Name – Jo Zebedee
Age – 43
Where are you from – Carrickfergus, a seaside town just outside Belfast
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I studied English and Theatre at the University of Ulster and have worked in a variety of roles since, including tour guiding in a medieval castle, and as a manager in a bookstore chain. For the last 10 years or so, I’ve run a management consultancy, which I now fit writing around. I’m married with two kids, a dog, two fish and a part-time cat (he walked out on us to dine on lobster tails elsewhere and occasionally deigns to drop past and say hi).
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My second novel, Inish Carraig, about an alien invasion of Belfast, is due for release on 21st August. It’s been a long journey to release, but I’ve decided – despite offers – to self-publish it. I’m finding that journey and the freedom over the project very liberating, although I’m also on a steep learning curve.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve written on and off – mostly off – as long as I can remember. Short stories, terrible poems, that sort of thing, and a few aborted tries at what became my first novel, and then life took over and I stopped for years.
The summer I was about to turn 40 my kids were a little less dependent on me and I decided to ignore the housework and write the darned book. I thought it would take about three months….
Why? The story wouldn’t go away. I thought, by writing it, I’d get it out of my head. Instead, I now have loads of other stories in my mind, all jostling for attention!
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s hard. It kind of morphed from a hobby into something bigger quite quickly – I’ve only been writing for four years – but I think when I was approached to write a particular story theme for an agreed fee might have been it. Or, possibly, getting an email from someone I have never heard of, thousands of miles away, to tell me they loved my book.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I had a hard time in school and, to escape it all, I came up with an imaginary hero, Kare, and made up stories about him. Those stories expanded, and his world grew – I write Space Opera, a sort of epic science fiction genre – and, in the end, I wanted to tell his story.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I’m fairly economic with description and write tightly. I also write very, very close to the characters – their personal narrative in close third. I’m also big on dialogue.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The main planet in the trilogy is Abendau, and that features in each of the titles. Originally book one was called Abendau’s Child but my editor wasn’t sure that really captured the scope, nor was it clear it would be about an adult protagonist, so we changed it to Abendau’s Heir.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not so much a message, perhaps, as a philosophy. I wrote an existentialist hero – which becomes clearer over the trilogy – who makes his own choices, driven by his own beliefs. I’d like people to come away liking that about him – a character not swayed by the plot, or the need to be the hero, but by what drives him, and his history.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
It depends which book. Inish Carraig is set in a near-future Belfast after an alien invasion. Whilst some of it is fictional – the aliens and the prison at the centre of it – the setting is based on the real Belfast and the people are, I think, reminiscent of people you might meet in Belfast. It was a lot of fun, blending the real and the fictional.
For Abendau, none of it is real. That’s part of the fun of writing it – I’m not constrained by the real world. The laws of physics are more of a problem, but Space Opera, as a genre, can be forgiving of stretching them a little. It’s set in a fictional galaxy, with made-up planets, characters and technology. It’s a huge world – which becomes more and more evident as the trilogy goes on – and when inventing a world like that things get complex. So, yes, there are politics which might take their ethos and structure from some in our world, but it’s framed for the empire I’ve devised.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
No, not at all, thankfully. I put my poor characters through hell.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Books which have an influence on what I write include some of the classic sf, Heinlein, Herbert, Clarke. But in terms of what has influenced me it’s stories about characters that move me. To Kill a Mockingbird is a big one, Wuthering Heights for its sense of place. More modern influences include The Time Traveller’s Wife, which I adore, and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin for its blend of characters, time and place.
My writing mentor is, without a doubt, my editor for Abendau, Teresa Edgerton. She’s a magnificent writer and generous in her support and advice to newer writers, as well as wise in her editing feedback, and entirely supportive to what I try to achieve. I still can’t quite believe I’ve been lucky enough to work with her.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I have a couple of the go – I usually do. Toby Frost’s Space Captain Smith books, which make me smile. Rogues, a short story anthology edited by GRR Martin, which I’m enjoying dipping into. I’m also waiting to get my copy of Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett – I really enjoyed Dark Eden, which won the Clarke Award, and have been looking forward to it.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Loads. Since becoming a writer, I try more new authors simply because I’m aware of them earlier. A couple that spring to mind who I’ve enjoyed include Thaddeus White, who writes the funniest epic fantasy I’ve read. He’s totally un-pc and hair-raisingly chauvinistic, and I laugh more reading that than anything else. Also on my radar are Alex Davis’ Nouraki Trilogy and I’m looking forward to Steven Poore’s Call of the North.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m working on book two and three of the Abendau books with my editor and first readers. I also have a fantasy based in the Antrim Glens I’m starting to decide the way forward with.
