Mention The Avengers to your average Joe or Jane Punchclock and they’ll most likely assume that you must be talking about the blockbuster movies featuring a team of Marvel superheroes. And they’re right. But there’s another team of Avengers that has just as loyal following as those other Avengers ever since the 1960’s. The British TV series THE AVENGERS starred Patrick Macnee as John Steed. Originally, he wasn’t the main character. That was Dr. David Keel played by Ian Hendry. THE AVENGERS started out as pretty much a straight up crime drama but that changed once Steed became the main character and was partnered up with a succession of beautiful assistants. Women whose names soon became legendary due to their intelligence, sophistication, style, talents and abilities that made them easily as equal as their male partner out in the field. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) and Tara King (Linda Thorson) worked with Steed for a shadowy branch of the British Secret Service (given the name of “The Ministry” in the disastrous 1998 movie) combating enemies that became more bizarre the longer the series ran.
Robotics, time travel, mind control, invisibility, super computers wanting to take over the world, The Hellfire Club (a concept borrowed for Marvel Comics “X-Men” series) mad scientists…THE AVENGERS had all that and more, incorporating elements of science fiction, satire, parody, droll British wit flavored with eccentricity into an entertaining one hour package that ran from 1961 to 1969. There also was “The New Avengers” which ran from 1976 to 1977 that saw John Steed with two new partners played by Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt.
We won’t talk about the movie, okay with you?
But what I would like to talk about is THE AVENGERS: TOO MANY TARGETS. Judging from the date I’m assuming it was published to compliment the feature film. One has to wonder why there wasn’t a proper movie tie-in novelization but in this case I’m glad there wasn’t. THE AVENGERS: TOO MANY TARGETS is just fine the way it is. It’s not a masterpiece and it’s not a book that I insist that you actually have to read but if you’re a long-time fan of the series then you’ll have a good time with this.
Somebody is going around killing agents of The Ministry. Somebody that looks a whole lot like John Steed. And he’s not a fake. Thanks to computerized voice analysis there can be no doubt. It actually is Steed. And considering his knowledge and experience, a rogue Steed is the greatest threat imaginable to British Intelligence. A reluctant Tara King is giving the assignment to eliminate him.
But while this is going on, Steed is contacted by a retired colleague who gives Steed a special assignment that comes right from The Prime Minister himself: Steed’s superior, codenamed ‘Mother’ has apparently gone rogue and is killing his own agents. Steed is given the assignment to eliminate him.
Now believe it or not, this all ties in with a wild gorilla roaming the English countryside being hunted by Cathy Gale and Dr. David Keel’s investigation into a lethal plague rampaging through the African nation of Katawa. All of these diverse threads lead everybody to Knight Industries, owned and run by Mrs. Emma Peel as apparently Knight Industries is the new birthplace of the deadliest foes The Avengers ever faced: The Cybernauts. Before, Steed and Mrs. Peel barely survived their encounters with the murderous robots. Now they have to face a new generation of Cybernauts that are faster, smarter and more powerful than their predecessors. Even with Dr. Keel, Cathy Gale and Tara King on their side, can they once again defeat the insane genius who has given The Cybernauts new life and save the world?
I trust you see the main attraction this book had for me. For the first time, Steed is working with all his former partners on the same case. There are a couple of others that don’t appear here such as the nightclub singer Venus Smith and Dr. Martin King but they only appeared in a handful of episodes each and they’re nowhere nearly as well known. A lot of the enjoyment I got out of the story was seeing how Steed’s partners interacted and worked together. Tara King isn’t very happy about Mrs. Peel so obviously enjoying the adventure and working with Steed again. Dr. Keel and Cathy Gale discover that they’re quite the formidable team of brains and brawn. And it’s downright comforting and touching to see that Steed seems to be taking an almost fatherly pride in the way his former partners mesh their talents and skills together.
