Suzanne Joinson’s Writing Takes Wing

Suzanne Joinson
photo: Simon Webb

I first met Suzanne Joinson back in 2012, when Bloomsbury held a reception to introduce her to book review editors and literary journalists shortly before the publication of her first novel, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. When I found out recently that she had a new book, The Photographer’s Wife, coming out, I was eager to read it, and I’m happy to report that I’m currently riveted by the story of 11-year-old Prue, the daughter of an English architect who’s in charge of an ambitious development project in Jerusalem in the year 1920, and how she gets caught up in the intrigues of the adults around her—and, then, seventeen years later, back in England, some of those mysteries return to intrude upon her life in decidedly unwelcome ways. It’s still early stages for me, and I’m not quite sure how it’s going to turn out, but I’m looking forward to learning. Meanwhile, in this guest post, Joinson talks about what it took for her to be able to arrange her day-to-day reality in such a way that she could create this vivid world of imagination.

What must it feel like to be a wingwalker? Balancing on the wing of an aeroplane as it loops and swoops in the bright blue sky? The idea for The Photographer’s Wife came to me in the middle of a windy airfield at a vintage bi-plane show. The crowd went crazy when the brave wingwalkers appeared in their blue and yellow costumes, blazoned with their sponsor’s logo: UTTERLY BUTTERLY: I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT BUTTER! All young, glamorous women, they looked like cheerleaders from another era as they climbed into insane contraptions on the top of the aircrafts.

In the end there are no wingwalkers in my book, nor is there a reference to my day of standing in the airfield, but it was the beginning. Shortly after, I organised becoming a writer-in-residence at a 1930s art deco airport in Shoreham, England where I rummaged in the not-very-well-kept archives. I found secrets and letters and photographs of pilots who were given five hours flight training and then sent to far-off cities: Salonika (now Thessaloniki), Jerusalem, Cairo. A story grew in me, coming up from the bones of the land, about the place as well as the people, driven by my desire to understand its web of connections across the world.

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11 February 2016 | guest authors |

Tobias Buckell: Cordwainer Smith’s Otherwordly Stories

Tobias S. Buckell
photo: Marlon James

I’ve known Tobias Buckell for several years now, ever since a mutual friend alerted me to his first two novels, Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin. His new collection, Xenowealth, gathers together a number of stories set in the same world as those novels, a future where humanity has settled on other planets, but the cultures that have shaped those settlements aren’t the usual American/Western European templates seen in so much science fiction. When Tobias sent me this essay, I was delighted to see that he was writing about Cordwainer Smith; like him, I was entranced by my very first reading of Smith growing up in the ’80s, but for many years it was next to impossible to find any of his work without diligently hunting through the sci-fi sections of used bookstores… or in the way that he fell into Tobias’s hands.

I have an odd education in that I didn’t have really good access to solid libraries and bookstores growing up. That’s because I grew up on a boat in the Caribbean. So what books I got my hands on were often loaned to me by sailors coming through on boats from places far afield. I met people from the South Pacific, Europe, Africa, the Americas all passing through the harbor I grew up in.

They had these little mini-libraries in marinas or off in the corners here and there. Libraries that were just denoted by a sign that said “take a book, leave a book.” And once I had enough books, I prowled these limited shelves, poring over them for any science fiction or fantasy.

It was rare to find anthologies, but these were always treasured because they had a wide range of instant text nuggets. Stories could vary wildly, from prosaic to mind-blowing, in a single page turn. So when I came across a collection of stories by one Cordwainer Smith I wasn’t sure what I was going to get. The book looked old, which was always worrying. I was reading in the late 1980s. The golden age stuff could be fun, but usually read unintentionally funny to me, which its square-jawed, omnicompetent men and 1950s sf-nal vocabulary.

So here’s this story, “The Game of Rat and Dragon,” that starts off: “Pinlighting is a hell of a way to earn a living.” Humans throw themselves into space, “planoforming” ships skipping through the dark, and begin descended upon by what they perceive as dragons. But to their companion cats, thrown out as attack fighters, they’re rats.

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18 January 2016 | selling shorts |

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