S.Z. Attwell is a professional science writer with an M.A. in media studies, but her real love has always been fiction writing. In her spare time, she does photography and archery, among other things. She is the author of the epic dystopian adventure series Aestus.
I got really interested in S.Z. Attwell after reading her epic debut series Aestus (check out my reviews of Aestus Book 1: The City and Aestus Book 2: The Colony). According to the author's wishes, I've put 2 questions of this interview into the 'spoilers section' at the end, since they reveal some information about the series that you might prefer not knowing before reading the books :)
I’d like to talk about your novel first. Aestus is set in a desolate hot world devastated by climate change where people have to live underground. Do you think it’s the future? And is there anything we can do at this point to prevent that from happening?
I hope it won’t be! As for prevention - we have a lot to do, but my understanding is the number-one issue is stopping emissions, followed by preparing for the potential effects of climate change (which we’re already seeing now with these heat waves etc.). Emissions are in large part industrial; legislation is probably one of the best tools we have with regard to that. Another idea is reforestation/stopping deforestation.
Aestus manages to maintain high tension all the time. How did you make it happen?
I like to reveal bits and pieces as I go, and work out the problems in the characters’ heads/keep them in a slight state of confusion, so there was natural tension. I also, ah, enjoy adding drama (and there can be some excellent drama when two people miscommunicate, for example, or aren’t sure what the other knows). But I wanted it to all be as realistic as it could be. No conflict for the sake of conflict.
The series was a lot of fun to read! Did you have fun writing it?
Thank you! Yes, I did. I loved it. I would go to my favorite coffee shop and just write for 3+ hours a night. (They were very excited to learn that I had worked on the books there and have very kindly set up a little shelf with copies!)
Was there anything that made writing it difficult?
Keeping track of everything was...a lot. I ended up using a slideshow to explain the plot to myself, as well as a little notebook with checklists of things that I had to work on/not leave out. At one point (I can’t remember the details), I messed up something in terms of the science and had to go back and fix it, which wasn’t a fun hour or so.
At the time of the interview, you have two Aestus books out. Are you working on anything new? Will it be another book in the series or something else?
I am working on a pirates YA novel set in colonial Boston, and am thinking about expanding Aestus (by popular demand and because I can’t seem to leave the characters). I also have another project that’s quite different from either of them but I haven’t shared it publicly yet.
Did you have to do any weird research to write the Aestus books?
I did read about cave-dwelling, which was fascinating. Weird? Not particularly. A bit of solar tech stuff.
Now I’d like to talk about you a little. You are a science writer. Can you tell me more about your job?
I freelance as a science writer - I’ve interviewed people on things from optic fibers to microwave tech to astronomy, and been a staff writer/editor/designer for a (small) physics publication. My job is to “translate” scientific descriptions for lay audiences and explain the science in an accessible way. It’s a challenge and a lot of fun. I don't always understand exactly what I’m hearing, which means I get to do a lot of research.
What made you decide to become a fiction author?
I’ve always loved writing, almost since I can remember. I read voraciously and had an entire stack of yellow legal pads on which I would write stories.
What do you do for fun?
Read, write, have interesting conversations with people, photography, walking/hiking...and archery. I like exploring historical places too.
Who are your favorite authors?
I feel bad for saying that I’m not sure!
If you could visit a place described in one of the books you’ve read, where would you go and why?
Real-world? The UK. I love history, and I find the Yorkshire Dales gorgeous. Also, Istanbul and maybe other places along the Silk Road for historical and other reasons.
What is the best thing about being an author for you?
Writing, and readers/sharing my books with others!
What’s the hardest thing about being an author?
You are a small business owner if you self-publish. It’s a lot to learn, a lot to do. I love my books, so it’s worth it, but it’s so much to keep track of. I’m very grateful to everyone who has been so helpful/supportive and taught me so much.
What is the best possible future that you see for humanity?
Not see, but I would love if we could manage to actually feed everyone, slow the planet’s overheating, etc. As to how to do those things...I imagine it might take some time, to put it diplomatically.
Is there a technology that makes you excited and / or hopeful about the future?
I’m interested in some of the agricultural tech out there - example, precision irrigation. Using electric vehicles for long-distance trucking, as well.
Is there a technology that scares you?
Not a technology, specifically, but our apparent willingness to consider solar geoengineering as anything other than a last-ditch effort to protect the planet. That, and our use of technology to overharvest...just about everything.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
This planet is everyone’s home, not just those who can afford to live well. We in the wealthier parts of the world need to fully understand what it may mean for the rest of humanity if climate change accelerates.
Here comes the spoilers section! Proceed with caution :)
The series explores a few real-life issues, like colonialism and slavery. Would you like to talk about that? Why have you chosen these subjects?
My goal with this book was initially to explore what might happen to a group of people trying to survive in essentially a civilization-less wasteland, and how they might manage things, what they might do, etc. It became obvious to me that, as often happens, society would probably stratify itself into the haves- and have-nots, but more than that...there might be things underpinning society that either no one was aware of or chose not to see. This is true of our own world, with elements of supply chains people may not be aware of, for example. In general, I ended up being fascinated by the idea of power and institution(s), how the status quo is often maintained, who is complicit (knowingly or not), and more. Aestus became much more than a study in survival.
Could you tell me about the place where the books are set? Where is it and why have you chosen it? What about the Old Language?
It’s set in Cappadocia, Turkey (the Old Language is Turkish). I had read about the underground city of Derinkuyu (check it out!), which is thought to have housed up to 10,000 people and animals etc. underground during times of invasion over a millennium or so, and realized that the entire area would be ideal for an underground city project such as this. I also speak a bit of Turkish, so that was fun to work on.
Thanks a lot for the interview! <3
You can find more links to the stores where you can buy both Aestus books on S.Z. Attwell's website.