by Shellie Horst
Shellie Horst pens her first author interview for us, talking to Northern Ireland-based author Jo Zebedee on behalf of House On The Borderland.
After her debut novel was published with Blyth-based Tickety Boo Press you’d think Jo Zebedee would be content with her novel sitting pretty in the Irish SF best seller lists, wouldn’t you?
Off the back of that success she pressed ahead with her novel Inish Carraig released this August, which is already proving to be a hit with the reviewers. An alien invasion on Earth with a Belfast touch, Inish Carraig follows John – a teenager living in the aftermath of the invasion – desperately trying to survive in a cruel world.
Partially because we both have love for Gobolino the Witch’s Cat, (but mostly because I know Jo through the forums she haunts), Jo happily agreed to answer a few questions for House On The Borderland.
SH: Jo, are you mad? Why on Earth are you self-publishing Inish Carraig?
JZ: I might be mad… But, no, I thought long and hard about it (although possibly underestimated the work in bringing both out so close together.)
The easy answer is that I was afraid to lose the book, and liked it too much to want that to happen. Also, lots of people told me they loved the premise and urged me to release it.
The harder answer is that it’s a difficult book to market. It has a young adult protagonist, and a shared adult point of view in contrast to it. It’s sci-fi with a bit of thriller. It’s set in Belfast, not exactly a mecca for alien-contact books. When a book doesn’t have a comfy slot on the bookshelf, marketability becomes an issue, whereas the self-published market doesn’t get as excited about what’s on each (virtual) shelf.
SH: The cover of Inish Carraig offers a statement of its own, how did that come about?
JZ: I wanted something that was both iconically Belfast but that would look equally striking to those who don’t know the city, so I decided on the cranes. They’re called Samson and Goliath and they dominate the Belfast skyline. Originally, I wanted a bonfire in the foreground but thought the bleaker image of the devastated land matched the feel of the book better (I don’t write Sparkly Unicorn stories…)
I worked with Gary Compton from Tickety Boo covers on it, who took that brief and produced the cover which exactly captured what I hoped for.
SH: What is your favourite part of Inish Carraig?
JZ: My favourite part was using a setting I found familiar, and changing it so it reflected the aftermath of what has been a tragic, and futile, invasion. The capturing of an inverted sense of place, if you like.
In this scene, Henry, the policeman drawn into John’s story, is travelling to the house John and his siblings have been subsisting in throughout the war. The scene harks back to the earlier Belfast and builds to a pathos when Henry enters the house that brings the war home to him more than anything else could have:
‘Later, as they drove up the rubble-strewn streets of north Belfast, he wasn’t smiling. The city felt as if it was in stasis: the explosion of fear, held in abeyance for months, close and dangerous. The soldiers sat in silence, their faces closed and grim. Peters, leading the squad, had seemed resigned to the request from Carter for support. They passed no other vehicles, saw no one out on the streets. Below them, deceptively calm, was the lough. One of the old passenger ferries from before the attack was moored at its neck. No smoke rose from the sewage farms, but their smell permeated the van, an accusing reminder of the Zelotyr.
They pulled up outside the house. Carter got out of the vehicle, glancing down the small cul-de-sac. There was no one in sight. He could see the Oldpark Road, just visible through a gap beside number ten, its tarmac filled with weeds. A sparrow chirruped nearby, making Carter jump. He looked at the surrounding houses. Their windows – the ones with glass – were dark and empty. Was anyone there? Peters came alongside, his firearm ready, and Carter pulled his pistol from its holster. Both men walked forward, crunching over broken glass in the small front garden. The rest of the soldiers got out of the vehicle, dispersing into the house and round the back. Carter waited, tight against the wall, his heart hammering.’