Interview by Karen Swart
Did you always wanted to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
When I was a little girl I wanted to be a princess, a ballerina, and eventually a children’s doctor. I always enjoyed writing. When I was in high school, I would write short stories and poetry for the school magazine and even entered a few newspaper/ magazine writing competitions. I never formally studied creative writing – I think if you love to write (and have people read your work/s) then you’re a writer whether you’re published or not. Instead, I studied Humanities at university, majoring in English Language and Literature and Linguistics (Semiotics) and became a university lecturer. But I continued to write for fun and it was only when some of my students encouraged me to publish my novel that I thought about writing professionally (and not just publishing academic essays and articles for journals which many people would consider boring!)
When did you first consider yourself a “writer”?
I think it was when I sent my first novel to several agents and they showed interest in my work. Up till then I didn’t know if I “had what it takes”, that special ingredient, to be considered a writer. Receiving the affirmation of others – agents, editors, fellow authors, bloggers and readers – makes me realize I can write and I am a writer.
How long did it take to get your first book published?
Ages. I started Writing SEED in 2008 but it wasn’t until 2010 that I thought about finding an agent and publisher. I honestly didn’t understand how difficult it was to get an agent, let alone get published. I knew rejection was part of it – so I braced myself for the expected 20 rejection letters (according to Stephenie Meyer) and I was thrilled when not just one but several agents showed some interest in signing me up. But then I guess I just assumed, once you have an agent, you’d get a publisher. It didn’t happen that way. The problem was that my novel was considered New Adult before the genre was termed, so I just didn’t fit into any category. And some publishers had authors on their list that had Nephilim in their plots, so they didn’t want to take on a debut author with similar material. Ironically, after deciding to self-publish and go my own way, just after I’d signed the self-publishing contract, there was interest from a big traditional publisher. But, truth be told, I’m thrilled with being seen as an Indie author and realize that I wouldn’t have as much freedom to write what I do in a traditional publishing house.
Do you do another job except for writing and can you tell us more about it?
I lecture at university and also tutor students. I lecture at university in Linguistics and Semiotics but also get to tutor students in English Literature and Language (both canonical and popular texts on the course lists). I find it a real source of pride when my students graduate and get a job – they even stay in touch after they marry. I started lecturing when I was quite young, so I was almost the same age as many of my students – now I see their kids and can’t believe that I once taught them!
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in less than 20 words what would you say?
SEED is best described as The Mortal Instruments meets The Da Vinci Code!
Who is your publisher? Or do you self-publish?
I am an Indie author, self-published. Essentially I’d like to be a ‘hybrid’ – both traditionally published and also self-published. Right now, being an Indie writer suits me as it gives me a great deal of freedom, but I’m lucky in that I have a great deal of support from fellow authors, readers, family and friends, and my agent. And I think I’m in good company – not only have a lot of successful authors started in Fanfic which has broadened the industry (such as Cassandra Clare, E.L. James, etc…) some of them started with self-publishing then moved into traditional publishing (most notably, E.L. James). I didn’t write Fanfic but I think it’s great that there are avenues for writers to express themselves and get their words and works out there. I’ll continue in this direction and reassess when I get my next novel out there.
How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
The first novel I wrote took only three months from the original idea to writing it in the manuscript form that was sent out to agents. This was SEED. But then the editing started as my agent and editor felt I needed to add a few things here and there in the backstory for Sage and her sister, Saffron. This blew out the word count to another 20,000+ words! The second novel in the series took about a year to write and it seems that the third (which I’m writing at the moment will take even longer). Saying this, I don’t write every day or to a schedule. I am trying to be more disciplined and I admire writers who can write 2,000 words a day and stick to a schedule. But I’m more a stop-and-start, when-the-mood-takes-me, bash out a chapter in a day then take a hiatus for two weeks, get some inspiration from other authors/ reviewers/ readers and bash out another few thousand words, get distracted by my family and grind to a stop (swearing in frustration because I want to write but have to prioritize), then do it all over again. On the upside, I do have a plan of where I want my novel to go and work around that. I always have a mental map of about half the chapters (including the beginning, climax and denouement) and let the rest work itself out.
