When Fiona Faith Ross got in touch about the possibility of her appearing as a guest on my blog I almost snatched her hand off! Her debut Science Fiction novel, Far Out, sounded so intriguing and original I simply had to find out more. Mixing family connections with a dystopian feel, Far Out has been incredibly well received and in fact I can’t wait to get stuck into this myself. If you remember I previewed Sharon Sant’s dystopian offering just the other week, and since learning about dystopian fiction, I felt an interview with Fiona Faith Ross was an incredible follow-up.
Here is the blurb:
Pitched into the deprivation of the Seaweed Slum at eight years old, Saffron lost her mother to the fever. She and her broken-hearted father bonded and they look out for each other, but he is vulnerable too, and Saffron feels threatened when new neighbour Marianne captures his heart. When he disappears on his secret missions, she worries the patrols will get him and she’ll never see him again. In 2113, Saffron turns eighteen, and she yearns to grow up and pursue her ambition to become a master herbalist. Hermione the hippie scrapes a living with her quack medicine and her meat pies, but Saffron wants to do better. When she qualifies, she can sell her products to the rich people in Server City. Nate the astronomer appears in their lives and Saffron needs her independence, but will her father let her go? She resists his control, but when he and Nate are arrested she must venture into the deadly Server City to rescue the men she loves.
Sounds captivating, doesn’t it? I had some great fun writing some questions for Fiona and thankfully, she welcomed them with open arms. Coming from a family of English teachers, Fiona lives in East Devon (England) within earshot of the Dartmouth Steam Railway. At school, they called her “The Swot” because they’d find her in the library reading the Oxford English Dictionary. Along with her interest in the written word, she’s always liked science and techy stuff. As a reader, she’ll go for science fiction and techno-thrillers and the big “Why are we here?” themes mostly, and lots of other genres too. Her interest as a writer focuses on the interaction between humans and technology, and the wonderful and scary things that could come out of it. Her second novel, CODED, is almost ready to go.
- Far Out is your debut Science Fiction novel, which follows the story of Saffron. Tell us a little about her story.
Saffron is a 17-year-old growing up in 2113, after “The Big Collapse”, when millions of humans died of starvation due to the mass failure of crop production under modern farming methods and global warming. The destruction of the middle classes – the glue of a civilised society – by unfettered capitalism, has created a society polarised with only two groups, the super-rich at the top – The Servants – and the poor, who are the “Slummers”. (Do you think I am trying to make a contemporary political statement here?) Before Saffron and her parents moved to the Seaweed Slum, her father was an astronautics engineer at the university in Server City and they lived the rich lifestyle. She often asks him why he got thrown out, but he refuses to talk about it. Saffron is determined not to be a slummer forever, and she has set her heart on training as a herbalist.
- What was it that compelled you to write in the Science Fiction genre? Were you influenced by other works, or did you always know that this was the genre for you?
I love Science Fiction. I’ve been reading it since I was about ten, starting with Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, John Wyndham, H.G. Wells, Brian Aldiss, Jules Verne and progressing onto Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick…many others…and now contemporary writers such as Iain M. Banks, Kim Stanley Robinson, Richard Morgan, China Mieville, Hanu Rajaniemi and A.A. Attanasio. I didn’t know whether I could write it. I’d been searching for my genre for decades, and then I completed a BSc in Information Technology at the University of Reading (2010) and something clicked.
- From the book’s synopsis, it seems to chronicle Saffron’s journey from childhood, through the teenage years, and finally as a young adult. What an interesting concept; tell us, was it important for you to show various aspects of Saffron’s life growing up?
In fact, the back story is the minimum required to place Saffron a few months from her eighteenth birthday, and the span of the story is six months. The focus is on her becoming an adult emotionally, readjusting her values, her responsibilities and her priorities, and finding her new identity as a young adult, no longer “Daddy’s little girl”. Her biggest turning point is to learn that he has vulnerabilities too and that she sometimes has to protect him.
- Saffron’s ambition seems to be to improve her abilities to become a ‘master herbalist’. What an original idea! Tell us a little bit about this role? What is a herbalist? Did you have to do much research; is so, what did you find?
“Herbalism” is also referred to as Herbal Medicine and is popular today. Many years ago a friend gave me a reproduction of a Victorian illustrated book called “The Language of Flowers”. I’ve had an urge to use it as a theme in fiction since then. I worked with herbs and spices for ten years and one of my interests is the culinary and medicinal properties of them. These are powerful products of nature and we underestimate them to our detriment. Many medicines we take come from natural sources. Yes, I did quite a bit of research. I scour the charity shops looking for out of print editions of obscure manuals, encyclopaedias of plants etc. I found a wonderful book, beautifully researched, which describes in detail the horrendous medical practices in sixteenth century Britain, and it inspired Hermione and her quack medicine, which is not fiction; they really did those disgusting things with snails – and worse.
- After Saffron loses her mother, it only seems natural for her bond with her father to become even stronger. Yet, I get the impression that as she gets older and more independent, tension grows between them. Tell us about this complex father – daughter relationship.
