And last but not least the lady who started it all! Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Steph Bennion!
Where do you live and write from?
I quit the big bad city of London last year and moved to Hastings on England’s south coast, so you can blame me for the idea of writing themed stories about the eponymous battle. This part of Sussex is known as ‘1066 Country’ and as you might expect there are all sorts of events planned to mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.
Why do you write?
I write stories to scratch the itch that is the urge to create, but also with the hope that readers will be entertained! A big part of it is to pass on the love for the stories I read in my youth: books by Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein and the other masters of science fiction.
When did you start writing?
I started writing and submitting short stories to various publications when I was in my teens, albeit with erratic success, so I’ve been at it for thirty years now. My first few novels were truly terrible and now live in a darkened drawer somewhere. I came close to giving up writing fiction and for a while concentrated on music instead (I was a songwriter and bassist in a weird folk-rock band), but then had an idea for a tongue-in-cheek adult fantasy novella which I managed to sell to a niche publisher. That royalty cheque gave me the boost I needed to persevere.
What genre(s) do you write?
I write mainly space opera on the hard sci-fi side, for young adults and adults young at heart. My Hollow Moon novels centre around working-class folk who find themselves battling the consequences of upheavals caused by those in power; stories of friendships and how people come together in times of need. I read a lot of science fiction and have a fondness for planet-hopping tales that keep the human element firmly in focus, preferably with a few spaceships thrown in. Science fiction at its best takes contemporary issues and shines new light on them outside their normal context, all against a background of adventure, mystery, humour and thrills. What more could you want?
What do you feel are your strengths as a writer? How have you developed these qualities?
I like to inject a dose of humour into my writing – not in a ‘comic novel’ way in the vein of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or the Space Captain Smith books, but space opera is often so overblown I find it hard to resist poking fun at science-fiction tropes or turning a plot device on its head. I like to think it makes the space opera I write a little bit different. What I will say is that comedy is deceptively hard to write.
What is your goal as a writer and what are you doing to achieve it?
My main goal is to complete the Hollow Moon series; by my latest reckoning there’s at least another two or three novels to write before the main story arc is concluded. I’m sure I’ll be distracted by other writing projects along the way…
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Writing is a craft that can be learned: it’s important to read widely and study the masters. Oh, and don’t give up the day job…
What is your story around the Battle of Hastings about? How did you come up with the idea?
The Battles Of Hastings is taken from the journal of a headstrong young time traveller who, after she and fellow time travellers realise they each come from a future with a different past, embarks on a journey through multiple realities to try and put history right. While I was researching the events of 1066 it struck me how incredibly close King Harold of England came to winning the battle. Exploring this through a tale of parallel universes seemed the obvious way to go. The challenge for me as a science-fiction writer was that the second law of thermodynamics pretty much prohibits time travel into the past, but I still wanted to offer an explanation of how a time machine might work.
Any other projects in the pipeline?
Time-traveller Jane Kennedy, the narrator of The Battles Of Hastings, also features in an unpublished novella of mine called Catastrophe Jane, which is set in an alternate-history version of my native Black Country during the industrial revolution. I never got to grips with the time-travel science in this earlier work and so put it to one side, but writing The Battles Of Hastings resolved many of the issues I had with this so hopefully there will be more of Jane’s adventures to come. I’m also tentatively outlining a synopsis for book four of my Hollow Moon series, as well as the usual festive tale for December. The seasonal short stories are generally sci-fi spoofs of classic fairy tales and a lot of fun to write!