Janet Edwards lives in England and is the author of the Earth Girl trilogy. As a child, she read everything she could get her hands on, including a huge amount of science fiction and fantasy. She studied Math at Oxford, and went on to suffer years of writing unbearably complicated technical documents before deciding to write something that was fun for a change. She has a husband, a son, a lot of books, and an aversion to housework.
For what age audience do you write?
My current books are science fiction aimed at both young adult and adult readers, but it’s possible I may stray across the border into the lands of fantasy in future. I’ve read a lot in both genres, and it’s a very thin dividing line between them.
Henry: Indeed. Clarke’s Third Law states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Tell us about your latest US book release.
My debut novel, Earth Girl, was released in the US in March 2013. It’s set in the year 2788 when only the handicapped live on Earth. Eighteen-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets.
Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, Jarra has been abandoned by her parents. She can’t travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She’s an “ape,” a “throwback,” but this is one ape girl who won’t give in. Jarra makes up a fake military background for herself and joins a class of norms who are on Earth for a year of practical history studies excavating the dangerous ruins of the old cities. She wants to see their faces when they find out they’ve been fooled into thinking an ape girl was a norm. She isn’t expecting to make friends with the enemy, to risk her life to save norms, or to fall in love.
The sequel, Earth Star, is already out in the UK and I’m currently looking forward to its US release date of 15th April 2014.
Henry: The reference “ape girl” reminds me of that hilarious line in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: “It’s not my God damned planet, Monkey Boy.” When coming from an alien, that line is the ultimate racial slur.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Primarily Earth Girl is meant to be a fun read, but hopefully readers will also do some thinking about disability and prejudice and the assumptions we make about other people.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
That varies from one day to the next, but letting go is hard. That’s the moment you send a book off after the final proof check, and it’s scary. You’ve spent so much time working desperately hard to make it perfect, but now it’s heading off to be published and you can’t change anything any longer. Whatever error you failed to spot, whatever bright idea you wish you’d included, whatever sentence you meant to take out and forgot, whatever scene you still weren’t sure about, it’s too late to fix it now.
Henry: Kind of like when your child moves out. You tried your best and now you hope for the best.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
No two people ever read the same book. Each reader brings their own personality, experiences and emotions with them, and combines them with the words they are reading. Something can be hugely significant to one person, because it relates to something important in their own life, while meaning nothing to someone else. Which is exactly the way it should be. A book isn’t just a one-sided lecture from the author, it’s a meeting of minds.
Henry: You are my first interviewee to bring up that point, and it is an excellent one. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
In the last couple of years, I’ve had a huge number of fantastic new experiences because of my writing. Talking to an audience, attending conventions, and meeting fellow authors. But the most memorable moments have been when total strangers came up to me at a convention, or contacted me through my website, to tell me they’d read my book and loved it. I had a huge amount of enjoyment from books as a child. I started writing myself because I wanted to pass on some of that enjoyment to others. Having people tell me I’d achieved that goal was amazing.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
To become a good writer, you have to write a lot. That sounds simplistic, but it’s true. There’s an awful lot of pure hard work involved.
Henry: Hmmm. Hard work… Is there not an easy way for me to become a good writer? No. No there is not.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
There are several Snoopy cartoons featuring Snoopy as an aspiring author. I particularly love the one where Snoopy is writing to a publisher and he says this: “Regarding the recent rejection slip you sent me. I think there might have been a misunderstanding. What I really wanted was for you to publish my story and send me fifty thousand dollars. Didn’t you understand that?”
Henry: Nice. Then there’s Gene Fowler’s “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
It’s not exactly a ritual, but I’m sure it seems strange to other people. When I’m writing, my mind is in a totally different space and time. Anyone needing to talk to me has to say something, and then wait thirty seconds while I disengage from the world of Earth centuries in the future. Once I’ve refocused on the present day, they can repeat whatever they said, and may get a sane answer. Or possibly not.
Henry: That is exactly what happens when I speak to either of my sons while they’re playing a video game.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Flying. Definitely flying. Doesn’t everyone envy birds?
Henry: Flying is a nice choice, but I don’t envy birds their lack of hands or their diet of worms.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Anne McCaffrey. I loved Dragonflight and the world of Pern as a child. It’s the flying thing again. If you can’t fly yourself, then flying on the back of a dragon has to be the next best thing.
Terry Pratchett. I admire the brilliant way he can mix humour, fantasy, social comment, and even detective fiction in his Discworld books.
And finally, Jane Austen. Nearly two centuries after her death, despite changes in the English language itself, her sentences still shine like polished gems. It would be fascinating to find out what she was really like.
With those three dinner guests, I naturally wouldn’t be talking much myself, just listening to them!
Henry: Please videotape the dinner for the rest of us!
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
The selkie, who can change between human and seal, because they have the freedom of both dry land and water.
Henry: I’ve only recently been introduced to Celtic mythology, but both “Hounded” by Kevin Hearne and “Firebrand” by Gillian Philip, were excellent fantasy reads.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I like walking in the countryside. It’s not just that I enjoy being among nature and watching the birds. Walking helps me think through what I’m going to write next.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Janet Edwards died on Mars in the fifth year of the first Martian colony. (It would be totally fantastic if that was accurate!)
Henry: Not that I’m suggesting you leave Earth, but isn’t Mars One planning to send crews of four people to Mars each year, starting in 2024?
Where can readers find your work?
In physical bookshops (if they don’t already have the books in stock, then they should be able to order them for you), and from all the usual online sources. If you prefer ebooks, then the books are available in several different formats.
This interview is also posted at the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.