspects and traits that would be displayed in the aftermath of a pandemic, so at least the story was easier to write from that point onwards. It’s got some very tense action scenes, but then other times where there are scattered emotions and heightened tensions, which all points in the direction of a roller-coaster ride thriller on the scale of a full-scale adventure.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Survivor need?
As I do see the world from a very different point of view because of my Autism, I felt that it was important that I tried to do as much of the editing myself, as Autistic storytelling is still very much a unique art within the world itself. In more recent times however, I’ve released that it’s important to have it proofread by a professional editor, as I have found that when you type, you tend to forget about spelling mistakes and punctuations when you’re typing at top speed.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Ah, now that is a secret worth telling, because my best advice to anyone who wants to write, whether it be fiction or nonfiction is, ‘write what you know’. And if you want to write about something that you’re not familiar with, then please do your research. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than writing a story, only to get it slatted and slammed by those who actually know what they’re talking about. This was one thing that I found when writing a piece of work about HGV driving, as I did it for a living, I was somewhat at an advantage when I’m talking about driving. Even so, when you are writing about what you know, it’s always a good idea to research facts and figures for stories, just to be on the safe side.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I certainly can, as I’m planning to release a non-fictional piece of work which is called, ‘Trucking Impossible, Autism, Covid-19, And The Industry We All Rely On’. This is a book which goes into details of my years as an HGV driver during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as being Autistic in a challenging workplace, and having to battle on the front line of one of the UK’s most demanding and unpredictable industries. Stay tuned for Trucking Impossible, as I can be fairly sure that it will be a real page turner, because it’s not every day that you come across Autistic HGV drivers. I’m also thinking about a sequel to Survivor, as it’s a story that could be built on or expanded.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I suppose it would be a bit big-headed of me if I turned around and said that I was proud of what I’d done, as my real aim behind the book was to entertain the masses of readers around the world. I suppose the one thing I’m prouder of is for being a voice to a community of writers who are still very shockingly unrecognised and unnoticed by society. But I suppose I’m just pleased that I’m writing full stop, as it helps me to use my imagination and word skills to tell stories which entertain, instruct, or even inspire others to become better and wiser human beings.
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You can buy the book on Amazon, or direct from the publisher ‘PageTurner, Press and Media’ in ebook, softback and hardback copies.
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