An Interview With Gareth Lyn Powell: 24 August 2006
Gareth Lyn Powell is one of the new generation of British SF writers currently making their mark in Interzone, the UK’s longest-running SF&F magazine. He lives in the West Country with his wife and two daughters. His fiction has been published in America, Europe and the Middle East, and has been translated into Portuguese, Hebrew, Greek and Polish. He made his first professional fiction sale to Interzone in 2005.
His novella The Last Reef appeared in Interzone #202, and a short story - with the intriguing title Ack-Ack Macaque - will appear in a forthcoming issue.
In 2006, Gareth won the Firebrand Great Fiction Award from SFReader.com for his short story Sunsets and Hamburgers.
He keeps a blog a http://garethlynpowell.blogspot.com: , where you can find links to online stories and reviews.
How long would you say you’ve been writing?
GLP: I’ve been writing stories my whole life, in notebooks and on scraps of paper. When I got my first typewriter at the age of 12, the first thing I wrote was a science fiction story called A Long Way From Home. I studied creative writing for 3 years at university, but I only started writing seriously a few years ago, when I turned thirty. I wrote a fifty thousand word novel, and then I started writing short stories. I wrote a story called Catch A Burning Star and submitted it to a webzine called Aphelion. They printed it, and that encouraged me to write another, which I sent to Quantum Muse. That got printed too, so I wrote another. And another… And I tried to make each one better than the last.
Which authors do you regard as being an influence on your writing content and style?
GLP: I was lucky that my local library had a very good selection of science fiction books for young readers - stuff like Brian Earnshaw’s Dragonfall 5 stories and Heinlein’s Have Space Suit Will Travel - which hooked me into the genre at an early age. As I grew older, I moved on to the short stories of Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven. I learned a lot about pacing and style from Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Elmore Leonard, Hunter Thompson and Raymond Chandler. And I learned a lot about science fiction from Cordwainer Smith, Samuel Delany, M.John Harrison, Iain M. Banks, William Gibson, and Olaf Stapleton.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
GLP: Good question. Sometimes I sit at the keyboard and the words flow - other times it takes determination and hard work. I keep a notebook handy and try to jot down observations, snatches of dialogue, and ideas. Sometimes a memory or an article will suggest a scene but the final version of the story’s often far removed from the idea that first sparked it off. The text evolves over successive drafts. Different themes come to the fore, or drop away. In the end, I can’t say exactly what prompted me to write this or that story in a certain way. For instance, with The Last Reef, the initial inspiration for the story came from a dream about blasting across a desert on a quad bike listening to skull-crunching music from speakers implanted directly into the auditory centres of the brain. But when I came to write it, the main character’s personality shaped the direction the story went in, taking it away from the original idea into new and unexplored territory.
How difficult was it to first get published? For example, I understand The Last Reef went through a few iterations before being accepted.
GLP: I went through four rewrites with The Last Reef. Jetse de Vries, the editor who picked the story off the slushpile, liked the characters and the scenario but felt the finale needed tightening up. We tossed the story back and forth until we were both happy with it, and then Jetse passed it to the rest of the editorial team.
Is science fiction a genre which you ‘got into’ on purpose, or did it just kind of happen?
GLP: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write SF. Apollo 18 docked with a Russian Soyuz module when I was 4 years old. And then we had Star Wars and all the footage from Skylab, and the new space shuttle that promised us easy access to orbit… I write SF because I grew up with it, and because you have to write what you know and love.
Where do you do write?
GLP: I’ve got a study at the back of the house with a window that looks out onto the fir trees at the back of the garden. One wall’s lined with books and there are racks of CDs against another. I tend to write after my family have gone to bed, so it’s very quiet in here.
Could you tell us something about what you are working on at the moment?
GLP: There are a couple of other ideas I’m playing with but I don’t want to say too much about them right now. I find that if I talk too much about a story, I lose the urge to write it. My wife understands - she won’t read a partial draft of anything I’ve written; it has to be finished before she’ll look at it.
Have you written a novel, or are you writing one?
GLP: I’ve written an SF thriller called Silversands. And I have a file of notes for an all-action space opera with the working title The Burning Sky.
You have also written poetry. Which do you prefer, fiction or poetry?
GLP: I only ever dabbled in poetry. At heart, I’ve always wanted to be a fiction writer.
What are your writing plans for the future?
GLP: For the time being, I’m going to keep writing short fiction. I’d ideally like to have the time to concentrate on writing nlovels, but I’m getting some recognition for my short fiction, and I’d like to spend time to build on that.
What is your favourite icecream?
Thanks for taking time out to answer these questions, and we’re looking forward to Ack-Ack Macaque in a forthcoming Interzone.