Jo Walton's novels twist familiar genre scenarios to reveal fascinating new characters and ideas. Among Others uses fantasy elements and the real-world history of science fiction to create a unique story about surviving and finding one's place in the world.
Protagonist Mori's background sounds very similar to your own: growing up in Wales, raised by your grandparents, etc. How autobiographical is Mori's story?
I've always been very interested in how stories become mythologized—how things start off as events and become anecdotes and stories and legends and myth. What I did in this book was to mythologize some of my own life experiences.
Was it a difficult story to tell?
Very difficult. It's much easier to research the 1940s than history you have lived through!
You've described yourself as a "feral" writer. How's that different from a "tame" writer?
I don't do a lot of things schools teach people to do and tell them they have to do. For example, I don't write outlines or drafts. And I write things on odd edges of genres.
Although published as adult fantasy, do you think Among Others could also be seen as YA?
I don't think of it as a YA book, even though the protagonist is 15—after all, everybody was 15 once. In my experience, teenagers are reading "adult" books right alongside YA, and adults now are also reading YA. I think what teenagers get out of reading comes from reading a lot of different things, and then thinking about all of it mixed up together. You have a lot of made-up worlds in your head, and that can help people deal with the real world, the one you're living in. It makes you realize that this world isn't the only way things can be.
Do you think Among Others will be read and appreciated by mainstream readers?
It's a fantasy novel about a character who reads science fiction. Part way through writing it, I wailed at my editor "This book isn't going to make sense to people who haven't read The Lord of the Rings and The Lathe of Heaven." And he said, "Everybody has read LOTR. And I haven't read The Lathe of Heaven and it makes sense to me."
Mostly I think the more old science fiction you've read, the more you'll like it. But maybe it'll encourage people to go out there and read some old science fiction. That would be good.