Ms. Janet Edwards is an English author whose debut novel (Earth Girl) made waves across the world; she has managed to combine her love of make-believe with her knowledge of science to craft a marvelous style of writing that stays with the reader in many more ways than one.
In my book review for Earth Star (http://blogcritics.org/book-review-earth-star-by-janet-edwards/), I wrote this about Ms. Edwards’ work: “It reminds me a little bit of why I love Doctor Who, because while it is full of things that are brilliant and fun, it has an undertone of what makes humanity human, and gives us both sides of the coin. It manages to convey socially important messages in marvelous wrapping, and I am very glad that it is one of the pieces of literature to be welcomed both sides of the pond.”
Ms. Edwards is as warm and generous in person as her writing is witty and deep, and it was a treat to connect with her for this interview. You may find out more about her and her “Earth Girl Trilogy” on her website (www.janetedwards.com). You may also contact her via her Twitter (@JanetEdwardsSF) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/JanetEdwardsSF).
Interview by Joanna Celeste
Q: Your debut novel, Earth Girl, was the first in the “Earth Girl Trilogy” and it garnered much acclaim, including being named as among the best Young Adult books of 2012 by both Amazon.co.uk and Kobobooks.com; did you know, starting out, that this would be a trilogy? (If so, how did you pitch something that you had not yet completed?)
A: I wrote Earth Girl to be a book that would stand alone, but by the time I finished it I had ideas about how it would fit into a trilogy, what would happen in book two, and what the end of the third book would be. I pitched Earth Girl as a single book without mentioning sequels. When my agent suggested trying to sell it as a trilogy, I spent a couple of days trying to turn my rough ideas for the next two books into something more detailed and coherent.
Q: Smart! How did you deal with the double-edged sword of so much acclaim?
A: I don’t think it’s exactly acclaim but I was certainly lucky that Earth Girl got some attention and some praise. The biggest problem for an unknown debut author is that people have no idea that you or your book exist, and it’s wonderful when people help by spreading the word.
Q: That’s a great way to look at it. What were you most concerned with, when dealing with the trilogy as your debut?
A: I’d actually written two more unrelated books in the nine months between finishing Earth Girl and getting publication offers. That meant I was fairly confident I could write more books. The big difference was that I’d written Earth Girl without any real expectation that anyone would read it. Now I knew I’d be writing books that people would read which was a bit of a scary thought.
Q: Yes, writing something that you actually know will be read changes things. Will you publish the other books?
A: I haven’t any immediate plans for publishing those two books, but I may do if the opportunity arises.
Q: Do you have any plans for other series or genres?
A: I’m working on some ideas for series which would be science fiction like the Earth Girl trilogy, set in future worlds and walking the grey area between Young Adult and Adult. I’ve also some ideas which are a bit nearer to fantasy.
Q: That sounds wonderful! You mention in your guest post on world building [http://shusky20.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/guest-post-on-world-building.html] that you created an alternate timeline for the “Earth Girl trilogy”, imagining each of the steps as Earth fell from grace—how did you organize this? (Did you storyboard, or keep a notebook, or have a huge chart on a wall?)
A: It’s actually just a timeline in a word document, a list of dates and what happened on them. I did it that way because if I wrote on a chart or in a notebook it would get incredibly messy when I kept adding things. There are also individual timelines for each book with the date and time of each scene.
Q: I love that about Word; it cuts down on so much of the mess from when we had to do everything by hand or typewriter or index cards. What was your process for writing the trilogy?
A: It was different for each book. In Earth Girl I just journeyed along with Jarra discovering the story as I went along. I have to be careful how I say this not to give any spoilers, but there’s a point nearly three quarters of the way through the book when she walked towards a portal and I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. For me, a lot of the writing process happens on a subconscious level, and it was only when Jarra walked towards that portal that I found out what my subconscious had planned to happen, and exactly why I’d written several earlier scenes.
Earth Star was rather more consciously planned in advance, but there were still several points where Jarra did things that surprised me. The final book, Earth Flight, has taken some serious planning of plotlines to bring everything in the trilogy together for the conclusion.
Q: I think I stopped breathing when Jarra walked towards the portal. Do you have any books you would recommend to new writers that helped you through the different processes?
A: The book I’d recommend to other writers is Stephen King’s On Writing.
Q: Your second novel, Earth Star, was published this month in the UK and around the world (Those in the US, sadly, have to wait until April of 2014). What resources do you find you have now, that you didn’t have with Earth Girl?
A: With Earth Girl I was a complete unknown. This time round there are some bloggers and reviewers who have already read and enjoyed Earth Girl and are interested in Earth Star. That’s a big help.
Q: With writing like yours, it’s a pleasure, and you’re a lovely person to work with as well. Could you please share with us your experiences working with traditional publishers: was it what you expected, why or why not?
