There’s an interview from last year, recorded during the Bocas Lit Fest. I can barely remember what I said, but I do recall I had a fantastic time. Go listen to it now at The Spaces Between the Words.
Charles Tan, the Bibliophile Stalker, tagged me for the Next Big Thing meme. Every Wednesday, a different set of authors (and sometimes editors) talk about their upcoming work. I’ve answered the questions, but I’ve failed miserably at finding people to tag. You’ll find out by the end just how miserably, but for now … on to our questions!
What is the working title of your next book?
The title is The Best of All Possible Worlds.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
After the Boxing Day Tsunami, I was particularly moved by news articles on certain fishing communities that lost almost all of the women and children while the majority of the men survived because they were at sea. The reports of the individual and community reactions to this kind of crisis added to what I already knew about less dramatic (though still significant) instances of gender imbalance in contemporary and historical societies. I didn’t have a story in mind at the time, but that was the foundation.
There’s an accidental link to another disaster. The 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami was a devastating event that provoked Voltaire to challenge the idea that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’. That phrase and its associated theodicy are from Leibniz. But I did not have any of this in mind when I came up with the title. My brief mention of Leibniz in the book is also accidental and is entirely to do with calculus rather than philosophy.
What genre does your book fall under?
Science fiction with some light background romance.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The story is carried by a core group of characters, so I’d need a great ensemble cast. For the leads, I think Angel Coulby would be perfect as Grace Delarua. Dllenahkh, the male protagonist, has been harder to cast. The ideal actor would be a middle-aged Pacific Islander who could convey a lot of gravitas with a hint of humour.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Refugee aliens on frontier planet seek genetically compatible brides for the purpose of post-genocide repopulation; bureaucracy, culture clash and hilarity ensue.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Sally Harding of the Cooke Agency sold the manuscript to Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus in the UK and Del Rey/Random House in the US.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Three months. A lot was changed in the third month, and there were significant additions about a year later.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The size of the mission team and their visits to small, rural communities as well as larger towns is reminiscent of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. The romance has been compared to Jane Eyre. The sociological and anthropological focus has been compared to the works of Ursula LeGuin.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
After the Star Trek reboot came out, I read a hypothesis that the Vulcans might now have a skewed demographic because their offplanet occupations appeared to be very male-dominated. That resurrected my earlier thoughts on gender imbalance in societies and further inspired me to use a sci-fi framing for my ideas.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There are Elves in it. Sort of.
I was supposed to tag five more people but a) it’s late in the meme and a lot of people have already been tagged, and b) it’s December and people are Christmas-busy as well as deadline-busy. But I did find one person: Karen Burnham. Look out for her blog post this time next week.
First of all, congratulations to all the Hugo award winners, and special congratulations to the winner of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, E. Lily Yu!
(For the record, these are not belated congratulations, these are extended congratulations. I have been congratulating by tweet and email since Sunday.)
Secondly, it’s Wednesday-fortnight again and that means podcast! I’m delighted to be discussing The Rainmaker’s Mistake by Jamaican writer and sociologist Erna Brodber. I thought Karen Burnham would find it challenging – hah, she didn’t! And she loved it and we hope you do too. You can listen to the podcast here at SF Signal, but before you do, it’s worth visiting The Spaces Between the Words for an interview with Erna Brodber that will enhance your podcast experience.
Here it is. We could have spent a lot more time talking about Greg Egan’s short stories and how they compare to Ted Chiang’s work, but we stayed strong and more or less kept to time. However, we will continue talking about Egan and Chiang … not in the next episode, but the one after that.
Next episode (in two weeks) we’re looking at Caribbean SF again: Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake. I invite you all to listen to the marvellous reading and interview by Erna Brodber at The Spaces Between the Words and check out the other links to interviews and reviews. It will be good preparation. Again, if you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. This is the kind of book that we could summarise and spoil to the max and you’d still find it new and surprising when you read it.
The inaugural Bim Lit Fest, which took place from May 16-20, deserves a far better post than I can craft at the moment. It’s harder to blog than Bocas because there were fewer events, and the highlights were more personal than general. It was great to see Kei Miller (Jamaican poet and novelist) and Kendel Hippolyte (St Lucian poet) again, to meet John R Lee (St Lucian poet), and to encounter in one space the Caribbean greats Austin Clarke, George Lamming, Earl Lovelace and Derek Walcott. I had a fascinating conversation about Caribbean literary speculative fiction with Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press. I had old school friends with me, supporting me and enjoying the festival. I am slowly updating my haphazard and not at all definitive list of Caribbean writers and poets.
Kudos to Esther Phillips for bringing the Bim Lit Fest from idea to actuality! I’m looking forward to seeing it continue and grow and become a fixture in the Barbadian events calendar.
In other good news, Cooke International has sold Spanish rights to The Best of All Possible Worlds to RBA Libros!
Finally, fellow nominee Stina Leicht is interviewing all the nominees for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and my interview is here.
I was scheduled for a two-hour workshop with award-winning author Rabindranath Maharaj (born in Trinidad, based in Canada) on the topic ‘Getting to the end: how to bring a work in progress to its best conclusion’. Due to the assigned time, I missed other interesting morning events like Michael Anthony’s talk on the evolution of Carnival and W.A.R. Stories, a documentary on the life of Walter Rodney directed by Clairmont Chung. Once more, my inability to bilocate proved a nuisance.
I learned more from helping to conduct that workshop than I would have learned from taking it! Rabindranath was all kindness and reassurance, and I leaned heavily on his years of experience teaching writing. I was not ashamed to ask a question or two myself. Some questions and answers were retained for later musing. Why does a novel get stuck? Because something isn’t working and perhaps your own suspension of disbelief has been compromised. But what isn’t working and why? Is the character development consistent? Does the plot make sense? What about my own work – do I also feel it when the society doesn’t make sense even if the characters are individually consistent in their words and actions? When do you admit defeat (or at least temporary retreat) and put down an unfinished draft? When does a novel ‘end’? At the first draft, the final draft? The first edit, the copyedited manuscript? The reviews and reader-reactions that inspire the author to change their approach in future, perhaps-related works? There are different strategies for getting through each of these stages.
After a quick lunch I prepared myself to record an interview for the podcasters at The Spaces Between Words. They are a lovely, professional team. They worked hard for the duration of the lit fest and they have a long list of podcasts from Bocas writers and others waiting in their queue. Check out their Still to Come page – classics and debuts, legends and new wave! I read a bit from Redemption in Indigo and answered some questions, and although I can’t guarantee I made sense it was one of the best interview experiences I have ever had. My heartiest thanks to interviewer Nicha Selvon-Ramkissoon, assistant editor and technical assistant (and photographer!) Ryan Durgasingh and editor Giselle Rampaul.
After the interview, I wandered into the tail-end of an afternoon talk by Anne Walmsley (former Caribbean editor for Longmans) on ‘Caribbean Publishing in the 1970s’. The audience appeared fondly nostalgic and slightly awed at her account of the nurturing of the Caribbean literary voice in that decade. I was drawn in as well by the mention of Ann Musgrave, the late proprietor of one of my favourite bookstores in Barbados, the Cloister, which could always be counted on to have shelves well-stocked with Caribbean literature.
Two incredible days down, two more days of Bocas to come!
Before I went to ICFA, I recorded this interview with the BBC World Service which aired yesterday and today. You can hear it repeated over the weekend, but if you’re sufficiently comfortable with a podcast or audio-online, go here: