A book club recently sent me over some questions to answer about The Exodus Betrayal, so I thought I’d incorporate some of them into this author Q&A and share some of my insights with you all. Warning – mild spoilers for The Exodus Betrayal follow…
How did the idea behind the story come to you? How long was this idea in your head before you wrote it?
The rough idea started coming to me when I was working on my first book. I actually started off writing a fantasy story based on the Scottish selkie myth, which got me my agent and started me on the road to becoming a writer. While the selkie book was on submission, I wanted to try something different so made the switch from fantasy to science fiction. They’re both genres I really enjoy reading and writing, and I think at their heart there are a lot of similarities despite the surface-level differences in setting, technology etc.
Part of my inspiration for The Exodus Betrayal actually came from Marvel’s Jessica Jones series, which had aired a couple of years earlier on Netflix. The first season centres around Killgrave, a man who can control people’s minds and force them into doing whatever he wants. It really explores the dynamics of a toxic relationship and follows how Jessica tries to break free and escape from it. I think that planted the seed for the main conflict of the book, and then the rest of the world and the story grew around that central relationship dynamic.
In the end, my selkie book was never picked up, and though I pursued the traditional route for a few more years, it just never really came off for me. In January 2021, I made the decision to self-publish instead, and chose The Exodus Betrayal to be my debut. My reasoning was that The Exodus Betrayal works as a standalone story (whereas the selkie book was meant to be a series) and I wanted something that could stand by itself to test the waters.
The book prompted me to think about what is and what could happen to our planet (environmentally and politically). Particularly with the Station; power, control, politics of big business/corporations. Was this an intentional parallel?
Definitely! While New Pallas is a fictional planet, a lot of the issues it faces are the same issues we’re facing, or could face in the near future. In my day job I do a lot of work around environmental sustainability, and I definitely draw on some of that in my writing. And like you said, it’s not just environmental, but political too (though the two are closely intertwined!). Writing the scenes on the surface was really interesting for me—the people there aren’t just separated politically and technologically, but literally separated by the physical geography of New Pallas.
Power is another important aspect at play here; you can see the hierarchy that starts on the surface, then rises ‘topside’ on New Pallas, and then of course it’s all controlled by the Exodans on their station in orbit. And I think this is reflected in Alvera and her journey—she is cast out from the power structure she was once part of and finds herself down on the surface, looking for a way to climb back up. Across the course of the novel, we see her navigating all three spaces and the dynamics and power imbalances of people within them, and watch as she slowly learns how she can take back some of that power she’s lost.
The book felt reminiscent of Blade Runner. Were you influenced at all by that movie or other movies/books?
Blade Runner is one of the quintessential movies that come to mind when you think of this kind of cyberpunk-style science fiction. I loved the aesthetics of the movie, the questions it posed, the human/artificial intelligence elements, so it was definitely one of my major influences for this book.
As I mentioned above, Jessica Jones also provided a lot of inspiration for the main storyline, and the dynamic between Alvera and Ryce. It might be a superhero TV series, but at its heart it’s also a fascinating exploration of an abusive relationship and really gets into the terrifying power imbalances that produces. I found Jessica’s fight against Killgrave’s power—and the way she has to keep fighting even when she escapes it—really inspiring, and a lot of that really influenced how I wrote Alvera.
Apart from that, there’s a lot of science fiction that inspires me in general. Mass Effect and The Expanse are two more recent series that I’ve fallen in love with, but it all started with Star Wars! I am a huge Star Wars fan—not just the films, but the books, TV shows, games, anything I can get my hands on. The two Knights of the Old Republic games hold a very special place in my heart! It’s definitely had a huge impact on my life and one of the main reasons I love the science fiction genre so much.
What was the biggest surprise for you while you were writing the book? Did you have anything planned at the start that changed as you wrote it and became more immersed in the world?
There were definitely a few surprises along the way and a lot changed. Ryce was actually two different characters at one point that ended up being merged together! I also completely rewrote the ending sequence—the last five or six chapters are very different to how I first wrote them. In my first draft, there were too many threads left hanging that it didn’t feel satisfying. I wanted to make sure there was a solid ending that really wrapped up the journey Alvera went on.
The other thing I changed was toning down how brash and cocky Alvera is at the start of the book. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still brash and cocky, but I was getting feedback that she was arrogant to the point of unlikeable. I ended up going back and developing her more, so that she came across a bit less spiteful and antagonistic while still retaining her snarky, stubborn edge. This also changed her dynamic with Chase, and I think the way their relationship grows and evolves over the course of the book is a wonderful journey and works much better than my original plan, which had them downright hating each other at the start. Even when they don’t get along, there’s still an underlying respect there which I think is an important foundation for what comes later.
How long did it take you to write the speech when Alvera got into everyone’s mind?
It’s difficult to put an exact time on it, but this was definitely one of the parts I had to rewrite a few times to get right. The first version was a lot more optimistic and rallying, as she tried to appeal to the Exodans to join her side. But there was always something about it that didn’t quite feel right. It almost felt too easy, in a way.
The final version that ended up in the book has a bit more cynicism to it. Alvera knows the Exodans won’t accept her. She’s still angry at them for all they’ve done, and she can’t pretend to ignore that. She’ll still save them, but she’ll do it on her terms, whether they like it or not. And I like how she realises how close the line is she’s treading to doing something Ryce would do. I think that’s always a fear in her mind, that she’ll slip and make the same kind of mistakes as he did. But it’s the choices she makes that sets her apart, and it was really interesting to write those kinds of junctions where she could take an easy way out but doesn’t.
I enjoyed reading first chapter of “Those Left Behind”. Is there a connection to The Exodus Betrayal?
Those Left Behind is the first book in a new space opera trilogy which takes place 20 years after The Exodus Betrayal. The story will follow the crew of a scouting ship as they leave New Pallas behind to try to find a new home for humanity.
It’s more of a spin-off than a direct sequel, and it will feature a range of different characters—some you might recognise, and some new! You don’t need to have read The Exodus Betrayal to be able to understand what’s going on, but you’ll definitely have more knowledge of some of the characters and backstory if you do!
Those Left Behind will be coming out in November this year. Make sure to sign up to my newsletter for all the details and to keep up to date on other things I’m working on!