Kate Ling’s debut novel, The Loneliness of Distant Beings, was my top pick of 2016 and remains firmly in my list of all-time favourite books. Space, dystopia and forbidden romance mixed with a meaningful message about mental health made me fall head over heels for this story.
Set on Ventura, a spaceship that set off from Earth 84 years ago in search of a signal that’s hundreds of years away, The Loneliness of Distant Beings is narrated by Seren, who just really doesn’t want to be stuck there for the rest of her life.
Then she meets Dom, and her life turns upside down. Their relationship goes against Ventura’s rules and risks everything, including their lives.
Back when I read it the first time, I thought it was a standalone novel, so in my review I wrote that I wished I could spend more time with Seren, Ezra, Dom and Marianne. I’m pleased to report that Kate has granted that wish in the form of the second book in the trilogy: The Glow of Fallen Stars.
Out on 24 August, The Glow of Fallen Stars does not disappoint. I loved it just as much as I loved Loneliness, and I’ll be sharing a full review very soon.
Today, though, I am so excited to be bringing you an interview with Kate Ling herself. There are no spoilers here so if you haven’t read the first book in the Ventura series, you can read on without worrying. I’m sure this will inspire you to go and grab yourself a copy, and you can do so right here.
If you’ve already read The Loneliness of Distant Beings, you’re not going to want to miss The Glow of Fallen Stars. You can order it from Amazon here.
Now, on with the questions!
What inspired the Ventura Saga? Did you start with the idea of a book set in space, or a forbidden romance, or Seren’s mental health, or did it all come to you as one?
I think space came to me first – it’s always been a bit of a preoccupation of mine. I think it’s partly because I was born at the end of the seventies, just at the time that cinema and television became gripped in a bit of a space and sci-fi craze (think Star Wars) so I’ve been surrounded by these ideas culturally for my most formative years.
I’ve also always been obsessed with the real SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) program, and what would happen if they do actually make a discovery. What if we had reason to travel to a faraway planet? How would humanity possibly make a journey that could take centuries?
And that’s when I started thinking about what it would be like to be someone born in the middle of a mission like that; to be born to die, all without leaving the ship. Wouldn’t that be a bit depressing?
So I think the idea of Seren struggling with her mental health was common sense, and also normalising this and addressing the idea that we ALL struggle with our mental health at some time in one way or another was something I cared about.
In terms of the love story, I thought it would work to contrast the passion and heat of first love with the cold and dark of space, and the restriction and sterility of the Ventura regime.
Mental health plays a big part in Seren’s story. It’s one of the things I love most about Seren as a character: she’s so matter-of-fact about it and that’s aided by the conversational style of writing that gives her such an endearing and realistic voice. What make you decide to write in this style, and in present tense? Did you find it a challenge? And what was the motivation behind having Seren’s mental health as a central part of the story?
Seren’s voice was extremely easy for me to adopt actually – she came to me as such a vivid, fully-formed person, talking away in my head. That kind of writing, a first person narrative where you can actually hear the character’s voice so strongly, is my favourite.
Some of my favourite books are in this style – On The Road, The Catcher in the Rye, Less Than Zero – all of which are also coming-of-age narratives to an extent and also written from the point of view of characters whose mental health is in question.
I think there’s an honesty and poignancy in hearing that inner voice, which really adds to the story. The reader gets to see the world through the main character’s eyes, to experience it.
I thought this would make a great contrast and give the story an originality – to have this sci-fi, space setting (albeit grungy and dirty and visceral) but then put someone normal within it, who has relatable problems. I wanted something different from all the kick-ass, gun-toting chosen ones I was reading about. They’re cool, but I wanted to write someone normal, someone flawed who doesn’t always do what’s right; someone real.
There’s no doubt that Seren and Dom experience what the book-world calls ‘insta-love’ in book one. I thought it worked perfectly with Seren’s personality, and I believe it’s what would have happened if it were real, but what made you decide to go down that route? Was it a challenge developing their relationship further in book two?
