Tuesday 13 October 2015

Interview - Amanda Bridgeman

Hey Everyone!

I am delighted to bring you yet another exciting interview here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to chat with Amanda Bridgeman. Amanda is one of the most exciting new talents to appear on the local speculative fiction landscape in recents years, with her Aurora series of novels delighting science fiction fans all over the world. We spoke about many things, including her favourite heroine and her ability to sing!


Amanda Bridgeman, welcome to Smash Dragons! 

Hello, thanks for having me!

First up, tell me about yourself and your Aurora series of books. 

Well, I live in Perth, Western Australia, and by day I work in administration. I studied film/TV/creative writing at university, so I’ve always been attracted to stories and storytelling. I’ve released five Aurora novels, which is a serial following two very different soldiers – Captain Saul Harris and Corporal Carrie Welles – who are thrown together on a black ops mission that evolves with each episode and turns out to be way bigger than either had bargained for!

What drove you to write this series? What is it about science fiction that you find more appealing as opposed to other genres? 

I like the escapism that sci-fi allows, but I also like the fact that it’s still hooked into the real world. It’s the escapism that stretches and fascinates the mind, and it’s the reflections of reality that make these stories thought-provoking and sometimes terrifying! I grew up with three older brothers so sci-fi and action films were always on the agenda. But I guess growing up watching all these films, I realised I wanted to see more strong heroines (particularly Aussie ones), so I think the Aurora series sparked from there.

When did you start writing? Was it something you always suspected you would do as an adult?

I wrote my first novel when I was 12, as part of an exercise in school. While some of the other kids sat there stumped as to what to write, I was furiously scribbling away on a story that was part action/thriller and part horror (it involved a killer shark!). I found I enjoyed it so much, that I continued to work on it outside of school. I continued writing novels during my teens (mainly YA drama/thrillers), but it all kind of fell away once I went to university – to study film and television. It was some years later, after living in London (England) where I was doing occasional work as a film/TV extra that I finally decided to get back into writing again. I sat down to write the screenplay of Aurora: Darwin (then titled something different), but wound up writing it as a novel instead. It was only after I’d written the first 2 or 3 novels in the Aurora series that I suddenly realised that I had come full circle, finding my way back to writing after all those years. 

What is your favourite science fiction novel? Why? 

I hate answering this question because I’m so under-read compared to most people – thanks too many years watching films and writing my own novels! LOL. Some recent examples that I’ve really enjoyed and would recommend, however, are The Martian by Andy Weir, Lexicon by Max Barry, and Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel.

Tell me a random fact about yourself. 

Ummm….. Well, on iTunes (Australia) there is a single you can buy with my lead vocals on it ☺  My brothers write and record rock/pop songs under the name Bridgemusic, using guest vocalists (and sometimes guest musicians). Look for their single ‘Made It Home’ – that’s me singing! It was recorded a few years back.

Your Aurora books are set in a future where the Moon and Mars have been colonised. I’m curious, did you do much research prior to writing these books? 

Not as much as some ‘hard sci-fi’ fans would have preferred! LOL. Personally I don’t like a novel that is too bogged down in description and process, so I purposely tried not to do that with my books. I did general research, but kept my novels on the lighter side of science/fact and more on the side of ‘fiction/fantasy’. It doesn’t seem to have hampered enjoyment (or sales) of my books though!

What was the craziest information you stumbled across in your research? 

I haven’t uncovered anything ‘crazy’, but I have found out a lot of interesting things that perhaps I probably should’ve known anyway. Over the past few years I’ve done basic research on all manner of things from guns to hereditary and communicable diseases, to the US political system, to how quickly you can die from a pierced jugular vein, to skull fractures, to how much weight the average female should be able to lift, to the ‘typical’ surnames of certain nationalities, to general information on the Moon, Mars and Earth, etc. Research can be quite time consuming but it’s really broadened my mind in a lot of ways.

One of the things I’m digging about your books is the characterisation and agency you give your characters. I’m curious, do you have a favourite character? And, in your opinion, what actually makes a good character? 

That’s like asking a mother if she has a favourite child! LOL. If I have a preference for any characters, it would probably be my main characters – obviously Carrie and Harris, but also Doc and McKinley. I like them all, though – particularly the Aurora crew. It’s fair to say they have become like family, so it’s sad when I have to see one go.

I think a good character is one that readers can identify with in some way. I mean, most readers aren’t soldiers, but they can hopefully relate to the issues the Aurora characters face in their personal lives (families/partnerships/friendships/loyalties, the constraints of work and how this can affect these relationships, etc). Characters often live very different lives to their readers, but as long as there is an aspect of their life that the reader can empathise with, the character will hopefully feel real to the reader. And if they feel real to the reader, then this increases the chances of the reader feeling excitement/anxiety/fear/sorrow/happiness, etc, when certain things happen to these characters. Which, in turn, hopefully results in them being seen as ‘good’ characters.