A: I knew very little about the publication process beforehand. As the author, I was mostly involved with the text of the book, working with my editor to improve it as much as possible. I’d expected that, but I hadn’t realized how many other things had to be done when a book is published and how long in advance they have to happen. Long before the release date for the first book, various people were quietly doing their jobs and making things happen. I was constantly surprised by things like my book appearing on online bookshops for various countries.
Q: That’s a neat way of putting it—like it takes a village to raise an author. In your experiences working with UK publishers and having your work also sold across the pond, what has been the most challenging?
A: Earth Girl was published in the UK in August 2012, and in the USA in March 2013. That meant most of work on the text had been done for the UK launch and I really only had to check the proofs for the USA. I had interviews and blog pieces to do for the UK launch, and then there was a sense of déjà vu doing more interviews and blog pieces to launch the same book in the USA.
Q: It’s almost too bad you can’t keep up a Word document with all the questions and blog posts so you can just tweak and recycle them. You mark Earth Star (and indeed the trilogy) as for Young Adult and Adult. What do you consider the strong points of a YA novel, as opposed to an adult novel?
A: I think the distinguishing thing about YA novels is their theme. Their stories involve first experiences, and characters discovering not just their world but the person they are themselves. That theme can appear in a huge range of stories, and many YA novels tackle very challenging subjects. There’s no strict boundary wall between Young Adult and Adult books, and many adults of all ages find a lot of the books they enjoy are labeled YA.
Q: Yes! Some of my favorite books are YA, but I have never seen it phrased quite so elegantly. In your guest post about becoming a writer [http://authorallsorts.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-journey-from-fan-to-author/], you shared with us your love for reading as a child. Since your first publication, have you had anyone contact you to thank you for being their inspiration to write?
A: It would be delightful to have that happen, but my debut Earth Girl hasn’t really been out long enough to have been the inspiration for someone else to take up writing. I have had a few deeply moving messages from people with disabilities, including invisible disabilities, who’d really identified with the book because they’ve been the target of insults in the same way as Jarra.
Q: Please elaborate on what you mean by “invisible” disabilities.
A: Invisible disabilities are ones where someone couldn’t tell you have a problem just by looking at you. Disabling illness, deafness, agoraphobia, epilepsy, there are a huge range of these that can have a damaging impact on someone’s daily life. A person with an invisible disability can find themselves in something very like Jarra’s situation, because they have to decide whether or not to tell people they meet about their problem. If they’ve told someone about it in the past and met with a bad response, disbelief, insults or jeering (sadly this really does happen with some disabilities) they may be wary of risking that again. However, not telling someone about their problem may be a risk too, because they can get into embarrassing or even dangerous situations when they can’t do something or need help. I’m sure there are more detailed and expert explanations online.
Q: Ah, Jarra faces a couple of those in Earth Star. I liked your portrayal of both sides of those “handicaps”—the socially labeled and the invisible—and the realistic limitations and potentials for overcoming them, even if by compromise. I also enjoyed your futuristic military, which are featured much more in Earth Star. How did you build up that aspect of your world?
A: My ideas for the military in the Earth Girl trilogy came from their history and the work they did. In the year of 2789, humanity lives on 1200 colony worlds spread across six sectors of space. There hasn’t been a full scale war since before the exodus from Earth started in 2310, though humanity came close to one during Beta sector’s split from the rest of the sectors during its Second Roman Empire period. There are, however, occasionally small scale conflicts limited to one planet. The separate army, navy and air forces of the past have merged into one military that’s cross-sector, recruited from every planet. These military aren’t fighting wars, they’re peacekeeping, they’re running solar arrays, but their biggest job is opening up new colony worlds.
So when I was thinking of this future military, my ideas were coming from peacekeeping forces and emergency services. I felt the future military would probably take more ideas from the air forces of the past than other forces, though I’ve deliberately used a mix of ranks from a variety of forces. I threw in a couple of other factors from the military of today. Many career soldiers in the armed forces come from families with a tradition of military service, and people leaving the armed forces can sometimes have problems adjusting to civilian life or because of the aftereffects of traumatic events. I gave my future military a strong family tradition, with most of them born into military families, and made joining the military a lifetime commitment. This is a military with its own culture, operating as both a professional force and a family, so conversations can be formal including ranks, or informal casually using first names.
Q: Awesome! It can be so fun, imagining futures and playing with current realities. What brings you the most joy as a writer?
A: Hearing that someone, somewhere, has read something I’ve written and enjoyed it. All my life I’ve had great joy in reading books and it’s wonderful when someone says that I’ve given that same feeling to them. If you ever read a book and love it then consider letting the writer know by sending them a message or writing a review. Positive feedback helps inspire authors to keep writing. Reviews spread the word to new readers, which helps authors get more books published.
Q: That’s very true; I have experienced that as a writer and as a reviewer. Your writing was quite inspiring to me, and I’m glad that we will have the chance to read more of your work. Is there anything else you would like to say?
A: I’d like to thank you for doing this interview, and to thank everyone who takes the time to write reviews. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on individual reviews to say thank you, so I like to say the occasional general thank you when I get the chance.