Today I am interviewing Jo Zebedee, author of the science-fiction novel, Inish Carraig, and The Inheritance Trilogy.
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DJ: Hey Jo! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Jo Zebedee: thank you for having me! I’m a sff writer from Northern Ireland and I write a range of dark sf, Space opera, fantasy, some horror shorts, that sort of thing. I also run my own management consultancy and deliver training courses on – amongst other subjects – writing and run after not-so-small kids. Basically, boredom is not a danger.
DJ: What Inish Carraig about?
Jo: It’s essentially ‘the aliens invade Belfast and the locals aren’t happy…’ It’s written very close to the characters so there is an authentic Northern Irish voice to the book (but people all over the world assure me they can understand it!) Since an authentic NI voice includes a lot of swearing, the language is colourful in it, too!
I set the book after the invasion so it has a kind of close-in District Nine vibe to it and a dystopic feel which Belfast really lent itself to, all gritty and harsh and claustrophobic. It’s become something of a cult hit for me, so it seems to have worked!
DJ: What were some of your influences for Inish Carraig?
Jo: That’s actually incredibly hard to answer.
In terms of the sci fi elements (because that’s easier) I wanted a classic feeling sf-thriller that drew the reader in a little closer than most. I didn’t want it to be jumping on the dystopic bandwagon but to be a little more subtle, a reimagining of the city in a new way. So, a bit of classic sf, with some thriller elements to keep the pace up.
In terms of the voice – I wanted it to very much feel of the place. But I wanted it to be about the Belfast-now, not hark back to the Troubles (a period of civil unrest). I’m very fed up with that in books, as if the Troubles are all that define the country. So I wanted it to feel like the city was very real and looked at some of the authors who do that well, both from here and in wider books.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Jo: Characters are what I do well as a writer, I think. In Inish I have 2 main characters, one teenager and one adult – which was a real risk as it makes the book a little harder to market.
The main character is John, who is 16 and trying to survive in the devastated Belfast and look after his younger siblings. To do that, he works for the local hard man, carrying out various jobs, and one of those jobs lands him in an alien prison (the Inish Carraig of the title) where he uncovers a conspiracy.
John is both tough and vulnerable – he’s survived because he had to, but in doing so he left his childhood behind and he’s trying to grow up in this ripped apart city.
Entering his life, then, is Henry Carter, a policeman who is conflicted, having been the alien’s liaison officer.
What works best in the book is the chemistry between the two of them. At one point, I tried to turn the book into a young adult, losing much of Henry’s story, and it really didn’t work. John and Henry feed off each other, at times moved by the other, other times frustrated. But, in the end, it is their shared strength that drives the book and delivers the finale I wanted.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Inish Carraig like?
Jo: So, it’s Belfast – one that will be familiar to those who know the city, but changed. I wouldn’t say order has broken down, exactly – more that there are cracks that the vulnerable could fall through and that’s what has happened to John.
Belfast has a tradition of estates and areas being ran by gangs (often paramilitary in nature) so it was an easy stretch to put John into the hands of such a gang. I think the fact it is so possible and plausible makes the scenario more chilling – John could be any one of us. He’s done nothing wrong, except adapt to the city.
Religion, deliberately, doesn’t play a huge role – I didn’t want to get bogged down in it and end up with the topic dominating the book – and in Belfast it could have. So we have a character who prays, but we don’t have a church figurehead – it’s not where I wanted to go.
The world building is a challenge, actually – I write so close to the character it is hard to step back to deliver loads of info on the world. As a consequence, as John and Henry discover the world, so does the reader.
DJ: Even thought this is a sci-fi novel, I have heard that it also appeals to fans of the “grimdark” genre. How is this so?
Jo: Inish Carraig is dark – the prison is a grim reality with walls that smother people, and the city scenes are dark. But my Inheritance Trilogy is by far my darkest work, dealing with a horrific torture regime in close point of view and then breaking into a relentlessly real PTSD resulting from it.
I don’t know why my books are dark – they don’t feel as I write it – but I do think it gives a deeper character experience and more conflict than a world with no shadows.
