Interview with Jennifer Ridyard

John & Jennie Color

Jennifer Ridyard and her not so famous co-author John Connolly (ouch, don’t hit me!!)

(Photo: courtesy of Ger Holland)

Thanks a lot to Jennie for taking her time to answer all my silly questions!!

What everyday situation drives you mad?
The way other people pack the dishwasher. I mean it’s simple yet precise physics, for heaven’s sake, not some random free-for-all.

Your favourite music and the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
Best live concert: oh, so many to choose from. It was probably Leonard Cohen playing outdoors at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, when it rained as the sun was setting. The light was beautiful, and most of the audience were wearing disposal anoraks bought from a vendor, all in blue: Famous Blue Raincoats! Then couples spontaneously waltzed in the aisles to Dance Me To The End of Love, just as the sun came out and turned the rain to silver. I cried.
Favourite music: well, that would be like asking me my favourite book. How long have you got? I just checked my iTunes, which goes from Abba to Youssou N’Dour, via some girl blues/ jazz, modern folk, and lots of eighties music.

Colours you’d never wear?
Yellow. It was my school uniform. I never had a boyfriend in school. The two are probably related…

Name three contents currently in your fridge!
Apples, pears, naartjies (the South African generic name for mandarins/ satsumas/ tangerines).

Three books that you read that made you want to become an author?
The Hero’s Walk, by Anita Rau Badami
Peace Like A River, by Leif Enger
I Am David, by Ann Holm (as a child)
And then some that were so good they scared me off, most notably Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

It’s movie night – which films do you choose to watch with your friends?
So I Married An Axe Murderer, Bridesmaids, Wayne’s World.
I fall asleep when the telly goes on, but those three always keep me awake because I’m laughing so much.

Your idea of a perfect holiday?
Venice! Days and days wandering lovely Venice.

Favourite literary or movie villain?
Erm… Paddington’s nemesis, Mr Curry?

Your favourite Hitchcock movie?
The Birds, but to be honest I’m an old movie philistine. I don’t tend to watch anything made before I was born. It’s a flaw, and I promise I’ll work in it. Maybe.

I was wondering why The Chronicles of the Invaders trilogy is marketed for the YA audience? Was that a decision based on the main characters being teenagers? To me it doesn’t feel at all like it’s supposed to be for younger readers.
It was always written for YA, because that’s who we thought would like it, but definitely older YA. However, neither of us wrote “down” to the audience or pulled punches, because teenagers are much smarter than that. YA is a relatively new concept; when I was a teenager it was straight into the adult department at the library with you!

I know John is a huge fan of space and science. Did that part of the story come mostly from John’s side? Did you have an expert to ask specific questions about more complicated matters? Are you also affectionate of the technical and scientific stuff?
I grew up surrounded by sci-fi at home, because it’s all my dad reads, and went to see the Buck Rogers/ Star Wars/ Flash Gordon films at the drive-in with my folks, but I discovered John Wyndham for myself, and learned through him that sci-fi could be so much more than laser beams and stormtroopers, and that girls could be layered characters too.
My co-writer, John Connolly, is our resident expert on technical stuff. He did loads of reading for his Samuel Johnson series, which has hilarious science-rich footnotes. I’m the conversation/ relationship gal.

I think there are a lot of gory scenes already in Conquest and now also in Empire, which I have to admit, I enjoyed very much. Is that mostly owed to John or are you an occasional gorehound too?
Oh, John’s the instigator, but I’m not gore averse. Some of the yucky stuff is definitely mine. I think people get confused and make assumptions as to who writes what – for instance, one reviewer was determined anything about “the patriarchy” was mine, when he couldn’t be further from the truth – and I’m delighted if they can’t tell. I won’t tell either.

I couldn’t help but compare Syl’s character to Luke Skywalker, as they are both gifted alas Syl lacks a Master Yoda to teach her. For me Syrene is even like the female version of the Emperor, trying to draw Syl to the Dark Side. Do you think that subconsciously the myth of Star Wars was on your mind while writing? I mean it is a huge part of practically everyone who grew up in the last forty years.
Well, it certainly wasn’t conscious… Personally, I was trying to write a book that would be enjoyed by girls and appeal to those who hadn’t yet discovered this enormous, rich genre, but not alienate boys. So much of sci-fi is male-centric, what with its three-boobed women and it’s male dominated adventures: I wanted to pull away from that, but not lose the action, the intrigue or the fun.

