Anna Smith-Spark Interview

court of broken knives

Anna Smith-Spark Interview

My guest this week is Anna Smith-Spark! She is the author of the Court of Broken Knives. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website greatworks.org.

We talk about gender in fantasy, writing, characters and world building. Also there are some jokes about Tony Blair.

[LISTEN HERE]

anna-smith-spark-author-photo-1I first met Anna on a panel at FantasyCon2015. I believe it was gender and sexuality representation Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I remember a point being made that we hope to one day not have these panels because the issue will have become accepted as representation begets representation.

But we still do get them – I did one at BristolCon this year. We talk about what Anna thinks of the progress that’s been made since and how we may have taken backwards steps recently.

We also delve into the Court of Broken Knives as Anna gives us insights into how she wrote it and where her characters came from.

You can find Anna online here:

courtofbrokenknives.org

https://www.facebook.com/anna.smithspark

 

 

V. E. Schwab Interview

V. E. Schwab Interview

For this week’s episode of the Writers of Fantasy Podcast, I got to talk to Victoria Schwab, aka V.E. Schwab. She is an American fantasy author best known for her 2013 novel Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and her children’s and young adult fiction.

We had a really good, long talk about world building, characters, writing, and gender issues in science fiction and fantasy. Listen here, and there are some key quotes! Check it out!

[Listen here]

On The Near Witch and How a Writer changes

I started out when I was quite young, and I wrote my first book when I was nineteen. The Near Witch was the second book I’d ever written, and I was twenty-one! And I’m now thirty! There’s some growth that happens, I’ve not got thirteen books published, and obviously you grow and change as a person.

I get asked often ‘do you go back and look at your previous work and think of things you would do differently?’ The honest truth is that I kind of look at each and every one of my books as a time capsule of who I was and what I was capable of doing. So, I never want to change any of them, as The Near Witch is a capsule of who I was in college and what I was studying and what excited me.

Whereas The Shades of Magic series and The Monsters of Verity series are just as much time capsules of who I was and what I was going through while doing a Masters Degree on depictions of monstrosity. And I was travelling a lot. So, they’re precious to me in different ways.

Monsters and Villains

Certainly with something like Vicious, which is about villains, and villainy. About the arbitrary labels that we apply to heroes and villains. It’s a book about personal vendettas, and who is a hero and who is a villain. Is it determined by where they fall on opposite sides of this argument? In that book, specifically, I wanted to play with the idea [of villains].

I sat down and thought ‘wouldn’t it be a fun challenge to write a book without heroes?’ Could I write a book without heroes and make the reader strongly root for one of the villains? It was a craft exercise in learning it’s not what our characters do, it’s not what we do as people, but why we do it. Motivation Vs action.

Sometimes I do sit down and think. There’s always a seed. I gather ingredients for a story until I have enough to make a meal. But I think there’s always that one ingredient that’s the core, bonding thing.

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I’ll be on Manchester North FM

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Yes, this Saturday (14th January 2017) I will be on Manchester North FM! I’ll be interviewed for Hannah’s Bookshelf, a lovely show about, well, books.

We will be talking about The Sea-Stone Sword, The Sky Slayer, and probably The Miliverse as well. There’s also a section about what books I’d save during the apocalypse, so I’ve been agonising over that for the past couple of weeks. Let’s hope I don’t ruin society for post-apocalyptic humanity.

Having listened to other episodes of the show there’s no knowing how much ground we will cover. Writing, education, my dyslexia, cats, the interview series, who knows?

The show will be on Manchester North FM

Saturday 14 January, 2-4pm

On 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield)

David Anthony Durham Interview

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Our Writers of Fantasy Interview series continues with David Anthony Durham, best known for the Acacia trilogy and his new book The Risen. We talked about building fantasy cultures, characters, and wider themes of representation and more!

acacia-uk-cover-736216Your books develop and explore numerous political machinations (Acacia especially); what was the development process for building and developing them? What did you enjoy most about the political intrigue? 

I think the same thing sort of answers both parts of your question.

