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Interview: Jilly Paddock

If you have followed “Nightspore” for a while you will be aware that I have been enthusing about SF & fantasy author Jilly Paddock’s work. (My earlier articles are Discovering new authors with Kindle: Jilly Paddock, which covers two of her novels, “The Spook and the Spirit in the Stone” and “No Earthly Shore”. SF review: “To Die A Stranger” by Jilly Paddock reviews the third of the four books she self-published via Amazon.)

Having first encountered Jilly’s work while she was an “indie writer” it is great to be able to announce that she has now signed with Pro Se Press, an American pulp-oriented publisher. It seemed good timing to ask Jilly about her writing career to date and what the future holds following signing to Pro Se.

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How long have you been writing science fiction?

Since my early teens. I had two friends at school and we all wrote SF; we’d talk about plots and characters in lunch breaks, pass silly notes in lessons and even act out fight scenes to see if they worked. We each wrote our own stuff and collaborated on some stories. We’re still friends now and we’re all published writers of SF and fantasy, so it was good training.

What drew you to the genre?

Why SF? There really wasn’t any other choice for me – it was a no-brainer. What other genre is there where anything is possible, where you can have any world, any person, any creature, any invention you can imagine? And I did love science. I’m still a biology, geology and astronomy geek. I had a whole career of peering down microscopes at pretty stained bacteria and waving, wriggling protozoans, and growing nasty bugs in Petri dishes. I like the sense-of-wonder, the “Wow! Look at that!” feeling of science, and SF and fantasy are the only genres that have that for me.

How would you describe the stories you write?

Character-driven, generally with strong female protagonists and a touch of humour. The science, which is usually biology or medicine, is plausible, although I do use all the classic SF tropes – FTL space travel, human colonies, AI and psi powers. My grandfather would have called them “damn good yarns” and a friend of mine refers to the Anna & Zenni books as “cyberfolk”, a bit gentler and more mellow than cyberpunk. I can’t claim to be a literary writer, I’m afraid. My stuff tends towards adventure, space opera and pulp.

When I first read “To Die A Stranger”, I was reminded of the work of Eric Frank Russell but I understand you are not familiar with his work. Which genre authors do you admire or have influenced the direction of your writing?

Don’t think I’ve ever read any Russell. I read a lot of SF in my teens, all the standards including Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke. It won’t be a surprise that my AIs owe a lot to Mike in Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” but they also have a touch of Zen and Orac from Blake’s 7. I like a lot of British writers – Brian Aldiss, Colin Kapp, Dan Morgan, John Sladek and Bob Shaw, and John Wyndham. “The Chrysalids” was one of the books we did for my English Literature O level. I adore Cordwainer Smith and he’s a big influence, particularly his short stories “The Game of Rat and Dragon” and “The Ballad of Lost C’mell”. I collected “New Writings in SF”, a series of 30 anthologies edited by John Carnell, and later Kenneth Bulmer, mainly for James White’s Sector Twelve General Hospital stories, but the contents pages read like a Who’s Who of SF.

In fantasy I like Tanith Lee, Louise Cooper, Roger Zelazny and Charles de Lint. If I was pressed for a favourite, I’d have to pick Peter S Beagle for his beautifully-crafted poetic prose and the way he can tell a complex story in such simple words.

These days I’m reading SF from Charles Stross and Peter Watts, fantasy by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, and a wonderful police procedural/magic series by Ben Aaronovitch.

What is your approach to writing? Do you tend to start with an idea, such as the “agent-pairs”, or with the characters?

Sometimes a whole story will drop into my head fully formed – “No Earthly Shore” was like that. Usually it’s harder, and I get an idea for a scene, or maybe the beginning and end of a story arc for a novel, but the characters arrive very early in the creation process. They seem to practically invent themselves, then they start talking to me, telling me their back stories and arguing about the intended plot and their part in it. I do have trouble with minor characters who aren’t content with their bit and want to take over the book. When I’m writing a novel I’ll often stumble across things and concepts that beg to be included, scraps and fragments of found art or science – call it synchronicity or serendipity, but it does enrich the book.

All of my characters are real to me, as real as people in the outside world, which probably makes me sound like a madwoman! Is writing a kind of voluntary functional schizophrenia? It certainly feels that way sometimes.

Do you have a “target audience” in mind when you write?

Not at all. I write the sort of books I want to read.

Your SF series about both “Afton & Jerome” and “Anna-Marie Delany” are set in a universe where “agent-pairs” operate in the shadows. For me, this idea is a very strong element I enjoyed in your writing. Which came first, the story of the origin of agent-pairs in “To Die A Stranger” or the spook in the Jerome stories? What future plans do you have for related stories?

Anna & Zenni came first. There are a lot of books in their series – I scared my publisher by saying there were ten, but there may be more. The first four are finished but need a final edit and polish, and the rest need more work. I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I tell you that Anna has to join Earth Intelligence and become a spook eventually, which is a bumpy ride on both sides. Agent-pairs are a horrible concept. They can go anywhere, penetrate any defences, overhear secret conversations, steal objects and thoughts, and kill without leaving any evidence. I’m glad they’re fictional – I wouldn’t trust any of our governments with such a powerful weapon. Being the human half of an agent-pair is tough, with a high risk of psychological damage. Anna has the ego to cope with it, but many others don’t.

What technology do you use to write and / or publish? (For example, are you a pen & paper person? Do you use Scrivener?)

