Q&A: Colin Harvey

2 comments Written on January 21st, 2011 by
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Q&A: Colin Harvey
Colin Harvey

Colin Harvey is the author of the novels Winter Song and Damage Time, both from Angry Robot Books; as well as the short story collection Displacement and four earlier novels all published by Swimming Kangaroo. His short stories have been published in magazines such as Albedo One, Interzone, Apex, and Daily Science Fiction, as well as original anthologies. He has also edited anthologies such as Killers and Future Bristol for Swimming Kangaroo Books, as well as Dark Spires for Wizard’s Tower Press.


LMS: I have a PhD in cognitive psychology, and once upon a time I was arguably an expert on Human Memory. And here you’ve gone and written Damage Time, a novel in which your protagonist is described as a Memory Association Specialist, and you didn’t come and ask me for any help. Explain to me and my readers just what a Memory Association Specialist is, and also why I shouldn’t be horribly offended.

CH: To answer those in reverse order, you shouldn’t be offended because I started Damage Time way back in 2005, long before meeting you — I suspect before you were even published! [actually, I had my first short story sale in 1990. Hah! -LMS]

Damage Time is set in New York in 2050, and is replete with all the world-gone-bad tropes kicking around SF; rising sea levels, pandemics, declining life spans, food shortages, and so on.

In this world, people have begun posting their own memories onto the web, just as we post videos to YouTube, photos to Flickr, etc. But there is a downside to this – just as people can post, so others can forcibly extract memories, causing their victim damage. There are markets for this kind of thing, just as there are for snuff movies.

Taken out of context, most people’s memories will be meaningless; imagine looking at your partner — who is this person? Why are they laughing, or crying? Where is this? Where is this? It’s Pete Shah’s job to find hints, or straight answers to such questions. Pete is very good as his job, which poses the local criminals problems…


LMS: You’ve been bouncing around the field for nearly ten years (maybe more, I confess to doing little or shoddy research on the topic), and now you’re hitting the Big Time with books from Angry Robot, arguably a huge step up from your earlier novels through Swimming Kangaroo. What’s your take on the role of the Small Press in our field? Do you feel that starting your publishing career with a much smaller press was a good idea, part of a strategy, or were you just trying to get in print with whoever would help you achieve that dream?

A little of both, to be honest: I had submitted to most of the major publishers, without success. But I found when I signed with Swimming Kangaroo that they were a pleasure to work with.

Small presses are willing to take many more risks than major publishers, because they have much shorter management chains. With players like Random House, say, the editor who wants to buy your work has to then sell it to the sales force, and to their senior management and to well — pretty much everyone from the cleaner on up! Any one of those stakeholders can veto the process, so anything that is a bit different is likely to be excluded. It’s getting to be a little like Hollywood nowadays.

That said, I should give a nod to Angry Robot, who are themselves major risk takers among professional imprints, and note that the advantage of a major publisher is their muscle with the trade, with reviewers and with other opinion-formers in the field.


LMS: You’ve been a reviewer, an author, and an editor. Obviously there’s some overlap across all three, but which do you like best? What insights do you find from reviewing and/or editing the work of other authors?

I’m primarily an author who does other things, so that’s where my heart lies. The benefit of reviewing is that sometimes I can pick up an idea, such as the photosynthetic skin in Winter Song and slot it into my own story. More likely than not, I can see much better how not to do things, such as the pacing of novels, for example. But more than anything, I appreciate how difficult it is to achieve certain effects.


LMS: Have you ever collaborated with another author? Have you ever given it any thought? What do you think are the strong points you might bring to a collaboration?

I’m taking an Honours Degree in Creative Writing, studying all kinds of art forms such as poetry and scriptwriting that I would never otherwise look at. Last term it led to my first collaboration – with three other writers! I don’t count it as a roaring success, and I don’t think they did either, if I’m honest. The problems may have been due to different levels of experience. If I was to do it again, I think that my strengths lie with dialogue, although even that’s a little tricky, since I’m a Brit!


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Thanks, Colin. And now, the commercial: As I plan to remind you with every Q&A here, writers need readers! If Colin’s responses to my blatherings entertained you, please consider clicking on one or more of the images below and order yourself a book? Thanks!

Damage Time Winter Song Dark Spires

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2 comments “Q&A: Colin Harvey”

Thanks for posting this interview. I’ve just gotten hold of ‘Damage Time’ and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Excellent. I’ll be featuring different authors every Friday, in an effort to bring you more books to read and enjoy.


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