A deep-sea robot tells stories in every colour, but no shade can describe meeting a giant squid.
Rainbow Lights is the first collection by science fiction and fantasy author Polenth Blake. Alien scorpions, vampire ice cream sellers and clockwork flies, try to find their place in worlds where being human is optional. These thirty-five stories and poems are a mixture of new pieces and work published in venues like Nature, Strange Horizons and ChiZine.What first inspired you to write genre fiction? And why do you think genre fiction is such a potent form for storytelling?
I grew up in a family of geeks, so science fiction and fantasy were my bedtime stories. Reality is
subjective, but realistic fiction often doesn't acknowledge that. It's written as though what's real and what isn't is a concrete division. Speculative fiction has room for playing for those perceptions.
Who are some of your biggest literary influences?
Anne McCaffrey and Isaac Asimov were among the first authors I read. The stories that particularly stood out to me were McCaffrey's brain ship series and Asimov's robot stories. I recognise the problems with the
stories now that I'm older, but the general themes still interest me.
The whimsy of E. Nesbit and Lewis Carroll's work always appealed to me. Whimsical stories are often dismissed as not being serious enough, as though everything in the world is completely serious all the time. In my world, sometimes life is whimsical, and my stories reflect that too.
More recent influences are Nnedi Okorafor and Shweta Narayan. Their stories have a lot of layers, which is something I hope to improve on in my own work.
What is the weirdest story in your collection? How did you come up with the idea behind it?
It's always hard to judge what's weird to other people, but even my family thought "Incident in Aisle Five" was odd. It's set in a giant supermarket, which the people inside think is the whole world. Their culture revolves around the different departments and the division between shoppers and shelfstackers.
My family doesn't have a car, so I spend a lot of time in the local supermarket. It isn't my whole world, but sometimes it seems like everything revolves around when I have to go shopping next.
I noticed on your website that the title for your book appears to originate from a Word Cloud. Can you talk about how you structured your collection along color lines and how you decided the name?
The word cloud came after the book, but I had noticed a lot of my stories mentioned colour. I'm sensitive to colours, and often differentiate between colours others see as the same shade, so colour is important to me. It meant splitting the stories into colours was remarkably easy, as the divisions were there waiting to be found.
Rainbow Lights comes from the first story in the collection, as the robot has a fascination with the colour of her own lights. As well as tying the colour theme together, rainbows have other symbolism, such as representing diversity. I write about the people around me, and there are all sorts of people around me.
If there is one thing about writing that you wish you'd known when you first started taking it seriously, what would it be?
I did quite a bit of research before I started, so I generally had a good feel for things. What delayed me from starting in the first place was the idea that writers start out with natural talent. I'd always struggled with writing and I'm dyslexic, so I wasn't winning writing contests as a child. I didn't think it'd ever be a career option. So I wish I'd known that being a child prodigy wasn't required.
And lastly, a silly question: Do you really own pet cockroaches? If so, why?
After the family cat died, I missed having a pet. I've always loved invertebrates, and when I saw hissing cockroaches, I was taken with them. Hissers are clean, easy to look after, don't bite and don't mind the fact my room is in perpetual darkness.
My current cockroach is Gem, though I plan on getting a few more soon (they're relatively short-lived, so I've taken to keeping my bio in the plural, as numbers change faster than the stories come out). Gem is adventurous and is the only cockroach I've had escape. She travelled across my room, climbed the curtain, and fell off (falling a few meters). She survived all this with only slight damage to one antenna.
Cockroaches are fun.
To learn about Polenth Blake and her fiction, head on over to her website!