And I also liked how the book is set in period. There’s a part where Mrs. Peel and Tara are talking and Mrs. Peel makes a reference that it’s been a year since she and Steed’s partnership ended. So apparently Steed and Tara managed to get that spaceship they accidentally flew off in at the end of the final episode back to Earth. Being set in period gives the writers a chance to have fun with the technology, terminology and British eccentricity of the 1960’s. It’s also pretty funny at times, especially the scene where a poor Russian agent is harassed by one Avenger after another, all looking for information on Steed’s whereabouts. It’s also appropriately bizarre in the scenes where Cathy Gale battles a gorilla and where Steed and Mrs. Peel have to fight off Cybernauts disguised as flying stone angels in a graveyard.
So, should you read THE AVENGERS: TOO MANY TARGETS? Like I said, if you liked the TV series and you’re a fan then I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to. It’s a light, breezy read and the characterizations of Steed, Mrs. Peel and Tara are as I remember them. And even though I’m not familiar with Cathy or Dr. Keel, the writers sold me on them being worthy partners of Steed and just as deserving to be called Avengers. Well-written action scenes and you can’t beat a cyborg Neo-Nazi mad scientist with an army of killer robots as bad guys. It’s a fun read.
Derrick Ferguson: We’ve been through this before but no doubt there’s a lot of people who will be reading this who don’t know a thing about you so: Who Is Nicole Givens Kurtz? Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
Nicole Givens Kurtz: I am originally from Knoxville, Tennessee (Go Big ORANGE!), but I currently reside just outside of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I’m a public-school teacher by day, a writer at night and a mother 24/7.
DF: It’s been a year and four months since I last interviewed you. What have you been doing since then?
NGK: So much has happened in the last year! An anthology I submitted a story to, was named as a Bram® Stoker Finalist in Horror Anthology (Sycorax’s Daughters), I’ve sold a few short stories, and finished a new urban fantasy series that I’m currently shopping around. I’ve also had the pleasure of attending BlackTasticon in June and some other pretty amazing events this year.
DF: I asked you in our last interview if there was an audience for Nicole Kurtz. Have you found your audience yet? Or have they found you?
NGK: Alas, my audience remains a bit elusive. I’m still working on refining my author brand, and also increasing my in-person presence. I write a lot of different types of stories, and for that reason, it may be difficult for me to find an audience that are “Nicole Givens Kurtz” fans, but rather they like specific things I write. For example, I do have “Cybil Lewis” readers, and “Minister Knight” readers, etc.
DF: How is Mocha Memoirs Press doing?
NGK: Mocha Memoirs is going through an overhaul in terms of direction. It’s not entirely new, but we are refining our model. Publishing is always changings and we’re shifting with the sands, too.
Our tagline is Bold. Fearless. Fiction. We want to continue to amplify marginalized voices in speculative fiction. We opened our submissions doors two months ago and are actively seeking novellas and novel-length submissions.
DF: What are you working on now?
NGK: Currently, I’m revising a romance novella for Falstaff Crush, the romance line of Falstaff books. After that, I plan to finish revisions on my second urban fantasy series. There are short stories and short story collections I’m also putting together, including on for Cybil Lewis and my weird western short stories.
DF: Who is Cybil Lewis?
NGK: Cybil Lewis is a private inspector in the future who investigates violations (crimes) for those who are afraid or don’t want to go to the police. She’s like a female Shaft in dystopian Washington, D.C., following her own moral compass, and getting the job done. She’s by far my most personal and favorite character out of all of those that I have created over the last 20 years.
DF: In the year since we’ve talked, has the prominence of female African-American Speculative Fiction writers grown? Diminished? Stayed the same?
NGK: It has exploded in the year since we talked! There are so many African-American Speculative Fictions writers that I struggle to keep up and to read others’ works! There’s just so much and that’s not a complaint! It’s so encouraging that younger African-American girls and boys and read books in speculative fiction with protagonists that look like them. They’re the heroes and heroines, the super powered people in those stories and that is beautiful.
