Coming soon: Transatlantic Pre-Publication Promotional Frenzy. Also: new home!

Success is its own reward, or perhaps its own punishment. Since I last mused about story-writing, I’ve done anything but. I barely put fingers to keyboard for the past week, while I moved out of the friend’s flat I’ve been sharing for the past few months and into one of my own. I can remember when this wouldn’t have required more than a half-day or so of unpacking and sorting, but in the years since then I have accumulated a truly astonishing amount of Stuff. And if you think fitting the contents of a rambling three-storey barn conversion into the compactness that is a London flat sounds like a challenge, well, you’d be right.

But it’s done and I’m in; pictures are up on the walls and books, most importantly, are back on the shelves. And not a moment too soon: I’ve got lots of lovely people asking me to do lots of writerly stuff, all due to the fact that I have two books coming out in the next two months. One of which is already out. Confused? Bear with me.

Binary drops in the UK and Commonwealth on 3rd April*, and Gemsigns gets its North American release in May. And because the Americans need things Americanised, that meant I had the American copy edit, and then typeset, to review in February; not to mention different cover art to comment on and cover copy to check. Welcome to the wonderful world of global publishing.

(Lest that sound like a whinge, let me stress that the Quercus US team are a delight to work with, and the approach they’ve taken for the US cover and copy is fantastic; much as I love the UK cover of Gemsigns, I have to confess that the US version is at least as good. Maybe better. I’ll be doing a reveal as soon as they let me, and then you, People of the Interwebs, can decide.)

As you might suspect, all of this means there’s going to be just a wee bit of a promotional jamboree happening over the next month or three. I’ll be cropping up in various places online, on both sides of the pond (and in May I cross the pond for real, to read at the Calabash Literary Festival). I’ll post links here to stuff happening elsewhere, and there’ll be some bespoke writing for this site as well; but the growing list of interview and guest post requests makes me think that much of what I planned to talk about on my own blog will turn into conversations in other locations. I’ll put up the signposts, and I hope you’ll join in.


*Note to reviewers: Binary is available on NetGalley for another week.


‘Tis the season of lists …

I was rather lazily reading Adam Roberts‘ Guardian roundup of the best science fiction books of 2013 after dinner last night, and damn near choked on the dregs of my wine … did a double-take … triple-take … no, nothing funny in the glass (I checked) nor wrong with my eyes (no more than usual, anyway). There was Gemsigns, sharing column inches with the likes of Margaret Atwood and Stephen King, Lauren Beukes and Lavie Tidhar, mega-seller Hugh Howey and Booker winner Eleanor Catton. Among others too numerous and luminous to mention. I am amazed and grateful to be in such company. And I’m particularly thrilled, because it was clear when Adam read the book a few months ago – and as he also indicates in the article – that it didn’t work for him right away; but, as he says, ‘it has proved a grower.’ I love that. I love that a book which is so much about perception and persuasion, the ways in which people’s ideas about what is wrong and right and good and bad can shift and shift again, has had in the real world the effect it describes in an imaginary one. The synergy of that delights me. So thank you, Adam, for letting my book grow on you; and for including it on your list.

The other pleasant list-related surprise of the evening was this BSFA blog post with the best-of-2013 nominations so far: best non-fiction, best artwork, best short fiction, best novel. Once again there was Gemsigns, keeping company with some truly wonderful books. I’ve no idea who nominated it, or even if it was more than one – but whoever you are, thank you. Nominations remain open until mid-January and it’s already up against some very big hitters, so I have no expectations beyond the nomination itself – but then I wasn’t expecting that. I am in ‘you never know’ territory at the moment. It’s great.

New interview! plus reviews

I did an interview this week with Jasper de Joode of The Book Plank (another blogger from The Netherlands, a country that seems to like Gemsigns a lot). He asked the kind of questions that made me hold forth on the thematic underpinnings and technical challenges of my books – I ramble on about both Gemsigns and Binary. You can read that here.

