Author Interview: J.J. Irwin

J.J. Irwin
J.J. Irwin

J.J. Irwin lives in Australia and speaks to her plants. None have ever spoken back. Her stories have previously appeared in Strange Horizons and
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and she is a graduate of Clarion South. She can be found online at, and her story “Haniver” appears in Shimmer Issue #13.

Tell us how “Haniver” came to be.
Haniver started life as my week 4 story at Clarion South. Our tutor for the week was Gardener Dozois, and I wanted to write something closer to the science fiction end of the spec fic spectrum. The story came from my interest in hoaxes and their endings, and the confluence of scientific interest and folklore. Elements of the Frankenstein story slithered their way in as I wrote.

And on another level, the germ of ‘Haniver’ sowed itself in 1989 when I watched David Attenborough hold up a Whitby snakestone for the camera, and was entranced by its cheery smile.

When did you know you were a writer?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but my interest in being a writer developed sometime in high school.

How long had you been submitting before you made your first sale?
Not counting competitions, less than a year.

Do you work with a critique or writer’s group?
For sure! Clarion buddies have been an invaluable source of insight and narrative fixology.

What authors, if any, have had the most influence on your work?

This is one of those things that keeps changing, but Tim Powers, Patricia McKillip, William Gibson and Terry Pratchett all got in before I started consciously extracting useful tools from other stories, so their influence runs deeper and (for want of a better phrase) more organically.

Favorite short story you’ve read recently?

Something old-school: ‘The Story-Teller’ by Saki (H.H. Munro). It’s a delightful meta-narrative about didactic storytelling and the joys of an “improper” story, set in the confines of a train carriage filled with noisy children.

Name one place in your hometown that you love to go to and would recommend to others to visit.

I’m a Sydney girl, and grew up right next to the water, but I burn at the drop of a hat so the stereotypical Aussie “day at the beach” is not for me. Instead I like beaches in the early morning (when I manage to get up!). There’s a tiny comma of headland on the ocean side of Manly that wraps around Shelly Beach, and both the beach and the headland are a lovely place to be in the thin morning light. With the ocean stretching before you in the still of the day, before all the beachgoers and cars and noise, when the hiss and crash of the surf on the rocks, the breeze on your face, and the mewing gulls are the only things around you.

What was the absolute worst piece of advice someone gave you about writing? What was the best?
To be honest I don’t remember the worst piece of advice I’ve been given – either I’ve been lucky or I’ve erased it from the memory banks. The occasional tut-tutting about writing science fiction and fantasy instead of “real” stories, but clearly I didn’t pay attention to those people.

Best piece of advice was to avoid the generic and use specific details to bring the story to life.

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Speculative fiction for a miscreant world

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