Fun with Friends—Helen Lowe Talks with Fellow Authors from Australia and New Zealand: Today’s Guest Is Adam Christopher
About the Series:
“Fun with Friends” is an SF Signal interview series in which I feature fellow SFF authors from Australia and New Zealand. The format is one interview per month, with no more than five questions per interview, focusing on “who the author is” and “what she/he does” in writing terms.
This month’s guest is Adam Christopher, a New Zealand author now based in the UK,whose first novel, Empire State (Angry Robot, 2011), received a very positive reception. His second novel, Seven Wonders (Angry Robot, 2012), is new out.
Allow me to introduce Adam Christopher:
Adam Christopher was born in Auckland, New Zealand, where he grew up watching Pertwee-era Doctor Who and listening to The Beatles, which isn’t a bad start for a child of the Eighties. In 2006, Adam moved to the North West of England, where he lives in a house next to a canal. Adam is the author of the novels Empire State and Seven Wonders, both out from Angry Robot, and the forthcoming The Age Atomic and Hang Wire (Angry Robot) and Shadow’s Call (Tor Books). In 2010, Adam won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand’s highest science fiction honour. When not writing, Adam can be found drinking tea and obsessing over superhero comics and The Cure. You can find him online at adamchristopher.co.uk and on Twitter as @ghostfinder
An Interview With Adam Christopher
Helen: Adam, you were born and grew up in New Zealand but have lived in the UK since 2006. What drove you to make the change and what influence, if any, has it had on your writing?
Adam: I moved to the UK for work, actually – there was an opening, as they say, so I decided to take the plunge. I’d been to the UK plenty of times and had a lot of friends and family here already, so it was a move I’d wanted to make for a while. So when someone makes you an offer you can’t refuse, it seems like a good idea to take it!
It’s difficult to say how it has affected my writing, because although I’ve been writing my whole life, it wasn’t until after moving to the UK that I really began to take it seriously. In fact, right in the middle of moving I had a novel on submission to a UK publisher, and it was rejected shortly after I arrived here. That was the little kick in the pants I needed to actually sit down, reassess what I wanted to do, and take up writing “properly”.
Being in the UK I do have a lot more access to bookish type things – not just publishers based here but also conventions, author events, etc. Plus the time difference between here and the east coast of the US – where my agent and the big publishers are all based – is a little easier to deal with. It also means I can get over there with reasonable frequency, which is a big help.
So from a business point of view, it helps being here. Creatively, artistically, I’m not sure. I possibly wouldn’t be writing what I’m writing now if I was still in New Zealand, because over here I’ve become immersed in the publishing world, which is very inspirational, from a creative point of view.
Helen: So you grew up in New Zealand and now live in the UK, but both your novels to date, Empire State and Seven Wonders effectively have American settings. What factors influenced your decision on setting?
Adam: I write what I need to write, and as it happens everything has, so far, been either set in America, or has an American flavour – my dark space opera being published by Tor in 2014, for example, is not set on Earth at all, but I think the book has an American flavour, although the crew of the space station on which it is set are multinational.
For Empire State, I wanted to write a Prohibition-flavoured science fiction detective novel, so obviously it needed to be set in a big US city of the 1920s/1930s. New York is my favourite place in the world, and it fitted perfectly.
For Seven Wonders, I wanted to write a big epic spandex-clad superhero story. Traditional costumed superheroes are an American phenomenon, and because I wanted to play with all the classic comic book tropes, I had to write an American adventure.
However, logical reasons aside, I am drawn to American settings. I have spent a lot of time in the US, which had been a big influence – my fourth novel for Angry Robot, Hang Wire, is an urban fantasy set in San Francisco, because I fell in love with San Francisco on a trip there in 2009. The US is so vast and iconic that you can set any kind of story in any genre somewhere within its borders.
That’s not to say it’s the only setting I use – as I mentioned above, I write what I need to write, and usually a location comes with that, whether it is in the US or not.
Helen: I think you have succeeded in making Seven Wonders effectively a “superheroes” novel—where did the motivation for writing that style of novel come from?
Adam: I love superhero comics – they’re a driving passion for me, so I guess it was inevitable that I’d come up with my own epic superhero story! The central concept of the book – which is actually the central twist, so I can’t reveal it – was one of those “what if” scenarios that all writers have floating around in their head for ages and ages, just waiting for the right moment. Seven Wonders was the second novel I wrote (and Empire State was the third, actually), and it just seemed like the right time to put all my superhero ideas into a story.
Helen: Superhero stories are very much the domain of the comic strip and graphic novel, with the text and illustrations working together to create the story. So why make the shift to the novel format at all? What “more” does it add?
Adam: It’s true that superheroes are generally associated with visual media (just look how successful superhero films are at the moment), but if you consider superhero fiction as a little subgenre of its own, then it’s still all about character and story, like any other fiction. The characters in superhero fiction may have funny names and wear silly costumes, but it should all still work as solid science fiction (or maybe science fantasy, depending on your point of view). And because with superheroes you are dealing with some extreme ends of the character spectrum, working in the novel format allows you a whole lot of room to explore the nature of superheroism – that’s the advantage that a novel in any genre has, the space to explore. Comics are by their nature very compressed forms of storytelling, so letting this kind of epic superhero action breathe in prose works very well. As a novelist who loves superheroes, it seemed obvious for me to write a superhero novel, and Seven Wonders is by no means unique. There are plenty of excellent superhero novels out there – Turbulence by Samit Basu, Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin, A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King, After The Golden Age, by Carrie Vaughn to name just a few.
Getting into comics is a whole other ballgame, and I am actually writing my first comic now, which is being launched in December. But I never intended to write Seven Wonders as a comic – there was just too much story! It had to be a novel.
Helen: Both Empire State and Seven Wonders blend genres between crime, science fiction and superhero fantasy. Do you envisage continuing this trend in your writing or are you keen to explore the new?
Adam: I consider myself a genre writer, and probably more science fiction than anything else, but I just write the stories that I need to write (as I’ve mentioned!). I do tend to move across genres, but it’s not something I actively think about. I think the things I write about tend to reflect my interests, which are pretty broad (like my reading) – some writers write space opera, or high fantasy, and will produce multi-book series in those genres, and that’s what they become known for. Which is great, but that’s not the way my brain works. I have plans for a crime novel, plans for a Western, plans for a mainstream thriller – however, all have a speculative element to a greater or lesser extent, because I don’t really see myself writing something that doesn’t have that somewhere in it.
Story and character are what matter. Everything else – genre included – are almost irrelevant. If it works, it works, and that’s all that matters.
Some might say that it’s dangerous for an author to move around too much – and that’s why a lot of authors who do that use different pseudonyms depending on the work – but I think that’s an old-fashioned view. Readers and fans will follow an author – I guess for me it’s a little easier because I’ve started moving around right from the beginning, and there is no expectation that I am a hard SF writer, for example. If people pick up a book by me, they’ll have a rough idea of what to expect, whether it’s an urban fantasy or a military SF novel. One of my favourite authors, Lauren Beukes, is a great example – three books (Moxyland, Zoo City, and the forthcoming The Shining Girls), each completely different, each speculative, each unmistakably a book by her. Not a bad model to follow!
About the Interviewer:
Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer, and a 2012 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury. The Gathering of the Lost, the second novel in her The Wall of Night series, was published in April, and she has recently won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012 for the first-in-series, The Heir of Night. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground. and occasionally here on SF Signal. You can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we
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