After the recent launch of his first novel, THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!, Tony Slater has been seeing wonderful sales and reviews of his book. He agreed to sit down and play my game with me and you all get a peek into his funny mind! So let’s start!
Question 1) Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m quite strange. I’ve never grown up – people say that about guys all the time – but I still play with Lego. Cooking anything more complex than beans on toast brings me out in a cold sweat – when my fiancé is away I live almost exclusively on corn flakes. And I have the world’s worst sense of humour, unless you count my Dad. He knows more than twenty bad jokes just about eggs, which he cracks without warning.
2.) How long have you been writing?
For ever, of course – but seriously, for six years.
3.) Do you have a preferred genre that you read?
Is it the same as what you write? I love to read fantasy novels, I’m a massive Lord of the Rings fan – which is about as far from my genre as possible! I also read lots of non-fiction – ancient history, technology – again, not in my genre unless I absolutely have to!
4.) What is the title of your book and where can it be found?
5.) Describe your novel in 15 words or less.
Comedy Travel Adventure – with teeth! – A three-month-long near-death experience in South America.
6.) Where did the inspiration for your story come from?
I lived it. I went to do some volunteering in Ecuador because I wanted to travel the world, but was too scared to set off on my own with no experience. This was supposed to ease me into it! After the craziest, wildest, most painful three months of my life, as I was leaving the animal refuge where I’d contributed more blood, sweat and tears than was strictly necessary, the boss discovered our favourite bear cub was eating my underwear. He said “If that bear eats your pants and dies of ass-poisoning, I’ll kill you!” And I said “If that bear eats my pants, I’m going to go home and write a book about this, and call it ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’. And I did.
7.) How long did it take you to complete this novel from concept to published?
That’s that six years I was on about! I’m quite lazy though – during that time I’ve travelled none-stop around the world, living in Thailand for a year, new zealand for two years and Australia for two years. So I’ve only found time for writing in-between other crazy adventures – and whilst earning enough money to fund them!
8.) When you sit down to write, how does that process go? Do you outline or just let it evolve?
If I sit down to write (I often lie down or squat, depending on where I am and the presence or absence of chairs/hammocks/cushions/prayer mats) I usually look first at my outline – it’s absolutely necessary for me. More often I get struck by a perfect phrase or sentence – I’ll be in bed, or on the loo (sorry!) when it’ll drop fully formed (still talking about sentences here) into my head. I’ll have to rush immediately to wherever my laptop is, dig it out and start typing. Sometimes I get no further than the idea that sent me running, but often I’ll be at it then for the next six or eight hours straight, until the story (or chapter) is complete. This is how I prefer to write, and although it’s damn inconvenient for everyone around me, it works. Until I come to put the stories together into a book, only to realise they don’t match up – they overlap, or characters arrive and vanish mysteriously in between chapters – even the style is often different if two adjoining chapters have been written months or even years apart. So I rely of a whole sheaf of outline documents, timelines, character lists and a master list of all stories in chronological order. It’s a mess that only I have any understanding of – if someone tries to publish my next book posthumously, they’ll be screwed.
9.) Are there any aspects of writing you struggle with?
I struggle with discipline. When inspiration strikes I can’t leave the computer for hours, or even days. In between, I do anything to avoid sitting down and looking at the next blank page – exercise, TV, cleaning the kitchen – anything! It makes for a very sporadic, and drawn out, writing method.
10.) Are there any aspects that you simply glide through?
Dialogue. I can hear what my characters say, because I’ve met them and they’ve said it – often I have to improve on it slightly, or put words in their mouths for the sake of reader’s understanding – but all of that is very easy for me.
11.) What sets your book apart from others in the same genre?
It is absolutely, ridiculously funny. Honest! Why do I hate reading my genre? All the travel writing I’ve read is dry, boring, deadly. Very pretty use of words; nothing to keep me interested for more than 5 minutes. You just can’t add in a car chase or a dragon attack to keep things moving. Luckily, my book is so funny that people tend to drop it through laughing rather than put it down through disinterest. I think that will make it a winner!
12.) What is the location of your story setting and why did you choose that place/time?
Ecuador, South America – from high in the mountains of the Avenue of Volcanoes to the depths of the Amazon rain forest. I was there in 2004, so that’s when the action takes place.
13.) Your main characters, tell me about them. What is their back story? How did they find themselves where they are now?
Well, there’s me; I wanted to be a famous actor, studied it, tried it – then discovered I was crap at it. So I decided to travel the world instead, and en-route I discovered I was crap at that too. Luckily, being crap at things makes for quite amusing reading – and one thing I seem to be rather good at, is pointing out how crap I am to others…
14.) I’d like to know more about your book. Tell me all about it.
Well, when I set out to write it I thought it would be an adventure. Tales of my heroism as I wrestled crocodiles, grappled with bears and monkeys and ran away from jaguars (wrestling them being pretty much a one way ticket to the other side). In fact, the more I wrote, the dafter it seemed – not only had I done these things with no experience and no thought for my own safety, I’d been encouraged to do ever more stupid and dangerous things by everyone around me. They obviously liked to see me getting injured! I realised the book was becoming more of a comedy of errors – a constant piss-take of me and the ridiculous things I was doing. Around the point I tried to read it back, and couldn’t do it without collapsing in laughter – I figured out I was writing a comedy.
