An Interview with SS Turner
How did you do your research for writing The Connection Game?
The Connection Game is set in a basement flat below street level in London. The flat’s one and only source of daylight is a minuscule window through which the flat’s inhabitants can only see the passing feet on the street above. Would you believe my research was actually living in a similar flat for a couple of years when I lived in London? I foolishly chose to live in that dark basement flat as a means of saving rent in London’s famously expensive property market. I soon regretted that decision! Living in darkness sure wasn’t worth the money I saved.
Hard as it was, living in that basement flat provided a remarkable opportunity to research the life the Basilworths were to have when they came to literary life in all their glory. I’ll never forget standing on tippy toes soon after moving into that flat and staring at the passing feet on the street above. Just as Benny Basilworth experiences in The Connection Game, I was transfixed by the hypnotic motion of the passing feet. And in that moment the idea for the novel was born. The question I wanted the novel to answer was: what would happen to a family who live in a dark basement flat if they become obsessed with analyzing the human race from a disconnected place hidden in the shadows? I knew the answer wouldn’t be boring, but even I was surprised by the direction The Connection Game heads.
What made you write a book about a genius who can solve any puzzle?
As you say, the protagonist in the novel, Benny Basilworth, is a bone fide genius. He was described by The Chrysalis Brew Project in their critic’s review of the novel as “One nuanced character… a genius. He sees the world from a completely different perspective than us.”
By creating a main character who’s a genius, I was able to explore the vast difference between intellectual excellence and emotional wellbeing. Benny Basilworth’s mental powers appear to be a gift for him at the start of the novel. At that point, he wins a gameshow billed as “the world’s hardest gameshow” and he’s excelling in his career as a computer programmer. However, when the Basilworths lose everything and are forced to move into welfare housing, it starts to become clear that Benny’s life-path is any but easy. Being a genius is anything but easy. It’s a fascinating theme the novel explores in more depth as it progresses.
What advice would you give budding writers?
In my experience, developing your writing skills is like going to the gym. If you want to significantly improve your writing fitness, it’s worth focusing on all the aspects of your writing workout plan, a bit like a fit person works on their strength, flexibility, and endurance.
Writing strength comes from writing and reading every day. This muscle needs to be worked out regularly for it to develop to its full potential.
Writing endurance comes from achieving a minimum word count every day—Stephen King swears by 2000 words a day. Who am I to argue with Stephen?
And writing flexibility comes from consistently editing your own work which improves your technical writing skills no end. It’s the equivalent of a daily stretching class.
By working on all aspects of your writing fitness, the potential for improvement is immense.
Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?
Thankfully, I rarely get writer’s block. When it does happen, it’s usually a sign I need a good night’s sleep. That almost always gets me back on track with my writing the next day. The other strategy I sometimes use is to take a break from my writing by going for a run at the beach. Physical exercise is a great way to relax the mind and come back to your writing feeling refreshed… and unblocked.
Do you write every day?
Yes, I generally write every day. When I do, I notice my writing skills get incrementally better each year. The way I gauge my writing improvement is through simplicity of language, succinctness of words used, richness of imagery, and the readers’ emotional response. The more you write, the more natural it becomes to excel in all these areas.
Favourite travel spot?
I’ve always felt a strong connection to Iceland for some mysterious reason. I travelled to Iceland about twenty years ago when I was footloose and fancy free as a younger person. At the time, I joined a group of farmers for Iceland’s annual sheep round-up in the mountains. Two weeks of riding on horseback though the beautiful Icelandic countryside was an unforgettable experience which has ranked as one of my favourite travel experiences ever since.
What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?
Becoming a father. No words can prepare you for what’s to come when you become a parent. It’s amazing, fun, uplifting, exhausting, and challenging all in one. And to be a good father means being courageous every single day. Courageous enough to be emotionally present for your children. Courageous enough to address your own challenges so they don’t inhibit you from being the parent you want to be. And courageous enough to embrace all the changes that come with being a parent (there are many!).
Which was the hardest character to write in The Connection Game?
The hardest character to write in The Connection Game was Will, the son in the Basilworth family. Will was hard to write because he lives in the shadows of his father’s brilliance while he also worships him on occasion. This tension at the heart of Will’s character was challenging to get right because his character evolves dramatically as the story progresses.
And the easiest?
The easiest character to write was the protagonist Benny Basilworth because I had such a clear picture in mind for Benny and his journey. I found Benny a fascinating character to create from a psychological perspective. His father never loved him or showed him any affection. In fact, the only time his father ever praised him was when he won prizes and awards. As a result, Benny learnt at a young age that his only value in the world was through his mental abilities. So that’s all Benny focused upon developing. I think there are many people like Benny Basilworth in the world today, particularly men who don’t invest in their own emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Benny’s story is the story of where this pathway can lead when it’s untethered to emotional health.
Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
I often find my best ideas jump into my head when I’m jogging at the beach, relaxing, or falling asleep at night. They’re the moments when my sub-conscious is most generous in sharing story ideas with my conscious mind. Where my subconscious comes up with this stuff is more opaque. Who knows where stories really come from?
The Connection Game is set in London. Have you ever been there?
Yes, I lived in London for a decade so writing about it as the setting for The Connection Game was a natural experience for me. I had a great time living in London and grew to love its diversity, variety, beauty, and vibrancy. When I wrote The Connection Game, I felt like I was back there, reliving London from the unique perspective of the Basilworth family. It was a more urgent, suspenseful experience of the city than my own. I loved it.
In The Connection Game, you wrote about a family that becomes obsessed with watching passing feet on the street above. How did you come up with this unique idea?
