I have been running a series of interviews with female fantasy writers to redress a perception I came across – that fantasy was a bit of a boy’s club. It really isn’t like that here in Australia. We have many wonderful fantasy writers who just happen to be female.
Today I’m interviewing Gareth Powell because he has a wonderful new book out, and also I thought I’d ask him the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male writer.
Q: (Disclosure here) We’re both published with Solaris Press. Your latest book, The Recollection, was launched in August. It’s been compared to Iain M Banks and Alastair Reynolds. From the blurb it seems to contain a mystery, parallel worlds/time travel and political intrigue. What themes are you exploring?
A: There’s a lot going on in The Recollection. The main characters are all—in one way or another—torn from the comfort of their everyday lives and thrust into dangerously unfamiliar territory. They have to fight to survive; they have to adapt and make decisions they didn’t know they were capable of making. At its heart, though, I think it’s the relationships between these characters—and the significance those relationships hold when measured against vast swathes of time and distance—that drive the book.
Q: I see you are an interviewer and reviewer of CDs for Acoustic Magazine. Did you study an instrument? Did you belong to a band when you were in your teens? Are you one of those writers who makes up a different play-list for each book and uses it to get into ‘the zone’?
A: Although I appreciate music, I can’t lay claim to any inherent musical talent. As the old saying goes, I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Nonetheless, I do find that music plays an important role in the writing process, and I often listen to orchestral or instrumental music while working. The music screens out external distractions, and it helps with the rhythm of the sentences. While writing The Recollection, I listened to a lot of film soundtracks, especially the iconic Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis, and Clint Mansell’s haunting score for Moon.
Q: You are also a prolific writer of short stories. (For a review of Gareth’s short stories see here). You have a collection, The Last Reef. Writing short stories is an art, especially with SF and F, when the writer has to set up the world as well as tell the story in less than five thousand words. Your short story Ack-Ack Macaque (try saying that fast five times!) won the Interzone Readers’ Poll for best short story in 2007. Do you find the urge to write short stories interrupts the flow of your novel writing?
A: Short stories don’t so much interrupt the flow of my novel writing as plug the gaps between novels. They make a good playground within which to test new ideas and concepts; and their length makes them a refreshing change of pace after the long haul of a novel.
Q: Your previous title, Silver Sands, appears to be an SF mystery. The world sounds quite noir – ‘a world of political intrigue, espionage and subterfuge; a world of retired cops, digital ghosts and corporate assassins’. Are you a film noir fan?
A: I have long been a fan of films such as The Maltese Falcon and LA Confidential, and have dipped into the world of the hardboiled detective through short stories and novels by Raymond Chandler and the like. However, I think I owe my real love of “noir” to the “tech-noir” look and feel of films such as Blade Runner, The Terminator, and Aliens; and the literary worlds explored by the Cyberpunks in the late 1980s—especially William Gibson’s “Sprawl” series of novels and short stories, including Burning Chrome and Neuromancer.
Q: I see you work as a PR manager for a disabled children’s charity. What a wonderful job, to be able to do something really worthwhile! My aunt has lost three children to Cystic Fibrosis so we’ve lived with the routine of constantly treating and medicating a child. Did personal experience lead you to apply for this job?
A: The charity I work for offers specialist play sessions to babies and pre-school children with disabilities and additional complex needs. I came onboard because I had experience in marketing and PR, and they desperately needed someone to boost their visibility, in order to attract donations. I work for them two days per week, and my job is to get them in the local paper as often as possible.
After a decade spent in corporate software marketing, it feels good to be doing something that has a clear and immediate benefit. I know that the money I raise through my efforts goes to support local children and families who really need it.
Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?
A: A few years ago, Aliette de Bodard and I collaborated on a ten thousand word novelette for Shine, an anthology of optimistic science fiction from Solaris Books. We had a lot of fun writing it, but I can’t say I noticed any difference in our approaches. We were just two writers doing what we enjoyed doing.
Based on that experience—and on conversations with many other female authors—I don’t believe that there is a difference in the way that men and women approach the craft of writing genre fiction. If there is a difference between the sexes, it’s in the reception their writing receives. The latest figures I’ve seen seem to indicate that men and women are fairly evenly represented when it comes to the number of authors currently writing genre fiction; however, the male writers seem to get more reviews and more exposure than the females, which is obviously grossly unfair—especially in genre that prides itself on its open-mindedness—and the probable root of the false perception mentioned in your question: that fantasy is a boy’s club.
Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?
A: There may be many reasons for me to pick up a book, but none of them involve the sex or gender of the author.
Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?
A: Firstly, I’d go back to the late 1980s and spend the day with my father. He died when I was eighteen, and I never really got the chance to know him as an adult. Now I’m a father myself, I think we’d have a lot to talk about.
After that, I’d probably go further back. I quite fancy seeing Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece in all their splendour. En route, I might stop for cocktails in New York in the 1920s, before the Wall Street Crash.
After that, I’d skip ahead a few centuries, then jump right to the end of the universe, to find out what happens—like flicking to the back page of a book, just to see how the story turns out.
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