What can we expect from you in the future? ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
I’m finishing off the YA/ NA paranormal romance series, KEEPERS OF GENESIS, and then I think I might like to try writing one of the ideas I have in the genre of dystopian fiction
What genre would you place your books into?
YA/ NA paranormal romance
What made you decide to write that genre of book?
I really love reading paranormal romance novels and fantasy. I really love high fantasy but was interesting in creating a world-within-our-world like JK Rowling. I also wanted to write more of a hybrid text where I could cross over from Twilight to The Da Vinci Code. And I wanted to inform the readers about real history whilst having romance and complication (and heroes and villains). So I chose this genre as it allowed me to experiment by including real history with theology and myth; so that the novel would be didactic and readers could also learn some interesting facts along the way.
Do you have a favorite character from your books? And why are they your favorite?
This is a tough question but I think … I think it would have to be Gabriel Chevalier because he’s such a charming, capricious, mischievous figure. Think Loki in The Avengers and Thor film series – that’s Gabriel. But Gabriel is quite charismatic and humorous too.
How long have you been writing?, and who or what inspired you to write?
I’ve been writing since 2008 but only thought of publishing my writing in the last four years. I think I began writing because I wanted stronger female role models in books for young adults as many of my students were walking into class with YA fiction where the heroine was often more of a blank slate and yet the hero was the really interesting character (they loved the hero and therefore wanted to be like the heroine – but I found that idea disturbing because young women today can be nerdy, kick-butt, adventurous, passionate and a hundred other things). The purpose of my writing is to provide suitable role models for young women and men. I hate passive female protagonists, especially in fantasy or dystopian fiction – if I can’t see them as interesting people, why would anyone like them and why would the hero fall in love with them? There has to be something more to a character that allows us to empathise with them. Ordinary is fine. Boring and insipid is not.
Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
I try to lock myself away in the library (my study) but it’s not very successful as I’m constantly disturbed by kids wandering in asking for food/ drinks/ misplaced toys/ misplaced clothing/ etc… I don’t listen to music but, interestingly, I think of musical accompaniment for chapters in my head. I do, however, prefer to write at night as it allows me to absorb the quiet in the house to order my thoughts (I get a couple of hours to myself if I’m lucky!)
Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
I certainly used to read all the reviews, but now I only do it once in a while – and usually when I know someone whose opinion I value is posting a review. I think when you’re a debut writer, you tend to check the reviews more often and your mood changes accordingly – from self-doubt to elation or disappointment. I think I’ve been very blessed as the reviews of my novel (so far) have been really quite positive (and in no way am I asking for a bad review – but I get that not everyone will like my book as reading is such an individual matter of taste and interest). But I always remind myself that reviews aren’t for the writer; that they are for the readers – so that readers can make up their minds whether they want to read the book and what others think about the book. Generally, I think reviewers and bloggers do a good job of this and it’s great that they take the time to review (as long as it is constructive and not mean or personal).
Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
I titled all the novels first so that there was a consistency (the sibilance of ‘s’ sounds). I wanted them to be snappy and short, something that popped (but worried that SEED sounded like a gardening book, so I added the KEEPERS OF GENESIS part).
How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?
One of my friends, another author, chooses character names by going through a baby book (and then she becomes bored with it so that most of her characters’ names start with an ‘A’!) On the other hand, I choose character names for their meanings (like Sage meaning ‘wisdom’ or Saffron as an exotic spice which I think has connotations of being fiery and lively) and to be culturally-accurate (like if a character is from France, I’ve chosen names like Louis or Gabriel). The hero’s name has been specifically chosen – it’s Elijah St. John Rivers – and if you know Bronte’s novel, you’ll know that part of his name is taken from Jane Eyre (and with a specific purpose in mind – but you’ll have to read my novel to find out why!)
