Home

An Interview with Alexander Glass

    Alexander Glass is the pseudonym of an ex-paralegal and blues guitarist who has recently been released from imprisonment and is currently living somewhere on the outer fringes of London. He is not a brain in a jar, yet, but there’s still time. His stories have been published in INTERZONE, THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE, and SCHEHERAZADE. Alexander’s most recent story is ‘A Hollow in the Sky’ and it can be read in the latest INTERZONE double issue.

    I spoke to Alexander online on 8 May 2021.


    INTERVIEWER

    Your early stories were first published in Interzone when the editor was David Pringle. And he wrote that at the time you were bombarding them with manuscripts. And you had three stories in a row, and you nearly made it five, but there was a gap. How long had you been writing before that? And when did you first decide that you were going to start sending stories to Interzone?


    GLASS

    I hadn’t been writing very long before that. It must have been a few months. I’d done some stuff in a few small press publications, but none of them had come up by the time I sold ‘Carla’s Eye’ to Interzone. I don’t remember the decision to start. I think did enjoy creative stuff when I’d been younger and I had a vague idea about writing. And then I guess I’d always read genre stuff, but I hadn’t really picked up magazines until maybe my late teens, early twenties. And once I’d seen what was possible now, as opposed to the oldest stuff I’d been reading, I just thought, —I can do this. And I was writing a lot and just sending it out. And yes, it seemed to go well.


    INTERVIEWER

    It did. And it’s funny that it was a few months between starting to write and getting published, because I’ve been looking back at some old interviews with Roger Zelazny, as when I spoke to Gary Gibson a little while back he mentioned how Damnation Alley started as a novella before Zelazny turned it into a novel, and I saw that Zelazny also got published just a few months after he started writing. So a nice echo there.


    GLASS

    That’s great, I’m a huge fan of Zelazny. I don’t think I’ve read the novella of Damnation Alley. I’ve read the novel. And yes, the novella might be interesting because he developed other novellas into novels, like …And Call Me Conrad, and The Dream Master. And Damnation Alley is a really interesting novel but I do wonder how well it would have worked as a novella. I think it would have worked really well, because it is basically just a road story, which is why it was picked up and made into what seems to have been a terrible movie, which I’ve never seen, with George Peppard and John Michael Vincent.


    INTERVIEWER

    It is. It looks so bad that it might be good, at the right time of day, maybe with with the right people.


    GLASS

    Yes, a guilty pleasure.


    INTERVIEWER

    And could you talk a little about your interest in Zelazny and his method?


    GLASS

    Oh, sure. I didn’t realize this for a long time but coincidentally, I discovered that a lot of the writers I like are improvisational writers. They just start writing and they don’t really know necessarily where they’re going or maybe sometimes they have an idea, but many times they don’t. And so Zelazny falls into that category and Ray Bradbury used to do that kind of thing. I think Neil Gaiman does it quite a lot. And I think Moorcock did it in some of the more more pulpy, fantasy stuff. And I like doing that, but it can be a nerve-wracking process because you don’t know if it’s going to work. You have no idea if it works. And that’s great. It’s wonderful. It’s trusting to your instinct and experience. And if it doesn’t work, you think, —Why did I bother spending time doing that? And the story I heard about, and I can’t remember where I heard this, and I think Zelazny self-mythologized to a certain extent—nothing wrong with that—and I think what he said was, he sat down three times a day at his typewriter and wrote three lines of whatever came into his head. And and if it worked, he’d continue. And if it didn’t, he’d stop there and come back later. And he didn’t have a plan for whether it was a poem—beause he started as a poet and he published a couple of volumes of poetry—whether it was a poem or whether it was a short story or whether it was a novella or whether it was a novel. Which is just an amazing way to write.


    INTERVIEWER

    There was there was a documentary I saw about N. Scott Momaday where he was saying that he’ll wake up in the morning and ask himself early on, —Is this a painting day or a writing day? And then, once that’s decided it’s locked in for the rest of the day.


    GLASS

    Yes, that’s amazing. I suppose if you’re working in an improvisational way, I feel like it makes it more difficult to write a novel than a short story, because I do feel like a novel would benefit maybe from a bit of planning. Maybe depending on what it is.

    I read something by Robert Holdstock where he was talking about writing Mythago Wood and said he was two thirds through it or three quarters of the way through it before he realized what he was actually writing about. Which is just really interesting.


    INTERVIEWER

    That’s amazing.


    GLASS

    I think that the subsequent novels were written in the same way. And I want to add that not all the people I admire are improvisational. I suppose I picked up Tolkien when I was seven or eight and got to The Lord of the Rings when I was 10. And then Asimov and Clarke and Le Guin and various people. But there does seem to be a whole set of people that I love who are just improvisational writers.


    INTERVIEWER

    And when you’re writing, are you writing a draft that you then return to, which is rough, or are you writing and editing as you go?


    GLASS

    Mostly that’s my process. And it’s very much a word processor friendly process. Isn’t it? In previous times, if you were writing longhand or on a typewriter, you’d probably lean more towards a formal editing process. But I love being able to edit as I go.

