Updated on avril 17, 2018
Interview with Tade Thompson (VO)
After reading « Rosewater », I wanted to ask some questions to Tade Thompson. Thanks again to him for taking the time, I will definitely keep an eye out for the second and the third Rosewater books, and take the time to read his first novel « Making Wolf » !
Could you please introduce yourself to the french readers who don’t know you yet ? Where are you from, what studies did you make, what was your career before writing ?
My name is Tade Thompson and I’m from South London, though my forebears are Yoruba. My background is in medicine, psychiatry and social anthropology.
Your first novel « Making wolf » is a crime book, « Rosewater » is a mix between crime and sci-fi with cyberpunk vibes, your last novella is a bit more of a horror book, what genre is the most important for you ?
The exact definition of genre is unimportant to me. I write what I feel like at the time, going wherever the story and characters leads me. I worry about classifications afterwards.
How would you introduce « Making wolf » and « Rosewater » ?
ROSEWATER is the story of a slow alien invasion and its effects on the local population, particularly those who gain unusual abilities. MAKING WOLF is an alternate history crime story set in West Africa based on elements of my youth.
Do you read sci-fi or crime books ? Who are the authors or the books important for you, today and when you were young ?
I read everything. It’s difficult to select, but I’ll give a few examples of books I’ve enjoyed : Dune by Frank Herbert ; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn ; Mystic River by Dennis Lehane ; My Gun is Quick by Mickey Spillane ; The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler ; Six Easy Pieces by Walter Mosley ; The Perdido Street Station by China Mieville ; The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore ; Synners by Pat Cadigan ; Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami ; The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin. My favourite book is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
You wrote a lot of short stories or novella, does the short form allow you more than a novel ? What does the short form mean to you ?
Hmm. The length of what I write is not pre-determined. I just start a particular idea and I follow it until its logical conclusion. A narrative is as long as it needs to be, sometimes flash fiction, sometimes a multi-part novel. I therefore have no philosophical attachments to any particular length.
In terms of consumption, however, I love short form writing because you can sit down, finish a complete story and feel satisfied.
I talked about it in my review, you received the very first Nommo Award from the African speculative fiction Society for Rosewater last year, can you tell us more about this award ?
Sure. First, the specific award is The Tom Ilube Award for Best Novel, even though it is part of the Nommo Awards.
Now, while there have been African operators in the field of science fiction for decades, recognition has been scant. There were pervasive myths about the production and consumption of science fiction by Africans whether they be in Africa or in the diaspora. The African Speculative Fiction Society was formed to correct this and promote African fantastical writing.
You can find more information on the website here : http://www.africansfs.com/resources/published
What do you think about the contemporary african sci-fi ?
It’s not really for me to say, but it’s growing in complexity and recognition every day.
Now let’s talk about « Rosewater », where did the inspiration come from, how did you find the story of Kaaro and build this world ?
Kaaro is partially based on a thief I used to know in Nigeria. He had this uncanny ability to find valuables in people’s homes, even if he’d never been there before. He was imprisoned in Enugu and I met him when he was let out on a work detail. He told me many stories.
How did you write it, did you have a plan, or a chronology maybe ?
No, I did not have a plan. I did have a chronology, and when I finished the first draft, I made everything fit.
The way the story is told is interesting with the different times of Kaaro’s life, why did you choose this kind of narration ?
Because there are parallels in his young life and older life. I wanted to superimpose them on each other. Also, I love chronologically fractured narratives.
There are some moments in the book that can be read as a metaphor for colonialism, the way Wormwood worms his way into mankind. Is it something you’d like to keep exploring in your books ?
Never deliberately, but colonialism is such a fundamental and generational trauma to black identity that it will always find its way into my work in some way.
What really impressed me in your book is the universe, you created a lot of amazing things : Wormwood, Anthony, Kaaro’s avatar, Utopicity… How did you create the xenosphere for example ? How would you define it ?
The xenosphere is like a brain that encompases the entire biosphere of Earth. It’s a network of artificial neurones that traps information in real time. I used to work with Cisco routers and switches and firewalls (I was a Cisco Certified Network Professional), so I used that knowhow with my biology background to inform how the xenosphere functions.
There are also some great characters such as Layi, Oyin Da or Ryan Miller. Can you tell us more about them, and where are they from ?
You’ll hear more about them in the books to come.
When I started reading it, I thought Rosewater was a one shot, then I read that it was actually the first book of a trilogy. Can you tell us a little about the next books ? Will we learn more about what happened to America for example ? Do you already know how everything ends ?
Yes, it’s the first of a trilogy, however…it’s not that simple. I have copious notes (up to 300,000 words) about events before Rosewater. I do know how the whole thing ends, and yes, you will find out more about what happened to America. There may be books, short stories and novellas after the trilogy.
There will be a new edition of ROSEWATER in 2018 from Orbit books, after which you will get book 2 and 3 in quick succession.
At the end of the book, there is a gorgeous illustration. Can you tell us what is it, and who drew it ? It’s so beautiful I immediately took it for the background display of my phone.
I painted it. It’s called ‘Fascinator’ and I insisted that Apex Books (the original publishers) use it as a frontispiece. I’m glad you like it and are using it as a phone display.
I read that one your short stories is linked to Rosewater’s universe, can you tell me more about it ?
There are several of my short stories linked to the Rosewater universe : The McMahon Institute for Unquiet Minds, Bicycle Girl and Slip Road
Can you tell us about your projects ? Do you know if there is any french publisher who might want to translate your books ?
My novella THE MURDERS OF MOLLY SOUTHBOURNE is getting good reviews and has been optioned for film adaptation. I’ve submitted the second Rosewater book and I’m working on the third. After that, I might be revisiting the MAKING WOLF world or finally writing a contemporary fantasy story that I’ve been sketching.
I can tell you that there is French translation news on the horizon, but I can’t say more. There should be an announcement soon.
I don’t know if you heard about it, Muriel Penicaud, the french secretary of Labour, said recently that it was « important for science fiction to seize the topic of work »… It’s already the case in France with a lot of french writers thinking about what new forms work could take now and in the close future, there even has been a collection of short stories that came out last year titled « Demain le travail » (« Tomorrow the work »), and some writers regrouping in kind of a collective to think about what science fiction means when it comes to society and sociological or political questions…I’m sure it’s the same thing around the world. And we don’t even talk about all the books by William Gibson, John Brunner, Ada Palmer and more..
Some french authors reacted to this declaration, like Norbert Merjagnan here.
What do you think about it, would you like to say something about this subject ?
With a few exceptions, science fiction is terrible at predicting the future. It’s more likely to influence the future by way of influencing the minds of creative people. The generation of children who read Jack Kirby’s mother boxes is the generation that gave us smart phones, for example. That said, it’s my opinion that it’s best done organically, where the writers find their own way to the ideas, rather than being directed in a top-down or committee fashion. But that’s just me, and I could be wrong !
Tade Thompson on Twitter