Today, for a change, I’m posting an interview that I held with Joanna Hall, to celebrate the release of her new book, Art of Forgetting: Nomad, the sequel to the Art of Forgetting: Rider, (currently free on amazon kindle!!!)
1. Okay,well, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m thirtysomething and I live in Bristol with my boyfriend and our lazy-crazy greyhound. I like movies, music, reading, writing and CAKE. I’ve written a bunch of novels and a collection of short stories and, with my friend Roz Clarke, I’ve co-edited two Fantasy and SF anthologies, Colinthology, and Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion. In my spare time I’m the chair of BristolCon, and in my spare-spare time I like to sleep, occasionally…
2. Now tell us about your latest book.
My latest book, The Art of Forgetting: Nomad is the second volume in a duology published by Kristell Ink (The first part, Rider, was released in June 2013). It follows the story of Rhodri, a foundling boy with a unique, perfect memory who joins a cavalry unit to look for his missing father, only to discover his father isn’t the man he always believed he was. By the time the second book starts, Rhodri has betrayed his comrades to protect a stranger, and is on the run across the vast steppes of Atrath. He’s just beginning to build a new life for himself when he’s forced into a war against his friends and his country, all to protect his new family.
3. You’ve set all of your novels in the same world. What are the good and bad points about using the same universe for your writing? Do you think you will create somewhere else, eventually?
One of the good things is that you can get really into the world building – you spend a lot of time in that world and you get to know it really well, so going back to it and writing another novel is like slipping on a comfy pair of slippers. Alongside the stories of the characters is the ongoing history of the world, and that has an impact on books further down the line. It means I can play as well, bring back old characters and places for cameo appearances or cross-reference little things from other books. It’s fun!
The other thing is, it’s a big world, and as I’ve gone on I’ve been able to explore more of it. Nomad is the first book set almost entirely in Atrath, which is very different both geographically and culturally to the lands of the west. Spark and Carousel is city-based, and I could get right into the nitty-gritty of writing a story set in a medieval city. In the book I’ve just finished, “The Summer Goddess”, I got to explore the islands around the eastern sea.
I don’t think I’ve run out of stories in this world yet, but I would like to do something fresh, and I’ve got a couple of ideas for books set in entirely different worlds, and even on other planets. So yes, I’m definitely going to create somewhere else. I’d like to do what Anne McCaffrey did, and have a main series set in one world that I can keep coming back to, and other stories set in other worlds.
4. You’re rather mean to your characters, what is the appeal? Why do you think writers are often so cruel to their characters, sometimes needlessly? Do you ever feel bad about it?
I’m not George RR Martin I feel bad for the people who ring me up and say “I can’t believe you did THAT to THEM!” But at the same time a) devising horrible inventive torture for characters is fun, and b) if nothing horrible happened to anyone it would be a pretty boring book. I have sometimes been told by my beta readers to rein it in a bit when I’ve done something particularly nasty…
5. What is your favourite part of writing, and your least favourite? What’s your favourite thing about being a writer?
My favourite part of writing is just sitting there making stuff up and writing it down, and turning my blobby mass of thoughts into a proper story. First and second drafts, especially, when the book really starts to take shape. I really enjoy that. By the fifth / sixth / seventeenth edit, when all I’m doing is taking commas out and putting them back in and I’m sick to death of reading the same book, that’s when it’s not so enjoyable…
I have lots of favourite things about being a writer – the moment when you get to hold the finished book for the first time, meeting people who have read it and enjoyed it, signing books, chatting to readers, it’s all good…
6. There’s been a lot of articles recently about the position of women as writers and readers of spec fic. You’re a female writer, with a female publisher, do you feel like women are unfairly treated in the fantasy and sci-fi genre, as writers, and as readers? Why do you think this is? Do you think it will ever change? Do you think it’s connected with the abuse that you’ve received for writing gay characters and for the general lack of racial and disabled characters in fantasy and sci fi?
That’s a lot of questions, and it’s a complicated thing to unravel without writing an essay… I think the lack or representation of women in SF and F is really deep-rooted – it goes right back to the way we bring up girls (and boys). I can only talk about SF and F publishers, and my figures are so-so, but in general women are less inclined to put themselves forward, so they submit less stuff to publishers, so less stuff by women gets published and even less breaks through to the mainstream, which re-enforces the perception that SFF is a “boys club”.
