Every writer has their obsessions, the themes we return to; real-world stuff that bothers us enough that we pick and peck at them repeatedly through our stories – because y’know, writing is therapy.
I’m fascinated by juxtapositions. Especially physical ones: I’ve lived much of my life between the rural and urban, on the edge of towns, seeing the best and worst of both worlds, escaping to one when the other got too much. Perhaps that’s why I love the idea of divided worlds. How do they come about? Can one exist without the other? What happens when they rub up against each other?
Although it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, looking back I can see that this obsession was there from the start. Khesh City, the setting for my first novel Principles of Angels, is physically divided into an upper and lower city, one on top of the other. I spent a long time getting to know that setting while I learnt the craft and wrote (and rewrote… and rewrote) the novel, but one book wasn’t enough for this particular obsession.
Not that the idea of a divided world was the seed for the Shadowlands books. I’d had it in mind to write something with weird-yet-accurate cosmology for some time, and from this cosmology came the division of a world into skylands – where the heat, radiation and scary wildlife would soon put an end to an unaugmented human – and the shadowlands – isolated low-tech settlements not unlike the old Greek or Italian city-states.
Writing the shadowlands books has been in challenge in many ways, as I’m taking the stories into places I’ve not dared before, and I’ve had to get various scientifically trained grown-ups to help me design the world. But once the underpinnings were in place, the physical set-up became a major driver for the story – all the while allowing me to explore one of my favourite obsessions.
Jaine Fenn studied linguistics and astronomy to a level just high enough to be able to fake it and worked in IT just long enough to never trust computers again. She is the author of numerous published short stories and of the Hidden Empire series of space opera novels, published by Gollancz. She also teaches creative writing and is currently writing for the video games industry. Her upcoming novel is Hidden Sun, out on 4th September 2018 in paperback and ebook from Angry Robot.