- Nikky Lee
10 Questions with S.J. Pratt
S.J. Pratt loves writing young adult science fiction. She runs an aerospace engineering company by day and writes by night (well, early hours of the morning), is an avid feminist and coffee addict, and looks forward to culminating her existence as an omnipotent space whale. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her incredible husband and incredibly needy cat.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
I’m S.J and I love to write young adult and science fiction stories. I live in Christchurch, New Zealand. Well, I live in the countryside just outside of Christchurch on a lovely lifestyle block with my husband and my exceptionally needy cat, Milly. I try to do yoga everyday and I love going rock climbing with my hubby whenever I can. I also enjoy writing early in the morning, before everyone has got up and the world is quiet, and I drink copious amounts of coffee, which might not be great for the body but is wonderful for the soul :)
2. What drew you to that particular genre and/or age group?
I grew up on science fiction. Reading I, Robot and watching Star Trek, I fell in love with the science, the technology, the stars and the vast possibilities. One thing I adore about sci-fi is the amazing ability to ask 'What if?' What if robots had feelings and personalities? At what point does a robot have a sense of humanity? What would happen if we met aliens? Or it can be a little more abstract, social, and close to home, like in the case of my own writing which currently asks: What if women were the dominant sex? And what if a young man wanted to be more than his sexist society has defined him as?
I also love the accessibility and possibility of Young Adult fiction. In terms of accessibility, I think there’s a beautiful simplicity to the writing in YA (which is no easy feat to pull off) and it means that the reader can really sink their teeth into the story and the characters. YA is easy to disappear into after a hard day at work. I also love the readers. Young adults are so full of passion, they’re open-minded and you can see their potential, these people are going to grow up to rule the world and it’s an honour to be a part of their lives, even just for a little bit in a distant way through a story.
3. What’s your best known work?
Certainly The 716. It’s a YA sci-novel set in a future where women rule and men are considered the subservient sex. We follow the journey of two ambitious and passionate teens: Andy and Olivia, who both want to be engineers, but their circumstances of birth hold them back from realising their dreams. When Andy gets the chance to prove himself on the female stage and Olivia realises boys might be more capable than she has been led to believe, everything starts to change.
A vivid coming of age story filled with resistance, romance and the courage of everyday heroes.
Olivia is destined to be the future leader of Meliora. She’s smart, rich, and innovative, and she has a pink Identifeye light.
Andy is destined to be a waiter and househusband. His blue Identifeye light prevents him from pursuing his dream of becoming an engineer. After all, who ever heard of a male engineer?
But when Andy’s life becomes entangled with Olivia’s and he gets the chance to prove himself on the female stage, everything starts to change.
In a society where men are second-class citizens and only binary gender norms are acceptable, Andy and Olivia must confront their own beliefs and decide what kind of world they want to live in.
Will they do what is expected or what is right? And will the wrong choice spell disaster?
4. What inspired you to write it?
So many things! My own experiences as a woman, for sure. We live with tons of micro-aggressions every day, are belittled for our gender, paid less, interrupted constantly. And at the same time, I have found myself perpetuating some of these beliefs. I can’t tell you have many times I’ve apologised basically for existing and taking up space! As a feminist, I wanted to do something about this, to stand on the shoulders of the suffragettes and the giants before me, and do my part to spread the word about feminism and how we can all embrace it.
The real kick start was a conversation with a friend. We were talking about something that made me very upset, a sexism issue, and while he was empathetic, he didn’t really get it. Like, he was supportive, but not super interested. And then, for some reason, I asked him how he’d feel if it was the other way around, if this awful stuff had happened to a man, and suddenly I could see his fire. His determination and passion came out in a way I’d never seen before. So, I wondered, could we get more men passionate about eliminating sexism and get them to understand how odd and hard it is by painting the world the other way around?
4. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, pantser or somewhere in between? How do you research?
This is something that is constantly evolving for me, and I love it. At the moment I’m more of a plotter, but certainly somewhere in between. I like to work out the beats of the novel, know where we are heading, but then I let the characters take over and show me how they want to get there. I tend to research up front. For The 716 I read a ton of books about the suffrage movement, about the first women to go to university and their experiences, about early female engineers and pilots. I talked to women alive today about their experiences and had some awesome chats with some non-binary folks to get a fuller perspective on gender. It’s super fun, and I admit that I usually start to write while I’m researching because I’m so excited, but I try to wrap my head around the research before I put pen to paper.
6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
I’d say how a Spitfire works. My two main characters want to get this old relic up and running but they can’t, so my research was intensely focused around how we currently power the old plane, and then after considering the technology of my world and my characters’ understanding of their past, researching if the way I wanted them to get the Spitfire working was even plausible. I am not an engineer so a lot of nights went into this! Luckily, I had a wonderful mechanic friend and my incredible engineer husband to help me too. Lots of “Here’s a glass of wine, what if they increased the flow rate? Would that work?” Haha.
7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
I recently wrote (and had published, yay!) a short piece about my experiences with endometriosis. It’s called 'Warrior' and it explores the bravery and strength of people with endometriosis, what it’s like to have an invisible disease that is crippling one day and allows you to run around and dance the next. It’s all the years of pain, not being believed and social stigma, not knowing what’s going on, and unsuccessful surgery. But it’s also about determination, about being a woman and a fighter, about being an engineer or a writer or a dancer in spite of this disease, and that us endo warriors don’t have to give up on our dreams.
8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?
I, Robot was a huge influence on me. Before I read that, my sci-fi experience was primarily hard-core outer space explorations, and I liked that this looked at more of a social element (which also having cool tech). It led me to seek out more social-based sci-fi. I adore Jane Austen and would love to have dinner with her. I think that in a time where women were really only valued for a few discrete things, she dared to write and to write about women (who no one wanted to read about, right?). Kate Sheppard, the leader of the suffrage movement here in NZ, who helped win me a right I now take for granted. Cleo Wade, who writes the kind of accessible, true poetry that I just love to read and resonates with me. And a ton of amazing writers who I have met through the Instagram writing community and writing programs. These powerful writers have shown me that writing is valuable and self-publishing is possible, that it is hard and wonderful and I am not alone in this journey. They have such wisdom and compassion and are so happy to share both. I’ve learned so much from them and I look forward to being able to give back to the community more as I learn and write more.
9. What books are on your bedside table right now?
The Thursday Murder Club. I love YA and sci-fi but I like every second book I read to be outside my genres. So I’m diving into a murder mystery and it’s super fun!
10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
The 716 releases on March 8th, International Women’s Day! The e-book can be pre-ordered here: books2read.com/the716
And people can sign up for a paperback here.
Other than that, I’ve had a few stories published, but probably the easiest one to get to is 'The Scientists in the Wardrobe', which is very short piece about a young girl trying to convince her father to help her get rid of the scientists in her wardrobe. It can be read for free here.
Follow S.J. Pratt on the these platforms!
Newsletter (get the first three chapters of The 716 when you sign up!)
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