I first met Jacey Bedford when I attended the Milford SF Writer’s Conference in the UK some years back. We’ve stayed in touch ever since. I’m delighted to post this interview with her about her novel, Empire of Dust, which was released by Daw on November 4.
Nancy Jane Moore: When you’re not writing, you’re part of the musical group Artisan, though you’re not performing as much as you used to. I know you also handle tour management for Artisan and other musical groups and you do a lot of work for Milford. It seems to me that your life includes collaborating with other performers, performing, handling business matters, and the solitary pursuit of writing. That’s quite a mix of practical and creative skills, and also social and private ones. Do you find that the balance of activities is conducive to your creative work, or are you always struggling to find time to do your writing?
Jacey Bedford: My writing pattern can be haphazard, but I always come back to it. Mostly I’m a burst writer. I can clear the decks of all other ongoing pressures and do ten thousand words a day for two or three or even four days before I need to take a little lie down in a darkened room, but sometimes life gets in the way. I have to do day-job work, hustling gigs for musicians. When the day job work piles up I may go three or four days without managing to get any writing done at all. Ideally I know I should clock up a couple of thousand words a day and fit it around my day-job, but that’s hard. I tend to be one of those people who gets thoroughly absorbed in the job in hand. I guess I’m a serial obsessive. Is that a thing?
Writers are supposed to be solitary. It’s part of the job description, but even though I can spend sixteen hours a day at my desk (with one break to cook and eat dinner with my best beloved), I’m constantly in touch with musicians or other writers via email or phone. I’m also strict with myself about taking some time away from my desk. Hilary, my bandmate from Artisan, and I take Wednesday afternoons off for a cinema and shopping break. We go and see every SF movie we can find, sometimes great, sometimes not so great. Neither of our husbands like cinema enough to go regularly, but we’re the women who sat through Dragonballs 2 – which, frankly, was a load of… dragons. The only thing we’ve ever walked out of was the second Tron movie as all the whizzy 3D effects gave us both a headache.
Though I’m a creative person, I’m also pretty good at organising things. I’ve been on the committee of our village festival for fifteen years and yes, I’m one of the organisers of Milford and the coordinator for the Northwrite SF writers group – a quarterly face to face critique group run along Milford lines. I don’t work very fast. I’m the tortoise, not the hare, but I generally get things done on time because I stick at it.
NJM: You live in Yorkshire – very much the heart of England (imho). Yet your novels are being published in the US. Is that a contradiction?
JB: I don’t think it’s a contradiction at all. Yorkshire is a long way from London. (200 miles is a long way in the UK!) In psychological terms London is as far away from my village as New York is, and as foreign. I’m not really a city girl, truth to tell.
I’d love to find a British publisher for my books, of course, since DAW only has the North American rights, but to be honest the market for SF is so thoroughly international in these interconnected days of the internet. My book, Empire of Dust, will be available in the UK as an import. I’ve sold short stories on both sides of the Atlantic, to anthologies, magazines and online markets, and I’ve travelled extensively in the USA and Canada, singing with Artisan. We did thirty-one North American tours in the ten years leading up to our official retirement in 2005. (Yes we’re doing another reunion tour in 2015 – shhh!) I have lots of friends in the US and Canada, and our son is currently in the USA doing a PhD at Princeton.
Besides, I love being published by DAW. Sheila Gilbert is a super editor to work with and DAW has published some of my favourite science fiction and fantasy over the years. My own library shelves are peppered with DAW books going back decades: CJ Cherryh, Tanya Huff and a whole host of remarkable writers. In these days of corporate publishers DAW is essentially still a family firm, even though it’s now part of the Penguin Group. It is my dream publisher. It’s also great that, thanks to both World Fantasy Con and Worldcon being held in the UK since I got my publishing deal, I’ve been able to have two face to face editorial meetings with Sheila as well, and I got to go to the DAW dinners at the cons, where I met a lot of the DAW authors – or should that be DAWthors?
NJM: I know you’ve been one of the mainstays of Milford for many years. What makes it so important to you?
JB: For the benefit of BVC readers who are thinking: What the hell is Milford? I’ll just say that it’s a week-long annual writers’ event in the UK which although it’s called ‘Milford SF Writers’ Conference’ is actually a peer-to-peer critiquing week for a maximum of fifteen published SF writers.
I’ve attended Milford most years since 1998 and been officially involved with the organisation of it for the past five or six years, gradually taking more of the workload on, as needed, when Liz (Williams – the secretary) has been swamped with other things.
