Check out future worlds of sci-fi writer Griffith

September 29, 1996
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Nicola Griffith is a young science fiction writer who should be added to your list of people to read. Her first novel, "Ammonite," won two prestigious awards, the Lambda and Tiptree, and her second novel, "Slow River," won the Lambda in June. She is known for drawing rich, sexy characters, adding believable science and mixing up gender roles in thought-provoking ways.

She's a kick. I talked to her recently from her home in Seattle where she lives with her partner, Kelley Eskridge. The British-born lesbian writer was very happy -- her first two novels won three awards.

"Awards are wonderful, I love them," she said. "My publisher sends me flowers and candy. Five years ago I was earning less than $1,000 a year. Now I'm feeling quite optimistic."

She said "Ammonite," her first novel, is about a manless society. "It was my first novel and I'm quite fond of it but it's not like anything I'd write today," she said.

In fact, today she is writing a book that can't be described as science fiction at all.

"Penny in My Mouth" is a sort of lesbian noir thriller set in Atlanta featuring a woman named Aud Torvingen who claims triple citizenship (Norwegian, American, British).

"This doesn't mean I won't go back to science fiction someday," Griffith said. "I'm just not writing it right now."

However, she is co-editing an anthology of fantasy fiction, a series called "Bending the Landscape," which will be published by White Wolf in March of 1997. The fantasy collection will be followed by a collection on science fiction in 1998 and a third on horror the following year.

But she hasn't read any exciting science fiction for more than a year.

"I don't think I've read anything recently that's grabbed me," she said. "Most science fiction is too simplistic, too mechanical, there's not enough texture."

Griffith tried to avoid these pitfalls in her second novel, "Slow River," by providing "excitement, frisson, a hit that twists my head around." She did this by having her character, Lore, work in a futuristic water treatment plant that included descriptions of bio-remediation hazards. Yes, she really did manage to make this interesting. She also had Lore move from a privileged place in this near-future world to a place where she lived on the edge and sank to the depths before recovering her position in life.

The book opens with the kidnapped Lore hurt and left for dead on the docks of a miserable city. She is rescued by a woman named Spanner, an expert data pirate who takes Lore in, cares for her, and gives Lore the freedom to re-invent herself.

"Characters have to be real on some level, they have to change and grow," said Griffith.

Griffith's own life has been one of change and growth. Born in Leeds in 1960, she lived there for 18 years. Then she fell in love with a woman and moved to Hull, a city she despised (the unnamed location for "Slow River"), and lived there for 10 years. She sang in a band and wrote short stories. She never went to college.

"Singing was a thrill, but writing was a more sustainable thrill," she said. She got a short story published in 1987 when she was nearly 27 and this inspired her to apply to a science fiction writing workshop in the United States. She was accepted to the Clarion East school in East Lansing, Mich., in 1988.

"And that's where I met my partner Kelley. We fell in love, but I had to come back to England."

Eventually, a year later, Griffith moved to Atlanta to be with Kelley.

"I had no money, no job. I had chronic fatigue syndrome. I was frightened...and God, it was hot in Atlanta. We moved to Seattle last year and that's where we're staying. We're never moving again."

What had been diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome has now been rediagnosed as MS. Griffith doesn't have the time or energy to teach on a regular basis. Instead, she writes.

Look for her third novel, "Penny in My Mouth," sometime next year. And if you want to read more about Griffith, turn to her Web page at

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