E.J. Swift is another of Night Shade Books’ highly anticipated 2012 debut authors. Her first novel, Osiris, is a sci-fi novel set in a post-environmental-disaster world. As one of my most-anticipated reads of the year, I decided to get in touch with Ms Swift, and ask her to tell us a little more about her novel, writing, the genre, and her sword-fighting skills…
I thought I’d start off this interview with something easy: Who is E.J. Swift?
I’m not sure that’s an easy question... but I’ll throw a few things out there! I’m an English writer of science fiction and the fantastical, an aficionado of London Town, a book geek, a gardener, a dancer, a slave to cats and a lover of all things circus. My ideal job description would be to spend half my time writing and the other half hanging off a trapeze. Or silks. I’d love to learn silks.
Your debut novel Osiris is out now through Night Shade Books. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader? Where do you see the series going in the future?
The title of the novel, OSIRIS, is the name of an ocean city cut off from land; a city divided between the haves and have-nots of a future world. The story follows two characters from the opposite sides of town: Adelaide, the Architect’s granddaughter, and revolutionary activist Vikram. Each of them has lost people they love. Each of them has their own agenda, but quickly becomes more entangled than they might have planned. And as it says on the cover, nobody leaves OSIRIS. At least, not in Book One...
Where did the inspiration for the story come from? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I wrote a novella called The Last Balloon Flight, about a journey across a flooded world. The concept stayed with me, and I had a very visual idea of this ocean city which slowly crystallised into Osiris. Researching climate change projections shaped my sense of the world outside, and how the city could have come to be there. Sometimes it’s the imagery that comes first, as with this book, and then I want to explore that place and find out who lives there. Other times it’s an idea – my first sale was a short story in Interzone, The Complex, about a prisoner on a convict planet. With that, I was interested in exploring the twin paradox, the effect of time dilation within space travel on an individual. With my Paris novel, I had a very clear sense of tone and how I wanted the book to feel.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
Growing up I read a lot of fantasy – Lord of the Rings of course, later on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was a huge influence, and writers like Garth Nix and David Almond. I also loved historical fiction like Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe novels, so it wasn’t surprising that the first novel I tried my hand at was fantasy. I studied English and American Literature at university. The books that have stayed with me from that era were those with more surreal or fantastical elements: I loved Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and I discovered one of my favourite novelists, David Mitchell. Nowadays I lean more towards science fiction, but I just aim to read as widely as I can.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I’m still getting my head around being a professional writer! From signing with Night Shade to publication was only six months, so it’s all happened very fast. I’m learning more all the time about the industry and what I need to do to give my work the best possible chance. One of the things I’m enjoying most is all the recommendations; everyday I’m jotting down new writers and book – Twitter’s brilliant for that. It’s also been great taking part in the Night Bazaar group blog, and hearing the advice of my fellow Night Shade authors.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
Writing has always been the big thing for me... I used to scribe and illustrate stories for my parents and make them into books. I’m lucky that my family has always supported me in that ambition. When I left school my first novel got me an agent. That book never made it to publication, but the experience taught me two very important things: patience, and perseverance. By the time I came to writing Osiris I’d tried a few different things: a couple of plays, occasional poetry which should never be seen by anyone, ever, and a few trunk novels. None of it is wasted experience, even when you condemn 100,000 words to the attic.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think speculative fiction is an incredibly diverse field and that’s what is so wonderful about it. A big part of the appeal for me is the opportunity to combine character exploration in places that have no limits bar your imagination; the books I love most do both in equal measure. Topically, I would say there’s an element of Osiris that explores climate change, but I wouldn’t want to narrow it down to that. I was also very interested in exploring the socio-political dimensions of the city.
What projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
At the moment I’m working on Book Two of The Osiris Project. There are new themes and contexts to explore, and I want it to have a slightly different atmosphere to Book One. After the trilogy I’m planning to finish my Paris novel, which is more down the line of magical realism.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
I’m two books out of three through 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. And I’ve just started Lavie Tidhar’s Osama, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for ages. In non-fiction I’m reading Mark Lynas’s The God Species, about what can actually be done to counter climate change, ocean acidification and other planetary boundaries that are less well-publicized. Happily, it’s more optimistic than his Six Degrees, which was one of my research bibles, but was very depressing indeed.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I used to be in a historical re-enactment society (the parents are responsible). I still remember the five attack and defence stances of sword fighting. Apparently I’m drawn to impractical skills.
What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
Finishing Book Two! And going to Chicon in August. It’s my first Worldcon, and my first time visiting the States. I can’t wait!