Emotionally powerful at times, painfully hilarious at others, both volumes of this epic will stay with you long after you’ve finished.
We also have a FREE COPY OF THE ART OF FORGETTING: RIDER to give away at the end of this interview.
Have a look for the link below.
I managed to meet Jo about a year ago at a book launch and we are both published by the same house (Grimbold Books), and our books have a few similarities. It seemed to me that we had a lot to talk about so it seemed fitting that I organised an interview.
- The Art of Forgetting is set in a pretty vast world. Did you start with your world-building, or your story?
I started with the story, which I started long before I began work on The Art of Forgetting, and the world kind of built up around the story. The scope of The Art of Forgetting is fairly enormous – Rhodri gets in some serious mileage! – travelling from inland forests to port cities to the far side of the continent, and back again. My previous books had mostly been set in a fairly confined area, so this was a chance to push off the edge of the existing map and see what was out there, and discover more about the world. It was great fun to write.
- Related, do you feel it better to shape the characters to the world, or the world to the characters? Do you discover the world through them?
I do feel I discover the world through their eyes. Particularly in The Art of Forgetting, which has a very close third person viewpoint, so everything that happens is seen through Rhodri’s eyes. I wouldn’t say either way was better, that’s just the way I do it. Often when a character arrives at a place it’s the first time I’ve thought hard about what it looks like, so I have to describe it through the eyes of the viewpoint character. I have been known to shape the world to suit the plot, rather than the characters – sometimes a girl really needs a poisoned lake or an erupting volcano….
- You’ve created a very diverse cast and deal with identities that are still very much marginalized in society – what role do you think fantasy plays in moving things forwards to a more accepting state?
It never occurred to me not to have a diverse cast – there’s nothing more dull than an unimaginative fantasy world populated entirely by straight white people. If we can imagine dragons, and wizards, and were-leopards, surely we can stretch our imaginations to include people of diverse sexualities and ethnicities?
I think fantasy plays a small but critical role in moving things forward in society, especially for people who are attracted to the genre because they are already outside of the mainstream, possibly due to their gender or sexual orientation. It’s important to represent those people in books – some of the most touching messages I’ve had from readers have thanked me for putting “people like me” in books. Sometimes for younger readers it’s the first time they’ve experienced a positive representation in fiction of “people like them”, so it’s important to me personally not only that I do it, but that I do my best to get it right.
- Tell us about how you got involved in BristolCon!
I think there was a pub. There was definitely vodka…
My friend Colin Harvey and I were having a quiet pint and bemoaning the fact that there were so few big SFF events in the south-west (with the notable exception of Armadacon, which is in Plymouth.) Bristol has a very strong speculative fiction scene – a strong writing scene in general, but there’s a LOT of SFF writers and fans round here. By the time one pint turned into several we had decided it would be fun to put on a convention, and by the time several points turned into lotsh it was the besht idea ever that week…. So we did it, and people really enjoyed it, so we kept doing it, and now Colin is no longer with us we want to keep it going in his memory. Plus it’s great fun to do, we have around 250-300 people for a one day event and Meg puts together a really good programme. You can find out more about BristolCon and sign up at www.bristolcon.org if you’re interested.
- What role do you see conventions and conferences having on the industry?
I think the boom in SFF conventions and conferences in recent years has been wonderful. It used to be that there was pretty much only EasterCon and FantasyCon, and people in outlying parts of the country were left out, especially in the years they were in London and Brighton respectively. Now we have lots of newer conventions (Nine Worlds, Edge Lit, BristolCon, Thoughtbubble etc.) which gives more opportunities for people from all over the country to attend cons for the first time. It’s a great chance for people to make new friends and contacts in the industry, and catch up with old ones. And an industry that has lots of fresh blood and new ideas coming through is one that’s more vibrant, and more exciting, which is great if you’re interested in new and diverse SFF.
- You are published by an independent house – Grimbold Books – what do you think the future holds for indie publishers?
