Q&A with Juliet Kemp

“Seed Bombs” [in our July/August issue, on sale now!] began with a seed bomb, and with a line of questioning, on Juliet Kemp’s part, about public space. Below, Juliet shares that line of questioning, the recent contents of their bookshelf, and the themes and process that make their writing what it is.

Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

JK: I’ve been interested for a long time in how we choose to allocate public space: who has access to it, when and how, and for what (and the increasing takeover by private companies of “public” space in cities). Vehicles are one of the few forms of private property that it’s permissible and socially acceptable to store on public land, often even for free. Cars are a very large shell for the person or people (often person-single) inside them, and/but they get to run public space.

(This has become even more pertinent during the pandemic, as we try to make space in cities for social distancing, but I wrote this story before that. I’ve been interested to see more space being given locally—I live in central London—to pedestrians and cycles, and hope it continues.)

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

JK: A spark of inspiration brought on by a seed bomb a friend gave me that spent a while on my windowsill awaiting spring, merged with my ongoing thoughts above about roadways and public space. The first version was written quite quickly, but my stories always go through quite a lot of editing.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?

JK: Looking at my stories, apparently there are. . . . Gender. Communities and relationships, especially anarchism and bottom-up societal structures and justice. Plants and gardens. Climate change, and sustainability generally (both low-tech and high-tech). As to why: they’re all things that interest me in the rest of my life as well as my writing life, and have done for decades now. How we create and change societies, and how we can continue to live on a finite planet; I think those are pretty important questions.

AE: What is your process?

JK: I used to be right up the “discovery writer” end of things, and I still am inclined that way. But these days I try to do more plotting/outlining before I start, to avoid getting totally lost 20K in (novels) or ending up with scraps and no story (short stories). I often start a story with a handful of notes and scraps and feelings, and have to work out the bones of how they connect and where I want the story to go. Once I have those bones I can draft very quickly, but my first drafts are not at all clean. I do a lot (. . . a lot . . .) of editing. I find short stories far slower (by the word) than novels.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

JK: I wrote all the time as a child—a fair amount of that was basically fanfic of the books I was reading, or heavily inspired by them. (Aged thirteen, I wrote a whole novel about some kids who built their own spaceship, after reading a similar series from the library.) Then I mostly stopped for ten or fifteen years during my teens and twenties, though I was still making things up in my head all the time. I can’t remember why I started again; I think I just really missed writing down the things that buzzed ’round my brain, and I’d started writing non-fiction as well at that point. I do remember that the first short story I sent out (non-genre) was accepted by a free online literary zine, which was very encouraging!

How we create and change societies, and how we can continue to live on a finite planet; I think those are pretty important questions.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

JK: I’ve just finished book three of my Marek Series (secondary-world high fantasy with magic, city politics, and complicated family loyalties), so I’m awaiting edit notes on that; and I have a very rough draft of book four that I’m trying to hammer into something resembling a suitable shape. I think book four will be the last one. I’m also editing one science fantasy novella and one fantasy one; and I have a couple of short stories in the pipeline.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?

JK: My inner starry-eyed teenager would love to see people living on the Moon or Mars or even further out (however impractical that might be). More pragmatically: I’m not sure these are predictions exactly, but I’ve read many books and stories with exciting ideas about sustainability and creating a more equitable world, and I would love to see those come true.

AE: What are you reading right now?

JK: Read this week: Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon; The True Queen by Zen Cho; Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells. Currently reading: Air by Geoff Ryman; a bunch of non-fiction about trade unions and about the 19th century Chartist movement.

AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?

JK: A few years back I went around the world mostly-overland—trains/buses from London to Singapore via Moscow and Beijing, a flight to Australia (I couldn’t find a practical way to do that by sea at the time), six months cycling and surfing and writing in Australia, then cargo freighters back across the Pacific and Atlantic with a cross-US train in the middle. It was a fantastic ten months, but the sea part was a bit of a challenge. Twenty-four days on a cargo freighter gets quite . . . repetitive. Especially when we went over the International Date Line and had Monday twice. I would absolutely love to do the train part again though sometime, and harbour wishful thoughts of talking my kid into it when he’s in his teens.

AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?

JK: About fifteen years ago I spent some years as a sysadmin at Imperial College Astrophysics, but I was never actually an astrophysicist myself, though I did a little coding for the Herschel telescope project. I am at best amateur-interest in terms of science; my own academic background is in politics and philosophy.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

JK: https://julietkemp.com

Juliet Kemp is a queer, non-binary writer (pronouns they/them). They live in London by the river, with their partners, kid, and dog. The first book of their fantasy series, The Deep And Shining Dark, was on the Locus 2018 Recommended Reads list; the second came out in 2020. Their short fiction has appeared in venues including Cast of Wonders and Translunar Travelers Lounge, and their story “Somewhere Else, Nowhere Else” was short-listed for the WSPA Small Press Award 2020. When not writing or child-wrangling, Juliet knits, indulges their fountain pen habit, and tries to fit an ever-increasing number of plants into a microscopic back garden.

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