Georgina Bruce

Who’s In The House?

Georgina Bruce is in the house, that’s who!

Something a little different here. An author interview. And what an author!

I first “met” George on the Online Writers Workshop more than a few years ago, where it very quickly became clear her writing was beyond standard critique. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to read some of her work before it got published and won awards, and it’s a very great pleasure to get a chance to interview her here about her new short story collection, “This House Of Wounds”.

“This House Of Wounds”, cover art by Catrin Welz-Stein and design by Vince Haig

This House of Wounds has been generally available in print for a few of weeks now. How does it feel like to have your first collection out there in the world? 
 

Terrible! I mean, brilliant! I mean, I don’t know really. It’s been unofficially out for a while now so I mainly just think everyone is sick to death of hearing my endless pleas to buy it.

How did you decide which stories to include and what order they should appear? Did you outsource curation entirely to Undertow or did you have a particular vision of your own?
 

I sent them a selection of stories, and from that Mike [Kelly] and Carolyn [Macdonell-Kelly] picked out what they wanted for the book. I withdrew one story at a late stage because I decided it just wasn’t good enough. When it came to the order of stories, I totally abdicated all responsibility for that to Mike and Carolyn. I didn’t feel I had enough distance or perspective to see how it would come out. Mike had a kind of vision of the overall book that I just didn’t. I trusted him to create a coherent collection, and he did – in some ways I think it has become more than the sum of its parts.

On re-reading the stories in House of Wounds did you find yourself struck by any recurring images or themes in your stories that you hadn’t noticed before?
 

There is a lot in my stories that is about abuse and trauma, and processing that abuse and trauma. I don’t think I realised quite how much that was a concern until I saw the stories put together. There’s also a lot more violence than I would have laid claim to! The weirdest thing is when reviewers pick up on themes and imagery that I never even noticed. Obviously readers bring a lot to a book, but still. It’s almost like I am a whole different person than I thought.

Do you have a particular favourite story or one you particularly wish to highlight? What is it that makes it your favourite?
 

I really, really love Kuebiko, and I’m proud of it. It’s kind of a puzzle (I like puzzles) but all the answers are there, it can be pieced together. I don’t know if readers will come up with the same answers I had in mind, but the blanks are there to be filled in. It’s a kind of a game about a story, or a story about a game, or both, and I love how it sort of folds in on itself. I’m really fond of stories where the structure is part of the telling. They are super hard to write but that’s part of the fun. It’s the one story I really want people to enjoy – although quite a few readers skim over it, probably wondering what the hell I’m going on about.

What is your favourite short story by another author, and why? (Okay, that’s unfair. There can be more than just one!)
 

For the past few years, I’ve taught ‘Darling’, a very short story by Padrika Tarrant, to my students and I think it’s a really wonderful story. It’s so shocking. She drags you into the perspective of a very marginalised individual and it’s powerful. My students are always quite polarised in their responses: they either love it or hate it, but they all find it very disturbing. All I hear for weeks is, “Oh my god, Georgina, what is wrong with you?” 🙂 I also teach Priya Sharma’s ‘Egg’ which is wonderful for getting students to emotionally connect with a piece of literature. I usually give that to my nursing students and they are thrilled by the medical references, too! ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’ by Pamela Zoline is one of the great pioneering feminist short stories that made science fiction a better genre for everyone. It’s weird and experimental, a bit of a puzzle, a bit wobbly in terms of genre; the world of the story is a sort of product of the internal state of the character, a woman who is falling apart. It’s exactly the kind of thing I love! Another story I think about a lot is ‘Ad Astra’ by Carole Johnson. It’s just a whole world unto itself, and it’s very strange and sorrowful, and everything that science fiction should be. 

Many reviewers have commented on your unique “voice”. Is this something you work on, the effort hidden like swan’s swimming legs, or is it simply emergent from who you are and how you write?
 

This is difficult to answer because I don’t think I really know what ‘voice’ means, or what people mean when they talk about it with regard to my writing. What I do when I write is try to be very open and connected to myself and to the voices of the characters, and I don’t try to control what’s happening until I’ve got most of a draft. I just let the story go wherever it wants, often just following the imagery until I find the story underneath it all. My characters tend to hide stories, they are ashamed or in denial, so you have to trick the story out of them. I usually spend a lot of time rewriting and editing before I’m happy with a story, but I try not to overwrite and kill the initial spark. Sometimes that means leaving in something clumsy or raw. You have to have confidence to do that – when I was first writing, I wanted it all to be perfect and that would kill the emotion.

What responsibility, if any, do you think writers (should) have?
 

What responsibility do any of us have towards one another? We have to try to be honest, and we have to serve something other than ourselves. Beyond that, I think writers have a responsibility to defend freedom of speech. A key indicator of fascism is when academics and writers are stopped from speaking or publishing. This is happening more and more and I sometimes see writers celebrating that and think, what’s wrong with you? Read a bloody history book.

This House Of Wounds is dedicated to “the lost, and the lonely” — do you have a particular reader or audience in mind when writing, or do you write solely to satisfy your own muse?
 

I never really have anyone particular in mind, but since the collection was published I realised that 17-year-old-me would be my ideal reader. I think This House of Wounds is entirely perfect for super-angry, disenfranchised, alienated and passionate teenage girls.

What other material can your fans expect from you in the next few months and years? What grand ambitions do you harbour?

