Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Clones, Criminals, and Plotted Sex – Jenny Davidson, author of Heredity in interview.

From the publisher, to the reviews, most people have focussed in on the sexual element of Heredity. How do you feel about that? The graphic sex, if written by a man, could have been called into question. Do you think, as a female author, you have slightly more latitude to write graphically, without it being labelled pornography?

I think it's hilarious! I actually disagree with your point about the gender issue. I think that all authors should be allowed to write sex how they want to–I know when I was a teenager I was avidly reading the rather unpleasant novels of John Fowles, Anthony Burgess, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Henry Miller, Burroughs et al. and that while pornography for its own sake is usually monumentally boring, the pointed mobilization of explicit sex scenes for some larger purpose, however unpleasant, seems to me fully justified. I am not sure why I wrote such graphic sex scenes for Heredity, but they seem an integral part of the novel. I am surprised, though, by the way that people have homed in on them, particularly when they call the book 'sexy'. It seems to me that the sex scenes in Heredity are all distinctly off-putting–in fact, they're more like an argument against having sex than anything else.

Can you tell me a little about your next novel, Dynamite No.1? It's going to be part of a series? What are the specific challenges of writing a successful series? Does it have to be, by necessity, formulaic?

Well, I hope it will be a trilogy, but all I know for now is that I'm definitely writing a sequel, and then I'll see about a third one. I don't think it has to be formulaic. There's a long tradition of trilogies and multi-book stories, especially in young adult fantasy, and that's what I'm really thinking of. Basically, the thing that pushed me to write Dynamite No. 1 (in conjunction with having fallen in love with Stockholm and fairy tales and the history of technology) was that I gobbled up Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and Garth Nix's Sabriel trilogy and basically found myself back in the bookstore every month looking for a new thing like that and not finding it. Then I thought, 'I am going to write the book I most want to read, as opposed to the angsty book I felt compelled to write in my 20s'. And that's Dynamite No. 1 in a nutshell.

Sarah Hall, in an interview with Three Monkeys, mentioned that it's almost impossible for a young author to write, without some form of cinematic influence coming in. Would you agree? Did you have a movie version in your mind's eye when writing Heredity?

Interesting question. I basically read a pathologically large number of books and see a pathologically small number of movies. So I may be an exception to this rule. However, I do see Heredity as rather cinematic, in the sense that Elizabeth's story is quite linear and moves in scenes–if you look, you'll see that the present-day story could be quite easily adapted to a screenplay, since they're short scenes of dialogue in settings that are cued to real-world places with quite detailed physical surroundings. My brothers are much more movie-watching than I am and had a very serious conversation after they read Heredity about who should be in the movie version. (Christina Ricci should play Elizabeth Mann. Jeremy Irons is now too old to play Gideon, but he's the obvious fit. And in my head, Miranda looked very much like Elizabeth Hurley.) Actually, I had a cautionary movie thing in my head as I was writing: I refer to Dead Ringers early on, and I love the aesthetic of those Cronenberg films, but they are often very static and moody in a way that I don't approve of. I was going for something faster-paced. The movie I've seen in the last few years that most caught the vibe of Heredity was Secretary, and Maggie Gyllenhaal would be another good Elizabeth Mann–but she might risk making Elizabeth too sympathetic a character.


Ms Davidson was kind enough to include a synopsis of her forthcoming novel, Dynamite No. 1, which we reproduce here:

Sophie Hunter hates being fifteen years old. Your guardian treats you like you're a child, your teachers talk down to you and your school friends drive you crazy. Even in normal times, it's hard to decide what to do when you grow up, and it's about a million times harder when the city you call home is under constant threat of terrorist attack and the country's on the verge of war. Not to mention the fact that you're having a little sleepwalking problem, you've recently gained the ability to see into the future and dead people are sending you messages to say that the fate of the world rests in your hands.

Dynamite No. 1 is the first novel of a trilogy set in an al
ternate-history version of the 1930s, one where the legacy of Napoleon's victory a century earlier at Waterloo is a standoff between a totalitarian Federation of European States (led by France, Germany and England) and a group of independent northern countries (including Scotland, Denmark, Sweden and Estonia) united under the banner of the New Hanseatic League. The trilogy's cultural landscape contains elements of the familiar and the bizarre: its people are preoccupied with technology (everything from electric cookers to high explosives) but also with spiritualism, a movement our world largely abandoned in the early twentieth century but that has here displaced most forms of organized religion. In this world, Sigmund Freud is a radio talk-show crank, cars run on hydrogen and the most prominent scientists experiment with new ways of contacting the dead.

Taken together, the three novels of the Dynamite Trilogy–Dynamite No. 1, The Snow Queen and Dangerous Trades –represent the quest narrative and coming-of-age story of Sophie Hunter, orphaned in infancy when her parents died in a munitions factory explosion. Sophie's desire to discover her true identity and find a place for herself in the world leads her into danger and entanglements with the international arms cartel, founded by munitions-maker Alfred Nobel, which helps the Hanseatic League to remain autonomous so long as its member countries sell weapons to Europe. Over the course of an epic journey from Scotland to Copenhagen, Lapland, Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg, Sophie's passage to adulthood teaches her the hardest lesson of all: that despite what she's learned in school, the Hanseatic states don't always live up to their role as the good guys in the war against Europe's evil empire.

Light Reading – Jenny Davidson’s blogspot

Jenny Davidson at Serpent’s Tail Publishing

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