15.) What do you want readers to take from your writings?
I’d like them to laugh, obviously. But there’s a deeper message in the book, at the risk of sounding pretentious; it’s about the empowering nature of travel in general and volunteering abroad in particular. It’s about how a nobody (like me) can completely re-invent themselves, gain confidence and strength – basically become a better, happier person – by taking a risk and leaving home. I hope more people will do this – travel and find themselves, even do some voluntary work, as a result.
16.) Are more books to follow or is this a stand alone?
There will be plenty more! I’m now writing about Thailand, where I worked in an animal clinic, learned to dive and had all kinds of crazy adventures on Koh phangan, the island of the Full Moon Party. Summersdale (publishers) have optioned this one already, based on the story of me making a ferry crossing, and betting a fellow traveller I had stranger luggage than him. I had the severed head of a dog, on ice in a polystyrene box. After that – well, there’ll be a book about Australia…
17.) Where can readers find you?
I Tweet occasionally as @tonygetslost
but I’m more active on Facebook – search for Tony Slater. I can always use more friends! :0)
18.) What are 3 random things about yourself that readers might like to know.
i) I can’t tell me left from my right! Seriously. I used to make an ‘L’ shape with my left hand – until I discovered that works with both hands, depending on whether the back or the palm is facing me!
ii) I met my fiancé in America; we met again in England, started dating in Australia and lived together for 2 years in New Zealand. She is Dutch.
iii) I was in UK hit show ‘Coronation Street’, as an ‘extra’ in the background – every other week for ten years! I must have drunk a couple of hundred pints in the Rover’s Return pub!
19.) What do you do in your down time? For fun.
I snowboard! I love parkour and free-running and am taking lessons in this, and also in gymnastics. I also love climbing and kung-fu. Basically if I can’t kick it’s ass or slide down it on a plank of wood, I want to climb it and jump off the top! It has been mentioned to me that I may be an adrenaline junkie. I call it being an ‘adventureholic’.
20.) How about letting me have a sneak peak at chapter one?
Of course! Here’s the Prologue:
“MONKEY!” I shouted, as a brown blur swung out of the cage and onto the path.
The chase was on.
He skipped away with incredible speed, dodging around the corner and heading for freedom as though he’d thought of nothing but this moment for years. I bolted after him, grabbing the edge of a cage to swing me round in hot pursuit. The monkey was a good way ahead of me, and far more manoeuvrable. But I was faster on the straight. I accelerated down the narrow corridor between enclosures, and was closing the distance between us when he reached the steps down to the main road through the farm. This was my chance – if he paused, if he found the stairs confusing, I’d be on him. But no. Being a monkey, he didn’t have much use for stairs. He just jumped.
He made the ten foot leap to the ground with ease, landed on all fours, and scurried off down the road. Pounding along behind him I had less than a second to make the choice. If I slowed to negotiate the stairs even part of the way down, it would all be over. Once he reached the trees by the first bend in the road he’d be gone for good.
Time was up. I reached the top of the steps at a dead run and launched myself over the edge.
In the seconds I was airborne my entire life flashed before my eyes. I seemed to have spent a disproportionate amount of it chasing monkeys.
Somehow I landed on my feet, with bone jarring force. I was only a step behind the monkey – my leap had taken me considerably further than his – but my body was moving too fast for my legs. I managed to push off with my feet at the same moment as I started to fall headlong on the ground. The result: I bounced forwards another meter, sailing high above the form of the fleeing monkey, then crashed to earth and flattened the fucker.
The impact knocked the stuffing out of me. It temporarily turned the monkey two-dimensional. Pain shot through me. I felt like I’d fallen ten feet onto a small primate. For the monkey it must have been like being beaten around the head with a banana tree. For a split second neither of us could move.
He recovered quicker than I did. Amazingly he wriggled out from under me and leapt towards freedom, just as I, still lying prone, reached out with both arms and caught him.
Unfortunately I could only catch him around the middle. Which meant that while he wasn’t going anywhere, he wasn’t particularly happy about it.
In far less time than it takes to tell the monkey writhed around in my grasp and sank his fangs into my hand.
The monkey switched his attention to my other hand and bit down hard.
“Arrr!” I shrieked. I let go with the recently bitten hand, but I had no other options – I had to grab him again or lose him. As I tried to grab his neck he bit me again, puncturing the thick leather glove easily and scoring my vulnerable flesh. Again and again he bit down, faster than I could even register the damage.
I lay on my belly, flat out on the floor, both arms outstretched in front of me and both hands wrapped around a frantically flailing ball of teeth and rage. There was sod all I could do – without my hands free I couldn’t get to my feet, and without standing up I had no way of controlling the beast. It was not the first time I had the thought; what the hell was I doing in Ecuador?
There’s a longer sample, a great chapter taken from the middle of the book, on my blog here:
I want to thank you for such a funny interview! I laughed so much during this, it was crazy! Go on everyone, you know you want to run out and get ahold of his book…so Go already!
You are very welcome Melissa! The very best of luck to you.