I’m working on a novel and also a memoir, though at some point one of these is going to take over the other. Neither of them are anywhere near publication. In terms of ambition, I’d love to have more readers! And I’d love to have more time to work on different kinds of writing. I started out in screenwriting and I’d like to get back to it at some point. I don’t know – when I was younger I had ambitions to win awards and be remembered as one of the world’s greatest writers, etc. Now I’ll just be happy if I don’t end up eaten by cats. I don’t have a cat so hopefully I’m safe on that score.

[Note: Georgina’s story “White Rabbit“, included in this collection, has won the British Fantasy Society award for best short story.]

“This House Of Wounds” is available directly from Undertow and also from all standard online book purchasing venues. If you’re a super-angry, disenfranchised, alienated and passionate teenage girl — or even if you’re not! — you should rush out and buy this brilliant collection now.

The Next Big Thing

Last week I was tagged for the “Next Big Thing” meme by Ilan Lerman and Georgina Bruce. Both are hugely talented writers, and if I could reverse tag them I would. The idea of “The Next Big Thing” is to answer ten standard questions and then tag more writers in turn, who answer the same questions on their blogs a week after, etc.

So here are the questions, and my answers:

1) What is the working title of your next book/short story/project?

It’s a novel. The current working title is “Heptatheon”.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s basically a continuation, a sequel to my first novel. I know there’s a lot of sensible advice out there saying you shouldn’t write a sequel to your first novel unless it has proven successful, but I just couldn’t resist returning to see how the story and characters developed. The setting — a constructed world — is designed to be a writer’s playground, so it’s difficult for me to stay away from it too long.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Science fiction, definitely. Although the reader probably wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from epic fantasy in most cases.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The protagonist, Urek, by Jake Gyllenhaal. Hudomek, his reluctant sidekick, by some unholy genespliced hybrid of Yul Brynner and James Gandolfini. In the first novel the villain would have been played by Tom Cruise, but in this one, I think I’ve got Ed Norton in mind. Their co-stars would be Meryl Streep, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johanssen. Yes, it would be an expensive film to produce.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This is the most difficult question to answer, especially as I’ve only just begun serious work on the WIP. Still, it’s always good to have a vague idea of what you’re trying to achieve.

Uh, how about this line for Voiceover Man:

“The fate of the world will be decided at the heart of the Heptatheon, where our hero will choose whether humanity or the gods triumph.”

Gosh, nobody has written about that before.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I honestly don’t know.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The last novel took just over four years. I’d like to think this one will take much less, but real life is pretty busy with a young family and a very full time job. I’ve really only just started it, so there’s a long way to go yet.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

…The good ones?

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The original story was inspired by a tree that towers outside my work office. I imagined someone climbing up it, trying to escape from an imminent threat. What were they escaping from? And what were they escaping to? Urek’s story all stems from that.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The first novel was essentially about the narrator coming to terms with the fact he wasn’t as human as he hoped, a journey of self-discovery. In “Heptatheon” the journey continues, but with the stakes and scale cranked up. Thematically, I’m attempting to touch upon the corrupting effects of power; plot-wise there will be intrigue, betrayal, struggle against impossible odds, giant monsters, massed battles and who knows what else. Although I know the ending (more or less), I’m a complete pantser at heart, so anything could happen on the way and probably will.

It will be interesting to read this post again in a few years time and see how the result matches up with my original intentions and expectations.

Now to hand on the baton.

To Erin Stocks a writer, musician, and graduate of the 2011 Clarion Writer’s Workshop. Her fiction can be found in the anthology Anywhere but Earth by Coeur de Lion, Flash Fiction Online, the Hadley Rille anthology Destination: Future, The Colored Lens, and Polluto Magazine.

And to Cécile Cristofari, an aspiring young writer who has so far had a couple of articles published by Strange Horizons and who I’m sure has a bright future ahead of her.

I can’t wait to see what their answers will be.

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“Mortless”

On Tuesday September 11, Daily Science Fiction will be sending my flash story “Mortless” out via e-mail to their 5,000+ subscribers. A week later it goes live on their website for the whole world to see. (The whole world with Internet access, that is.)

Not a subscriber to DSF? Why not? It’s free, and you get a new story in your inbox every weekday — stories from authors such as Hugo and Nebula Award winner Ken Liu to complete newbies like myself.

A few notes and an acknowledgement regarding “Mortless”. This story was the result of one of the regular prompts set by the writing group I’m a member of, the Self-Forging Fragments. (It’s sekrit, so don’t ask about it!) On this occasion it was a musical prompt, set by the insanely talented Georgina Bruce. Without that prompt, this story would not exist — so a big public thanks to Georgina!

The music was by an artist I had never heard of, but the track was soon on constant replay. Here it is, “Singing Under The Rainbow,” by World’s End Girlfriend.

For me, it evoked images of an awakening, a gradual disintegration, of eventual loss. (And the word “bird”.) On repeated listens, the impressions from and of the music changed, but I stuck with those original thoughts. I was reminded of the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Nightingale”, about the mechanical nightingale that eventually runs down, and about love and death. And, incongruously, how I had recently overhead someone being called “River” and what an unusual name that was.

The original working title was “The Wrong Nightingale”, one which still works well, but in the end I decided on “Mortless”. I think it better reflects the emergent themes, a play on the words “deathless”, “remorseless”, “merciless”, etc. I’m really looking forward to it being out in the big wide world and finding out what readers make of it.

PS. And just a note on the publish date. Next Tuesday will be eleven years since I stood in a conference room in Philadelphia and watched on a hastily commandeered and barely functional TV set the first grainy pictures of the World Trade Centre towers collapsing. The world has turned, and turned again, since then, but it will still be with very mixed emotions that I will greet next Tuesday.