Your mythic landscape, the interdimensional hotspot Scalentine, has a well-developed geography and a cornucopia of Weres, Feys and Hermaphroditic four-armed sentients. Was there a lot of detailed note-taking and did you have character bibles to keep track of all your multi-coloured creations?
GS: I probably should have! To be honest, I just tend to think of something, go, ‘Ooh, cool, let’s put that in’ and work out later how it fits into the story. There are things and people I had to cut from the first one, or mentioned only briefly, which I hope to put in future books; and some which may never find a home, at least not in this series. As to the geography of Scalentine – funny, I was on a panel discussion about Maps in Fantasy not long ago, and I said then that I didn’t think I could draw a map of Scalentine. The portals make everything complicated, to start with. Also, if I drew a map I wouldn’t be able to add cool new stuff every time I thought of it! It does mean I spent a lot of time going back and forth through the manuscript trying to find what I said about something so I wouldn’t contradict myself. I don’t know how I’d manage without the ‘find’ function.
GS: Oh, I was so delighted with the cover. Solaris asked me to send in a few paragraphs describing the characters and the city; literally, just a few paragraphs, but when I saw the result, it was as though he’d walked into the Red Lantern and had supper with the characters. It was almost frightening, like some sort of telepathy. I have to say I gushed. I was very gushy.
And, rather pathetically, I also love the cover because it has a sort of film-poster look, which plays into my fantasy that Babylon Steel might be a film one day.
You’re a member of T Party Writers, a London-based genre critique group. What can you tell me about the group and what they do?
GS: The group’s been in existence for going on 20 years. People can join by sending in an audition piece, or if they have a professional story sale, or if they have an agent.
The group’s aimed at professional publication; most of our members have at least a couple of short story sales and several of us now have agents and/or book deals, so we’re not really an appropriate group for complete beginners. If a member wants something critiqued, they send it out a few weeks before the session. People do a written critique, and then at the meeting the crits are read and discussed. It’s quite a tough group, but incredibly helpful; also, it’s fun.
GS: Angua in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. She’s such a well-drawn character; she’s intelligent and complicated as well as tough, and her ways of dealing with being a werewolf and how difficult it makes her life and relationships are beautifully done – moving and funny. But then I idolise Pratchett anyway; and he does do some of my favourite fantasy women. Look at Granny Weatherwax, she’s magnificent. Scary, fierce, proud, hard as nails; Nanny Ogg, tough, compassionate, self-indulgent, clever – and, ye gods, it’s fantastic to see older women as central characters. Hermione in the Harry Potter books; again, smart and complicated. I liked Alice in Wonderland because she was so forthright. I also loved Valeria in Conan the Barbarian (the 1982 film). Buffy, of course. Does the Alien franchise count? Because I loved Ripley. And Vasquez. Tough women who were smart, competent, and who had positive relationships with men. Beauty in Robin McKinley’s Beauty, sweet, under-confident in some ways, well aware of her competence in others. Loads of Ann McCaffrey’s characters…oh, I could go on.
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