Though it’s her fifth collection of short stories, Nina Allan says The Art Of Space Travel And Other Stories (paperback, Kindle) may the best one to get a sense of her sci-fi writing. In the following email interview about it, Allan explains what went into this short story collection.
First off, is there a theme to the stories in The Art Of Space Travel?
The collection does not encompass a theme so much as a feeling. My favorite story collections tend to be those in which the stories appear to form a natural grouping, to represent a set of ideas, characters, landscapes, and emotions that belong together, that benefit from being read in sequence. I selected the stories with this in mind.
I also wanted to present an overview of my work from the time I published my first collection until the present day.
What genres do the stories in The Art Of Space Travel encompass?
I deliberately chose stories that tend towards science fiction rather than horror, if only for the reason that I wanted to give myself the option of putting together a more horror-themed collection at some later date.
Prior to The Art Of Space Travel you wrote four novels (The Race, The Rift, The Dollmaker, and The Good Neighbours), three novellas (Spin, The Harlequin, and Maggots), and four other short story collections (A Thread Of Truth, The Silver Wind, Microcosms, and Stardust: The Ruby Castle Stories, recently reissued as Ruby). Are any of the stories in The Art Of Space Travel connected to any of your previously published work?
Several of the stories in The Art Of Space Travel have links to each other, but I’m not going to say which, because I think it’s more interesting for the reader to find these connections for themselves. Some stories from A Thread Of Truth and Microcosmos have made their way into this new collection, though most of the stories are collected here for the first time.
I have to say I don’t really think of The Silver Wind and Ruby as story collections, or at least not in the same way. The stories in both these books form an interlinked series, or cycle of works that are designed to be read together in sequence, and I think of both books as fractured novels, or mosaic novels as they are sometimes called. My novella The Harlequin grew out of material from The Race that never made it into the final draft, just as Willy, from my novella Maggots, was originally a character in The Rift. I love this secret correspondence between works, links the reader may not always know about but that inform their reactions, nonetheless. An important aspect of my approach to stories is focused around the fact that the life of a story should always appear to continue off the page. I like to think of readers drawing their own conclusions about what might happen next.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had an influence on the stories in The Art Of Space Travel, either individually or collectively, but not on your style as a whole?
I don’t see myself as influenced by other writers so much as inspired by them, and those inspirations tend to hover in the background of everything I do. I have on occasion written stories directly influenced by other writers for themed anthologies. My story “Ryman’s Suitcase” from A Thread Of Truth was directly inspired by Arthur Machen, and my story “A Change Of Scene” in the anthology Aickman’s Heirs is my attempt at a sequel to Robert Aickman’s magnificent story “Ringing the Changes.” Unfortunately, neither of these made it into The Art Of Space Travel, although what with them both being horror they might very well turn up in the next collection. “A Change Of Scene” especially is a great favorite of mine. I love Aickman’s original story so much, it was a joy, as well as being slightly scary, to enter his world so completely.
What about non-literary influences; were any of the stories in The Art Of Space Travel influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Not games or TV so much, but film, definitely. I love cinema, and my work is littered with references to movies, directors, and actors. “The Gift Of Angels,” one of the longest pieces in The Art Of Space Travel, is directly inspired by Chris Marker’s classic science fiction film La Jetée, and its modern counterpart, Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. I wrote the story while I was in Paris, on a writing residency. I visited as many of the original locations for La Jetée as I could. The story is very special to me as a result, probably my personal favorite from the collection.
Some of the stories in The Art Of Space Travel were previously published in magazines Interzone and Clarkesworld, and on tor.com. Are the versions in Space Travel the same as they appeared before?
I have made revisions to all of the stories, mainly because it felt important to me to edit them as a continuum, as a unified text as opposed to individual units. Most of the revisions would be invisible to most readers, which is exactly as it should be, but it was vital to me to give the stories a spring clean, an extra polish. It has been a real privilege to be able to present them to readers in what I believe to be their best form.
As you know, Hollywood loves turning short stories into movies. Has there been any interest in turning any of the stories from The Art Of Space Travel into movies?
I have had enquiries about several of the stories, but as any writer will tell you, this kind of vague interest from film companies is something that happens all the time, and only very rarely does it lead to anything definite. It’s always exciting and flattering to have film interest, though it’s also essential not to give it too much headspace unless or until it reaches the stage where money and actors start getting attached. So far, none of the interest in my work has reached this stage, but there’s always tomorrow.
Are there any stories in The Art Of Space Travel that you think would work especially well as a movie?
If I could choose one story from The Art Of Space Travel to be adapted for screen, I think it would have to be “A Thread Of Truth,” because I love those characters so much, and folk horror is something of a trend right now. I think Eddie Redmayne would make the perfect Adam (think the young Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything) and Michelle Williams (think Cindy in Blue Valentine) would be incredible as Jennie. It’s fun to dream.
It’s been my experience that short stories are a good way to get to know a writer’s style…but not always. Do you think any or all of the stories in The Art Of Space Travel are a good representation of what you do?
I really hope they are. As I was saying before, it was my intention in assembling this collection to provide an overview of my work to date, and I hope the stories form a kind of story arc in their own right, showing how my style and thematic interests have evolved over the past fifteen years. I think any reader would be quick to notice recurring interests and ideas. A writer’s obsessions do not change much — a good part of what we do in writing is to explore our obsessions. In some cases, stories are almost like echoes of each other, riffs on repeated motifs. This kind of thematic correspondence is fascinating to me.
Finally. if someone enjoys The Art Of Space Travel, which of your other short story collections would you suggest they read next, and once they’ve done that, which of your novels would you suggest they read?
Of the collections, I would suggest they try The Silver Wind, which was recently reissued by Titan in a brand new edition with a lot of bonus material, including a whole new novella, a piece that never made it into the original version of the collection because I could never get it quite the way I wanted it. When Titan offered me the chance to bring out a new edition I jumped at it — not least because it gave me the perfect opportunity to have another go at that novella. The Silver Wind is a key book for me, exploring themes that are central to my work: time, memory, and alternative versions of reality. And I loved the characters so much I kept bringing them back for more.
Of the novels, for the more sci-fi-orientated reader I would say try The Rift, which explores an alien world that may yet feature in future fictions. For those who skew more towards crime or weird, then my most recent novel The Good Neighbours would be the one to start with, a murder mystery wrapped up inside a fairy story, which means there’s something for everyone.