Although I always wanted to be a writer, I did not deliberately set out to be a science fiction writer in particular. My stories are usually about my own life, things I see happening around me and things I struggle to make sense of. But, for some reason, they always end up being science fiction. I like the freedom it gives me to invent things and play with ideas. (If you going to make up the characters, why not make up the world as well?) It’s what works for me.
It provides a bit of distance too, which all writers need to find in one way or another.
One thing I like about writing fiction is finding things emerging in my own stories which I wasn’t conscious of, a bit like a dream whose symbolism only slowly dawns on you.
Some of my stories draw on my experience as a social worker. I am now a part-time lecturer in social work and have written several textbooks for social work students.
In book shops science fiction is usually cordoned off in its own little ghetto, which many people seem to regard as the exclusive preserve of Comic Boy Guy. In reality science fiction is as varied in content, quality and style as any other kind of fiction. I’m not sure that it is even a single genre in any real sense. I certainly resent the common assumption that ‘science fiction’ and ‘literature’ are mutually exclusive categories. They are overlapping circles in a Venn diagram.
I think too that it’s a mistake to think of science fiction and fantasy as specialist sidelines and of naturalistic fiction as the mainstream. The early classics of literature were what we would now call fantasy (think of the Odyssey, Beowulf, the Icelandic Sagas). Naturalistic fiction is a relatively modern invention: a very specialist subgenre of fantasy which, although it is really ‘made up’, nevertheless mimics real life.
Science fiction, I think, is a modern kind of fantasy: fantasy for an age in which we don’t believe in magic. Or rather for an age in which we actually can do magic (fly through the air, talk to machines, send pictures to the far side of the world, sew the living heart of one person into the body of another…)
My books and stories
I have been writing short stories since 1990, though I usually only complete a couple a year. The first to appear in print was ‘A Matter of Survival’ in Interzone . (I am very grateful to Interzone, the largest and most durable of British SF magazines, for providing me with a platform on which I could start to perform as a writer.) My second story published there, ‘La Macchina’, was a sort of early prototype for my novel The Holy Machine, along with ‘The Long Journey of Frozen Heart’ (possibly my favourite story name), which was published about the same time and was the source of the Holy Machine subplot dealing with Ruth.
I took unpaid leave from my job to write The Holy Machine in 1994. (I was then a social services manager) . I rewrote it, pretty much in its final form, in 1997, but it did not get published until 2004, when it was initially published in ‘print-on-demand’ format, by Wildside in the US. In 2009 it was reprinted under the Cosmos label, along with my second novel Marcher. These were low budget editions. Marcher in particular had no editorial input, no copyeditting to speak of, and no proofreader either (and it shows: there are typos and editting errrors on every page). But I remain proud of Marcher, a novel about boundaries and transgressions, which incorporated material from my ‘shifter’ / ‘welfare man’ family of stories, including ‘Marcher’, ‘Tammy Pendant’ and ‘The Welfare Man’.
My next book was a short story collection, The Turing Test, published by Norwich based small press, Elastic Press. It included most of my published short stories up to that point, but excluded, among others, the ‘shifter’ and ‘welfare man’ stories that had already had an airing in Marcher. I am very grateful to Elastic Press’s founder, owner, editor, proofreader, salesman and everything else-man, Andrew Hook (who is incidentally a fine writer in his own right) not only for publishing this book but for entering it for the Edge Hill Short Fiction award, which it won in 2009. (Sadly for new writers, though perhaps not for Andrew, who now has more time for his own writing, Elastic Press is no longer publishing new books, though The Turing Test remains in print.)
I took a lot of trouble with the selection and ordering of stories for The Turing Test, trying to ensure that each story was a contrast to the previous one, and spreading out stories in which the same characters reappeared, with the idea that readers would enjoy meeting them again unexpectedly later on in the book.
On the back of the success of The Turing Test, The Holy Machine was republished in a new edition by Corvus in 2010, the definitive version of this novel. It is an everyday tale of a shy young man who falls in love with a sentient sex robot, and escapes with her to a land ruled by Christian fundamentalists. (The fundamentalists will destroy her if they find out what she is, which turns out to be a problem for the shy young man, whom she completely relies on to keep her safe. He discovers that, however human she might look, she is nothing like a human being at all, and is far too alien to love.) It’s a story about semblances and reality, the difficulty of distinguishing between them, and the mess you get into if you don’t.
Corvus have gone on to publish my third, longest, and most ambitious novel, Dark Eden.