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Interview: Geoff Ryman on “Blessed”

Tell us a bit about “Blessed.”

It’s a horror thriller with a happy ending. I think horror is likely to be the genre – if you must write one and increasingly you do – it’s the genre that is most likely to get what being alive psychologically now is like. The happy ending is wishful thinking.

It’s about in part discovering you’ve grown down not up. It’s about what I imagine to be the hidden costs of being a white South African, which I suspect can really screw you up if you let it. It’s a tense place that still has an apartheid-like habit of breaking everything into oppositions. So white literary writers in English mutter about how the only South African writers getting any attention are science fiction writers. And the white SF writers mutter about how South African publishers many of them won’t even look at SFF. And you would think that white writers would have something to unite them, but no, there is opposition. Given how weird some of the older white men are, genuinely aggressive, dismissive, or loudly drunk and stepping off the bus while it’s in motion – ger-thunk – I suspect history in the country is something that gnaws at your bones and could stop you being your best even without you knowing it.

Anyway, that’s the main character’s problem I think. The tensions of being South African have weighed her buoyant spirit down. She becomes part of the solution. If she were a real person I would tell her to leave South Africa and go live somewhere else nice in Africa like Nairobi or Accra or possibly Lagos – which I like but I don’t live there, haven’t faced the day-to-day grind. But to visit—there’s the superb revamp of Fela Kuti’s house into a museum. It was done I understand by the guy who did Freedom Park and that’s the old colonial prison turned into an arts centre. A really low entry fee and it can be full of jamming musicians, and there’s good food and a really great bar. I also like Lekki Beach, which was supposed to be all middle class. They built all these buildings on the beach and of course storms blew them away, so there are these lopsided ruins in the sand looking like something out of Mad Max.

 

What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

Going to visit Olumo Rock with a bunch of African writers from the Ake Festival in Abeokuta last year. I ended talking a lot to Diane Awerbuck and we had a hoot of a time and started making up stories about the Rock. She wrote a story too and it’s really good, a lot better than mine. (makes smiley face). You should publish hers as a companion piece.

 

Was there any aspect of “Blessed” that you found difficult to write?

No. It just came out more or less as you see it on first draft. I had to move some of the threats around to increase the tension. And the ending at the very first was that she walks out into dinosaurs. There was not difficulty at all in getting rid of that. Soooo easy getting rid of that.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

That they should contribute via Paypal to the African Speculative Fiction society website that administers the Nommo Awards for African science fiction. Visit www.africansfs.com.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Well for this story Diane Awerbuck. I’d already interviewed her for 100 African Writers, and we’d spent a really fun afternoon a year before in Muizenbeg, a kind of resort town on the coast. So we found ourselves at the Ake Festival in Nigeria, in Abeokuta where the novel was set, and visiting the rock in the story. I started out with my good friend Dare Segun Falowo. You guys have published two of his stories and he’s in 100 Africans as well. Anyway so I started climbing the rock with Dare and sort of with Nnedi Okorafor – it is sort of that kind of festival, not all that different from a convention. She was climbing with C J Obasi who turned out to be the Director of Hello Rain, a Nigerian film adaptation of one of her stories. So I got interview CJ for Strange Horizons as well.

Dare is very much into Yoruba cosmology so that was kind of an influence. I don’t think anyone will spot which Yoruban entity the heroine encounters because her spiritual vision of it is so Western and so different from anyone else’s, so outside what Yoruba people would see or describe.

But I’m not sure that liking an author is the same as being influenced by them. I really wasn’t too aware of any outside influences. One of them was me. I’ve been influencing myself for quite some time. Which might explain my sales figures (smiley face).

I just remembered thinking at the time that this was a scary story and that “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter” which you guys also published had horror elements, and how the horror elements suited the background. Back around to how horror is up to the job.

 

What are you working on now?

Well finished is the horror story ‘This Constant Narrowing’ that you guys are publishing. I was really surprised that you guys took it. I thought you had more class, really (smiley face). It was me not you guys who put on the trigger warnings stalking, homophobia, racism, and sexual violence. Contains offensive language.

Speaking of giving offence, I am writing a long thing about Jesus Christ. It was a novella and it took tor.com about two days to say, like, ‘No, not under any circumstances.’ They may have been afraid of giving offence? I sure was, so I thought I’d been oh so careful and polite. I wrote back to the editor to ask it they didn’t like it was because I was just a boring old fart and wrote like one. I mean it is possible, if my brain has as many age spots as my skin. At the time it was a very long novella so it may have just been the awkward length.

So I re-read the Bible and realized there was a whole theme I hadn’t explored, so it will now be a novel – a short novel, but definitely now a novel. Wish me luck, I need it. I’m composing the trigger warnings for that one now.

 

“Blessed” appears in the September/October 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1809.htm

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Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

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