Do you feel your work matured greatly between Ammonite and Slow River? Reading both of those books recently, it seems to me that the writing is stronger in Slow River, and that the characters are stronger too.
Yes, I’ve matured as a writer. (There are some, of course, who would disagree and say Ammonite’s a better book. It’s certainly a different book.) Ammonite is a novel and not polemic, but while I was writing it I was very conscious of the tradition of sex-battle texts from which sprang the women-only words of the seventies and eighties in British and American SF. In response to those texts, Ammonite was, on some level, an answer to that perennial subtextual question: Are women human? Slow River, on the other hand, is a purely personal exploration of some of the things that bother and/or intrigue me: Who are you when you have nothing left but your inner resources? When a deeply cherished belief about yourself is shown to be not true, what is there to replace it? How far are we prepared to step outside our moral boundaries, and what happens if we step outside too far or too often? I was writing for myself, and writers can be their own toughest critics. I tested everything, every step of the way.
Ammonite was my first book. I lavished upon it all the gorgeous images and sentences that came to me out of sheer joy. With Slow River, I was much more concerned with making the writing serve a purpose: instead of vivid imagery in the text, I have tried to use the scenes themselves as metaphors. It’s a harder task–and it looks a lot less flashy (which is, I think, why some people think Ammonite is better writing)–but it’s ultimately more satisfying. Somebody once said [and I can’t remember who–if anyone reading this knows, please tell me] that writing is a feather, but it should be a feather in the arrow that sinks the point home, not a feather in the author’s jaunty cap, or words to that effect. That’s what I tried to do with my second book.
As for the characters, yes, I think the people in Slow River are deeper, more real and more mature. This is partly because I think I’ve grown as a writer, but also because I’ve grown as a person. I think I see things more clearly–or at least differently. The person who wrote Slow River is not quite the same person who wrote Ammonite. The person who is currently writing Penny In My Mouth* is different again. I wonder what you’ll think of that book…
* which became The Blue Place. Which is what gives me a clue about the date of this question and answer. TBP was published in summer 1998. I finished the ms. about 18 months before that. So I’m thinking this AN was from late 1996. I’ve assigned the arbitrary date of October 15.