Grimwood, Jon Courtenay
Grimwood, Jon Courtenay
(Jon David Giles Courtenay Grimwood)
PERSONAL: Born in Valletta, Malta; married (marriage ended; married Sam Baker (a novelist and editor); children: (first marriage) Jamie. Education: Kingston University (honors degree). Hobbies and other interests: Motorbikes, travel in the United States, North Africa, and Japan, swimming, computers, cookery.
ADDRESSES: Home—Winchester, England; and London, England. Agent—The Marsh Agency, 11 Dover St., London W1S 4LJ, England.
CAREER: Journalist, editor, and novelist. Cassell (publisher), senior editor; Benn Brothers (publisher), became head of production department; Blandford Press, former editor; Javelin Books, publisher. Former fiction editor for a women's weekly; consultant editor at Boxtree; men's news editor at New Woman; freelance writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award for Best Novel, 2001, and John W. Campbell Memorial Award, 2002, both for Pashazade; BSFA Award for Best Novel, 2003, for Felaheen.
NeoAddix, New English Library (London, England), 1997.
Remix (sequel to NeoAddix), Earthlight (London, England), 1999.
Redrobe (sequel to Remix), Earthlight (London, England), 2000.
Stamping Butterflies, Victor Gollancz/Orion Books (London, England), 2004.
Ninetail Fox, Victor Gollancz/Orion Books (London, England), 2005.
Pashazade: The First Arabesk, Earthlight (London, England), 2001, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Effendi: The Second Arabesk, Earthlight (London, England), 2002, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Felaheen: The Third Arabesk, Earthlight (London, England), 2003.
Also author of Mrs T's Bedside Book, 1985; A Photohistory of the 20th Century, 1986; The Royal Bedside Book, 1986; Mrs T's Election Bedside Book, 1987; Lucifer's Dragon, 1998; and 9Tail Fox, 2005. Also editor for Inside Intelligence, the memoirs of an MI6 man. Monthly review columnist for London Guardian. Has published journalistic articles in numerous periodicals, including London Independent, Telegraph, Maxim, and Esquire.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A television series.
SIDELIGHTS: Jon Courtenay Grimwood is considered a rising star in "literary" British science fiction. In an interview with Jane Palmer on the Computer Crow's Nest Web site, Grimwood explained his fascination with science fiction this way: "You get to screw with reality! All SF is about now, what we feel and fear, want or suspect might happen." As Grimwood went on to note, "The real beauty of SF is that anything can happen provided one plays fair with the reader and keeps events coherent within the world one's created. And that brings me to the real attraction, making up the worlds. Any half-decent SF novel should have a world at least as real as the characters (and that doesn't mean one can skimp on the characters either)."
Although he had written three earlier science-fiction books, Grimwood gained widespread attention for his writing abilities with the publication of his "Arabesk" trilogy. As noted by Rick Kleffel on the TrashoTron Web site, "In most books language is used to build characters. In Jon Courtenay Grimwood's 'Arabesks,' language for all intents and purposes is a character." The trilogy is a combination of science fiction and old-style, hard-boiled mystery, all of which takes place largely in Northern Africa. In Grimwood's fictional universe, World War I was won by the Germans and the Ottoman Empire is still a world power. In the first book, Pashazade: The First Arabesk, Grimwood introduces readers to ZeeZee, a troubled youth who is sent from a Seattle prison to El Iskandryia, a mysterious city in Egypt, to live with a wealthy family. It turns out that ZeeZee is actually Ashraf Bey and he has been rescued from the Washington prison by his wealthy aunt, Lady Nafisa. When his arranged marriage is cancelled because of his past, Bey ends up a murder suspect when Nafisa turns up dead. Chief of Detectives Felix Abrinsky is assigned to the case, and Bey goes on the run, seeking the real murderer as well as answers about his own past and about the distinction between reality and fantasy. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the novel a "clever first book of a trilogy." Another commentator writing in Kirkus Reviews commented that the novel "wraps gritty realism in layers of suspicion and suggestion."
In Effendi: The Second Arabesk Bey is still on the run from U.S. authorities, but he is also is now chief of detectives in El Iskandryia. On the job, Bey finds himself searching for a mass murderer to clear the name of the father of his jilted lover, Zara, who has been accused of the murders. At the same time, he is caught up in political intrigue as various countries struggle for power. He also must deal with a group of terrorists who have come to El Iskandryia. In a review on the Concatenation Web site, Tony Chester called the book "every bit as entertaining as the first, with engaging characters and a detailed and fascinating backdrop."