    I suppose the risk of it—and I have noticed this and I’ve tried to ameliorate it somehow—is that you maybe edit and amend as you go, but that means that the early parts are more edited as you go along than the end. So one of my worries is that I’ll then end up with an end of a story which is either more rushed or just less polished than the rest of it. And I think it’s okay, as long as you’re aware that’s a risk. But I think it is a risk.


    INTERVIEWER

    And because you are more into the flow of the story, you’re stopping less.


    GLASS

    Yes, I think so. Although many times I know roughly where it’s going to end up. I can’t remember who said it, but it was one of these questions that people put out there which was, —Why’d you write? And for me it basically because I want to know what happens next. And that’s also where the writing process and the reading process overlap.


    INTERVIEWER

    Usman Malik shared something Samuel Delany wrote on Twitter recently, and it was, —In a very real way, one writes a story to find out what happens in it. And going back to those early Interzone stories, you’re clearly playing around with a lot of conceptual stuff, you're trying looking at what happens next. And in ‘Upgrade’, the second story Pringle published, there’s this idea of how the human mind might get transferred or backed up in a posthuman world. And how as that happens, as you have this change of medium from the organic brain to some other medium—I think you actually have a brain in a jar at one point—there is this fundamental change to our sense of consciousness. And in ‘A Hollow in the Sky’, which is coming to Interzone soon, there’s also this intense scrutiny of minds and consciousness. Where would you say that particular fascination comes from?


    GLASS

    Yes, that’s a good question. But I wonder if the brain in a jar is from Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. And yes, consciousness keeps coming up and I didn’t realize that until I looked back at what I’d written and noticed how much it came up. So, there is a subconscious interest in consciousness. So, I did a first degree in psychology, formally speaking, psychology with computer science. So there was a kind of minor element of computer science and a bit of thinking about artificial intelligence. And I did a particular module on consciousness because it is fascinating. And it’s one of those fields where as a science, as a scientific study, it is really young. And so in a degree course, you can get to the frontier of what people actually know. And once you’re post-graduate, you are really on the bleeding edge. And I’m not really completely closely in touch with developments—I read things now and again—but as far as I can tell, we don’t know that much more about consciousness now than we did 20 years ago. And the formal study of consciousness includes a sort of philosophical perspective. So, —What are our conscious experiences? And then a very practical perspective of things, like, —How does perception work? And, —How does memory work? And also, how do these things combine to create consciousness. And more broadly, I’d been reading stuff on that end of the genre, people like Le Guin and even Zelazny to an extent. I’m quite interested in sort of conscious experience. And I re-read 2001: A Space Odyssey last year and the whole business a sort of algorithmic consciousness device, if you like, overlaps with that as well. So, yes, I guess it keeps coming up in stuff I’ve written since: a couple of things that are waiting to be published, and a couple of things out there in submission stage. But having realised that consciousness is a thing, it does clearly keep coming up. But there’s a lot to say about it, so it’s fine.


    INTERVIEWER

    In ‘Upgrade’ you get all the way to the idea of minds traversing time and space, and it’s great. And I definitely saw that idea come back in ‘A Hollow in the Sky’. Is there more you want to say about interstellar consciousnesses in either novellas or novels, or is it something which you think is a better suited to shorter works?


    GLASS

    Oh, I’ve got a novel in mind, yes. And there are very few words of it in existence, but there are some good ideas I think, in existence. And in ‘Time’s Own Gravity’, the first story I had in Interzone when I started writing again,, was intended to be a kind of pendant to this novel, which hasn’t happened yet. But there is a lot to explore and I think short stories are great for looking at aspects of it. And I think a novel would be a good place to dig into it more deeply. My imagination of it is that it’s quite a fat novel, which is a kind of daunting thing to start.


    INTERVIEWER

    Agatha Christie would write the last chapter first, as the story goes, so she knew what she was writing towards. And I suppose if your style is more improvisational, and you have this very big work in mind, you need some strategies for approaching it.


    GLASS

    I think I’ve got an ending in mind for it, so I know what I am writing towards. I think that’s okay. I think I’d be happy with taking the writing risk as long as I more or less knew where I was going. I didn’t know that Agatha Christie wrote the last chapter first and that really interesting because the improvisational method is going to be something that’s really difficult for crime fiction. Not that I was planning to do straight crime fiction, but if you wanted to do a carefully constructed mystery, that would be the worst way of doing it. Having said Ruth Rendell said she wrote a whole novel with a solution to the mystery and then went back and changed who she decided the culprit would be. And then made amendments through the text. It seems really laborious, but it’s really clever.


    INTERVIEWER

    In one of the Zelazny interviews I read, he talks about playing around with very short chapters, and jumping around in terms of perspectives, and that is one way of creating a novel in a very fragmented style, if that’s how you write.


    GLASS

    He might have been talking about Roadmarks because in that you have alternating chapters between a main character and various other viewpoints and maybe also some jumping around in time. I think that’s one of the things that George R. R. Martin is developing now for a streaming service. And that’s one way of doing it. But to be honest, I had in mind just sticking with a character and working through the story until I got somewhere.


    INTERVIEWER

    Talking about and jumping around in time, another of your stories is ‘Loop’, a story about a space probe that seems to be looping about in more ways than one. And it’s like a character sketch, but the character is a probe with an organic memory system, which is a great way of solving a particular problem with space probes. And so there is the technological side, and also the theme of memory and self-awareness. How much of that story do you recall, and what research did you do for it?