DF: How do you see your role in the community of female AASF writers? IS there a community of female AASF writers? And if not, why isn’t there one?
NGK: There’s a community of AASF writers, but I don’t belong to an “official” one. I have a solid group of AASF authors who support each other, work together to network and share ideas, and push each other to be great. It’s something African Americans have always done, especially black women. We’ve taken care of things when we need to and for the community. Over the years, I have found and been gifted with really intelligent and brilliant AASF who may be further down the road in their career than me, but who reach back and mentor. Linda Addison does this as well as Tananarive Due and others.
DF: Who should we be reading these days? Who are you reading?
NGK: Right now, I’m reading Daniel Jose Older, Tomi Adeyemi’s, Eden Royce, and Sherrilyn Kenyon. Everyone should be reading and supporting independent authors! My currently reading list has independently published authors on them, and honestly, I met some amazing authors at Blacktasticon. If you’re into comics, you should read Robert Jeffery’s Route One, and William Satterwhites’ Stealth. There’s so much good reading being put out by small presses and independently published authors.
DF: How was Blacktasticon 2018? How much fun did you have?
NGK: Blacktasticon 2018 was a warm hug! It was mind-blowing, stimulating, and a huge creative bump for me. I did have to pinch myself several times as I sat on panels with my writing heroes. Sheree Renee Thomas, Linda Addison, John Jennings are the stars of black speculative fiction and I couldn’t believe how generous they were with their time, with their knowledge, and that was what really made the event for me. This community of individuals coming together to talk about speculative fiction through the lenses of Afro-centric beliefs, ideals, and historic context. I learned so much. My soul was fed. No other convention does that in the way that Blackstasticon did.
DF: For someone who hasn’t read any of your work, what should they start with and why?
NGK: For those who haven’t read any of my work, I would start with SILENCED, the first Cybil Lewis novel. It’s such a great story, and it’s a pretty good example of the types of stories I tend to tell. Of course, my writing has changed a lot over the years, but that’s the best representation of my writing style.
DF: Where can people find out more about you and your work?
NGK: People can find me at Other Worlds Pulp, which is my website: http://www.nicolegivenskurtz.com, on Twitter at @nicolegkurtz or a facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NicoleGKurtz
DF: Anything else we need to know?
NGK: I’m giving away a free copy of my Cybil Lewis short story, “Recruited,” when people sign up for my newsletter. Interested parties can go here: https://nicolegivenskurtz.com/newsletter/
Thank you, Derrick for the interview. It is always a pleasure.
If you’re among those who saw BLACK PANTHER and loved it…
…and if you didn’t love it I’m not sure we can still be friends. But I digress…
…you’re probably salivating and looking forward to more adventures of King T’Challa and wondering how you’re going to fill your entertainment hours with more of the same. You desperately crave for more fantastic tales of black heroes and heroines to feed your stimulated imagination now that your creative juices are flowing and your soul seeks to enrich itself with legends and stories of heroes and heroines who can stand shoulder to shoulder with T’Challa, Princess Shuri, Nakia, Okoye and M’Baku.
Look no more.
There’s a legion of staggeringly creative black writers and artists that have been working like gubmint mules for years producing just those kinds of stories. Some of their names you know. Charles Saunders. Milton Davis. Balogun Ojetade. Gerald L. Coleman. Valjeanne Jeffers. Jeff Carroll. Nicole Givens Kurtz. Toi Thomas. Alicia MCalla. Thaddeus Howze. Brian W. Parker. Ronald T. Jones. Mshindo Kuumba. Jarvis Sheffield.
Some names you don’t. But that’s okay. There’s two places you should start to learn the names you’re not familiar with.
So now you don’t have to wait. Because there is more wonder and adventure out there than I think you didn’t know existed. And I envy you the discovery. Wakanda is not just a country. It is not just a warrior spirit and code. It is not just a technology. Although it embraces and celebrates all of these.
Wakanda is also a family of imagination. Because we can dream our future into reality.
