Interview: Pat Cadigan on Writing

Pat CadiganPat Cadigan is the author of fifteen books, including two non-fiction books, a young-adult novel, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award winners Synners and Fools. She lives in North London with her husband, the Original Chris Fowler. Most of her work is available electronically as part of SF Gateway, the ambitious electronic publishing program from Orion/Gollancz.

Who and what inspired you to become a writer?

I’m one of those lucky people who always knew what she wanted to do–I don’t remember not writing. It runs in the family. When my mother – known to anyone acquainted with me on Facebook as Old Unkillable – graduated from high school, her teachers tried to talk her into going to university to become a journalist. This was during the Great Depression, however, and her family had lost everything; her oldest brother offered to put her through school but she didn’t feel she could. Anyway, she started reading aloud to me before I was a year old and I learned to read by osmosis. I got my first library card before I was three.

Reading made the world – the universe – bigger for me. I read everything I could get my hands on and if I didn’t understand it, I kept reading anyway because sooner or later it would become clear to me in some way. As soon as I understood that books didn’t simply appear by magic, that they were written by human beings, I knew that I was going to be one of those human beings.

What attracted you to the genres you write in?

Once again, that was something that just happened. Every story I started to write, even as a little kid (Old Unkillable gave me her ancient Underwood typewriter), had a fantastic element. I had no interest in writing slice-of-day-to-day-life.

When I finally got my adult library card, I discovered Judith Merrill’s best SF of the year anthologies. In those days, the genre wasn’t as stratified as it is now – SF meant SF, fantasy, what we now call Magic Realism, and even horror. Good old nuts-and-bolts SF by people like Ward Moore was side-by-side with odd little pieces by Bernard Malamud and even John Cheever and Tuli Kupferberg. I thought this was wonderful. So when I started a story, I never thought, I’m going to write a science fiction story or a fantasy story–I let the story tell me what it was.

Who do you most admire in the literary world?

The thing about the literary world is, there are plenty of admirable people in it. I admire every editor I’ve ever worked with – Gardner Dozois, Ellen Datlow, Jonathan Strahan, Nick Mamatas, Ian Whates to name the ones I’ve most recently done original work for (I’d name everyone but I know I’d have a senior moment and leave someone out and the guilt would eat my liver till the day I die). I admire George RR Martin for hanging in all those years and never giving up, and I admire his wife Parris for hanging in there with him–there were a lot of lean years when she worked to keep them afloat. In fact, I admire all the spouses/partners, especially mine. Without my husband Chris, I’m not sure I’d be able to get anything done.

I admire William Gibson. Every time I read a new book by Bill, I fall in love with his work all over again. And he’s a truly lovely person.

I admire J.K. Rowling for persevering with Harry Potter. Her success blossomed directly from her readers–she wasn’t an insider, her first manuscript was rejected at least a dozen times and it was plucked out of the slush-pile. It tickles me to death that the richest woman in the UK is not just a writer, she’s a fantasy writer–a YA fantasy writer. Yeah, I know she’s just written her first book for adult readers–I have no idea whether it’s fantasy or not but I’ve pre-ordered it. I want to read it.

And finally, I admire Stephen King more than I can say. I love his work and he’s given a great deal to his community in Maine. I’ve met him several times and interviewed him twice, once just before The Stand came out and again after he’d gotten so big he could barely go anywhere without being mobbed. He’s the same guy.

What, in your opinion, is the most pertinent attribute of a good writer?

Perseverance. Over the years, when I was in school, and when I was first starting out, I met a number of people who were more talented, who wrote far better as beginners than I did. But I can’t tell you their names because I don’t remember them – they gave up or they just weren’t interested enough to continue. Talent can be developed, it can be improved, but only by hard work.

Have you any sage words of wisdom for anyone wishing to become a writer?

See above. Don’t give up, don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do, and listen to your editors.

What is the worst aspect of writing?

I don’t know…I never thought about it. Seriously.

Recommend a good example of writing.

I’m currently re-reading John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar. It’s fascinating to compare the future as seen from 1968 with the present that came to pass.

N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is wonderful – go read it!

I’m glad Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City won the Arthur C. Clarke Award – it’s great.

Tricia Sullivan’s Maul and Lightborn will bitch-smack you – I mean that in the best possible way.

Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books are a great example of how to write a series without letting any tedium creep in.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King is the definitive modern-day vampire story. With vampires that are frightening monsters, not just misunderstood and too beautiful for the common people.

If you can find any of Judith Merrill’s best of the year anthologies in used bookstores – mail order or online is probably your best source – grab them and read some of the finest short fiction ever. I mean, EVER.

And while I’m at it, short fiction readers and writers should be reading Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine taught me a lot about the structure of good short fiction.

And if that still isn’t enough, go read my stuff. It’s a thankless job, but somebody’s got to do it. *chuckle*