You trained as a lawyer but started writing soon after graduating. What catalysed that choice?
I actually worked as a solicitor for a few years as well, but the longer I did it the harder it was to preserve the kind of openness I think you need to create. Eventually I hit one of those moments where I had to decide about what to do next, and I just quit. It was a pretty spontaneous decision, but the moment I’d done it I knew it was the right one. After that I found a job in an all-night video shop in Kings Cross and worked incredibly hard at my writing; along the way I realised there isn’t really one moment when you become a writer, it’s an ongoing process of learning and reinvention.
In your own practice, is ‘world-building’ done for enjoyment or as an escape?
One of the things I love most about science fiction and fantasy is that wonderful excitement you get when you reach the moment of estrangement in which the rules of the world become clear, or you glimpse the way our world became their world. When I’m writing that thrill is what I’m after as well. Sometimes finding your way to it is easy, sometimes it isn’t, but what you realise after a while is that those moments of separation and transformation only work if you’ve done a lot of thinking about how your world hangs together.
What are the defining features of a good sci-fi novel?
I think that depends on who you ask! Different readers want different things. For me it’s usually about the ideas, and the excitement of feeling the world shift around you. But it really does depend; although I like some space opera, in my own reading I tend to gravitate to the kind of science fiction that is heavily rooted in the real. Sometimes that means a fairly quotidian kind of science fiction, set in the very near future; at other times it means work that’s further away but still visibly connected with the here and now, but in both cases I want it to feel real, and to be grounded in both ideas and human feeling.
James Bradley is an author and critic. His books include the novels Wrack, The Deep Field, The Resurrectionist and Clade, all of which have won or been shortlisted for major literary awards, a book of poetry, Paper Nautilus, and The Penguin Book of the Ocean. His latest book is The Buried Ark, the second in a trilogy of young adult science fiction novels.