Q&A with Judith Field, Assistant Editor

When did you first discover that you had a predilection for reading and writing? When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

 

My mother taught me to read and write before I was school-aged and the first thing I can remember of it is writing my name at the top of a drawing and asking her how to spell it. I first discovered I had a predilection for reading once I started school at the age of 5, and noticed that when the teacher got us to do “silent reading”, I was surrounded by a buzz of mumbling kids reading aloud to themselves, whereas I just read inside my head. My parents were published writers. My father had started writing before I was born, and my mother started when I was about 14. I was encouraged to write as a kid and my father used to set me little writing challenges, then we’d discuss what I’d written. He was a stern critic when I was older.

 

What were the earliest influences on your reading/writing?

 

My parents.

 

What was the impact of these early influences, and what, if anything, has changed in how they influence you today?

 

The impact was that writing was considered as just another thing we did in the family. Unfortunately, my parents are no longer alive. My father was still with us when I first began to get my journalistic pieces and stories published in 2009, and was very encouraging. They would trudge to the post office and mail their manuscripts off. Now, it can be done with the touch of a key, for short stories at least, so it’s much faster to submit.

 

Who are some of your favorite authors and how have they influenced your preferences?

 

I’ve got several favorites, but when it comes to speculative fiction, it has to be Connie Willis. She’s a great storyteller with a wonderful sense of humor but is capable of writing so much more: from madcap, screwball comedy to tragedy. Her characters, like them or loathe them, are unforgettable.

 

What do you look for in a story?

 

Psychologically rounded characters that create tension and dynamism in a story. A character who I can empathize with. This doesn’t mean I have to like the character. A strong plot that holds the attention. I like a story that starts in the middle of the action or just before, and that doesn’t include big information dumps, or anything that doesn’t either move the story along or reveal something about the characters. A story that stays with me after I’ve read it – but in a good way. See below!

 

What do you not look for in a story? Is there anything that you would consider a deal-breaker and would make you stop reading? If so, what is the number one thing in a story that turns you off the most, enough to make you stop reading?

 

I am not over-keen on sex scenes and I don’t like extreme violence but what turns me right off is any sort of exploitation or oppression. Two stories that I rejected (I can’t remember where they’d been submitted) stick in my mind and I wish I could somehow un-read them. One had a main character who was sexually assaulted and humiliated by everyone from her family, to colleagues, to complete strangers, everywhere she went. It just seemed to happen to her and I don’t think there was any point to the story (such as it was) besides giving the author the chance to write about rape. Another story featured a woman who was cruel to the elderly people she cared for. That author had managed to combine all that with describing the carer in a racist way. I couldn’t stand to read to the end so I don’t know if the victims got their own back and I didn’t care.

 

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