In Conversation with Jacob Close
A former baby and future vengeful ghost, Jacob Close holds an MA in history from the University of Edinburgh and was shortlisted for the Allen Wright Award for Arts Journalism in 2015. He also writes for a living, and considering that you’re reading this right now, we can both assume it’s going at least moderately well. Outside of work spends most of his time at the gym, looking at the planets through a telescope, and remembering how cool he was before someone stole his motorcycle.
- Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey, please?
I’ve never really thought about it as a journey before. It was more something I just did without thinking much on why. I decided my life goal was to become an author when I was young enough not to know better, and very seldom second-guessed it after that. I’m very much a dumb animal that way.
Prior to signing with Vulpine I was basically just trying to write as much as I could and see where it took me. I did a lot of copywriting, theatre journalism, a play or two – pretty much anything I could get my grubby hands on. After I wrote Tinfoils, a friend (Hi Dowd!) put me in touch with Sarah Hembrow, the publishing director, and luckily for me she quite enjoyed it!
- How do you decide who to dedicate your books to?
Writers in no way work alone, that’s all I’m sure of. For every piece, there’s always a little nebula of the people supporting, the people engaging and critiquing, the people whose enthusiasm inspires yours. Not least your editors and the hardworking publishing staff who are out there marketing the thing. For me, at least, it’s pretty easy to pick those people out by the time you’ve finished the final page.
Of course, my universal backup option for dedications is Dave Barry, author of ‘Dave Barry in Cyberspace’, the finest book on computer humour 1996 had to offer. Thanks, Dave.
- What was the inspiration behind your latest release?
In terms of subject matter? A mixture of nyquil, Back to the Future, and Chernobyl documentaries. I was on a long-haul flight to America, trying and failing to sleep, and I’d watched both before getting on the plane. I was thinking a lot about time travel, and eventually two questions emerged: what would it be like if a time traveller was the villain of the story rather than a hero; and what if the materials necessary for that time travel warped and damaged the body in a way we’re not prepared for, much like Uranium?
I think in terms of setting, there’s an unnerving kind of loneliness to the deprived, ex-industrial areas of the United States. A lot of decay, a lot of ambient dread and a lot of misplaced hope. I thought there was a lot to explore emotionally with that in mind, especially where time travel and sci-fi were concerned.
- Do you find it hard to let your characters go when you finish writing the book?
I think there’s always an element of wondering what more I could have done with a character, or done differently. There’s definitely something to be said about the need to really live with or inhabit main characters to some degree. But letting go is pretty easy if they’ve gone through their arc in a way that’s satisfying. It feels natural at that point.
It definitely helps that I’ve been commissioned to write a series, though. Some characters may be finished, but I’m definitely not done mistreating the central cast just yet.
- What was your favourite read of 2019?
Fiction-wise, I was blown away by Ben Smith’s ‘Doggerland’. It’s a melancholy, ruminating sort of book I usually don’t have the attention span to enjoy to the fullest, but Smith has this brilliantly detailed-yet-light touch with worldbuilding that I’m just giddy for. If you want to read about a lonely dystopia and a bunch of wind turbines, I can’t recommend it enough.
Non-fiction, I greatly enjoyed ‘The Boundless Sea’ by David Abulafia. It’s this beautiful, intricately sweeping work of history of human beings’ relationship with the ocean, and the audiobook is a treat. I promise I read books other than ones with a water theme.
It wasn’t released in 2019, but most people would agree any list like this in incomplete without Dave Barry in Cyberspace. It’s a guide to the internet written in 1996, so you know that it’s pretty much all still accurate.
- Who is your favourite author?
I want to sound all refined and fancy, but honestly? Stephen King. He’s not got the highest good/bad ratio in the world, and during his coke phase stuff got pretty weird, but there’s a ghoulish, enthusiastic glee to his books that means even the ones I hate I still begrudgingly love. And the dude’s a one-man fiction machine. I’m in awe of writers who are capital-A artists, but personally I really vibe with King’s approach to just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what happens. I have a lot of admiration for that.
- Was there a point in your life that a book helped you get through, if so which one?
Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. I was in and out of hospital a lot as a kid, and every single one was a little escape to a land of danger and high fantasy. When you’re sickly, bookish and generally quite anxious, defeating the dungeons of Baron Sukumvit can do wonders to the spirit. It also taught me a lot about how much you can achieve if you commit 100% to your concept, no matter how goofy the premise might be.
- Is there anyone that you would like to mention and thank for their support of your writing?
There’s plenty, but the one that most springs to mind, always, is my dad. He’s my absolute hero, and why I was able to have the confidence to pursue a creative career. He actively encouraged me to go after what I wanted from an early age, and he’s always given me his honest professional opinion on the work I produce. He’s a writer as well, and though we work in very different fields, his expertise and mentorship really set the bar for what I expected of myself.
- If you had the power to give everyone in the world one book, what would it be and why?
Oh, wow. That’s a good one. Probably the Complete Poetry of Maya Angelou. There’s just no replacement for Dr Angelou, or the insight with which she related the world in verse. ‘Phenomenal Woman’, ‘On the Pulse of Morning’, ‘A Brave and Startling Truth’ – every single one of her works is a gift to the reader. She’s simultaneously beautiful and scathing, and the world would be a much better place if everyone could see it both as she did, and how she wanted it to be.
My second choice would be Dave Barry in Cyberspace.
- What are you working on now?
Right now I’m wrapped up writing the next few books in The Branch series. Currently my time’s being split between aliens in a Nevadan hotel, future-telling supercomputers in Alaska and carnivorous mermaids in Oregon, though, so I’m hardly wanting when it comes to variety.
- Lastly, do you have any questions for your readers?
What do you want to see in fiction that you don’t see already? Who don’t you see as a character? And what are you positively sick of seeing?
Also, how many Hugo awards do you think Dave Barry in Cyberspace would have won if the entire literary establishment weren’t craven, and afraid of real literature?
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