    GLASS

    Well, my science is relatively poor. My physics is terrible and I did a physics A-level very badly. I’d like the science in my stories to be right as far as possible, and I’d like it to be convincing as far as possible. But I don’t think there’s any problem with departing from what we know to be possible. And indeed, science fiction does that all the time. Starting with faster-than-light travel, or time travel, or whatever it might be. So it doesn’t really bother me. I don’t think I did all that much specific research in the early stories. I just put in stuff that was in my mind and I tried to lean on stuff I knew was correct, and if I was departing from what I knew was factually correct, at least I knew I was doing it. I think the research I do now is different. Actually, I hadn’t realized that until you asked about it. The process now seems to be different. I do still just sit down and write something, but I’m much more likely to pause when I come across something interesting—a thought, or even a phrase, or something that’s come up in the process—and just go and look it up. And and I suppose it’s the internet age, isn’t it. When I started writing the internet existed, but I guess at the time it wasn’t this sort of day-to-day, minute-to-minute tool that it is now.


    INTERVIEWER

    It has changed a lot. And at some point I realised just how much time I was spending reading online and getting sucked into black holes of online text. But also, when I was in physical libraries, I was always being distracted by something.


    GLASS

    Yes, absolutely. But like you say, I think something like that would have happened to me in in physical libraries. But I haven’t been able to go to a physical library for the last year. And I love them. I love the slight randomness of what you can find which is in a way it’s even more random than what you can find on the internet because the algorithms directing things to you that aren’t really there. So there’s just, you could see something on a shelf and be distracted by it. Which is a real, but it’s a real double-edged sword, isn’t it? Because there might be something you need to be doing. I’m terrible for doing interesting things rather than the things I need to be doing. Although many times, those things just end up being useful later, which is fine.


    INTERVIEWER

    Because you circle back later. And that’s memory again.


    GLASS

    I think it’s true. And another thing for writing is that I sometimes feel there are novels where someone’s done research and kind of digested the research and then that’s informed what they’ve written. And I think Tim Powers does that really well. And again, George R. R. Martin says, that’s his approach. He tries to digest everything he wants to bring in and then he goes and writes, but he’s not specifically introducing elements of the research consciously into the writing. But I’ve definitely read books where—and to be honest, maybe more in literary fiction genre—where it does look very much like someone’s gone and done a bit of research and they don’t want to leave it out. They don’t want to waste it now that they’ve done the research and so they just dump it on the page and it might be interesting stuff, but it changes the shape of what they’re writing, it can be problematic rhythmically and so on. But then some people can do it really well. I really like how Umberto Eco had no shame about talking something that interested him from his academic life and dramatising it and slamming it on the page. In The Name of the Rose, you get the main criminal investigation, but in the background, there’s all this investigation into truth by religious means and the religious debates. And they’re quite long, and they’re all understandably truncated for the movie, but I liked them. I thought they were really interesting, even though they don’t really particularly move the book along. Good writers can get away with all sorts. Good writing just makes up for a multitude of sins.


    INTERVIEWER

    Completely. Seanan McGuire is very good at this, at just starting a paragraph and telling you something really interesting, but tangential to the plot. And there are also certain biographers who do that really well. In The Path to Power, the first volume of a biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert Caro is constantly going sideways into all sorts of things. And he could be telling you about the price of milk in Texas, but he’s writing about it well. The writing hopefully saves you.


    GLASS

    I haven’t read that a friend of mine recommended it to me very strongly. The reading pile is massive, but it’s in there somewhere.


    INTERVIEWER

    Robert Caro is a really interesting writer. Another writer that I really liked reading was Richard Rhodes, who wrote The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and it’s such an amazing story and full of digressions. And at the very beginning of that, Rhodes is describing Leo Szilard crossing the road in the middle of London and it’s very novelistic and also a wonderfully cinematic recreation, or reconstruction of a moment in time. But going back to your early run on Interzone, were you getting a lot of feedback from David Pringle or were you heading out across the universe, so to speak, on your own.


    GLASS

    There was feedback for the rejections. And it’s not that commo to get specific feedback, but he used to do it. I used to get these rejection slips with his handwritten notes on, although there was not that much feedback because there weren’t actually that many rejections. I never calculated what the proportion was but most of what I sent him ended up in the magazine. But yes, there was some. I’m trying to think of an example. There was one historical story that was riffing off the Antikythera mechanism, the sort of ancient Greek clockwork orrery device. And now that I’ve thought about it, maybe it’s time to revisit and write something else about it because I think the core idea was fine. I think he thought the development of it didn’t quite go anywhere, or it didn’t go far enough. In fact, I was thinking the other day that there are a couple of things from the small press which I don’t have the files for anymore. I think I’ve got hard copies of everything that was published. But I don’t have the text files of everything. But there might be things that it’s worth revisiting reworking, rewriting. I don’t know. I’m busy doing new stuff, so I don’t know if that will come to anything.


