“Not Us” explores the deterioration of a couple’s relationship, which appears to be tied to some type of alien interference. What made you choose to write this particular story?
Somewhere along the line, my thing, certainly as far as short fiction goes, seems to have become setting out to write genre stories that wind up becoming relationship stories. It’s probably no big giveaway to say this was intended as a take on the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” formula, but as I went on, I began to realise that a big part of what I found so fascinating in that concept is, how would you even know? So much of our existence is based on the notion that we understand the people close to us, yet so much of our contact consists of routine, of trivialisation, of small (and large) deceptions. Along with that came the question of why we value our individuality so highly, when so often it’s a source of pain and turmoil. That, I guess, was the starting point, the idea of looking from that alien perspective, which would surely be as genuinely horrified by the notion that anyone would choose to stay isolated as we’d be by the alternative they offered. And that, for me, made perfect sense in the setting of a disintegrating marriage, where trust and empathy and the capacity to recognise each other’s feelings are already halfway gone.
You make no secret of your love of movies. What genre do you watch the most? Do you have a particular favorite “go to” movie?
I really do love movies! And I’ll happily watch just about anything and everything, no matter the language, and all the way back to the earliest days of film. I mention this solely because I’ve encountered people who think I only watch anime, which is deeply unfair! Admittedly, they think that because I write about it constantly; somehow, my blog has largely morphed into an archive for hundreds of vintage anime reviews.
In truth, I don’t know that I have a genre I watch the most—I tend to go through cycles, so recently I’ve binged on Universal monster movies and Billy Wilder films, for example—but it’s definitely fantasy and science-fiction anime that takes up the bulk of my time. As for favourites, there are no end, but one I’m happy to mention is the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie Adolescence of Utena, which is such a weird and wonderful masterpiece, and something I can’t imagine ever being bored by.
What inspired your love of speculative fiction and encouraged you to first begin writing?
I don’t remember ever being so young that I wasn’t into books; I was one of those kids who read voraciously and loved loading up at the library and rummaging through jumble sales. There are a few standout texts—it was probably C S Lewis who made a fantasy fan of me, and I recall a copy of Frank Herbert’s The Green Brain that I found and devoured in a youth hostel in the middle of nowhere—but, on the whole, I think it was just an accretion of tearing through huge quantities of literature, some great, some not. And I also don’t remember a time when I didn’t think it was a logical step to try and write myself. From a very young age, I was determined that I’d end up with some sort of creative career—though it took getting into my late twenties and realising I wasn’t going to reach that point without a lot of effort for me to begin writing in earnest.
Who are some of your favorite authors? Do they all pen speculative fiction?
It’s a terrible thing to admit as a writer, but I don’t read a lot of prose fiction these days. It feels too much like taking my work home with me, and I can never quite turn off the hypercritical editor part of my brain. There are a few exceptions, of course; I try and read everything Adrian Tchaikovsky puts out, partly because he’s a friend who’s been really supportive of my career over the years, but mostly because he’s an extraordinary talent and seemingly incapable of putting out a bad book. Other than that, I read a lot of nonfiction for research on particularly projects, and so, for example, Simon Montefiore blew me away with his biographies of Stalin. But back on the fiction front, I recently got back into comics in a big way, and the reason for that was Jonathan Hickman’s reboot of the X-Men books, which feels like something genuinely special, the sort of storytelling event people will be discussing for years to come—so Hickman’s definitely a current favourite.
You have an abundance of published work. What are you working on currently?
As of right now, I’m working through the first edits on a historical novella that’s a huge, exciting divergence from everything I’ve written so far: it’s my first straight-up historical writing, and yet the people and events at its heart are such a perfect match for my interests that it’s uncanny. And I’m at the foothills of plotting out a standalone fantasy novel, with a view to getting started next month. That aside, I’ve been seizing on the opportunity of a relatively quiet spell to edit up a lot of short fiction I wrote and then had to put aside while bigger projects occupied my attention—that being where “Not Us” came from, to bring things full circle!
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