Felaheen: The Third Arabesk finds Bey still asking questions about his true past as he goes undercover trying to unravel a plot to assassinate the Emir of Tunis, who may be his father. But things go wrong, and Bey is accused of the assassination attempt and is buried alive. The novel follows Bey as he sets out to escape, foil the assassination plot, and perhaps reestablish relations with his one-time fiancé, Zara, and her family. In his review on the TrashOnTron Web site, Kleffel called the book Grimwood's "latest lush extravaganza." The reviewer went on to note, "Extravagant is a key word here; Grimwood goes overboard with the Islamic and Arabic neologisms and idioms, immersing the reader in his created world with so much detail that they are at risk of losing track where they might actually be sitting while they read the books."
Grimwood is also the author of Stamping Butterflies, a science-fiction story about an assassination attempt on the president of the United States while on a visit to Marrakech. It is a tramp from Paris who decides he must kill the president after reading about his upcoming visit. Central to the plot is an episode involving a boy whose way of perceiving the world has been altered by a parasite (knowledge). "The story [Grim-wood is] telling is complex and the characters carefully detailed," wrote Kleffel, once again on the TrashoTron Web site. "But there's not an ounce of fat in this novel. There's no excess. You need to consume every word, and when you do the experience unfolds magnificently."
Grimwood told CA: "The greatest influence on my writing is my cat. He's given to stamping on the keyboard, trashing piles of script if I'm editing, and ripping up carpet if I lock him out of the study. In extremis, if he really feels fed up, he'll drag half-dead birds through the cat flap, the bigger the better. As a result, I've taken to working in a café most mornings. In the days before Winchester had anything resembling a decent Café Nero, I used to decant myself onto the Winchester-London train and work there.
"I write every book three times, first draft to get the story, second draft to sort out the plot points, third draft to make sure the language works. As a result I can finish the first draft of something and still not know who committed the murder or why something happened. I always write a chapter breakdown first, before this, and draw up a list of characters. I'm also fond of drawing myself maps and pictures of places, buying the local music (traditional, rock, and dance) and cooking the food to get a grip on how it tastes. You can tell a lot about a culture by looking at what people eat.
"On a typical writing day I get up, go to the café, drink coffee, check e-mail, drink more coffee, sigh, think about the book, drink more coffee, make myself start writing, then look up and discover that half the day has gone, my coffee's cold, and the people around me have changed seven times while I've been lost in the plot. That's the ideal. It leaves out all the time spent reading proofs, arguing with U.S. editors about English ideas of shifting point of view, explaining to Polish translators who Admiral Nelson was, and answering e-mails from fans.
"I'm not sure writers ever have time when they're not writing or at least not thinking about writing. Life gets taken over by characters, what happens next, sorting out plot points and dealing with the fact that killing the hero's sister in chapter three was a really bad idea because she's just walked back in for chapter seven. And I relax by working, however perverse that sounds. When I really need to blow away the cobwebs, I ride my Triumph Bonneville, go swimming or get on a plane…."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Entertainment Weekly, March 11, 2005, Noah Robischon, review of Pashazade: The First Arabesk, p. 108.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2005, review of Pashazade, p. 25.
Library Journal, February 15, 2005, Jackie Cassada, review of Pashazade, p. 122.
MBR Bookwatch, March 2005, Harriet Klausner, review of Pashazade.
Publishers Weekly, January 31, 2005, review of Pashazade, p. 53.
AllSciFi.com, http://www.allscifi.com/ (June 27, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Pashazade.
Computer Crow's Nest, http://www.computercrowsnest.com/ (June 27, 2005), Jane Palmer, "Jon Courtenay Grimwood Interview."
Concatenation Web site, http://www.concatenation.org/ (June 27, 2005), Tony Chester, reviews of Effendi: The Second Arabesk and Felaheen: The Third Arabesk.
Fantastic Fiction Web site, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (June 27, 2005), profile of Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Infinity Plus, http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/ (June 27, 2005), "Jon Courtenay Grimwood."
Jon Courtenay Grimwood Home Page, http://www.j-cg.co.uk (June 27, 2005).
Locus Online, http://www.locusmag.com/ (June 27, 2005), brief profile of Jon Courtenay Grimwood and his work.
SFSite, http://www.sfsite.com/ (June 27, 2005), Rodger Turner, "A Conversation with Jon Courtenay Grimwood."
Strange Horizons Online, http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (August 12, 2002), Cheryl Morgan, "Interview: Jon Courtenay Grimwood."
TrashoTron, http://trashotron.com/ (May 28, 2003), Rick Kleffel, review of Felaheen; (December 19, 2004) Rick Kleffel, review of Stamping Butterflies.