I can honestly say that if it had not been for Milford I wouldn’t have my publishing deal today. It’s not just what I’ve learned about writing, critiquing and all the peripheral stuff about markets, agents and publishing,. But it’s also the friends I’ve made. On a very basic level my introduction to DAW came via Kari Sperring whose excellent ‘Living with Ghosts’ and ‘The Grass King’s Concubine‘ are published by them. But to take the spiral of interconnectedness back even further, Kari first came to Milford before she got her own publishing deal and at that time she’d had a novel on DAW’s slushpile for… a long time. I believe that it was all of us at Milford telling her not to be so British and to query the delay that finally got her to fire off an email, get the first book read and, whoopee! Sell it. That’s as twisty as one of my plots!
NJM: You posted a quote from Joss Whedon on Facebook the other day: “Whatever makes you weird is probably your greatest asset.” So what makes you weird?
JB: Weird? Me? You mean apart from being a serial obsessive, a science fiction and fantasy writer and a folk singer? Isn’t that enough?
NJM: Please share a short excerpt from the book.
JB: Oooh, thanks, with pleasure. This is the opening.
Empire of Dust
I’m dead if I don’t get out of here.
Cara Carlinni stared at the display on the public terminal. She gripped the edge of the console, feeling dizzy and sick. Too many cups of caff, not enough food.
Her fellow workers erupted from Devantec’s packing plant, one or two trying the other terminals in the bay just off the main walkway, and discovering, as she had when she first took the dead-end job, that this was the only functioning link.
She’d scooted out ahead of the crowd to grab it.
Good that she had. At least she was forewarned. What the hell was an Alphacorp ship doing here if not looking for something, or someone? What were the odds that someone was her?
She’d been barely one jump ahead of them on El Arish, and on Shalla colony she’d spotted wanted posters and moved on quickly, thankful that she’d ducked port immigration by hitching a flight with a smuggler.
She’d spoken to a man on Shalla who’d once been a low-grade psi-mech for the Rowan Corporation, and who was now living off the grid, with a new identity furnished by an organization that was definitely not the right side of legal. On his advice she’d come all the way out to Station Mirrimar-14 chasing rumors of a breakaway group of psi-techs, but she hadn’t found them. If they were here, they were well-hidden and well-shielded.
She swallowed bile and checked the screen again, focusing on the immediate problem—a light passenger transport—a ship design she recognized as an unmarked Alphacorp Scout. It threaded along the flight corridor toward the passenger terminal, past the heavy freighters lined up for docking in the space station’s commercial bays.
“Hey, Carlinni, you coming to Sam’s with the rest of us?” Jussaro, her packing line partner, broke his stride.
He was always friendly, but she kept her distance outside of working hours. A purple-black-skinned, genetically-engineered exotic from the Hollands System, he’d once been a high-grade Telepath until being busted for some misdemeanor he wouldn’t admit to.
They’d killed his implant. He was alone and silent.
He was the thing she most dreaded becoming.
She’d stepped out of line, bigtime, but they hadn’t caught her yet. If they did, she’d be damn lucky to end up like Jussaro. More than likely they’d just fry her brain from the inside out and have done with it.
“Not tonight.” She forced a smile and edged in front of the screen so Jussaro couldn’t see what she was checking.
“Why not? Got a hot date?”
“Ha!” His laugh was more like a bark. Then he frowned, the hooded ridges above his eyes drawing together in a serious case of mono-brow. “You in trouble, Carlinni?” He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “You are!”
Your average decommissioned psi-tech went nuts, but Jussaro was a rare survivor. Had he managed to retain his underlying telepathy? If so, that was a minor miracle in itself. Tonight he was entirely too quick on the uptake.
She curbed the need to switch on her implant. They could trace her as soon as she used it. Keep it powered down. She was so integrated with her tech that whatever natural talent she’d started out with had been subsumed. It might still be there, but she hoped she’d never have to find out the hard way.
“Quit my case, Jussaro. You’re not my dad.”
“Maybe I should have been, and then you wouldn’t be in trouble in the first place.”
“I told you, I’m not . . . I . . . Look, I can handle it. All right?”
“All right. All right. I get it. Keep my nose out.” He stepped away, both hands up in a gesture of surrender.
She shrugged. “Look, Jussaro, If ever I need a dad, I’ll adopt you, okay?”
“It’s a deal. Don’t forget.” He waved at her as he rejoined the flow of workers.
