Fiction: 'Paris Adrift' (Extract) by E.J. Swift
Radio Drama: 'The Green Thing' (1950)

'Things flowing and melding together': An interview with EJ Swift and Joey Hi-Fi

Paris AdriftWe've gone large on Paris Adrift, but, well - it deserves it. The smart, twisty, beautiful and inspiring science fiction novel that kicks off 2018 with a bang.

The words are pretty great, and they're accompanied by a cover by one of our all time-favourites (and former resident contributor!): Joey Hi-Fi. Taking advantage of the situation (as one does), we asked both the author and the artist a few questions...

We've kept this spoiler free, but you may want to check out the first chapter. And if you have any questions, join in the hashtag at #ParisAdrift, or fire away to @catamaroon and @joeyhifi.


EJ, what was the process in approaching Paris Adrift? How'd you go about the messy task of plotting/composing a novel that skips around in time?

EJ: I’d wanted to write about Paris since I spent 18 months living there after university, but it was the experience of working the night shift and having your body clock completely reversed that really sparked the idea of Paris Adrift. Time travel was a way to explore a lifestyle that felt at times surreal, and also some of the city’s fascinating history.

As for plotting - let’s just say it involved hair-tearing and the shape of the book changed a lot along the way. 

Joey, what was your impression upon first reading it? When did you first get a peek, and what was your approach to tackling it?

JHF: First impression. This is very short book! Jokes aside, that is because this is one of the rare occasions that I did not get to read the book before designing the cover. I only got a detailed 8 page synopsis. The reason being that when I started working on the cover way back in February 2017, she was still working on the book (most cover art is done way on advance these days). I did get a very detailed synopsis from her. I also asked her if there were any key elements or ‘must haves’ on the cover. She filled in some gaps for me and answered questions on how she imagined certain things. 

Initially I was inspired by the title. It is very evocative and almost ethereal. In reading the synopsis, the image that came to mind was one of flux. Being 'adrift'. Since nothing is permanent when time travel enters the equation. I wanted the cover to almost be a visual representation of time travel and altering of the time stream. The Sacre-Coeur being replaced by the windmill, the anomalies, their symbiosis with humans, music from the cello - things flowing and melding together.

I took various images from the synopsis and had them ebb and flow together: the anomalies (I imagined them as kind ethereal wispy smoke, The Sacre-Coeur, The cello, the windmill with eight sails, the mysterious woman in a green bowler (chronometrist), skulls for the catacombs, the mysterious falcon (bird) and a clock (to signify time and time travel). It's Paris - but adrift - in flux.

The title typography I kept simple - given the detailed nature of the illustration. I went with type that had a subtle historical and Parisian feel to it. And… I’m waiting for my printed copies to arrive so I can read the book.

EJ: I was at work when I got the email with Joey’s stunning artwork, and considerable restraint was required to not leap up and cavort about the room. I can’t imagine anything that could represent what I was trying to do with the book more perfectly.

With novel that speaks about one space - but a lot of time - how did you choose which to highlight on the cover? There are nods to a couple possible timelines in there...

JHF: Indeed. It was tough choosing. Simply put - I asked. The book contains a lot of interesting visual imagery and I wanted to be sure I used elements that were key to the story over ones that weren’t that integral. Based on our early discussions, I knew that elements like the Sacre-Coeur, green windmill, bird, catacombs and the woman with the green bowler hat played prominent roles. Once I had my shortlist of elements to include I started exploring various visual routes. 

Paris Adrift features the Paris of many different eras. How did you handle the research? Were there any particularly helpful sources or approaches?

EJ: On the historical sections there was a lot of reading and I also found Pinterest brilliant, particularly for researching WWII. I got some details from photographs which I might not have found otherwise, like the ‘Spectacle Permanent’ sign on the Moulin Rouge during German occupation. For the present day I was drawing on my knowledge of the city for most locations, but there were some specific sites like the catacombs which I needed to visit specifically for the book. Friends still living in Paris were also really helpful with insights into political topics at the time of writing.

JHF: My research focused on the visual side. So I donned by dark NETromancers robe and peered into my black Apple brand scrying mirror. I Googled. Googled till my fingers bled. And when I was unsure on anything I emailed the author. I try to keep the elements I include on the covers I design as close to the what is in the book as possible. Whenever I start a cover I make a little folder and fill it will visual references relevant to the novel. 

EJ, given the possibilities of time travel, does historical accuracy even matter in a book like this?

EJ: Inevitably with time travel where events change, there’s a point where accuracy goes out the window. But at the baseline I think it’s important to be as accurate as possible, and especially when referring to atrocities like the round-ups of Jewish people during occupation (the Vel' d'Hiv). There comes a point though where you have to set aside the research and just start writing.

Without giving much away, Hallie does have the opportunity to change history, with knock-on effects throughout the present... and future. How do you plot out what changes may and may not happen? How do you keep it from spiralling into total madness?

EJ: There were definitely moments when it was total madness... I think having a position where the intention was to change the timeline helped with the plotting. And I always felt that the focus of the novel was about Hallie rather than about time travel per se, and how she deals with the consequences of her actions. So it was important for her development that there should be unintentional as well as desired changes, and that gave me a place to work from.

What other elements do you think there are to House of Janus' code of practice? Is it more like flying overseas (no live plants, put your phone on silent) or more like the Prime Directive?

JHF: I imagined it more like the Prime Directive (I only have the synopsis to go on). Although if Janus treated their ‘code of practice’ like Captain Kirk treated the Prime Directive…. we’re all in peril. Is that the whirr of the TARDIS I hear in the distance.... 

EJ: Prime Directive is a pretty good analogy! I think to be a true House of Janus agent you can’t really use your anomaly at all, and if you did you would require extraordinary self-control. I would be useless in this situation and would probably have to be eliminated from their cabal.

Where would your anomaly be waiting for you?

EJ: Sydney. I visited last year researching my next book and left a piece of my heart behind.

JHF: Expectation: An abandoned Victorian era house perched atop the hills overlooking the city. Reality: Probably where I least expect it. And somewhere very uncool and embarrassing. Like my bathroom.

Best time-travel work (besides, of course, Time Cop)?

JHF: Ahem. You did say ‘Best time-travel works’ (plural)... right? I’ll limit my choice to two. Since I could go on and on. Film: Nacho Vigalondo’s Time Crimes. Book: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (I admit bias here)

EJ: I’m totally cheating and choosing two. Screen: Edge of Tomorrow because Emily Blunt. Words: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.

And, finally - your next project...?

EJ: I’m working on a book about corals reefs and climate change: three women across three centuries connected by a love of the ocean. But there’s definitely no time travel in this one!

JHF: More book covers. I’m currently working on three covers. Two covers for Penguin Random House in South Africa. One is a literary crime fiction book called Talion by debut author Beyers De Vos. The other is an African sci-fi noir called A Spy In Time by Imraan Coovadia. Yes - another time travel book. They seem to keep finding me! And the third is for a YA book called The Princess Electric. It’s a trippy, dark fairytale with a Dark City vibe to it.


Our review of Paris Adrift can be found here (spoilers: loved it). Snaffle your copy at Amazon,, or your local bookshop of choice.