RHIZA PRESS: Tell us about the your name, C.T. Wells - real name or pen name?
WELLS: Well, yes, it’s real. They’re my middle initials. My first name is Peter, and I get called ‘Pete’ but there are too many Peter Wells out there ranging from dead rock stars to writers of economics textbooks, so I had to go with something else. Initials seemed to work for the likes of Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling, so I thought I’d try that. Oh, and Herbert George Wells went with initials too.
RHIZA PRESS: No relation?
WELLS: Not that I know of.
RHIZA PRESS: So tells us about the new novel, The Kingdom of the Air...
WELLS: It’s a historical thriller, set in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. It centres on a young Luftwaffe pilot called Josef Schafer, who is shot down over England. He is captured, but then he’s sent back to occupied France with a specific job to do for the Special Operations Executive.
RHIZA PRESS: So given that he’s a German, why does he help the British?
WELLS: I can’t tell you that. Its classified. Readers will see how they apply some leverage...
RHIZA PRESS: Aviation plays a large part in the novel. Would you call it a techno-thriller?
WELLS: Maybe a “retro-techno-thriller”, if there’s such a thing. I don’t understand modern technology enough to write a contemporary techno-thriller.
RHIZA PRESS: So did you have to do a lot of research to set the story in 1940?
WELLS: Yes. I usually write with another screen open to check my facts as I go. I don’t want to be a slave to historical accuracy, but it is important to try to be true to time and place. Anachronisms and historical errors can really derail a story.
RHIZA PRESS: But details give a ring of authenticity to the story, right?
WELLS: Sure. I like to know things like the brand of a cigarette or the calibre of a pistol. Or whether wildflowers grow in Normandy...
RHIZA PRESS: What drew you to that era?
WELLS: When we read a novel of this sort, it’s essentially so we can escape from our ordinary life. I find there’s something compelling about the thirties and forties. Close enough to be relatable, but far enough to be escapist. Everything from the styles of that period to the overwhelmingly high stakes of the second world war is engaging for me. Of course, there are some cool planes to write about too!
RHIZA PRESS: The Kingdom of the Air is set against a backdrop of war and espionage in a time of fear and violence. Would you say it is a dark story?
WELLS: It’s certainly set in a grim time of history, and it tries to be real about that, but it also explores how character can prevail under those circumstances. I think there is a redemptive element to it. It’s essentially an action story, but hopefully readers find some head and heart in there as well.
RHIZA PRESS: You said “heart”... does that mean romance?
WELLS: Yes, but it’s tough for relationships to develop when you’re on opposite sides of a war.
RHIZA PRESS: The Kingdom of the Air has won some awards – The Caleb Award and The Clive Cussler Adventure Writer’s Competition. Does this make it literary fiction?
WELLS: It’s not necessarily setting out to be something like that. I hope it’s a smart thriller. A gripping story, but maybe there’s something to think about as well.
RHIZA PRESS: And the title, The Kingdom of the Air, is that a reference to The Battle of Britain?
WELLS: Yes, but it’s also a phrase from the Book of Ephesians in The Bible. It alludes to the death and rebirth theme in the story.
RHIZA PRESS: Speaking of death and rebirth, is it true that you nearly died during the publication of the novel?
WELLS: Yes, it is true. I was in Jakarta and on my way to Las Vegas for the Adventure Writers’ Competition Awards and my taxi got hit by an out-of-control dump truck. My son and I were in a bad way with internal injuries. We had emergency surgery, followed by several weeks in hospital. But we’ve pulled through OK. We’re very thankful to be alive, but it was a very close call.
RHIZA PRESS: Well, we’re all pleased that you’re still here. This is the first novel you’ve published. When did you start and how did you write it while working full time?
WELLS: It took nearly five years from inception to publication. But even if you’re time-poor, you can still produce a thousand words a week. If you do that for two years, you’ve got a full length manuscript. The thing is, you have to keep believing in the story over that period of time. Even Stephen King says he has to write fast to outrun self-doubt.
RHIZA PRESS: Well the story seems to be gathering plenty of interest now. And what’s next for you? Anything else in the works?
WELLS: I’m half way through the sequel now.
RHIZA PRESS: Thanks for sharing with us and all the best for The Kingdom of the Air.
The Kingdom of the Air comes out 1 April.