Cover of Virtually MariaCover of A Matter of TimeCover of Yesterday Today and Tomorrow  



by John Joyce




John Joyce on writing Virtually Maria

Cover of Virtually Maria



What sort of books do you write?

I write well plotted and well researched thrillers about unique characters in difficult situations. These books are often set against technological backgrounds with a hint of the paranormal - and yet the main driving force of each story is the characters, who I try to make as human and understandable as possible.

My aim is to transport the reader into the alternative world of each thriller for as long as they are reading the book. I take a great deal of effort to reseach each story, to plot it carefully and to craft each character so they are as lifelike and sympathetic as they can be.

There is often a sense of tragedy about my heroes and heroines, but also a sense of humour and justice as well. I hope you will enjoy reading each book as much as I have in researching and writing them.

What is Virtually Maria about?

While Virtually Maria and the other two books in the Virtual Trilogy are written as high-tech thrillers and contain all the detail and plotting that you would expect from a Micheal Crichton or Tom Clancy book, they are in essence a love story.

The plot focusses on the relationship between a man and his wife - how he loses her in a bomb-blast that was meant to kill him and how, once presented with the possibility that her death might be prevented by warping time, he moves heaven and earth to make it happen.

It is a story of love, loss and obsession with righting past wrongs. As such, I think it should appeal to lovers of romantic quests, fans of high-tech thrillers and readers who just want a good long yarn to lose themselves in for a while.

What made you want to become an author?

As a child, I used to (and still do) spend a lot of time reading and creating my own in imaginary worlds inside my head. Writing, for me, is about spending time exploring other places and meeting new people who gradually reveal themselves to you as you write. It is not so much about creating something new perhaps, as it is about uncovering what is there already.

After a while, whateve plot I'm working on takes on a life of its own and all I have to do is to keep writing as it reveals itself to me. If writing is going well, I'm literally transported to another place and time passes incredibly quickly.

What is the practical process of writing for you?

For me, the initial inspiration usually comes with a single scene, a possible book title or an idea. If I'm lucky, that idea or scene starts to develop into a series of other ideas that eventually link up into some kind of story line. At that point, I try and get two or three weeks away from the "day job" and writing the first draft - which I aim to complete in one go without stopping - typing it straight onto a laptop.

It is through this process of being "locked away" with the book, that I get to know all the characters, the locations and the main points of the story. I think as I write and, because I am constantly typing, I have a finished draft of a novel, ready to develop.

From there, I take this first draft and break its plot down into a structure - a beginning, a middle and an end - with a main story and a number of sub-plots.

I look at structure and, above all, I develop the characters that I've met in the first draft. I also do the necessary research regarding locations, timelines and any technology I might employ. The purpose of all this background work is to have enough ground work done to embark on the second draft, which will be close to how the finished novel will read.

Then, usually a year after writing the first draft, I take it and all my notes, charts and diagrams and lock myself away for another three weeks to write the second draft.

This time I write much more slowly and attempt to get all my facts, characters and storylines correct as I write. Again, this is undertaken in one setting, to get me back into the world of the novel. Once this second draft is done, it is only a matter of editing and polishing to reach the final draft that goes to my agent.

The whole process, from conception to the handing in of the finished manuscript takes me around two years - but then again, that is part time writing. If I am ever lucky enough to become a full time author, then the process will take less time to complete.

Where did you get the idea for Virtually Maria?

Virtually Maria came not from one idea, but from a collection of several themes that I wanted to explore. I had always been fascinated by unexplained phenomena - such as why the Pyramids were built, what happens in the Bermuda Triangle, and why the Nazca Lines in Peru only make sense from the air, even though they were drawn hundreds of years before man learned to fly.

I always wanted to believe that there was some common, some thread linking all these phenomena, and was also fascinated by the idea of exploring ancient mysteries with cutting edge technology. I wanted to write a book, or indeed a series of books, based on these ideas and all I needed was a human story to do it. That was when the character of Theo Gilkrensky came along, with his quest to save his beloved Maria from death. He had the motive, and the money to find the missing link between all these mysteries.

