Q&A with Lancaster author Viktor Zólyomi

Viktor Z�lyomi from Lancaster, a research fellow at Lancaster University and fiction writer.
Viktor Z�lyomi from Lancaster, a research fellow at Lancaster University and fiction writer.

Viktor Zólyomi is a research fellow at Lancaster University who writes fiction in his spare time. His second black comedy crime novel, Road To Con City, is stocked by Atticus bookshop, Lancaster and one of the stalls in the Assembly Rooms.

Introduce yourself

My name is Viktor Zólyomi and I’m a physicist, writer, and amateur filmmaker. I work full time as a researcher and write fiction novels in my spare time. I do some amateur filmmaking, mostly related to my absurd comedy novels, which includes a youtube web show hosted by one of the villains of my novel Con City. I’ve filmed book trailers for two books, a mockumentary about koalas, and a half hour short film based on the first quarter of my latest novel Road To Con City. I am also a recurve archer.

Where were you born and educated?

I was born and raised in Hungary, and I got my MSc and PhD there at the Eötvös University in Budapest.

What’s your working history?

After the PhD I spent three years working as a research fellow in Hungary with a brief stint as a visiting researcher in Vienna, then came to the Physics Department of Lancaster University in 2008 with a Marie Curie Fellowship. I’ve been here ever since and currently I am employed as a Senior Research Associate.

Describe your books

My novels come in two flavours. The first is dark fantasy; these are written in a very experimental style incorporating elements from various genres and told in first person through the eyes of multiple characters. This is for a niche audience at the moment, though I expect fans of Game of Thrones would probably enjoy it. You can find the series on its website at rideroftheblackhorse.co.uk. My second, more recent genre is absurd comedy. More precisely, I write black comedy crime novels set in a fictional alternate universe called the Con City Universe, named after the primary city in the series. The Con City novels are like a cross between Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and every cheesy 1980s action film ever made. Imagine if Hitchhiker’s Guide took place in a fictional 21st century metropolis on Earth instead of in space, and instead of depressed robots we had vigilantes, psychotic hitmen, and explosions. Oddly enough, when I wrote Con City, I did not even think about Hitchhiker’s Guide; the comparison only came to my mind a few months ago, but I find that it’s a surprisingly accurate comparison. You can find my absurd comedy novels online at www.con-city.com.

When did you start writing?

I first started writing at the end of 2003. I had the ambition to make a computer role-playing game taking inspiration from one of my all time favourites, Baldur’s Gate. This was during my PhD and I realised after a while that I didn’t have enough free time for it, so I scrapped the project. However, the story stayed with me and I decided to write it down as a book and flesh out the details, for my own personal amusement. Inevitably it came up in conversations with friends and they made me show it to them when I was done. They loved it so much that I realised that I had to put the books out there so like-minded people could get a chance to read it as well.

Favourite part of the writing process?

Getting into the head of my characters and writing dialogue between them. I try to make it flow naturally.

...and worst?

The last phase of editing. I always take my time with editing my work multiple times, even after implementing feedback from everyone who checks my manuscripts. By the end the text gets too familiar for me to spot any mistakes and I can only hope that we found them all. This is especially the case for the fantasy novels. Rider of the Black Horse took five years to write and three years to finalise, and I’d still like to go back and improve it further. Maybe in a second edition.

Where do you write?

On a desktop computer at home, strictly in linux using the same scientific word processing language that I use for my scientific publications at work.

What time of the day or night do you write?

Any time, really. On weekdays it’s only in the evenings but at weekends it’s whenever I have the time. Sometimes I spend as much as eight hours on writing over the weekends, though lately this has been extremely rare. Quite frankly I need to set up a writing schedule to make sure I can progress faster.

Tea or coffee?

Tea, with sugar only. Never with milk, just no. Coffee only occasionally, and then with lots of milk and lots of sugar, as Winston Wolf likes it.

Who or what inspires your writing?

Oddly enough my key inspiration does not come from novels. Books do inspire me, such as the works of Michael Moorcock, John Caldwell, David Gaider, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and more recently Mark Lawrence, as well as others. But my main source for inspiration are films and computer games. I take a lot of inspiration from 1980s cinema for the Con City novels, and computer role-playing games give me ideas for my fantasy novels.

Favourite author?

Michael Moorcock.

Favourite book and why?

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock. As far as I’m concerned this book is the single greatest fantasy novel ever written. My main reason for loving it is that both its heroes and villains are complex and memorable characters with interesting and understandable motivations. Its hero, Elric, is a most unconventional protagonist who is easy to get behind but he comes with plenty of demons and does some questionable misdeeds throughout the series. And I do admit, his sentient homicidal black sword Stormbringer is just plain cool.

Favourite book as a child?

A Hungarian fantasy parody called Night of Chaos, written by John Caldwell and Jeffrey Stone (those two are pen names of the same author, which says a lot about the humour of the book). It’s the only book I’ve read on more occasions over the years than Elric of Melnibone. Its humour has given me a lot of inspiration for my own comedic writing.

How do you unwind?

I play some computer games or watch films/series on DVD, and web shows by indies on the internet. I particularly enjoy anything with absurd and/or dark humour such as playing Saints Row IV or watching South Park, or the Angry Video Game Nerd web show, just to name a few. Archery also helps unwind, and a friend has introduced me to the Magic: The Gathering card game recently which is proving to be a lot of fun. A year ago he also introduced me to tabletop war games with Warhammer Fantasy Battle which has also given me a lot of inspiration as a bonus.

Ambitions?

Plenty (that is, probably too much). In a nutshell I mean to balance a research career and writing career in the long run. This includes founding a research group of my own in the coming years while continuing to write novels. I’d like to reach as many readers with my work as possible, and to this end I mean to spend more time on writing so I can finish manuscripts faster. I’m planning to build the Con City Universe into a broad black comedy franchise spanning a series of novels, short stories, short films, and something a little more large scale: my arguably biggest ambition is filming a feature length movie set in the Con City Universe and finding a distributor for it and have it available online worldwide. Finally, I haven’t entirely given up on the computer game project that started it all. Once my dark fantasy series is finished, I might just revisit the idea of making a game, but this time I will be getting some people to help with it.

What’s next?

I am currently working on the sequels to my experimental dark fantasy series. I will work on this until October at which point, finished or not, I will switch from it to writing the next Con City novel which should take two months to finish based on how I wrote the previous two. The plan is for that to come out on Halloween 2016, after which point I will hopefully be able to speed things up. I have lots of novels in my head just waiting to be put down on paper.