She returned her attention to the screen. The Scout had joined the docking tailback. That gave her a couple of hours at most. The temptation to pop a tranq prickled her scalp while she waited for the passenger manifest to load into the system. It flashed, and she pulled up the information. Rosen, Forrest, and Byrne—three names she didn’t recognize, listed as businessmen. She checked the crew. The pilot was Robert Craike.
Her heart began to race, and her skin turned clammy. To hell with it! She popped a tranq anyway, and felt it buffer the hunger to connect with her implant.
Shit! Shit! Shit!
She fought down panic. Avoiding Alphacorp’s regular security was one thing, but Craike was a psi-tech Finder.
There had to be a way out. Think!
“You finished with that terminal or do you want to marry it?” A dumpy woman in a red coverall had come up behind her.
“Finished. It’s yours.” Cara eased up on her death grip, blanked the screen, and turned toward the go-flow station, her thoughts firing in several different directions at once.
Craike was the brawn to Ari van Blaiden’s brain. Going up against him would be almost as bad as facing Ari himself. What were his orders? Would he be trying to kill her on-station, or would he be trying to take her back?
She had history with Craike—bad history. Torrence had called him a dangerous crazy, but that wasn’t the half of it. He might well be psychotic, but he certainly wasn’t stupid. If Ari had sent Robert Craike, she’d never get a fair trial.
Craike was bad news.
Had always been bad news.
She got his attraction to Ari. The emotions he thought he hid so carefully behind a tough scowl and a clenched jaw might fool most deadheads, but even though she barely scored on the empathy scale, she could read Craike. Most times she wished she couldn’t.
His jealousy had piled a personal grudge on top of everything else when she’d challenged his authority on Felcon.
When she closed her eyes, she could still smell the hot sand, taste the planet’s salt-caked air, feel its oven-intense heat through the sunblock on her face. Her rebellion had killed five people as surely as if she’d put a bolt gun to their heads herself, but she hadn’t known, then, how far Craike would go. The memory came back, vivid and painful. Torrence choking his life out, lungs all shot to hell.
Craike pulled the trigger, but if it hadn’t been for her . . .
Don’t go there.
Was it the memory of Felcon that made her blood pound in her ears, or the thought of what was to come? The last time she’d seen Craike was down the barrel of a bolt gun. Now he was here on-station.
As she waited in line for the go-flow behind an elderly man in a technician’s coverall, her right hand closed involuntarily over the handpad on her left. If she wasn’t careful, the small, flexible sheet of film held her life—and possibly her death—within its memory. Ari’s files were as dangerous as a bomb on a short fuse. She’d had the opportunity and had grabbed them without thinking it through. If it had just been her, he might have let her slip away, but he’d never let her keep the files.
She rubbed her forehead to ease the headache and breathed away the faint feeling of dizziness. She’d rather not think about the files right now. She had them; she daren’t use them. Part of her didn’t even want to.
When she’d started to try and make sense of them, she’d realized that Ari was into all kinds of nastiness, but collating the data would be a massive undertaking. She had, however, found her own name on a red file. That had shocked her beyond measure. She’d seen that he’d personally scheduled her for Neural Readjustment on Sentier-4. She was lucky she got out before they’d taken her mind to pieces.
The man in front of her reached the head of the lineup, and with grace that showed he’d not slowed down with age, he hopped onto the last individual transfer raft. That left her no option but to climb into a transit pod with seven strangers. She eyed them suspiciously, but they all had the pale skin of long-term space-station residents, and the jaded air of tired workers heading home. As the pod carried them all toward the residential sector, she took a deep breath and considered her options. Going up against Craike, one on one, was suicide. She’d have to run, abandon the search for renegade psi-techs like herself, and find a flight. Any flight.
Destination? Away from here.
It should be possible. Security was patchy. Mirrimar-14 was big enough to have cracks that a desperate person could slip through, at least as far as the docks.
Space stations came in all shapes and sizes. Mirrimar-14, run by Eastin-Heigle, serviced only three jump gates and was happy to embrace any traffic that could pay the docking fees. That meant there would be independent captains she might bribe. Time to go to the transients’ quarter and see if she could find someone who was ready to ship out, someone who might take an unlisted passenger in exchange for credits or—she gritted her teeth—sex.
Jacey Bedford lives behind a keyboard in Pennine Yorkshire with her songwriter husband, Brian, and a long-haired black German Shepherd dog called Eska. She’s had short stories published on both sides of the Atlantic and her first novel, Empire of Dust is out from DAW in November. It’s available via good bookshops and the usual online retailers.