Author of “T-Minus” (Hard Science Fiction)
How long have you been writing? What got you started?
I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a pen and come up with stories. When I was in university I wrote and directed plays, but it wasn’t until about 2003 that I decided to write prose fiction seriously. The year after that I discovered National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve written every year since then, with varying degrees of seriousness and success.
I always wanted to write, but I didn’t know how to get started. I’d come up with these big elaborate story ideas that would never make it past the planning stage. It was like I was waiting for someone to tell me how to be a writer, and by my mid-twenties I worked out that the “someone” was me.
At first, I wrote mainly for myself, for the feeling of getting the story out. It took a few years for me to think about getting anything published: I didn’t have stories accepted anywhere until 2008. I had multiple pieces of flash fiction published on a science fiction site called 365 Tomorrows, which allowed me to develop the skill of packing a lot into a small space, something that has helped my fiction in all areas.
What are you working on right now? And which of your stories would you recommend to someone new to your work?
Right now, I’ve got a couple of plates spinning. I’m revising the manuscript for a novel called War Poets, which is set during the First World War. I’m also working on a series of mystery novellas set in a far-earth-orbit space station. However, my creativity tends to gadfly, so when I come to a pause on one of these I’ll often write something else entirely just to break through the block. I’ve got some shorter fiction pieces that are looking for a home, so I’m sending them out to magazines as we speak.
In terms of where to start with my writing, I’ll always recommend “Angels At The Border,” published in Metaphorosis in April 2017. It’s a 2500ish word short story about transhumanism and people being left behind.
Other than that, I have a listing of my various flash fiction and other things here: https://ianrennie.wordpress.com/stories/
What are some of your literary influences?
I’m never going to be as good as Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett. I’ve made my peace with that, but still use them as my yardstick of how good someone can be, how much truth and insight can be put into flights of fancy and pure silliness. They taught me that writing for adults could be fun, could be unrestrained and creative and free in a way that everyone else seemed to miss.
However, my greatest hero, one of my first favourite authors and someone I will still revisit, is Diana Wynne Jones. Her fantasy novels were foundational for me as a child, and contained things it took the rest of fantasy decades to realise. She understood that for magic to be real it had to have weight. It had to be real in its world, mundane even. She also understood that writing for children should never ever mean dumbing down. Start with Charmed Life or Howl’s Moving Castle and just keep going.
I’m always careful with literary influences. By which I mean terrified that every interesting idea I come up with has been subconsciously lifted from someone else’s work. My ambition is to sound like me.
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading The Apocalypse Codex, the fourth book in the Charles Stross Laundry Files series. Imagine if humanity’s last defense against the hideous powers of the Great Old Ones was run with the bureaucracy and small-mindedness of a local government department, and you have the Laundry Files.
Was your process for writing the 5X5 piece largely different from your normal writing process or largely similar?
The difference was in where I started rather than where I ended up. Usually my process with a story is something like this:
- The seed of an idea comes to me
- I think it over for a few days or a few weeks, letting it run through my mind as I fall asleep at night, and adding detail to the concept and the events
- I try to jot down a paragraph version. If necessary I break it into action beats.
- I sit down either at my desk or in a cafe and pour out the whole of the rough version
- I sand off the rough edges, make sure it makes sense, add any scenes that should have been there and aren’t.
- A local writers’ group I’m part of takes the story and smacks it against a wall. Either the wall collapses or my story does.
- Based on their notes, I make changes to the final version
Where the 5X5 piece was different was that, basically, I was handed someone else’s paragraph version. What I had to do then was make it my own. There would be no point in everyone writing the same thing, so I had to work out what in the brief was my story. Once I had that, and had ruminated on it a short while, it flowed much like the other things I write.
You can read Ian Rennie’s story in Metaphorosis Magazine, “Angels at the Border,” for free online.
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