Interview with Alison Sinclair

16 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: Alison Sinclair

What inspired you to write Breakpoint: Nereis? How does this book fit into the rest of your writing career?

Breakpoint was to be my medical ship story, with my elevator-speech including the phrase “Star Trek meets medicine”. I was exploring the overall idea of the medical ship picking up the pieces after a plague, but trying to get going on a novel centred on the Waiorans and their conflicts. Then Creon McIntyre arrived on stage, so decisively that I started drafting scenes from his point of view in a hotel room while on a business trip, which is something I can very rarely do. As my characters tend to do, he dragged in his family, friends and enemies, who then started to define the world they lived in. The germ of a different novel snapped into shape around him, and I rolled with it.

Who is your favorite secondary character in this book and why?

My favourite secondary character has to be the world of Nereis itself, and the funky biochemistry that is responsible for a number of the plot drivers: Nereian native biochemistry has amino acid variants replacing three essential Earth-type amino acids, which means that humans cannot survive without either modifying themselves or terraforming the landscape. In the aftermath of the Plague, with Nereis being thrown on its own devices, the terraforming is losing ground and the adaptations are failing, and two sides are struggling for control of the remaining habitable land. That’s where the Waiorans come in, with their dual mission of tracking their plague (which they think might have survived in bodies buried in Nereis’ unusual ecosystem), and helping the colony avoid extinction. Both sides promptly attempt to enlist the Waiorans to their cause.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or some combination of the two? Do prefer to writing or re-writing? Do you write every day or when the muse strikes you?

Combination, though I skew heavily towards pantser. There’s a cartoon that most scientists have encountered of two mathematicians standing at a blackboard, on which is written a series of formulae at top left and bottom right, with “and then a miracle occurs” written in the centre. Which pretty much describes my process of getting from an idea of the beginning to some vague notion of the end. Each of my projects has a paper notebook (or more than one), and a project can’t really get rolling until I find my preferred notebook (so I have a LOT of notebooks), which gets filled up with checklists of scenes to be written, possible names for people and place, multi-page scrawled plot-bashing sessions and Smeagol vs Deagol arguments with myself about who is doing what and when and why, messy timelines with many arrows and bubbles, coarse sketches of maps so I at least can keep the eight points of the compass straight, book lists, literature searches, and research notes. What my primordial entries describe usually bears little resemblance to the book that finally condenses in the end.

Given the messy process that is a first draft, rewriting is generally easier. It’s also essential, since I have usually taken a turn somewhere in the middle and have re-align the beginning with the end, so that the problem presented in the first act is solved by the final curtain (usually generating a host of new problems). I also wind up cutting quite a number of scenes that are pure character or world building but do not advance the plot. Stuff I needed to know but ultimately do not need to show.

The only time I could write every day is when the novel has hit its last third, the plot has developed its own inevitability, and it all starts rolling downhill. I don’t usually get to, because work and life.

Do need privacy to do your writing or do you prefer the social ambiance of a coffee shop or writing retreat? How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?

Privacy and quiet for writing itself. I’d like to be one of those who can use music to shut out other distractions and create a mood, but it imposes itself on the rhythm of my own narrative voice and that of the dialogue. I cannot write in coffee shops, though I can constructively plot-bash there. Much of the plot-bashing for Breakpoint was done on weekend mornings at the James Bay Coffee and Books in Victoria, BC. My all-time favourite place to work is the reading room of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, followed by the silent working floors of a University Library, particularly in the summer. My version of Hemingway’s “write drunk, edit sober”, is to write late at night, when it’s quieter and punchiness can produce some quite interesting twists, about the time I start typing with my eyes closed. I can then work on coherence in the morning, when I am sharp.


To learn more about this great bundle of books, visit

To connect with Bundoran Press, visit our web-site, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @BundoranPress

To learn more about Alison and her writing, visit:


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