What I enjoyed most about the political intrigue was the process of slowly uncovering the secrets that are at the heart of what makes the Acacian world tick. In the first book I introduce the notion that the Acacian empire trades with a distant power that they know little about. They offer slaves; they get drugs to help them sedate their people in return. That’s about as much as the reader knows about things in the first book. Thing is, that was also about as much as I knew as well.

All the power players of the novel have secrets, things they keep hidden from others to give themselves advantages. They tried pretty hard to keep them hidden from me, too! I mostly had to figure things out by writing the story forward, following the characters, and every now and then going, “Oh… so that’s what these guys are up to…” And a little later, “And that’s what these other guys are up to…” And, “Wait… so these guys over here are actually doing this because of…” And so on.

That was fun. It kept things interesting and, hopefully, unpredictable.

With a number of cultures represented in your books what was the most interesting part of making new cultures and countries for your worlds?

I enjoyed being able to take bits and pieces of cultures from our world, pluck them out of their entrenched context, and splice them together with things that wouldn’t be possible in historical fiction.

The culture of the island power of Vumu, for example, is a real mixture of influences. Racially, I picture the people as looking like Sri Lankans. But the culture that took shape in my mind wasn’t particularly Sri Lankan. The mythology is more influenced by The Epic of Gilgamesh, which came from an entire different part of the world. I loved the racy bombast of the story, the epic conflicts and deceptions and the strange turns of events.

The people of Vumu take my variations on those types of stories and bring them to life with a visual religious display and ceremonies that seem to me to be sort of Polynesian. And I took the historical tidbit that there were once eagles in New Zealand that were large enough to snatch people into the air. I gifted that particular problem on Vumu. It became a physical danger on the islands, and it wove into their mythology and religion as well. The result, I hope, is fun and interesting and not quite like anything on earth.

[READ MORE]

Kelly Robson Interview – Writers of Fantasy

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This week’s interview in our Writers of Fantasy series is with Kelly Robson, author of Waters of Versailles, which won the Prix Aurora Award and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Nebula Award.

We had a really great conversation about the ins and outs of writing, the life of a writer, and how the industry is changing its attitudes. Take a listen, or check out the key quotes below if you can’t listen right now.

[Listen here]

A M Dellamonica Interview

This week in our Writers of Fantasy series is our 91c2t4kdfrlinterview with A. M. Dellamonica, author of Child of a Hidden Sea, A Daughter of No Nation, and over thirty short stories.

She writes science fiction, fantasy, and alternate history.

We talked about how she has changed in her craft over the years, what it takes to build characters and worlds, her theatre background, and the importance of representation and diversity.

KEY QUOTES;

“It was an inspiration story in the sense that the concept kind of hit like a bolt of lightning. That’s always really pleasant. I think that’s something that happens more when you’re new because you haven’t built up the infrastructure in your mind for simply generating good stories weather inspiration strikes or not.”

“When I came to write The Hidden Sea Tales, I wanted to write about someone who was markedly different from me. So I looked at the people in my life who from my more button down point of view are – sort of – over sharing all the time. So I started there.”

ON DIVERSITY AND REPRESENTATION:

“There’s been a long, ongoing effort by a lot of writers to broaden the palette. Those of us who are gay in some variation have always included those characters, but I think we also tended to make more compromises to make more characters that a more general audience would grasp onto.

So the gay characters might be tucked in at the side or the people of colour would be secondary. They wouldn’t necessarily be as integral to the story. And that’s a sad thing, but it just seems to be slowly becoming the case that you can pick characters from the full range of options available and it doesn’t necessarily tank your chances of selling a novel.”

“I’m still honestly surprised when I see things that reflect my life on TV.”

ON CREATING HIDDEN SEA TALES

“I just started making this enormously long list of everything that I think is cool or fun and delightful.”

“I included court proceedings, because I’m a huge nerd. (Like all science fiction writers).”

[Listen here]

JOEL CORNAH – THE SKY SLAYER | Small but Mighty SFF World

I was featured on SFF World’s ‘Small but Mighty’ series about my new book, The Sky Slayer! Check it out HERE. And here’s a little excerpt to take up some space on this blog posts and maybe get you to click on to their website and give them a sense that yes, some people do read my books.

