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Interview with artist, science writer and novelist Anne Charnock

27 December 2013 Tom Hunter

"What is the next evolutionary step for the human species? This is the question I had in mind when I created the character of Jayna in A Calculated Life."

London Calling: A Calculated Life is your first novel, what’s the central premise?

Anne Charnock: It’s an exploration of where we might find ourselves late in the 21st Century if we adopt advances in genetic engineering and take opportunities to enhance our intelligence. I present this world though the eyes of Jayna, a genius, who gradually comes to realize that her charmed corporate life isn’t such a good deal.  So I reveal the possible upsides – people are free of addictions, violent crime is rare – along with the downsides – people are compliant and live in segregated communities. At first sight, this society might seem utopian but the story reveals the dystopia within and follows Jayna as she tries to break out from her sheltered life.

LC: What prompted you to switch from journalism to fiction writing?

AC: I felt for many years that I couldn’t make the switch because journalism demands such a tight writing style. However, I eventually tried my hand at a short story and, from that point, I didn’t look back.

As a reporter I brought together different viewpoints to make ‘a story’. But those stories belonged to the people I quoted. As a fiction writer, however, I invent a world and I explore the issues that I find fascinating within that fictional world. That’s hugely attractive. The stories belong to me, and the readers!

LC: A Calculated Life is now published by 47North but you originally opted to self-publish as an independent author. What lay behind this decision, commercial / creative freedom or a more practical expediency to get work out there as it were?

AC: Definitely, it was an expedient. I spent two years trying to find an agent. It was a crushingly slow process. Although I received some positive feedback, no one would bite. So I faced a choice, I either put the manuscript in a drawer and forgot about it, or I self-published.

LC: And how are things different now you’re with 47North?

AC: Well, I’ve found many more readers and I can spend more time writing. There’s a whole team working with me now and I feel part of something bigger. For example, I’m getting to know other authors published by 47North. I feel less anxious about my current writing project because I know I have an editor, David Pomerico, who will read the final manuscript and consider it for publication. That’s the biggest hurdle for an author – getting your manuscript in front of an editor at a publishing house.

LC: One last self-publishing question: it can obviously be great for authors, but there is certainly a very large disparity of quality. What advice would you give any budding new authors who’ve just typed The End and are keen to upload to Amazon or similar?

AC: I’m in danger of irritating writers by stating the obvious. However, from my personal experience, it’s pivotal that you have your work critiqued. If you can’t afford a professional editor to look closely at your manuscript – at the narrative structure, themes, writing style, character development etc – then join a writers’ group and get feedback. Find out if you have any bad habits in your writing style, if a theme needs further emphasis, if there’s a missing ingredient. Your manuscript might 90% there already but the extra 10% makes a big difference.

When your manuscript is as good as you can get it, look for readers to help you catch typos because, believe me, there will be typos.  

LC: The independent freelance life certainly seems to suit you, and as well as being a journalist you’ve also been a practising artist and now a writer. Is the creative impulse different for each of these areas, or is it more the same impulse just different methods for expression?

AC: Yes, it’s more or less the same impulse, and there is overlap. In my art practice I wanted to explore the differences between human and machine intelligence. For example, I emphasized that as humans we have to cope with everyday indecision and uncertainty – those endless niggling thoughts – that machines don’t experience.

In fact, writing fiction has a good deal in common with making art. I ask myself similar questions with both activities: How can I clarify my ideas and themes, what’s the best form to express that idea, and how do I leave room for the reader or viewer to make their own interpretation. I was pleased that a reader commented that I hadn’t dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s in A Calculated Life. I believe the reader likes to do some of the work.

However, without doubt, I needed far more determination and stamina to write a novel than anything else I’ve attempted.

Blogging lies at the other extreme and that’s the attraction for me – it’s instantaneous and fun.

LC: And finally, when you’re in London are there any essential / favourite museums or galleries etc that you always make sure to visit?

AC: I check what’s on at the two Tates, Hayward, V&A. My favourites are The Serpentine, The Whitechapel and Camden Arts Centre. I also scan the private galleries – Raven Row is a favourite, and I like First Thursdays in the East End.

A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock is out now! Sign up for a free ebook version here, plus a chance to win a signed copy!

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