“Stabbing. A Lot of Stabbing” RJ Barker Interview – Writers of Fantasy

r-j-barkerThis week’s Writers of Fantasy Interview is with RJ Barker, who talks to us exclusively about his debut fantasy trilogy, Age of Assassins! I met RJ at FantasyCon by the Sea earlier this year and knew right from the get go that this is an author who is going places, so we’ve nabbed an exclusive with an author you should deffinately look out for.

If you’re an aspiring author yourself, this interview also touches on the writing process and beyond! Check it out!

Your debut novel, Age of Assassins, is coming out through Orbit next year (2017). What can readers expect?

STABBING. A lot of stabbing. And there’s intrigue and magic and then more stabbing in AoA (which is a quite a cool looking shortening). Also, Mystery. I love 1930’s crime and in a way AoA is based around that idea, sort of Agatha Christie[1]: you have a castle, a cast of characters and you know someone wants someone else dead.

Girton, the lead, is fifteen when we meet him and extremely capable. There’s a fluidity to the action sequences that I think readers will enjoy and they’re backed up by some real emotional heft. Girton himself is likeable, he’s funny and driven to do the right thing even when it’s not in his best interests. One of the first comments I had back was ‘I’d quite like to go for a drink with him[2]’ and I thought, yes, that’s what I’m after, this might be the one. Oh, and antlers. Antlers play a big part in it (as they should in EVERYTHING.)

I like antlers.

How much writing of novel-length had you done before? And do you see common threads and themes in the kinds of things you enjoy writing about?

This is novel number four. The first was rubbish. The second I love but know needs reworking and probably has quite a niche appeal. The third, a space opera, nearly got picked up but in the end wasn’t really commercial enough. It might have been that I could have self published it or found a small press that would have taken a chance on it but when I first started writing seriously I’d made a promise to myself that it would be one of the a big publishers or nothing. It seemed like a completely ridiculous ambition at the time, but I’ve never been short on ridiculous.

As to common threads, I like outsiders but not outsiders in a strong, silent mysterious way. I tend to write people who are outside and wishing they could come in, but don’t know how to do that. Which I think is a feeling we’re all familiar with. And people who are good, because I think generally people are. In a lot of ways the difference between good and evil is more about how much of your own best interests you’re willing to put aside for others than it is about intent.

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A Closed and Common Orbit – Review

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Becky Chambers Wayfarers series continues to be the kind of science fiction I wish I was reading all the time. The tone, depth, and complexities of the worlds and societies she has built, coupled with a crisp, clear breath of optimism and hope make this a perfect read for these dark days.

I interviewed Becky Chambers earlier this year and you can check that out here.

closedThe main focus of A Closed and Common Orbit is on an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system called LoveLace, (or Sidra as she prefers), and a young mechanic named Pepper (or Jane23) and their seemingly distant lives. The book draws their stories together, revealing, slowly, the ties that bind them, the common threads that make them alike, and make them different. There are a lot of themes revolving around identity, personhood, and trauma. The pace can be slow at times as Chambers takes her time putting the reader (and the characters) through periods of self and social discovery. This can feel like a bit of an info-dump at times, but the information being dumped is still intriguing and builds your understanding of each character’s context.

Ideas like personhood are nothing new to the science fiction genre, and having an AI be the catalyst for such discussions and explorations are fairly common. But where Chambers takes a relatively lesser trod path is that much of the perspective on this is from that very AI, and how she navigates questions like ‘am I a person?’ Which feels very different to people asking ‘is that a person?’ in the more abstract. To make this a very personal journey, to put our eyes in that of a computer, does make the reader much more likely to empathise and to connect.

It is by no means a simple task. This isn’t Pinocchio who wants to be a real boy. Sidra isn’t even sure she wants to be a person for a long time. She is filled with guilt, with uncertainty, and with a lack of purpose. These struggles leave her desiring her old life as a ship’s computer, back when she knew what her existence meant, and knew what her purpose was. But as she grows, she doesn’t solve these issues, but gradually tries to embrace them as part of what it means to be a person.

