TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
EJ: I don’t have any weird and wonderful rituals, but I do have to work in silence – no café writing for me! I’m always envious of writers who talk about having soundtracks for their novels or the music they listen to while writing. I love music but I can’t work with it – I find it influences my mood too much, and I need a clean headspace. Ideally I’d have a completely clean desk to work at as well, but it’s safe to say I’m not the world’s tidiest person.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
EJ: David Mitchell is one of my favourite writers, especially Cloud Atlas and Number9Dream. I love narrative structures with stories within stories – Mitchell’s novels are so structurally clever and he has such a beautiful and distinctive style. I got my copy of Number9Dream signed at a reading and turned into a gibbering wreck; I was completely awestruck. Jeanette Winterson is another hero. I love her prose and her knack of pinpointing emotions so exactly, plus she really fights for the arts. And Cormac McCarthy’s vocabulary is a thing of pure envy. But it’s dangerous reading too much McCarthy while writing, because sometimes I catch myself unconsciously trying to imitate the style, and you know that’s just going to go disastrously wrong. In genre, some of my favourite books are Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World, Alastair Reynolds’ House of Suns, and The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis. Going back a bit further, Northern Lights by Philip Pullman was definitely a big influence when I started out writing.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
EJ: I wish I was a plotter, I really do! It’s probably the thing I struggle most with. With past novels I’ve always tended to write out of sequence, and let the story evolve organically. I usually have a strong sense of the beginning and the ending early on, but what happens in between is a mystery. I’m not convinced it’s the best way to work though – I end up having to do lots of retrospective work in tightening the plot or cutting out huge chunks of writing. A friend in my workshop group observed that I need to write my way into things and I think she’s spot on – often at revision stage I find myself cutting the first few pages of a chapter.
With the sequels to Osiris I’m trying to be more disciplined, so I’m taking a different approach and working on one character’s story at a time. I probably couldn’t have worked like this with Osiris, because Adelaide and Vikram’s stories are so closely intertwined, but in book two my characters are more out on their own.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
EJ: Finding the time. I’m guessing this is a popular response! Like many writers I have a day job and after sitting in front of a computer screen all day, the last thing I want when I get home is to do the same for another few hours. So at the moment most of my work is done at the weekends. I always carry a notebook on me though and if I wake up in the middle of the night with a sentence in my head, I try and force myself to turn on the light and write it down, because I never remember in the morning. For some reason I get lots of ideas in the shower. It’s probably because I’m still narcoleptic.
TQ: Describe Osiris (Book One of the Osiris Project) in 140 characters or less.
EJ: In a divided ocean city cut off from land, miscreant socialite Adelaide meets revolutionary activist Vikram. There are Consequences...
TQ: What inspired you to write Osiris?
EJ: I wrote a novella called The Last Balloon Flight, which was a fantastical tale, almost like a fairy tale, about a balloon flight across a flooded world. I wrote it for my best friend as a leaving gift when he moved to Paris and the story is referenced in Osiris (my stories within stories obsession!). After writing that I had a very strong visual idea for an ocean city, with towers rising out of the water. The city came first. I knew it had to be a divided city, and then the characters developed largely out of their environments.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Osiris?
EJ: There’s a brilliant non-fiction book by writer and campaigner Mark Lynas called Six Degrees, which describes what our planet would look like after one degree of global warming, two degrees, and so on up to six degrees. It’s a very accessible look at the consequences of climate change for anyone like me who doesn’t have a science background. It’s also pretty terrifying. On the fiction side, friends kept telling me to read The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard, and I did eventually, but not until after I’d finished writing Osiris – I didn’t want to be influenced. I loved it though. It was so evocative, like sinking into syrup.
TQ: Osiris is set in "a near-future world radically transformed by rising seas and melting poles." Why did you choose to write about climate change and its potential effects?
EJ: The environment is a topic that’s very close to my heart. I’m still shocked that climate change continues to be debated as if it could be some kind of hoax, when the evidence is all around us. So I guess it was bound to come out somewhere in my writing. But I wouldn’t describe Osiris as specifically ‘a book about climate change’; the world is very much the backdrop to the story, and the story is what comes first. Because the city Osiris is cut off from the outside world, what might be going on elsewhere is only hinted at, but it’s something I’ll be exploring more in books 2 and 3. Also, I’m very drawn to really bleak landscapes – I’m not sure why!
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
EJ: With a disclaimer, Adelaide (she is pretty selfish at the start and often not very nice to people). I think she is very much a product of her society, and that made her easy to write, plus she has a clear mission and is single-minded in her pursuit of it. I also really enjoyed writing scenes with her twin brother Axel, although he only appears in flashback, and a lot of that material got cut. It was necessary for the narrative pace, but I was sad to see it go because I really loved Axel and his story. I had to do more work to bring out Vikram. It took me a while to really get under his skin, until I wrote a short flashback scene with him as a child where his best friend Mikkeli shows him the border, and things suddenly clicked into place.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Osiris?
EJ: There’s a scene with Vikram at the end of part 3 that I am very fond of. It’s a reflective scene and allowed me to write a bit more whimsically. I love writing those kinds of scenes but I have to censor myself, because they do slow the pace down. And actually I very much like the flashback scene between Vikram and Mikkeli which comes really early on, because it was a breakthrough for me, and I felt that it did a lot of work in a short space.
TQ: What's next?
EJ: Osiris is now out in the world (here’s a link to a book trailer I’m rather thrilled with: www.vimeo.com/catamaroon/osiristrailer ). There are two more books to come in The Osiris Project trilogy, with new people and new places, so that’s going to keep me occupied for a while. Book 2 is crystallizing in my head. I had a short story in UK magazine Interzone last year, which I felt inordinately proud of, because I’m not a natural short story writer – I’d like to get another story published this year. Down the line, there’s a book I’ve got a first draft of, which I was working on just before I signed with Night Shade. It’s totally different from Osiris – much more playful. After three books in a dystopian future, I think I’ll be ready for something a bit different. Although knowing me, I’ll have changed my mind completely by then...
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
EJ: Thank you very much for having me!
OsirisOsiris Project 1
Night Shade Books, June 5, 2012
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages
Nobody leaves Osiris. Osiris is a lost city. She has lost the world and world has lost her . . .
Rising high above the frigid waters, the ocean city of Osiris has been cut off from the land since the Great Storm fifty years ago. Most believe that Osiris is the last city on Earth, while others cling to the idea that life still survives somewhere beyond the merciless seas. But for all its inhabitants, Citizens and refugees alike, Osiris is the entire world--and it is a world divided.
Adelaide is the black-sheep granddaughter of the city's Architect. A jaded socialite and family miscreant, she wants little to do with her powerful relatives--until her troubled twin brother disappears mysteriously. Convinced that he is still alive, she will stop at nothing to find him, even if it means uncovering long-buried secrets.
Vikram, a third-generation storm refugee quarantined with thousands of others in the city's impoverished western sector, sees his own people dying of cold and starvation while the elite of Osiris ignore their plight. Determined to change things, he hopes to use Adelaide to bring about much-needed reforms--but who is using who?
As another brutal winter brings Osiris closer to riot and revolution, two very different people, each with their own agendas, will attempt to bridge the gap dividing the city, only to find a future far more complicated than either of them ever imagined.
Osiris is the beginning of an ambitious new science fiction trilogy exploring a near-future world radically transformed by rising seas and melting poles.
OSIRIS Book Trailer from E J Swift on Vimeo.
About E.J. Swift
You can visit Emma’s website at www.ejswift.co.uk