New cover reveal and interview with Clarke Award winning author, Chris Beckett
Daughter of Eden is published in October 2016, and can be advanced ordered here.
Take a moment to look at this beautiful cover, then do scroll on down for my interview with Chris…
Tom Hunter: This is a cover reveal, so let’s start there, especially as the covers are so distinctive. Were you much involved with the process or was it as sudden reveal to you as well, especially with the first one for Dark Eden? And a follow up question — There’s always a tension between the ‘obvious SF’ cover that people will recognise and thus hopefully want to buy and the weirder / more abstract covers that might appeal to new audiences. What kind of covers do you personally look for, or are you all about the words?
Chris Beckett: I wasn’t involved, except that I did say I’d prefer not to have an ‘obvious SF’ cover as you call it. I loved the Dark Eden cover, especially the original white-on-black version used for the hardback, and it’s great that the same artist has done the other two as well so that there’s a sense of continuity. The reason I don’t want to have an ‘obvious SF’ cover –exploding spaceships comes to mind- is that I don’t want my books to send out alarm signals to non-SF readers before they’ve read a single word. I write SF because it suits the things I want to write about, not because I’m aiming exclusively at an SF ‘market’.
Covers are important to me as a reader. If a book has an appealing cover, it gets it off to a good start before I’ve read a word. I wouldn’t choose a book solely because I liked the cover, but the cover undoubtedly is a factor when I am choosing between several books. And I’m sure the cover affects the way we read a book too, shaping the images that the book conjures up in your mind. As a teenager I loved the rather cool, arty covers that Penguin used on its SF books in the 60s, not obviously SF at all, many of them, and yet still conveying a strong sense of strangeness and otherness.
Tom: As well as the distinctive covers, it also seems that the team at Corvus have been giving the series a lot of attention every since Dark Eden was first published. For instance, I’ve seen any number of craftily timed ebook deals over the last few years, often pushing you right up the charts. In a world where it can feel that once book one is off the conveyor belt you’re on your own publicity-wise, this seems very refreshing. Are you benefiting from being an SF author in a non-SF imprint do you think?
Chris: Corvus have been very supportive and I’m very grateful to them for that. And you’re quite right, they take a lot of trouble to get my books out there. I like the fact that they’re not particularly an SF imprint because my intention and ambition is very much to appeal to a broader audience than just committed SF readers. (And it’s good to work with an editor who is not specifically an SF editor too.) Which doesn’t mean that I’m not pleased and grateful to have committed SF readers reading my work. They are still my main readership and probably always will be. After all, they, like me, instinctively understand why it might be a good idea to set a story on a planet without a sun, or have a sentient sex robot as a major character. Other readers have to be coaxed.
Tom: The Clarke Award question: No one ever believes me when I say that we don’t tell anyone, not the publisher or agent, and definitely not the author, if they’ve won or not before we open the envelope. Can you confirm we’re not lying, and what was going through your mind in the moments when I was up onstage dragging out my speech deliberately just to get you all nervous…
Chris: I can absolutely confirm that I had no idea I had won. No inkling at all!
All sorts of things were going through my head as I waited for the envelope to be opened. Part of me (the sensible grown up, I guess) was telling myself it didn’t really matter, and that I ought to be proud to be on the short list whether I won or not. Another part of me (the child) was ignoring that sensible crap completely and just thinking letmebethewinnerletmebethewinnerletmebethewinner. And a third part of me (the self-conscious adolescent?) was getting my ‘good sport’ face ready so that I wouldn’t look sour and disappointed when I had to clap for someone else. As if anyone would be watching my face at that moment anyway!
I’ve seen this from both sides, of course, because in the following year it was me who opened the envelope and me who was, rather sadistically, stringing out the wait for the poor short-listed authors. (Well, if I had to suffer, why shouldn’t they!)
Tom: And now a couple of years on from the win, have there been tangible benefits other than a nice trophy and a cheque from the win? Fingers crossed…
Chris: Oh for certain! I’ve just checked on Amazon UK and I see that Dark Eden currently has 274 reviews. You see perfectly good books on there, from reputable authors, with maybe twenty or thirty. The award has got to have helped with that!
This was actually my second award. I also won the Edge Hill Prize for my short story collection, The Turing Test (an SF collection but not a specifically SF award). Having won these two awards is like having a certificate I can carry around saying that I am a bona fide writer who should be taken seriously. I’ve no doubt that the Clarke in particular has greatly increased the number of people who hear about and read my books.
