What inspired you to start writing Fragment?
Having been fascinated with biology since I was a child (at the age of 9 I used to dig for fossils in the Hollywood Hills by myself after school, and I attended a neurobiology course at Cal-Tech when I was 11 years old), I have been a life-long student of naturalism, weaned by far-off heroes like David Attenborough, Louis Leakey, and Charles Darwin. That was my general inspiration in all things evolutionary. What specifically inspired the premise of Fragment
were some of the writings of Stephen Jay Gould and the discovery of the Movile Cave in Romania, where 33 previously unknown species had evolved in total darkness after being sealed off for five million years. After tinkering with ideas based on these and other fascinating facts, the whole story suddenly fell into place in a flash of inspiration – and I dropped everything else I was working on and never looked back until it was done.The scientific detail is very impressive, how long did it take you to research the background to the novel?
In a sense, all of my life. I have always pondered what forces brought about the emergence of our planet’s incredibly diverse life forms. It’s a constant audio track in my head. Once I began work on the novel proper, however, it took about three years of intense research to flesh out the ecosystem of Henders Island. The creatures from the island are included in sketch form in the book. Did you always know how you wanted them to look?
Yes, I knew precisely how I wanted them to look, what kind of locomotion I wanted them to have, etc., then worked with scientists and artists to bring that to life, and during that process they evolved as necessary adaptations emerged. It was a very Darwinian process! What surprised me most was that no matter how outlandish and alien the species I thought I was creating, I nearly always found that nature had beaten me to it and that there was some living allegory that used precisely the same process or mechanism – sometimes in an even more outlandish form! Ironically, trying to outdo nature with all the freedom of my imagination gave me a renewed respect for nature’s staggeringly boundless invention. Do you have any one scene in Fragment that you most enjoyed writing?
Without giving too much away, I had a blast writing the rover scene. One of the things I love to do is put characters into the most terrifying position I can imagine, with no clue how to get them out of it, strand them there and sit back to watch what happens. Did you find that the characters behaved as you had planned, or did they ever surprise you? They surprised me, often, and certainly did what they wanted to in most respects. Sounds odd perhaps, but I don’t create characters so much as identify them, put them in the situation, and then report on what they do. I know what kind of characters, in terms of skills and personality, I will need to have present to accomplish certain things, and outside of that, I let them go. Curiously, they won’t let themselves die sometimes, even if that’s what I had planned, and if and when they do die, it’s very hard for me to report the news of their deaths.