Riffle Backstory: Q&A with "Gemsigns" author Stephanie Saulter


Stephanie Saulter's novel, Gemsigns, comes out next Tuesday, and to celebrate we have a Q&A with the author. Find out what she has to say on laptops vs. long hand, shrimp, and which is more important: Twitter or cake.

Describe your writing process:

At the beginning of a project, it’s longhand in notebooks: mind-mapping, a lot of lists, sequences of questions and possible answers as I think my way into the story. Once I have the shape of it, the actual writing is done on a laptop. I tend to work all day, from right after breakfast until just before dinner, with a break in the afternoon. And I edit as I go, which means my daily word count isn’t that high but the first draft is never too far off the final one.

People would be surprised to know that …

Unless I’m working on something specific, I don’t write every day. I know all the pundits say ‘you must!’ but I haven’t found that to be true.

What is that one book that has been on your "to-read" list for a long time but you still haven't gotten around to reading?

There are so many more than one … but I’m finally going to read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children this month, because we’re both going to be at the Calabash Literary Festival and I must read it by the time I meet him! (And now all of you out there can hold me to it.)

What authors inspire you?

Again, so many. Among the living, Neil Gaiman reigns supreme – he never loses sight of the importance of the story, even though with him it’s never just a story. He slips truth in with it.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve learned while researching your book?

The animal with the most incredible eyesight isn’t a mammal or a bird. It’s the mantis shrimp, which can see polarized light and has trinocular vision and twelve different color receptors (humans have three). It can see things we barely know exist.

What’s your favorite method of procrastination?

Twitter. Or maybe cake. Or maybe Twitter and cake …

Who is your favorite fictional hero?

At the moment, Ringil Eskiath from Richard Morgan’s A Land Fit For Heroes trilogy. Although whether he’s being heroic or not depends on which side of the bed he wakes up on (and who’s in bed with him).

Bad news: You’re about to be marooned alone on a desert island—name the five books you would bring along:

American Gods and Dune, because I can read them over and over. Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam and M. John Harrison’s Light, because I haven’t read them yet. And an instruction manual for getting off a desert island.

What books inspired you/would you recommend to your readers?

I want to recommend The Lord of the Rings, because I think a lot of people see the movies but don’t read the book – they don’t realize how much they’re missing. Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven is a brilliant, terrifying novella about the dangers of godly power. And Morgan’s Black Man (titled Thirteen in the US) engages with many of the same themes as my work, but his style is very different – it’s more hard-core SF, with a lot more violence and sex.

  • Gemsigns ((R)evolution)

  • Binary: (R)Evolution Book 2

  • Midnight's Children: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels)

  • Neverwhere: A Novel

  • Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal

  • The Steel Remains (A Land Fit for Heroes)

  • American Gods

  • Dune

  • MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy, Book 3)

  • Light: A Novel (Kefahuchi Tract Book 1)

  • The Lord of the Rings

  • The Lathe Of Heaven: A Novel

  • Thirteen