We spoke to Naomi about how she writes and what it’s like working in the male-dominated gaming industry.
OM: Can you describe an average day at work?
NA: Hmmm. Not really! I’m currently answering these questions from a hotel room in Manhattan – I’m here to do an interview and have some meetings, as well as have some fun! Last week there were days with Skype meetings about games projects, a morning of recording an essay for Radio Three and some afternoons of walking around thinking about how to edit my new novel. The week before that there were meetings about a play I’m working on, and of course long afternoons of writing. It’s a delight and an exhaustion that two days are very rarely the same. *On average* I try to do novels in the mornings and games in the afternoon. But my schedule changes a lot.
OM: Have you always wanted to do what you do now ?
NA: I’ve wanted to write novels since I was about 14 or 15. And I’ve thought I’d enjoy being on the radio since about then too. I tried to write a novel when I was 15 – I got about two chapters in before giving up because I didn’t know what to do!
As for the games – I’ve been inventing little games since I was about nine or ten years old, but I don’t think I knew it could be a *career* until I suddenly found myself doing it.
NA: Hmmm. You know, the hardest part has been doing the blooming writing. Writing a good novel or anything good is exceptionally difficult.
I love that quote “a writer is someone for whom writing is a little harder than it is for anyone else”. Because you really try and really care, and you compare yourself to people who have done much better than you.
So, yeah, that part. All the rest: the business side, doing interviews and events, public speaking, all that’s quite easy and fun in comparison.
OM: And what’s the best part?
NA: Oh there are lots of best parts!
Doing the blooming writing is also a best part when it’s going well. Which it often isn’t. But when it is, man, that’s quite a feeling. A physical sensation, in fact, the tingle at the nape of the neck that says: yes, this is good.
Doing live radio is a buzz. Being able to get my cultural agenda out on the BBC is a delight. The part where I’m discussing plot or game design with my colleagues and it all just slots together is wonderful. Having a *hit* game is really delightful – as are all the amazing letters we get from people who’ve been helped by our game.
OM: Do you feel you’re treated differently in your industry because you’re a woman?
NA: I wrote a whole piece about this! The answer is: yes, but not consciously for the most part. And one doesn’t always know that it’s specifically happened at that moment.
Like racism, sexism is something you often can’t really detect in your career because mostly it manifests in “people just don’t think of you for that opportunity that you’re eminently qualified for and they couldn’t even say why they happened to think of five blokes ( or white people) if you asked them”.
I would say also, I think there are people trying to redress that balance, and I really welcome, for example, that a lot of male games designers are now saying they won’t appear on all-male panels. That stuff is good, I notice and I’m grateful for it.
OM: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
NA: It was from my mum. She’s an artist. She told me years ago, when I first started writing little things:
“almost no one can make a full living just from selling their art. But almost everyone who wants to can make a life in and around the art form they love.”
You take on different things: teaching and commercial work and working for organisations that do your art and finding whatever way you can to use your skills. That is the best advice I can give to anyone who feels called to creative work.
OM: What qualifications and experience do you need?
NA: Ah, well I don’t think you really *need* any! You can write novels with only the experience of “having read a lot of novels” (that is essential though). I did the MA at UEA and found it utterly life-changing and incredibly helpful, but you don’t *need* it. But I can recommend trying it if you feel it might be useful too!
For games writing, you also don’t *need* any particular qualifications. Here’s my advice though: play a lot of games, and NOT just AAA console titles. If you really care about writing in games, seek out games which put writing at the centre, not the periphery. Play interactive fiction, play Telltale Games works, play games like Inkle Studios 80 Days.And then *make* a game. Yes, you. Go and play with Inform 7 or Twine or Choice of Games or Inklewriter. Make a thing that *compiles*, that is where the code works. Yes you can. Or if you can’t, think again about this as a career path. Then put it on the internet and enter it for competitions. Then do it again. And make friends with coders.
OM: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your career?
NA: Probably errors of omission. I have had a terrible tendency (much improved these days) to get a REALLY COOL EMAIL from SOMEONE AMAZING and then to fail to reply to it for like six weeks, because the excitement and possibility is terrifying and paralyzing. So yes, early on I let things go off the boil out of fear. The thing that’s helped me most with that is: go step by step by step by step. Don’t think about the whole big thing and what it might amount to, just think about the next step. Yes, if this opportunity comes off it might mean being more in the public eye or having to write something exciting but very complicated, but for today all you have to do is write a little email.
OM: What does success mean to you?
NA: Hmmm. I wish I had a good answer to this. Probably just: to keep on enjoying what there is to be enjoyed. To be able to make the things I want to make. To be paid well for them – yes, that is important, women don’t think of this often enough. One day we’ll all be dead, so there’s no permanent success, is there? But it’d be nice to end the race used out, feeling like I’d used my talents to the fullest, that I’ve been on all the rides I came here for.
OM: What’s your feminist wish for the future?
NA: I think good things are happening. I think that young women and young men are already expanding the meanings of gender and sexuality in incredibly wonderful ways. One day there will be no such thing as personality traits or behaviours that we think only one gender gets to have.
In fact, one day, gender will probably be entirely irrelevant, because we’ll all be able to grow a cock or a vagina at will. Basically my feminist wish for the future is Iain M Banks’ The Culture, and I think we’ll get there in the end. Those people will look back at where we are now like we look back at eras when they did dentistry without anaesthetic.
For the medium term, I’d like an eccentric multi-billionaire to remake every single movie and TV show ever made with all the roles gender-swapped but otherwise exactly the same. Can we do that?
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Some brilliant Guardian articles of Naomi’s that you might want to read: