Speculative fiction showcase interview with kate coe, author of desert sands and silence online electricity bill payment


The first three books in the GreenSky series are a trilogy; every book after that is stand-alone, although they are also linear, so the events follow on from each other. As I was writing the first three, I knew that I wanted to explore more of the characters that don’t make it front-and-centre; I wanted to know what they did next, where they went, who they met. I also wanted to know how the events of the first book would continue playing out, and how the spread of electricity (spark) and flying technology would change the world – and so the two collided, and I got to write stories about some of the characters we’ve already met in the first three going out into the world, following the changes and small revolutions that spread from the events of the first few books.

I’m primarily a novella writer because I’m a character writer; I much prefer exploring how people react to events and the small moments between them than looking at big, world-shaking plots; and I’ve found that a novella is pretty much the perfect length to just follow one person’s story. I’ve personally found that I need to plot a novel better than I plot novellas – I need more interwoven events and a longer timeframe, whereas for a novella I can mostly get away with winging the plot! It’s definitely been an education for me to jump between novellas to novels, but it’s definitely worth trying both as a writer.

I was lucky with the novellas in that I have gotten to explore most of the story arcs that I wanted to – I picked up most of the characters from the first three books and introduced a lot of new ones, and I loved being able to tie the wider world and characters into the specific stories (for example, in Book 9 the main character meets the main characters from Book 4 as part of her journey) – so I get to catch up and see how people have progressed even if I’m focusing on someone else’s story.

I’m currently just finishing the tenth and final novella in the series, and I’ve got three novels planned after this; they follow the children and younger generation of the current characters, and look at what the changes made to the world have done after a generation, and how the thinking and political world is changing. I want to explore electricity, slavery, communication, the growth of flight and travel, changes in labour…the world doesn’t quite get set on fire, but it’s looking at how the technological changes begin to revolutionise a lot of lives. However, the novels are currently on the back burner due to other projects, so I’ll have to see how it all goes!

I’m currently writing an urban fantasy series; the first book is finished, the second is almost done, third and fourth are halfway through and the fifth is in the eternal planning loop! Beyond that, I’m also writing short stories in both the GreenSky and urban fantasy universe, and I usually have some sort of fanfic on the go.

The anthologies have been a brilliant mix of amazing and frustrating, and definitely a different experience from writing! I think the main difference between editing (particularly an anthology) and writing is that with editing, you’re having to deal with so many additional details and a much wider range of problems than with writing, which tends to be far more internal problems and story issues (and character problems, because characters are tricksy hobbitses.) I’ve loved being able to read so much wonderful fiction for the anthologies, but narrowing down the stories is always so hard – you’re trying to pick stories that fit the theme of the anthology and also display the widest range of talents possible, as well as picking as broad a range of ideas and settings as you can. We’ve been so lucky to have a whole bunch of brilliant writers submit, and I’m so proud of the collections we’ve pulled together – even if choosing stories, working with writers to edit and polish them, getting the formatting sorted and the whole bunch of myriad little details has been a lot of work!

I definitely wouldn’t want to go to the Game of Thrones universe, and given the current films, I’d probably avoid the Marvel/DC universe too! I’d love to go to some of Diane Wynne Jones’ universes – Howl’s Moving Castle, Deep Secret (and The Merlin Conspiracy) or The Dark Lord of Derkholm all sound like amazing universes to just be a visitor in. Jasper Fforde’s Thursday series would also be great fun – I’d be able to visit any book I wanted!

I’ve only been living in Oxford for a month, but it’s a beautiful city – the buildings are stunning and I’m enjoying the open space! My commute is down the river every morning, which is fabulous. I think Oxford combines a constantly changing mindset and population in a very centred and long-term framework, and something airily philosophical and grand with a more down-to-earth practicality: there’s a huge population of geeks and passionate people, and I love the way that everything mixes. It’s a very laid-back city, but also somewhere that the magical could be real – and could be just around the next corner, or peering down from the carved spires.

I’m not part of any particular big fandoms, but I love Studio Ghibli, My Little Pony thanks to a friend who was really into it, and The Dresden Files…beyond that, I’ll quite happily discuss Harry Potter and know the basics of most fandoms, so I can at least hold my own in a conversation – or duck when someone yells about a monster!