interview by Joe Vaz

From Issue 14 (Oct 2011)

Where is home?
Home is still Basingstoke, England, even though I have lived abroad for over twenty years. I hope to move back there one day, circumstances permitting.

Are you a full-time writer? (If yes, how did you find the transition? If no, how do you manage writing whilst doing other work?)
Kind of. I’m currently convalescing from a long illness, and am using the time to concentrate on writing novels. I have an agent in London (Eve White), and we are hoping to submit my latest effort to a publisher later this year. Watch this space.

What inspired this story?
Engaging the Idrl was inspired by the story of a specialist truck driver in the British Territorial Army who tragically committed suicide in August of 2004 after returning from the Iraq war. The gentleman in question experienced first-hand the horrifying incident of the chocolate bar described in the story. I was so moved (and disturbed) by it that I had to respond by committing my feelings to print.
An article on the subject can still be found at the BBC website here:

Where was Engaging The Idrl originally published?
In the 2007 science fiction anthology Glorifying Terrorism – a title which may initially sound disrespectful considering the events described above, but it isn’t at all (at least, I hope not). My whole intention in writing Idrl was to show both sides of the story in the most dispassionate and objective manner possible. In doing so, however, I ended up inadvertently breaking the law, which infuriated me.

This sounds like a fascinating anthology. Could you tell us more about it and how your involvement in it came about?
Farah Mendlesohn, an award-winning British academic, put the Glorifying Terrorism anthology together in direct response to the Terrorism Act of 2006, which we all felt formed a genuine threat to free speech in the UK. Every story in the anthology is consequently illegal according to the parameters of the Act. None of us appears to have been arrested so far. My own involvement came about when I noticed an online call for submissions, and shot off an email query to Farah.

Why lapis lazuli?
I partially based the Idrl on the magnificent blue-skinned Tuareg people of the Sahara, whose mighty battles against French colonization are the stuff of legend. In spite of subjugation, the Tuareg still call themselves Imashaghen (“the Free people”), and although they were forced to sign treaties in Mali as far back as 1905, their struggle for liberty continues to this day. The Tuareg are also called the “Blue People”, on account of the indigo pigment traditionally used to dye their robes and turbans. This pigment gradually stains their skin dark blue. I chose lapis lazuli as the source of the colouring in this story because it can be ground and processed to make the pigment. I also felt that the presence of a rare, semi-precious stone in such a desolate location would provide a memorable (if jarring) contrast.

Have you written other stories within this universe?
Not specifically in this universe, but I’ve written plenty of apocalyptic science fiction in my time… maybe too much.

It kind of puts Star Trek’s Prime Directive into perspective, the unknowable results of affecting one’s belief systems into an alien culture. Is that what you were trying to convey?
To a degree, although my main focus was social and political rather than technological and/or scientific. At one point, the narrator observes that ‘we will not rest until freedom and democracy are established in this barren arm of the galaxy.’ The question I kept asking myself during the writing was, how can we be sure that a race of alien beings would even want those things?

How much research was there into how troops react when left without proper leadership in strange and hard terrain?
None, as far as I can recall. I merely tried to imagine how a mission such as the one that arrives on Serpia Dornem would affect me emotionally, as a human being, and worked back from there. I also have a brother who is a former soldier, and I’m pretty sure his more hair-raising anecdotes will have influenced my thinking.

Are you working on anything right now?
A crime novel set wholly within the Underworld. Even the hero is a villain, if that makes sense. We’re at the final edit stage at the minute, and will be submitting the manuscript to publishers when the thing is done. I’m also messing about with a couple of ideas for other novels.

Where can we find more of your work?
The best jumping-off point is the bibliography on my website, which can be found here:

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Joe Vaz

Joe Vaz is the founder and editor of Something Wicked, which occasionally affords him the honour and good fortune to hang out with really cool people.
In his other life he is a film and television actor who gets small parts in big movies, most recently in Dredd 3D, due to be released in September 2012.

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