Gareth L. Powell on his craft and being the warmest corner of Twitter
Gareth L. Powell – a BSFA winner for Ack-Ack Macaque and just recently for Embers of War, shortlisted for the Seiun Awards in Japan. His space opera Embers of War is compared to Ian M. Banks, and his short fiction has appeared in Interzone and Clarkesworld. Guardian calls him “Brilliant“. He gives advice and motivates ten thousands of his Twitter followers and makes the international writing community a better place for all of us.
How does he do it?
Do you think it would be a good idea to build a sentient spaceship?
GLP: It would be interesting, but not necessarily a good idea. Especially if it was a warship. In Embers of War, the warship Trouble Dog grows a conscience and quits. But things might have gone differently. She might have decided to turn on her masters. Any sentient starship would need some clear behavioral parameters to stop it going all HAL on its crew.
I’ve seen reviewers say that you’re among the only sci-fi writers who are continuing the tradition of Ian M. Banks’ – a deeply personal take on the colossal issues.
GLP: I love the novels of Iain M. Banks, so to be compared to him is a huge honour. However, I think we have very different writing styles, and my novels aren’t necessarily as overtly political as his. However, we both show the plight of individual characters during momentous events, and we both make use of sassy starships, so I can see where the comparisons are coming from.
As opposed to the quite toxic state of many fantasy and sci-fi communities on Twitter, you created a very kind and positive environment for your community. How did you achieve that?
GLP: It was a very conscious decision. Back in 2016, Twitter seemed a very stressful and toxic place. So, I decided to follow the old chestnut and, “be the change you want to see in the world.” While half the Twitter-sphere were tearing into the other half over Brexit and Trump, I decided to start offering to help and encourage people. And the results have been fantastic. I have a great community of followers now. I guess sometimes you get back what you put out into the world.
A follow-up to the previous one – what would be our advice for writers on how to help and support each other?
GLP: Just be there for each other. Writing is such a solitary profession, it’s great to know there are people out there who know what we’re going through and understand. Office workers have their water coolers, and we have Twitter.
And one more on community – Josiah Bancroft left social media after to avoid distractions and preserve his mental health after a lengthy and exhausting discussion with the fans about the aggressive entitlement of the fans. Why do we as readers and creators and up in situations like this and how to keep the author-audience relationship healthy?
GLP: Fortunately, I have yet to encounter any aggressively entitled fans. Most of my fans seem to be delightful and understanding. However, I find it all-too-easy to get caught up with social media when I should be writing. For me, it’s a case of striking the right balance. But I couldn’t imagine my life without Twitter. It keeps me in touch with readers, fellow writers, editors, agents, book reviewers…
After getting the BSFA did you get that feeling that you want each next book to win one too? Does it influence how you write?
GLP: Of course, I want every book to do well. But you can’t write with awards in mind or you’d be forever second-guessing every sentence you wrote. It would be paralyzing. All you can do is write the best book you can. Everything else is beyond your control.
You’ve ventured into different niches of SF, and now with “Ragged Alice” – into a completely different genre. How different does it feel? What stays the same?
GLP: Ragged Alice is a deeply personal story in which I explore my relationship with Wales, the land of my father. It’s also my first attempt at writing a police procedural and a horror story, so in some respects it’s two new genres. But I’m very pleased with how it came out, and it was a nice break between writing the second and third books of the Embers of War trilogy. If there’s a similarity between it and my science fiction, it’s the concentration on damaged but redeemable characters.
With the daringly imaginative world and complex plot of “Embers of War”, “Fleet of Knives”, and “Ack-Ack Macaque” – how much research does it require and how much of it is pure imagination? How do you keep it consistent over the course of multiple books? (and a little follow-up – what is the inspiration behind Nod?)
GLP: Everything comes from my imagination. I do very little research, and I keep things consistent between books by flipping back through the earlier books when I can’t remember a detail—such as which eye a character has an eye patch over. As for Nod, I designed him for the job. I needed a race of aliens that were ubiquitous throughout known space, so I made them engineers and designed their bodies and their evolutionary background with that in mind.
You like no one else can give writing advice to other writers and Eng.Lit students, but what persuaded you to write your own book on the craft?
GLP: I kind of wrote it by accident. I was gathering all the bits of advice I’d been giving out into one place and realised it was the length of a book. I mentioned this on Twitter, and Luna Press offered to publish it.
If there was only one advice you would give young people on how to make the world a better place what would it be?
GLP: Be kinder. Be slower to judge people. Protect the weak and the vulnerable. Treat everyone you meet the way they wish to be treated.
Interview by Alex Khlopenko