Author Interview: Francis H Powell
“Death is always a wild adventure that can’t be ignored.” Since the moment a child understands that life can vanish in unexplained ways, curiosity and fear create infinite questions, infinite fantasies. Francis H Powell’s short stories often explore these themes, accumulating into his new novel, Adventures of Death, Reincarnation and Annihilation, where quirky characters experience the past, the present, and the future in horrific, witty, and strange ways.
Born in Reading, England, Powell studied painting with an MA in printmaking before moving to Austria to teach English as a foreign language. There, he pursued his artistic goals, beginning his writing career in 1995. Currently, he resides in Brittany, France, writing both prose and short stories.
You describe Adventures of Death, Reincarnation and Annihilation as “set in [a] different time in a variety of settings and time periods, the past, the present and the future.” It explores the concept of Death in an age where the doomsday clock is ticking closer. How much of current events and your own life inspired and influenced the story?
I suppose, like many people, I am fascinated by Death. Also, there have been some dark times recently. I was living near Paris when there were terrorist attacks, my son was young and I think this affected me deeply. I was reading newspapers on the internet, which were obsessed with doom and gloom, terrorists, planets crashing into earth, the end of the world, and all this weighed strongly on my mind.
Is there something specific you want your readers to take away from this story in particular?
Not exactly, I would like them just to enjoy the stories mostly. There are elements in some stories, that we are systematically destroying this planet, that humans are destructive people.
How did the characters surprise you while you were writing?
The first and major story is based on a character called the Master, we don’t discover who he really is, whether he really exists, or is just a figment of somebody’s imagination.
The book discusses the afterlife, unreliable characters, and creative worlds. How do you think spirituality and imagination are correlated, and how much do you believe in what you described?
I was a child; I was brought up a Catholic. This undeniably had an effect on my thinking. In this book, I researched Pagan ideas. A book is a great chance to increase an author’s knowledge and explore untapped ideas and the depths of one’s own imagination. A book can be like an exciting journey.
Throughout history, humans have sought immortality, and there are many themes of people pursuing it above all costs. Do you think this will lead to our eventual dehumanization? How have you depicted immortality and transcendence in your writing?
With my first story, The Master, it is more about reincarnation, which is something I feel is a possibility; it makes our lives make sense if we go onto another life. Maybe there are a lot of old souls about. Everybody is afraid of Death, from an early age, I have seen that with my young son, however, Death is a part of life and if we were given some kind of incredible medicine, that would guarantee immortality, would we take it?
Life is exhausting and a burden, most of the time, but having a child means you wish to spend as much time with them in your life to see them grow and develop.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
More the former than the latter.
How much do you think about your readers during the writing and editing processes? How do you determine if something “works” or doesn’t?
Probably not as much as I should, I suppose if something works for me, hopefully, it will work for them.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I suppose a book has to make sense, be understandable, to be well crafted and flow.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
This is hard to answer, sometimes I come back to old stories and develop them.
What’s your writing process look like?
Probably to an outsider, a bit messy. I can be walking my dog, and in the meantime, my head is full of ideas about what is going to happen next, I am always plotting and planning. Sometimes I write ideas on scraps of paper.
What was your hardest scene to write?
I can’t really recall, but at times I am struggling to write something, but I find a way to overcome such problems
What did you edit out of this book?”
The publisher edited it, and it seemed to keep all the main ideas intact, which was pleasing to me.
How did you determine the ages of the characters?
You have to knit the story together, and this comes quite naturally.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends on the story, but with this book, I needed to. I had to read scientific articles, pagan religion, Scandinavian names, it can be weird stuff.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I am not sure, but my second book moves into new areas, for example, science fiction and fantasy. There are connections between the two books, but also an evolution
Does your family support your career as a writer?
Not really. My wife shows interest. There have been some writers in my family: an uncle wrote historical books and a great-aunt, who I never met, was a well-known poet and was part of the Bloomsbury set.
What does literary success look like to you?
I suppose people cherishing stories and having a hunger to read stories. Being productive and having books published.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
There is quite a lot on my hard drive that haven’t seen light of day, but as I said before, they could be polished and one day may be published.
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
The only thing I can think of is companies that say they love your book, but then say you have to pay for it to be published. (flattery publishing???)
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I had a friend when I was at Art College, Rupert Thompson, who has written some great books, have not seen him in a long time. :
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
Most likely, it is better to be humble and always aspire to write better things, not to rest on one’s laurels.
What are common obstacles for aspiring writers? Did you experience them?
Finding your style and finding an outlet for your work. Dealing with rejections.
How important is self-awareness in writing?
I guess you have to know yourself and where you are going to be able to write assured stories.
If you got to start over in life, what would you do as a child to improve your writing career?
I suppose this depends a lot on opportunities. I was sent to some terrible boarding schools, but in a way, this has helped me write about this world. Ideally, as a child, it would have been great to travel more, visit places in Africa and India, for example. I am sure travel fires the imagination and gives you a head filled with vivid memories and recollections, that can be used in later life.
If you could give advice to lovers of Adventures of Death, Reincarnation and Annihilation, what would you want to tell them?
Hopefully, the world won’t end soon and will happily keep on spinning. Keep going in your lives. Look after your families and loved ones. Sleep well at night. Don’t let the newspapers drag you down - with their often nightmarish headlines. There is life beyond some of the present money-grabbing, power-hungry world leaders, I am sure. The world is going through a sticky patch, but surely there is light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s hope the future generations do better than the present generation and respect both people and the planet in a better way.
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THE MASTER’S HOUSE
The strange goings on in the life of Amos Toft.
We had found her face down on the
sand, as the tide closed in. The moon shed silvery
light and there was a soft gentle offshore breeze
that glanced our faces. We’d run out of our
house, having seen torch light. They had left as
quickly as they had arrived. There were sounds
of horses, leaving at speed, shadowy figures,
hooded, dressed like soldiers, soon fading into
the horizon. We presumed she was dead and
were relieved when she spluttered and coughed
and fought for breath.
“Let’s get her inside” my wife said urgently. She
was totally naked and had no possessions.
“Are you all right?” I demanded. She did not
respond. I repeated myself again, there was just
the sound of her heavy labored breathing.
“She appears in terrible shock” my wife said, as
we helped her up. We draped one of her arms
over my wife’s shoulders while I propped the
other. We struggled along the sand and then
headed towards our small house, which looked
over the large bay.
“What’s your name?” I asked, expecting by now
she was in some kind of condition to speak.
Again no response, her eyes were fixed on the
ground, she made no attempt to speak.
We got her back to the house and sat her down on
What had happened? Why had
she been left naked on the sand, as the tide came
in? What was going through her mind? My wife
got a towel and offered it to her to clean her and
cover her naked body.
“She will have to stay the night, it is late, at least
she will be safe here,” my wife said before
searching for some clothes. I hardly dared not
look at her. She was evidently young, very
beautiful, with long flaxen hair that cascaded
down her back.
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