Guest blog post with Anne Charnock

 

Acclaimed author Anne Charnock joined me for the Facebook launch of my latest SF thriller novel ‘The Outer Spheres’ on 8 December 2016. Anne is one of my favourite authors and there are links to her work at the end of this piece. We covered so much good stuff about writing, adaptation and performance that I thought it would be useful to include our exchanges here. Thanks again to Anne for joining me on the launch and for allowing me to publish our conversation here.

Andrew
What news on the writing front? I know you have a story in a collection and a new novel out soon.

Anne
Yes, it’s been a crazy writing year with two projects now coming to a close. I’ve a novel, ‘Dreams Before the Start of Time’, being released on 18 April 2017 from 47North. And a novella, ‘The Enclave’, for NewCon Press, written in the world of ‘A Calculated Life’, which will be published in February 2017.

Andrew
I like NewCon.

Anne
Yes, it’s lovely to be working with Ian Whates. The whole novella series looks wonderful; I’m really chuffed to be involved. I’ve also to finish a short story (well, begin it, really, tomorrow) for Unsung Stories. Have you been to one of their live readings?

Andrew
Yes, I’ve been to three Unsung Lives. I think spoken genre word/story events are enormously exciting. There’s Unsung, the BSFA events where we met and Super Relaxed Fantasy Club. There are a couple of readings at SRFC, but mainly it’s a social. You’d like it I think.

Anne
I’ll take a look – I’ve heard SRFC is good. As I’ve always shied away from amateur dramatics, I expected to faint when I gave my first reading. But it turned out to be quite a revelation. And I find I’m editing as I go along!

Andrew
That’s a very good point. I’m starting to read my work out loud to myself as a way of getting some final kinks out.

Anne
I suppose what works on paper, in print, sometimes needs an extra dialogue tag, or slightly different wording, when spoken aloud. It’s such an amazing experience to give a reading. I’ve surprised myself that I actually love reading my stuff.

Andrew
Of course you do, it’s poetry! I would enjoy reading it!

Anne
Now you’re making me larff. But thanks. How’s Launch Day?

Andrew
It’s been a blast. As it’s my first one on Facebook – indeed, my first one of any kind as I just sort of published ‘Sons of the Crystal Mind’ with no idea what I was doing. It’s been a learning curve of sorts, although I’ve always loved improvising and having fun on Facebook with my friends, so it’s panned out well.

Anne
The learning curve is steep! But if you can have fun along the way so much the better.

Andrew
‘Dreams Before the Start of Time’ is another corking title. The last one featured an image on the theme of slumber. Is that because of the oneiric nature of SF?

Anne
I hope not. There is a link with Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind – other than the oneiric – though it’s not a series. The character of Toni Munroe appears in both books!

Andrew
What can you tell us about the novel?

Anne
Ah! Yes, it’s always difficult this bit. Summing up a year’s writing in a couple of sentences. Here goes: ‘Dreams Before the Start of Time’ follows two friends, Toni Munroe and Millie Dack, as they make choices about having children. It follows them as they experience the ‘shock of the new’ as their children and grandchildren embrace new ways of making babies.

Andrew
I think we have that theme in common, albeit expressed in rather different ways. My interest in it probably comes down to being adopted; what was your way in?

Anne
Okay. I suppose it’s partly personal with me. Two difficult births; I’ll spare you the details, but I couldn’t believe the human race hadn’t progressed. I felt we had to find a better way of delivering children. And artificial wombs might be 40 years away. But I was already interested in the whole genetic enhancement thing when I wrote my first novel, ‘A Calculated Life’, so it’s a progression really.

Andrew
I understand.

Anne
I’ve been wondering, Andrew, with all your experience and success writing plays, why have you turned to fiction? What is it about fiction – prose fiction – that you like?

Andrew
Dramatic scripts in any medium need a whole apparatus to become complete. Also, much of the writing is hidden; which is to say that at no point should be audience be aware of it. The same applies to novels of course, but with novels you can use all your power to create in the reader the sights, sounds, smells, feelings, touches of a situation experienced by a character without having to rely on, say, a producer, director, actor etc to do it for you. Of course, writing prose fiction is also a team sport; I use editors, designers, promoters etc but the product itself gets to the reader/audience much quicker, especially now.

Anne
And with a novel you can reveal your characters’ thoughts more directly.

Andrew
Yes, that’s true, although I’m doing it less and less. My most recent book has very little, yet is still incredibly intimate.

Anne
I suppose we’re more in control with a novel, from the sounds of it.

Andrew
Definitely, although with screenplays I’ve been lucky with editors, directors etc and really learned from them, especially on the nuts and bolts story stuff. I would love to go back to drama at some point. The next ‘Diamond Roads’ book feels like it would also be good as a two-handed stage play.

Anne
That would be amazing, to make the stage play or your own novel.

Andrew
I can see it, see the staging, the lighting; everything. People say SF has no place on stage because of the special effects, but SF has never been about special effects. The only one this story needs would be a small but very convincing prosthetic.

Anne
I’ve seen ‘1984’ on stage – though that’s not very problematic to stage. And I saw a theatrical spoof of ‘Alien’, which was hilarious. But I don’t see why SF itself is a problem when you think of the amazing sets that are built.

Andrew
Another reason I write fiction is that the damn books are in my head. I would love to have written all of ‘Diamond Roads’ out of me in one novel, which is why my first attempt in 2001 will never see the light of day. But in the end the story is too big and too complex for one book. All my stuff seems to be so densely imagined that one story is never enough. It’s great creatively, especially in something like ‘The Outer Spheres’ where you can take the character and the world and give them a good seeing to, because ‘Sons of the Crystal Mind’ did the heavy lifting.

Anne
Yes, I found that with my novella, ‘The Enclave.’ There’s something very satisfying about writing in a world you have already substantially created. I’ve loved writing within the world of ‘A Calculated Life’. It isn’t a sequel; it cuts across ‘A Calculated Life’, and it’s set in the enclaves.

Andrew
The enclaves are very sexy. I remember how liberated Jayna feels when she is there. You manage to create something that should feel controlled, even hopeless, but in fact is very sensual, as if physical feelings are one possible way out.

Anne
Yes, it’s as though Jayna experiences one world, her corporate life, in black and white and another world, in the enclave, in colour. Real world messiness and emotional highs and lows. So, how many books are you planning in the ‘Diamond Roads’ series?

Andrew
At least ten. The next two will feature a different character from Charity, but one who we have met. I’d like Harlan to have his own novel too, plus a novella about a minor character in ‘The Outer Spheres’, then at least five Charity ones, a series about ‘The Guidance’ – you know, I’m not sure if it’s even going to be physically possible to finish it! But I do know what happens. And why. So that’s good.

Anne
TEN? Never fancy a little standalone? A slim self-contained novel?

Andrew
I know! Maybe it’s from writing series television. Or maybe it’s just that I end up putting so much into the world and the characters that I just can’t leave them alone! My latest book is a slim, self-contained novel, a novella actually, for Tor. It’s a fantasy story called ‘Dread and the Broken Witch’, set in an ancient, altered Africa and features a gorgeous but crazy transsexual protagonist.

Anne
I’ll definitely read it. And I’ll look forward to Book 2 of ‘Diamond Roads’. I hope it all goes swimmingly well!

Andrew
Many thanks Anne! Likewise with ‘Dreams before the Start of Time”…

Anne Charnock website

@annecharnock

Anne Charnock books

Anne Charnock interviewed by Adam Roberts at the BSFA on 28 January 2015

My review of Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind

My review of The Enclave

My review of A Calculated Life

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