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Author Q&A

During the launch of The Genes of Isis, the author was interviewed by Annie Broomfield of Silverwood Books and this is a rough transcript of the Q&A.

Describe what the story/book is about in one sentence.
THE GENES OF ISIS is a speculative account of the genesis of today’s
human race, aka homo sapiens sapiens.

Expand on that please (no spoilers)?
Akasha is a precocious girl living in a world where the oceans circulate
in the sky waters. She dreams of releasing the Surge, the next
evolutionary step for an embryonic human race, but it’s dormant, a
seed trapped inside every human.

Horque is a Solarii, a tribe of angels who manifested in human form
and settled in Ancient Egypt. He is desperate to return home to the sun,
but can only do so by unravelling the chaos left behind by the Helios,
another tribe of angels who left humanity on the brink of extinction and
who sired a race of hybrids.

When Akasha foretells the falling of the sky waters and falls in love
with Horque, her life becomes an instrument for apocalyptic change.

When did you start writing this novel?

Nearly ten years ago, when I spent four years writing the first draft. I
then found a professional editor (John Jarrold), whose frank and brutal
criticism of the book sent me into a tail spin. I couldn’t face re-editing
the work. So to hone my writing and editing skills, I spent the next
three or four years writing two prequels set in the same world. Then I
returned to The Genes of Isis and began the re-editing task.

Why did you set the novel in Ancient Egypt?
As I said, I decided to take up creative writing about ten years ago, and
looked around at what to write about. They say write about what you
know best. I’ve always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt, I’ve travelled
to Giza, Saqqara, and the Valley of the Kings. I’ve researched Ancient
Egypt and its place in world history for nearly twenty years. And it’s
always been associated with the supernatural, which has always
interested me. After that, it was an easy choice.

What inspires you to write?
I get inspired to write about things that everyone knows about, or thinks
they know about, and then through the writing get them to look at those
same things in a different way or from a new perspective. That’s why
I write stories with a supernatural bent and that’s why I write historical
fiction. We think we ‘know’ about history, but do we, really, know not
only what happened, but why it happened?

History is just that - a hi(gh) story - a series of fragmented facts loosely
joined together by pieces of string by historians. And there’s more
hiatus than series, since there are so many gaps. That’s why history
is so fascinating to me as an author, because your imagination can
simply fill in the numerous gaps. And of course, the farther back in
history you go, the more gaps there are.

How did you research the story?
I tend to derive plot and character ideas from research, so I read around the flood/ apocalypse subject, including the following:

  • "The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts" and "Book of the Dead",
    from which I derived some of the Solarii poems and names.
  • "The Book of Enoch" (an Apocryphal Book of the Bible), from
    which I derived the extract at the beginning of the novel.
  • "The Epic of Gilgamesh", the Mesopotamian text.
  • I found Doris Lessing's “Shikastra” of great interest.
  • From Gurdjieff's “Beelzubub’s Tales to His Grandson," I derived the name of the Isle and city of Samlios where the initial action is set.
  • I was also inspired by some of the stories from "The Writings of Edgar Cayce," an American mystic who answered questions on subjects as varied as reincarnation, wars, and Atlantis while in a trance.

Where do you find your characters?
When I have first work on a novel, I start with the idea, which is in
the form of plot, as I usually have a message I want to put across.
The characters emerge out of the plot and suggest parts they can
play. Sometimes I hear their voices in the dialogue. Sometimes my
imagination will reveal things about them.

In short, I find my characters crouching behind the plot lines, emerging
out of the in the shadows of the narrative, and the great halls of the
unconscious and semi-conscious.

Where did you get the title, The Genes of Isis?
The title reflects the two weaves in the novel: the Biblical story of the
Book of Genesis and the Osiris myth from Ancient Egypt. So firstly,
genesis simply means the genes of Isis. In the Ancient Egyptian myth,
Osiris is murdered by his brother Set, who cuts the body up into pieces,
which are strewn all over the land of Egypt. Isis gathers the parts into
a whole, and succeeds in bringing her husband back to life. She bears
the new-born Osiris a son, the hawk-headed God Horus.

Which brings us onto the amazing cover artwork, showing the winged
figure of the goddess Isis. Tell us more about it.

That’s the work of Jim Burns. Jim has brilliantly captured the goddess’
commanding authority and subtle mystery. The temple below the
goddess is that in Philae, in Egypt, an actual temple dedicated to the
goddess. Notice the twin strands of DNA twisting up each side of the
temple, with snake-heads to boot. The background colouring and
waters show shades of green because the pre-flood sky in the novel is
aquamarine, and the sun emerald green.

Why did you choose to self-publish?

I wanted some fruit from the ten years of labour. I tried to find a publisher
in the U.K. I submitted to large print houses and small presses. When
I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere, I looked at self-publishing. I knew of
Silverwood Books, since I live near Bristol where they are based, and
they were happy to accept my book proposal. I’ve worked very well
with them and they are knowledgeable and supportive.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you carry on?

Two things. The first is summed up in a saying I saw on Facebook,
which goes something like ‘There are two kinds of writers, those who
gave up, and those who didn’t.’ I think dedication and discipline are
two essential ingredients of success - in anything.

The second is the support structures - from being part of some great
writing groups, going to Cons, being on panels, meeting other writers,
working with editors, giving readings, going on courses, getting short
stories published, being around other creative people.

Favourite movie?
The Seven Samurai, dir. by Akira Kurosawa. Perfect denouement and
crescendo. Kagemusha is not far behind.

Influential novel(s)?
So many, but up there are: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor
Dostoyevsky, Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Steppenwolf by Herman
Hesse, Dune by Frank Herbert, The Plague by Albert Camus.

Best piece(s) of advice to budding writers?
One thing I learnt along the way was that writing is a craft. It needs
many skills. You have to be able to hold many strands and characters
in your mind at the same time, and pull together many threads - and
you have to be good at them all, from writing, to editing, to planning,
to research. I also realised along the way is that I was no good at
editing and the reason was that I didn’t like it. That was a vicious circle,
feeding itself. So I determined to get good at editing, which now I have
achieved to some degree. Work in progress, of course.

Kafka once said, “A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen
inside us.” That about sums up what a long complex task writing is,
and of infinitesimal difficulty.

What’s next?
I’m working on a novel featuring the Great Wall, set in Ming Dynasty
China. The Chinese envisage the wall as a great serpent sprawled
across the land, slaking its thirst at the far eastern end in the waters
of the Bohai Sea at a place called The Old Dragon’s Head, the
book’s working title. The Chinese culture has a long association with
the supernatural and this novel fits perfectly into my current writing


Copyright: Justin Newland, 2017.