And in this…we are all this day and forevermore citizens of Wakanda.
“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We cannot. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
The hard-boiled private eye genre is one I dearly love. The trench-coated shamus with a cigarette dangling from his lip, .45 automatic or .38 revolver in a well-worn shoulder holster, fedora pulled down low over his forehead, the faithful gum-chewing secretary and even more faithful fifth of scotch in the desk drawer. Using his experience of having lived a tough life and insight into human nature to solve mysteries, not fancy computers and DNA. it’s a genre I never get enough of. And since television and movies have apparently abandoned the P.I. it’s up to writers like Lee Houston, Jr. and books like HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE to give me my fix.
Let me explain; even though Hugh Monn lives and works on the far distant planet of Frontera interacting with many different species and using advanced technology, the tone and feel of the character and the eight stories in the book are pure 1950’s. Lee drops in a mention here and there of some bit of sci-fi such as a character having green or purple skin or Hugh’s weapon of choice being a Nuke 653 Rechargeable but that’s just throwaways Lee lobs at us once in a while to remind us that we’re not on Earth. But he doesn’t go into any real detail as to how this future civilization operates or how the technology works. When the subject of detective stories crossed with science fiction comes up, I usually mention Larry Niven’s stories and novels about Gil The Arm or Roger Zelazny’s “My Name Is Legion” since in those stories, the science fiction is integral to the story. Take out the science fiction and you wouldn’t have a story. Not so with Lee’s Hugh Monn stories. They could easily have been set in 1950’s Los Angeles or New York with a little rewriting. But I digress…let’s take HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE for what it is, not for what it isn’t.
Hugh Monn is a Human and yes, he freely admits to his clients that his name is a gag. But one he prefers to use as he’s got some pretty big secrets in his past he’d prefer to keep to himself. As a detective, Hugh is capable, sharp, principled and dogged in his determination to solve his cases and get to the truth. Hugh isn’t a pain-in-the-ass who rebels against authority and isn’t a lone wolf who doesn’t play by the rules. Matter of fact, Hugh conducts himself as a total professional. He doesn’t shoot when he doesn’t have to, he’s polite to everybody he meets and he co-operates with the authorities. In particular, Lawbot 714 who he runs into in a couple of stories and who I wouldn’t mind seeing become a regular if Lee gives us more Hugh Monn cases. He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, he likes kids; he holds open the doors for old ladies. I think you can tell where I’m going with this. Hugh’s a fine detective but as a character I found myself wishing that once in a while he’d haul off and slug a suspect for no good reason other than he doesn’t like the fact the guy has eight eyes. Hugh could stand to be a little rougher and not so polite.
The story “Shortages” is a good example of how Hugh Monn solves a case using his understanding of both humans and aliens and his powers of observation. It also introduces the character of Big Louie, a Primoid. Big Louie is the main suspect in a series of thefts being committed at a high security pier. It’s a pretty good locked room mystery and the relationship between Hugh and Big Louie is the primary attraction in this story, as in “At What Price Gloria?” Hugh and Big Louie have to rescue Big Louie’s wife Gloria and stop an assassination attempt. I only wish more of the stories had been as suspenseful as this one. In some of them, the mystery really isn’t that hard to figure out as there’s a lack of suspects so the solution comes down to either being this one or that one. And I never got a sense of Hugh being in any real danger in any of these stories. But Lee should be commended for trying different types of stories such as “For The Benefit of Master Tyke” which hinges more on the healing of a family than the solving of any real crime. I picked up halfway through “Where Can I Get A Witness?” is intended as a homage to the 1944 film noir “Laura” and I enjoyed it until the very last paragraph where it felt to me as if the writer had stepped in to give his opinion of his own story and didn’t allow his character to do so.
