Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Hanna Jameson?
I’m a writer. 28. University dropout and current history student. I’ve written four books and lost an award for one of them! I like bourbon, true crime, and ghost stories.
Your latest novel, The Last, was recently published by Viking in the UK. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
The Last is a murder mystery set in the months immediately following nuclear war, narrated by an American academic stranded in a remote hotel in Switzerland.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I was inspired to write The Last by a few things, as novels are generally the product of several disparate ideas falling together rather than the outcome of one event. I was inspired by the hellish state of discourse following the 2016 US election, nuclear war jokes on Twitter, a historian friend of mine telling me about a long commute between different US states that got me thinking about the theme of displacement, J.G. Ballard, Stephen King, a curious true crime case in LA where the body of a girl was found in a rooftop water tank of what was then The Cecil Hotel. I also frequently draw inspiration from my own rage, despair, and sadness.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I’ve never differentiated much between genre and literary fiction, as it doesn’t matter to me and I think the separation exists only as a manifestation of continued snobbery and gatekeeping. I just care if a story is interesting and well told.
That being said, when I was younger I read everything from the Redwall novels to Phillip Pullman, then later on Martina Cole, American Psycho, Stephen King, then J.G. Ballard skidded into my life with Crash, Super-Cannes, and High Rise.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I like it fine enough. I’ve been working in this industry for eight years now and it’s been a merciless learning curve, full of disillusionment, doubt, and constant adjustment to terror and uncertainty. But the highs are so very weird and so very high, and for that I count myself exceptionally lucky and privileged. My current team, the women at Viking UK, are among those highs. They’re kick-ass and I love working with them.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I like silence and remoteness, apart from when I need the same song played 1,000 times on repeat over six hours to locate the emotional space of a scene. There’s a lot of snacking, coffee in the morning and bourbon in the evening (but not every evening…). Also a lot of exercise, because that Hemingway quote is true; writing widens your mind but also your ass. So I like to keep on-top of the state of my ass. With research, immersion is the only way I know how, until the story and characters take over every moment of my life. The project is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep at night.
When did you realise you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I didn’t want to be a writer so much as know I was supposed to write, and that realisation hit me when I was about seven. If I’m not writing, I become dysfunctional. I gather stories and create them and that’s all I know how to do. Apart from a brief interlude when I wanted to be Indiana Jones — before I realised that Indiana Jones is not an accurate representation of archeology — that remained largely unchanged.
I finished writing my first full-length novel when I was fifteen because I wasn’t popular at school and couldn’t get a date on account of of being a spotty, nerdy teenager. I haven’t looked back on that particular manuscript. I never sent it out anywhere, probably for good reason. But I knew I could finish a manuscript, and I wrote the first draft of what would become my debut two years later. I was seventeen and not very good, so it was rejected by everybody. I still have the letters. I don’t look at them, but I still have them.
What’s your opinion of your genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Apart from Station Eleven and The Power, I haven’t seen much dystopian fiction marketed towards adults in recent years. Station Eleven was undoubtedly a huge influence on The Last. I love the raw humanity of it. Most great dystopian fiction seems to be YA fiction right now, maybe because younger people aren’t so attached to preconceived ideas about genre. When recommending dystopian fiction, a common response is, “Is it sci-fi? I don’t like sci-fi” and I always find that strange, because who cares about exact classifications and categories if the story is good?
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a TV show and it’s a historical drama. That’s all I’m going to say about it.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’ve just finished The Wrath & The Dawn and The Rose & The Dagger by Renée Ahdieh, a retelling of 1,001 Nights as a complex story about love and war, and I absolutely loved them. I couldn’t put them down and I feel bereft now they’re over. I’ve also just finished Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood, which is the funniest book I’ve ever read, while also being one of the most hard-hitting. An incredible feat. It made me think a lot about my experience at Catholic school. I don’t know what I’m going to read next. I don’t know who can follow these.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
The Grapes of Wrath. It should be compulsory reading.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Most of my readers only know me from Twitter, where I mostly post about politics, so they’d probably be surprised to learn I’m delightful in real life. Intense, yes, but amiable as hell, unless you’re a dick.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Thinking too longterm makes me anxious so right now I’m most looking forward to Christmas, the undisputed best time of the year. Mulled cider, mulled wine (with a shot of Amaretto), new books, lots of darkness, mince pies, the taste sensation of brie colliding with cranberry, novelty songs, pretty lights, tinsel. I’m so into it.