This Author Spotlight
Gwyneth Jones was born in Manchester, England. She took an undergraduate degree at the University of Sussex, in History of Ideas (with Latin), specializing in seventeenth-century Europe, which gave her a taste for studying the structure of scientific revolutions, and societies (scientific and otherwise) in phase transition; a background that still resonates in her work.
She's written many genre novels for teenagers, mostly using the pseudonym Ann Halam, and several highly regarded science fiction novels for adults, notably the Aleutian Trilogy: White Queen, North Wind, and Phoenix Café; Life, the fictional biography of a woman scientist of genius, and the ‘near-future fantasy’ series, Bold As Love based on alternative cultures, horrific new science, revolution and rock music in a darkening world.
Collections of her critical writings and essays ‘Deconstructing The Starships’ and ‘Imagination/Space’ appeared in 1999 and 2011 respectively. She has also published short story collections, ‘The Universe Of Things’, ‘The Buonarotti Quartet’ (USA), and ‘Gravegoods’ (UK).
Among other honors she has won the Arthur C. Clarke award, the Tiptree award, two World Fantasy awards, the BSFA short story award, the Children Of The Night award, and the Pilgrim Lifetime Achievement award for SF criticism. Several stories and essays are available free on line at http://www.gwynethjones.uk/ . She practices yoga, and has done some extreme tourism in her time. Hobbies include watching old movies, playing Zelda and staring out of the window.
1.How did you get into writing and why do you write?
My father told terrific bedtime stories. His best work was based on a fairytale (lots of variants, but it’s the one where a girl discovers she once had seven brothers, who were turned into crows and driven away: and she sets off in search of them). Instead of heading straight for the happy ending, after a short sequence of perils, the adventures just went on and on. We loved it. When I took over from my dad I added my own twists to the formula. I kept the folklore, but I mixed-in science fiction, and er, popular cultural references. The Avengers, our favourite tv programme, was a great source of inspiration. I’m still doing the same now. I wrote my first story for pay (children’s page in our local newspaper) when I was fourteen. When I found out that I loved shaping and crafting a story that would stay on the page, even more than I loved making it up as I went along, I was hooked for life. Why do I write? Really it’s always for my own entertainment first. But I think any proper craftsperson should be able to say that.
Janis Ian has said something like “practicing the arts isn’t a way to make a living, it’s a way to make life bearable”. I think that’s a good corrective to the idea that you have to be making money or your writing is worthless. But I’d say “wonderful”, instead of “bearable”.
2.What do you like best (or least) about writing?
Getting stuck. That will do for least and best. It’s agonising when something isn’t working, and you just can’t see how to fix the problem. Bliss when suddenly it all glides into place. Not infrequently, this miracle happens overnight. Our dreams, Aristotle said, are the continuation of our thoughts in sleep. Without the anxious censor of conscious attention, problem solving is so much easier sometimes.
3.What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?
I have a compelling idea. That’s absolutely essential. You can unpack a whole story from a single good idea. Then I hack out an outline, ruthlessly forcing myself to get the story from A to B, some way or other. Then I start writing. I write very fast, and then I revise endlessly. Sometimes I get obsessed, and I will write night and day, 7 days a week. Other times I’ll have a sensible schedule. There’s no set pattern.
4.Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”
Off the top of my head: Charlotte and Emily Brontë (I’ve just been re-reading the Brontës) Karen Jay Fowler, Monica Byrne, Nalo Hopinkson. Scarlett Thomas is a great discovery. Donna Tartt. I also love H.P Lovecraft, Arthur Machen and Sheridan Le Fanu. I’ve just finished reading Cixin Liu’s “The Three Body Problem”. It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed it very much. Ken Liu did a great job on the translation: I was so glad he let the book, the characters and the storytelling stay properly Chinese.
5.Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes?
You don’t need the quotes & that solves that.
6.What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma?
Huh? I googled it (actually I didn’t Google it, I use a search engine that doesn’t track me). There certainly does seem to be an issue! Punctuation is something I may take up, and try to understand, when I’m very old and wise. Until then, I just throw in a lot of those little marks at first, and take most of them out again in the final draft.
7.What is your book Grasshopper’s Child about and how did it come to fruition?
The Grasshopper’s Child is about a young girl, Heidi Ryan, whose sweet, feckless father has been murdered. Her mother, who has mental health issues, is the obvious suspect, and Heidi has legally become the property of the loan company, to pay off her father’s debts. She’s sent to be the slavey-housekeeper for an eccentric old couple, in a seaside village (in Sussex where I live), and meets the other reject teens in the area. Able-bodied teens are sent off to compulsory agricultural labour camps, because there’s no power for the machinery any more. It’s a mystery, a horror story, and a futuristic thriller, set in the same world as my Bold As Love series, but this time it’s about young adults, their friendships, and how they cope in a terrifying future that (in many ways) might well be ours. Although the three main Bold As Love characters do have cameo roles.
I tried to get it published traditionally, or mainstreamly, but in the end I had to accept it couldn’t be done, not without changes I didn’t want to make. So I brought it out myself.
8.What’s your current writing project?
I’m doing a sci-fi novella for Tor.com, and I’ve signed up to write a monograph on Joanna Russ for the University of Illinois New Masters Of Science Fiction series. The reading for the latter is going to keep me pretty busy for a while.
9.What book(s) are you currently reading?
The Brontës’ Web Of Childhood, Fannie Elizabeth Ratchford
A Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks
A River Runs Again, Meera Subramanian
And my bedtime story is The Lord Of The Rings. I haven’t read TLOR for a long, long time. It’s a bit disconcerting, like going back to where you lived as a child. Everything does seem smaller. But I’m still finding a lot to like, and to admire.
10.Who or what inspires your writing?
Everything, anything. If it’s happening to me; if it’s happening to my world, I’m probably getting fleeting ideas for a story about it. When one of these ideas becomes compelling, that’s when I start writing something new.
Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your book, etc.
A lot of my books, including The Bold As Love series, The Grasshopper’s Child, and my “Ann Halam” ghost stories, are available as my own re-edited ebooks, in the usual retail venues. I also have some books with The Aqueduct Press http://www.aqueductpress.com/authors/GwynethJones.php
You can read stories & novel samples free online, and find out more about all my books, at my website http://www.gwynethjones.uk/
Gwyneth Jones tweets at @AnnHalam
Thank you, Gwyneth, for sharing your books and your writing life with us. Please visit with us again in the future when you have new books to share.
There you have it, gang. Words of wisdom from another big-time, award-winning writer. Be sure to visit Gwyneth's website to check out her free samples and purchase a copy of Grasshopper's Child today!