Tell me about the challenges and hurdles you faced in getting the first book off the ground. If your present self could speak to your past self what advice would you give? 

Self-doubt would’ve been the biggest hurdle for me. I wrote in private for quite some time before I dared finally show someone. But generally speaking I did pretty well, receiving a contract for Darwin within 7-8 months of trying. If I could go back now to my past self, I would tell her to believe in herself and to start showing her work to people earlier. Feedback and critiques only make you a better writer, so the sooner you start on that path the better!

You just mentioned feedback and critiques as an essential part of growing as a writer. I'm curious, what was the best feedback you ever got from someone? 

Hhmmm, I can’t single out one particular piece of advice, because it’s all been helpful. Aurora: Darwin was the first novel I’d ever written (as an adult), so I’m still fairly new to it all. My writing isn’t perfect, but it has improved with each book, and that is thanks to every piece of advice I’ve been given during the beta reading and formal editing processes.

If you could be a character in a past science fiction movie who would it be and why? I’ve always wanted to be Hicks from Aliens. 

Love Hicks! My favourite heroine is Ellen Ripley, but I’m not sure I would want to be her because she lives a tough life and never gets the chance to love or to enjoy life. Hicks is the closest she comes to love (aside from a roll in the hay with the doctor in Alien 3), but then the writers went and killed him! ☹ When I think about it, a lot of SF heroines often have tragic personal lives (Katniss, Starbuck, Sarah Connor, Sarah Manning – Orphan Black, etc.) So I guess I’d want to be one who has a slightly happier ending. Maybe Princess Leia?

Star Wars or Star Trek? Why? 

I was never a big Trekkie, but I was a Star Wars fan, so I’m going with that. Plus, the whole Han Solo and Princess Leia thing – how could you not like that chemistry. 

If you could spend the day with another author in order to pick their brain about the craft who would it be and why? 

Probably JK Rowling. She’s obviously been incredibly successful, but I would love to chat to her about how she found the change from writing Harry Potter to The Casual Vacancy, and then her experience using the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

What is your take on the state of science fiction here in Australia? Do you think the genre is thriving or struggling at the moment? 

I think on the whole (internationally) that sci-fi is doing great. A good gauge of that is the number of big budget sci-fi films that have been released over the past few years, and don’t look like stopping any time soon with the Star Wars franchise. It also feels as though SF has had more coverage in big papers and publications. In Australia, off the back of that, I think the scene here is doing nicely as well. All the conventions I go to seem to have heaps of fans attending, so that’s awesome to see. I obviously can’t comment on how other writers are travelling, but I’ve been really happy with how the Aurora series is doing. May it long continue!

Science fiction has often widely been viewed as a male dominated genre. Do you think this is finally changing now with writers such as yourself kicking in the door? Or is there still a long way to go to achieve equality? 

I think we’re getting there. It’s headed in the right direction… There have always been female sci-fi writers around (Mary Shelley is often touted as having written the ‘first’ science fiction novel with Frankenstein, for instance), and many others such as Ursula Le Guin, Octavia E Butler, and more recent writers such as Ann Leckie, etc, are highly regarded in the SF community by male and female alike. But, that said, I also think we have a way to go. 

You recently released Aurora: Eden to the masses. Will the stakes continue to rise with every release from now on?  

Oh yeah! The series so far has been akin to a rollercoaster. There have been highs and lows along the way for the characters, but overall it’s been taking a steady climb right up towards the big peak - which will occur in the last book.

Best advice for aspiring writers out there? 

Definitely attend conventions and writing conferences – and don’t just stick to your genre, you can learn a lot from other genres too. Networking is as valuable to your career as learning how to write is.

Will you be appearing at any events or conventions leading up the Christmas? 

I will be at GenreCon in Brisbane at the end of this month. It’s a great convention for those interested in genre and writing. I’m also planning to be at the Rockingham Book Fair in Perth (November). That will probably be it for the rest of the year.

Best convention experience? 

Well, the sheer size of LonCon last year was a sight to behold! Also, having the access to listen to such successful SFF writers like George RR Martin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Alastair Reynolds, etc., in person was awesome. But really, I have found every convention fantastic because you just meet so many like-minded people. They’re fun and sociable, but they’re also great places to learn all sorts of stuff and improve your skills, as well as providing great opportunities for business networking. And let’s face it, writing is a business after all.

And finally, what we expect from you once the Aurora series is complete? 

Well, I’m close to finishing a brand new book outside of/completely separate from the series, called ‘The Time of the Stripes’. And I have a whole stack of other books I’m very keen to get writing – I just need to find the time! Either way, readers can expect more in due course.

Amanda Bridgeman, thank you so much for chatting to Smash Dragons! Thank you for having me! I’ve really enjoyed answering these questions.

You can find all of Amanda's Aurora books online at all good retailers. We here at Smash Dragons love them, so get moving and purchase them immediately! Also, be sure to keep track of Amanda and all Aurora related news via her website

Until next time peeps, be nice to each other, and keep on reading!

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