What I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Sidra discovers her personhood through platonic relationships, through found family, and friendships. So often, in stories of robots or AIs where they are perceived as female it ends with them engaging in a sexual relationship with a – usually male – human. That was not the case here. Sidra develops close familial and platonic bonds with humans and aliens and through their shared experiences and love for one another, she grows. She gets to know her own personhood through her love and friendship, and it is not tied to sex, and perhaps it’s my ace side making me biased, but I really thought that was a stroke of genius.

beckyThe other half of the book, running parallel, is the story of Pepper, who also faced her own struggle with identity and personhood. She escapes a factory where she had spent most of her life sorting scrap and flees into the wastelands and eventually is rescued by the AI of a small shuttle. This AI, named Owl, is a caring and nurturing force in Pepper’s life, raising her, teaching her, and guiding her through the skills that will help her survive and thrive once they escape the planet they are trapped on.

Pepper’s life is shaped by her experience being raised by an AI, and so when Sidra comes into her life, we get a real sense of why it is so important to her that she looks after her. It is Pepper’s way of saying thank you. It is her way of sorting out her feelings, her way of reconnecting with the only real parental figure she ever knew.

Chambers’ writing style shifts between Pepper and Sidra. Especially when Pepper is younger, as the 10 year old factory kid has a simpler vocabulary, so does the narrator in these parts. She gets right into her head, describing the strange world in ways a young person with limited experience would understand. Big feelings. Bad things. This switch really hammers home how Pepper / Jane23 feels and really brings the reader into the moment.

long-wayNow, I won’t give away the ending, but I will say it was not what I anticipated. This is a good thing, I hasten to point out. Much like in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Chambers is an optimist, and the ending very much subverts what you might expect from a genre that is filled with the grim, and the horrorful. In an age of pessimism, optimism is a revolutionary act.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Patricia Rodriguez. It was a stellar performance (pun intended), though the moments where an online style text conversation is described tended to be a little tedious as the narrator had to read out every single identifying line, every single timestamp, and so on. Other than that, it was great.

Related:

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Becky Chambers Interview

 

Juliet E McKenna Interview – Writers of Fantasy

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This week’s interview on Writers of Fantasy is with Juliet E McKenna, author of The Tales of Einarinn, The Aldabreshin Compass, The Hadrumal Crisis and the upcoming Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, which launched at BristolCon this October!

Juliet is an incredibly thoughtful and talented writer with countless books under her belt. We talked about the changing landscape of fantasy fiction, the rise of eBooks, politics, feminism, Doctor Who, and of course some good old fashioned writers’ advice. Take a listen below! You’ll also find some key quotes under the player for those who can’t listen right away.

[Listen Here]

southern-fire-small-200x300On the new editions of The Alderbreshin Compass and working with Wizards Tower Press.

“Ah, the cover art by Ben Baldwin [on The Aldabreshin Compass] is absolutely fantastic! Those are the covers I’ve wanted for those books since I first wrote them!”

“This is one of the things that happens when you’re a writer who’s been around for quite a long time. When The Tales of Einarinn and The Aldabreshin Compass were written there was no mention of eBooks in my contracts. eBooks weren’t a thing. … So, basically, I retained all those rights. And, unsurprisingly, publishers have come along in recent years and said ‘Do let us do eBooks for you and we’ll give you a whole, oh, 15%!’ to which my response was ‘Thank you, but no!’ Because the returns on something like an eBook edition if you do it independently, obviously if you’re a writer, are very much higher. The trick is, of course, that you need somebody to do all the tech stuff!”

On working with Independent publishers vs bigger publishers.

“When it is one person working with one person on one specific project, we can have an exchange of emails in a morning and get umpteen things sorted out. An editor in a big publishing house is dealing with who knows how many writers, who knows how many books at different stages of publication … Again, a lot of people have to be involved in discussions and decisions and that inevitably builds a time lag into the process.”

[Continue reading…]

Kelly Robson Interview – Writers of Fantasy

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This week’s interview in our Writers of Fantasy series is with Kelly Robson, author of Waters of Versailles, which won the Prix Aurora Award and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Nebula Award.

We had a really great conversation about the ins and outs of writing, the life of a writer, and how the industry is changing its attitudes. Take a listen, or check out the key quotes below if you can’t listen right now.

[Listen here]

The GrimCast Episode 002

There’s a podcast I co-present with Zoe Harris all about the publishing world. The second episode is up now and you can take a listen at the link below;

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LISTEN HERE

This month, we’re talking to Joanne Hall – author of The Art of Forgetting, Spark and Carousel and The Summer Goddess – and Adele Wearing from Fox Spirit Books.

