Author Interview: Nina Allan

Today I am interviewing Nina Allan, author of the new science-fiction novel, The Rift.

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DJ: Hey Nina! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!

For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Nina Allan: Hi, and thanks for having me! I’m a British writer, with a keen lifelong interest in speculative fiction across all genres. I’ve published more than fifty short stories and a couple of collections. My first novel The Race was shortlisted for the Kitschies Red Tentacle and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. I live and work on the Isle of Bute, in western Scotland. The Rift is my second novel.

DJ: What is The Rift about?

Nina: The Rift is about two sisters, Selena and Julie. Julie disappeared at the age of seventeen, leaving her family devastated and unable to come to terms with what happened. Twenty years later, Selena receives a telephone call from someone claiming to be Julie, saying she has spent time on another planet and that she wants her return to the world to be kept secret. The woman seems in every way to be Julie, but Selena can’t bring herself to believe the story she tells about herself. She has to make a decision: is Julie really her sister or not? And how much of what she says is a fantasy, an explanation for the real trauma she experienced when she was abducted?

DJ: What were some of your influences for The Rift?

Nina: That’s such a difficult question to answer, because the novel changed so much while I was writing it. The Rift was originally going to be a more straightforward alien abduction story. I’m fascinated by that phenomenon, and more particularly by the many testimonies recorded from people who claim to have been the victims. Again and again, you see a gulf opening up when a friend or close family member claims to have experienced something that people on the outside of that experience find difficult and more often impossible to believe. At some point that theme – the idea of difference that arises out of absence or separation – began to take over from the aliens themselves. A key influence was Joan Lindsay’s novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, which a lot of people will know through Peter Weir’s film adaptation. One scene in particular – where the miraculously returned Irma is brought into school to say goodbye to her classmates – kept coming back to me. It’s an odd scene, a supremely powerful scene, because you would imagine the other girls would be delighted to see their comrade again, but what you get instead is a barely repressed violence, an anger that she knows something and is refusing to tell them. These are the kinds of ideas The Rift ends up exploring.

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?

Nina: I hope that readers will find both the sisters interesting to read about, though perhaps for different reasons. Selena is the one most of us will feel sympathy with at the start, because it’s her version of the story we get to listen to first. Selena is straightforward, open and honest. More to the point, her problems are easy to identify and empathise with: her family is in pieces, her father dies after many years spent struggling with mental illness, she feels she can’t properly commit to her boyfriend Johnny until she gets some kind of closure on what happened to her sister. When Julie comes back, everything seems even more up in the air and again, we’re on her side, because we have no reason to trust Julie, no reason to believe what she says. Then we start getting Julie’s side of the story and it’s only then that she comes properly into focus as a character. She’s difficult, lonely, damaged. We still have no idea whether we should believe her or not, but we do begin to understand why she feels so alone. That tension between belief and unbelief is vital to the story but it’s the relationship between the sisters that drives that story forward.

DJ: What is the world and setting of The Rift like?

Nina: The Rift partly takes place in our own world, in the north of England, and as such it’s very recognizable. The central section, which forms the bulk of Julie’s story, takes place on the planet of Tristane, a planet in crisis because of a possible alien invasion of its own. Tristane is much bigger than Earth, and the population is mainly confined to six vast city-states. These city-states are separated from one another by great distances, expanses of forest and extreme variations in climate, and so have evolved their own distinct forms of government and society, everything from a Romanesque version of democracy through to a strictly hierarchical, warrior-caste culture that is more autocratic. At the time Julie claims to have been resident on Tristane, there are rumours that a parasitical life form called the creef has been accidentally imported to Tristane from her smaller satellite planet, Dea. These rumours are officially dismissed as folklore, as fiction, but there are worrying signs that the invasion might be real.

DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Rift?

Nina: Piecing it all together. I have a longstanding interest in and fondness for unorthodox forms of narrative, telling a story through found documents, interviews, embedded texts that relate closely to the events in the main narrative but that are not necessarily a contiguous part of it. I love mystery novels, crime stories, true-crime journalism, and there are parts of The Rift – Julie’s essays, newspaper articles, scientific reports – that clearly reflect this interest and influence. I hugely enjoyed thinking about and composing this material, seeing how it changed the colours and textures of the novel as a whole.

DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?

Nina: Is Julie really Julie, and is her story really the truth about what happened to her!

DJ: Why did you choose science fiction as a way of telling what is essentially a family story?

Nina: I believe the speculative modes – science fiction, fantasy and horror – are among the most fascinating, flexible and exciting approaches in all of literature. You can do things with science fiction that simply aren’t possible within a wholly ‘realistic’ context. For a writer, creating an alien world is not just fun and challenging – though it is both fun and challenging! – it also offers a dynamic method for questioning our own accepted reality and ways of being. Even if readers choose to interpret Julie’s time on Tristane as a kind of fugue state, a reshaping of reality to accommodate trauma, it is still hugely relevant as an insight into Julie’s character, her state of mind, her alienation from reality, the power of her imagination, even. For the reader, science fiction is thrilling because it offers unlimited possibilities for where a story might end up. Science fiction is infinitely malleable. Like all the most resilient life forms, it evolves.

DJ: Now that The Rift is released, what is next for you?

Nina: I’ve just finished writing a brand new novel, the story of a remarkable doll maker and the writer with a troubled past who becomes his penpal. There’s a mythical, fairytale quality woven into the DNA of this novel and I hope to announce more details about it in the near future.

DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?

Nina: My website is The Spider’s House, where I keep a regular blog.

DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!

Nina: It’s been a real pleasure!

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*** The Rift is published by Titan Books and is available TODAY!!! ***

Buy the Book: 

Amazon | Barnes & NobelGoodreads | Kobo

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About the Book:

Selena and Julie are sisters. As children they were closest companions, but as they grow towards maturity, a rift develops between them.

There are greater rifts, however. Julie goes missing at the age of seventeen. It will be twenty years before Selena sees her again. When Julie reappears, she tells Selena an incredible story about how she has spent time on another planet. Selena has an impossible choice to make: does she dismiss her sister as a damaged person, the victim of delusions, or believe her, and risk her own sanity in the process? Is Julie really who she says she is, and if she isn’t, what does she have to gain by claiming her sister’s identity?

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About the Author:

I was born in Whitechapel, London, grew up in the Midlands and West Sussex, and studied Russian literature at the University of Exeter and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. I wrote my first short story at the age of six. Recurring obsessions include old clocks and rare insects, forgotten manuscripts and abandoned houses.  Writers who have inspired and continue to inspire me include among many others Vladimir Nabokov, Iris Murdoch, Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Auster, J. G Ballard, Roberto Bolano, M. John Harrison, Shirley Jackson, Kelly Link, and of course Christopher Priest, my partner and first reader. We live and work in the Taw Valley area of North Devon.

My stories have appeared regularly in the British speculative fiction magazines Interzone, Black Static and Crimewave, and have featured in many anthologies, including Best Horror of the Year #2 and #6, The Year’s Best SF #28, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2012 and 2013, and Best British Fantasy 2014. My story ‘Angelus’ won the Aeon Award in 2007, and my novella Spinwon the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Short Fiction in 2014. My novella The Gateway was a 2014 finalist in the Shirley Jackson Awards, and the French edition of my story cycle The Silver Wind (published by Editions Tristram as Complications) won the Grand Prix de L’imaginaire (Best Translated Work, short fiction category) in 2014. My novel The Race was shortlisted for the 2015 BSFA Award, and for the Kitschies Red Tentacle.

A first collection of my short fiction, A Thread of Truth, was published by Eibonvale Press in 2007, followed by The Silver Wind in 2011. 2013 saw the release of the limited edition collection Microcosmos (NewCon Press) my standalone novella Spin (TTA Press) and my story cycle Stardust: The Ruby Castle Stories (PS Publishing). My debut novel, The Race, set in an alternate and near-future version of southeast England, was first published by NewCon Press in August 2014 and will be reissued in a new and expanded edition by Titan Books in July 2016..

My second novel The Rift, also from Titan, is due in summer 2017.

My work is represented by Anna Webber, of United Agents.


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