Who is Seth Patrick?
Seth Patrick was born in Northern Ireland. An Oxford mathematics graduate, he spent the last decade working as a programmer in an award-winning games company before becoming a full-time writer. He lives in England with his wife and two young children.
REVIVER, his debut novel, is the first in a trilogy. Film rights have been optioned by Legendary Pictures, the company behind Inception and Man of Steel.
How long have you been designing games and how did you get started?
I’ve been programming since I was eleven years old and got my first home computer, a ZX81. I’d always wanted to write games for a living, but it wasn’t until I hit thirty that I went for it. As a kid, it had always seemed like the only people who wrote games were the seriously low-level coders, the ones who spent every moment of their waking lives wringing what they could out of a machine, but the industry has long since got past that. Nowadays, if you’re a solid programmer you’ve got a good chance.
You were recently part of the team who brought TOTAL WAR: ROME II to market. What was your role in this? Is bringing a game like this to life a lot of fun, or is it more of a game of mundane stress, deadlines and technical challenges?
I was lead campaign programmer, in charge of the coding team for – if you’re familiar with the series – the world-level strategy gameplay. I’ve been part of the Total War team for thirteen years, since the original Rome game. There’s certainly plenty of stress, deadlines, and technical challenges involved; the fun is there, but it tends to take a back seat in the bigger projects as there’s just so much to do. It’s more about satisfaction with what you’re getting done, solving the issues day-to-day. Expansions for a game end up being much more fun, as there’s time to fix the niggling issues and more opportunity to simply enjoy playing the game.
“I prefer writing prose to code, overall. The scope is unlimited, the results are more immediate, and novels don’t tend to need a hundred-strong team to write.”
Which is more difficult: writing a novel, or building games? Why? Do you have a preference of one over the other?
They’re very different beasts, not least because novels are mainly a solo effort, while my career in games has always been as part of a larger team. Coding has certain advantages over novels, in that you get some sanity checking as you go, and can at least be sure that what you write does roughly what you want it to do.
With prose you’re keeping your fingers crossed, and the computer won’t come back and tell you about most of the serious errors lurking in your work. Yet.
I prefer writing prose to code, overall. The scope is unlimited, the results are more immediate, and novels don’t tend to need a hundred-strong team to write.
How are you able to work full time (a bit of a misnomer as no tech job is 9-5) and write a full blown novel? It’s obviously a challenge, but how do you manage it without losing your sanity, and still meet all your deadlines?
I started on Reviver in 2004, about a month after the first Rome: Total War was published. During some of the games I’ve worked on since then, my sanity was very much under threat! When my second child was born, my job was going through the worst crunch I’ve ever experienced. The combination was a killer, and I simply didn’t get any writing done for six months.
Writing the second book has been difficult. From conception to publication Reviver took almost nine years, and suddenly I was going to have to finish a book in a year, but ever since the movie rights sold I’d been planning on leaving my job shortly after Rome 2 was released. (I gave almost a year’s notice, which I think was a record…) It wasn’t an easy choice – I loved my job, but there was no way I could keep doing both.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I left to write full-time. My colleagues were joking that the first thing I’d do would be to download Unity (the game development engine) and start working on some Android apps. I laughed, but yeah, about five days later I was playing around with it. So, when my job was coding, my hobby was writing; now my job is writing, and my hobby is coding. Full circle!
Is REVIVER your first published novel? How long did it take you to write it? Did you always see this as a series, and if so, how many novels did you envision?
It’s the first novel I’ve ever completed, but not my first attempt. A few others went awry, but the underlying ideas were good ones, and I hope to get around to doing them justice in future.
“It’s the first novel I’ve ever completed, but not my first attempt. A few others went awry, but the underlying ideas were good ones, and I hope to get around to doing them justice in future.”
Getting a draft of Reviver took about fifteen months, but it was seven years of reworking before I was happy to let anyone read more than the opening five chapters. When I finally sent it off to an agent, I put it in the (physical!) mail one Tuesday afternoon, feeling sick with the fear of what the response would be, and expecting not to hear for weeks. I got an email from the agent the very next evening, 27 hours later, raving about it.
For most of the time I was writing Reviver, I planned it as a single book, with the traditional horror open-ending. When my wife was finally allowed to read the whole novel, she was stunned that I didn’t intend to continue the story. At the time I had no idea where to take it, and it wasn’t until I found a direction I was happy with that it became a trilogy.
You’re committed to two more novels in the REVIVER series, do you have plans to go beyond a trilogy? Do you have any other novels planned outside the series?
I have a few ideas for further books in the same setting, but there are other projects calling me, some of which I’d been working on before I started Reviver. Also, I’ve signed up to do the novelizations of the TV series The Returned, which airs on the Sundance Channel this coming Halloween night.
What was your experience in pitching your novel to publishers? Did/do you have an agent? Any advice for would be writers?
Thankfully I have an agent. I’d be terrible at pitching.
Things are changing so much right now, but I’d certainly recommend getting an agent. Really, if you can’t find an agent who likes what you do, there’s a good chance you’ve not hit the level of ability you need to be able to sell your work. A good agent is invaluable to help you hone your skills and get your writing into better shape. I think I learned as much in the six months since I got my agent as I’d learned through years of writing. Also, frankly, an agent will pay for themselves, promoting you in the industry, getting you a better deal, and handling much of the hassle.
Given your technical expertise, did you ever consider publishing REVIVER yourself digitally or was it always a ‘publisher or bust’ thing for you?
