Eleventh Heaven

SFX - - Red alert -

There is noth­ing more quintessen­tially 2015 than the way in which Emily St John Man­del found out she’d won the pre­mier prize for genre fic­tion, the Arthur C Clarke Award.

“I was ob­ses­sively hit­ting re­fresh on Twit­ter,” says Man­del. “My ex­pe­ri­ence has been that I find out about ev­ery­thing on Twit­ter first! It was very strange – I’m used to ob­ses­sively hit­ting re­fresh and not win­ning the awards, but it was a re­ally lovely sur­prise.”

It’s a fit­tingly mod­ern method to re­ceive the news con­sid­er­ing the sub­ject mat­ter of Sta­tion Eleven, a novel that tracks a theatre troupe as it brings Shake­speare to a post- apoc­a­lyp­tic land­scape.

“I wanted to write about the mod­ern world, about this ex­tra­or­di­nary ap­pa­ra­tus of cell phones and aero­planes, elec­tric­ity and run­ning wa­ter that I think we com­pletely take for granted,” says Man­del. “It seemed to me that an in­ter­est­ing way to write about this present- day world would be to write about its ab­sence, to think about what the world would look like if all of those de­tails were to fall away.”

It’s an idea that, com­bined with Man­del’s el­e­gantly sculpted prose, has pro­pelled her into the best­seller lists and seen her join an im­pres­sive list of pre­vi­ous Clarke Award win­ners. “I grew up in Canada, where Mar­garet At­wood is sort of our reign­ing queen from a lit­er­ary per­spec­tive, so it’s in­cred­i­ble to win an award that she won,” says Man­del. “I have vast re­spect for a lot of the other win­ners – China Miéville is one of my favourite writ­ers. It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary hon­our.”

The ques­tion now, of course, is how to fol­low such a re­sound­ing suc­cess – although it seems we’ll be wait­ing a while to find out. “In the­ory I’m work­ing on an­other novel,” says Man­del. “But in prac­tice Sta­tion Eleven has taken over my life. Which is a great prob­lem to have!”

So how would you cope with the end of the world?

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