Today we’re joined by the author of the British Fantasy Award nominated Wicked Women story ‘A Change of Heart’ – Gaie Sebold, take it away!
Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write:
I love walking (not hiking. Gentle, civilised walking that ends in tea and cake, not in fighting to pitch a tent on a mountain in a howling storm). I love gardening, I grow quite a lot of fruit and veg. I like to cook. All very ordinary. The only out-of-the-ordinary things I’ve done, outside fiction, have been live action role play – which is practically mainstream these days – and learning swordfighting (well, I say learning… I only did it for a couple of years. Up against anyone who actually knew what they were doing, I’d be entirely hopeless). I’ve worked in the theatre and done various office jobs, mainly for charities, but now I write full time and run writing workshops, which I adore.
In writing, I’ve largely been concentrating on fantasy the last few years. I still have occasional excursions into poetry, which was my first love. I have a number of projects on the go, one of which probably falls under historical crime – no supernatural elements in that one. I like having fun, with characters, with language, with descriptions. But even when I’m having the most fun, I’m usually dealing, or trying to, with issues that I think are important, like compassion and fairness and the responsibilities of power.
How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I started writing almost as soon as I could read – at about four. Fortunately I don’t think any of my early work has survived! I think I started by imitating what I was reading. Looking back, some of it could be called proto-fanfic – if I really enjoyed a story I didn’t want it to end, so I’d carry it on in my head. I do remember one early original effort involved unicorns, landing on the roof like Santa’s reindeer. That may have been the entire plot – there were unicorns, what else do you need? I wrote a lot of poetry and some short stories. I didn’t attempt a novel until I was in college, where the First Great Fantasy Tome started its long but inevitable progress towards the trunk.
Which authors have influenced you and why?
Jane Austen and earlier Fay Weldon for scalpel sharpness and dry humour. Stephen King for characterisation and sweaty-palmed I-can’t-stop-reading drama. Angela Carter for brilliance and sheer imaginative force. Terry Pratchett for being amazingly funny about stuff that matters – and for wonderful heroines. Tolkien – for all his problematic aspects – because Lord of the Rings swept me away. Neil Gaiman for mythic power. And lots and lots of other writers.
Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?
Hah! It hasn’t actually taken much for a woman to ‘misbehave’ throughout history. Do something considered unsuitable for ladies – which at some points has been anything at all other than ‘look pretty and produce babies’ – and you’re classed as misbehaving! More seriously – it’s often hard to find out about the influential women of history, there are still many whose contributions are completely ignored, they aren’t being taught in schools, and it’s a disgrace. But yes, I have a soft spot for Anne Bonny and Ching Shih (because who doesn’t love pirates), the Suffragettes, of course, Rosa Parks and Aphra Behn – because not only was she earning a living as a writer when that was almost unknown for women, she had a huge influence on the development of the novel, and many of her plays were considered very naughty – which takes some doing, in the Restoration period. Fictional wicked women? Pratchett’s Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax, definitely. Fevvers, from Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. Lady Joanna Constantine from Gaiman’s Sandman. Oh, was I only supposed to mention one? Sorry…
Rumour has it you’re collaborating with partner David Gullen on a project- what can you tell us about that, and how are you finding the collaboration process?
Dave and I tend to talk a lot about writing. Sometimes wine is involved. Often ideas happen. Most of them are simply us going off on a wild mental spree, but just occasionally something seems to grab both of us as a real possibility for a project. This one did. It’s a sort of steampunky romp, involving fine wine, nefarious doings, the Crowned Heads of Europe, and Neanderthals.
The collaboration process is something we’re still working out. Dave is much more of a planner than I am – though I’m becoming more of one – but this we needed to plan in quite a lot of detail. So I’ll look at the plan and write a bit, and he’ll write a bit, and then we’ll argue about the direction it’s going in, and then something comes up and it goes on the back burner for a month or two because we both have to do other things, and then we come back to it – I have no idea when we’ll get it finished, but eventually, I hope!
You’ve got the second book in your Sparrow series – Sparrow Falling – coming out from Solaris Books in 2016, what can readers look forward to from it?
This one involves my heroine, Evvie, finding herself in financial difficulties yet again as she tries to keep her rather unusual school for young ladies going. Looking for lucrative work brings her into contact with a man who is having some dangerous and unpleasant dealings with the Folk (my version of the Fey), and both Evvie and her fox-spirit friend Liu find themselves caught up in the rivalry between the English and Chinese Crepuscular Courts, while trying to prevent a war between Great Britain and Russia. Drama! Intrigue! Magic! Strangeness! Flying Machines! Extreme Peril!
What’s the appeal of the steampunk genre for you?
Since I have the engineering knowledge of a flea, it’s nice to write about fun machines that don’t exist without having to explain how they work. And the clothes are cool. And I am fascinated by the Victorian period – it was such a combination of huge advancement and reform alongside appalling brutality and exploitation, both at home and abroad.
How has being a member of the T Party Writers group helped you?
The T Party was hugely helpful to me. I regret I haven’t been very involved the last couple of years – but it was a great source of critique, encouragement, and information. And I made some very good and long-term friends. I think a well-run writing group can provide you with so much. I would always suggest people try them out, because writing can be a very isolating endeavour and it’s important to have people you can talk to about it. But it’s also extremely important to find a group that suits your particular temperament and areas of interest.
Tell us about your involvement with Plot Medics and has it given you new insights into your own writing?
I started Plot Medics with Sarah Ellender (also of T Party Writers) with the idea of providing writers with general help with their plots. It’s morphed into the platform for the workshops, which I run with Sarah when we can organise it or by myself otherwise. Running the workshops has really made me think about my own process, about what inspires me and keeps me going, and about the frameworks you can use to construct a story, explore characters, and so on. I love the enthusiasm and energy of the participants, and always come away from them completely knackered but inspired.
Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?
How long have you got? Actually, female characters who have nothing to do but be motivation or reward for male characters, that’s a major one. And it applies to many genres, not just fantasy.
What are you up to next?
Sparrow Falling is out next year as you mentioned – I don’t have a definite date yet. I’m signed up for Nine Worlds Geekfest, and hoping to do a workshop there. I’ll be at Eurocon in Barcelona, which I’m hugely looking forward to – I’m planning to take a few days around the con for exploring. I’ve got one workshop planned for a local writing group and I’m looking to do more. I’m partway through a new fantasy novel, set in a different world from either the Babylon Steel or Gears of Empire series, and have a few short stories and other projects at various stages of completion. Oh, and I’ll be going on a course to make my own bronze sword, so that should be fun. And research. But mainly fun.
Thanks for joining us Gaie!
Gaie Sebold was born rather longer ago than seems reasonable. She has written several novels, a number of short stories, and has been known to perform poetry. Her debut novel introduced brothel-owning ex-avatar of sex and war, Babylon Steel (Solaris, 2012); the sequel, Dangerous Gifts, came out in 2013. Shanghai Sparrow, a steampunk fantasy, came out in 2014 and the sequel, Sparrow Falling, is due in 2016. Her jobs have ranged from till-extension to bottle-washer and theatre-tour-manager to charity administrator. She lives with writer David Gullen and a paranoid cat in leafy suburbia, runs writing workshops, grows vegetables, and cooks a pretty good borscht.
Her website is http://www.gaiesebold.com and you can find her on twitter @GaieSebold.