Interview by Alyce Wilson
Charles Stross is a full-time writer who was born in Leeds, England, in 1964. His works range from science fiction and Lovecraftian horror to fantasy. He studied in London and Bradford, gaining degrees in pharmacy and computer science, and has worked in a variety of jobs, including pharmacist, technical author, software engineer, and freelance journalist.
His career began, in the 1970s and 1980s, with publishing role-playing game articles for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in White Dwarf magazine. His first published short story, "The Boys", appeared in Interzone in 1987. A collection of his short stories, Toast: And Other Rusted Futures appeared in 2002. Subsequent short stories have been nominated for the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and other awards. His first novel, Singularity Sky, was published by Ace Books in 2003 and was nominated for the Hugo Award. His novella "The Concrete Jungle" (available online) won the Hugo award for its category in 2005. His novel Accelerando (also available online) won the 2006 Locus Award for best science fiction novel, was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the year's best science fiction novel, and was on the final ballot for the Hugo Award in the best novel category. Glasshouse won the 2007 Prometheus Award and was on the final ballot for the Hugo Award in the best novel category. His novella Missile Gap (likewise available online) won the 2007 Locus Award for best novella and most recently he was awarded the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award or Skylark at Boskone 2008.
This interview was conducted when he was a keynote speaker at Philcon.
(biography adapted from Wikipedia and from Amazon.com)
What was it that drove you to become a writer?
When I was about 5 years old, my mother was attempting to write a novel. I need to ask her why, actually [...] [W]e lived in a house that was quite a way away from other kids of my age. So I was spending quite a lot of time at home. And I kept seeing her at the table in the kitchen, bashing away at the typewriter, working on her novel. So at a fairly early age I internalized that this was something grown-up to do. That's number one, seeing someone in the environment trying. She actually kept it up for about two years and gave up and never finished it. But I went on and certainly was finishing stuff.
Number two, I've always had a fairly good imagination. I've always been doing the storytelling. And a lot of kids do that.
And number three, I was a reader. Actually, they thought until I was about 4 years old that I wasn't reading; I was sort of behind. But I'm told one afternoon my family went out to a theatrical production of "The Wind in the Willows." And got home, and three hours later, somebody said, "Hey, where's Charles?" So they went upstairs and found me 100 pages in. They just [needed] to get my interest.
So if you put all that together: a child growing up and isolated, very bookish, gets the idea that writing is something adults do. And you see sort of how that sort of thing happens.
[...] I think I mentioned there was a school project, [to] write a story. After that, I decided to try and do something else. It was around the time I got my hands on a typewriter. I was playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons at that time. This was mid-70s, when it just arrived in the U.K. I was doing Dungeon scenarios on the typewriter, as well. Some of my earliest professional publications are monsters for the AD&D rule set. And for some reason, I got the idea I should try and write a novel. And I ended up doing about 40,000 words, all of it rubbish.
I don't know why, at the age of 15, I decided to write a novel, but I did, and I then tried to write a better one. Once you've actually begun investing that amount of time and energy in a hobby, it becomes self-sustaining. You put in enough effort to get a bit better at it.
I noticed that you really seemed to value input from other writers.
On your Web site, you invite critiques, and you also spoke in the key
note address about how you've been involved in workshops over the years.
Do you think [feedback is] important for a writer? And how is it important
for a writer?
At the same time, literature is a form of discourse where we're expressing ideas we have, but we don't get those ideas in a vacuum. We pick them up from other books. And in many cases, we're actually commenting on other things we've read. So there is an element of dialogue with other writers anyway, all the time.
As for actually writing, there's also the sociological aspect. It's a very isolating job if you're doing it full-time. And how many other office jobs can you think of where you basically lock yourself in an office with no human contact for eight hours a day? You know, you'd go mad.
Mary Gentle told me some years ago [...] what you've got to do is to put your social life ahead of your working life, because you have friends. They usually have a day job, while they're unavailable for socializing for large chunks of the week. So you fit your socializing around when they're available for socializing. Otherwise, you won't see them. And after all, you can always work whenever you damn well feel like it, if you're a self-employed, full-time writer. So contact with other writers works that way.
Also, I mean, we do talk shop. You have to be quite obsessive to do this full time. And what people who are obsessive like to talk about is whatever they're obsessed with.