Monday, 22 February 2010

Interview with Yorkshire author Stuart Aken

Stuart Aken is a talented man in all senses of the word. He has overcome reverses that would flatten most people. Happily married for many years, he has found success in various spheres of the working world. His abiding passion, though, is writing, although he would probably call it a compulsion. Successful crime writer Penny Grubb says of Aken's writing that it has a magic quality achieved by few. High praise indeed.

You can find out much more about Stuart on his website:


AFT: Breaking Faith is set in the Yorkshire Dales during the 1976 heat wave. What prompted your choice of location and period?

SA: In the words of Max Boyce, ‘I was there.’ Believe it or not, the initial inspiration for the book came to me on a visit to the Buttertubs, in the Dales, at that time. I looked into the depths and wondered how I would feel if I discovered a body down there. From that simple question, the rest of the book eventually flowed. The Yorkshire Dales is acknowledged for its exceptional landscapes and it’s a place I know well. The heat wave was a useful backdrop to a story which needed a credible climate in which the action could take place: few would enjoy being naked in the area’s usual weather conditions. 1976 was long before the era of the ubiquitous mobile phone, an item that would have altered the tone of the novel. It was a time when fashion and the ideas of youth were still fresh enough to encourage experimentation. Cameras used film and a good printing assistant was still necessary for any professional photographer.

AFT: Some might consider there is a strong erotic edge to the novel; is this a marketing ploy or does it serve another purpose?

SA: I’m fascinated by our modern attitude to nudity and the body in particular. As a culture, we are fast approaching the extreme level of hypocrisy that exists in the USA. It’s the largest producer and user of pornography but has a puritanical attitude bordering on insanity. Our world is dominated by double standards imposed by Judo-Christian ethics that pretend to celebrate creation whilst denigrating the means of creation in humans. The Islamic world has, of course, taken this duplicity to even greater extremes. The word, ‘love’ is misused to the extent it has no real meaning to many people. Yet, for those who have experienced it, love is so superior to mere sex that it almost defies definition. I wanted Faith to be subject to the prevalent attitudes regarding sex but to actually experience love. She is forced to witness the destructive forces that can accompany sex whilst appreciating the positive force of love; her choice of honesty over deception is what the book is about.

AFT: What made you choose an innocent as your eponymous lead character?

SA: We live in a world where innocence is damaged almost from birth. Goodness, truth and honesty are qualities we pretend to value whilst we indulge in behaviour that destroys these things. Faith was an innocent in the material sense but damaged by her father’s hypocritical insistence on adherence to an extreme version of Christianity. This is only hinted at in the novel, as I wanted his cult to represent all organised religion. The effect of organised religion, as opposed to spirituality, is to distort truth and turn it into a commodity that can be exploited and used as a power base for the unworthy to govern those too lazy to think for themselves. Children are effectively brainwashed from infancy into believing the set of myths and untruths that their parents and peers were brought up with. It is such an insidious force in society that most people are not even aware of its continuing influence on their lives. The very language we use is riddled with religious imagery and ideas, so that it is impossible to escape its influence. I wanted to employ an innocent so that she could rise above much of the hidden influence and expose it, but I had to make sure I didn’t overdo this and proselytise.

AFT: One can’t help but be aware that photography plays a huge part in the story, almost like another character, in fact. Or is it perhaps an allegory?

SA: I was a professional photographer for some time, and worked with models during my early career. Photography is an excellent recording medium that is also capable of functioning as an art form. It has an unfortunate side effect in its representation of reality in two dimensions, as this can affect the photographer, making him unaware of depth in other aspects of life. It is this superficiality that Faith makes clear to Leigh, of course. But there is also a sense in which the mistaken 'belief' of the photographer in the purity of his images, echoes the blind faith that religious people place in their particular doctrines, ignoring the fact that theirs is but one interpretation amongst many when it comes to defining both God and true morality. Organised religion, by its very nature, cannot help but be superficial, since it reduces enormous questions to a set of dogmas that barely address the real issues, let alone provide answers. Photography is, of course, also considered ‘glamorous’ and is therefore a fitting occupation for the necessary alpha male of the romance.

AFT: You have had a number of short stories published as well as a radio play on BBC Radio 4. What advice would you give to new writers?

SA: Write only if you are compelled to. Writing is something that almost every literate person can engage in but good writing, writing with something worthwhile to say, even writing that is simply entertaining, requires a degree of dedication bordering on the obsessive. There are many people who write for fun but then want to be published. Such writing is fine for personal fulfilment but it’s self-indulgent to impose it on the reading public and it clogs up the works for those who have real talent. If you must write, and I mean that literally, then do so but ensure that everything you write is the best it can possibly be.

AFT: What are you currently writing?

SA: I’m working on the first volume of a three part fantasy series. It’s an adventure and a quest set in an invented world and centres on, surprise, surprise, organised religion and its corrupting power. I’d like to entertain those with open minds whilst inciting the dogmatic into fits of apoplexy. And, yes, I intend to make it a good read.


  1. Great interview, Avril, thanks. And thanks to Stuart for giving such an indepth explanation of the way a writer conjures with theme, research and characterisation even before a word hits the page.


  2. Great interview. I love discovering all about other writers, some of them new to me. I'll be checking this guy out.