Lets start with an introduction: Who is Gwyneth Jones?
Of Irish descent, despite the Welsh name, I live in Brighton, on the south coast of England, but I was brought up in Manchester, a city in the north west. I’ve been a storyteller and a writer of stories for as long as I can remember which is now quite a long time. I overcame the fact that I can’t write legibly, or in a straight line, and can’t spell, by being born conveniently close to the development of computers with keyboards (my first was a BBC B). I’ve won a few awards in my time, but I don’t let it get me down. I have one husband, one son and two cats, I love reading, thinking, playing the piano, playing fantasy games; being outdoors, walking in the hills and tending my garden.
Your new novella, Proof of Concept, will be published by Tor.com in April. It looks rather interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
It’s about a huge cavern, called the Giewont Abyss, a drained magma chamber that’s been discovered deep, deep in ancient rocks, in Poland. The Abyss is the ideal venue for a Post Standard Model Physics experiment called “the Needle”, which might remotely have something to do with the feasibility of mass faster than light travel. A team of scientists goes down there, locked in for a year with a team of TV entertainers, from a hugely popular reality show, who are allegedly “training as starship crew”. With the scientists is a Scav-kid called Kir, (Scav as in scavenger, she’s from a Dead Zone), whose chief claim to fame is that her brain hosts the most advanced quantum computer in the world. The “quaai” is called Altair (quaai = quasi-autonomous artificial intelligence). Things don’t go according to plan. Or maybe they do, it depends on who you think was doing the planning.
What inspired you to write the story? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I love the idea of being on the floor of the Abyss, a pitch-black inside-out alien planet. I loved imagining the way Kir explores it, and finds its features, and names its wildlife. To say anything more would be to give too much away.
I draw my inspiration from anything and everything that comes by. But I do follow science trends.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
My father told us a long, episodic story, based on one of the classic fairytales. He taught me all I know about storytelling, before I ever wrote anything down. My mother read science fiction. She and her youngest brother used to leave the books and magazines about, and I read them. I found I really liked thinking about the science; still do. I read New Scientist, cover to cover, every week, it’s a treat.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
To be honest, I prefer the part when I’m making up the story in my head. But I’m pretty good at typing by now… Correction, I’m pretty fast. Just don’t expect me to write and spell at the same time. I don’t think of myself as working within the publishing industry. I’m more generating the publishing industry’s raw material. I like working to and fro with the editors I trust, but besides that, it’s a case of “I don’t expect to understand, just tell me what you guys need and I’ll try to help”.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I’m keen on research, I can get lost in it. When I force myself to start writing it’s nine to five, weekdays; more or less. When I was working on two books a year plus other stuff, I’d work nights and weekends too. I don’t think I could cope with that anymore, even if I wanted to. But I have to have a routine, or I’d never get anything done at all.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I can’t remember “realizing that I wanted to be an author”, but I remember my first foray, very fondly. I wrote a cute little story for a Christmas competition, on the children’s’ page of the Manchester Evening News. I was thirteen? Fourteen? The story was nothing like the saga I was imagining in my head at the time (science fantasy, vaguely based on The Avengers), but I won.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I don’t know enough to have an opinion, and I’m happy that way. But, I’m glad that women, as writers and in other active roles, are a normal feature, not rare exceptions; special cases. You don’t know, unless you check back a few decades, how different that is from the way the genre used to be.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a study of Joanna Russ, for the University of Illinois Masters of Science Fiction series. I’m not allowed to think about other projects until it’s done!
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
James Blish, Cities In Flight, allegedly as background for the Russ study. If you’re interested in sf and you haven’t read it, you really ought to. It’s the Godfather of all Space Opera epics since.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
One novel, out of all time and all genres? I couldn’t do that. So many “someones”, each one different, so many different novels. I wouldn’t know where to start.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m quite a good cook.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Summertime. I won’t be travelling far, anywhere this year, but last year my husband gave me a book called Wild Swimming, and I loved the idea. Right now there’s a river on Pevensey Levels (that’s in Sussex where I live), I’m dying to try. Other places too. Possibly even the Serpentine and Hampstead Heath ponds, although that doesn’t count as wild. But not until the water’s warmed up a bit.