I’m delighted to have Jane O’Reilly on the blog today, talking about the birth of Blue Shift the first book in her Second Species series.
I can pinpoint the exact moment when the seed for Blue Shift was sown. It was in an Odeon cinema in Bradford in 1983. The seats were red velvet. I can remember that particular detail vividly, because I spent the entire film standing up and clutching the back of the seat in front. My father took me. It is, I think, the only positive memory I have of my childhood that has him in it.
The film was Return of the Jedi, and I was six years old.
The book grew, secretly, unconsciously, for the next thirty years, until I found myself at a cross roads in my writing career. I’d had 11 books published but I was off contract. I didn’t have an agent at that point but I wanted one, and to do so, I was going to need a book bigger and more complicated than anything I’d attempted before. I also wanted to switch genre, something which is notoriously difficult. What Return of the Jedi had given me – a love of space pirates and worlds beyond our own – was brought to life by a question on an A-level biology paper. It was about a funny little animal, the naked mole rat, which is both terribly odd and utterly fascinating in the way it has adapted to live in an inhospitable environment. Students were asked to consider how some of the unique physiological quirks of the mole rat could be used to benefit humans, for example in the development of prosthetics that could be grafted directly to bone without causing infection. I began to wonder if this will be the future – using DNA from other species to give us specific characteristics that will enable us to overcome some of the limits of our weak human bodies – and it was from this that my heroine, Jinnifer Blue, was born.
Once I had that, other things began to slot in to place. A space pirate was a given, as was an intergalactic conspiracy, and any future imagining of Earth has to include an acknowledgement of global warming and the damage that we’ve done. The Eden project inspired the Domes built on the remains of our capital cities, and the Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A in London gave me my protagonist, Ferona Blue, a politician with a penchant for vintage couture.
Writing a book takes a long time. It’s a slow, often painful process, writing and deleting and writing again, trying to find the right way through the maze. Life influences what goes down on the page well beyond the crystallization of the initial idea. For me, this took the form of a rapid decline in my health while I was writing Blue Shift. It took over a year for me to finally be diagnosed with endometriosis, and the feeling of being trapped in a strange, unpredictable, often frightening body influenced the shape of the book and the characters in it.
But in the end it was really about space pirates.
Thank you Jane! Blue Shift is published by Piatkus and is out now in paperback and ebook editions. Here’s the blurb:
The Earth is cold, dead and divided. The rich hide away from reality while the rest will do anything to survive. Humanity have only one hope: reaching a habitable planet. But getting there means travelling in large numbers through alien-held space, something that’s politically nearly impossible. Yet for some, fighting their way through space is just a way of life . . .
Jinnifer Blue is a rich girl on the run. An expert pilot, she apprehends criminals on behalf of the government and keeps her illegal genetic modifications a closely guarded secret. But when a particularly dangerous job goes south, leaving her stranded on a prison ship with one of the most ruthless criminals in the galaxy, Jinn realises that the rich and the powerful are hiding more than she’d ever guessed. Now she must decide if she can trust her co-prisoner – because once they discover what the prison ship is hiding, she definitely can’t trust anyone else . . .
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