The interview was a follow up to his Book Plank review of Gemsigns from a month ago, which was a delight. And although I’ve been diligent about linking reviews via the menu, I’ve been less good about publicising them on the main page (no prizes for self-promotion, me). So without further ado, here are five favourites from the last three months:

The Founding Fields | Bane of Kings review of ®Evolution: Gemsigns – 28 September 2013

The Book Plank | Gemsigns – 18 September 2013

British Fantasy Society | Gemsigns review – 8 September 2013

A Fantastical Librarian | Gemsigns review – 20 August 2013

Interzone review of Gemsigns – Issue 247 – July/August 2013 (scanned print review)

Interview: Science Fiction Reality

At the Gemsigns launch in Kingston I met local blogger, sometime reporter, professional make-up artist and apparent all-round Renaissance woman Tameka Coley, and we agreed to do an interview. Life unpleasantly intervened in the form of a death in Tameka’s family (for which I offer my deepest condolences) but we got there in the end, doing the interview by email after I’d got back to the UK. It went online yesterday.

In a post on her own blog, Tameka talks a bit about how she came to be at the launch and what prompted her to want to do the interview. That post is Introducing: Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter. The interview itself appears on the New World Cafe Blog as Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns … science fiction reality, and is also linked under the press tab above. I’m reposting it here in its entirety as well. In addition to a few of what I’ve come to expect as the ‘usual’ interview topics, Tameka asked some very smart questions about the Caribbean context and contemporary implications of the novel.

Tameka has a Facebook page, writes the Sour Skittles blog, and is on Twitter as @tsansai. Her friend Patrick Fuss writes the New World Cafe blog. Thanks again Tameka and Patrick – it was a pleasure.


When did you know that you wanted to become an author?

There’s no eureka moment when you say, ‘Ah ha! I shall be an author!’ What you know you want to do is write. From that follows the desire to be read. From that, if you’re lucky, comes the opportunity to be published. One day you wake up, and hey presto! You’re an author.

Do you remember the first literary piece you wrote?

I’m not sure what you mean by literary piece, but in any case, no – it would have been an essay or short story from back when I was doing my degree, and I no longer have any of those papers. Around 7-8 years ago I wrote two screenplays, but Gemsigns is the first fully realised piece of long form prose fiction I’ve ever written.

You’ve worked in real estate, the food industry as well as various corporate roles; how have your experiences in these fields translated into or influenced your writing, particularly Gemsigns?

I know a lot about a lot of different things, and I get to incorporate that awareness in a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. One of my early reviewers commented that it was obvious that I understood the way big corporations work, and how they interact with government and the media. She was right. I’ve also worked directly with the public sector, advising government departments and local councils here in the UK, and so I understand the political mindset and the way public policy is developed (or not). And I’ve set up and worked with charities and non-profits, so I understand the way the voluntary sector works as well – that was useful for showing the other side of the religious argument, the United Churches charitable mission that attempts to help the gems.

What makes Gemsigns a gripping tale?

I think it’s gripping because the risks feel real. What’s at stake isn’t distant and unrelatable, it isn’t the destruction of planets or the notion of falling prey to some supernatural evil. It’s the forced labour of human beings. It’s families being torn apart. It’s a mother’s inability to protect her child from harm. It’s women being forced to bear children whether they want to or not. It’s gem-bashing, which is intentionally portrayed as being no different to gay-bashing, or the lynching of black men in the American south. It’s knowing that whether people are protected from, or subject – legally subject – to being treated in this way turns on the whim of a fickle public who are easily swayed by media scare stories, and the moral fibre (or lack thereof) of the politicians who purport to lead them. None of that is far-fetched, it’s well within our collective historical memory – and for some people it’s within their living memory, even their day-to-day reality.

I couldn’t help making a connection between your story and slavery/colonialism, especially with the clashes between the gems, gemtechs and the norms. Would you say this was in any way influenced by race relations in the Caribbean where you were born?

