Janet Edwards talks Disability Representation and How Sci-Fi Speaks to Being “other”

Scifipulse recently caught up with Janet Edwards. She is the author of 11 books including the Hive Mind series.

Scifipulse recently caught up with Janet EdwardsShe is the author of 11 books including the Hive Mind series. Her latest release is Array 2781, as part of her Drago Tell Dramis series. In her own words:


Janet Edwards lives in England. As a child, she read everything she could get her hands on, including a huge amount of science fiction and fantasy. She studied Maths at Oxford, and went on to suffer years of writing unbearably complicated technical documents before deciding to write something that was fun for a change. She has a husband, a son, a lot of books, and an aversion to housework.


During this interview, Edwards discusses disability representation, masking and what 5 books she would use to teach aliens about Earth.


SFP: What got you into writing?


Janet Edwards: Reading books was a vital escape route when I was a child and teenager, allowing me to take refuge from my real-life problems in fictional worlds, and books remained my constant companions as an adult. In 2000, an initially straightforward illness led to complications. By the end of 2002, I was struggling with chronic illness, and there was a long period where I was virtually housebound.


By the autumn of 2007, I’d recovered enough to risk signing up for a local two-hour a week class. I chose creative writing because of my love of books, and the fact I needed to spend most of my day lying down in bed. I set out with the goal of one day writing a short story and getting it published, but things progressed a lot further than I expected. In 2012, my first book was published by Harper Collins. As I write this, I have 11 novels and 7 related collections and novellas out in the world, either trade or self published. As I write this, my twelfth novel is about to be published, and several more are in progress. My background illness is still a problem, so I do all my writing in bed, but books have once again been my escape route.


SFP: How do you as a writer work in messages to a novel without the writing becoming preachy?


Janet Edwards: My books are all written in first-person viewpoint, and intended to primarily be fun reads with sympathetic characters and distinctive future worlds. How I convey messages within that depends on the personality of my protagonist. My first book was Earth Girl, set in the 28th century Portal Future, where most of humanity portalled freely between over a thousand colony worlds in star systems scattered across space. My protagonist, Jarra, was one of the unlucky one in a thousand, born with an immune system problem that meant she had to be portalled to Earth at birth to save her life. Readers of Earth Girl are seeing this future through the eyes of an angry girl, raised by a society who considers her semi human, and Jarra literally shouts her anger as she sets out to challenge the universe.


My Hive Mind series takes the totally opposite approach of simply showing the good and bad points of the Hive. This series is set in the 26th century Hive Future, where humanity lives in vast self-contained underground cities. When Amber goes through the Lottery testing that will determine her Hive level and profession, she’s stunned to learn that she’s a rare and precious telepath, and she and her team will be protecting the Hive and its people from threats. The bad side of Amber’s Hive is that it’s a dreadfully controlling society that restricts information. However, it also accepts, values, and includes everyone. There are people with disabilities on Amber’s team, and one of the Hive’s handful of other telepaths was born with Down’s syndrome.


SFP: Would you say that Jarra, Earth Girl’s protagonist, has to mask her disability when she is with the norms? At what point should masking stop and society accommodate disabled people?


Janet Edwards: The fact that Jarra has an invisible disability allows her to infiltrate a class of normal born students on Earth to study history, and convince them she is normal born herself. I do think that the masking is necessary in her case. The other students have grown up in a society where comedians joke about people with immune system problems being semi human. They would have reacted badly if Jarra had been open about her disability from the start. Even when she’s an accepted and admired member of the class, revealing the truth makes a few classmates turn hostile and try to drive her away.


Sadly, this situation is exactly why people with invisible disabilities use masking in our own society. It’s also why there are people in wheelchairs who are wary of using their extremely limited mobility to stand up in a shop in case someone accuses them of faking needing a wheelchair. Even if society is growing more accommodating, it only takes one encounter with an aggressively hostile person to make someone defensive.


SFP: What are you working on at the moment?


Janet Edwards: I’m currently releasing books in the Drago Tell Dramis series. This is set in the year 2781 of the Portal Future, and features a newly qualified fighter pilot who is magnetically drawn to dramatic events. The introductory novelette, Hera 2781, and the first full length book, Hestia 2781, are out now. The next book, Array 2781 is about to be published, and Sol 2781 should rapidly follow.


I’m also in the middle of writing the fifth book in the Hive Mind series. Book five has been delayed by the general confusion of Covid 19, so both book five and book six will be my top priority for next year.


SFP: What do you think the future of disability representation in literature looks like?


I hope that one day we’ll get past both the old problem of disability being used to signal an evil character, and the new problem of people attempting to influence what those with disabilities write about their own experiences. Ideally, society will become more inclusive and accepting, so disability representation in literature will simply reflect that


SFP: What do you think it is about science fiction that speaks to being “other” in society?


Janet Edwards: Almost everyone will have experienced feeling alone, different, and isolated among a crowd of people. Even those who fit in perfectly in their own circle will have moments when they’re the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The classic trope of science fiction, the alien arriving on Earth, is the ultimate example of being different. Science fiction also allows authors to put today’s problems into a fictional future world to allow readers to see them with fresh eyes.


SFP: Do you have any advice for writers who are just starting out?


Janet Edwards: You can go to classes, read advice from other writers, and get help in a host of things, but ultimately you learn to write by doing a lot of writing yourself. That’s the only way to find your own voice.


SFP: And finally, what 5 books would you use to teach an alien culture about planet Earth?


Janet Edwards: What worries me is how an alien culture would react to the unvarnished truth about human history and the planet Earth. There seems a possibility that we’d end up in a reverse War of the Worlds scenario, with a powerful alien culture stepping in to save the planet from us.


Assuming you want me to suggest five science fiction or fantasy books, rather than non-fiction, I’m desperately trying to think of ones that show humanity as nonviolent altruists. The Martian seems a possibility, especially if I focus strongly on the potato growing. Other than that, I’m taking the safe option of drifting into fantasy with Paul Cornell‘s Witches of Lychford, Juliet E McKenna‘s The Green Man’s Heir, and a random couple of Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld novels. The safest option of all though, would be teaching the aliens about Winnie the Pooh.


Scifipulse would like to extend our warmest thanks and best wishes to Janet Edwards for so graciously taking the time to answer our questions.


Janet’s website: www.janetedwards.com

Her twitter: @JanetEdwardsSF

Janet’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JanetEdwardsSF


Check out our interview with C. L. Lynch here


Check out our interview with Ada Hoffmann here

I'm a writer on the autistic spectrum who loves sci-fi, cosplay and poetry. I'm also an actor with Theatre of the Senses.
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