    INTERVIEWER

    While we were talking before this interview, you mentioned Powers of Darkness, and I’m really pleased you did because I’d heard something about this Dracula translation which had been translated again, but I hadn’t heard about it being Icelandic, and when I heard that, I immediately got hold of a copy. So, to give people some context, Powers of Darkness is a version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula written by Valdimar Ásmundsson, which has been re-translated into English by Hans Corneel De Roos. And this appeals to me on so many levels. First, it’s Dracula, which is really cool. Second, I’m really interested in Icelandic saga narratives, and Icelandic literature in general. And there’s also the whole question of translations and the way stories change over time, and the way we receive a text and then retransmit it. And in the documentary I watched about N. Scott Momaday, he talks about how being a good listener or a good reader is fundamental to storytelling. So, connecting it together, what drew you to Powers of Darkness, and also, do you see yourself more as a storyteller, or as a writer who is putting words on the page? Or are they inseparable?


    GLASS

    Okay, that’s a really good question. I actually haven’t read it yet. It’s at the top of my pile after the book I’m reading at the moment. I’ve read the introductory stuff. There’s quite a lot. You’ve probably seen that there is a lot of context provided in the book.


    INTERVIEWER

    Yes, it’s presented with annotations, with marginal notes. It looks great.


    GLASS

    I love an annotated text, so this is great. Martin Gardener’s Annotated Alice is wonderful. And this one looks great. And yes, the translation issue is really interesting, isn’t it? It’s not a faithful translation in any way, and it’s consciously not a faithful translation. I was going to say translator, but is that the right word even anymore? The writer made a decision to depart from the original text and cut some stuff out and put more stuff in. And from what I can tell, it’s streamlined, but it’s also that there are some added elements and are maybe a bit more of a sort of political view which isn’t isn’t as overt in the original. And I re-read Dracula last year, which I hadn’t read for years and years, just out of interest. And the published text, the original published text, is really interesting. And there’s stuff I hadn’t remembered from it. So there’s the whole business of him not having a reflection and so on. But there’s a reference, which I had not noticed at all before, to it being impossible to paint him. So there is some description of artists trying to get his likeness and just ending up with something looking like somebody else. And it’s not just a physical phenomenon, there’s some kind of psychological spell, a glamour of some kind, but an involuntary one—he can’t help it. There’s nothing you can do about it.

    And Dracula is a really interesting kind of potboiler. It really doen’t fit any sort of theory of how a story should be constructed, but then that is true for a lot of really great stories. I think the whole idea of story templates is something we shouldn’t be absolutely reliant on anyway.


    INTERVIEWER

    I remember struggling with Dracula when I first read it, and now I realise that part of what I was struggling with was the space between the cultural understanding of Dracula and the actual book itself. So I need to go back to it with fresh eyes. And with Powers of Darkness there is this whole idea that the story travelled halfway across the Atlantic, just as Dracula did in a way, or at least across a sea, buried in soil. And now he’s transmuted and back with us. I think this is a great idea.


    GLASS

    Absolutely. And I guess that effect must be even greater if someone is coming to the story now, because between that time and now there’s been even more vampire stuff. I don’t know, are we vampired out? I don’t know if there are many books or adaptations or whatever being done at the moment. But I probably read Anne Rice before I read the original Dracula,


    INTERVIEWER

    I don’t know Rice well, and my first exposures to horror were partly fiction, but partly video games. I don’t know if you know Gabriel Knight, this really great video game, but that has echoes with lots of things that were coming out in the eighties and nineties, and then that gets filtered through your own cultural influences. But Dracula now, and vampires. I suppose it’s a really rich vein— Sorry! No pun intended. But I’m sure people can always look for other creatures to write about.


    GLASS

    [laughs]. I don’t know Gabriel Knight. I was so bad at games that I really wanted to be more into them than I was, but I would start playing them and then realize, there’s a limit to how far I’m going to get it in this and then lose interest. And my kids I guess are gamers to some extent. And so they introduced me to things which look amazing. And I have a go at them and then realize I’m still as rubbish at them as it was years ago. And I was thinking about something Dara Ó Briain said: there’s no other art form where you get tested at various levels and that you won’t be allowed to continue. You don’t get to a point of a novel and you’re not allowed to read on, unless you answer an essay question about what’s happened so far. My kids introduced me to a game called The First Tree in which you play a fox in this landscape and you’re looking for your Cubs and they’re the sort of things to find. But there’s also a voiceover, so there’s a sort of multilevel narratives and there’s the narrative of your viewpoint character. But it appears that the whole thing is in someone’s subconscious, and you can hear them talking about it. They’re describing their dream to somebody and everything that’s in the dream is what you’re doing. And the stuff you on earth is stuff from their childhood and you dig stuff up and it turns out to be a toy they had or something like that. I don’t know how quickly that would get dull. I don’t know. But it’s a really interesting idea, and it’s a much more subtle and complex idea than the narrative ideas from the games I used to be aware of when I was younger. So the development is fascinating.


    INTERVIEWER

    The first games I remember playing were space exploration games like Elite and they were so early that you would have a wire frame space station, and you could see the stars behind the space station, but I didn’t care because there was still a sense of wonder. And so I would go from reading an Arthur C. Clarke novel to playing Elite, because I wanted to live that narrative. And I liked what you said about being tested as you play, like reading something like T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland in hard mode, or you can have highlights pop up for you, annotations like on Genius, the song lyrics website.


    GLASS

    I didn’t know about that. I’m going to be on there looking stuff up very quickly.


