Tell us a little bit about yourself
I live in west Auckland with my grown-up (mostly!) son and my ginger-and-white feline overlord, Fang. I currently wear my hair in a Mohawk cut (‘cos why not?) and for my fiftieth birthday, I decided to have my eyebrow pierced. I am not known for my brilliant decisions.
I love football (Come On You Spurs!), science fiction (if you have not yet met CJ Cherryh, you have not lived), Italian food (‘scuse me a minute, the pasta water is boiling), fantasy (fell in love with Tolkien aged fifteen and she was all downhill from there), playing with language(s) (murky buckets/«merci beaucoup», Dad) and my two housemates. My taste in music is highly eclectic, ranging from extremely dead guys like Giovanni da Palestrina, Thomas Tallis and Josquin des Prez all the way through the ages to the likes of Linkin Park, Twenty One Pilots and Ed Sheeran.
What are you currently working on?
I am determined to finish a novel; I hope this will lead on to the next novel. I have finished poems and songs, so a novel can’t be all that hard, can it? The novel I am currently determined to finish is a fantasy called The Rift, set in a place that is not New Zealand during the reign of George III, but might have been. It began about a year ago as the idea: “Colonisation: we’re doing it wrong”. That’s to say, colonising civilisations tend to destroy the cultures they over-run, and there’s probably a better way. Along the line, themes of environmentalism versus technology, and different responses to bereavement crept in, and then there was the volcano. Volcanoes legit give me nightmares. Why did the volcano have to weasel its way in? Probably because it’s the most catastrophically scary natural disaster I could imagine. Like I said; nightmares.
What’s your writing process like?
I made a not-very-detailed outline plan to begin with, then began writing. After a bit, I realised I needed to codify my time-line to make sure that everyone ages at the same rate, as the story spans two or three generations, though it concentrates on the two main characters. I also made a list of characters I’d invented; this has made it easier to decide who gets to be a bigger part of the story, and who is truly a bit-player (for example, the young lieutenant of the ship Egregius. He sails off once the Salvius family arrives in Novacambria, and is no longer a part of the story). I’ve developed the outline as I’ve gone on too, as it has become clearer to me what needs to happen in order for later events to feel like natural consequences of the past. And I’ve finally decided whether or not the volcano will erupt. No, I shan’t tell you.
What are your writing habits?
I find the computer is the best way for me to write, as it makes editing as I go (yes, I truly cannot resist doing that) easy and tidy. I try to sit down at my desk in the morning when I’ve finished my ‘morning chores’, and write for as long as I’m feeling it. If the story itself isn’t happening, I’ll work on the planning or documentation side. This is sometimes a good cure for writer’s block, when some event becomes clearer in my mind. I also spend time in Novacambria in my head when I’m doing other things, such as walking, washing the dishes, dealing with the laundry etc.
Why do you write?
I’m writing this novel because I have not yet found The Book that I really, really want to read, so I’m trying to write it myself. If other people want to read it too, that’s a nice bonus. I’m writing because it’s an escape from the real world. I’m writing because I like to play with reality, and make up the rules to suit myself. (Poetry and songs, on the other hand, insert themselves urgently into my head when I feel strongly about something.)
Writing simply beats therapy hands-down.
What’s your biggest challenge with writing?
My biggest challenge in writing is keeping going. I find forming the habit of sitting down at my computer and switching it on is a not-quite-foolproof method of combating this problem. Sometimes life just gets in the way.
What are your writing goals and aspirations?
I don’t have a schedule for completing this novel – as I said, sometimes life gets in the way – but I do have a couple of ideas for more novels. There’s one I began rather haphazardly about ten years ago called Collision, which is a sci-fi tale of a meeting of cultures which reveals to one of the two main characters that he doesn’t actually know his own culture as well as he thought he did. That one actually began as the question: “How do you create and control a mob to achieve your own ends, when the potential members of the mob may not agree with you?” Then there’s the idea that I can return to the world I’ve created for The Rift, probably shifted a few generations into the future. That one’s still quite embryonic, probably concerning itself with myths and their relevance in contemporary society.
Ye gods! That all sounds very deep! But stories are never really about the overt plot details; just ask a sixth-form English teacher.
Which writers would you compare your work to?
I don’t know if I’d have the temerity to compare my writing to anyone, but definite influences are CJ Cherryh, JRR Tolkien, Robert A Heinlein, Robert Silverberg, CS Lewis and Arthur C Clarke. All fabulists with such vividly imagined worlds that I can feel completely at home in them from the very first page. When I finished Lord of the Rings for the first time, I returned immediately to the beginning and read it again, because I didn’t want to leave Middle Earth. I would like to create worlds that spring just as vividly from the page.