The core theme of the book is the father-daughter relationship in which the father is widowed, so they resemble a binary star, two bodies revolving around each other. If a third body comes into this orbit, such as Marianne for the engineer, or Nate for Saffron, it throws the pair off balance. During the course of the book, their magnanimity of spirit and generosity for each other are tested according to their willingness to tolerate these other emotional influences. Torn loyalties are inevitable, and create the testing ground on which the new familial relationship must be forged. The step-parent theme is a big issue in Britain today, with so many broken homes and “serial parenting”. A large percentage of our younger generation wrestle with this issue.
- Do you think the Science Fiction genre is, perhaps, seen to be only suited to certain types of readers? Do you think the genre needs rejuvenating, and if so, how do you think this should be done?
I think the genre is evolving beautifully. It is already rejuvenated. Authors are writing everything from classic hard science fiction to the exciting and roller-coaster experiences of the new dystopian and soft science fiction sub genres and a whole spectrum of sf/fantasy mix. My favourite examples are great writers like the late Douglas Adams, and the late Michael Crichton, the inventive genius who created the techno-thriller, most famously Jurassic Park. Science and technology are so embedded in our lives they can no longer be left in the outer orbits of fiction marketing. I think the huge popularity of concepts like The Hunger Games, Divergent and the more metaphysical His Dark Materials make it clear science fiction now has mass appeal.
In my writing, I have one hard and fast rule. I make an effort to base my future technology on “real” science, in that I can provide you with the technical argument for how something might work. The only exception in Far Out is the power source of the flying pods. I’ve taken a gamble that in one hundred years’ time, we could have small fusion-powered units for fuelling transport. This is risky, because fusion-generated electricity has been experimental for a long time, but recently governments have invested enough money in it for us to believe it may eventually happen.
- It seems to me that there are many messages to be taken from Far Out, about the way we use natural resources today and how we see our roles in the not too distant future. Was it important for you to have these, almost sub-conscious, messages within?
Thank you. It was deliberate. The fiction “skin” needs a solid supporting argument. It helps a fiction writer to infuse passion if he deals with things that really bug him and he can bang on about them to his heart’s content, provided he does it artfully and unobtrusively. So, during last autumn and winter, when I was pounding away at this manuscript and whingeing on about what would happen if we killed all our pollinating insects for good, what happens? Suddenly the media is full of it. Okay, I am not saying anything new, but at least I am saying it, and I am topical. There is subconscious stuff in Far Out, although I think a lot of it is still buried. It might be for others to say.
I deliberately created contrasting themes: Planet Earth and Space; communication by flowers contrasted with communication by digital and analogue signal; wondrous, unsullied heavenly bodies against man-made space junk – a great, big orbiting land fill (or should we say “space fill”?). I’ve juxtaposed herbalism and quackery, and nature and hippies contrasting with the high-tech Server City. I think contrast adds colour for the reader. I had a huge amount of fun reversing the roles of humans and technology. I put the technology in charge, with dreadful consequences for us. The wonderful thing about writing fiction is you can write anything, as long as it is convincing.
- I’ve read that Far Out was your NaNoWriMo project last year. It just goes to show how successful these sorts of challenges are. Tell us some advantages and disadvantages about taking part in NaNoWriMo.
I hadn’t done it before. I enjoyed it hugely. The best thing about it was being “in the zone”, the pressure, the month whizzing by as you hammered the keyboard in an effort to keep up. I made some wonderful friends, including a young physicist who gave me some valuable pointers on the astronomy, so I knew where to go for my research. I have absolutely no idea who he was (you only go by your usernames on Nano) and he was a great friend. The worst thing about Nanowrimo is the physical strain. Your whole body aches and some days you think your fingers are going to drop off.
- When you are not writing, what takes your fancy? I’ve read that you like to paint. You are obviously a creative person.
I tend to dive into whatever I have committed to, so these days it is really only writing that takes my fancy, unless I am reading, and now I have learned so much, I love being able to analyse the structure of other writers’ work. I used to paint full time in oils and watercolour, my speciality being shorelines and old fishing boats, but I haven’t been able to do that for the last five years. Last summer it was too wet here to go out, and I don’t know if I will pick it up again or not. I also love blogging. I love cinema, travel, and being out and about, and tech, of course. I can’t be off the internet for more than 12 hours without breaking into a sweat. I always want to know how something works.
- What is next for you?
“The big novel”, Coded, (100,000 words), will be the next out. Far Out 2 (working title) will be my Nanowrimo 2013 project, so I can have it polished and edited for online publication in March 2014 and I’m outlining it now.
- Describe Far Out in just five words.
Imagination is boundless like infinity.
I’ve always wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo Fiona, but I’ve always been sceptical at just how successful it really is as a writing process – I’m not sure I would be able to keep up a daily word count. But your success shows exactly why so many people take part each year! Good luck with Coded and with Far Out #2.
You can keep up to date with Fiona’s writing news on her website. She tweets as @fionafaithross and has an Author Facebook page too – do check them out. But Fiona is kindly giving away 5 copies of Far Out. Enter the rafflecopter below!
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