Interview by Julie Bertagna
It’s 2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets...
EARTH GIRL is Janet Edwards’ first novel. I really enjoyed it and I’m delighted to finally see a breakthrough in UK YA sci-fi - not least because I’m writing some myself! Here is Janet talking to me about herself and her forthcoming book.
Julie Bertagna: Tell us a little about yourself and your life, how you came to writing and were published?
Janet Edwards: I loved reading as a child and at various times dabbled with writing but as an adult the demands of family and work took over. In the autumn of 2007, I decided to give the writing a serious try, and started going to a weekly creative writing class. I was finally brave enough not just to write a short story, and read it in front of other people, but to enter it in a competition. I didn’t have a lot of confidence about my writing ability, and was about to give up writing entirely when I got an email saying my story had won second prize. It was also read on BBC Radio Somerset.
So I decided I should keep writing after all. There were more short stories, a ‘trunk’ novel, and then I started writing Earth Girl at the end of 2009. Less than a year later, amazing things started happening. I’m still finding it hard to believe.
Ideas excite me
Julie: The writer Ray Bradbury says that 'Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me...' What ideas sparked Earth Girl?
Janet: I had the idea of a future where there’s a new handicap. One you can’t tell someone has by just looking at them. A handicap that means you can only live on Earth. A handicap that any one of us could have right now without knowing about it, because this is only a problem when people live on other planets as well as this one.
I played with the idea, originally for a short story. I created a future society and a character to be the centre of the story. Jarra’s handicap limits her life by keeping her on Earth, but a far bigger problem is the prejudice society has against the handicapped, and the limitations society imposes on them. Jarra has her own prejudiced, caricatured idea of people from the other worlds as well, so that’s a lot to explore. A year later I discovered it wasn’t a short story, or even a novel, but a trilogy.
Jarra is considered 'an ape' in her world
Julie: The main character, a teenage girl called Jarra, is considered 'an ape' in her world, a handicapped sub-human, because her immune system can't cope with the portal technology that allows most humans to travel the universe with ease. It's a unique and provocative take on disability. This is one of the reasons I love SF - you can hold up a cracked mirror to the present and explore ideas in new ways. What are your thoughts on this?
Janet: This is one of the great things about SF. You can take an issue from today, and put it in a future world so you can examine it with fresh eyes in a different context. It appears in a lot of SF novels to a large or very minor extent, but of course you need more than the ‘cracked mirror’ to make a book. There have to be characters and a story that hold the attention of the reader.
YA is still exploring its boundaries
Julie: Until recently, publishing wisdom on SF was that teens, especially girls, wouldn’t go for it. Neither would reviewers and booksellers. So in my Exodus trilogy, the futuristic sci-fi elements were played down in blurbs and covers. Yet my friends and I had devoured SF as teenagers. At last, it seems the time is ripe for YA SF - hooray! Why do you think the tide has turned? Or is it purely publishing perceptions that have changed?
Janet: I too devoured SF as a teenager. Perhaps YA as a category is still exploring its boundaries. There’s been a lot of fantasy for years in YA. Recent hugely popular books have shown there’s a place for YA SF as well.
Jarra sees a portal in the same way as we see a car
Julie: The story takes place in a complex far-future world and contains quite complicated ideas and sophisticated technology. It's fascinating and balanced with plenty of action and love interest. Was it difficult to get the right balance re the science and technology aspects, especially for a young audience?
Janet: The science and technology are integral to the story, because if people couldn’t portal to other worlds then no-one would know Jarra was different, but I’ve tried to show how things work without blinding readers with science. Jarra sees a portal in the same way as we see a car. You use it to get from one place to another, without worrying about how all the technology inside it works. I’ve not been too worried about the age of the audience, since young people interact with a host of technology on a daily basis.
Julie: The ruined New York setting of the future is stark and haunting. As a British writer, why did you choose a US setting?
Janet: In this future, most humans can portal to any one of a thousand worlds. The handicapped can’t do that, but they are citizens of a global Earth and portal freely around its continents. Jarra was raised in institutions in Europe. My setting for the action of the first book had to be a city with a lot of very tall buildings so New York was an obvious choice. There will be some other dramatic locations in later books.
Julie: I loved the dramatic aurora storm near the end. I'm quite partial to them - my last book (Aurora) had similar storms but none as extreme as Earth Girl's. Tell me we're not due a world-busting Carrington Event in real life?!
Janet: The last solar super storm was in 1859 and named after one of the astronomers who observed it. We can expect a Carrington Event on average about every 500 years. It’s not impossible that one will happen in the next few years, but hopefully it won’t. What we can expect are the sort of major solar storms that happen several times a century and are big enough to cause problems for things like radio, GPS, satellites and power grids. One in 1989 demonstrated what could happen when it hit the power grid in Quebec.
The current solar cycle peaks in 2013. It’s been relatively mild so far, so keep your fingers crossed it stays that way.
Julie: If you had the chance to portal off-world with just a single book in a reading device, where would you go and what book would it be?
Janet: In the future world of Earth Girl, I’d portal to Adonis, the first colony world of humanity, and the historic capital of the 200 worlds of Alpha sector. I’d have to take along the book of Ventrak Rostha’s History of Humanity vid series, so I could read all the history of the next seven hundred years!
In our time, I’d portal to one of the moons of Saturn and admire the view. I’d never get through the portal though, because I could never decide what book to take. One book? Seriously? I could get down to a short list of maybe 25.
Julie: Earth Girl is the first part of a trilogy - can you give us any hints as to where the story will go?
Janet: This is where I’m going to be cruel and tell you the hints are there in book 1. Most of the things mentioned in book 1 are there for a reason and will feature in books 2 and 3. Jarra’s got a lot of excitement ahead of her, she’s going to learn a lot more about the Military and the worlds of the different sectors, and about herself as well.
Thanks for a great interview, Janet!
Earth Girl by Janet Edwards is published by Harper Voyager on 16th Aug 2012