An Interview with Gareth L Powell: 4 September 2007
Gareth L Powell is a speculative fiction writer from the UK. Critics have likened his work to Richard Morgan and Charles Stross. Recently, he has been published in America, Europe and the Middle East, and his work translated into Polish, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish and Portuguese. Earlier this year, his short story The Last Reef made the long lists for both the BSFA and BFS awards for Best Short Story, and placed highly in the 2006 Interzone Reader’s Poll.
Gareth keeps a blog at: http://garethlynpowell.blogspot.com, with links to online examples of his work.
Well Gareth, it seems like it’s been a very busy year for you since we last spoke. Could you tell us about the books you’ve signed deals for?
Since we last spoke, I’ve been fortunate enough to sign deals with two very cool independent presses, Elastic Press and Pendragon Press. Elastic Press are going to publish my debut short story collection, The Last Reef and Other Stories, in August 2008. This collects together many of the stories I’ve had published in print and online magazines over the last four years, including the two stories that have appeared in Interzone.
Then in 2009, Pendragon Press are going to publish my first novel, Silversands - a breathless cyberpunk yarn, shot through with planetary politics, espionage and subterfuge. I’ve also just released a collection of poetry, entitled: Los Muertos. This is my second poetry collection. It includes around forty poems, new and old, and can be ordered via my website.
I understand you’ve also been busy academically?
That’s right. Somehow I found time to take the Institute of Direct Marketing’s Certificate in Direct and Interactive Marketing, and pass with credit – an achievement I’m still very proud of.
Has that experience helped shape the way you write your fiction?
Writing copy for adverts and sales letters has taught me to make every word count, and to communicate complex propositions as simply and clearly as possible. In a nutshell, it’s helped me to strip my prose back to the essentials, leaving out all the extraneous waffle and communicating only the specific evocative details that bring the scene alive.
Judging from the short stories you’ve had in Interzone and elsewhere, I’d say there are some identifiable themes running through your work: themes like love, loss, redemption, and loyalty…
I believe that in order to work, stories have to be based on believable human feelings and frailties, so that you, as a reader, can experience them at a gut level, as well as a cerebral one - so that you’re willing the main characters to succeed, even if you know they’re doomed to fail.
This time last year, you’d just sold a second story to Interzone. Since then, I understand you’ve sold a few more stories to various other publications?
Over the last twelve months, I’ve had work appear in Interzone, InfinityPlus, BestSF, Focus, Fiction, Phantastes, and Efímero.
Even though a year is a short time in the big picture, we’ve all read numerous reports from people who see SF as a dying, or at least slowing down, genre. Do you think SF has changed in the last year, or is generally
SF has always been a genre defined by its own restless experimentation. But if you look on the shelves at your local bookshop or supermarket, you don’t see that. You have to go online to find the good stuff. You can buy
books on Amazon that would never grace a bookshop’s shelves – authentic, honest-to-goodness classics that high street retailers would never touch, because they’re focused on short term profit.
If their sales are slumping, it’s because they’re not giving us what we need and we’re going elsewhere to find it. There are some excellent writers working in the genre at the moment, through magazines and independent presses, and of course, the Internet - which allows them to network with each other, and to interact with readers in new and interesting ways. Over the last week, for example, I’ve received emails from readers in Australia and Venezuela who’ve read stories of mine online – readers I could never have reached by more traditional methods.
How has the subject matter of SF changed over the last few years?
I’m not sure it has, to be honest. The best SF has always been about what it means to be human in a strange and baffling world, and that’s still true today. If SF has grown dark and paranoid of late, that’s simply a reflection of the world it’s being written in.
You’ve started a Friday Flash Fiction blog meme, where you and other members write a short piece of fiction every Friday…
The idea started out as an exercise to keep my writing muscles toned up, by forcing me to produce 100-1000 words of fiction each and every week. It was just a bit of fun, really. I didn’t expect anyone else to take much
notice. But there are seven of us now, all posting these vignettes on our blogs every Friday - and there are undreds of other people out there reading them. Since we started Friday Flash Fiction, the traffic to my blog has quadrupled – and I know the other writers in the group can report similar surges in the number of visitors they’re attracting.
Who knows where it will lead? At the moment, there’s some genuinely interesting writing being produced in the group by some genuinely interesting people. Maybe one day when we’ve produced enough, we’ll collect it all up in an anthology, or something.
What have been your favourite reads over the last year?
I’ve been reading a lot of short story collections this year, by writers such as Alastair Reynolds, Harlan Ellison, Cory Doctrow and Rudy Rucker. I find them easier to dip into than full-length novels - especially as I have so little time in which to read. But having said that, I did find time on holiday to read M John Harrison’s Nova Swing and Glasshouse by Charles Stross.
Any particular favourite films you’ve watched?
I don’t go to the cinema much - I prefer to wait for the DVD release, and watch the films in the comfort of my own living room. Consequently, I’m always at least six months behind the rest of the world when it comes to new
What are your plans for next twelve months?
At the moment, I’m putting the finishing touches to The Last Reef and Other Stories. After that, I hope to start work on another novel, and some more short stories. Maybe even another short story collection. I have lots of ideas, I just need to start getting them down on paper.
Thanks for your time, Gareth, it was great to catch up.