Inish Carraig also has the particular brand of Northern Irish dark humour (which does, occasionally, pass people by: it is an acquired taste) which is reminiscent of a lot of grimdark I’ve read.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Inish Carraig?
Jo: Apart from the characters (and the creepy walls, they were a lot of fun!) it was writing about Belfast and Northern Ireland and bringing it to life. I really like writers like Carlos Ruiz Zafon who can do that with places and worked hard on it.
Oh and the interplay between characters – I do love capturing the dialogue and how we speak to each other, and using it to deepen the reader’s experience.
DJ: Since the book has already been released, how have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for it? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or are talking about?
Jo: It has gone down unbelievably well, across Amazon, Goodreads, forums, blogs etc. People seem to like the setting, and the pace (which is pretty relentless) and the characters. The most common criticism I get is it could have lasted a little longer – and I can live with that!
I also get asked for a sequel a lot which I do plan to get to, when I find the time.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing Inish Carraig? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Jo: My goal was to write something that wasn’t based on Abendau, my world in The Inheritance Trilogy. Just getting to the end was my first ambition!
My second ambition I’ve alluded to above – I wanted to use Belfast as a setting because of its attributes, not its history. It is a small city, ringed by hills and could be made very claustrophobic. Being on an island adds to it cut-off feel.
I didn’t have themes, per se, except the importance of others in our life, that co-dependency need not be a bad thing and that trust can be safe. But I did want to capture the spirit of the Northern Irish people and I think I did that. There is so much rubbish written about the place – sometimes I wince at how little the nuances are understood – that I wanted to write something a little truer.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Inish Carraig that you can share with us?
Jo: ‘There was nothing wrong with the place before the bastards invaded’ kind of sums up the voice…..
This is when John realises the enormity of what he’s been set up for:
‘He wished he could go back to that night and do things over again. He’d have bargained more out of McDowell, he’d have made sure Josey and the kids were safe before he’d taken the job. But he’d still have carried it out. He had no option; McDowell had trapped him months ago, with his errands and his food and clothes.’
And this, when they reach the prison:
‘Huge doors opened onto an entrance hall. As they went in, the cold air was replaced by a different chill, this one sterile and unwelcoming. They walked forwards together, their bots on either side, the whisper of moving bodies growing in the darkness, the soft clicks of claws echoing. The door closed with a bang.’
DJ: Now that Inish Carraig is released, what is next for you?
Jo: I have a new book coming out in July this year, my first fantasy. It’s called Waters and the Wild (which, if anyone has read Yeats, gives a hint as to some of its themes) and set in the Glens of Antrim (Game of Thrones land). I’m excited about it and really hope people like how I’ve twisted the land and entwined it with dark little myths.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
I’m all over the place! As well as below, I hang around on www.sffchronicles.com a lot!
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jo-Zebedee/e/B00VM61TZG
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Inish Carraig that we haven’t talked about yet?
Jo: That if I had a pound for every time someone tells me they’d love to see it adapted as a film, I’d be very rich! (And that I’m working on it, I’m working on it!)
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Jo: Just a big thanks for such thoughtful questions!
DJ: We’ll you are very welcome! 🙂 Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer them!
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*** Inish Carraig is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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Post-alien invasion Belfast. Earth has been defeated. Pity the locals aren’t listening. Teenager John Dray will do whatever he must to survive. When he’s offered desperately needed food in exchange for dispersing a mysterious compound over the city, he takes the job. The compound turns out to be lethal to the alien invaders and John is charged with xenocide. He’s sent to Inish Carraig, a forbidding prison, where he discovers a conspiracy that threatens Earth and everyone he loves. He has to unveil the plot. He just has to get out of prison first.
I write science fiction and fantasy, either in my space opera world of Abendau, or on the streets of Belfast.
The Inheritance Trilogy – Abendau’s Heir, Sunset Over Abendau and Abendau’s Legacy – now on full release! Also available – Inish Carraig, aliens vs Belfast with a dash of District 9.
Coming in 2017 – Waters and the Wild, a dark fantasy, set in the Antrim Glens.
My website can be found on www.jozebedee.com, with links to my blog and updates.
Free short story: Belfast Burning (an introduction to Inish Carraig):