Today we’re joined by the author of Wicked Women story ‘Down at the Lake’ – Jaine Fenn, take it away!
Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write:
In my writing I’ve dabbled across the SFF spectrum but gravitated towards space opera, because I love the grand scale and possibilities it provides. When I was younger I read fantasy in preference to SF and that’s coming back to me now, as I have a growing fondness for that most unfashionable hybrid, science fantasy.
How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I’ve been writing forever, or at least it sometimes feels like it. I’ve wanted to write stories since my early teens, though thanks to letting myself get distracted by other stuff (earning a living, role-playing games, having a social life) this took a little longer than intended. I cut my teeth on short stories while working on the-novel-which-became-Principles-of-Angels; thanks to having had a few stories published I was on a panel with Jo Fletcher, who accepted Principles of Angels for publication by Gollancz. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Which authors have influenced you and why?
Ursula le Guin was my gateway to the SFF world: when I was nine I picked up a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea by chance; up until then I’d only read media tie-ins as my family didn’t keep books in the house so I had no idea what was out there.
I wish I could write like Geoff Ryman; he’s a real writers’ writer.
Mary Gentle is a much underrated writer: she’s shown my how to cross boundaries and mix it up.
Cyberpunk came along as I was getting into SF, and I can’t quite shake its influence, especially William Gibson.
And Iain M Banks got me into space opera.
Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?
Ooo, tricky question. Sadly, I think many of the real women who’ve been labelled ‘wicked’ by history have been done so pejoratively, as a way of belittling and disempowering them. One exception would be Boudicca. Though the full facts are lost to time and obscured by later myth-makers, for me she’s a great example of a woman who decided enough was enough and fought back, big time. If we’re talking about pure myth, it would have to be Queen Mab; she’s the essence of capricious, powerful femininity.
Tell us about the Hidden Empire series and what stories we can expect to see next from it?
The series is space opera, though with influences from other parts of the genre too (notably fantasy and cyberpunk, as noted above). There are five books to date, starting with Principles of Angels, and each book is meant to stand alone whilst adding to the overall story. The premise is that humanity was originally elevated to the stars by a not-quite-alien race who wanted to control human destiny – a race of archetypical wicked women, by the way – and though humans overthrew their rulers their attempts to rebuild independent human culture have been fragmentary, and the old oppressors are not entirely gone; plus, there are greater threats lurking out there which most people have no idea of.
The most recent Hidden Empire novel, Queen of Nowhere, tied up a number of loose ends, but there is more to tell. I’m currently working on other novel-length projects, but am still playing in that world; in fact I’ve just finished a short story set immediately after the human rebellion, exploring what happens to a culture when it goes from tyranny to (sort of) democracy.
You were recently a guest of honour at BristolCon, and have been GoH at Novacon as well as being a long time convention goer – what’s your favourite convention to go to, and what benefits have you found at conventions as an author?
I think my favourite con is BristolCon – which was why I was so delighted to be a guest. It’s only one day long but has excellent programming and a lovely chilled and friendly vibe. Cons are a fantastic way to connect with readers, and a chance to talk shop with other authors.
As someone who has been both traditionally published and ventured into self-publishing, what are the benefits of being a hybrid author for you?
It pays to diversify – these days more than ever. The big publishers are increasingly risk-averse, and most writers will produce work which won’t suit traditional publishing models, like novellas, which have always been hard to place. Self-publishing lets you get work like that out there alongside novels.
What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?
Short fiction is great if, like me, you have a hectic lifestyle and short attention span. More seriously, the short story is an art form which doesn’t get as much credit and coverage as it should; creating and develop compelling characters in a believable world whilst getting across your central idea in, say, five thousand words is quite an art. As for recommendations … there are some excellent short story writers out there, too many to mention, though I think short stories particularly suit hard SF ideas, and two recommendations for hard SF shorts would be Alasdair Reynolds and a newer writer, Vaughan Stanger.
Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?
There’s a whole steaming pile of gender-related stuff we could do without, although that is changing, slowly. I think the cliché which annoys me most is not from SFF, but about it, and that’s the common view of those who don’t read in our genre that those of us who do are infantile, anti-social, incapable of functioning effectively in the real world – and male.
What are you up to next?
I’m currently working on a science fantasy duology called Shadowlands, though I don’t have a publication date for that yet. Next May I’ll be Guest of Honour at Satellite 5, up in Glasgow, and I’m looking forward to that. And one of my intentions for next year, which your earlier question reminded me of, is to revise some of the many not-quite-there-yet short stories I have around.
Thank you for joining us Jaine!
Jaine Fenn studied Linguistics and Astronomy at college before spending a decade and a half developing a healthy distrust of technology whilst working in computing. She lives in Hampshire with her husband and her books.
As well as numerous short stories she is the author of the Hidden Empire series which started in 2008 with Principles of Angels. Since then, she has published a further 4 novels in the Hidden Empire series and a short story collection, Downside Girls set in the Hidden Empire universe. In her spare time, Jaine includes wild, green places, dancing like nobody’s watching and serious chocolate in her list of things to ease the trials of everyday life.
Her website can be found at http://www.jainefenn.com