Jo Zebedee writes science fiction and fantasy, sometimes in her space opera world of Abendau, sometimes in her native Northern Ireland. In between, she works, runs after kids, pets and a husband, not always in that order.
Abendau’s Heir, book one of the Inheritance trilogy, was released in March 2015, with Sunset over Abendau planned for release October 2015, and the final book due March 2016. A big, epic, gritty space epic, it is available from Amazon, ticketyboopress.co.uk, and bookshops in and around Belfast.
Inish Carraig, the story of an alien invasion of Belfast, is due for release 24 July 2015.
What was the funniest mistake you’ve made as a writer?
I write flash fiction and wrote a story about a nun that was supposed to be all elemental and Celtic. I posted it the night I wrote it without editing and went to bed, only to wake to some schoolboy-like giggles. It seemed the story was rather more elemental than intended, and to this day people occasionally refer to Sister Smut. (I’ll have reignited the sniggers with this.)
Who’s your favorite character you’ve written so far and why?
I find that hard to answer – to write a character I have to be close to them, and to be close to them I have to love them a little. Except perhaps my evil Empress.
If put against a wall…. Kare, the protagonist of The Inheritance Trilogy because I love how he grows and Henry, my policeman in Inish Carraig, because of his conflict – he is the liaison officer to a conquering alien race who he feels empathy for. Writing him took a lot of understanding of the character.
What’s been the most memorable piece of research that you’ve turned up?
A medical condition called Folie-a-deux, which is a form of shared psychosis. It came up during a chat with a beta reader and dovetailed into a central theme in my (upcoming in 2016) fantasy-changeling story.
Also, I did a lot of horrid research into the effects of torture on its victims. Absolutely memorable, for all the wrong reasons – what people can do to others astounded and upset me.
What about your most recently published work? (In a couple grafs)
Inish Carraig is coming out on 24th July. Very simply, the aliens invade Belfast.
With more complexity – in post-alien invasion Belfast teenager John Dray is struggling to keep his younger siblings safe. Duped into releasing a virus which kills the alien invaders, he is charged with xenocide by the Galactic Council. He gets sent to a remote prison, Inish Carraig, and discovers the truth behind the virus – a truth that threatens Earth. He needs to reach Henry, the policeman who supported him in Belfast, and warn him. He just has to get out of the prison first.
What project are you looking forward to next?
The new baby is a fantasy based in a frontier mining community, featuring storm mages. I think it’ll be another series. I also have a standalone idea based on a canal boat that’s forming. And book two and three of the Inheritance trilogy, plus the fantasy-changeling book that needs a final polish.
I look forward to them all and, frankly, wish I could write ten times as fast as I do and keep up with the darn ideas.
Who are your writing heroes and why?
That’s hard. I love so many. Emily Bronte for her mix of nature with the elements. Several playwrights (I love dialogue) especially Synge, Beckett and Eugene O’Neill. Fantasy/sf wise, Lois McMaster Bujold is a joy – Miles Vorkosigan is such a great character. Neil Gaiman, I often love. And Carlos Ruiz Zafon – his descriptions are so sumptuous. And two great character writers, Louis de Bernieres and Audrey Niffenegger.
Any basic writing philosophy or tips?
Grit your teeth and keep going. It’s not about swanning in coffee shops and waiting for the muse – or, if it is, I haven’t seen it yet.
Oh, and write something you really love. You’ll be revising and looking at it for years. There’s no point going for a trend.
And get some good writing friends. You will need them – and them you.
How do you decide where to set a story?
It depends on the story, but a sense of place is important to me, so I do need the setting to be in place before I write. Usually it’s somewhere that has an impact on me and I want to capture. I’m made to travel to gain inspiration. I might start an impoverished author travel fund.
I love using Northern Ireland as a setting. It’s not like people think it is, it’s generally a very peaceful place, so it’s nice to challenge the assumptions. It’s also extraordinarily beautiful with loads of quirky little places to use. I’ve set two books there, one primarily in Belfast, one in the glens of Antrim, and they have a very different feel to them, partly led by the landscape they’re set in.
How do you manage world-building? Is it all thought out ahead of time, or do you make it up as you go?
I wing it totally, thump out a first draft, and then ask the awkward questions about the world. Betas are great for kicking it into touch and forcing me to widen the world. I’m not a natural world builder but do okay once I put my head down and grind it out.
How much do you structure your stories before you write them?
Not at all. I have a beginning and a vague end. Having said that, structure isn’t usually one of my big hurdles so I must have something in the back of my mind that holds it together. Danged if I know what.
Do you find it more difficult to write your first draft or to revise?
I hate first drafts. I don’t know where I’m going and what I need to do to in there. But I have no problems with revisions and can do even quite complex ones quickly and without angst. I just start at the beginning and plough in. I can also murder words without too much angst.
Do you have any revision tips to share?
Keep the old copy! And don’t be afraid – no words are wasted, and you often learn about your characters and world, even if you discard a scene. I’ve lopped 70k off the start of a book, 20k off the end of one a week ago, added, moved and taken away. Mostly, it works out okay.
What has been the hardest thing about publishing for you?
Being let go by my agent. Although I’m now very happily unagented and loving the freedom, it was hard at the time. But she was right – my stuff wasn’t a good match for her skills.
But, it’s a tough business. If you can’t take being knocked down and getting back up again, it’s going to be hellish, especially if your dream is to be trad published.
What’s the best part about being a writer?
Just getting lost in the worlds. The freedom of creation. Knowing the characters. Coffee shops. (Allegedly.)
What do you do when you get stuck writing your story?
Grit my teeth and keep going. Or, if really stuck, go back a bit and see if it’s a plot thing.
How did you decide on your genre?
It chose me. The what-if always comes up when a new story appears. And so, I’m in genre. I sometimes wish I wasn’t, since my stories are often more character orientated than is the norm, but nothing I write doesn’t have an alien, or a space pilot, or a dose of magic in it. Sorry, Mum….