Stephanie Saulter

1. Tell me a little bit about your most recent publication.

Regeneration is the final book of a trilogy that began with Gemsigns. It takes place around thirteen years later, after the gems’ existential battles have apparently been won; their freedom and equality are guaranteed, and their presence has become accepted in society a way that hadn’t quite happened at the time of the second book, Binary. But prejudice doesn’t give up without a fight. It might hide, but it doesn’t go away. Gems always had strong communities, but now their scientists are pioneering disruptive technologies. Entrepreneurs are building new businesses. They’re gaining economic strength and political representation, they’re finding ways to thrive that don’t depend on the established order. The established order fights back.

2. How would you best describe the genre that you write in?

My writing isn’t confined to a specific genre. The ®Evolution trilogy – Gemsigns, Binary and Regeneration – are science fiction, and the taxonomy of genre is such that they’re often further described as social science fiction, or literary science fiction. But my latest work, Sacred, isn’t science fiction at all – if I had to characterise it I’d say strongly Caribbean-influenced literary fiction with a magical realist bent. The notion of being constrained to a particular style or setting or taxonomic classification is not something that appeals to me.

3. What type of research (if any) do you do before sitting down to write a first draft?

It depends on the book. I tend to build stories out of things I’m already interested in and know a bit about, so the research becomes more about supplementing my existing knowledge base and filling in any gaps. With science fiction it’s all about plausibility – you need to know the facts from which you are extrapolating. So for the ®Evolution books I did some fact-checking around specific areas of biotechnology, sensory abilities in other species, neuromuscular disorders, social media, and the history and geography of London. I’ve worked on urban regeneration projects and public policy development; I know a lot about how both business and political decisions get made, and how they influence and are influenced by media coverage and public opinion. All of that formed the basis for speculating about how society might evolve in response to a threat like the Syndrome. For my new book Sacred the research was much more around the structures of myth and religion, folklore, and Caribbean heritage.

4. How do you come up with names for your characters?

Naming strategies are hugely important in my work. Names are symbols; in the real world your name is a symbol that represents you. The names in a story are not just a way to identify characters, but to tell the reader something about them and the world they inhabit. For example, in the ®Evolution books many of the gem characters’ names end with the syllable ‘el’ or ‘al’ – it’s almost like a tribal designation, a way of telling the reader that these characters have something in common. In my new book the name choices gesture to Caribbean history and linguistics. Once I have a sense of how I want to approach naming conventions, baby name books and websites are a great resource. The ones I use list names from a variety of cultures and regions, and I often look for names that have a particular meaning in their original context.

5. What is the best part about writing?

Finishing. Seriously, I don’t understand people who claim to relish the actual process – I’m not sure I believe them. Good writing is bloody hard work. From structure to character to tone to plot to theme to subtext – writing to a level of complexity that reflects real life takes time, commitment, discipline. It can be very isolating – you spend an extraordinary amount of time inside your own head. But when you get it right, when you conjure something real out of nothing at all – that’s magic

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