Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Jo Zebedee’s First Year Review

Sunset Over Abendau, the sequel to the best-selling debut novel by Northern Ireland’s Jo Zebedee, will be released on 16 April. Looking back on the last 12 months, and ahead to that release, Jo Zebedee has kindly agreed to an interview.

TW: It’s been an eventful year for you, publishing your first book and accruing sales to such an excessive degree some might call it selfish. Having achieved best-seller status with your first book, does that lessen or intensify nervousness ahead of the sequel’s release?

JZ: It's been a crazy first year. Lots of attention - more than I ever expected - and a huge juggling act (I also have a day job and a not-quite-so-young-anymore family.) In the weeks leading up to the launch I'm running a writers' event, attending Mancunicon (and being on a couple of panels) and editing another book, so I don't have time to be as nervous!

I think, though, this time I will enjoy it more. Reviews on my first two books (I self published a
standalone novel last year) have been astonishingly good, and I have a lot more confidence, so
less feels like it's riding on Sunset. I spent too much time worrying last year and not enough
enjoying it - I'd like to reverse that this year.

TW: What advice would you give it aspiring authors, whether just starting out, or as they approach the release of their first book?

JZ: Be realistic. Few hit the market and do well straightaway. If there are slow weeks, don't panic. But, also, no one else will promote it as well as you can. You were passionate enough about the idea to spend months, sometimes years, writing about it. Get out there, on whatever platforms you feel able to interact on, and make connections.

Oh, and up until that first release writing will have been relatively sedate. Once you're promoting, editing the next and trying to come up with something new, things get crazy. So enjoy the buzz and the rush of the first when things aren't too chaotic.

TW: Obviously you’ve written the Abendau trilogy, but in addition to that, what else have you been writing, and how many projects do you usually have on the go at once?

JZ: I have lots on! As well as the trilogy I self published Inish Carraig last year, which ended up on a recommends list for the Hugo award, which was a real shock. Inish Carraig is set in my native Northern Ireland; in 2017 I have another Northern Irish based story coming out from Inspired Quill. This one will be my first fantasy, which is exciting.

I'm also working on a new sf thriller and have plans for a fantasy series when I find the time to write it. I also wouldn't rule out a return to Abendau at some stage.

TW: Do you like reading the same sort of things you write?

JZ: Yes. I read a huge amount of fantasy and sci fi, preferring deep characterisation and escapism to technology and whiz-banging (although I do like a nice, zippy spaceship).

But I also read lots that I don't write - magical realism, for instance. It's a million miles from my normal light description (although my fantasy book coming out in 2017 has a feel of it). I read lots of genres- general fiction, crime, literary. Anything that intrigues and takes my fancy. I think it's good for a writer to read widely.

TW: When you aren’t writing, what do you do to relax?

JZ: Ha! I have time to relax?

I find it easier in the summer because I like walking and gardening - I grow a lot of veg - plus cooking. Very domestic for a dark sf author! I also love spending time as a family, cinema, that sort of thing and try to keep a good portion of my weekend free for that.

TW: Over the last 12 months or so you’ve had your first book published and prepared for the release of the trilogy’s second instalment. What’s been the best and most difficult moments of the last year?

JZ: Best - knocking Star Wars off number one in the charts was hard to beat! And the Hugo/Campbell call-out. I also had a fab launch night for Abendau's Heir at Waterstones in Belfast which was great fun, and a great first convention as a panellist at Titancon in Belfast.

Most difficult - the slow weeks when sales were tough. And the work/life balance - I'd like to swing that a bit more in my favour at some point.

TW: Sexual violence against men is an area that’s largely neglected in history, fiction and the modern media (a third of the Rotherham victims were boys, though this is rarely reported). How difficult was it to write about that?

JZ: Tremendously difficult, and I didn't set out to do it. However, I did set out to write an accurate portrayal of torture and its impact and, once researched, it became clear that sexual violence fills a large component of that, both to men and women. Once my character was in the position he was in, it was inconceivable that he would not have been subjected to it.

Finding research into men was a little tricky - most rape studies are about female victims. Once I found the source material, it was utterly harrowing.

I hope I did the subject justice. I hope, more than anything, it wasn't gratuitous - and the reviews tell me it didn't come across that way. I chose not to overtly show the sexual violence in a scene, but instead did a slower, more personal reveal of it - as the impact is deeper than the event alone could have shown. In fact, I felt if I portrayed it on-page, I'd reduce its impact. It's easy to write a scene that shocks - it's much harder to write one with real pathos.

I hope, as well, in the sequels, I do justice to its impact.

TW: Do the events in Sunset Over Abendau follow on immediately after Abendau’s Heir, or is there a gap [if so, what’s happened in the meantime]?

JZ: There's a ten year gap, mostly where the changed order reflected at the end of Abendau's Heir is implemented. But it's easy enough to pick it up as the follow-up as those ten years have done little to reduce the impact of the events of book one. That was important to me - there can be no quick fix to the ordeal I've portrayed.

What was also important was to show that impact wasn't just on Kare. He's the epicentre, yes, but everyone surrounding him has been affected. As the story moves on, it becomes much more of a shared narrative.

Overall, the characters are older, cagier and more world-weary. I like the older tone - and that deepens further in book three.

TW: What’s the premise of Sunset Over Abendau?

JZ: Kare promised he'd hold the Empire for ten years and no longer. A decade later, he's no nearer to freeing himself. Haunted by past events, in a role he hates, the temptation to walk away bites deep.

When the lost heritage of his father is revealed a new future opens to him, one threatened when old enemies rise against those he loves. To safeguard them, Kare will have to fight for the Empire he hates and face the deadly secret hidden deep in Abendau's deserts.

TW: Abendau’s Heir had a pretty tight focus, and a relatively small set of characters we got to know very well. What new characters will we see in Sunset Over Abendau?

JZ: A few new characters appear - we learn about Ealyn's heritage and are introduced to the Space Roamers who hold the key to that revelation.

We also find out more about the desert people through Baelan, a young adult point of view, one of two key YA voices in it (I often write cross over material.) The desert people hold the key to understanding the Empress, so his voice is important to the trilogy.

But we also have old favourites - both good 'uns and thoroughly bad eggs.

TW: What are your plans for the future?

JZ: I'm busy, with writing work lined up to the middle of 2017. In the Autumn, Abendau's Legacy will come out to complete the trilogy. I also have a number of short pieces coming out in various anthologies.

I blog weekly, at least, on and plan to keep that up.
In the meantime, I'm writing new material - a sf thriller at the moment, and then I hope to get stuck into what I'm calling a frontier-fantasy duology. I might also tackle a sequel to Inish Carraig. And somewhere amongst that, I'd like to find time to hunt out a new agent - I think I'm at the point where I need someone in my corner.

Sunset Over Abendau can be pre-ordered here.
Links to my books can be accessed via:

Thanks to Jo for the interview, and best of luck with Sunset Over Abendau.


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