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25 November 2003




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Jon Courtenay Grimwood: Shifting Identities December 2003

Jon Courtenay Grimwood grew up in Britain, the Far East, and Norway. He attended Kingston College outside London, then worked in publishing, wrote freelance for magazines and newspapers, and published popular satires beginning with Mrs. T's Bedside Book (1985).

Grimwood’s first SF books were cyberpunk/vampire novels neoAddix (1997) and its sequel, Lucifer’s Dragon (1998), followed by related novels reMix (1999) and redRobe (2000). These were followed by the "Arabesk" series of alternate-history/near-future SF crime novels, set in a North African city in a world where Germany won the First World War, and the Ottoman Empire dominates the Middle East: Pashazade (2001), Effendi (2002), and Felaheen (2003). They will be published in the US beginning early 2005. Grimwood lives in Winchester, south of London, with his family. He currently reviews SF for the
Guardian, and continues to freelance for various magazines and newspapers.
Photo by Charles N. Brown

Official Site

Excerpts from the interview:


“I’m well aware I had a fantastically privileged childhood. I got to go to Hindu temples, Buddhist shrines, I once went to an opium den, and we swam in jungle pools. I remember putting my hand up to a branch and finding a snake. I came face-to-face with a baboon on a deserted beach, and I’m not sure who was more frightened — its mouth was open and it had these fantastic fangs! It howled and I yelled, and then we both ran in opposite directions. I saw lots of Japanese and Chinese television, which mostly involved samurais. And of course there were all the toys, lots of really interesting models. In Scandinavia, we lived on an island outside Oslo for a few years. You could ski from the door in winter, and there was water-skiing in summer. I absolutely adored Norway.”


““I love science fiction because it allows us to play with reality, and you can be as rude as you like about as many things as you like and you can’t be sued. redRobe was basically my response to what was going on in the Balkans, which mattered to me. It’s such an atrocity that you don’t have a right to go out there and deal with it as a Serious Novelist. You can only deal with it as a cross between high farce and tragedy, which is what redRobe is. SF allows you to play with reality, but more importantly it allows you to deal with ‘now’ in a way mainstream writers can’t. They borrow tropes from SF, but on the whole they don’t do it very well.”


““My next book is Stamping Butterflies — although I thought of calling it Killing Einstein. It’s bigger, which is quite scary because instead of sitting staring at a 400-page manuscript, I’m staring at a 600-something page manuscript! It’s set now, during the punk era, mostly in 1970s Marrakech, and in outer space about 50 centuries from now. It slices between the immediate past, now, and what is almost far future, and they’re interconnected because effectively it’s two characters who both believe they’re dreaming the other character into existence. Then it unravels into why. You have to go forward in time rather than back in time to find out why, though you also go back in time to get a personal motivation for the events. I’ve been through the point where I’m petrified, not quite sure it makes sense or works. I write three drafts of everything: the first draft is what happens, the second is more or less why it happens, and the third is what they’re feeling when it happens. I have to write the thing out completely before I get a sense of that. It takes quite a long time to work out what the characters are thinking, and who some of them are.”


“I love China Miéville’s idea that there are only so many plots, and all we ever do is dress up things that somebody was doing around a campfire in a cave when people were wearing skins. Story is fantastically important because stories tell people about themselves. Storytelling is about explaining your position in the world. It doesn’t have to be true; it just has to make sense. That’s what we do. Civilization is the veneer over the top of the reptilian hindbrain — strip off the veneer, and you revert very quickly. As children we wanted people to tell us stories, and we still want people to tell us stories.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the December 2003 issue of Locus Magazine.

You may purchase this issue for $7.95 by sending a check to Locus, PO Box 13305, Oakland CA 94661; or for $10 via credit card submitted by mail, e-mail, or phone at (510) 339-9198. (Or, Subscribe.)


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