SMALL BUT MIGHTY – JOEL CORNAH’S ‘THE SKY SLAYER

joel-cornah-author-003This week’s Small but Mighty attention turns to Kristell Ink whose publications are finding their way to award shortlists.  The Sky Slayer is Joel Cornah’s fourth publication to be released by Kristell Ink  and is the sequel to The Sea-Stone Sword.

Welcome to SFFWorld Joel! Can you tell us a little about The Sky Slayer without quoting the publisher’s blurb?

Where The Sea-Stone Sword was influenced by Jason and the Argonauts, The Sky Slayer has much more of a Blake’s 7 feel. The cast of seven fugitives fleeing an empire on a ship unlike any other, a hero who is more curse than cure, and a dry, sardonic second-in-command who has all the best lines. But I wanted to tackle some drastically different themes than Terry Nation’s classic series, and eventually subvert expectations in the process.

There is a boy who could have been a hero. To some, he is a hero. He killed the great and malicious Air King. But Rob Sardan was cursed with nightmares that will haunt him forever. He can break the curse by finding a Sky Slayer’s pendant. The only problem is he’s been locked in a prison of ice and crystal at the South Pole. A prison run by pengs (sort of human-penguin hybrids).

The story revolves around Rob and his gang of rebels as they escape to the high seas. There is Alya, the strategist with a sharp tongue and boundless wits, Gorm the chef with her deep wisdom and superior strength, Vann the thief with his ridiculous puns, and Ilma the doctor with her world-weary but shrewd observations.

They flee across the grinding ice and head to the Tomb of the Dead God, perused by the chaotic pirate Skagra, who seeks the ending of the world.

It’s action, adventure, philosophy, and puns all rolled into one amazing story!

Tell us a little about Rob Sardan, your protagonist?

Rob Sardan has all the makings of your average brooding anti-hero with a dark past. Pain, loss, and isolation – not to mention a supernatural curse – plague him and in so many fantasy novels we would see such a figure become bitter, full of pessimism and bleak of humour. I didn’t want that. I wanted Rob to defy the universe, to defy fate, and the gods themselves by being… optimistic.

His mother was a hero, a famous pirate who did incredible and terrible things. He wants to make his own legacy, to forge his own legend in the world.

[Read More]

Kameron Hurley Interview

The latest interview in our Writers of Fantasy series is with Kameron Hurley, author of the Gods War series, The Mirror Empire, and her new book of essays, The Geek Feminist Revolution (which is pretty amazing).

We talked about how she develops her cultures in writing, explores gender and sexuality, as well as building characters around stories. She has a lot of experience and is well worth listening to!

gods-warYour books expand and explore numerous cultures in depth; what has been the most interesting aspect of developing them?

I wanted to come up with cultures that I really hadn’t seen explored in other fantasy and science fiction novels. I see so many novels that will take exactly one “big idea” and have that be the only thing that changes in the entire world of the novels, and it feels astonishingly lazy to me. So they’ll throw in faster than light travel, but military and social hierarchies remain the same, people talk the same, live the same, the social mores are the same. And that’s just boring to me.

I read science fiction and fantasy because I want to go places that are really different. If all you’re doing is picking up a piece of tech and throwing it into a status quo version of the world we see on TV every day, I’m just not interested.

What I love most about creating cultures is seeing how each aspect affects every other aspect. So if you have a polyamorous matriarchy, say, there are very different conversations that go on about property inheritance/distribution, and while there’s still plenty of social drama, it’s very different drama, as it’s no longer “I can only choose one man!” it’s “We can all choose each other but now we need to figure out how to get along.”

[Read More]

Becky Chambers Interview

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Our Writers of Sci-Fi Interview series continues with the incredible Becky Chambers. Best known for her phenomenal ‘A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’, Becky talks about her writing process, her history, and how she developed her characters. Moreover, she gives an insight into how and why she tackled social issues such as gender, sexuality, and humanity’s place in the universe.

“I REJECT THE IDEA THAT THE FUTURE IS FOR ONLY ONE GROUP OF PEOPLE.”