Then it comes down to marketing, where women are more likely to be marketed as Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance and tucked away in the black cover-bare chest section of the bookstore. Or YA – I’m a big fan of YA but I have found in chatting to people that they assume because I’m a woman under forty what I write is either Paranormal Romance or YA, because girls don’t write that icky fighting bloody stuff… So there’s a problem of perception there, which is reinforced by skewed marketing, and what you end up with is under-representation by book sellers and female authors being ghettoised on the shelves, which leads to lower sales because people can’t find the books they want to read by women in, for example, Waterstones, which then leads to Waterstones not ordering books by women because “books by women don’t sell.” It’s a vicious circle. And I know Amazon is a Multinational Conglomerate of Pure Evil, but at least on Amazon the playing field is slightly more level. You don’t have to fight to get women on the promotional tables at Amazon, because all their tables are virtual and as big as the sky…
I think everyone – publishers and marketing depts, and bricks-and-mortar booksellers, as well as authors and fans, needs to do more to raise awareness of women writers. By buying and reading and reviewing their books and making a big fuss to both the booksellers and the publishers, we can change this for the better, a little. But it’s a big fight and it needs to start in the classroom, by encouraging girls to be proud of their abilities and to put themselves forward fearlessly. By the time we get to the book stores it’s too late.
I don’t think it’s necessarily connected with the abuse I got for writing gay characters (I wouldn’t call it “abuse”, it was more like monkeys throwing poo from the peanut gallery. I certainly didn’t feel abused by it) – I think they’re two slightly different issues. There is an under-representation of ethnic minority, disabled characters, and characters of alternate sexuality in SFF. Again, some of that may come down to marketing – the whitewashing of book covers and film adaptations, for example, is very frustrating, especially if you’re the author and your protests against it are unheard. But I think we’re all so much more aware of it now – organisations like the Bi Writers Association, Lambda and Disability in Kidlit are all working to raise awareness. So things are getting better on that score. But as I said to someone in an interview when I’d been asked about my “bravery” in writing bisexual characters for the fourteenth time – It’s 2014 – why is it even still an issue that people are getting steamed up over, that some characters are gay / disabled / non-white? If we’re writing about other worlds, or other planets, the idea that everyone in the world is white and heterosexual with two arms and two legs is just nonsense…
7. What would you say was your biggest influence in your writing life? Who do you most admire?
I would say my mum and my uncle were the biggest influences in my writing fantasy and SF, because they were both big SFF fans and they let me raid their bookshelves from an impressionable age, and it was there I discovered Asimov and Clarke and Eddings and Julian May and all kinds of other fun things to read. We would go to the library every month and I read my way through the SFF section and discovered Terry Pratchett and David Gemmell and Anne McCaffrey. It’s hard to maintain awed admiration for authors when you’ve been to conventions and seeing them drunk But I do admire my friend Stephanie Burgis, who has put up with CFS and raised two lovely boys and written a brilliant series of novels at the same time. And Emma Newman, who I hope won’t mind me saying suffers from crippling anxiety but still manages to come out and do readings and appearances looking so dazzling that you’d never know, while I would be hiding under the duvet gibbering. Both brave ladies, and wonderful writers
8. You run Bristol Con. You created it too. Tell us a little about it? And give us a little behind the stage gossip, what’s the hardest, easiest, and bestest bits about running a convention?
BristolCon is the most fun you can have in a room with 300 of your mates We started five (six?) years ago with about fifty people, and Alastair Reynolds and Paul Cornell were guests of honour, and now it’s grown to become one of the biggest non-commercial conventions in the country outside of Eastercon and FantasyCon. It’s a great day, we have dealers, a large art show, panel talks, a notoriously difficult quiz, and this year we have a room set aside for gaming in the evening. Everyone is very friendly and even though it’s hard work and quite stressful and exhausting, especially in the last few weeks, the feedback is lovely and everyone seems to have a great time. (It’s www.bristolcon.org, if you want to have a look – we also run a monthly Fringe event of readings by SF and F authors in the pub, where they do a very fine Hunter’s Chicken…)
9. What’s next for you?
The Art of Forgetting: Nomad comes out on May 24th and there will be a launch at Forbidden Planet in Bristol – yay! After that I’m going to have a bit of a breather – I’ve just finished The Summer Goddess so I’m giving my brain a little bit of a recharge before I start something new. And Roz and I are already planning our next anthology, Into The West, but that’s still in the very early stages. I do have a few half-formed half-baked ideas, will have to see which one sticks!
10. Where can we find you on the internet?
BLOG – www.hierath.co.uk
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGEs - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Joanne-Hall/e/B00EZWH5NE
TWITTER – @hierath77
FACEBOOK - www.facebook.com/Hierath77
KRISTELL INK - http://kristell-ink.com/