So should you read HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE? As this was his first book, I’m inclined to give Lee a pat on the back. There’s a lot to like in his writing style. He does know how to keep a story moving but he shouldn’t shy away from rolling in the dirt and giving his characters some sharp edges. I wouldn’t mind seeing Hugh Monn tackle some more cases but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Lee Houston, Jr. strip away the political correctness and explore the real darkness of Frontera.
You know that old wheeze about as soon as a person comes into of a lot of money it changes them? I subscribe to a different theory. I think that acquiring a lot of money just makes you more of what you already are. If you were a generous, giving person before you became rich, chances are you’ll do more charity work with that money and help to make somebody’s world a little bit brighter. If you were an asshole before you became rich then the odds are that now that you have an AmEx Centurion card, you’re a raging asshole.
What has all this got to do with Mark Bosuquet’s superhero novel; USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY? Because most of the characters in his novel follow this principal, I think. Their superpowers just make them more of what they already are. Take our POV character, Jason Kitmore aka Kid Rapscallion. Orphaned at an early age and adopted by the superhero Rapscallion to be his sidekick he’s sexually abused (and not by whom you’re thinking of either) and he takes designer drugs to enhance his physical abilities in order to be a proper superhero. Is it any wonder as an adult, out on his own and no longer just a sidekick he becomes hooked on cocaine and kinky sex? As I got deeper into the novel and more of Jason’s personality was explored and revealed I realized what Mark was doing. In the hands of a lesser writer he would have let Jason off the hook and skewed us into feeling sorry for Jason, leading us to think that Jason never had a chance in life. But I don’t think that such is the case. I think that Jason Kitmore would have been a mightily screwed up individual without the sexual abuse, the drugs or the superpowers. Such is the strength of the voice of that character.
And that is what pulled me through USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY. The voices of the characters who are all so strong and so individual that I was actually hearing them in my head (that doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should when I’m reading a book these days) with their own inflections and distinctive speech patterns. And since the book takes us inside Mark’s superhero community and shows us the people behind the costumes and superpowers it’s important that we know who’s talking as soon as they speak. And there was never a point where I had to go back and re-read a paragraph because I was confused as to who was saying what to whom.
Sure, this being a modern-day superhero novel there is an abundance of profanity, sex and drug use. But Mark isn’t using it to shock. And most certainly if you’ve been reading comic books for the past twenty years then I don’t think there’s anything here that you already haven’t seen. And to be honest, he explores certain aspects of superpower enhanced sex I’ve always wondered about (oh, come on…like you haven’t thought what the sex life of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel or Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman must be like) Especially the relationship between Kid Rapscallion and Duplication Girl which is…unique, to put it mildly.
Mark goes ahead and takes the risk of telling his story in the present tense and he jumps back and forth in time. I say risk because if you’re not willing to invest the time and let the story unfold the way it has to in order to get to where it and you has to go, then you’re going to get frustrated. And you shouldn’t. The disconnected chronology is the prose equivalent of how most people tell a story verbally. They jump around. They forget important points and have to go back to fill in those points. They emphasize and polish up their own behavior while misrepresenting the motives and behavior of others. Mark uses the technique quite well to build suspense at key points of the narrative, especially when the 9/11 terrorist attack happens and catches the superhero community totally by surprise and everybody scrambles around trying to cover their own asses.
Should you read USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY? If you’ve read Mark Bosuquet’s other works then I don’t have to give you the hard sell. You know his talents as a writer and you know that he delivers a solid piece of entertainment every time he steps up. If you’ve never read anything by Mark before I’d actually recommend you try “The Haunting of Kraken Moor” first but that’s because it’s my favorite thing he’s written so far. And I think it’s a good way to ease you into Mark’s style and his approach to storytelling. But hey, if you’re a superhero fan (and aren’t all of us superhero fans by now?) then you certainly won’t be wasting your time or your money with USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY.
