Back in the 1990s, Preston-born author and lecturer Andrew James (AJ) Hartley was quietly admiring the fun sounds of Blink 182’s All The Small Things, which no doubt his students were also listening to.
Fast forward more than 20 years and the 52-year-old is now living in North Carolina and working with singer Tom DeLonge, as they are collaborating on a sci-fi novel series – Sekret Machines.
Although Andrew is no stranger to working with celebrities, this latest partnership came as a surprise.
But when DeLonge approached Andrew’s agent, asking if he would collaborate on an idea based around an epic X Files-type adventure, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Andrew says: “I’ve dealt with celebrities before, especially actors, particularly because of my audiobooks (Alan Cumming, Richard Armitage, and Noma Dumezweni) and I’ve met others in my capacity as a Shakespeare scholar (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, David Tennant etc). But I’d never worked with a real rock star before.
“I’ve always been a bit of a music head so I knew Blink 182 and thought them a fun band.
“I especially liked some of their richer, more ambitious songs where you get to hear Tom’s passion, like I Miss You, but I was a bit old when they came out to be a real hardcore fan. That worked out well since it meant I wasn’t too star struck when we first met and we were able to work together as equal artistic collaborators and, eventually, mates.
“Once we started chatting we hit it off and figured we could work together, then started meeting so we could talk about story structure etc.
“It’s a good partnership because I still love music and it was fun to be in the studio with him when he was recording the Chasing Shadows EP with his other band Angels and Airwaves. That’s the four-track release he did to go with the first Sekret Machines book. It’s great stuff and some of my favourite Angels tracks since Surrender.
“Tom is still a rock star, of course: irreverent, creative, passionate, a good collaborator who respects fellow artists and lets them do their thing. “We have a lot of work in the pipeline, including some film and TV stuff which is still in development.”
Andrew is also writing a new young adult sci-fi series to be published by DeLonge’s To The Stars company and distributed by Simon and Schuster, called Cathedrals of Glass.
The first book, Planet of Blood and Ice, will be released this month. A limited signed edition was released through To The Stars in November and sold out in 36 hours.
Andrew adds: “Cathedrals is like a cross between Lord of the Flies and Alien.
“I wanted to tell a story in which the sci-fi dimension was primarily a background and plot engine for something that felt real and character-driven. “It’s about a ship full of delinquent teens from a tech-heavy world who crash land on a deserted, frozen planet, only to find that it’s not as empty as they’ve been led to believe.
“They are totally unprepared for living in this arctic wasteland, but they’ve also been lied to, and the truth of their situation turns them against each other.”
Andrew’s work with DeLonge is just one in a long line of successful projects.
He compiled a series of adventure stories for teenagers and young adults through his Darwen Arkwright and later Steeplejack collections.
In 2011 he worked with David Hewson to co-write a novelisation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, written specially for audio, narrated by Alan Cumming. His second collaboration with Hewson – an audio novel based on Hamlet, performed by Richard Armitage – was named Audible.com’s best book of 2014 and was nominated for two Audie awards.
The former Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School pupil has a few new things on submission at the moment, including a new middle grades series and a contemporary adult thriller set in Crete, as well as a couple of academic essay collections on Shakespeare.
Later this year he will be writing the third Steeplejack book, the second Sekret Machines book, and the second Cathedrals of Glass book.
More prominently, Andrew is going back to his home roots, as he is in the process of completing a ghost story called Cold Bath Street, set in Preston.
He adds; “Cold Bath Street will be published by UCLAN later this year, which involves a lot of the ghost stories I grew up with and is set entirely in Preston. I’m hoping to make it over for the release.”
Remaining closer to home, he is also featured in Fulwood author’s Tony Slater’s RSVP: By Special Invitation Only, where he states which 10 guests he would invite to dinner and what he would serve. Proceeds from the book go towards Derian House, St Catherine’s Hospice and Baby Beat Appeal.
Although Andrew has been living in the US for more than 27 years, he admits he will always have a fondness for Preston.
He says: “I miss its real pubs and good Indian food. I love the sense of lived history reaching back thousands of years, and the English countryside.
“When I go back, I always go walking around Pendle or the Ribble valley. I’d love to get a house there one day. I’ve kept in touch with some of my old school friends and try to make it back at least once a year. My mother, Annette, grew up in Longridge and she still lives in Preston. Sadly my dad, Frank, died two years ago. I still have my aunts, uncles and cousins living here too.”
Writing has always been in Andrew’s blood and even as a child he knew he wanted to be an author.
The former Ribbleton St John Southworth RC Secondary School pupil said: “I was always a story teller, even as a kid. I’ve always loved the preciseness of words. They are how I process life and the world. As a literature student and professor I learned to love an analytical approach to writing, but I always wanted to be a creator, an artist, more than a scholar. Sometimes it’s brutally difficult, but the tough spells fade in my memory if I can get the book to where I want it. It’s always worth the journey and the labour.”
After Andrew completed his degree in English Language and Literature at Manchester University, he taught English in Japan.
He spent another year travelling in India and Nepal and then completed a Masters and a PHD in English Literature in Boston and founded a small theatre company, focused on Shakespearian and Renaissance English drama.
He taught for nine years at the University of West Georgia and became the resident dramaturg for Georgia Shakespeare.
He is now professor of Shakespeare in the Department of Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
The father-of-one adds: “I love teaching, but I like the fact that with writing I have something to show at the end of the process, a book I can share with the world. One of the toughest thing about teaching is that your best moments are ephemeral, and you never know exactly what you have achieved. As a teacher I’m responding to something that already existed — a play, or poem - and while that’s great, one of the things I love about writing is that I’m generating something new, or trying to.”
RSVP: By Invitation Only is on sale for £12.99. To place an order, contact Tony Slater on 07703475258.