The place names are also important as these are real places in London, Paris and Vatican City. As Sage embarks upon a quest, she travels to these places and historical sites (from the British Museum to the catacombs of Paris) with St. John. I put a lot of research to make sure the descriptions were accurate so that readers, if they wanted to, could trace Sage’s journey (both in their mind and in reality!)
Are character names and place names decided after their creation? Or do you pick a character/place name and then invent them?
It’s all chosen beforehand or I’d never be able to keep track of characters and places. I don’t envy George RR Martin for the amount of characters and places he’s introduced in his series which he has to keep track of – no wonder he kills so many of them off!!
Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
Sometimes, yes. Sage and Saffron are twins but with different personalities that complement one another. This was quite deliberate – they aren’t rivals at all but I wanted them to be ‘real’ characters and sisters. St. John is your typical sexy Renaissance man – a scholar, warrior, philosopher, lover, etc… The only character that sort of just came into being was one of the villains, Louis Gravois – he’s quite ‘emo’ and androgynous looking yet quite evil.
Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? (Morals as in like Aesops Fables type of "The moral of this story is..")
I think there’s quite a few messages within the novel. One of them is that history is often stranger than fiction or fantasy. If we can understand the past, we can make sense of ourselves and our world.
Also, I want readers to understand that some things have to be taken on faith. There is much to discover still in our world – the unknown, the unexplored, the unseen – but, in the end, the story is about us; about love and mortality; the human condition.
Which format of book do you prefer, eBook, hardback, or paperback?
I love hard copies of novels. I love the smell of them and the feel of them. I love picking them up and revisiting them like they are old friends. It’s probably quite sentimental but I just love curling up with a hard copy of a good book.
What is your favorite book and Why? Have you read it more than once?
There are so many books I love but I’d have to say that three books stand out – Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve read them all more than once and have to say that they make me laugh and cry and think. I know it’s odd to include Shakespeare but I genuinely love Hamlet – it raises such metaphysical and philosophical notions that it still makes me contemplate the meaning of existence. On the other hand, I love Austen’s text because Elizabeth is so headstrong and feisty – she’s intelligent and wins the hero based on her brains and not simply her attractiveness. And I love Austen’s satire – that she critiques the values of her society such as class, gender, religion; very ground-breaking for a woman of her times. And lastly, Lee’s text is the most beautifully-written moral text ever – it teaches life lessons with a humility and simplicity that makes me wish I knew Atticus and Scout in reality.
Do you think books transfer to movies well? Which is you favorite/worst book to movie transfer?
Some do – like Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy which was utterly spellbinding and brilliant! But others just simply don’t quite live up to the books. I think the worst book to movie transfer was Frankenstein (almost every version!) – they just can’t seem to get it right. The creature is never portrayed properly – he’s meant to elicit empathy!
I do think, however, that they’ve got it right with some books by converting them to TV series rather than films. This is a great idea for both writers and readers! You get more, more, more – more of your favourite characters, more plot, etc…
Your favorite food is?
I love smoked salmon or gravlax (served with French champagne), though I’m also really partial to a High Tea (complete with scones/ jam & cream, finger sandwiches and petit fours) – must be my yearning for bonnets and bows and tea parties!
Your favorite singer/group is?
I have eclectic tastes so I listen to a lot of different styles – which means I probably would chose different songs to listen to rather than just one artist. If I had to choose an artist, it’s be a toss-up between U2 (their old stuff) and Adele (but I’m also really partial to Taylor Swift!).
Your favorite color is?
Hot pink (though red comes a close second)
Your favorite Author is?
I’d have to say Jane Austen because I always return to her novels for her pointed criticisms of society and for her wonderfully romantic relationships. She’s satirical (I love her ironic voice) and romantic (just check out the sexual tension between Elizabeth and Darcy!)
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