Jilly Paddock; I’m a British woman, no longer young but not yet ancient. There’s a lot of grey in my hair, which used to be black, and my joints ache in wet weather. I’m interested in biology, geology and astronomy – I like to know the names of animals, wildflowers and trees, rocks and gemstones, constellations and stars. I like Pre-Raphaelite artwork, Romantic poetry, folklore and folk music. I’m very practical and have dabbled in a lot of different crafts, including jewelry-making, silversmithing and knitting. I collect studio glass perfume bottles and tarot decks. I’m a cat person, but don’t have any pets at the moment. I have a dark sense of humor.
I used to live in South London near Crystal Palace, which has a park with life-sized dinosaur statues sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. They date from 1854, were the first of their kind in the world and were scientifically accurate at the time. I saw them as a child – how could I not write fantastic stories after that?
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the creditors away?
JP: I live in the UK, in a cathedral city in the Fens in East Anglia. I have a small house packed with books, CDs and other stuff, and I share it with Dave, an editor and book reviewer. I miss the chalk hills and woodlands of South East England, where I grew up. It’s very flat here, with wide open skies. I live on the edge of the city and can drive out to the countryside in a few minutes.
I spent most of my working life in the NHS (National Health Service). I was a Biomedical Scientist, which sounds very grand but is just a posh name for a lab technician. I worked in Microbiology, growing and identifying bacteria, testing for antibiotic resistance and doing blood tests to diagnose all kinds of diseases. I’ve handled all kinds of pathogens, including TB, typhoid, cholera and diphtheria, and also viruses like Hepatitis B and HIV on a daily basis and somehow lived to tell the tale. I took early retirement in 2011 and now survive on my NHS pension. It may sound odd but I still miss the bacteria, the colors of the colonies on the various media, the smells (some Streptococci smell of caramel and other bacteria have very distinct odors like pear drops or geraniums) and the sense of wonder when you find something unexpected or unusual.
DF: How long have you been writing and what have you learned about yourself through your writing?
JP: I started writing when I was eleven, inspired by two schoolfriends to put pen to paper. I’d always lived in imaginary worlds inside my head, but now the three of us wrote stories, shared them and had a lot of fun doing it. Both of my friends are now published writers working in the fantasy, science fiction and horror genres. I kept writing, selling a couple of short stories in the 1990s and trying to get a novel published. It was the first of the Zenith Alpha 4013 series and although several editors liked it, it never made it into print. After I retired I self-published it as an e-book, along with two novellas and a collection of short stuff. Then Pro Se Press picked it up and TO DIE A STRANGER finally came out in paperback in 2014. It was very satisfying to finally hold a real, solid book in my hands after so long.
I suppose I’ve learnt that I can complete a novel, that I can make that journey from first line to ‘The End’ through the twists and turns of the creative process. There are recurring themes in my work; I seem to be obsessed by walled cities, AIs and dragons. There’s probably a deep psychological meaning behind that, but better not to dwell on it!
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? Is there an audience for Jilly Paddock?
JP: I don’t write with any particular audience in mind. I just write for me, using mainly female protagonists. I suppose that my books have a flavor of the science fiction I read in the 70s and 80s. I’m surprised that I have many male fans, as my work isn’t hard science fiction and has a feminist slant. I’ve had several people who’d never dreamt of reading science fiction pick up my books and tell me they enjoyed them, which is very gratifying.
DF: Where do see your writing career five years from now?
JP: Hopefully all of the Anna and Zenni books will be out by then, plus the huge space opera, WARBIRD. I’d like to still be going to conventions, maybe two or three a year. It would be nice to be better known and to sell more books, of course.
DF: What are you working on now?
JP: I’m finishing the fifth Anna and Zenni book, which was inserted into the original chronology so I could play with the characters a bit more. I have other unfinished pieces, notably a fantasy that’s a simple fairytale with a big dose of folksong and a talking horse, LADDER TO THE MOON, which I need to complete and release into the world.
DF: A. Afton Lamont and her partner Jerome are characters you obviously have a lot of affection for. What is the origin story behind your creation of them?
