Third Interview: Jude Austin

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Third Interview: Jude Austin

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Welcome to another addition of Chats with Sarah. Today's subject is Jude Austin author of Project Tau and Homecoming.

To view the first interview, click here.

To view the second interview, click here.

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You have two books now, Project Tau and Homecoming. Let's discuss the first one first and the second one second.

Sure, no problem.

1. Project Tau discusses human cloning and all the interesting moral issues that go along with it. In another interview, you stated you were looking to basically make a low budget science fiction. Any offers, plans or aspirations to make it into a movie?

I would love to, so much! I think it lends itself to a series more than a movie; that way, the characters could be more fleshed out, there could be new material added etc.

I actually studied movie-making in Tokyo, but I also missed a lot of classes, purely because of money. At that time I basically had no job, I'd blown out my knee so I couldn't get a job, and my daily food budget was 100-200 yen. I lived in a very old part of Tokyo and there was a street vendor who sold menchi (basically meat and cabbage deep-fried in breadcrumbs, about the size of a small bread roll) for 50 yen each, so the only food I got during my first year was two or three of those a day. I remember one of my teachers, a director/screenwriter called Doug Campbell, was visiting Japan and we went for lunch at an Indian restaurant called Calcutta. I think that was some time in summer, and the curry I had there was the first real meal I'd managed to get that year. Anyway, the commuting fee to the school was something like 800 yen per day, so there were many days when I couldn't go to class simply because I couldn't afford the train fare.

So, since I could be counted on to attend roughly one out of three classes, I never got into any of the groups, I didn't learn as much as I could have, and I never got to make any of the movies I really wanted to make. In the three years I studied there, I only ever got to make one movie, and that was only thanks to my husband, who I met at the end of my second year and who fulfilled the role of cameraman, friendly neighbor, and psycho killer who breaks into my house and murders me. Of course, we didn't have access to any equipment, so we were a bit limited. (That 8-inch butcher knife he was brandishing over his head, less than a foot away from me? Yeah, that wasn't a prop.)

I would love for it to be made into a movie or TV series, and I would love to be a part of the process, even if it's just watching from the sidelines and trying not to squee with excitement, but I've no idea how to make that happen. However, I found a competition for self-published works where the winner and finalists get their work touted around to top people in the TV/movie industry, so I'm putting Project Tau in for that. Maybe Tsunami as well; I'll see how it goes with that one.

2. If it were to be made into a movie, who would you want as Kata and Tau? Who would you want for the not so nice characters?

For Tau, the ballet dancer Rhys Kosakowski if he dyed his hair black ;) Tau's specifically mentioned in the book as being handsome with a lean, muscular body, so anyone who fit that description would be fine with me. Kata, I'd take the model on the cover of Homecoming. Whoever he is :P

The scientists? I've honestly no idea. I have images in my mind of how they look, but those images aren't of any actors; just normal, everyday people.

3. What is your favorite scene from the book?

There are a few that I love, but I think the confrontation between Tau and Kata at the end just squeaks into first place. It's the first time Tau really stands up for himself, followed shortly after by his challenging Dennison.

4. What scene did you dislike writing so much that you almost had to close your eyes while penning it?

Basically, anything involving the training. There's a reason it's not shown in great depth in the first book, apart from not many people being likely to enjoy reading about an 18/19-year-old kid being beaten and degraded. In Book 2, we find out a little more about what kind of training Kata went through, but the worst of it is going to be left to the reader's imagination.

If you're asking me which scene I have to read with my eyes half-closed, it would definitely be the original Prologue. No, not the one you guys read; the original original.

A little background for anyone who hasn't read my author article: I wrote Project Tau sometime in 2006-2007, when I was 23-24. Amazon KDP was nowhere near as big as it would become, and I had no notions of self-publishing, having been badly burned in the past and learned some hard lessons about scam artists.

Fast-forward to October 2016, about ten years after I first started Tau and halfway through my first year at film school in Tokyo. I can't remember what sparked it off, but I remembered thinking, well, why not? I put it up on Amazon KDP as it was, posted about it on Facebook, and during Hollywood Production class (yes, that was really its name!) one of the teachers, Shika Mackenzie, came and sat next to me. Our conversation is loosely paraphrased from memory, but it went something like this:

SHIKA-SENSEI: I bought your book.

ME: (Thinks: "AAAAAAAAH!") Oh! Um. Did you...like it?

SHIKA-SENSEI: (makes a kind of "Ehhh…" face)

ME: ...Oh. What, um, what was wrong with it?