I wanted Seren and Dom to be a sci-fi Romeo and Juliet – to have that plunging, instinctive headlong dive into an ill-advised and star-crossed love. Seren is so impulsive, and in her reaction to meeting Dom she is consistent with this. I wanted the reader to feel that strong, magnetic desire she feels, but also to question it.
Neither character knows anything about love or how it works – they have no frame of reference (beyond movies and stories) and so it stands to reason they would fall in love in that kind of way.
In a way, that’s what made developing the relationship further even more interesting. Without spoilers, The Glow of Fallen Stars is partly about Seren and Dom coming to terms with the realities of love and relationships and making a real life together once you come up for air. There are a lot of external pressures in their life now, a lot of other things to think about, and they now have to see if they can stand the test of time. This was an exciting part of the arc for me to be honest.
Did you always know you wanted to write a trilogy? And did you know where the story would take you or has it changed significantly as you’ve written it?
It was always a trilogy, but the actual storyline has taken a number of different directions. It’s like… as you get to know your characters better, as they come alive, they suggest ways in which they might change and develop that you could never have predicted and you have to go with it.
Was writing the second book as difficult as everyone says it is?
Urgh, it was SO difficult. I think I may have found it more difficult than most! There are all these distractions with your first book out there in the world, time pressures for the first time in your life as an author, a deep existential dread in every word you write… haha.
No, the one good thing is that you have your editor from the very early parts of the process, so you have that extra set of eyes, you have that person who knows your characters as well as you do. Both my editors (I have a new one for the third book) are very calm, very level headed and totally know their stuff. They also have a very high tolerance threshold for listening to my anxious ramblings, so that’s helpful.
Did you have to do a lot of research about space? What was the most interesting thing you found out during your research?
I’m a real space nerd – I love it. I SO wish I had studied physics at university, or at least paid more attention to it at school. It’s so philosophical and mind-bending. Mostly I do my research through reading magazines like The New Scientist, or listening to podcasts like the amazing Radiolab. However I often get to the end of the article and don’t have a clue what I just heard/read (especially if it concerns the nature of time or reality)!
My favourite fact is that the Voyager probe (which was launched around the time I was born, carries the famous golden disc and took the “Little Blue Dot” photograph of Earth, as well as the “Family Portrait” of the entire solar system) is still going, still functional, having exited our solar system some time ago and, as of 2012, became the first human-made object to enter interstellar space. Also – not space related – but plants talk to each other through their roots, so they have their own little internet underground – how cool is THAT?!
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
This is probably not that fresh or anything but my advice really is to just write every day, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you hate everything you write. If you’re a writer this shouldn’t be hard to do; in fact for me it’s probably harder NOT to write. I always get to the end of the day and feel like something’s missing if I haven’t done any at all.
So yeah, first of all just write. Write until you find out what you love to write and what you’re good at. Then get some stuff out there. When I was starting out it was all about getting short stories in magazines, but now there’s so many great opportunities online.
I’m on Wattpad now and I love it; it’s a really positive and exciting community and some people have ended up with book deals having started out there. When I was at home with my kids I wrote a parenting blog and it turned into a nice record of that time, as well as being good practice at a point in my life when I had very little opportunity to develop my writing.
Beyond this I would also like to highlight the importance of a good agent! They are absolutely essential in the process of getting published as well as, once you get your deal, your editor. I had no idea just how much these guys do until I was published. Oh, and reading! A good writer must do LOTS of reading.
And finally, are you already working on book three? I am so bloomin’ excited to read it
I first came up with the idea for Loneliness because I was reading about people signing up for a one-way mission to Mars, and I kept wondering who would do such a thing. But I then ended up writing about this idea from a different angle. In book three I circle back to this original idea a little more, but no more spoilers than that! I will tell you this – it’s already in edits, it’s called The Truth of Different Skies, it’ll be out next May and I’m super excited about it!