    INTERVIEWER

    It’s another one of those black holes, that’s the problem.


    GLASS

    Yes, but that’s the good side of the internet, even though it’s a black hole, isn’t it? It’s like the distinction between the wider Twitter and what I think of as sort of book Twitter. And the wider Twitter is like the wide ocean full of predators, and book Twitter is much more like a kind of coral reef where you’re largely safe, most of the time.


    INTERVIEWER

    And occasionally you’re going to stray into sort of philosophy Twitter or or some other Twitter, and then that’s when you suddenly realize your feet don’t touch the bottom anymore. Twitter is tough. And I think we lost our thread, as well.


    GLASS

    I think I missed something that you mentioned when we were talking about Powers of Darkness. I think you also mentioned the distinction, or overlap, or writer and reader, the business about writers and readers. And I think that is really interesting. And I do think that they’re difficult to separate. And I suppose that goes back to the business about improvisational writing and being a reader while you’re writing. But even more broadly than that, I like both processes. And there was a point when I was struggling to read, and I was struggling with anxiety for various reasons. And one of the effects of that anxiety was that decision-making became very difficult. So, I couldn’t take good decisions, which at some point is disastrous for sort of all sorts of aspects of life. But you can quite readily see why that’s a problem for writing because you need to make decisions as you go along. And it’s maybe less obvious why it’s a problem for reading, but I think it is. I only really realized this thinking about it recently, but the process of reading is such an interactive process. And to some extent, it’s a greater process because you’ve got the framework, but maybe it’s more than a framework. But you’ve got the structure and the content of what it is you’re reading, but you are also contributing to it. You are adding to it. And you’re to some extent, making assumptions and filling in gaps and so on. And to some extent that must be a decision making process. And I think that underlies the difficulty I had with reading for a long time. Which incidentally puts me in the situation now where I’m trying to catch up and there are all sorts of writers that I wasn’t really aware of. And I gave away a lot of books because at some point I thought, I’m not going to be able to read. What am I going to do? And I slightly regret some of those, not necessarily all of them. And recently my sister bought me a replacement for one, which Declare by Tim Powers.


    INTERVIEWER

    Oh, I’m glad you mentioned Declare, I think that’s a great novel. We were talking about non-fiction a little bit, or I was talking about nonfiction, and I think Declare really tapped into something I found interesting about non-fiction and fiction and the way I thought about stories, and the way you can blur the lines as well. Which funnily enough—and I just thought about, because I hadn’t ever linked Tim Powers with Icelandic saga—but one thing I find really interesting in the sagas is how you can have such clearly fictional elements, like witches or strange visions, and then you have very detailed geographies, and not just as backdrop, but in entwined with the supernatural. And all of it told almost like a chronicle. And that happens in all sorts of novels today, but I think there is something really interesting in the way we think of these boundaries.


    GLASS

    Yes. And I think Tim Powers does that really well. And he does that repeatedly. I don’t want to say it’s his thing, but very often he’s going to actual historical events and the fiction sort of fits in the gaps. All the stuff we don’t know about these events he fills in and fills it in with fantasy very often. But he’s good at, and it works really well. It works really well in Declare. And so, I was glancing at Declare and there’s a really odd detail, which I think he’s incorporated somewhere about T. E. Lawrence, and he mentioned that there’s a kind of afterward that he’s put in about the factual background, and about T. E. Lawrence's account of being raped by some Turkish soldiers, and about how the consensus subsequently seems to be that it can’t have happened—he wasn’t in the place where he said it happened at the time it happened. And he is also said to have said to somebody, I think George Bernard Shaw, that it wasn’t true. I made it up. And Tim Power points out that this is a really odd thing to make up. And so he’s now got this gap. What could be so strange or disturbing to T. E. Lawrence that an account of a rape was the cover story.


    INTERVIEWER

    That's interesting. I definitely need to go back to that.


    GLASS

    And I really like On Stranger Tides, which ended up as Pirates of the Caribbean, the movie, which is good for him, obviously. But it rendered the novel into something pretty much unrecognizable, and as far as I was concerned, all the interesting stuff from the book got lost. And it really dials down the voodoo and the voodoo is fascinating. The idea of the pirates in the Caribbean picking up on this religion and to some extent including it in their own mythologizing and Blackbeard being a self-mythologiser, which is really interesting. And The Drawing of the Dark is really early, it’s earlier than most of his well-known books. And it’s the Siege of Vienna, so it’s set in the 15th or 16th century, I can’t remember, and it’s about a brewery and it’s like the core idea—not to spoil it—but the core idea is that Western civilization depends on bear, which is pretty audacious, but not absolutely crazy. And you mentioned the the sagas and I don’t know the sagas very well. I have to admit so I thought that was really interesting that the contrast between the clearly real aspects and the clearly purely fictional aspects. But what I was wondering is, I don’t really know where in that, on that spectrum—if it is a spectrum—the elements of heroism fall, because I remember reading as a slightly related thing Magnus Magnuson’s book on the Vikings which is quite interesting. And he presents accounts of things people have done as absolutely factual, but some of them are just pretty crazy in the accounts, but basically the accounts of extremely foolhardy acts of courage, right? Putting oneself in danger, maybe unnecessarily, maybe beyond, far beyond, what is sensible or needed. And I don’t know how much of that is his story and how much is exaggeration and again, self-mythologizing, and how much is just genuinely true because people do crazy things.


