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Author Interview: RJ Anderson

Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Hey, everyone! Today we have RJ Anderson here today to talk about her latest release Ultraviolet, which both Hikari and me adore! We're so excited to have her here today.


Once upon a time there was a girl who was special.

This is not her story.

Unless you count the part where I killed her.


Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori—the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right?

Before we start, would you introduce yourself to readers in twenty words?
Canadian-born, UK bestselling author of fantasy & SF for older children & teens: KNIFE a.k.a. SPELLHUNTER, REBEL a.k.a. WAYFARER, ARROW, & ULTRAVIOLET.  (Punctuation doesn't count, does it?)

How did you come up with the idea of writing a story where the main character has synesthesia? Are you a synesthete/ know anyone who's a synesthete?
When I was in my late teens, one of my older brothers brought home a CD by musician Peter Himmelman, entitled SYNESTHESIA. After listening to the song of the same name, I became fascinated by the lyric "I hear the colour and I taste the sound," and wondered where such an idea came from. I looked up synesthesia in a dictionary and discovered that the term described a blending or cross-wiring of the senses, where stimulation of one sense activated another -- for instance, seeing shapes and colours when listening to music, or getting a particular taste in your mouth when thinking of a certain word.

My first thought was, "How amazing would that be? It's like having sensory superpowers!" but then I thought about it a little more and realized that it could be really difficult to cope with, especially if nobody around you shared or understood the things you were feeling. In fact, I could imagine that a person with powerful synesthesia could be perceived as delusional and weird by others... and that was the beginning of Alison's story.

I myself am not a synesthete (and this is a great disappointment to me, as I would love to know what it's like) but I have a close friend with quite intense synesthesia, and my oldest son has a little of it -- for him, numbers have colour, gender, and are "fat" or "thin". He can't explain why; they just are.

What kind of research did you put into writing Ultraviolet?
Years and years of reading everything I could get my hands on about synesthesia, plus a whole lot of biographies, books and articles about mental illness, psychiatric care, police and legal procedures. I interviewed a number of people with synesthesia and/or experience of living and working in the mental health system, and I also took a trip to the city where the book is set to refresh my memory of what it's like -- though I lived in Sudbury for ten years and went to high school there, so I had a pretty good sense of the place already.

Why aliens? Where did that sudden sci-fi twist come from?
In the words of River Song: "Spoilers!" (which is something of an answer in itself -- I am a total DOCTOR WHO geek, classic as well as new. I grew up watching the original STAR TREK as well).

The extraterrestrial twist was there in my mind from the very first draft -- I've loved fantasy and SF since I was a child, and really couldn't imagine writing a straight contemporary story with no extraordinary elements. So even though I chose to ground the story in a real, modern-day setting and make it possible for the reader to assume that Alison is merely confused or delusional about what happened, I also deliberately included a lot of science fictional ideas and references that would suggest another possibility. (The very first chapter has both an X-FILES reference and a BLADE RUNNER reference, for instance.) I hoped to make ULTRAVIOLET the kind of book that people would want to read twice -- once when they don't know the twist, and once again when they do to pick up all the clues they might have missed along the way.

Describe Ultraviolet in a Haiku.
A good haiku is such a lovely thing that I would rather not write a bad one, and I'm afraid that if I tried, that's exactly what would happen. Sorry! Writers are not always poets, and I have written enough bad poetry to know. :)

And I have to ask this… where did you find the amazing guy called Faraday?
Like Alison with her synesthesia, Faraday's been in my head ever since I wrote the first draft of the story that eventually became ULTRAVIOLET. I wanted someone who was eccentric and mysterious, but also likeable and sympathetic -- a nice guy but not a dull guy, someone trustworthy and stable enough for her to fall in love with but also strange enough to turn her world upside down. I would have made him closer to Alison's age, but I couldn't do that without making him a fellow patient, and he needed to be someone with some authority and credibility... so he had to be a little older than the average YA love interest. But basically he's the kind of guy I would have crushed on madly myself when I was seventeen! I was never interested in buff tanned guys with catalogue-model good looks, I always fell for the lanky guys with interesting faces. And a nice voice definitely didn't hurt. :)

You wouldn’t happen to have plans for revisiting Ultraviolet and/or Faraday’s world would you? (As much as I love the bittersweet ending, I’d hate to see things end like this!)
I do indeed have plans to write another book in the series -- the companion to ULTRAVIOLET is tentatively called QUICKSILVER, and it's scheduled for early 2013.

First faeries, now aliens, what can we look forward to seeing from you next?
Well, my new series, which kicks off with SWIFT early next year, takes place in the same world as my faery books but deals with a slightly different group of magical people -- the piskeys of Kernow (Cornwall). I'll be writing at least two books in that series in addition to the ULTRAVIOLET sequel, and that should take me through to 2015 or so. After that, who knows?

Do you believe that there’s another world out there?
Well, as a Christian I believe in a supernatural realm which exists beyond the physical and is actually more, not less, significant than what we're currently experiencing. I think that philosophy underlies all my stories -- the idea of another world unknown to us but no less real because of it. But do other inhabited planets exist which support alien life? I think probably not -- but it wouldn't bother me if there were, either.

If you could visit any place in time or space, where would you go?
... I can never make up my mind about this one, so I'll pass.

What’s your playlist for Ultraviolet?
I do have a playlist made up for the book -- it's here.  It's just a fraction of the songs I listened to while working on the book, but it's a pretty good representative sample.

What’s your favorite writing snack?
A very large cup of tea!

Where can we find you when you aren’t writing?
Reading a book, either quietly for my own pleasure, or out loud to my husband and kids.

Thank you for the interview!


R.J. Anderson was born in Uganda, raised in Ontario, went to school in New Jersey, and has spent much of her life dreaming of other worlds entirely. Now married and a mother of three, Rebecca reads to her sons the classic works of fantasy and science fiction that enlivened her own childhood, and tries to bring a similar excitement and timeless wonder to the novels she writes for children and teens. She currently lives in the beautiful theatre town of Stratford, Ontario.

Related Posts:


  • Kris's review of Ultraviolet
  • Hikari's review of Ultraviolet

  • ** Both reviews contain links to places where you can buy Ultraviolet.
    3 comments on "Author Interview: RJ Anderson"
    1. I loved this book and she is becoming a favorite if mine as well! Nice interview! I'm really happy to hear of a companion novel to Ultraviolet.

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    2. This is a book on my to-read list. What a wonderful interview. I am really glad to get to know the author and book a little more before I read the book. Thank you!

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    3. I need to check this book out. It sounds amazing! And I love the question asking the author to describe the book in a haiku. Great work!

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