In terms of completely new ideas I’m working on a YA sf and a new trilogy, a fantasy this time. I also have a fourth Abendau book knocking at the back of my mind, but I’ll see how the trilogy goes first. Unless it kicks the door down.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
That’s an easy one – the sffchronicles.com. The support there is amazing, as well as knowledge and good craic. Without them, there would be no books from me. Coming from the site, I was asked to join a small writing group, which I’m still part of and they, too, were amazing.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Now I do. Although I’ve a long way to go before the day job is in jeopardy. But, yes, given reviews of Abendau’s Heir – which was the first book I ever wrote – and early feedback on Inish Carraig I’d be daft not to take it seriously. It seems to be one of the things I’m good at, as well as what I love.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I’d be more confident in my vision. I had multiple agent interest for it but was told it needed to be more clearly YA or adult (it has dual adult/teen protagonists). I changed it to YA. Now the book is back to crossover and I wish I’d been more confident in myself and had fought to keep my vision for it.
In terms of the finished version, I like it but I’m sure I’ll look back and find things to change.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always enjoyed it, but I remember writing a story about a house belonging to the poet, Louis MacNiece, being knocked down and feeling that I’d put my feelings into words well. I was about ten. Other than that, it was just a natural progression from being a bookworm.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Inish Carraig is my current project. It’s set in a post-alien invasion Belfast where humanity has been defeated. The locals aren’t done, however. John, my protagonist, is set up to release a virus which kills the invaders. He’s found guilty of xenocide and sent to a prison run by a second, seemingly benign, set of aliens. There he uncovers a conspiracy which threatens Earth and everyone he loves. He has to unveil it, but first he has to get out of the prison.
It will be released on 21st August.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
First drafts – I hate not knowing what will happen. And, at the moment, finding time.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Lois McMaster Bujold is probably my current favourite. I like her use of characters, and that she writes them so sympathetically. I also like the gentle moments of humour blended with action and pathos. As far as Space Opera goes, she writes what I like.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
So far, not a lot. But, you know, if anyone wants fund a week’s research in Barbados…
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Both covers were designed by Gary Compton of Tickety Boo Press. He does fantastic covers, both for his own publishing company ( who Abendau is with) and on commission.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Research often takes me out of my comfort zone. I’m not scientifically strong which is okay for fantasy, but not so good for science fiction. Also I find physical description challenging and often have to add that in later passes when first readers tell me they can’t imagine the setting!
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
From Abendau, and as part of the research, I read about torture. I was shocked at how cruel people can be to each other, and found it hard to reconcile that with being human. On a more personal level, I learned I’m tenacious and will not give in, especially when I’m told a goal is hellishly difficult.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Find writing friends – you will need them. This game is hard, it’s slow, it’s like banging your head on a brick wall sometimes. Support is everything. And try to finish something – it aids confidence to know you’ve done it once.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
No, just thanks to anyone who has taken a chance on a new author, and that I hope you enjoyed it.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not specifically but early ones that stick with me include Gobbilina (spelling might be out) the Witch’s Cat – I loved that – and Heinlein’s Starbeast. I also read the Snow Goose by Paul Gallico when I was quite young and still love it to this day. I had a Famous Five habit, too.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Laugh – I enjoy fun films – Love Actually and some oldies like Barefoot in the Park make me smile. And a good comedy show – Peter Kay is funny. On a genre note, Eddie Izzard’s Death Star Canteen sketch never fails to make to giggle.
Cry – Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes. I cry at the ending every single time. Books make me cry more than films or tv – I think it’s because I’m far in the character’s head.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Thoreau – I love his thoughts on solitude and busyness, and think it’s very relevant to modern life.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
She had a good life – because I’d like to have. 🙂
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Gardening – I do a lot of that and grow my own veg etc. Reading. Being with my family – just simple things like going to the beach and cinema. I also enjoy cooking, and walking. And barge boating, except I rarely get the chance to do it.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I like Googlebox, for its mix of characters. The Great British Bake off and Masterchef, too – nice easy viewing. I’m not a huge tv watcher, though.
Films – The Shawshank Redemption is probably my favourite. I also love the first Star Wars trilogy and have a huge soft spot for Han Solo. I enjoy comedies, too – Simon Pegg, especially Shaun of the Dead.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Foods – I like lazy dinners. Maybe a roast chicken, some salad and bread, some nice cheese, perhaps some oil and vinegar. Stretch or starve style. I also cook a mean lasagne and chocolate brownies.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I’d probably be a management consultant…. 🙂 Writing is probably the only thing I’ve undertaken that I have an aspiration to do.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Authors Amazon Page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jo-Zebedee/e/B00VM61TZG/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Twitter – joz1812