“A down-on-his-luck guy…who happens to be part-unicorn”: An Interview With TJ Berry

Laura McKay (LM): Today’s #SpecFicPicks Q&A starts now! Special guest: TJ Berry, author of Space Unicorn Blues and Five Unicorn Flush, published by @angryrobotbooks.

LM: @TJBerry, thank you joining me today! Let’s start with a few general writing questions.

TJ Berry (TJB): Sure! I’m excited to hang out with you this morning!

LM: What inspired you to start writing?

TJB: I’ve been writing since I was ten—inspired by Enid Blyton‘s books. My first short stories were Famous Five fanfic. I was amazed that kids went on vacation alone!

Life took a turn and I ended up working in politics. I came back to writing as a career in 2015.

LM: I read lots of Enid Blyton’s books as a kid too! The parrot was always my favourite character haha.

TJB: Five Go Off in a Caravan was incredibly important to me as a writer!

LM: What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

TJB: Like most writers, I get into my own head about the quality of the work I’m creating. I often have to remind myself that it’s fine to take a swing and miss. My only goal is to tell a story that no one else can.

LM: I don’t like to fangirl in public, but seriously, you do not need to worry about quality. You 100% had me before I was five chapters in!

TJB: Awww, thanks!

LM: Space Unicorn Blues and Five Unicorn Flush are such fantastic titles for books! How did you come up with them? Is there a particular process you follow for naming your books?

TJB: I had to make sure Space Unicorns got into the title of the first book. I wanted people to see the cover and say, “Unicorns… in space?!” You know what you’re getting.

Blues rounds out the title nicely because unicorn families are named in shades of blue. 💙

LM: Now to dive into the books! What was the hardest scene to write in either of your books?

TJB: The final scene of a novel is always the most difficult to write. There’s always more story to tell.

As a writer, I’m trying to both wrap up the story and leave some threads undone for the next book. I’m great at beginnings and terrible at endings. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

LM: Where did these books come from? What inspired the story?

TJB: Oddly, Space Unicorn Blues came about in a moment of pure spite. Someone suggested I write more “normal” stories and I angrily retorted that I was going to write the most bizarre book possible. With unicorns! In space! …and I did…and then I sold it. 😂

LM: I love that! I don’t think I’ve ever managed to write a “normal” story in my life… especially if normal = not spec fic. I’ve tried, but it just never works. I’m guessing you have a similar problem/gift 😂

TJB: True! I start out fine and then everything in the story goes weird…next thing you know there are unicorns piloting asteroids…

LM: The world you’ve built is a blend of science fiction and fantasy reminiscent of Anne McCaffrey’s Acorna series, but darker and more complex. Were there any specific books or movies that inspired the world you’ve built?

TJB: My books are meant to be the opposite of high fantasy like Lord of the Rings. I want magic to feel dirty and ordinary–humans have a tendency to flatten the miraculous into the mundane. I took a lot of inspiration for the tone of my books from the show Firefly!

LM: Many fantasy writers create names or choose archaic names for their characters. Why did you choose to go with common English names for your characters (for example, a half-unicorn named Gary)?

TJB: I wanted this incredibly powerful unicorn to have a very ordinary name. Gary bucks all expectations of what a unicorn should be. He’s just a down-on-his-luck guy…who happens to be part-unicorn. sad trombone

Fun fact: Gary was actually almost named Eugene.

LM: How important was representation as part of this series, and what work did you do to ensure those representations were respectful?

TJB: A representative cast was essential to reflect the diversity of our actual universe. Every time I write characters with identities I don’t share, I check my work with a paid sensitivity reader who shares that identity.

I always start my projects by revisiting this guidance from Nisi Shawl: “There is a huge difference between telling a story that is inclusive and telling someone else’s story.”

LM: 👏

LM: What can readers expect to see from you next? What are you currently working on?

TJB: I’m excited to share that I signed a contract with Asimov’s to publish a short story about artificial intelligence, self-improvement, and falling out of love. Look for it next year!

I’m also working on two horror & thriller novels…and one secret project!

LM: Thank you for the interview today! Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

TJB: Thanks for inviting me…this was a lot of fun!

The best place to find my latest projects and updates is right here on Twitter: @TJBerry

I also have a website at https://tjberrywrites.com for anyone who’s interested in finding my past work.

This is a full transcript of an interview that took place live on Twitter on December 5, 2020. It has been edited for clarity and readability.

Watch for upcoming interviews with the schedule here.

Have you read Space Unicorn Blues or Five Unicorn Flush? Which character was your favourite? Let me know in the comments!

Author Interview SpecFicPicks

writerlauramckay View All →

Laura McKay is a speculative fiction writer whose work leaves you wondering and your mind wandering. Inspired by the Dresden Files, her current work-in-progress brings fast-paced, thought-provoking mystery and magic to the streets of Winnipeg.

Laura is also an Assistant Editor at Portage & Main Press and freelances on various writing and editing projects.

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