Author of fantasy and science fiction, as well as, poetry, Brian Fence is a Renaissance man of the modern world. Apart from being an Oxford University science graduate with a penchant for writing, he enjoys cooking, ballroom dancing, traveling, day dreaming, and spending time with his husband and five cats – not necessarily in that order.
His debut novel, Librarian, hit the shelves in May 2013 and its sequel, Apprentice, followed the next year, in December 2014. These books form part of the Lenna’s Arc trilogy, a dystopian adventure fantasy that follows an assistant librarian who journeys through an alternate world. It is a story filled with magic, politics, adventure and best of all? Queer characters! The last installment in the series, Freewoman, is set to release this year. I caught up with the author, who spoke about writing female characters, blending fantasy fiction with a queer narrative and more.
KJ: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
BF: I always wrote, but initially, I wanted to be a doctor. Then I learned that I fainted at the sight of blood, so that career went out the window! Writing was, until very recently, more of an outlet. Now, I’m proud to devote my full attention to honing my craft.
KJ: What was the first thing you ever wrote?
BF: Oh gosh! I think it was a piece of fanfiction about Bubble Ghost, a video game from 1987. I was six at the time and it wasn’t at all very coherent.
KJ: What was the source of inspiration for the Librarian?
BF: The inspiration for Librarian came when I had to separate from a lover in the UK. We had a great time when we studied together at Oxford, and later, when he visited America, all those memories came flooding back. Unfortunately, he had to return to England. So, as we sat in a museum, writing, I came up with a story about a gay couple having to be broken apart in the most painful of ways. I needed a witness to that scene so I created Lenna, the protagonist.
KJ: Did any books/authors you read growing up inspire you to write this trilogy?
BF: Diana Wynne Jones has always been a stand-out author for me since I was a boy. We became penpals, and she encouraged me to pursue writing and the study of Japanese — both of which I did. Her writing is fantastical, and magical, and should be read by all — especially Howl’s Moving Castle and Fire and Hemlock.
KJ: Men writing women has, especially in recent times, become the source of memes exposing the rather reductive lens through which men view women. How does your narrative differ?
BF: I believe my narrative differs in that Lenna [the protagonist] is inspired by real women, not the Mary Sues of titles like Twilight. My time at Oxford led me to extraordinary — but like every human, flawed — women. Some were brilliant, some were drunks, and some were absolute slags. I like to think I didn’t view these women but rather, lived within them. After all, I myself was a bit brilliant, a bit of a drunkard, and a total slag. Lenna has a lot of me in her.
KJ: What are some things you have to keep in mind when writing fantasy fiction with a queer narrative?
BF: When writing a queer narrative, I find that for me the best thing is to realize that being queer is part of some of my characters, but not their whole. Everyone has so much to offer — being queer adds color to their universe but doesn’t define them as an entire person. They still struggle with the same mundane problems that non-queers do.
KJ: Why did you think it was important to have a female lead and prominent LGBTQ characters in your story?
BF: As I said before, I wanted a witness to a queer couple in love, someone who was very much loved but never realizes it. Lenna didn’t have to be a woman, but it felt like her witnessing her best friend departing from his lover was the best way to explore the grief from an outsider’s perspective. There’s also some gender-bending in the novel as well, which I thought spoke well to fluidity.
KJ: What’s a question you hope readers ask you about the Librarian?
BF: I hope readers that read Librarian want to know how Luc, one of the queer characters, deals with his grief in the follow-up novel, Apprentice.
KJ: What can readers expect in your upcoming installments?
BF: With Apprentice finished, the final installment of “Lenna’s Arc” will be released this year, titled Freewoman. Readers can expect a strong, feminist leader dealing with copious amounts of loss. Does she make the choice to save her world full of pain, or abandon it? You’ll have to wait and see.
KJ: Are you working on anything else at the moment?
BF: I run a serial piece starring a queer hero, a covert magician in modern times named Jacob Orange. His first story, “The Eighth Bible of New Eygpt” appears in Spark: A Creative Anthology. Since then I’ve been compiling his short stories into a full-fledged novel. I’m also queering a Scottish ballad, “Tam Lin,” into a novel set in the 90s/early 2000s where the boy saves the boy instead of the girl saving the boy. It’s called The Janet Project.