I started off spending all my pocket-money on cheap exercise books from Woolworth’s – you could get three for one shilling and sixpence – and scribbling in them in biro, sometimes using green or purple. When I had more money the paper quality improved and I used a nicer pen. I bought an electric typewriter to turn the scrawl into manuscripts, then an Amstrad word processor and eventually a PC. I’ve had to keep switching software as technology moved on, from Locoscript on the Amstrad, through Appleworks/Corel to WordPerfect, which I use now. I don’t care for Word, so I use Open Office to take everything into doc format, but I still find WordPerfect more intuitive and prefer to write in that. I’ve heard good things about Scrivener, although I’m not sure I need all of its complicated functions. I tend to plot in my head and sketch out the trickier twists and time lines on the back of an envelope.

Why have you gone for self-publishing in e-book format? Have you had any feedback as to whether the e-book format is a better approach for your intended audience?

Way back in the 90s I had an agent and we tried to sell the first Anna & Zenni book. It did the rounds of all the major publishers – lots of editors liked it, but it never found a home. When I took early retirement in 2011, my colleagues gave me a Kindle. I didn’t think I’d like reading on it, but I loved it. I realised that now I had the time and opportunity to put my work out as e-books, so I just went ahead and did it. I think the SF/fantasy audience is happy with e-books, although some people still want print.

How much of the publication did you do yourself? What did you use other professionals for and why?

My other half did the final copy edit and I did all the formatting. We did the cover art for “No Earthly Shore” and I admit that it isn’t wonderful. The other three covers are by professional artists.

How easy has the e-publication process been? What would you do differently next time?

It was fairly easy. I taught myself how to do it as I went along, and there are a lot of resources on-line to help. Whenever I got stuck, I’d Google for a solution. The thing about an e-book is that it’s very easy to change it and sort out any problems. I’ve re-loaded some of mine several times when people have pointed out mistakes.

What advice would you give others considering self-publishing in the e-book format?

Go for it, but be sure that your book is well-edited and typo-free. The hard bit is promoting your book so that it sells, and I don’t have the solution to that problem yet.

I know your stories are available from Amazon on Kindle. What other formats is the series available in?

My Amazon author page are Jilly Paddock on Amazon UK and Jilly Paddock on Amazon USA. They will contain an up-to-date list of all my books.

I self-published four books on Kindle in 2012, using KDP Select, so they weren’t available anywhere else. Now that I’ve signed with Pro Se Press, “To Die A Stranger” and Spook/Spirit/Stone will be taken off Kindle and come out as new e-book and print versions, and apparently as audiobooks, but I don’t have any firm dates for that yet. “No Earthly Shore” and “The Dragon, Fly” will still be available on Kindle.

What about the future? Do you see the traditional publication route as viable?

I’ve signed with a small independent publisher, and I’m sure that type of publishing will increase. My work doesn’t seem to fit with the Big Six publishers best-seller and celebrity author plan, which is squeezing far too many mid-list authors out of the game. I see my future output being a combination of traditional and self-published books, and it’s very nice to get them out of the crypt on my hard-drive and let people read them.

What’s next? Do you have anything else “in the works” at the moment?

I have two short stories which will be in Pro Se Presents, although I don’t yet know which issues they’ll appear in. “The URLKing” is an Afton & Jerome short piece, and “The Third Worst Thing That Can Happen On Mars” is an odd little tale, my take on Ray Bradbury’s “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed.”

I’m working on another Afton & Jerome novella at the moment, which will also be published by Pro Se, possibly with a couple of short stories. I’m also updating the second Anna & Zenni book, “With Amber Tears”, which will hopefully be taken by Pro Se if Stranger does well enough.

There’s also “Warbird”, an immense SF/space opera epic set two centuries before Anna & Zenni’s time, about the Vienna, a ship that travels through voidspace, the first contact with non-humanoid aliens and an interplanetary war. It’s almost finished and I may have to self-pub it, as it’s 160,000 words long.

There’s a work-in-progress fairytale, “Ladder to the Moon”, which is full of all the things you shouldn’t have in fantasy – angels, demons, a dragon and a talking horse – but isn’t like anything I’ve ever read. It’s full of folksong and folk tales, and the flora, fauna and landscape of the English countryside. I must finish it one day.

Thank you, Jilly!

5 Comments so far

  1. Raven Dane April 12th, 2013 6:57 pm

    Lovely interview with a lady who has restored my love of SF. I was a voracious reader of SF throughout my teens and young adult life but this waned over time. Jilly Paddock’s wonderful imagination and beautiful writing is a delight and I wish her every success with her new publisher. More people need to discover her work !!

  2. Jilly Paddock April 12th, 2013 7:18 pm

    Thanks for doing this. I enjoyed the interview – interesting questions that made me think.

  3. phillip April 12th, 2013 7:45 pm

    Raven, thanks for dropping by. I agree more people need to discover Jilly’s work. I aim to do my bit through this blog and hope the new publisher will make a big difference.

    Jilly, it was a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to answer a raft of questions!

  4. Author Interview | little cat feet April 13th, 2013 1:23 pm

    […] going to the World Fantasy Con this year, and I think I definitely owe him a double for running this interview with me on his Nightspore blog. Thanks, […]

  5. Mike Keyton April 16th, 2013 11:07 am

    Great interview and yet another tempt to go indie : )

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