What inspired the character of Gilkrensky?

Theo Gilkrensky is a mixture of Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Howard Hughes - with a large helping of tragedy thrown into the mix. His character came from a scene that popped into my head of a very rich and powerful man running to a helicopter with a briefcase of important papers in his hand. The man was rushing to a vital business appointment, but fell dead of a heart attack before he could even make it to the chopper. As he fell, the important papers where whisked up in the draught of the helicopter blades and scattered to the four winds.

I suppose the idea was born in my head that a man could have all the money and power in the world and still lose that which is most dear to him - in this case his own life. But to have a character that would relentlessly carry a story through an entire novel, or even a series of novels, I couldn't kill him off in the first scene. So I had to have him lose something else - something far more important than his own life - his wife, Maria.

I also wanted Theo to be an rich and powerful man, an adventurers and a master of cutting-edge technology - the way Howard Hughes was before he became a recluse. But, above all, I also wanted him to be a sympathetic character that readers could identify with - someone who could be faithful in love beyond death, someone who would not let go, even when all hope was gone. Someone that readers could be rooting for, right to the final chapter of the story.

Did you set out to write a trilogy from the start?

Initially, it was to be just one book, inspired by a charity mission that my wife Jane and I made to Egypt and the Pyramid site at Giza just after we were married. The first drafts of Virtually Maria - which was initially called Gilkrensky and the Pyramid - was a simple thriller based around Theo trying to find out what had caused the advanced robot autopilot he had invented to crash outside Cairo.

But the more I worked on subsequent drafts, the more the story deepened and developed into a quest that would carry Theo beyond a simple investigation into "Pyramid Power". Adversaries that were worthy of him and mysteries that I knew would fascinate my readers as much as they fascinated me sprang up out of nowhere.

And the more I researched the phenomena of ley lines and cosmic energy, the more the story developed and grew. I began to imagine links between global phenomena such as the Bermuda Triangle, the placing of the Pyramids, the Nazca Lines and ancient monuments such as Stonehenge. I reseached artificial intelligence and imagined what it would be like to interact with a computer that was developing "a mind of its own".

Pretty soon, the themes of the Virtual Trilogy - the quest to save Maria, the uncovering of a network of cosmic energy, and the gradually developing emotions of the Minerva 3000 computer became too big for just one book - and the Virtual Trilogy was born.

What about Yukiko Funakoshi?

I needed an enemy for Theo Gilkrensky who was not only convincingly motivated to bring about his destruction, but believable enough for readers to sympathise with. Making Yukiko a person who has suffered humiliation and rejection in her childhood, and been robbed of both parents at what she believes were Theo's hands, makes her a character that readers can root for as much as they can for Theo himself.

Making her a beautiful woman who is not only unafaid to use seduction as a weapon, but is also an absolute mistress of death and destruction, gives her a cocktail of attraction and menace I hope readers will find exciting - particularly when she comes into contact with men who think she is harmless.

Was it difficult to get Virtually Maria published?

It was incredibly difficult to get Virtually Maria published. I had at least twenty-five rejections before Poolbeg Press, who had already published my Captain Cockle children's books, called me up and said they would like to publish Virtually Maria.

The manuscripts used to come back time and time again. Failure in writing is the thud, thud, thud of the returned manuscripts come back through the letterbox. Success is the ring of a telephone. You just have to keep trying.

What was it like to hold a copy of the book in your hand?

It's hard to describe. I had the feeling of all those years of research and writing, all that hard work, all those pages and notebooks of draft after draft after draft, being crystalised into that one blue-covered book that I could hold in my hand.

As a man I have know way of knowing, but perhaps a woman who gives birth to a child feels the same way about her newborn baby as I felt about that first copy of Virtually Maria. I had created something that had a life of its own. It was an unforgettable feeling. If my readers get even a tiny fraction of the enjoyment in reading these books as I got in creating Virtually Maria, A Matter of Time and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, they will not be disappointed.


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Copyright John Joyce 2008