    INTERVIEWER

    I haven’t studied the sagas in so long, but in terms of I would say it’s almost like someone telling someone about some crazy thing that happened. And they say, —I’m going to tell you about that crazy thing that happened, but I’m not going to mythologize it any more than when you tell a story over a beer. And so in that sense it seems like a chronicle, a conversation about something that happened, and it is linear, unfolding in real time. And I remember thinking about how there aren’t flashbacks and prologues, and the time won’t jump around. They tend to be very linear, almost like historical records, but with those strange, over-the-top acts that you mention. And the question is, —How deliberate is that as a literary effect. But it is like watching a news report, or a documentary, and then all of a sudden, there’s a witch or a vision. And then with heroism, if you have a very pragmatic view of the world, a hero is just someone who happens to do something crazy at the right time and not die. And so I feel like there’s a bit of this in Beowulf as well. Maybe it’s a little subversive, intentionally or otherwise, because he just happens to be drinking beer in the right place at the right time and gets lucky and becomes a King.


    GLASS

    Of all the halls in all the worlds—


    INTERVIEWER

    —you had to walk into mine. Yes, it’s an interesting question with those stories, but, and so I, and so with this Dracula story and with this, with the fact that Dracula is, diaries and it’s non standard in so many ways, but it’s also, trying to be appear as a written record.


    GLASS

    I suppose part of our relationship with Dracula is as a historical document. So there’s quite interesting details which are nothing to do with the narrative. And then thinking about the sagas, the linearity thing is really interesting. I hadn’t really thought about that. Especially given that, I suppose our relationship with the sagas is informed by the fact that there is this abyss of time between their creation and our experience of them. And that, that distance in itself, I think is maybe part of the reason that they’re interesting. And I guess that’s true with stuff like Homer as well. And indeed is even true with Sorry indeed is even true with things like I went to a stone circle right in in the Peak District, and my partner at the time I don’t really understand what they did. But I understand that they did something and I understand the feeling of having to do something and having to construct something and maybe, creating a space and creating a space for a purpose and maybe a particular purpose, maybe a special purpose may be a sacred purpose. The underlying drives w we haven’t changed that much, but that the detail is so strange and different.


    INTERVIEWER

    That’s a really good point. And a stone circle is interesting because, we look at some that we look at a stone cycle and it’s already a circle, the stones are standing and maybe they fall in, but it’s locked in time. There’s that compression. But there was a point where there were no stones, and there was a point where one stone was up, and then two, and then this circle ermerges, and that process, a process which took so much time and human effort, becomes invisible in a way. And with the saga narratives, I feel that sometimes, because as you mentioned we have that gulf of time, you see everything as static and in place, but these events feel, as you go through them like they’re unfolding in real time. And if we look back at these narratives and see them as things that were unfurling in real time, how does that change the way we see them?


    GLASS

    Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve largely avoided the news for a year.


    INTERVIEWER

    How did you do it?


    GLASS

    It wasn’t as difficult. And I saw early on that it was repetitive and it was pretty depressing. And not following it as I did before, it’s freed up quite a lot of my time, which is quite good.


    INTERVIEWER

    I think that’s impressive, and you have more time.

    Going back to writing, you took a gap, and now you’re writing a lot. Is writing all or nothing for you?


    GLASS

    I didn’t write for a long time. So I guess there’s a part of my brain that thinks I am catching up. It’s obviously illusory, isn’t it? You just write as much as you write. But I think in real terms, I just do write a lot when I’m writing. And that’s not deliberate. I might feel like I should have been writing for a time when I wasn’t writing. But I’m not trying to write faster as a result. I’m just writing as fast as I write. But yes, I think in general, when I’m writing, I am writing as much as I can do. Obviously, it’s in tandem with a day job, and it’s in tandem with personal and family commitments. And you do what you can. But my brain is always working. That there’s always something to get down on paper or on the screen.


    INTERVIEWER

    Talking about brains working, there was something you started talking about how you felt there was a gap in your reading, and that’s intriguing because there are always gaps in our reading, if we’re being really pragmatic. And I think Umberto Eco maybe helps you here. Have you heard the story about someone who visited his house, and his library? And this person asked Eco something like, —How many of these books have you read? And Eco replied with something along the lines of, —It’s not important how many of these books I’ve read, it’s important how many of the books I want to read. Something like this. So the unread books are a representation of the things you want to think, or understand. And as someone who buys too many books, that’s the ultimate justification. It’s the vindication of everything that makes me who I am.


    GLASS

    Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. It is illusory. There’s no doubt about it. And there are more books than anyone can read in a lifetime in existence. You just have to follow what you think is worth following. And I think I’ve heard that Eco story before, it’s great. He’s great for stories. Wasn’t he asked about Dan Brown at some point? And The Da Vinci Code. And he said something like, —Dan Brown is one of my characters.


    INTERVIEWER

    That’s wonderful.