I think it’s a good time for indie publishers, with the increased availability of print on demand. The indie scene is interesting at the moment – because they don’t have to commit to large print runs, the indies are able to take on more experimental, risky work that the big publishing houses might not want. It’s easier to form good working relationships in a small publishing house (and, conversely, probably harder to go grab a casual pint with the CEO of Penguin Random House, though I’ve never tried…) On the other hand, there’s not a vast amount of money anywhere in publishing at the moment, and indies are at risk of over-committing themselves without the resources in place should anything go wrong. I think there’s been a boom for a few years when everyone has thought they can be a publisher, either for themselves or for other people, and I think once people realise it’s hard work and the rewards can be slim, a lot of those houses will drop off the radar and leave behind the ones that are either most financially savvy, or most passionate about publishing, or both. It’s possible the Big Five will snap up some of the more successful indie publishers, as used to happen in the music industry, but I don’t think the thriving indie scene is going to go away any time soon.
As an aside, I have never wanted to be a self-publisher (many people do, and good luck to them!). I like the security of having a publisher behind me, and someone to deal with the admin while I get on with writing and editing. And I like the comradeship at Grimbold, they’re a great label to write for.
- What kind of promotion do you think works best for the smaller players in the publishing game?
Ack, that’s a question! Finding out what promotion works best is such a hard thing to quantify – sometimes you’ll have a flurry of sales for no discernible reason, other times you’ll put time and effort into a big promotional push and see no apparent result. My strategy (and it can hardly be called that 😉 ) is to keep up a continued online presence including a blog, be nice, not pester people, review other people’s books and retweet their good news, and occasionally mention that I have a book out, pointing people towards special offers and giveaways when they are available. It’s all very low-key – it’s very annoying to have a high-octane person shouting “Buy my book!” in your face every five minutes. Promotion is very much something on which people’s mileage varies, and none of it is certain. The day I learn to bottle word of mouth is the day I become a rich woman, because you can’t create word-of-mouth, it just happens, and that’s the way most people still find out about new books…
- And finally, in a question that is totally not just an excuse for you to shamelessly promote, can you tell us about The Art of Forgetting and where on earth can people buy it from?
In Volume One : Rider, a young boy leaves his village to become a cavalryman with the famous King’s Third regiment; in doing so he discovers both his past and his destiny. Gifted and cursed with a unique memory, the foundling son of a notorious traitor, Rhodri joins an elite cavalry unit stationed in the harbour town of Northpoint. His training reveals his talents and brings him friendship, love and loss, and sexual awakening; struggling with his memories of his father who once ruled there, he begins to discover a sense of belonging. That is, until a face from the past reveals a secret that will change not only Rhodri’s life but the fate of a nation. Then, on his first campaign, he is forced to face the extremes of war and his own nature. This, the first part of The Art of Forgetting, is a gripping story about belonging and identity, set in a superbly imagined and complex world that is both harsh and beautiful.
In Volume Two : Nomad, Friendship dies in the face of cruelty; new loyalties are forged, blood merged into new life . . .
In a single moment of defiance, driven by a rash act of compassion for a stranger, Rhodri turns his back on his unit, his country and his comrades in arms. Taken in by the Plains Hawk tribe, he finds compassion, love, and a new purpose for his unique memory. But just as he is beginning to accept his decision, an invasion from the east throws the tribe into chaos, and threatens to destroy the new life he has built.
Rhodri must rally the tribes to take on his former comrades, his former friends, and fight the forces of the crown he swore to protect-and the sister he has never known. Thrust into the role of leader, he must use the very lessons he learned in the King’s Third against his closest friends, and his most bitter enemy.
Both volumes are available now in paperback from bricks and mortar bookshops, though you might have to get them ordered in. (ISBN-13: 9781909845008 – Rider, (ISBN-13: 978-1909845367) ) , and online from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble etc…
Can I also please add a shameless plug for the steampunk anthology Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion, edited by myself and Roz Clarke and published by Wizards Tower Press, cos that’s jolly good too? Thank you!