The Nairene Sisterhood is a truly intriguing order formed by women who were unwanted and outcast and they set out to become powerful by harvesting knowledge and books, which makes them a very admirable community at first. Yet instead of using their intelligence to become the saviours of their own kind all they seem to want is more power, often through very questionable actions. Do you think that if you give women power they ultimately make the same mistakes as men and if possible, are even more ruthless in enforcing their aspirations?
I think it’s much more complex than that, as are people. So much about gender roles is imposed from birth onwards, with pink for girls and blue for boys, sweet princesses versus tough little tykes. I wish we could move away from all of that, and let people be who they are without obsessing about their genitalia, or viewing their actions through a gender prism. What we wanted from the series was strong female characters, both good and bad – as well as nuanced – but without sacrificing strong, three-dimensional male characters, or veering into lazy male/ female stereotypes.

For me the Chronicles of the Invaders feature some of the very best and strongest female characters ever! Syl, Meia, Alis, Syrene, no matter if the characters are deemed good or bad, they stand up for their beliefs. For me there was actually hardly any difference regarding the feelings/actions of male and female characters and there was not a single kitschy shameful Twilight moment in sight even when it concerned the teenagers. Was that also a conscious thing that you both wanted?
Yup! I think I answered this in my rant above. I consciously thought about it as I was writing and editing, and questioned myself and my prejudices. While I can’t speak for John, he’s very conscientious, so I suspect he did too.

I love concept of the Mechs and finally we get to know a bit more about them in Empire. Will there be even more revelations about them in the third part of the Chronicles of the Invaders?
I reckon so!

The friendship of Ani and Syl is one of the best examples of two people – and not only girls and/or teenagers – that have once been the best of friends and suddenly find themselves drifting slowly apart by changing interests and outside forces and it’s surely something everybody can relate to. Can you recall that happening to you and a (former) friend too?
Oh, many times. I think it’s very natural as we change, develop and move on, both doing the leaving and being left behind. The problem now in this wired world is being able to break away, to drift off. It’s no longer an organic action, and forcing it (unfriending!) can seem aggressive. Friendship is at a new frontier.

I couldn’t help but reflect on a lot of classic Science Fiction films while reading Empire, foremost Star Wars, Tremors, Alien, Star Trek, A.I.,…did you and John talk about those classics before or during writing or did you write certain scenes and you realised afterwards they reminded you of a certain classic?
We didn’t talk about Empire very much at all while writing; we just decided roughly where we wanted to take it, then off we went to write our parts separately. Yet of course there will be influence from the classics, because each new work must build on all that went before. It just wasn’t conscious.

How much of the story is set in stone before you start writing? Does one of you start and the other continues or follows up on a certain idea? Or do you rather discuss story arcs up front and then start to write? Is there room to insert spontaneous concepts into the manuscript?
Nothing is set in stone. We have a very rough outline, we write separate parts, then we try to marry them together. Sometimes we go off on tangents, but so far the tangents have been natural to the storyline, and we’ve picked up on them early enough to work them in, or re-written parts so that everything fits. Most of this crafting is done during countless edits, and re-edits. We don’t do this together – the manuscript goes backwards and forwards rather a lot as we chip away at it.  

Did you experience situations where you both were fighting about ideas? What’s it generally like to write together as a long time couple? Harmonious because you know each other so well or rather endless discussions?
I’m going to keep this short: Yes. Hard. Some frosty moments…

What can we expect in the third and final instalment of the trilogy to happen? Can you already give away a few things without spoiling all the surprises?
It’s called Dominion.
Otherwise, nope! Nothing. Nada. Lips are sealed. Sorry.

I must admit I always enjoyed Science Fiction stories as a child and always wanted to become an astronaut as a kid yet I was never a huge fan of reading Science Fiction. Conquest and Empire have sparked a new passion for reading brilliant space opera in me again and I can’t thank you and John enough for that!
Thank you so much, Nicole – delighted to hear it. There’s some very interesting science fiction out there (particularly YA), but often it isn’t marketed as such because the term can be so alienating. Think The Hunger Games, or Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, with their classic Dystopian/ Utopian themes.
Even Harry Potter has won an award from the World Science Fiction Convention!

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