We have had the pleasure to interview Science Fiction writer Jo Zebedee, a strong voice from Northern Ireland who loves sexy space pilots, aliens and all things Space Opera.

FB: Our readers and aspiring writers love knowing about that first spark – the moment in which an author fell in love with a genre. What drew you toward science-fiction?

JZ: The first sf book I remember reading and loving was Heinlein’s Starbeast. I found it fired me up with possibilities. I also remember Blake’s Seven. Some of the early images stayed with me, even when I didn’t remember the episode. It was, for sure, a huge influence – I write sf led by characters, which B7 very much was.

Later, I moved on to Dune. Where I struggled to finish Lord of the Rings – although I also enjoy, and write, some fantasy, but not normally epic – I devoured Dune (up to book 5 when the characters started to work less for me.) Paul Atreides was, and still is, my quintessential sf hero and embedded my love of the genre.

Despite the Star Wars vibe some have seen in my Abendau books, I don’t think it was as big an influence as the above. Sure, I love the original three films (I’m a Han girl) but they came after my earlier influences. So, Heinlein, Blake’s 7 and Dune. I can live with that.

FB: Inish Carraig, your only stand-alone novel, was very well received. It is reminiscent of District 9 – an alien-restricted area within an everyday human setting. How did you go about bringing aliens to Belfast?

JZ: Inish Carraig’s reception has astonished me. It has a District 9 vibe about it (although I didn’t see D9 until well after I’d drafted it) but it focuses on very human elements. As ever, with my work, it’s about putting real people in fantastic circumstances and writing them as close as it’s possible to. That puts a different slant on the book (on all my books) – it’s not a gung-ho alien invasion adventure. It’s more subtle than that, about interdependency, about survival in real circumstances, and about finding personal bravery from wherever you can.

That’s why I think Inish works well. It’s not an exotic setting – it’s Belfast, a city many of heard of, but few sf writers have used as a setting (Ian McDonald has, though). It’s the story of a place and its people – and they could be any person in their home city. Survival comes from knowing who to trust, and how to get around. That can only be convincing if the sense of place is strong.

I did a lot of driving around the north of the city, taking photos of the view down the hill to the harbour and lough, and a lot of imaginings of what would or would not survive an invasion. I very much did not want Inish Carraig to be about the Troubles (the period of civil unrest that Northern Ireland is known for.) Practically every book I read about Northern Ireland wants to say something about the Troubles, and I really didn’t. Instead, I wanted to show Belfast’s sense of place, voice and dark humour. It’s about a future Belfast surviving something out of this world but shaped by its history in how it withstands it. I loved writing it (and have more books coming out based in Northern Ireland, including a dark fantasy in 2017.)

FB: You obviously like writing trilogies – the ability to stretch over multiple volumes definitely has its perks. What drawbacks are there, though?

JZ: I like trilogies, but also enjoy standalones. Trilogies are huge undertakings. You have to love the characters and premise to stick with them until the end. And then there are all the strands that have to be tied up. In one book that’s hard but manageable but in a trilogy is requires a lot of focus to dot all those i’s.

The multiple arcs are challenging, too. Each book must be complete, yet held within the trilogy arc. Particularly for the middle book which neither starts nor ends the story, there is a danger of losing your way when writing it.

I started with the trilogy, innocent of what it might entail – and I’d express caution to those who plan the same. I’m glad I did – I feel confident at tackling most writing projects now – but for those who are more easily knocked/ less inclined to finish projects (I have good stickability/bloodymindedness) it could be a real confidence sapper.

FB: Your new book, Abendau’s Legacy (The Inheritance Trilogy) the third part of a dark space opera trilogy, is due out on the 24th of October. Tell us about the main protagonist, and what you love most about this particular story.

JZ: Yes, it’s exciting to see it coming out! What I love most is, without doubt, the characters. All my stories focus on characters – anything else builds from that – and I think Abendau has a great mix. But I also like that I was brave with the themes and tackled some pretty hard stuff.

My main character is Kare Varnon, the quintessential ‘chosen one’, and deliberately so. I got fed up with the chosen one being a superhero, untouchable, and only there for plot. I wanted to present a real person in that role and ask how they would cope. Their loved ones and friends – how do they feel? To be in that position, to be put on such a pedestal – how hard would that be? Coupled with the ordeal chosen ones so often face, Kare became a very conflicted character.

Coupled with those themes is a classic Space Opera theme – but, again, I hope with twist, in that my entire world is seen through the characters. There is no omnipresent overview, no hand holding to take you through the world, just a world presented through the eyes of the characters, as if you live in it, which gives it a closeness and immediacy.

FB: With NaNoWriMo only two months away, what advice do you have for the hundreds of souls who will embark on this feat of writing endurance?

JZ: Good luck! I’ve never done one – I tend to write quickly anyway – but am awe of those who do. I think, firstly, don’t aim for perfection. And, secondly, at the end step back for a month or two before editing. No one’s first draft is ready to go – no matter how pleased you are at the end of the month, hold fire! You might feel differently later, and be happy to have left space to hone it.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @joz1812 and visit her website.