14 Jennifer Ridyard

Jennifer Ridyard was born in England but grew up in South Africa,conquest 1 where she worked for many years as a journalist. In September 2013, Conquest, the first of a series of Young Adult science fiction novels she is
writing with John Connolly, was published by Headline. It has since picked up stellar reviews and loads of love from readers everywhere.  

1) What is your name? What is your quest?

Apparently you can call me anything: J-Dog (according to my son), Jelly-Flower (according to Himself), Flowery-Jen (according to my dad), and Jennifer Ridyard (according to my birth certificate). And those are just the polite ones. But feel free to call me Jennie. Or Jen. Or J-Dog, etc... My quest? Goodness. I'll let you know as soon as I work that out. It's probably something very "Miss America" like world peace and saving puppies. As they said in the classics: "Meh."

2) Okay, tell me about your book.

My book is actually our book: I wrote Conquest in tandem with my partner, crime-writer John Connolly. It's the first in a trilogy know as The Chronicles of the Invaders, a series for the young adult market. Conquest is the story of the first alien girl born on earth following the otherworldly invasion, told from her perspective. It starts on her 16th birthday. Basically, we're trying to hijack science fiction back from the laser-zappin', tri-boobed, male geekdom market, to harness it for girls too. We feel girls are often served up their science fiction disguised as fantasy (The Hunger Games trilogy, Divergent etc) but we know teenagers are smarter than that. We wanted to offer them strong, adventurous, flawed but engaging characters, and a cracking story that wasn't all about l-u-r-v-e. Aliens seemed right: teenagers are often unfairly portrayed as aliens anyway.

conquest3) What was the most difficult bit to write?

The most difficult bit to write...? I think that was the rewrite. Writing with a co-author can be very hard on the ego, especially when you're writing with someone as practiced and skilled as John. How our collaboration worked was that he gave me the first several thousands words and a short synopsis, I gave him back 70 000 words of pure genius (I thought, cough) and he tore through them, snipping and cutting and changing and tearing apart, and at one stage even renaming a dog I'd created. Most of his changes were a vast improvement but, ultimately, there were times when I felt he was just changing things because he was being a little bit dictatorial, and trying to claim the book back as his own. Then he gave it to me and I gave him the same roughing-up... It was very hard on both of us. Originally we planned four in the series but we're thinking that may have to be three, because our relationship might not survive a fourth.

4) What surprised you about writing it?

I was most surprised by how characters can merrily wander off and start doing their own thing, and also how sometimes they'll just arrive in your head fully formed, as if they were waiting outside until you opened up.

5) First line:

"In the beginning was the wormhole." (Yes, there's a bit of science to set the scene - nothing too tough though.)

6) What's the next project?

We're working on part two of the trilogy. It's called Empire. It's about two-thirds done, I'd say, and it's due out in the UK and Ireland in October, and in the USA and Canada next February. It'll also be available in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa by around November, I reckon.

7) Your two main characters have been forced to compete in Eurovision (a cheesy Europe-wide singing contest, for anyone new to the concept). What song will they choose and what's the style of presentation?

Syl and Ani - the two alien girls - are competing. Syl's looking furious but then she often does, but Ani thinks it's great fun and just wishes Syl would lighten up. Ani's bouncing and singing and grinning fit for both of them. They're wearing traditional, formal Illyri robes (they're from the planet Illyr) because Syl's father doesn't approve of them wearing human clothes, and this has really pissed them off, but they have plastic thrift-shop sunglasses on, because they think if they hide their alien eyes they'll have a better chance of winning over the human judges. They're singing "99 Red Balloons" because Syl thinks it's a winning classic, especially if one of them sings in German and the other in English. Unfortunately, they're both pretty tone-deaf, and Syl's singing it mournfully, like a dirge, while Ani's come over all pop diva. And when they release their red balloons, it turns out some humans have replaced them with helium-filled condoms.

8) Your book's been made into a movie. What's playing over the opening credits?

Actually, I think it's a TV series! And it might just have to be Bob Dylan's "Man In The Long Black Coat" (from the album Oh Mercy) playing over the credits, particularly for the opening bars. That, or Lena Horne's version of "Stormy Weather": it starts out almost retro scifi scary, then segues into such a lost, languid song. Dammit, now I'm torn. Lena! No, Bob! No, Lena!

9) When and where is it available?

Conquest is available right now. It's in bookshops but, failing that, it's on Amazon, or you can order it from the fantastic Gutter Books in Temple Bar, Dublin. Bob (the owner) will even get you a signed copy, and he'll mail it anywhere.

My two cents: Fantastic stuff. I loved the setting in Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands, the sense of a fully developed world presented in perfect detail, and of course the characters - complex heroes and villians who are able to constantly surprise the reader and themselves. As the sense of danger rises - there are some truly horrific bad guys in this story - the book becomes impossible to put down. It was also a relief to find a science fiction novel with a realistic gender balance, not only in the main characters, but the supporting players and the extras as well. I'm so used to reading 'police officer', 'pilot' or 'guard' and picturing a male character. There is something tremendously freeing about getting away from that. Can't wait for Empire.

I agree that this would be a good TV series. So let's open it with Lena!

 No, Bob!

Which one? You tell me.

 

 

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