This week, it’s an honor and a privilege to welcome the winner of ~Fantasy in the Cage~, fantasy author, Anne-Mhairi Simpson, to my blog. My dear friend, whose name is pronounced as one word, Annvahree, was kind enough to share some of her thoughts and experiences as a writer. Grab yourself a beverage, get comfy, and enjoy learning more about Anne-Mhairi and her wonderful work. And if you just can’t remember how to pronounce her name correctly, she has informed me, in person, that calling her AM is just fine.
When and why did you decide to start writing?
I’m not sure it was actually a deliberate decision. I used to tell myself stories as a kid (one of my dolls was shorter than the others and was usually the good guy. Barbie was rather ineffectual. The Sindy dolls were evil), and I honestly can’t remember when I started writing bits and pieces down. My first novel was written over the course of several years, starting in 2005, but I think I first started really taking it seriously in July of last year when I decided I wanted to enter for the Terry Pratchett prize.
What life experiences have best prepared you for being a writer?
Feeling like an outsider and a complete freak for most of my life Seriously, I’m hopeless at relating to people and recently realized that all my books deal with characters suddenly thrust into a world that is utterly unfamiliar to them. So about ten years of intense bullying at school as a child as well as going to school in France and both times I moved to South America prepared me for that!
Please tell us about your latest work and what genre it falls into.
For The Love Of Gods is a young adult epic/paranormal fantasy. I’m a little hazy on the exact niche because there are two worlds in the story, one with a lot of gods and elemental powers (which would be high fantasy) and one which is very similar to Earth but with magic and every single mythological creature I could think of (paranormal?).
What were your inspirations for writing it?
I have no idea. I was about three weeks away from finishing the wish-it-would-die-quietly novel when this girl popped into my mind and started telling me how she had to go through a wormhole to another world to do… something. What she had to do and why changed, but the girl and the wormhole, now called a nexus, remained.
Please describe your writing process for our readers.
Characters come and then I wonder what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with. And why. Other characters appear on either side, and then the world starts to build. By this time I have some kind of story problem, but that tends to change during the planning (read “extreme note taking”) process. But the characters remain. For The Love Gods actually started out on this world and then I realized she had to come here from the other world and switched everything around accordingly. My writing process is flexible, to say the least!
To what degree are your fictional characters based in reality?
In general they aren’t, but I can tell you that the grandparents in For The Love Of Gods are based on my paternal grandparents, both now deceased.
Can you tell us about your any upcoming projects?
The next book in the Battle of the Gods trilogy, Fire At Will, has been started, but I also have three standalones set in the same world clamouring for my attention. That said, I want to finish this trilogy and then maybe work on something else, which is currently top secret because I’m a bit hazy on how to realize it properly. Okay, I’m scared I won’t get it right, so I want to keep it quiet so I can work out the details in peace
Would you like to experiment with a different genre?
I’d like to be able to, but I’m not sure I could do another genre justice. I think dragons have a god-given right (maybe not given by, you know, God, but a god. Somewhere.) to exist and I also think magic makes everything better. More fun. More dangerous. More… just more. And I believe they frown on that in mainstream fiction, or any other genre which isn’t fantasy, so my chances probably aren’t that good of pulling it off.
Describe your ideal surroundings or conditions for writing.
Comfortable seating (currently propped up on my bed with pillows). No music – I tend to listen to the music and I don’t write. And I have to be calm, not upset about anything because my creative energy takes a dive into Hades when I’m upset and I can’t write at all. I could probably write while sitting on the deck of a sinking ship if it was sinking slowly and I knew I was going to get off in time. The relaxedness is most important, to be honest I don’t think it pays to be too picky about conditions. You never know what’s going to happen.
Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?
No. I mean, apart from being reasonably well-balanced emotionally before I start. Anyone who knows me would probably call that an idiosyncracy.
Briefly share your thoughts on traditional publishing vs. indie.
Book for book, indie pays more. It’s much easier to get your book into physical bookshops if you are published traditionally. And there are certain traditionally published authors who have no respect for self-published authors, which annoys me. But honestly the differences are fairly superficial. Both sides have to work their hearts out and their butts off to be a success via either route. There are excellent authors on both sides. I believe readers are the final gatekeeper. The Dungeon Master, if you will, who controls where the story goes. Kind of.
What advice can you share with first-time writers?
If you’re writing a scene which is supposed to be emotional and it’s not uncomfortable (i.e. downright painful and making you cry) you’re not doing it properly. If you’re not physically feeling your character’s pain, there is no way on Earth your readers will.
The other thing is that you MUST MUST MUST get independent eyes on your manuscript, preferably those of experienced authors who have published successfully. Your family and friends will say they love it and probably mean it. With the best will in the world, unless they are successfully published (whether by themselves or a publisher) they don’t know what they’re talking about. Writers will tell you the truth and, what’s FAR more important, they will tell you how to fix it. Honest and constructive criticism will take a book to the next level. Which means you can’t be thin-skinned about it. If you only want people to tell you your book is wonderful, you’re not ready to publish, because once it’s published, someone will be mean about it. It’s a sure thing, like death and taxes.
Real life is just too real, which is why Mhairi writes fantasy, preferably for teenagers because they’re closer to her mental age. This can, and often does, involve griffins, unicorns, werewolves and/or vampires. And because she likes a laugh, there are also pink mice and gods with faulty moral compasses. But whatever she’s writing, there’ll be a lot of blood and a LOT of magic, because that’s what makes her worlds go round.
She’s been to six schools (seven if you include university) and lived in five countries on two continents. She speaks three languages and bits and pieces of three more. She once galloped a horse into a cow (by accident) while at work and she’s been to Machu Picchu three times. Apart from writing, she likes pretty shoes, making jewellery, films, dancing, reading and chocolate. Don’t forget the chocolate.
Great interview, Al!
AM. One of the best most honest interviews I’ve read. I enjoy you on Twitter and admire you more from this interview. Growing up and being on the outside looking in is something I know too much about and all I can say is it does make daydreams that much more real– great for a writer.
Your advise about writing is right-on. A novelist must feel what he/she is writing. I’m amazed at the writers who can pop in to their story a few hours a day and spend the rest of the time marketing.
I wish you all the best with your writing and I hope you do try other genres. Same rules apply.
And I loved you Cage match entry!
Thank you, thank you and thank you 🙂 After I sent it in, I thought, hmmm, that interview might have come out differently if you hadn’t been drinking so much over the last 24 hours (I’ve been at a convention). So I’m very glad you liked it, and the story, too 😀
Thank you, Dannie. AM is truly a gem.
I love what you said about feeling your character’s pain. This was a great interview! =)
I’m glad it came out right! Regarding the pain, I’ve come to realise that there are specific scenes in my books that I’ve glossed over because I don’t want to face the emotional connection I feel to my character at that point. And of course my critiquers are coming back to me and saying “I’m really not feeling this”. So, sometimes you just have to grit your teeth, let the tears fall and get typing. It’s the only way to get others’ tears to follow your own 😀
Al, you interviewed one of my most favorite ladies in the whole world 😉
CONGRATULATIONS, Anne-Mhairi !!! I loved your story and it was lovely to read a little bit more about you in this interview!
Wait ’til you meet her in person. 😉