SHIKA-SENSEI: It was the prologue.

I kind of had a feeling she was going to say that. I don't remember word-for-word what she said next, but what it boiled down to was, "Look, Jude, this is much too grim. It doesn't matter if the gory parts ARE only in the prologue; the reader doesn't know that, and if you make it too gruesome, then most of them won't keep reading long enough to find out. You know what needs fixing, now all you have to do is get to it."

Deep down, I knew she was right, so as soon as I got back from class that evening, I sat down and ripped out chunks of the Prologue. A lot of minor NPCs were cut (Dennison was originally leading a team of searchers instead of going after Kata alone) and the amount of blood and death was reduced by about 99%. I still have the original somewhere, but I don't dare reread it. Shika-sensei was absolutely right and I'll always be grateful to her for that advice.

5. Let's move on to Homecoming. We've already discussed the world building in it, but why did you decide to branch out on this and visit different places instead of staying low budget?

The first book is quite claustrophobic, in that all the characters except Renfield (and, very briefly, Kata) spend their whole time in the same few rooms. While this was intentional as it adds to the trapped feeling and ties in with the whole loss of time Kata feels, I had 5-6 planets sitting there doing nothing. It also follows a natural progression: Kata's homeworld is Trandellia, so it makes sense he wants to go back there.

Trandellia itself is described in the first book as being very similar to Earth in appearance, so it's not too CGI-heavy. Atthiras with its alien creatures is much more exotic. I'm saving Akkhen for Book 3; while Kata spends a lot of time with Akkhenians in Homecoming, we don't get to really see their world in this book.

We also learn a lot about the habitations on the original worlds (ie, Mercury through Pluto) and what happened to them, why the so-called "Old Worlds" including Earth are seldom, if ever, mentioned and how and why people ended up on planets like Akkhen in the first place.

6. Tau grew up in the lab. How much does he develop and grow in this second book?

About as much as you'd expect. He's very intelligent, but he has absolutely no experience of the outside world. He's never seen a building, or an animal, or weather. So, you know, one minute he's challenging the human viewpoint on Projects and their treatment, and the next minute he's freaking out at the sight of grass.

Indoctrination being what it is, one thing that doesn't change is Tau's opinion of himself; he's still convinced that, as a Project – a human clone – he can't survive without a human owner. So while part of him hates that idea, he has no concept of how to relate to people outside of the owner-animal relationship. He wants to break free from the past, but he has no idea how.

7. You've stated that in these books, clones aren't even slaves. They'd be considered more like livestock. By the end of the series, will we see that change?

That would be telling ;) But yeah, they're definitely livestock. We saw how the scientists and handlers treat them in Project Tau, but in this book we see how society and the law in general treats them. As for whether it will change or not, the honest answer is that I don't know. I have the next 4-5 books in the series planned out, but I don't see the series itself ending anytime soon. Like I mentioned before, cloning to GenTech's level is very much a new science at this stage in the books, so the idea of rights for them isn't even on the table. Right now, Projects are like tanks: everyone knows they exist, most people know what they look like, but 99% of people never have and never will have a close encounter with one.

I also don't intend to make every single book another retelling of Kata vs. GenTech – Books 3 and 5 don't feature GenTech at all, apart from it being mentioned in connection with Tau and Kata's past – and as the series goes on, we'll get to see a lot more of the corporation itself.

Bottom line, GenTech isn't essentially evil. The scientists there are responsible for cloning things like organs and bone marrow for transplants – that's where they come by the money they need to finance Project research and development – and also for most medicines. Kata just got unlucky in that the lab he chose to break into happened to be run by a pair of crazy people ;) Anyone except Mason and Dennison who caught him sneaking around in Book 1 would simply have detained him before sending him back to the college in disgrace. So it's always possible that change will come from within GenTech itself, as Projects gradually become more common.

8. You've stated you don't like cliffhangers. Can your books stand alone? Is there enough information given in each one?

I hope so. I try to cover the salient points in each book without being repetitive. Basically, the first time I mention information, I go into depth. The second time, it's a brief recap. Every time after that, it's a short sentence (eg, readers from Book 3 onwards will know that Kata and Tau escaped the labs, but not much more than that). This kind of fits with the characters' POV as well; more recent events are going to be uppermost in their minds, but as the series progresses, so the characters get on with their lives. Kata's racked with guilt over his actions in GenTech for much of Homecoming, but as the series moves on, so does he. I don't think he'll ever fully get over it, but he'll learn to deal with it a lot better.

9. In a previous interview, you talked about a thriller you wrote called Tsunami. Can you tell us more about that and when we can expect the e-book to be released?