    GLASS

    It’s true. It’s almost true. You can imagine Dan Brown being in Foucault’s Pendulum. And I started reading The Da Vinci Code and it just wasn’t quite for me. But also I felt this whole thing could fold into a part of Foucalt’s Pendulum, as it pretty much dealt with conspiracy theories and crazy ideas from the past. So, yes, I think the business of catching up with reading it’s absolutely an illusion. But there’s maybe a little bit more to it in in science fiction than there would be otherwise. Because I feel like I’ve had a sort of gap like Edmond Dantès coming out of the Château d’If or something like that. And the world doesn’t change, but genre fiction does, and science fiction does in particular. And I want to know what is happening and having started reacquainting myself with it, it does feel a bit different to how it was previously. Just the environment seems different. There are really interesting new writers, and not necessarily new, but just people I didn’t know because I was away for a while. There’s Seanan McGuire who you mentioned who I didn’t really know who I came across via your interview with her. And also Wayne Santos sounds really interesting.


    INTERVIEWER

    Wayne Santos is so much fun. I think I think The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling is wonderful. It brings together so many different things: video games, and film references, and Margaret Atwood, who becomes almost a love interest at one point. But generally, yes, it’s hard sometimes to find what is out there, and book Twitter is great, but book Twitter is also really noisy.


    GLASS

    Twitter sometimes feels like a huge room with a lot of people shouting in and not many people listening.


    INTERVIEWER

    I think I derailed you again. You were talking about getting back into reading.


    GLASS

    So there are writers who seem really interesting like Aliette de Bodard, for example, and Tade Thompson seems really interesting. And Adrian Tchaikovsky I hadn’t really known previously and someone’s recommended to me. So there are people I really wasn’t aware of previously and a bunch of others. So it’s, it’s this amazing combination of being quite daunting in that, if I’d been reading all this time, I would already know this stuff, but at the same time, it’s it’s being in the magic toy shop, right? There’s all this wonderful stuff to be discovered which I haven’t discovered yet. So that’s fine. That’s the positive side of it.


    INTERVIEWER

    How do you feel the topology of the publishing landscape has changed from when you were first published in the late nineties?


    GLASS

    It’s interesting. So, a lot of the big magazines are still there, but with quite often an additional online presence. And a lot of the kind of tiny small press magazines have gone. But then there are a lot more purely online venues. And I was thinking about this because I was looking at sort of places to send stories to, and I guess some of those are just really small concerns. But when they’re online, it’s not obvious you don’t have that sort of difference in physical printing quality or anything like that. You can have a really small magazine or whatever it might be. And it looks great. And from the reader’s point of view, there’s not necessarily much of a a difference, certainly in the sort of experience of coming to the site and reading stuff. So that was really interesting. Also the scene seems pretty healthy and I had no idea what it was like until I came back to it. And it’s certainly interesting in how much more diversity there is. And I guess that’s a pretty trivial observation, but it genuinely is true. And I remember going to con. And Graham Joyce was there talking about The Tooth Fairy, so that would have been mid to late nineties and it was fine, but it was very white, which is also fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s certainly the case that the writers are a lot more diverse now. I think also the readership. I think the readership has expanded and that’s brilliant.


    INTERVIEWER

    Which stories have left a mark in your imagination recently?


    GLASS

    A couple of short stories have really stood out. There was one by Ray Naylor called ‘Father’ which is a really interesting story. And ‘How the Trick is Done’ by A. C. Wise. Which is contemporary fantasy stroke ghost story, but really well done. And then I mentioned a few people earlier and came across some short stuff by Sheree Renée Thomas who has recently taken over the editorship of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. So there’s loads of stuff. And then there’s stuff on my reading list apart from Powers of Darkness like Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, the sort of follow up to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, that looks really interesting. And I was going to say weird, but in a good way, I don’t mean weird in any kind of disparaging ways. And it’s interesting in the sense of, I suppose this goes back to the business of how the scene is now, and that there does seem to be a bit more sort of traffic between what I guess is still called literary fiction and what is still called genre fiction, and with, quote, literary authors doing genre work. And maybe to some extent it is just the willingness of a general audience to pick up something that is imaginative fiction, as Le Guin called it in a slightly barbed way.


    INTERVIEWER

    Traffic between the two areas is a nice way of thinking about it.


    GLASS

    Yes, and I think the border was always a bit artificial. And slightly informed by snobbery, but also slightly informed by the sort of limitations of marketing. And you can’t blame marketing people for trying to find ways of maximizing sales. But it does seem to be clear that there’s no absolute necessity of maintaining that division.


    INTERVIEWER

    Yes. And it’s definitely artificial.


    GLASS

    I’m trying to remember the name of the novel, is it Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I think was the first one of his, which was in a genre mode. And he’s done a couple more sense, hasn’t he? I haven’t read it, but I remember it came out and seeing the descriptions of it. And it had something in common with Spares, the Michael Marshall Smith novel, this business of people being cloned for body parts. And the approach has completely different. Two different ways of writing and different stories and so on. But I guess that kind of informs the way I want to try and re-immerse myself in the genre because there’s a real possibility that if I don’t do that, then I write something and someone’s already done it, or someone’s addressed the point. And again, it’s a slightly illusory fear, because whatever I do will be what I do. And it’s not going to be a situation where. I’m writing exactly the same thing that someone else is writing. But nevertheless, it’s probably useful too, to be aware of it.


