We hope you brought your appetite to this Issue 049 author interview, dear readers, because today we’re treating you to a feast with Clare Diston and her story “Dinner with Jupiter“!
LSQ: At the beginning of this story, I was expecting the personifications of the planets, or perhaps the Roman gods, to make an appearance in this story. What made you decide to use the actual planets instead?
Clare: That’s an interesting question! I think there are two main reasons for this. First, the story is about loneliness. It captures a very particular feeling (going through lockdown in a small flat, alone), and so I wanted to convey that feeling as strongly as possible – I think the loneliness might have felt less potent if the planets were able to ‘talk back’ in some way, even if only in the character’s head.
But, second, there was also an idea I wanted to flip on its head: that because the Universe is vast and unconscious, it is frightening. Personally, when I feel the sense of my own smallness and insignificance that you can get from looking at the stars or the planets, I feel comforted by it. I find it a huge relief that all our problems are so microscopically tiny against the backdrop of space; I think all that vast emptiness can get you out of your own head and help you to breathe. So by keeping the planets in my story as the actual planets, I wanted to convey that feeling to the reader: that we can be soothed by something precisely because it is cool and quiet and utterly non-human.
LSQ: What were the challenges in writing a story with only one character?
Clare: I think I actually find it easier to write a story with one character than with multiple characters, because there’s only one person’s thoughts and perspective to deal with! The bigger challenge was to write a story about one person trapped in a room – because they can’t go anywhere or really do anything – but I think having just one character worked best in this story because they were forced instead to retreat into their own head, which is where the weird stuff can happen.
LSQ: The descriptions of the planets are so lovingly crafted. Do you have an interest in planetary science? What kind of research did you have to do for this story?
Clare: Yes, I absolutely love space and I’m currently studying for a degree in Astronomy and Planetary Science alongside my day job. I decided to do the degree because I started reading science-fiction and I really wanted to write my own, with a grounding in real science, but I hadn’t studied science since school (quite a while ago!), so I knew I had to go and learn some. I’m fascinated by the crossovers between the ‘sciences’ and the ‘arts’ – two fields we often like to keep separate, but that I think blend into each other more than we tend to admit. So my knowledge about the planets in this story grew directly out of studying planetary science for my degree; I always want to take the factual stuff I learn and turn it into fiction.
LSQ: Who and what inspires your writing?
Clare: Most of my story ideas come from reading something – in a book (I read mostly contemporary novels, short stories and sci-fi) or in the course of my studies – and hearing that little ‘what if?’ alarm going off in my brain. What if that metaphor was literally true? What if the story played out like this instead of that? What if a person had to directly interact with this really obscure scientific phenomenon? So I suppose I can thank every writer whose work has ever set off those little tripwires in my head!