I’ve always loved stories that twist our world – perhaps with an invention, or technology, or an alternate outcome for a world event, or a personal crisis like a surprise doppelganger. These concepts are real workouts for the imagination and such an exciting way to examine what it is to be human. Plus when I was a kid I adored Doctor Who!
Which is the first aspect of a story you usually plan? The plot, the setting, or the characters?
I get the initial idea and spend a long time puzzling about what deeper truth it’s trying to reflect. That leads me to the kinds of characters who would be most bothered by the situation – which conjures up my story.
My first novel (My Memories of a Future Life) took the idea of regression to past lives and made a character examine her next incarnation in the future – so she somebody’s past. It’s not science fiction, but it’s definitely in the speculative area.
If you had to say that your stories were Sci-Fi/Fantasy crossed with something, what would it be? For example, Sci-Fi/Romance, or Historical Fantasy. Why did you choose this?
Lifeform Three is sci-fi crossed with fable. I wanted to create a heightened reality with a fairytale undercurrent of the sinister, the meaningful. Fables look light but they are deceptively serious – you could almost say they are warnings. My Memories of a Future Life is a psychological suspense thriller with an element of future fantasy.
What, or who, would you say is your greatest influence in your writing?
I discover new influences all the time. But my long-term muses are Ray Bradbury’s novels, which shine with originality, humanity and honesty; also Nevil Shute’s On The Beach – an unflinching, poignant story of the end of the world. Of the harder SF writers I admire Philip K Dick for bending memories and the soul. Further afield, I’m inspired by John Steinbeck for his fragile characters. And I’m a sucker for a good time travel tale because it needs super-slick plotting.
How did you come up with the idea for Lifeform Three?
I wanted to write a story in the future, but in an atypical setting. Instead of a city, it’s the last scrap of idyllic countryside – the Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall. Then I thought, who would look after it? So I created artificial humans – bods – who are programmed for menial tasks and also have to tune into nature. Then I thought they might get bored and rebellious, so these bods have their minds wiped regularly. And there, I thought, is a story – what if one bod in this utopian place had memories he wanted to keep? What might he have lost already and what would he risk to find it again? And that’s my MC, Paftoo.
It also explores where we’re heading – with global warming and also with our technology. We’re already nannied by apps and algorithms that judge what we like and screen out the rest. Some of that is driven by advertising – Facebook and Twitter is showing us promoted posts instead of what our friends are doing. Software helps us make decisions and we’ll become more lazy and dependent on them. But what are we missing? What are we throwing away?
What was your proudest moment in the creation of this book?
Whenever anyone tells me they’re enjoying the book, and that it’s hit the notes I was aiming for.
Have there been any points that had you doubting yourself? How did you get past them?
Plenty! Writing a novel is a process of problem-solving (for which there are few algorithms to help!). I got past them the way I always have. I keep brainstorming and I suddenly find my persistence has given me an idea that works. What’s more, it wouldn’t have been possible without the struggle, where I rejected half a dozen lesser ideas.
What is your favourite aspect of the sci-Fi and fantasy genres?
Definitely the ability to invent situations that aren’t possible at the moment, but that challenge or illuminate our humanity.
What is the element you like the least about sci-fi and fantasy?
Sometimes in SF and fantasy the world or the technology swamps the characters. That doesn’t work for me.
Discounting ‘because I’d have made a lot of money’ (if that is the case,) which sci-fi or fantasy book/tv series/film do you wish you’d written, and why?
Blade Runner. Androids who have more sense of life and dignity than the humans who want to control their fates. I worship it regularly.