LISTEN HERE

Key quotes:

“Once I put my butt in a chair and started writing it, it took me about a year and a half, but I’d been working on it for a good seven years before that. Just writing little scraps of stuff; characters, cultures and what not. So, it really was just this sort of melange of things that interested me, documentaries I’d seen about a particular culture or whatnot… I compare it to making leftovers from whatever’s in the fridge!”

“A lot of my alien cultures do come from my general interest in biology and the animal world. So, a lot of the time I’m starting out with physicality – how are these people different from us physically? And then, how does that affect their culture. That, for me, is a really fun way to build a new culture.”

“I didn’t want to write a story in which humans are either the leading power in the galaxy, or are they’re the underdog that we see come up.  I really wanted them to be in a sort of lowest rung on the ladder position.”

“We have this image of ourselves as the end-all be-all of evolution here on earth… But I like the idea that we’re not special, and that that makes us special. That sort of Carl Sagan idea of we’re very small and finite; we are not the best, but we are unique.”

“The thing about science fiction in particular, is you’re always talking about the world you want to see. So, whether that be a hopeful future – here’s what we could aim for – or something fearful – here’s what we should avoid. So, I think in terms of representation, in terms of creating futures that include lots of different people – I’m not interested in working with anything else.”

“I don’t like the idea of surviving just for the sake of surviving. We have to have a reason why this struggle is worth it.”

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Karen Miller Interview

falcon-throne-197x300Our Writers of Fantasy series continues with an exclusive interview with Karen Miller, best known for her epic fantasy novels such as the Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series) as well as her new book, The Falcon Throne.

She has also written Star Wars and Stargate novels and under the pen-name K.E. Mills writes the Rogue Agent series, about a wizard with special skills who works for his government under unusual circumstances.

SFFN: When you look back on your first books, such as The Innocent Mage, and compare them to something more recent, like The Falcon Throne, how do you feel you’ve changed as a writer? Has your process or method changed?

KM: Innocent Mage was a fairly uncomplicated, straightforward book. It doesn’t have a really big cast, or a challenging narrative structure, and the landscape is restrained. It was enough of a challenge for me to just to finish it, and polish it to the best of my ability, and then sell it, without burdening myself more!

But the first two books in that series (Innocent and Awakened) gave me the courage and confidence I needed to challenge myself a bit more, and so that’s what I’ve been trying to do with every book since.

The end result of that process is the Tarnished Crown series, The Falcon Throne being the first one, where the narrative structure, the landscape and the scope of the story are by far the most vast, complicated and challenging I’ve aimed for. This story is making me sweat! But that’s a good thing, even when I’m banging my head against the keyboard. *g*

The other shift, I’d say, is that the characters I’m working with are becoming progressively more layered, more convoluted, less easy to pigeon hole. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Asher and the rest of the Mage books cast, but they are all fairly uncomplicated, in terms of their motives and personalities. The Tarnished Crown cast still has good guys and bad guys, but the waters are muddier. Balfre, for example, is not a good man – but I think some of his actions are at least understandable, if not forgivable, because life has not been kind to him. I think he could have been a good man, if his circumstances were different.

Likewise Liam is a complicated person, someone whose basic nature has been distorted by events beyond his control.  Benedikt is a far sunnier, simpler man – but even he has his moments.  LIkewise Catrain. She’s a hero, but she has her flaws. And Izusa, who willingly embraces evil, and does terrible things, she’s actually motivated by love. I think that’s because to be human is to be complicated and multi-faceted. Even very good people have their very bad moments. And bad people are capable of selfless, loving acts. That can get confusing, and even confronting, but it’s also human. It certainly keeps me on my toes, as a writer.

I wish I could say, after some 19 books under my belt, that the process of writing a novel has become easier, but no. It’s not. Maybe if I didn’t keep asking more and more of myself it would be! But I still struggle with the doubts and the demons. I suspect most writers do. At the end of the day, it’s about you and the empty page (or screen) and the only cure is to sit your arse in the chair and apply your fingers to the keyboard and wrestle that story out of your head, then polish it until it shines.

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