Very much so. But one of the things I’ve learned, sadly, is how widespread that kind of prejudice-driven conflict is. It’s not just reflective of race relations in the Caribbean and Americas, but also the current debates over immigration in the UK and Europe, religious intolerance, discrimination against women, homophobia … the list goes on.

Your novel raises many questions about what it means to be human. What would you say makes us integrally similar and/or different?

I think my answer to that is Gemsigns. One way to read the question it poses is: are we made human because of what is or is not in our DNA, or by the way we treat each other? I know what I think, but it’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves.

I couldn’t help thinking about the idea of  ‘created races’. What’s your take on this, and was there any inspiration in that regard for Gemsigns?

I wanted to put the whole idea of justifying discrimination and abuse under a microscope. So often throughout history the logic for why the dominant group consider it acceptable to treat others as inferior to themselves is founded on the notion of those others being ‘really different’, to the point of thinking of them as not entirely human – as another, lesser species. It was a justification for the enslavement of people from sub-Saharan Africa. It’s been a justification by men for keeping women subservient. Even today it’s often how people manage to excuse or ignore the appalling treatment of gay and trans and disabled people. Science has often had to prove that the ‘really different’ notion is untrue before governments and individuals are prepared to let go of it.

At the same time, one of my ongoing interests is genetic engineering and genetic medicine; the fact is we are already capable of creating people, plants and animals that did not and probably could not have evolved naturally. So I thought I’d put these two ideas together and create a group of people who really are ‘really different’, to test that notion of justified discrimination.

Who conceptualised the artwork for the cover, and what does it represent?

The publishers are responsible for creating the cover; it was briefed to a graphic design firm after consultation with me, and then finished in-house. The red circles and slashes represent a stylised molecule, blown open. I see the woman’s face as being trapped behind it. As for who she represents, there are at least three characters in the book who she could be …

How did you come up with the name Gemsigns for the book?

With a lot of effort and angst! Every gem bears a gemsign, some visible identifier that makes it easy for them to be distinguished from norms. It’s a mark of their difference, and it’s the thing that would make it easy for them to be pulled back into servitude. Two of the storylines hinge on gemsign – one revolves around a character who appears not to have any, and another character’s is hidden so no one can see what it actually is. This is not a situation that most norms are happy with. I thought ‘Gemsigns’ neatly captures much of what the story is about. The working title was ®Evolution, but that became the name of the series.

Your book also forces us to explore the question of how much is too much or what is taboo when it comes to genetic modification. In terms of human experimentations and GMOs, would you say ethics should play a part, or is it strictly a matter of survival? 

We should always be guided by ethics, but it may be necessary for what is considered ethical to be revised when what is at stake is survival. There’s little point in being ethical unto extinction. But one of the things the book points out is that once a taboo is breached – even if for the best of reasons – that situation becomes a new normal, and it’s very hard to re-establish the taboo once the danger has passed.

Gemsigns really allows for readers to think beyond the present day and even push the envelope to imagine the future of humanity … what inspired this intricate tale?

There was no one thing. All of my interests and obsessions are in there somewhere. I will say, though, that a lot of science fiction is set in the very far future, and posits a reality that is radically different from our own; I find it fascinating but it rarely explains how we get from here to there. I wanted to look at the near future, and the kinds of decisions that might or might not lead us down those paths.

What would you say was the hardest part of writing this novel?

Giving myself permission to take seven months off to do it was the hardest part. The technical challenges vary – one day it’s character, another day it’s plot, another day it’s pacing. No one thing is hardest or easiest.

How does it feel to have been offered a trilogy deal by your publisher after submitting your first book?

Fabulous! Slightly intimidating, but mostly fabulous.

Any chance of getting a sneak peek into Binary (book 2)?

Not for a while! It’s in the hands of my publishers, Jo Fletcher Books. I’ll be editing over the summer, as well as starting to work on the next book. Review copies will go out early next year.

