The interview was published in Focus, the publication of the British Science Fiction Association, August 1990. (abridged)
Focus: When did you start writing?
Al Vickers: As a little boy I often kept my friends amused telling them stories invented by myself. Later I stopped creating stories. Why? I don't know. Maybe the school did something wrong with me? Maybe not! Some time after I left the university I got back my forgotten ability to tell stories.
Writing is not consciously reached decision. One begins writing without any deliberate reason, just for oneself. It begins with notes on 'important' questions, on great self-made thoughts or to calm down their intrusiveness. The decision to become a writer comes much later; it's not a decision to find a job, it's to find a style of life. If one doesn't succeed in a job, one will try one's at a second, at a third etc.; but for the writer there is only one way-writing. Easy to say, hard to do.
My first short stories were written when I was 28 years old. They were sf and conventional prose.
Focus: Why do you write sf?
Al Vickers: My first stories were a natural continuation of my reflections on the world around me. The decision to write mainly sf came later when I had to make a choice for my first novel-sf or non-sf? I had 2 files with notes, the first for the sf novel Province Five, the second for the novel Blake's Aunt and Her Mad Niece. Blake's Aunt would be something of the sort of J K Tool's A Confederacy of Dunces and Gore Vidal's Duluth, but crazier. It was very impossible to publish this kind of novel; as you know J K Tool lost all hope of finding a publisher for his book and committed suicide. So I began my sf novel and it was ready within a year.
Focus: What kind of sf do you write?
Al Vickers: I write chiefly hard sf but don't harden it too much in order not to loose the capricious reader's interest. And add a pinch of philosophy; a lot of maniacs are fond of philosophizing (reading or writing).
Focus: Would you say sf is a second-rate fiction?
Al Vickers: All fiction stuff (sf or not) can be first-rate or more-rate (10th rate, for example). The rate is in your hands. If you aren't good at writing you will like to discuss the sf-rate and "suffer" that sf fiction by definition can't be first rate.
Focus: What are your working practices?
Al Vickers: At the very beginning, like in the Bible, it is the Chaos with some bright mental islands in it. Then I start to enlarge the primary chaos with lots of sheets of paper covered with writing. The stuff at this stage of working is in the shape of hundreds of A4 sheets, A5 sheets, A6 sheets, and a great number of unsized sheets, handwritten or typed. And so to the day when the chaos has enlarged itself to ungraspable scale. Then I say 'damn it!' and begin to write the story without any superclear notion of the plot and often I haven't the slightest idea how the story will end. The devil is not so bad-if I know beforehand how the story will progress the reader will also form a pretty good idea about it (that damn clever reader!) and his interest will become less. I try not to mix fiction with maths.
Very often sources of the fantasy are the night and the schizoid hours. If the writer wants to create he should cultivate an ability to get of his own will into his little useful madness, and after touching the Universe to get back to normal. In contrast to the author the mental patient can't manage his mental state. Don't be afraid! There is very little connection with schizophrenia! Maybe my warning is unnecessary because one who uses such a kind of 'touching the Universe' in his works knows it, and one who doesn't know hasn't a very great possibility of meeting it.
One calls such a state of mind 'afflatus' (divine impulse, esp. poetic; inspiration - Ed), but this term doesn't mean much or means too much to be useful for the writer. Learn to use your little madnesses. Maybe they are God's blessing on your literary work. Logic will help you to type and sell the story, but intuition-creates it.
Focus: By the way, do you think you are smart enough to give people
advice on how to write?
Al Vickers: I see! But I don't know another writer in-depth except me (good or bad) and when I have to find answers to questions about writing I have to seek them in myself. The good advice for another author maybe isn't exactly the same for me.
All those mavericks like to be themselves and any kind of advice doesn't matter much to them.
Focus: How do you view the relative importance of scientific accuracy,
characterization, political or philosophical themes in your work and in
sf in general?
Al Vickers: All these are important, and the writer has to find the right balance between them. Sf literature must be firstly literature and secondly sf. I often see the opposite where the first component (lit.) is missing. If you look at Schopenhauer's Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, you'll find that it's first Kunst (art) and second Philosophie. One has to search for the right balance. Life itself (bio and socio) is a balance.
Focus: Do you belong to any group, style, or 'movement' of writers or
Al Vickers: I don't belong to any style because I think that every writer (in actual fact it happens very rarely) must search and find his own style, that best reflects himself. If there is nothing to be reflected one has to belong to some style, group or 'movement'. Writing as a death is a lonely business.
I am member only of the British Science Fiction Association.