I lived in London for a decade of my life. When I first arrived there I was somewhat shocked by how expensive rents were, so I made the contentious decision of saving rent by living in a dark basement flat. What a mistake it was! But it wasn’t all bad news. I got to experience what it was like to only have a view of the passing feet on the street above. And that that’s where the idea of a family who’s obsessed with watching passing feet came from. So I suppose I owe a thanks to that cold dark flat below street level for inspiring The Connection Game.
There are many books out there… What makes The Connection Game different?
Most readers and reviewers describe my writing as unique, but that’s a dime a dozen comment these days. There are so many unique writers in the world that the concept of unique has lost its uniqueness.
I think what makes my writing truly different is that it challenges the readers’ perception of reality. By the end of The Connection Game, many readers are seeing the world from a different perspective compared to when they started reading the novel.
What’s your next project?
I’m working on my third novel which is currently untitled.
It’s the story of Will Watson, a British man who’s been dumped by his girlfriend and fired from his job. Things aren’t going his way. The only good thing in Will’s life is his golden retriever Mia who adores him. Then one day, Will receives a rare piece of good news. He wins a raffle ticket to attend the Make Australia Green Again Music Festival in Maleny, Queensland. It’s a dream come true and the chance to find the home he’s always dreamt of. So Will jumps at the opportunity. However, when he arrives in Australia he discovers a backward society where he’s regarded as unemployable and unfriendable. He soon realizes his new life is worse than the one he escaped from. But he must stay in Australia as he can’t afford the airfare back to the UK. After an extensive job search, the only job he’s offered is as a rubbish collector for an unethical company. Will accepts the job which provides him a unique view of the corrupt community he’s living in.
Just as he’s starting to adapt to his challenging new existence, Will receives the worst news of his life: Mia has cancer and only has months to live. Will feels like his time is running out as Mia’s is because he views her as the best part of him. He wants to ask her so many questions while he still can as he’s certain she’s the only one with the answers… Where is home for him? Why are the locals acting so strange? How can anyone live a meaningful life in the modern world? So he enlists the help of Miranda Minsky, a pet whisperer, to communicate with Mia while there’s time left to learn the truth.
What Will learns about himself shocks him. And what he discovers about the community he’s living in leads to an unforgettable showdown with a town which has lost its way.
Is there a specific ritualistic thing you do during your writing time?
Yes. I love music and always listen to it when I’m writing. As the music geek I am, I even match the music to the vibe of the scene I’m writing. For example, if I’m writing a mysterious scene with a lot going on beneath the surface, I’ll often listen to Max Richter’s beautifully enigmatic music. And if I’m after something a little more energetic, I’ll often turn up Of Monsters and Men to get my creative juices flowing. Listening to great music when I’m writing definitely helps me get into the creative flow.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, which 3 books would you want with you?
I’d take with me:
- Life of Pi because I love the way the story provides alternative yet compelling views of the same reality,
- The Catcher in the Rye for its uniquely honest vision of the thoughts running through the narrator’s head, and
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it’s like a time machine which allows readers to experience life in an earlier, simpler time in all its glory.
We live on a few acres in the countryside so I’ve become a gardener by choice and necessity. These days, I can often be found cutting, pruning and weeding. When I was younger I couldn’t think of anything less exciting than gardening, but I’ve been surprised by how interesting it is. I’ll often come face to face with a fascinating creature like a python or a bandicoot. It’s like meeting a species from another planet. The other day, a four-meter python crawled inside our gardening shed for a nap. At first, I didn’t notice him when I walked in so it was quite a shock when I inadvertently touched his enormous tail. It was an unforgettable moment care of the natural world.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing all my life. Back in school, I remember my English teacher telling me I was a natural writer and that I should consider it as a career option. However, for the next couple of decades I wrote only for myself and had no intention of pursuing publication. During that time, I viewed writing as a wonderful tool to help me make sense of the world, to help me cope with life’s challenges, and to enable me to laugh about life. Then, a few years ago I just knew it was the right time for me to become more serious about my writing. So I sat down and wrote my first novel, Secrets of a River Swimmer, which was published last year. I haven’t looked back. Becoming a writer is like recognizing the face looking back at you in the mirror.
What genre do you write and why?
I write literary fiction. It’s a great match for me as it’s the least formulaic, most creative fiction genre. One of the aspects I love most about writing literary fiction is the potential to create unique worlds which challenge readers to open their minds in ways they’d never have imagined. It’s the writing equivalent of skiing off-piste.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I’m fascinated by the sixties. It sounded like such a fun time to be a young person open to new experiences. So if I could go back in time, I’d be a young person in the sixties. I’d like to attend a Beatles concert while I was there.
What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you?
I’ll never forget my first day in one of my jobs I worked at during my time in London.
After arriving in the office, I was asked to join a meeting with the entire company as the management team wanted to welcome me. So I showed up at this meeting and was told to sit up the front so I could make a short introductory speech. Anyway, the management team did a lovely introduction to the room of one hundred of my new colleagues as I sat up the front and listened. While they spoke, I glanced downwards and made the horrifying discovery that my fly was open. Worse than that, my white shirt was sticking out of my open fly, making me look like a homeless person who’d never dressed professionally before. It was clear my fashion faux pas had been noticed as sniggers could be heard all around the room. Embarrassed beyond belief, I leant forward and tried to fix the situation. However, my attempt at a swift fly pull-up manoeuvre backfired royally. My new colleagues witnessed me wrestling with my fly and protruding shirt for longer than any of us would have liked.
It was quite the introduction. I never did live it down.
Interested in learning more about SS Turner?
Read his interview with the Australian National University
Read his interview with the Story Plant