Author Spotlight: Calder Szewczak (THE OFFSET)
Calder Szewczak is writing duo Natasha C. Calder and Emma Szewczak, who met while studying at Cambridge. Natasha is a graduate of Clarion West 2018 and her work has previously appeared in The Stinging Fly, Lackington’s and Curiosities, amongst others. Emma researches contemporary representations of the Holocaust and has published work with T&T Clark and the Paulist Press.
Welcome to the Hive, Calder Szewczak! Let’s start with the basics: dazzle us with an elevator pitch! Why should readers check out your work?
Our first novel, The Offset, is about a dying world where, on your eighteenth birthday, you have to choose one of your parents to die as a carbon offset for your own life.
The story centres on Miri and her two mothers, Jac and Alix. Having run away from home at a young age, Miri is reluctantly brought back just days before she has to make her choice. In Miri’s case, that decision is particularly thorny: although Alix is the mother she loves best, Jac – who she hates – is working to save the world, leading a ground-breaking mission to reforest radioactive Greenland.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
Talking together was the most important part of writing The Offset. We discussed it endlessly, first in general terms as we worked out the scope and philosophy of the project and then in more detail when we started drafting the story. Between the two of us we were able to draw on a bigger variety of life experiences. In some ways we see the world very differently from each other, and it’s so exciting and constructive to be able to see things through someone else’s eyes – especially when that person is someone who you love and trust. Rich conversation has been the cornerstone of our writing process. Lots and lots and lots of talking…
Speaking of worlds, what inspires your worldbuilding? Do you have a magic system/s? If so, can you tell us a bit about it?
We built the world of The Offset upon the imagined ruins of our own. Maintaining a recognisable shadow of our world meant taking contemporary reality as the starting point – if we included scientific procedures not yet possible in the present day, it was important that they were nevertheless plausible. It became something of a principle, and one which dominated the majority of our worldbuilding.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Our partnership is very precious to us and we’re not sure we’d be in a rush to open it up to anyone else, no matter how brilliant the potential collaborator! That said, there are many extraordinary women writing SFF – Charlie Jane Anders, N. K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Nalo Hopkinson, Kameron Hurley, Becky Chambers, Lauren Beukes, Susanna Clarke, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kari Sperring, Juliet E. McKenna, Justina Robson – to name but a few.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
One of the many benefits of a writing partnership is there’s always someone on your side. Whenever we hit an obstacle in the course of writing The Offset, we were able to turn to each other for moral support and to work out what on earth to do next. No matter how gnarly the problem, it always became quite manageable after we’d talked it through.
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
The cover was designed by Mark Ecob, who created a great propaganda-style aesthetic. He came up with the skull and sunflower symbol, which is a fine representation of how the cultural practice of the Offset balances life and death. Plus, 2021 is the year of the sunflower.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
We didn’t particularly come to The Offset with preconceptions about the types of female character we wanted to write – we prefer not to think about people in terms of types. Our only aim was to let our protagonists – Miri and her mothers Jac and Alix – all be shaped by the world in which they live and the challenges they face.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Ideally, together. Thanks to pandemic restrictions and living in different countries, it’s been far too long since we were able to sit down with a bottle of wine and set the world to rights.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
As we’re generally anti-war (even if it is a war waged in a fantastical second world) we’d probably be protesting rather than riding into battle.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Although Olga Tokarczuk is a Nobel Laureate, not enough native English speakers have read her novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead – a book that’s important to us both.
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects? Or can you tell us a few teasers for your sequel?
We do have plans for a sequel to The Offset – there are some big unresolved questions in the book that need to be answered – but we have yet to start writing.
Are you planning anything fun to celebrate your new release? Do you have any upcoming virtual events our readers may be interested in?
We’re hoping to be able to celebrate together and in person. If the vaccination programmes continue to go well, it may even be possible.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
We’re with Barthes on this: the author is dead. When, come September, The Offset goes out into the world, it will belong entirely to the readers and they may take from it what they will.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
The Offset is due for release 14th September 2021 from Angry Robot Books.
You can pre-order your copy HERE
It is your eighteenth birthday and one of your parents must die. You are the one who decides. Who do you pick?
In a dying world, the Offset ceremony has been introduced to counteract and discourage procreation. It is a rule that is simultaneously accepted, celebrated and abhorred. But in this world, survival demands sacrifice so for every birth, there must be a death.
Professor Jac Boltanski is leading Project Salix, a ground-breaking new mission to save the world by replanting radioactive Greenland with genetically-modified willow trees. But things aren’t working out and there are discrepancies in the data. Has someone intervened to sabotage her life’s work?
In the meantime, her daughter Miri, an anti-natalist, has run away from home. Days before their Offset ceremony where one of her mothers must be sentenced to death, she is brought back against her will following a run-in with the law. Which parent will Miri pick to die: the one she loves, or the one she hates who is working to save the world?