Not quite so tangible and yet, for me personally, very important, is that this certificate doesn’t just work on other people, but works on me as well. Writing is a funny solitary business. You’re not part of a team who can validate what you do on a daily basis, and it’s hard to assess the quality of your own work. I’ve grown much more confident in myself as a result of the award, and this has helped my writing. Being a real writer was my principle aspiration since I was in my teens. But it’s not an aspiration now. It’s something I’ve achieved.
Tom: What is exciting you about SF right now?
Chris: This may sound weird but I have read very little SF -very little fiction of any kind, in fact- for several years! I must have at least a dozen novels in my kindle, SF and otherwise, which I’ve bought over the last couple of years but never read. I don’t know if this is because writing fiction is my main job now, the thing I sit down and do all day. But whatever the reason, though I’m hugely committed to writing the stuff, I just don’t have much of an appetite for reading fiction at the moment, and my reading diet is almost exclusively non-fiction: mainly history or politics. (Specifically American and Canadian history and politics lately, because of what I’ve been working on).
All of which is by way of explaining that I don’t feel terribly well qualified to answer your question.
I’m aware of the current battles about diversity in SF, though. I think its great that male, white dominance is being challenged, and the fact that it is being challenged has certainly made me think about my own writing. Let’s also challenge the boring, linear, stereotypically male white way of thinking too, rather than writing female and non-white characters who behave in stereotypically male, white ways.
6. And what’s pi**ing you off more than ever?
I don’t follow closely what is happening in the SF world. I’m the sort of person who’s the last in the office to know that the boss is having an affair with her secretary, or that the company is about to move to Singapore. (The kind of person, in fact, who is sometimes described as ‘living on the planet Zarg’: which perhaps says something about why I write the things I do!).
So there are probably lots of annoying things going on out there which I am completely oblivious of. Something that pisses me off about the state of SF in general, though who’s fault it is, I really don’t know, is that the genre seems to have become more silo-like than it was thirty or forty years ago. Seems to me there was a time when intelligent members of the reading public would include the odd SF book in their reading diet without it being a big deal. Now I am constantly meeting people who tell me they never read SF. (Which, by the way, is a bit like saying, ‘I’ve never met a gay person’. Of course they have! They’ll have quite happily read SF books. The books weren’t just weren’t packaged as such, were written by reassuringly literary authors and were displayed on the ‘general fiction’ shelves.)
Tom: With the trilogy coming to a close where are you looking next?
Chris: Well, I have a short story collection coming out next from Corvus, my third collection, but the first to consist entirely of never previously published stories. Also (a first for me) it’s not SF, not even at a stretch, though some of the stories are fairly fantastical.
And I am about to deliver my next novel to Corvus too. It’s set in North America in about a hundred years time, so it’s very different from the Eden books. Only other thing I’ll say at this stage is that I am very pleased with how it’s turned out.
Tom: And finally, the Eden trilogy is about different generations of inbred humans descended from crash landed astronauts and trapped on a permanently dark planet. It’s about many other things too, of course, but on the surface I’m still just a little bit amazed that this pitch got published (although I’m definitely glad it did!). What was the journey like form first short story to typing the end on book 3?
Chris: One of the best things that’s happened since the Clarke award is that I am now the kind of writer who gets to make a pitch and get a contract before the book itself is written! This is quite a luxury. Dark Eden was written under the rather less luxurious system whereby you do all the work first and only then find out if anyone wants it. So Corvus got to see the whole book before they offered me a deal. If you’re right (and, mind you, I’m not conceding that) maybe that was a good thing!
When I wrote Dark Eden, I saw it originally as a stand alone book. The other two Eden books are close to each other in time and share some characters (Starlight, Angie), but they take place two centuries after the events in Dark Eden. Dark Eden had a lot to say about how people retell and reinvent their past, and I thought it would be fun to write about a time when the events in Dark Eden were themselves in the past, and themselves being retold and reinvented.
When I wrote the last words of Daughter of Eden I had a real sense of having brought things to a close in a way that feels aesthetically satisfying. I hope that readers will agree, even though several have already very kindly written to me asking for more books which will continue the story of Eden into further centuries.
One odd thing. After writing some 400,000 words in Eden dialect, it’s taken me a while to get used to writing in ordinary English. Several times in my latest book, I’ve found myself doubling up words when I need an intensifier, and then remembering that doubling up adjectives isn’t really how it’s done in English as spoken on Earth!