JP: Afton and Jerome came from a small seed – I needed a pair of detectives on a colony world for a short story, which turned into BLIND WITNESS, which is in the LEGENDS OF NEW PULP anthology. A friend had mentioned that most of my male characters were bastards, so I decided to have a nice man as my first-person protagonist. Poor Jerome – as well as being my first likeable man, I made him black and bisexual as well! He isn’t human; he was rescued from a barbaric desert planet by a team of Earth scientists, who then mutilated him with surgery and inflicted our culture on him. He doesn’t quite fit in the society he lives in; as he says of himself, he’s a stranger in a strange land. Afton started out as the classic cynical police detective, belligerent and disliked in the ranks, full of anger and sarcastic quips. We still don’t know much about her past; she was born on Earth and probably spent some time in the military, but how she ended up on a backwater colony world is a mystery.
I do like my characters, some more than others. I spend so much time with their voices in my head that it’s hard not to see them as friends.
DF: TO DIE A STRANGER mixes science fiction with elements of the thriller and detective genres. Mashing up different genres seems to be a trademark of yours. Why do you enjoy blending genres together?
And what’s the secret to mixing different genres together and making them work smoothly with each other?
JP: I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until my reviewers pointed it out. When I started out, choosing science fiction was a no-brainer – what other genre allows you to write about anything you can imagine? I’d read a lot of thrillers and detective novels as a teenager, so that went into the mix, and it didn’t seem odd to add a little supernatural and magic, mythology and folklore. Real life has traces of all of that, plus a big dollop of coincidence and synchronicity that readers would baulk at if you put it in fiction. I just let the story go where it wants.
I’m not sure I know the secret of mixing genres, as I don’t do it deliberately. Keep your nerve and make it plausible – if you’re confident and believe in the plot your readers will go right along with you.
DF: WITH AMBER TEARS is the sequel to TO DIE A STRANGER. How many more books have you got planned for this series?
JP: It’s planned to be a ten book series. The fourth book, THE BEAUTY OF OUR WEAPONS, is with Pro Se and due out in May/June this year. Book five is unfinished, six to eight are complete but need minor re-writes, nine exists as fragments and ten needs a bit more work. This series is unusual in that I started writing it in 1973 and the books have been lurking on my hard drive since then, constantly being tweaked and altered as the story arc unfolded.
DF: STARCHILD is your latest novel. What’s it about and why should we be reading it?
JP: STARCHILD is the third in the Zenith Alpha 4013 series. Anna and Zenni are now working for Earth Intelligence (EI) and need to prove themselves, so they’re sent to Ile Garoque, a world that severed all contact with Earth two decades ago. The initial plan is to put Anna in the entourage of StarChild, a hugely popular band who’ve been invited to play on the planet, but when Taheera, the lead singer, refuses to go the mission turns into an impersonation of her, using Anna’s acting skills and EI’s technology. Add to that a hostile first contact situation with a group of predatory aliens, an enemy making yet another attempt on Anna’s life, an unexpected romance and being caught up in two weird storms in hyperspace that can destroy unwary spacecraft.
This series is at the lighter end of science fiction, edging towards pulp sci-fi. I think of it as space soap opera; this one has romance stirred into the mix. It has humor and isn’t too gritty, although it does have some swearing and a sex scene, so I wouldn’t recommend it to kids. You should read it because it’s fun and I think most people would enjoy it.
DF: What is the one book or story of yours you would recommend to somebody to start with? And why that book or story?
JP: That would have to be NO EARTHLY SHORE, a novella that’s currently only available as an e-book. It’s another tale of first contact, between the colonists of a world called Calvados and giant telepathic sea slugs, who were assumed to be just dumb animals until they save a girl from drowning and start talking to her. This time the mix includes a marine biologist, another EI agent (although he isn’t revealed as such within the story and he lacks psionic powers) and quilt patterns. It’s a very uplifting feel-good story and seems to appeal to science fiction fans and people who don’t usually read in that genre alike.
