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Friday, 16 April 2010

An Interview with Jonathan Oliver

Strange New Worlds

An Interview with Jonathan Oliver

Ah, remember the days when Vampires were more interested in sucking the life out of you than mourning the loss of their humanity? When zombies could win and take over the world, when no one had put the words "urban" and "fantasy" in the same sentence, when fantasy novels could be stand-alone and didn't run into 23 volumes before the story actually started? Do you miss them?

Then rejoice, my dears! For today I have a real treat in store for you!

Jonathan Oliver is Editor for the publishing imprints Abaddon and Solaris. Abaddon specialises in the production of shared world fiction encompassing everything from Steampunk to Arthurian legends, while Solaris aims to publish the best Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy it can get it's hands on. Take a look at the websites for each imprint, read the bios of the editorial team, and one thing is very clear: these people love what they do, love what they publish, and their enthusiasm shines through.

They are also slightly obsessed with zombies.

Jonathan managed to free up some time to answer some questions about editing, about shared world fiction, and about whether or not vampires or zombies will end up achieving total world domination.

Can you sum up your literary career to date for us, including your current role at Abaddon & Solaris?

Well it's primarily been in editorial. After a stint in the hell of retail after my MA, I ended up working at Taylor & Francis academic publishers (which is also where I met my wife). After 5 years there I was looking for something new to do and saw an ad in The Guardian from a company called Rebellion, looking for an editor to set up a new genre line with them. I applied and got it and was the midwife of Abaddon Books and have been the Editor-In-Chief ever since. Then last year, Games Workshop decided to sell their Solaris imprint, and Rebellion decided to buy it and put me in charge. Which was nice. So now I'm the Editor-in-Chief of Abaddon and Solaris. I've also written a novel for the Abaddon line called Twilight of Kerberos: The Call of Kerberos.

What does an editor actually do?

A lot. Well, fortunately we have a team of editors (David and Jenni) who do an amazing job and help take the strain, otherwise the workload would make me explode like that dude from Scanners. I, along with the CEO of Rebellion, basically have the final say on what gets published, which authors we should pursue and the direction we want the two lines to take. I obviously do a lot of the practical work too; like copy-editing, proof-reading etc etc.

Can you explain what Abaddon publish, and what exactly "shared world" fiction is?

We publish good fun, action-oriented genre fiction. These usually take the form of shared-worlds fiction. So these words are: The Afterblight Chronicles (post-apocalypse fiction), Twilight of
Kerberos (sword and sorcery), Pax Britannia (steampunk), Tomes of The Dead (zombies), The Infernal Game (espionage and diabolism) and No Man's World (pulp science-fiction). Shared-world fiction means that we've created the worlds and then we get in the authors to pitch for those particular worlds.

What do you think the appeal of shared world and tie-in is compared to original fiction - both for the writers and the readers?

The appeal for the writer is that they get to play in a rich environment that other authors have added too. They can be part of a greater whole, while making their own mark on the world. The appeal for the reader is that, as the series progress, the world gets more and more added to it, and they get this sense of an expanding, living universe. It also offers the reader a specific flavour of fiction; leading them into something they may enjoy while still offering surprises and new takes on genre fiction while they're there.

How do you find writers to create novels for your series? How do things like copyright/ contracts/ royalties work?

In the early days of Abaddon we had an open door policy. Now we tend to re-use writers we've found it fun and worthwhile to work with. That's not to say we don't occasionally take newbies onto Abaddon, but it's usually the case that we go and find them rather than them finding us.

How it works technically is a work-for-hire deal, which means that Rebellion retain the copyright and pay the author a flat fee. We're very upfront about that and try to make things as simple and as clear for the author from the outset.

If someone wanted to write for Abaddon, how would they go about it?

At the moment we're closed to pitches, apart from for one series, Mallory's Knight of Albion, an Arthurian myth series. People can e-mail us through the website if they want to see the bible for that.

Tell us about your book!

Twilight of Kerberos: The Call of Kerberos is a traditional sword & sorcery fantasy, with also has a ton of fairly harsh horror thrown in. It's an entirely new arc in the series so anyone not familiar with the world can still leap in here and they won't feel lost. My influences are Fritz Leiber, Robert Howard and H.P. Lovecraft on this one. I think, but then I would say this, that's it's good, solid fun fantasy with good characterisation and some fairly dark and crazy stuff going on. Lots of sense-of-wonder moments was what I was aiming for, while also telling a damn good story.

What type of writer are you?

A scatty, and not-nearly-disciplined enough writer. I have to do it all in my spare time which tends to be grabbing an hour at lunch and then a couple of hours after work at home. At the weekends I try to get more done too. I write as and when I can. I wish I were swifter and more prolific, but then I think that's common to all authors.

Which do you prefer, working as an editor or working as a writer?

Both have their own joys and pitfalls. One thing that has never happened as an editor is that I've never fallen out of love with books and reading. I spend all day at work reading, but I still read for pleasure in my spare time. I manage to turn off my editorial brain (mainly) for reading for
pleasure. As an editor there's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a great book through from first manuscript stage to finished product. I love working with authors. These people are my colleagues, my friends and the people who generally inspire me. Writing is the other side of the fence; it's slightly more lonely but when writing is going well, that burn of creativity is really exciting.

Can you tell us about Solaris?

Solaris is a publisher of great fantasy, science-fiction, horror and dark-fantasy. We publish great books by great authors. As simple as that. I'm really pleased to have inherited the Solaris list and am genuinely proud of the direction in which we're taking it.

There is a feeling that scifi / fantasy is hard to break into, but has a dedicated audience. Do you think this is the case?

I'm not sure that it's harder than any other genre to be honest. But then I don't have experience of, say, crime fiction of mainstream 'literary fiction.' I do think that genre fans are more dedicated, more passionate, more vocal and more loyal than fans of other forms of literature however. If the fans like you, you can be pretty much set for life.

Can you sum up a key piece of advice from someone aspiring
to build a career writing speculative fiction?

In one sentence? 'Be excellent to each other, and party on...'

No wait...

I think write every day, but write with feeling, enjoy what your doing. Don't write with a view to it making you rich or famous as then you're writing for the wrong reasons. Write what you're passionate about. Don't just look at the market, think 'I can do that' and then write what you think people will enjoy of that 'type' of fiction, because ultimately it will end up being hollow. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your abilities and maintain a high level of professionalism.

And finally, in the dark future of planet Earth who is going to win, the Vampires or the Zombies?

Clearly zombies are far cooler; and they're not allergic to sunlight, garlic or crosses. Which sort of helps.

So if shared world fiction has tickled your fancy, either as a reader or as a potential writer, Abaddon's website can be found here, while the SFF fans amongst you should also go check out Solaris. Actually, go check out Solaris even if you aren't into science fiction or fantasy, you just might get converted. If anyone else is keen to give Jonathan's book a go, I'll race you over here to grab a copy. Last one there is zombie fodder!


Linda Acaster said...

A great interview opening up a market few might know about. Do tell us that S&S is making a come-back! Now where did I put...? Ah yes, under all this dust.

Queenie said...

I'm off to Solaris right now. Thanks for another illuminating interview.

Queenie said...

Err, make that 'was' off to Solaris - the link from your post just threw a 404 error page. Shall try getting there via Google.

Gemma Noon said...

Hi Queenie,

sorry about that! The links are now fixed :-)