This week’s Writers of Sci-Fi interview is with Gemma X Todd. She is an author, Mobile Librarian and LEGO enthusiast! Her new books, The Voices series, begins with Defender, which comes out in January 2017! So be on the lookout!

As a librarian and all round cool person, she has plenty of unique perspectives on the state of sci-fi and fantasy in the book world. Check it out!

1) Can you remember your earliest writing projects? If so, do you see any common themes that have followed through into Defender, and The Voices series?

The first “serious” project was a fantasy book I tried to write when I was fourteen. In the opening chapters, I killed off the main character’s family, so even back then I was all about the gore and violence and putting people through terrible ordeals. Honestly, though, I spent more time drawing the map for the story than actually writing it (see pictures). So, in terms of themes: violence, the predilection for killing people, and the loss of loved ones, all transferred over in to DEFENDER.

2) The Voices is going to be a quartet (or possibly a quadrilogy); how did you decide on that as the format for the story?

It decided for me, really. DEFENDER was initially a standalone story (which is why it reads so well as a standalone book with a satisfactory resolution at its end), but when I finished it, the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. They had a lot more to say and do, and there are a lot of questions that still need to be explored. The world I had created was so rich in possibilities I’d have been crazy to stop at just one.

3) What part of writing are you most comfortable with? Dialogue, prose,
characterisation, plot, etc.?

I’ll rank them in order of preference: characterisation, prose, plot… … … … … … … dialogue. I don’t hate dialogue – it plays an extremely important role – but I spend a lot of time writing it and then re-writing it then reading it aloud to myself before cutting half of it out. My main characters, however, are like family. I know what choices they’d make in any given situation. And plot is fine – I don’t tend to plan very much, but I am a huge film fan, and I do believe that over many, many years of watching thousands of movies, techniques such as story arcs and plot devices and pacing have all seeped into my subconscious.

4) What’s your usual method for building your characters, and how do you mould the story around them (and vice versa)?

I daydream a lot. When I have ideas for scenes, I’ll spend the time before I go to sleep, and the moments when I wake up, to simply lie there and daydream through them all. If you live with your characters in your head like that, they start to come alive before you even put pen to paper.

I do find the characters dictate most of the story. I have milestones I want them to reach, or a certain set piece or scene of action, but generally, they’re in control and I go where they take me. It’s a fun way of doing it but also scary. You never know where you’re going to end up.

5) You also work in Libraries! Have you noticed things changing in terms of how people use Libraries over the years?

Libraries aren’t just about books, which I still think a lot of non-library users think. We’re a community hub where unemployed people come for job seeking advice or kids come for help with their homework. We have Knit and Natter groups, LEGO workshops, school visits, baby, toddler, and over 50s groups.

We have free computer classes, advice for start-up businesses, as well as free access to magazines and newspapers and myriad online resources – all run by experienced, knowledgeable staff. Which is why I worry so much about the move toward voluntary workers and community run services. Those specialised skill-sets, and high levels of customer care, are rapidly being lost, which I think is a huge step backwards for libraries.

6) Have you seen sci-fi and fantasy trends changing? What do you think is the future for the genres?

I think the genre is going to some very exciting places! There definitely feels to be a real resurgence of sci-fi and fantasy in the mainstream. Just look at shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld, not to mention the releases of some very serious contenders in the film world (Intersteller, Oblivion, Gravity, Arrival, the yet to be released Passengers, Valerian and Blade Runner 2049). This mainstream crossover isn’t new – but when I see female authors like Becky Chambers and Ann Leckie hitting headlines for being nominated in non-genre specific and male-dominated awards, well, I can’t help but be excited about where SFF is heading in terms of inclusivity.

7) What can readers expect from Defender and The Voices series?

You can expect a real immersive, character-driven journey brought to you on an epic scale. I’m a big reader myself, so the main thing I’m not going to do is cheat readers. If you buy my books, my number one goal is to entertain you. I’m going to make you care about the characters – you might not like all of them, but you’ll care about where they take you. And mixed with all that, I’m going to introduce you to a familiar yet changed world, a dangerous land where the voices are watching and waiting, and those closest to you might be the very people you should be afraid of…

8) BONUS: What else are you working on right now?

I’m super busy writing up interviews, articles, blog posts and short fiction pieces centred around the world of The Voices in time for launch day. I’ve recently been down to Goldsboro Books in London (a fab independent bookshop who specialise in signed First Editions) to sign a bunch of stock. DEFENDER is their December Book of the Month right now, which means you can order it to arrive way ahead of its release date. Very exciting! Then there’s the podcast series ThankBookFor that I co-host with my pal Tom. We’ve got a new project coming in the New Year, which we’re very excited about.

So watch this space!

You can find Gemma on Twitter @GemTodd or click here for more about her wonderful job as a mobile librarian.

The Special Edition Goldsboro Edition (where it’s their Book of the Month for December):