Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Author Spotlight: Sean Williams

“Ghosts of the Fall” was originally published many years ago. How do you think the themes have changed or evolved over time? Which character do you most identify with now as opposed to then (if not the same)?

The first draft of this story is dated October 1991, which shocks me because that means I was half my present age when I wrote it. Where did all those years go? It’s so odd to sit here, remembering my half-self writing characters like Kris and Max, who seemed impossibly ancient then but now feel like contemporaries. It’s more depressing to see how many of the themes of this story are still current: the consequences of environmental degradation and war, patriarchy and the violent means it pursues to retain power, the costs of survival . . . I guess it’s the last that has stuck with me down the years, from the older Hogarth’s perspective. It wasn’t my intention to write a parable about the life of a writer, but that’s the meaning this story has taken on for me personally. The earlier me who wrote this story had some idea that the writing life was hard, but if he had known just how hard it could be, he might have given up and gone back to studying accountancy. If I could talk to him now, what would I say? Nothing that he hadn’t already put down in writing, so he would find it later on his own. Is it really worth it? Yes. Yes, it is.

You won the Writers of the Future contest and now serve as a judge for the same. Has this changed your perspective of “Ghosts of the Fall,” meaning do you look at this story differently now than you did when you first started writing it?

I won a third prize in the WOTF with this very story, and in a very real way that changed my life. Not only did it prove that persistence pays off (this submission was my tenth, and led to my first pro publication in the US), but it opened some serious doors, thanks to the workshop I attended in LA as part of my prize. I had never connected with a writing scene in any real way before. To say that it was revelatory to be surrounded by people who didn’t just get what I was trying to do, but were trying to do it too, would be an understatement. Looking back on that experience doesn’t make me see the story in a different way, or even my baby writer self, but it does make me look twice at some names who were also in my year. Elizabeth E. Wein. Eric Flint. Stoney Compton. Karawynn Long. It’s hard to imagine that they were once as naïve as I was! Or maybe it was just me who was naïve. I do know that I came home full of writer fuel, and the tank hasn’t run dry yet.

You have an established history in music, having started at a young age. What do you feel this may have brought to your writing, whether it be how you approach a story or what you include in the narrative?

I’ve always squinted at writing through the lens of music: the rhythm and timbre of the words, the resonance of certain story-telling components, the way structures from one form map onto another, and so on. The comparison comes instinctively to me, but that’s not the only level on which I engage with music while writing. Some writers obsess about the food their characters are eating, or the plants they’re tripping over. With me, it’s the music and sounds they’re encountering along the way. It’s a part of the environment that I notice, so they do too. I have to remind myself sometimes that there are other facets of a scene apart from the soundtrack and the Foley. Of course, I love to listen to music as I write (quick plug for Steve Roach, whose soundscapes have sustained me almost as far back as “Ghosts of the Fall”). Possibly the most obscure way I’ve engaged with music is throughout Astropolis, my last space opera series, in which I had a character speak solely using the lyrics of Gary Numan. A labour of love, but also a significant challenge, because that’s what it always comes back to. To paraphrase Hogarth, it’s worth it sometimes because it’s hard, not despite it.

What might we be seeing from you in the near future?

I’ve been experimenting with flash fiction lately. It’s a form I’ve enjoyed reading in the past but I hadn’t seriously tried my hand at until a couple of years ago. Partly that was because of the promotional work I was exploring for the Twinmaker series — short, self-contained pieces that explore the world and its characters beyond anything than the novels can meaningfully grapple with — but also because I’ve just come to like it. You can conduct experiments in this form that would never be sustainable in or suitable for a commercial novel. It’s a way of creatively stretching the wings, and is in its own way more challenging than anything I’ve set my hand to.

Anyway, I have some coming out in Galaxy’s Edge, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Daily SF, plus several other stories and novellas set in the Twinmaker universe, which concludes with Hollowgirl in November (called, appropriately, Fall in Australia). I guess at some point I’ll have to stop writing stories about matter transmitters, but that probably won’t be anytime soon.

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Patrick J Stephens

Patrick J Stephens recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh and, after spending the entire year writing speculative fiction, came back with a Master’s in Social Science. His first collection (Aurichrome and Other Stories) can be found on Kindle and Nook.