The US ex­pat tells us about her new book with an ex­tremely long ti­tle.

The amer­i­can émi­gré on her new novel set in Vic­to­rian Lon­don

SFX - - Contents - Words by Jonathan Wright /// Photography by Kevin Nixon

nov­el­ists of­ten talk about cre­at­ing pro­tag­o­nists who seem to act in­de­pen­dently, but this had never hap­pened to Lisa Tuttle. Un­til, that is, she met one Miss Lane, late Vic­to­rian-era res­i­dent of 203A Gower Street, Lon­don, and one half of the Jes­per­son and Lane de­tect­ing duo. “She’s not me, but I hear her voice and her story comes with her,” says Tuttle.

And quite a story it is, as Ge­orge RR Martin re­alised when Tuttle sent a Jes­per­son and Lane short story, The Cu­ri­ous Af­fair Of The Dead Wives, to her co-au­thor and friend for in­clu­sion in Rogues, a 2014 col­lec­tion the big beard co-edited with Gard­ner Do­zois. “Ge­orge said, ‘This feels like the begin­ning of a novel, are you in­tend­ing to write more?’” says Tuttle. “‘Oh not a novel,’ I said.”

Some­times, in the best pos­si­ble way, things don’t work out. Af­ter toy­ing with the idea of shorter fic­tion, Tuttle re­alised a Jes­per­son and Lane novel would ac­tu­ally be far eas­ier to sell, and the rather won­der­ful The Cu­ri­ous Af­fair Of The Som­nam­bu­list And The Psy­chic Thief was born. It’s an ori­gin story set in 1893, which shows the duo – clever and com­posed Miss Lane, and ec­cen­tric, hy­per­ac­tive, “ex­ces­sively tall” Jasper Jes­per­son – team­ing up.

The choice of year was im­por­tant. “One of the rea­sons I’m so at­tracted to that pe­riod is it was get­ting to the point where there was much more re­sis­tance to the Vic­to­rian cer­tain­ties – ‘You have to do this’ – and much more aware­ness, cer­tainly on the part of women, that it doesn’t al­ways work out.” Es­pe­cially for spin­sters at a time when peo­ple talked about the “sur­plus women prob­lem”.

vic­to­rian val­ues

“[It’s] not that there were too many more women than men, but the num­ber of men who could ac­tu­ally sup­port a wife: there weren’t enough,” Tuttle ex­plains. “Plus you of­ten had women who would be look­ing af­ter their par­ents be­cause the other sis­ters got mar­ried off, and they were the ones who all the fam­ily du­ties de­volved on, and their par­ents are dead and what do they do?”

For the wealthy, this wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily a prob­lem, but for even mid­dle-class women with­out cap­i­tal, such sce­nar­ios could be po­ten­tially dis­as­trous. “She is in a so­ci­ety where she has to be con­stantly on her guard, she’s vul­ner­a­ble,” says Tuttle of Lane.

That doesn’t mean she’s weak. As Jes­per­son and Lane’s first ad­ven­ture un­folds, it’s clear Lane, for all her part­ner has el­e­ments of Holmes about him, is no bum­bling but brave Wat­son. In­stead, she’s smart, self-as­sured and prac­ti­cal, a proto-fem­i­nist largely un­fazed by a case in­volv­ing a sleep­walker, missing medi­ums and de­cid­edly el­dritch hap­pen­ings.

Which may make her a lit­tle more like Tuttle than the au­thor con­cedes be­cause the Amer­i­can’s ca­reer has been full of mo­ments when she took a leap. Grow­ing up in Hous­ton, Texas, she re­mem­bers, she was some­how aware writ­ers didn’t make a lot of money, but she de­cided to be­come an au­thor any­way. “I re­alised, ‘Well, I may have to have a job so that I can then write the books I like,” she says.

Her ca­reer got off to a fly­ing start and she be­gan selling sto­ries while she was still in col­lege. In 1971, she at­tended the Clar­ian Writ­ers Work­shop where her tu­tors in­cluded Sa­muel R De­laney, Joanna Russ and Har­lan El­li­son. In 1974, she won the John W Camp­bell Award for Best New Writer. “When you’re 18 or 19, you don’t know, you think that’s how it works,” she says when SFX sug­gests her younger self didn’t re­alise how lucky she was.

north of the bor­der

In 1981, she mar­ried fel­low writer Christo­pher Priest and moved to the UK. When the mar­riage failed, she stayed, think­ing to her­self, “I’ve got a book con­tract, I’m writ­ing a book, I’m here so I think I’ll stay here and see if I can make it, con­tin­u­ing to be a free­lance writer.”

In 1990, pos­si­bly to avoid writ­ing an­other Ca­su­alty nov­el­i­sa­tion (Me­gan’s Story un­der the pseu­do­nym Laura War­ing, since you’re ask­ing), she and new part­ner, crime writer Colin Mur­ray, moved to ru­ral Scot­land and a house “in the mid­dle of a for­est on the shores of a loch”. When SFX meets her in Lon­don, it’s a rare foray south.

Through­out her ca­reer, cer­tain threads have run through her work, no­tably fem­i­nism (she’s writ­ten an En­cy­clopae­dia Of Fem­i­nism), along with what you might call a slip­stream sen­si­bil­ity, which has per­me­ated her fan­tasy, SF and hor­ror. “One thing that al­ways ap­pealed to me, and still does, is the in­tru­sion of some­thing weird, strange, in­ex­pli­ca­ble into the nor­mal,” she says, “whether that’s time travel or a ghost or mad­ness, I like all those things.”

On which sub­ject the next, as yet un­ti­tled Jes­per­son and Lane book will find the duo in East Anglia. What could pos­si­bly hap­pen in such worka­day sur­round­ings? “It in­volves the Shriek­ing Pits of North Nor­folk, and witches, and a man who’s try­ing to set up a school of an­cient Bri­tish wis­dom,” she says. It sounds great.

The Cu­ri­ous Af­fair Of The Som­nam­bu­list And The Psy­chic Thief is pub­lished by Jo Fletcher Books on 16 June.

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