The story follows two young women from very different backgrounds: Alex Fox, a 23-year-old British badass who's been homeless and drifting through Europe and Africa since she was 14 (very long, prequel-y story!) before ending up on La Palma, Canary Islands; and Rochelle Tranter, a very spoiled 18-year-old Californian princess who's there on vacation with her business tycoon father Murray.

Without giving too much away, Alex gets Rochelle out of a nasty situation and a grateful Murray hires her to act as his daughter's bodyguard and companion while he flies off to Morocco to do some business deals. Alex and Rochelle stumble upon a terrorist group who are trying to trigger a landslide and spark a tsunami that could wipe out a chunk of America's east coast. Since nobody believes them – the tsunami theory is a real one, meaning the police have had to deal with several pranks and well-meaning but terrified people – the pair of them have to find a way to stop the terrorists themselves.

The paperback seemed popular; I remember meeting with the owner of a low-budget movie studio who was interested in the novel and its potential as a movie. We sat down and chatted for awhile about potential filming locations etcetera, and then he said he wasn't sure if his people could adapt it because one of the main characters spends a lot of her time alone in the beginning, and thoughts and realizations which work just fine in prose don't work on screen. So I just said, "Okay, if I adapt it, will you consider it?" and he agreed. So, you know, there I was with no background in screenwriting, no knowledge of how to lay out a movie script. My stepfather has a background in TV, and he had a few books on the subject, one of which he loaned me. I read it cover to cover, then adapted Tsunami to screenplay, checking every single line against the formatting and examples given in that book.

Unfortunately, the studio went bankrupt before anything more could come of it :( The Tsunami screenplay gathered dust for a number of years before I went to film school in Tokyo. Doug Campbell showed an interest in it and so I sent it to him, and he was very supportive of it, enough to make me think that maybe Tsunami deserved another chance.

The problem is that it needs a lot of work doing to it in terms of fleshing out and rewriting. As it stands, it's around 65,000 words (to give you some comparison, Project Tau clocks in at 90,000 and Homecoming at 130,000). Also, it was written prior to Tau, and so a lot of the references and technology etc would need to be updated. It's not so much of an issue in sci-fi, where people might decide to reject some technology while adapting others (sci-fi doesn't automatically mean hi-tech) but given the pace of technology, contemporary fiction shows its age very quickly.

It's like one of the main characters, Alex, is 23 because I was 22-23 when I wrote it, so I simply used my own memories as a benchmark for what her childhood might have been like. If I set it in the present day, Alex would have been born in the late 90s, and most of her references would sound very strange. Turning the clock back 15 years isn't far enough to make any difference to the plot, and I think would strike a lot of people as lazy writing. Yet a lot of the plot developments come about because Alex has very limited experience with modern-day tech, such as the internet and cell phones. This makes some sense for someone who was born in the early 80s and homeless in a foreign country at 14 (I was 14 when I saw my first website, and at 16 I was training people in my grandfather's company on email and teaching my mother how to use the internet and bookmark sites) but not for someone born around the turn of the millennium. Likewise, the circumstances leading up to Alex's being homeless and a drifter at that age are reasonably plausible for happening in the early/mid-90s, but wouldn't work for readers now.

So I have no concrete release date for the ebook in mind. I'm currently working on Projects Book 3 and Book 1 of a humorous fantasy series side-by-side, so Tsunami is kind of an as-and-when project for me. I'll post on my social media sites when I have firm news, and also in the newsletter as well.

10. Is there anything else you want someone reading this interview to know?

First of all, the sequel to Project Tau, Homecoming, is now available for pre-order and will be released on March 30! </shameless plug>

Secondly, this is going to sound corny, but I want to thank everyone who's read (and especially those who have reviewed!) Project Tau so far. OBC rules mean that I can't reply to reviews or contact the reviewers directly, but I want people to know that I read every single one of them, and use the comments to improve both this book and my future writing projects.

As for the rest, I can't think of anything. But I'm always open to questions, so if anyone reading this has anything at all they want to ask me, feel free to post away in the comments!
Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.
-Louisa May Alcott
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Post by DEEPA PUJARI »

I have read Project Tau and planning to read Homecoming soon. All the characters in the book are so beautifully crafted.
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Post by JudasFm »

DEEPA PUJARI wrote: 17 Apr 2020, 09:46 I have read Project Tau and planning to read Homecoming soon. All the characters in the book are so beautifully crafted.
Thank you so much :D I really hope you enjoy Homecoming :D
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