Are there plans to make Gemsigns into a TV series/movie in the future?

Not so far. I get asked this a lot, so I suppose I should explain that this is not something I or my publisher or agent can cause to happen. It depends entirely on whether a film or TV production company approaches me about acquiring the rights to adapt the book. I can then accept their offer or reject it; but I can’t cause an offer to be made. Whether I ever get one is in the lap of the gods, but since the book has only been out for three months and won’t be in the US for almost another year, and studios generally only get interested in adapting books when and if they become best sellers, I am not at all surprised not to have been made an offer. It’s early days.

What’s next for you as a writer? Do you plan to continue exploring humanity as a theme or do you have your sights set on other subjects?

I’ve got to finish writing the ®Evolution, then I’ll take stock. I’ve got a few ideas …

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

Having interesting conversations with smart people. Reading. Going to museums, galleries, and the theatre. Gardening. Hiking.

And finally, where can readers purchase the book and how do they get in contact with you?

In Jamaica it’s available at Bookophilia in Kingston (I believe they will order copies on request if they’re out of stock); other booksellers may or may not have ordered it, I don’t know. It’s available online from multiple websites based in the UK, Commonwealth and Europe including Amazon UK, where you can also purchase copies for Kindle. A good option for print copies is The Book Depository, which ships free to many countries worldwide including Jamaica (and which has it on sale as I write this).

I can be reached via the contact form on my website, I’m also on Twitter as @scriptopus.

TALLAWAH Ezine interview

Another interview from the Jamaica trip, this one with Tyrone Reid for TALLAWAH:

Out of This World: Fiction & Family

And that, folks, is it. I’m taking advantage of the free WiFi in the departure lounge at Montego Bay airport to post this; they’ll start pre-boarding any second now, and I’ll have to go offline. I’ve had a great time, and been really overwhelmed by the reception Gemsigns has received in the land of my birth. Thanks to everyone who’s been so interested and enthusiastic, so supportive and positive and kind. I’ll be back next year for Calabash, armed with Binary, and I hope to see you all again. interview

Here’s that interview I did with Tanya Batson-Savage for

Debut Novelist Stephanie Saulter Talks Facts & Fiction

Tanya was smart and probing, and I really enjoyed talking to her. She also came to the Bookophilia launch, and the interview is illustrated with photos from the night.

Smile Jamaica: Gemsigns is world literature

Came out of my first ever interview on live television to another great review of Gemsigns! Many thanks to Claudette Robinson, Neville Bell, Yendi Phillips and everyone else at TVJ for inviting me on to the Smile Jamaica morning magazine programme. I got to talk about Gemsigns, dispel the notion that SF isn’t really a Caribbean ‘thing’ by mentioning Karen Lord and Tobias Buckell, and plug tomorrow’s reading and launch at Bookophilia (6:30pm, 92 Hope Road, Kingston 6). They were charming and kind, and I think it went really well. I’m told the clip should be online in a day or two, I’ll post the link here if and when.

Back at my sister’s house, in amongst the congratulatory texts and tweets, came a tweeted link from Abhinav Jain, who has written a phenomenal review under his Shadowhawk persona over at The Founding Fields. I knew he liked the book, but wow. And I love – love – the fact that it doesn’t seem to matter where people are in the world; Dubai or downtown Kingston, Canberra or Canada. Gemsigns connects.


I’ve been back in Jamaica for a full 24 hours now, and while the jet-lag doesn’t feel markedly diminished yet I can no longer cite travel as a reason for online absentia. Plus I’ve just had my first Caribbean plunge in a year and a half, and I’m now in hammock with iPad, and it seemed cruel not to share.

