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Lov­ing the alien. The Brit nov­el­ist tells us about mix­ing up ro­mance and sci- fi…

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - News - Words by Jonathan Wright Por­trait by Joby Ses­sions

Jenny T Col­gan’s on our spine – here’s the in­ter­view!

There are those in this world who will tell you that The Ter­mi­na­tor is an ac­tion- thriller about a time- trav­el­ling sol­dier pur­sued by a cy­borg as­sas­sin. Rub­bish, says Jenny T Col­gan. It’s an SF ro­mance. “Se­ri­ously, as far as I’m con­cerned, Ter­mi­na­tor is about a great love af­fair be­tween a woman and a tor­tured man and a very spe­cial baby,” she says. “The killer robot is re­ally a side­line, in my opin­ion.”

In con­trast, Col­gan’s new SF novel, Re­sis­tance Is Fu­tile, has a ro­mance at its cen­tre, and not a rub­bish one like in Con­tact. “Con­nie, the hero­ine, is a math­e­ma­ti­cian,” she ex­plains. “She dis­cov­ers the ex­is­tence of alien in­tel­li­gence, then accidentally falls in love with it, with dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences for, ba­si­cally, the en­tire world.” No won­der the blurb says “Brid­get Jones meets In­de­pen­dence Day. It’s a book, says Col­gan, that grew partly from her ex­pe­ri­ence writ­ing a Doc­tor Who novel as JT Col­gan, Dark Hori­zons ( 2012). “I’ve been writ­ing ro­man­tic come­dies for a fe­male au­di­ence for about 15 years, and there’s lots of women in pub­lish­ing,” she says. “Then I started writ­ing Doc­tor Who and sud­denly that bal­ance com­pletely reversed, and I’d of­ten find my­self on pan­els as the only girl, or very, very out­num­bered. It has been such a fas­ci­nat­ing – and won­der­ful, by the way – ex­pe­ri­ence. So, Con­nie is a math­e­ma­ti­cian, which is quite a mas­cu­line world too.”

If this makes Col­gan sound like a dilet­tante in the world of SF, noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. Re­sis­tance Is Fu­tile is not only funny, but it’s deeply rooted in a love of the genre. This seems en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate for some­one who was, by her own es­ti­ma­tion, a nerd and a book­worm when she was grow­ing up in small- town Scot­land. “No­body ever saw me from the nose down,” she re­mem­bers, “I just read con­stantly.” Col­gan did, how­ever, find time to watch the TV. Tom Baker, she says, was her Doc­tor, but her “for­ma­tive Who mem­ory” in­volved meet­ing Peter Dav­i­son af­ter win­ning a Tar­get Books com­pe­ti­tion at the age of 11.

“I had short hair and he thought I was a boy, and the TARDIS was made out of ply­wood, but it was still the most won­der­ful thing that had ever hap­pened to me,” she says. “I was com­pletely amazed that Tur­lough [ Mark Strick­son] was so nice to me, as I was young enough to think that if you played a bad­die you were a bad per­son. And I was so over­whelmed to meet Nyssa [ Sarah Sut­ton] that I burst into tears. I thought – and still do think, pretty much – that she was the most beau­ti­ful per­son I’d ever seen in my life.”

Need­less to say, it was a huge thrill to be asked to write a Who novel, but what was it like to do? “I’m still writ­ing Who stuff, and I still adore it,” Col­gan says. “It’s just a thrill and it never goes away. You get a TARDIS! And if I get a funny line in there that re­ally works with the char­ac­ter, I’m fu­ri­ously proud. The other great thing in writ­ing for the Doc­tor in other me­dia is you can go nuts with the bud­get. I aim never to write any­thing that could be filmed for less than $ 150 mil­lion.”

Even Who ed­i­to­rial dis­cus­sions are great. “You can just talk about Doc­tor Who for hours and call it a meet­ing,” she adds. “That is very, very high on the list of stuff I like to do.”

But to re­turn to the younger Col­gan, she re­cov­ered her­self suf­fi­ciently to make it back to school and on­wards to Ed­in­burgh Uni­ver­sity, a pre­lude to mov­ing down south. “You could live in Lon­don then with­out hav­ing to be a bil­lion­aire,” she says. “I did ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing. Sketches; car­toon­ing; and I was the world’s worst stand- up co­me­dian – and when you re­call that Lem­bit Öpik once tried to be­come a stand- up co­me­dian, you’ll get an inkling as to just how bad I was.”

If Col­gan was rub­bish at telling jokes to a live au­di­ence, she turned out to be much bet­ter at telling funny sto­ries in print. (“It’s eas­ier in print be­cause you can think about it and use the delete but­ton…”) In 2000, her first novel, Amanda’s Wed­ding, in­volv­ing a so­cial climber, a Scot­tish laird and at­tempts to pre­vent said wed­ding, was pub­lished. Sub­se­quently, she’s writ­ten at least one book a year, most of which have ap­peared on the bestsellers’ lists.

Some­where along the way, she set up a home in France, where she lives with her hus­band, who’s a marine en­gi­neer, and three chil­dren. “Like all work­ing moth­ers, I am quite ruth­lessly ef­fi­cient,” she says. “And like all work­ing moth­ers, I have help. So I take the chil­dren to school, get some ex­er­cise, then hide in a bak­ery and type fu­ri­ously whilst a nice lady does the hoover­ing. I ac­tu­ally have it loads eas­ier than most peo­ple be­cause I choose my own hours and don’t have to com­mute so ac­tu­ally it’s not as hec­tic as peo­ple think at all. I am, fun­da­men­tally and un­de­ni­ably, in­cred­i­bly lucky.”

But for all that she also has a home in Lon­don, is it ever a battle to re­con­nect with her Bri­tish roots for the sake of her writ­ing? “No, I’m cul­tur­ally still Bri­tish,” she says. “Things like Twit­ter are very good for keep­ing you con­nected. My kids, though, are to­tal frog­gie frogs. They even walk funny, with their fancy scarves and rub­bish pop mu­sic and salad- order­ing.”

Re­sis­tance Is Fu­tile is pub­lished on Thurs­day 28 May.

“Se­ri­ously, as far as I’m con­cerned, Ter­mi­na­tor is about a great love af­fair”

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