Hi, Joanne! Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer? What kind of books do you write?
Hello! I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen: the day I found out that writing books was a real job that people did, I decided that that was what I was going to do when I grew up (having been through the career options: astronaut, fireman, Jedi…) I think I was about six.
My first three books were published by a very small, now defunct, press in America, and I’ve had a collection of short stories, The Feline Queen and other Tales, published by Wolfsinger Publications. My latest book, The Art of Forgetting: Rider, is due to be published by Kristell Ink at the end of June, with the second volume, Nomad to follow in December.
I write grubby heroic fantasy, for the most part, though in my short fiction I’ve dabbled in everything from historical fiction to comedy to full-on SF. But heroic fantasy is my first love.
What is your opinion on e-books versus physical books? Do you think physical books will ever go the way of VCRs?
I like e-books. I think anything that creates more access to reading can only be a good thing, and though I’m not a fan of reading off a screen myself, there’s a whole generation younger than me who think nothing of it. The fact that e-books are cheaper than paperbacks is great, it’s brought reading into the grasp of people who might not always be able to afford to go out and buy new books, and it’s made reading cool. So in that way, e-books are great (not to mention the fact that when you go on holiday now you can take your whole library on your Nook or Kindle and not have to worry about going over the baggage weight limit—this might have happened to me a few times…)
But do I think physical books will go the way of VCRS? No. I think e-books might. I bet there’s not one piece of functioning technology in your house that’s over forty years old, while books, paper books, can last a hundred years or more if you look after them. Paper books don’t have the built-in obsolescence that your computer has. And there will always be people who enjoy the feel of a paper book, the texture, the smell, the embossed covers. Paper books have seen the lazerdisc, the eight-track, the video, the gramaphone record, the cassette all come and go, and outlasted them all. I think they’ll be around long after the Kindle has gone.
In your opinion, how has the Internet age changed the culture of writing?
In both good and bad ways (Is that vague enough for you?) On the negative side, the internet is an enormous distraction full of cats and skateboard videos. Also, if you make a mistake on the Internet, if you, lets say, have a go at a reviewer or throw a wobble, it’s there forever. Being a writer online means you have to behave like a professional all the time, even in the privacy of your own blog, because you don’t know who’s reading. You have to assume that everything you say is up for international scrutiny, so always be nice!
On the other hand, the internet provides opportunities to make contact with people (industry people and fans) that were impossible 10-15 years ago. I found my current publishers, Kristell Ink, via a friend’s Twitter feed. I have been able to chat to fellow authors, booksellers, reviewers, agents and fans via the internet—it’s like a virtual convention bar out there. Writing can be quite a lonely profession, so the ability to reach out and talk to people in the same position is invaluable.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of trends in the literary world—crime thrillers, paranormal romances, dystopia… as a writer, how do you respond to these trends? Do you jump on board, or do you stick with the genres that are more your style?
I write the book that’s in my head. If it coincides with what happens to be fashionable at the time of publication, great, but I think my book would be poorer if I added elements just because they’re the “in thing”. The other thing is, it takes so long to finish a book and get it published that what might be on-trend while you’re writing it is going to be old hat by the time it comes out. There are only two kinds of books, books you enjoy and books you don’t. Everything else is marketing.
These days, it seems that a writer’s “voice” is as important as the book’s plot. How would you describe your “voice” or writing style?
Quite fast-paced, light on description, snappy dialogue. More David Gemmell than Tolkien ;) You won’t find any three-page descriptions of trees…
In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of writing?
The second draft, when I look back and see all the things that are wrong that I’m not sure how to fix. That’s when I tend to beat my head against the desk the most, and that’s when my lovely beta readers pick me up and tell me it’s not that bad, and suggest how I can make it not suck. That’s the hardest draft, after that it’s just endless tweaking…
Are there any books or writers who have particularly influenced your writing?
I think I’m influenced by everything around me, I’m a total sponge. What led me to fantasy in the first place was my mum and my uncle, who are, let’s face it, a pair of big nerds. They let me raid their bookshelves from an early age, and that was how I discovered Asimov, Clarke, Tolkien, C.S Lewis… all the greats. Formative influences before I was even a teenager were David Eddings and Anne McCaffrey (McCaffrey was the first one I discovered for myself) but even before then I was reading what we would now regard as YA—Pat O’Shea, Diana Wynne Jones. Then when I was a bit older there was David Gemmell, Raymond Feist and Katherine Kerr. But I grab stuff from everywhere and smoosh it around in my brain!
What are you currently reading?
“The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch. It’s been on my “should read” list for a long time and now he has a third book in the series due out in October it seemed like a good time to read it. I’m absolutely loving it, it’s just the sort of thing I like (and like to write), and I regret not reading it sooner.
Do you outline? Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
I outline a little bit. I usually know how a book starts, how it ends, and three or four things that have to happen somewhere in the middle, but that’s it. Beyond that I’m a total pantser, I’ll write it to see what happens next! One of the best feelings is when your characters take control and start doing things you didn’t expect, and all you can do is follow them and try and gently steer them in the right direction… I know where I’m going, and some stops along the way, but when I start out the journey is a total mystery!
I do my best to write every day, and I aim to write a minimum of 1000 words per day—it doesn’t always happen! Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, especially in those slumpy bits between scenes. The trick is just to keep going, I guess!
What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received?
I’ve received so much brilliant advice from so many people—my friend Gareth L Powell is particularly good at giving out motivating advice. The things that I come back to again and again, both to tell myself when I’m having a slow day, and to pass on to other people, are all really the same piece of advice :
“Don’t get it right, get it written.”
“You can’t edit a blank page.”
“Writing is when you make words. Editing is when you make them not suck.”
I think that last one comes from Chuck Wendig’s “Terrible Minds” blog—he’s great at kicking slacking writers into touch!
So what it comes down to is, get words on paper, and then make them good! Something I need to be reminded of periodically.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I’m 76,000 words into a stand-alone sequel to The Art of Forgetting which features a few of the same characters in an entirely new setting. It’s called The Summer Goddess, and it’s about a woman’s quest to find her lost nephew who has been taken by slave traders. I can’t say much more about it, I’m kind of superstitious about talking about books before the first draft is finished, but I’m having a lot of fun writing it! I’m also waiting for the Review Copies of The Art of Forgetting: Rider to arrive from the printers, so I can send them out to willing victims…errr, people…. ;)