    INTERVIEWER

    Ishiguro is interesting because there are definitely gray areas, particularly in something like The Unconsoled. And one of my favourite scenes in that novel is when the narrator, a pianist, gets into an elevator in an old hotel somewhere in Europe, probably in the east, and he gets into an elevator and he starts having a conversation with the elevator attendent, and the conversation goes on, and it must be seven, eight, nine pages of the book, all of it dialogue, just blocks of dialogue between these guys. And as you read it, the whole time the elevator is presumably ascending up the building, but how tall can it possibly be. And there’s all sorts of stuff in the book like that, where time and space are being stretched along with the expectations of the readers. in a way that I think is more yes. Is definitely. Has always been done but yes. And I like these stories which seem only barely to be fantastical, like ‘The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse’ by Ray Bradbury, a really weird tale, but also just a portrait, or snapshot, of society at a certain time.


    GLASS

    I remember a story by Bradbury called something like ‘That Old Dog Lying in the Dust’ and there’s no speculative element at all, and it’s just somebody remembering a trip he took to to a kind of tiny circus in Mexico, maybe. And that’s it’s just a description. And then at the end, there’s this sort of little description of just how affected he is by the memory and by the idea that things are lost and in the past and irretrievable. And it is a really well done story and it’s included in one of the collections with a load of genre stories and it doesn’t matter. Bradbury he doesn’t care, the readership doesn’t care either. And but also it’s not that different in terms of his concerns from something like The Martian Chronicles stories where, you know, that there’s a science fiction shell, but the core of it is the people’s memories of their childhood or whatever. So, yes, Bradbury is really interesting. I love his stories.


    INTERVIEWER

    And we come back to consciousness.


    GLASS

    Yes, absolutely. And I think a lot of his stuff deals with that at some level. And he I really enjoy reading what he wrote about the process, which I haven’t read very much, but in in some of the collections he does little vignettes about particular stories being written. And I think he speaks about this one just being a true story. This is something that happened to him and he’s just put it into the head of a character and just put it on the page. And his reaction to it is a real reaction. And that’s really interesting. yes, I do envy the fact that he seemed to be able to make a story out of anything.


    INTERVIEWER

    Another person who does this very well, who seems to make stories out of anything, is Kurt Vonnegut, and there’s a lecture of on YouTube, and it’s an incredible lecture, because it starts out and it’s almost stream of consciousness, and he’s describing a trip to the post office, and he’s describing events, and people he meets, and then at some point it pivots and he’s lecturing about the shape of stories, and the whole time it was about the creative process. And he just conjures the fiction directly from the most mundane of tasks. But getting back on track, I wanted to ask about your work as a human rights lawyer, and teaching law, and about how that connects to your writing. Do those two aspects of your life feed into to each other at all?


    GLASS

    Oh, that’s interesting. I hadn’t consciously thought about it. I did psychology and computer science as a degree, and then wasn’t quite good enough to do academic research, because it was really competitive then. And it must be even more so now. And so I flailed around to find something to do and found a paralegal position and then I turned out to be good at it and then ended up training. And I did a lot of immigration asylum based work and I did a lot of human rights based work and there’s a bit of work in the criminal orbit later. And I have to say the human rights area is quite a dispiriting area to work in if only because it’s much more difficult to succeed in a human rights based case than people think it is. And on my bad days, on the days where I’m really despairing of the whole thing, I think that a lot of people don’t want rights as such, but would rather have powers, because rights are something that are allocated to you by people who have the power to allocate them. And it’s a dispiriting thing. And that sounds like a very bleak view of human nature. But I’m quite hopeful. But I think it’s in the nature of that job that you don’t necessarily see people at their best.


    INTERVIEWER

    I don’t think you’d be doing what you do, or writing what you write, if you had a bleak view of human nature. And I think something which I saw in ‘A Hollow in the Sky’ was a hope that ultimately seemed to exist outside of the systems that were portrayed. So, the systems are bleak, but there is hope within the individuals. There was something very humanistic in that story, and I thought it was magnificent, and reading it, it brought me to tears, and the only other science fiction story to do that to me lately was Derek Künsken’s ‘Tool Use by the Humans of Danzhai County’.


    GLASS

    Oh, thanks. Thanks very much. You never know how people are going to respond, and that’s an interesting thing. I don’t know if writers generally know how good what they’ve produced is. I tend to know if something’s good enough to send out or if I think it’s good enough to send out and that’s as much as I know, and and I’m particularly pleased with that because it is an improvisational story. I had no clue. I had a couple of images and an event at the beginning, which had nothing to do, as it turned out, with what happened at the end. And so it does all fit together, I hope, but not through any planning. But, I’m really pleased


    INTERVIEWER

    What else should people be looking out for from you over the coming months and years?


    GLASS

    There’s a story out late in the year for Fantasy and Science Fiction which is a nice little story and, again, it is one that was just written with an initial idea in mind about a character or two characters having a conversation and it just seemed to work, and fell into place. And it doesn’t always happen, but when it happens, it’s is really pleasing. And there are a couple of other stories in the pipeline for other things so there will be more. And as I was saying earlier, when I’m writing I’m writing, so for the foreseeable future I’m just going to be producing stuff, some of which will be good, and so, I guess look out for more.



    If you enjoy these interviews, and if you can manage it, please consider getting me a virtual coffee. Or you can support me on Patreon. It will really help. Thank you.