So here we go, one of those writer’s tag games. The multi-versifying poet, performer, celebrant and sailor Sarah Hymas has asked me to share a little about my current writing project, and then pass the baton along. I’m going to keep this brief-ish, because really I ought to be working on my current writing project! Which is the second novel in The Gaia Chronicles series, and a sequel to Astra, which was published last month by Jo Fletcher Books.
I will blog about Astra next week to celebrate the Brighton launch, and in fact I can’t say too much about the new novel, because that would spoil the ending of Astra. Sorry! But I can safely reveal that The Gaia Chronicles is a Science Fiction or Science Fantasy series, depending on whom I am trying to convince to read them . . . The books are about a young girl, Astra, growing up in a post-fossil fuel world and learning some harsh truths about her apparently idyllic, egalitarian and sustainable society. In the first novel Astra is pretty much at the mercy of the adults around her, but in the second novel she turns eighteen and starts to make her own decisions about how to react to the conflicts and pressures she faces. It’s great to be able to spend so much time with her, and while I have drawn on memories of my own childhood and adolescence to frame her growth, it constantly amazes me how much Astra is her own person.
I’m next supposed to explain how my new work differs from others in its genre. Hmm. I’m not sure I’ve read enough SF to say, to be honest, but it is possible that my focus on rebuilding civilisation, rather than heading pell mell toward self-destruction or relying on aliens to save us, is a relatively new niche in the genre. At least, that was the impression I got at a 2012 Fantasycon discussion on Writing the Apocalypse, where panellists predicted readers would soon be demanding books about futuristic social regeneration. Was I on trend? I guess we will see.
As to why I write SF, I’ve blogged about my current take on the genre recently here for SFX magazine but, basically, I feel excited by SF because it offers such dramatic ways to think about the human species, to fuse fiction and social critique, and to envision entirely new stories for ourselves. My current favorite case-in-point is Octavia E. Butler (1958-2006). As a Black American woman, Butler was a pioneer in the genre, and by chosing to consciously address themes of race, gender and historical injustice in her fiction, she helped to dismantle SF’s traditional reliance on the ‘heroic male conquest’ story. I’ve reviewed both her neo-slave narrative Kindred and her ‘hard’ (material science-based) SF trilogy, Lilith’s Brood, on Goodreads. Lilith’s Brood sets human violence against the biophiliac acqusitiveness of a nomad alien species, the Oankali (I secretly rather do like aliens and promise to create some myself at some point). Butler’s writing is sparse and effective, her scenarios gripping, and her ideas utterly relevant to the current global state of play. The Oankali believe humans are doomed to extinction because we possess an underlying genetic contradiction between intelligence and hierarchy. It’s a succinct expression of the trilogy’s tragic vision, and sadly one we seem to be fulfilling. Still, Butler’s syncretic, sensual, and radically inventive world-building stands in vivid contrast to the predictability of human self-destruction. Maybe, at heart, I love SF because it forces and allows my imagination to work full-tilt. I also can’t not believe in human intelligence, and I’ve sunk mine into SF because I want to share so many of the innovative technologies and inspiring ideas I’ve discovered in my research and my political activism.
Finally, I’ve also been asked to discuss how my writing process works. Novel writing requires commitment. I aim for 2000 words a day, and keep a notebook for sketches of my world, and plot and character planning. Once I finish a draft, I chop and change and hone. Things do not proceed like clockwork, admittedly. There are always distractions, especially online, and I often end up doing research or admin all day, but I suspect it’s good to have a break and let the unconscious go to work, so I try not to worry about that too much. Though I do need to get a bleep-of-a-lot of words written this month, so I will end this blog here!
That’s me done, then. I’ve tagged two poets, activists and all-around stellar beings Maria Jastrzębska and Seni Seneviratne. I confess that Seni also tagged Maria, so there is a bit of a crochet loop happening, but the world has to run out of writers sometime!