Jacey Bedford is a British writer of science fiction and historical fantasy. She is published by DAW in the USA. She has seven novels, out: the Psi-Tech and Rowankind trilogies, and her most recent novel The Amber Crown, a historical fantasy.
Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, and have been translated into Estonian, Galician, Catalan and Polish.
In another life she was a singer with vocal trio, Artisan, and once sang live on BBC Radio4 accompanied by the Doctor (Who?) playing spoons.
Jacey can be found at:
Website/mailing list: www.jaceybedford.co.uk
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
Ah, that’s a question that has to be answered by a question. What do you call a debut novel? My first-published novel, Empire of Dust was not the first novel I wrote, nor was it the first I sold. The first I wrote is still on a back-burner. The first I sold was Winterwood, a historical fantasy. By that time, I’d written seven complete novels, and my editor also bought Empire, which was science fiction/space opera. For my first three book deal I sold Winterwood, Empire, and a yet-to-be-written sequel to Empire (which became Crossways). It just so happened that DAW had a gap in the publishing schedule for science fiction in 2014, but if they’d gone with Winterwood first, it would have had to wait until 2015 – so my debut novel was Empire of Dust. As to the inspiration… it was a prequel for the two novels that are still on the back-burner, but set 1000 years before them. At that point it could have been a standalone, or the start of a trilogy (which it became). I’m still hoping to revisit those two unpublished novels because I still think they have legs – though obviously I’ve learned a lot since I wrote them, and revision would reflect that.
What came first the characters or the world?
Characters. Always characters. I usually start off with characters-in-a-situation, and take it from there. The world is often flexible in the early stages of writing. My latest book, The Amber Crown, is a historically-based fantasy. When I first got the idea, I could have set it in any number of different settings, either real-world, generic medievaloid, or it could even have been a second-world setting. In the end I settled on an alternative version of the Baltic States around the 1600s, though I mucked about a fair bit with history. I’d just been reading about the Northern Crusades, which is what made me latch on to that region, though it’s not set during that timeline. I have a friend who doesn’t like reading science fiction or fantasy and I just keep telling her that they are all stories about people in situations interacting with other people, whether it’s medieval Italy or modern-day New York. Look how many versions of Romeo and Juliet there are, from Shakespeare to Shakespeare in Love and West Side story.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
I sold my first short story in 1998, and my first novel didn’t come out until 2014, so my overnight success took sixteen years (not counting the time it took to sell my first short story). Getting an agent was the first hurdle. My first agent (acquired on a recommendation from Anne McCaffrey) was so easy to get that when we parted company, I didn’t realise how difficult it was going to be to get another. It took NINE years. That was largely my fault because I was subbing to a single agent at a time and some of them were taking months to reject me (or simply not replying at all). Then my lovely second agent retired from agenting with Winterwood still circulating publishers. I knew DAW hadn’t seen it, so I sent it to their slushpile with a recommendation from one of their authors… and I sold it. On the back of that I got a new agent, too. The secret is persistence. I could have given up at any time during those sixteen years, but I didn’t.
How long did it take to write?
I wrote the first draft of Empire of Dust – 70,000 words – in about a month. Then I spent years revising it – writing other novels in the meantime. Eventually it ended up at 240,000 words. It changed shape and size many times during various edits, so altogether it took years to get to the 173,000 word final version.
What can you tell us about your next book?
It’s a YA book based on the Tam Lin story as depicted in the folk ballad about a knight captured by the Queen of Fairies and intended to be her tithe to Hell. He is saved by the love of a mortal. I’m not giving away spoilers, you can find the ballad on the internet, but I hope I’m bringing something different to it. The ballad is set in the medieval period, but I’ve set it partly in the modern world (England) and partly in the land of Fairy.
Do you take notice of online reviews?
I try not to. I’ve been lucky to have no real stinkers (that I’ve noticed). The golden rule is never to respond to a review whether you think it’s justified or not.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I sang for twenty years with the vocal trio, Artisan, touring all over the world, UK, USA, Canada, Australia. We didn’t do much in Europe, just Belgium and Germany a few times, because our words were important and so we preferred to stick to countries that spoke English as a first language. (www.artisan-harmony.com) When we ‘retired’ from the road, I started a music booking agency, securing gigs for (mainly folk) musicians in the UK. That’s ongoing.
Which author(s) inspire you?
Oh, I don’t know. I like any number of authors, but I didn’t discover most of the ones I read today until after I started writing. I suppose I read Andre Norton and Anne McCaffrey in my twenties. One of my current favourites is Los McMaster Bujold. I love her Vorkosigan books, but my favourite book of all time is her fantasy, The Curse of Chalion. It’s the book I would grab as I ran screaming out of a burning building.
Which genres do you read yourself?
Fantasy, science fiction and the occasional historical novel. I’ll read dark fantasy and Grimdark, but I draw the line at pure horror. I can’t watch horror movies either. Regency romance is my guilty pleasure.
What is your biggest motivator?
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
I’ve been very lucky. DAW has always asked for my input, and I even got to suggest the artist (Larry Rostant) for my Rowankind trilogy.
Were you a big reader as a child? And what were your favourite childhood books?
I could read fairly fluently by the time I was three and I joined the local library as soon as I was old enough. I was only allowed two books a week, but when we discovered I could use some of my parents’ tickets I used to get five books a week. I loved pony books. One of my favourite writers was Monica Edwards who wrote about children and ponies having adventures. Her characters were very real to me. I would read anything with a horse on the cover, which was how I found C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy – my gateway book into fantasy. And then in my teens I read my way through the Gollancz yellow jackets – the science fiction books: Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimiv, James Blish, Bob Shaw. I wish I’d kept a list of what I read. They’ve all faded into a hazy memory now.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
Sadly, my part of the UK has no specialist bookshops, so there are only the chain bookshops in cities which I hardly ever visit. These days I mostly read on Kindle because I can make the print bigger. My favourite actual bookshop is halfway around the world – Bakka Phoenix in Toronto, which I used to visit regularly when we were on tour in Canada.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
I call it my Strategic Book Reserve. Probably about sixty or seventy actual physical books, but I have hundreds of unread books on my Kindle. (We’re just talking about fiction, right?) I buy books for research in dead tree format because dipping in and out of a Kindle book is more problematical.
What is your current or latest read?
I’m reading T. Kingfisher’s What Moves the Dead ,and I just finished The Dead Dragon Job by Anne Lyle. I post all the fiction I read on my reading blog on Dreamwidth. (https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/) – though I also have a writing blog at WordPress. (https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/)
Any events in the near future?
After several years of keeping my head down because of Covid I’m booked into the UK Eastercon in Birmingham in April. I’m really looking forward to being on panels again, and seeing a bunch of friends. I’ll be attending a writing retreat in May for a week, and the Milford SF Writers’ Conference in September, which is a workshopping week with other published writers. For my sins I’m the Milford secretary, so I’m one of the organisers. (www.milfordSF.co.uk). Incidentally, Milford is launching an anthology called Eclectic Dreams at Eastercon in order to help fund our Writers of Colour bursary. I have a story in that,
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
I love the freedom science fiction and fantasy gives me to make up stuff for pleasure and profit. I like playing in new worlds, or in old worlds reimagined. You write what you read. I’ve always been more interested in swashbucklers and spaceships than in police procedurals and kitchen sink dramas. Funnily enough I often manage to get a horse into my books somewhere – even the space operas – which probably harks back to those pony books of my childhood and my many years of hanging around stables.