The Interview: Bookbag Talks To SJ Griffin

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To SJ Griffin


Summary: Jill thought that The Vanguard by SJ Griffin was an enjoyable post-catastrophe mystery thriller with enough twists and turns to shake a stick at with a super, unexpected ending and absorbing characters. She and SJ had plenty to chat about when the author popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 16 April 2013
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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Jill thought that The Vanguard by SJ Griffin was an enjoyable post-catastrophe mystery thriller with enough twists and turns to shake a stick at with a super, unexpected ending and absorbing characters. She and SJ had plenty to chat about when the author popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

SJ Griffin: I can see three people. One of them is me. I'm looking a bit sceptical and like I'm about to say something terribly sardonic and unhelpful.

The second one is someone who really wants to love what I've written but is easily bored and has the attention span of a flighty goldfish. The trick with them is to keep them interested and keep them turning the pages, because if you given them to slightest opportunity to put the book down they will. They look a bit like me as well.

The third person is someone who is quick to criticise everything, quite constructively but in a very infuriating way that just makes me want to do everything right first time so I don't have to hear their annoying whining voice ever again. That's another one that looks like it could be me.

And then standing behind those three, looking hazy and indistinct, are a mass of people who just want me to finish the stupid book so they can read the damn thing already. I work on the principle that if I can satisfy the first three people I'll be on the right track with the amorphous crowd behind them.

  • BB: The Vanguard is set in a post-apocalyptic London. It can be a frightening place yet it's lively and vivid, too. Is it so different from the London of today?

SJG: Not so very different but not so very similar. It's like the way a knight moves on a chess board, I think, a couple of steps ahead and a little sideways. There's a lot of today's London in there, in the attitude of the people and the atmosphere. It's quite tribal, which I think London has always been, a place where people fight to carve out an identity. And I often feel that in London we've declared an uneasy truce, but we're not sure with what. Ourselves, maybe. I was going to say why it's different but when I think about the book and go I can't imagine that happening for real I do a little nervous laugh. Let's not tempt fate.

  • BB: We loved the character of Sorcha Blades. She's funny and self-deprecating. Is she like anyone you know?

SJG: She's not based on anyone, that's just how her voice came out. People do seem to respond very warmly to her, which is lovely. I'd like to hang out with Sorcha, I like to think we'd get on magnificently, although she does need taking in hand regarding her love life. So complicated! Although I pretend not to be, I'm always immensely gratified when people ask if she's supposed to be me, even though I think they're really asking if that's how I see myself. The answer to that question would be a firm no, and then I would do that little nervous laugh again.

  • BB: How long must we wait for the next book in the trilogy?

SJG: Hardly any time at all. It will be out by the beginning of June. It's called The Replacement and it's all about the continuing adventures of the Vanguard in this strange world they've ended up in where they might be the only human beings. If that's what they are anymore, what with all the telekinesis and pyromancy.

  • BB: It's a genre-busting novel. Do you see it as sci-fi? Speculative? Fantasy?

SJG: I think of it as a graphic novel without any pictures. I describe it as science fiction but that's mostly because people look a bit blank if you say speculative fiction and I have to explain by telling them it's science fiction, but not a space opera, more a dystopia story and then the whole explanation has taken half an hour and no one's any the wiser. The Replacement is more traditionally sci-fi than The Vanguard. I'm not sure it's fantasy because that makes me think of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones but it's probably as much a fantasy trilogy as it is a science fiction trilogy. I didn't mean it to be so awkward but I quite like that it is.

  • BB: What would be your desert island book?

SJG: I would take A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole which is my favourite book, but I suspect if I had that I'd be happy to lie about on the island reading it forever so I would rather take something that would motivate me to get off the island, something that I don't like. If I had Jane Austen's Emma I'd definitely make a swim for it. Sharks or no sharks.

  • BB: Which authors have influenced you most?

SJG: Writers like Charles Bukowski and William S Burroughs who just wanted to write like themselves rather than how the market or the industry wanted them to write. Writers who wrote books I really love like the aforementioned John Kennedy Toole, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Richard Ford, Haruki Murakami, Mary McCarthy, for example. Now I think about it, the list is endless. JG Ballard, Margaret Attwood, Daishell Hammett, George Orwell, Richard Yates, for more examples. Not in that order though. Alan Moore and Marvel comics are also a big influence, the X-Men and the Avengers particularly, along with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I love comics.

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

SJG: I don't have a specific place where I write. My favourite place to write is sitting on my sofa with my lap top, my feet up and a cup of green tea by my side, while listening to a good football match on the radio. I have trained myself to write anywhere but I can't write in long hand because my brain goes too fast for my hand and my shorthand isn't good enough to get down really long passages of writing. I can also go from nought to writing in about seven seconds. That's very handy because even if I've only got half an hour I can get something constructive done. It's the most useful skill I've developed apart from learning to swim proper front crawl a couple of years ago.

  • BB: Proper front crawl? We are impressed. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

SJG: Write every day. I don't think it matters what it is, just that you sit down and write something. I couple of years ago I bought an exercise book, like the ones I had a school, and I wrote a page a day. It was, and still is, like a journal but sometimes something else would get written down. And then I worked up from there and I've managed to write two books in a year. I think writing is a bit like running, which I also love, in that you can train yourself to do it more effectively and the more you train the easier it gets. The other really, really important thing is this: you know that little voice in your head that says “you can't do this, you're too stupid, you've written something terrible and people will hate it, stop immediately and forget all about it”? Kill that voice. It has no idea what it's talking about.

  • BB: What's next for SJ Griffin?

SJG: I'm about to start the first draft of the last part of the Vanguard Trilogy which is a very exciting point to be at because it's still perfect and exactly how I imagine it. It's all downhill from here! Then after that's done I've got a growing list of novels to write, all of which I now realise could probably be described as genre-busting. I started out with a five year writing strategy but it keeps growing and I keep adding more books. I find it's quite addictive, writing.

  • BB: Thanks for chatting to us, SJ - we've enjoyed it - and good luck with the writing.

You can read more about SJ Griffin here.

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