Besides, things are happening. This time next week I’ll be at Bookophilia in Kingston for the Jamaican launch of Gemsigns, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll do a reading, there’ll be a discussion and/or Q&A session, and of course I’ll sign all the books people want. My rather amazing brother Storm has worked with the team at Bookophilia to take care of pretty much all the arrangements, including reaching out to the press; it feels like neither I nor Jo Fletcher Books have had to lift much of a finger. It made me realise how unaccustomed I am to other people taking care of things; that’s usually my job. It’s a lovely feeling (if a little odd) and I’m very grateful. It’s going to be a great event (with wine!), and I’m hoping lots of people will come. It also looks like there might be some other cool press stuff while I’m here; nothing confirmed yet so I can’t say, but watch this space. (And Twitter where I’m @scriptopus, and my Facebook author page).

So I’m on holiday but not idle … Though if you’ll excuse me a moment … I do need to adjust this hammock.

(P.S. Also – new review! Civilian Reader has said very nice things about Gemsigns.)

GEMSIGNS extract on the web, + reviews, + discussion

Civilan Reader has posted an excerpt from Gemsigns, with a review to follow next week:

Excerpt: GEMSIGNS by Stephanie Saulter (Jo Fletcher Books).

There’ve also been two brilliant new reviews this week; one in the current issue of SciFiNow magazine, and the other on the Australian blog Speculating on SpecFic. Both are linked via the Reviews tab above.

And Jo Fletcher Books has contributed to the ongoing debate about gender imbalance in science fiction authorship and readership on their blog, and I’ve added my tuppence in comments; to the effect that the general public’s ongoing perception of SF as being limited only to a certain ‘type’ of book is at least as damaging as the gender issue. You can read that here.

Riding the come-down

After a year of angst and anguish, painfully slow progress, wrong turns and backtracks and the startling discovery that yes, the second book really IS harder to write than the first, I’ve finally done it. Binary is complete.

Back on 9th May I said I thought it would take another couple of weeks; as so often with this book I was both right and wrong. I got to the end and typed ‘The End’ last Wednesday, neatly inside my estimate, but it took another 4 days of morning-to-midnight work to fill in missing bits of text and fix errors, incoherences and inconsistencies. The obvious ones, anyway. I’ve no doubt that editor and assistant editor, agent and alpha readers will catch lots of things I missed. And thank goodness for that, because at this point I know I’m far too close to it to be able to see it clearly. It’s only been done for a day and a half, and I am swinging like a pendulum between sunny confidence that it’s a flawless book full of fabulous characters and a fantastic plot — and a dreary conviction that my reach has far exceeded my grasp, that the mysteries I’ve constructed are so intricate they will make sense to no one but me.

Here’s a prediction you can lay money on: I’m going to be wrong on both counts. With any luck I’ll be very wrong on the second, and only a little wrong on the first.

I can say that because when I finished Gemsigns a year and a half ago and sent it off to the loose group of friends, family and acquaintances that I dubbed the ®Evolution Readers, I felt pretty much exactly like this. I was mentally exhausted, emotionally drained, and I honestly didn’t know whether I’d written a good book or 100,000+ words of gibberish.

Turned out it was, fundamentally, a good book. And after about a month of not looking at it, I was able to read through with a clear head and see that; and with the comments of those alpha readers to hand, fix the inevitable outcrops of error and poor prose. So I am comforted by that memory, and confident that the experience will be repeated.

In the meantime Gemsigns is making its way in the world — to as wonderful a reception as any debut author could hope or dream of (see the Reviews link above) — and will be formally launched in the USA next May as part of the Jo Fletcher plan for world domination. I have a sorely neglected house and garden to attend to, and next week I’m off to Jamaica, to visit family and friends I haven’t seen for eighteen months, sun myself and swim and hopefully decompress a bit. There’ll be promotional events there too, including a local launch, reading and discussion at Bookophilia, Kingston’s premiere bookstore. And I have the third book of the ®Evolution to think about, to plan and to write.

But not just yet. The pendulum needs to stop swinging first.

  • I love stories.
    My new novel, Sacred, is all about them. Publication info will be posted as soon as I have it.

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