We compare the differences between self publishing, going with a small indie press and going the traditional route. Jo, who is a Grimbold author as well as an editor for us, offers her unique perspective on both sides of the publishing fence, and Adele talks about everything that goes into running a small press from acquisitions to cover art to editing and production.

Follow Fox Spirit Books on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Joanne Hall on Facebook and Twitter.

The first episode can be found here.

Come to BristolCon!

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I’m going to this year’s BristolCon on October 29th 2016. I will be doing a reading and a panel as well as some interviews with authors of all stripes! BristolCon is a one-day convention open both to the public and the industry, making it a nice balanced event perfect for the sci-fi and fantasy fan.

Every year we feature panel discussions and lectures, an art show and small group sessions including kaffeklatsches and workshops. Books, comics and merchandise are available in the dealers’ room and authors will be available for book signings. There’s also a games room and a ‘brick-out’ space (a cafe-style area with lego to play with). A variety of entertainment is offered in the evening.

I’ll be on the ‘After the Heroes have gone‘ panel at 18:00 alongside Danie Ware (Moderator), Juliet E McKenna, Chris Baker and R.B. Watkinson. We will be discussing the aftermath of the heroes’ journey, what happens to the people affected by devastating battles and fate-of-the-world encounters.

We all enjoy a big battle, especially on the big screen, but what happens afterwards? Who’s picking up the pieces of New York after the Avengers have smashed it up, who’s living in the wreckage of a Godzilla-stomped Tokyo and what are the Alderaanians who were off planet at the time supposed to do next? Wars have knock-on effects that aren’t always explored – we ask our panel to think about the fate of the ordinary folk, after the heroes have gone.

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I’ll also be doing a reading from The Sky Slayer at 15:50. Come hear me do silly voices and explore some characters. There will also be a Grimbold Books table where you can buy not only my books but others from our vast array of talent.

This will be my first BristolCon, but I’m reliably informed it’s a brilliant convention, packed with amazing events and people. Juliet E McKenna (who I interviewed the other day) will be launching her new book and I encourage everyone who can to come along and support her and other brilliant writers in the biz!

http://www.bristolcon.org/

Location: Doubletree Hotel, Bristol
Tickets (Membership): £25 adv. /£30 door
Guests of Honour: Artist Fangorn, and authors Ken MacLeod and Sarah Pinborough

Aliette De Bodard Interview – Writers of Fantasy

house-of-shattered-wings-uk-resizedThis week’s interview in the Writers of Fantasy series is with Aliette De Bodard! She is best known for her incredible historical fantasy novel The House of Shattered Wings.

She is a master of both short fiction and long novels, with a number of historical fantasy settings that have kept readers hooked for years.

We talked about her development as a writer, comparing her short stories to novels, the writing process, character building and much, much more.

Take a listen! There are key quotes below.

[Listen here]

“The first book in English that I bought with my own money… and it turned out to be Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet. I didn’t know anything about her at the time, but all I knew was that it looks thick… and it has dragons on the cover! I mean, hey bring it on, right?”

“I made my way through [Earthsea] with a dictionary because it was so bloody hard!”

“I picked up a book titled ‘How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction’ and I read it and I was like ‘You can DO this?’ I never really thought about this because an awful lot of French literary canon is people who have been dead for quite a bit!”

“I actually started by writing novels. They were these epic, like, 200,000 word novels. The kind of thing you can use as a weapon against other people. Obviously at this length it’s difficult to find readers for them, especially when the quality is not great. So I had this brilliant idea, I thought ‘I’m going to write short stories so it’s going to be easier for people to give me feedback and then I can work on my craft!’”

“Writing a novel and writing a short story are actually not very much alike, so for the first five to six years I was writing a lot of short stories and I was getting better and better at writing short stories. But when I decided I was going to write a novel I suddenly discovered that I might know how to write short stories but novels were different and in particular pacing was a big problem.”

“My very first draft, my husband read through it and said, ‘I think I have one major comment before we get around to any of the other stuff like logical points and character development and so on and so forth… You realise that your characters have not slept or eaten for at least four or five days.’”

“Ever since I’ve been very careful to give the characters lunch breaks.”

FULL INTERVIEW HERE

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