Give us a little bit of background on your writing career.
I’ve written and published for years, but very little under my own name. Having read all my favourite authors’ first novels, I decided I’d rather learn my craft in private, so I wrote pseudonymously and ghostwrote fiction. Looking back, I’m glad I did! I’ve now started publishing short stories and poems under my own name and am working on two novels.
What appealed to you about the Astrologica project?|
I love writing within a rich symbolic system, so astrology felt very promising. In practice, it proved surprisingly difficult to insert my own story into that tradition: it felt as self-contained as an egg, as if the only option were to go along with it completely, rather than get in there and play around with it. I wondered if it felt so controlling because it’s been mainstream for so long that all the options are already taken. That led me in turn to think about fate being controlling and my character fighting the same constraints that I was.
Why did you choose Sagittarius for your story?
I’m a Sagittarius myself and the sign’s full of contradictions, which fascinates me. It’s described as happy-go-lucky – but extremely ambitious: that creates an instant war within the character. The sign’s personality and time of year also conflict: 23 November to 21 December is the heart of what the pagans call “the time that is no time”, a dead time before the sun’s rebirth, leading right up to the cusp of Yule and Christmas, but not quite part of it. I wanted to work out that contradiction between this cheerful, ambitious, creative personality and this leaden, barren time of year. The symbolism of the centaur himself is also contradictory, a battle between body and mind: he’s simultaneously very intellectual and very physical and sensual, a human head and an animal body.
As I wrote, I found a fourth contradiction. The relentless ambition implies a strong internal locus of control – that is, you believe that what happens is down to you, your achievement, your responsibility, your fault. Believing in astrology, though, says you have no free will: it is fate. A Sagittarian character might reject astrology, but what about Sagittarius himself?
The challenge then was to create a character and a story that was all those things, and marry the paradoxes.
Which star sign are you and what qualities of that sign do you display?
I’m Sagittarius and although I don’t believe in astrology at all, I do tick all the boxes for my sign, except being sporty. It was striking and disconcerting to write two characters that are the same – the Sagittarian character and Sagittarius himself – and the same as me. Normally, one would go for contrast in a cast and at least not make them mini-me’s (or rather, mega-me’s). Usually, like rubs up badly against like, but Sagittarians also joke that all Saggs love each other. That cheerful sociable style multiplied can make for a gleeful ball of a time – but. But each would be able to see the thing that it’s a point of honour to hide. The cost. The ambitious self, alone.
Where do you go from here?
I’m working on two novels at the moment. One is a literary slipstream love story, The Artist and the Mathematician, which I’ve been working on for years, squeezed into the cracks between everything else. The other is a fantastical romp of love, betrayal, revenge, and a dozen looping narratives, which I started this summer, to practise writing in a completely different way. I also run writing courses and create games and activities for writers, as The Writers’ Greenhouse.