This is the first of an occasional series of interviews with fellow writers. Not necessarily about music, not necessarily about the yarts, but always about Art.
For the last two years, after more than a decade of writing reviews (350 words or less) and marketing copy (25 words is my forte) I’ve been trying to crack longform. You may well have heard about my book on Dartington Summer School – goodness knows, I’ve gone on about it! — but you probably don’t know about my fiction addiction. I’m still to crack New York Times bestseller list — you have to get published first, apparently — but I’m working on it.
Which brings me to Shona Kinsella and her first novel, Ashael Rising, which has just been published with Unbound. I met Shona via the Unbound Social Club, an essential online gathering space for fellow Unbounders. If you’ve ever crowd-funded anything you’ll know how agonising a process it is, but the camaraderie and idea-bouncing has been an unanticipated delight. Which is why I’m delighted to share with you a q and a with Shona about writing, getting published and, one of my all-time favourite pastimes, telling stories.
First, about you. How long have you been writing?
I wrote short stories and (bad) poetry when I was young but I’ve only really been writing seriously since around May 2014. I did everything backwards and accidentally. I basically stumbled into it all. I’ve always wanted to write a novel; it’s been on my bucket list ever since I saw the film Bucket List when I was about 15. I didn’t actually do anything about it though. Then in May 2014, I was approved to take a career break to care for my children and my husband and I were joking about what I would do with all of my ‘free time’ and he said I could write a book. The idea stuck with me so I read a few books about writing and then sat down at my laptop one day to give it a try. Needless to say, it worked!
How did you come across Unbound? How are they different from, say, a trad publisher or, for that matter, a self-publisher?
I first learned about Unbound when Scott Pack, one of the editors, wrote a piece about them for The Guardian. I was really intrigued by their approach. The company was set up by three writers who felt that publishing was getting too closed – increasingly celebrity writers and TV tie-ins are crowding the market and trad publishers are reluctant to take a chance on new writers or even established writers trying something new. By crowd-funding the books, Unbound establishes that there is a readership for the book before it gets published. It lets them take risks that the big houses are unwilling to take.
Some people equate Unbound with self-publishing but it’s not that at all – although the author does the crowdfunding, you submit your manuscript for editorial assessment before being offered a contract, just like with a trad publisher, and Unbound’s standards are high.
Tell me a bit about Ashael Rising. Is this a story that has been in your head for a long time?
Ashael Rising is the story of an apprentice medicine woman in a hunter-gatherer society. Her people are at risk from the Zanthar – invaders from another world who extend their own lives by stealing the life-force from others. Ashael must discover who she really is to protect her people and ultimately her world.
The seed that grew into the book was an image from a dream I had many years ago, that ended with a warrior fairy flying over a desolate, war-torn land. There are no fairies in this book, but the image formed the basic idea. I’m what is sometimes referred to as a ‘discovery writer’ which means that I discover the story as I write it. I had only the vaguest notion of what it would be when I started.
Ashael has a lot of me in her but also a touch of the warrior fairy from the dream! Again, I discovered her character as I wrote, sometimes being surprised by her actions!
How did you go about building a world for her and your other characters?
This was more discovery writing. I know that some authors (especially fantasy authors) build a massive world and have maps and files and history before they even think about starting to write – I’m just about the opposite of that. It’s a bit like walking through a tunnel (the world) with a torch(the story) – I can see as much of the world as the story lights up and a little bit around the edges of that. Which is basically the long way of saying that I make it up as I go along!
What do you do when you’re not writing? And what are your favourite books?
I have three young children so when I’m not writing I’m usually doing something with them. Or laundry. They create a lot of laundry!
My favourite books are The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I’ve read the whole series several times and I know I’ll go back to them many more, I just love them.
Finally, what are your writing plans ongoing? Is Ashael Rising the start of an epic series? And is it officially released now? Have you had a launch party? (If not, why not!?)
I have my next three projects lined up. I’m contributing to and editing an anthology of stories by Unbound authors. All of the stories will have some connection to a library. I’m really excited to work on this. Next, I’ll be finishing a novella that I started in November, called The Longest Night. It’s about a tribe living in their equivalent to the arctic when the sun fails to rise after mid-winter. Finally, I’ll be starting on the sequel to Ashael Rising. Just now I’m planning a trilogy but because of the way that I write, it’s possible that I’ll discover more story and it’ll turn out to be a longer series!
Ashael Rising has been officially released now and can be purchased here: http://bit.ly/ashaelrising
As for a launch party, I’ve had a small family celebration with a nice meal and some Cava but not a full party – mostly because I have an 8-week-old baby so I’m too tired to party right now!
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Many thanks to Shona for taking time out from writing and laundry – I am in awe of someone who can string a sentence together while having young children — and can’t wait to read more!