DF: Most of your novels and stories are connected. Did you start out to do this on purpose and is it easier to create stories once you have a fully developed universe in place?
JP: Again, this happened by accident. I can’t claim to have invented the universe – it’s a future variant of our own. I’m enough of an optimist to hope that we will go to the stars someday and set up colonies on other worlds. Some of the links between books seemed obvious and logical – the agent that Terrapol sent to help Afton and Jerome in THE SPOOK AND THE SPIRIT IN THE STONE had to be an agent-pair from EI – and some were in-jokes to amuse me and any readers who were paying attention. The world Jerome lives on was discovered by the spacecraft from WARBIRD, so some of the street names are surnames of the crew and Jerome’s cat, Gresham, is named after the ship’s captain, who is also ginger.
I suppose it’s a symptom of my scientific brain to keep things simple – don’t reinvent the wheel – so, if you need a planet, ship or character for the plot, why not use one you already have instead of starting again from the ground up?
DF: What keeps you motivated when you have a creative slump?
JP: There have been times when I’ve stopped writing, when life really got in the way. The stories keep bubbling away in the back of my brain and I have to let them out eventually. I write to empty my head, to get it down on paper so it stops bothering me and I can move on to the next thing. I’ve always found that forcing words out when they aren’t ready doesn’t work well. I don’t like deadlines; that said, I have produced some short stuff very rapidly when necessary.
DF: Drop some much-needed Words of Wisdom on all the young aspiring writers reading this that are thirsting for your knowledge.
JP: Other people have said this, but it’s true – if you want to be a writer, write. Keep writing and finish stuff. Even if you think it’s awful don’t throw it away – keep it and you might be able to use it one day. Read, a lot.
And, if you write on a computer, for pity’s sake keep multiple copies and back-ups of your files!
DF: What writers have influenced you?
JP: So many! I read a lot of classic science fiction and fantasy – Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Tolkien, Leiber – they’re buried in the landscape that lurks under my writing style. I adore Cordwainer Smith, who had such a quirky voice, so deceptively simple with strange psychological depths. There are touches of him in STARCHILD, in a chapter title and the notion behind dragon-storms. I like Peter S Beagle, who writes lovely, poetic prose, and Tanith Lee, Louise Cooper, John Wyndham and Iain Banks – too many of those have died recently. The poetry of W B Yeats and John Keats haunts me, and also the song lyrics of Melanie and Leonard Cohen, which have also inspired titles.
DF: How much room in your head do you allow critics or criticism to occupy?
JP: Too much, I guess. One bad review overshadows ten good ones. I wish I could be more like Iris Murdoch, who said “A bad review is even less important than whether it is raining in Patagonia.”
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Jilly Paddock like?
Ooh, I’m dead boring! I have porridge for breakfast and drink lots of tea. I don’t have an office of desk to write at – my computer is next to my armchair and I type with the keyboard on my lap. There’s usually music on in the background, as Dave has a vast and eclectic collection of songs and albums on his computer. I switch between writing, reading and the latest knitting project, and play solitaire to rest the eyes.
In winter I don’t venture out much – one of the joys of being retired is that you don’t have to go out in the rain or snow. About once a fortnight I take my father shopping and out to lunch. He’s 91 now and still lives independently, but he gave up driving last year and needs me to take him to medical appointments and the supermarket. I hope I’m still as fit and mentally alert (and alive!) when I get to that age.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know?
Jilly Paddock: In the question about which book I’d recommend as an introduction to my work, I was torn between two, so can I mention the second one here? It’s THE THIRD WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN ON MARS and it appeared in PRO SE PRESENTS #19: SUMMER 2013. It’s about the misadventures of Vonnie, a teenage girl who isn’t at all happy when her parents move to Mars. It seems to be a popular story, particularly with youngsters, and will come out soon in a version illustrated by the award-winning fantasy artist, Morgan Fitzsimons. She did the covers for WITH AMBER TEARS and the e-book, THE DRAGON, FLY.