Self-publishing was certainly in my mind as a possibility, but thankfully it didn’t come to that. The version of Reviver I sent to my agent was nowhere near as good as the version that was published, but I’d thought it was finished. The help I got, both from my agent and my editor, transformed it into something so much stronger that it amazes me how I thought the early draft was ready. But I had so much to learn.
Self-publishing is a serious option, but publishing is a lottery at the best of times, and self-pub even more so. However many stories you hear about writers taking the self-pub route to huge success, remember the tens of thousands of equally-confident writers struggling to sell more than a dozen copies, and realize that many of them are as good as some of those who struck it big.
Good traditional publishers invest in their writers, and give them a much better chance of finding lasting success as an author, so I think that’s still the goal a writer should aim for, but it’s not the only option. With self-pub and online writing groups, you have a path to grow your own career, even if it becomes more traditional later. As a writer, you also have the benefit of absolute anonymity if you want it, so you can play around and keep the embarrassments to a pen name.
But like I said, I thought my book was ready-to-print when it wasn’t anywhere close, so remember: if you don’t think you have a hell of a lot to learn, then you have a hell of a lot to learn.
What are your thoughts on the ebook vs traditional publishing? Is digital just the way of the future, an adapt or die mentality?
Long term, I think the paper/ebook question is irrelevant, as print-on-demand will become cheaper than mass-printing/storing/shipping, so eventually that side of traditional publishing will go.
I also think that less greedy ebook gateways will become the norm, taking a few percent rather than the level Amazon does now – 30% on novels, up to 70% for short fiction!
As for the rest, you can look at it from the reader’s perspective or from the writer’s.
For readers, the big fear for me would be things going the way of phone app markets – vast amounts of terrible, terrible stuff; what you hear about being almost random, easily missing books that are Just Your Thing; and a top 100 that doesn’t ever seem to change.
For mid-list established writers, losing the system of advances would be a massive issue for many. A guarantee of a minimum income from a novel, some of which arrives before you’ve written it, and a contracted deadline, are spurs for getting on with the job. On the other hand, the ability to write and publish with a much faster turnaround – and publish shorter fiction, too – is a huge change that offers great potential.
The role of traditional publishers will change significantly over the next decade, but I think they’re very much needed if we’re to avoid the kind of spam phase the app markets are seeing. What they become beyond that will depend how well they adapt, but I think predictions of their demise are mistaken.
We’ll need reliable indicators of quality, and as long as they can keep the trust of readers they’ll survive, and perhaps flourish, because I really think the market could grow massively. When I find a book that I love, I read it in a day or two. With a book I don’t love, but like enough to finish, it may take me a week or more. The borderline ones, where I’m often on the cusp of giving up – those are the ones that take the longest. I could be reading those damn things for weeks. That’s a big paradox for me, that I spend more time reading books I don’t even like than I spend reading books I love. If I could be reasonably sure what I’d love before I commit to reading, I’d read about ten times the number of books I currently read. That, I think, is something publishers need to tap, because the occasional phenomenon like Fifty Shades shows there are a hell of a lot of people out there who enjoy reading, but need to be confident they’ll not regret starting a book. (For all the good that literary awards supposedly do in promoting reading, I suspect the majority prodded into ‘giving reading another go’ end up having no fun whatsoever and absolutely regretting it.)
If publishers and booksellers could nail that, making readers confident in the recommendations they get, I honestly think the market would double or triple in size.
According to your blog, LEGENDARY PICTURES has optioned REVIVER and a script is in writing. Can you tell us anything else about the film version? Are there any rumors floating about on who’ll play Jonah?
No news yet, these things take time. I think all three Reviver novels will have been published before it goes into production, so if you want to spot the ideal Jonah you’d need to watch out for someone up-and-coming over the next year or two. They’d have to capture the young-vulnerable-sensitive vibe so well that they’d be, I guess, a male Jennifer Lawrence. Good luck to the casting agent!
“I did see that Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron said he wanted to direct a horror film next. I’m not sure how many chickens I need to sacrifice for that one but I’ll give it a go.”
I did see that Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron said he wanted to direct a horror film next. I’m not sure how many chickens I need to sacrifice for that one but I’ll give it a go.
What was it like when you learned LEGENDARY wanted to option your novel? Did you celebrate with a beer, or have to go back to work? Was just the one optioned, or the trilogy?
They have the rights to the trilogy, and God, yes, that was out of the blue and totally overwhelming. I heard about the possibility of it late one afternoon at work, and was waiting, breath held, until I got the call about nine that evening. I had beer, believe me.
When my agent told me it was the producers of Batman, my first thoughts were, ‘which Batman? The Animated Series? Tim Burton? Adam West?’ There was no way it was the Dark Knight producers, right?
But it was. Beer!
Who are the authors that you like to read? Are there any that particularly motivated you to be an author?
The writers who first made me love reading were Stephen King, Clive Barker, Greg Bear, and Alan Moore. Their stuff just captivated me.
Since starting Reviver, the irony is I had very little opportunity to read, so it’s only in the last year that I’ve been catching up on what I’ve been missing.
What are your plans for the future? Do you see yourself leaving tech behind and focusing on your writing, or trying to maintain a balance (whatever that is, lol) between two passions?
Writing is going to be the main focus, definitely, but now that the tech side is more of a hobby, I suspect it’ll become my guilty pleasure. There’s just too much great stuff out there, and suddenly most kinds of creative software are accessible to everyone for free without compromising quality. Anyone with a PC has immediate access to superb tools for game development, animation, 3D modeling, desktop music, and filmmaking. It used to be that writing was one of the few creative arts that had effectively zero cost outlay, but now that’s the rule rather than the exception. All you need is a computer. That’s a pretty exciting time to be alive.
Daniel S Boucher