Snapshots: Adam Roberts interviewed

What are you working on now?

I’ve spent February doing lots of little things that have accumulated, as little things tend to do. That means: I’ve written a couple of short stories that were commissioned by people for collections, an academic-y essay; I’ve pulled together and titivated a collection of SF essays and reviews to be published by Newcon press, things like that. Clearing the decks, really. Soon I will start work on a new novel. Provisionally I’m calling it The Earthly Paradise, and it’s a utopia.

What have you recently finished?
I’m doing a collaboration with the most excellent Mahendra Singh, a Canadian artist and illustrator, whose Snark website should be in everybody’s feed. I recently finished writing my half of the collaboration, a sort-of 21st-century Verneian novel called Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea. Mahendra is illustrating it.

What’s recently or soon out?
My next novel is Jack Glass (Gollancz 2012), due out in the summer. You can see the, rather nifty, cover-art here:

The novel is my attempt as a clever-as-a-sputnik-full-of-monkeys Golden Age whodunnit, set in a space operatic future. The narrator tells you who the murderer is at the beginning of the tale; you read the story and eventually the identity of the murderer is revealed. If I’ve done it right, the revelation of the murderer’s identity should be a surprise. That, at least, was the challenge I set myself. To do that. Three times, one after the other. (Three times because I wanted to write one locked-room mystery, one classic whodunnit and one prison story – though all three tie-together into one overarching novel narrative). At any rate, that’s what I was aiming for. You can tell me, when the book comes out, if it works or not.

Describe your typical writing day.
I drop the kids at school/nursery, go to the local Costa, buy the biggest black coffee they sell, sit at a table, open my laptop, fire up my iPod (I find writing in silence very hard; it’s inviting that little sneery voice in my head that goes “well that wasn’t a very good sentence, was it” to heckle me) and write. I’ll do that until lunch. Writing involves two stages: first you have to get it written, then you have to get it right. Revision, proofing, other bits and pieces happen in the afternoon. But the core of what I do is the brute generation of prose via mystical communion with coffee and seclusion. My laptop is not internet enabled, for the www is a big distraction. And that’s why I find it hard to write at home: too many distractions – ironing to do, tidying, Loose Women to watch on the telly and so on. Better to remove myself entirely from that world.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
I think my last three novels have been my best, by quite a long chalk. Although there are many people who don’t agree.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
Tricky question, this: lots of very good writers deserve a plug. I’ll tell you what: I’m going to limit myself to mentioning the books I have recently read: Paul McAuley’s In The Mouth of the Whale has a Bach-like complexity and austerity: extremely good. Al Reynolds hardly needs a plug, but his Blue Remembered Earth is splendid. More people should read Kameron Hurley’s God’s War; not flawless but rather brilliant. I’ve just been reading a book in MS, something Nightshade are publishing later this year (I think): E J Swift’s Osiris – the fact that it’s her first novel is belied by how accomplished and well-written it is. I was sent it to blurb, and I’m really enjoying it: somewhere between Gormenghast and DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. And one final thing: I’ve been re-reading Beowulf for a thing I have to do and by gum it’s good. Beowulf deserves a plug, I think. Plugowulf. Beoplug.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
I shall offer three, a bronze, a silver and a golden rule. The bronze is: write every day. The silver is: finish what you start. And the gold is: SHOW, DON’T TELL! Sheesh!

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing? How will writers be making a living and publishing in five or ten years? What will readers be reading?

That is an easy question! Readers will be reading e-books. Writers will be writing them, and publishers selling them (though, probably, for less than they charge today; which means writers will have to write more, or settle for less remuneration). The market will buck about a bit for three or four years, as the tea-clipper of Traditional Publishing negotiates the maelstrom of technical advance, but then it will settle down. Publishers exist because readers need people (more specifically: they need people who love books) to intermediate their relationship with writing. That’s not going to change.


Adam Roberts is the author of a steadily growing number of science fiction novels, short stories, essays and other writings. In addition to all this he is a professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, teaching English Literature and Creative Writing.

Adam wrote the chapter ‘Does God need a starship? Science fiction and religion’ in Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: the sub-genres of science fiction (edited by Keith Brooke, published by Palgrave Macmillan, February 2012).

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About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of crime fiction, science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

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