‘Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?’
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In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?
I wrote my first short story when I was seven years old, and I really haven’t stopped since then. It wasn’t so much that I decided to write as that I had to write. I need to get the scenes and characters out of my head so that they’ll leave me alone. At least until the next scene. I think my characters haunt me, really.
Tell me about your book / series.
My life changed forever after I gave the last rites to a dragon…
Penny White is the minister of a small village church who is, quite frankly, somewhat bored with her life. She seeks escape in science fiction and single malt whisky. But one afternoon, she stumbles across a dying dragon, who asks for the traditional last rites. This brings her into contact with the magical country of Lloegyr, which exists in parallel to England.
What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?
My mother and family come from Berlin, and they ended up on the East German side after WWII. My grandmother told me the story of the Stasi raiding the apartment below her, and she was in fear that they might search her home too. She had a copy of George Orwell’s 1984, which was banned by the East German government. She ran through the apartment, trying to work out where to hide it. Although the secret police didn’t investigate her, the story left quite an impact upon me. On the other hand, do we wish to have books which stir up racial hatred or tell people how to build bombs freely available? I think it’s a tricky question to answer, but I would always be wary of any government who bans books for political reasons.
Tell me about a principal character in your book(s). What makes them memorable?
The Penny White books feature the usual fantasy fare of dragons, unicorns, gryphons, were animals, and vampires. But the character everyone seems to love is Clyde. Clyde is a snail shark. He looks like a 12 inch long garden snail, until he opens his jaws. His mouth is lined with shark teeth, and he catches his prey and shreds them accordingly. And yet, readers consider him ‘sweet’! He does have a rather innocent soul, along with a mischievous streak. A free short story featuring Clyde is available to anyone who signs up for my newsletter list.
Indie, or traditionally published – and why?
I had the misfortune of my first two books being picked up by a traditional publisher in the 1990’s. I thought this would mean that I could become a full time writer. But the books only sold 5000 copies each, so both the publisher and my agent dumped me. I continued to write, but I didn’t try to get published. Now I enjoy the freedom of being an indie. I choose my book covers (I never liked the ones on my first two novels), I make the creative decisions, and I can tweak the marketing as much as I like. I’ve also met lots of other indie authors and made some great friends.
It’s said that to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?
You do need to read, but not only books. You need to note what happens around you. How do people express themselves, and how do they hide? And also know your own self. Writing is about showing, not telling. I reach into my own physical reactions to express how a character is feeling, so that a reader can feel along with her. ‘I found myself chewing my bottom lip’ is much better than ‘I felt nervous.’
Tell me what you feel the worst, and the best, aspects of being an author are, and why.
The worst and the best are the same, namely that I can’t make a living from writing. It’s the worst, because it means I have to fit writing and marketing in alongside the day job. But is also the best, because it means that I’m not relying on my writing to feed myself, so I can write what I want to write, rather that writing to a specific market.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Maybe not quite a secret, but foreshadowing. I’m now writing the fifth book in what will probably be a nine book sequence. So I’m trying to plant things in earlier novels which I draw upon later on. I’d like a reader to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t see that coming, but I should have.’ For example, Penny’s relationship with Peter, the very nice police inspector, has one major issue which she’s been avoiding for two novels now. When it blows up in novel five, readers will be able to look back and see that it was always going to come to a head.
Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.
I love to travel, and I’m a very keen photographer. I enjoy all types of photography—landscapes, people, wildlife—except for the weight of all the camera equipment I carry around! My travel blog is www.travellinghopefully.co.uk. Perhaps the most challenging place I’ve visited was North Korea. I spent two weeks there in the summer of 2016.
What are you writing at the moment?
The fifth book in the Penny White urban fantasy series. This one will be called ‘The Vexation of Vampires.’ Penny is asked by the British government to dissuade a large group of vampires from emigrating to England. She is also trying to prepare for her wedding day, but there is still that darkly handsome dragon, Raven, waiting in the wings. Although Raven seems to be having problems of his own…
What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?
I have come across badly edited and badly written professionally published books. But, yes, some indie authors try to cut corners. Go to the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon, and you can come across numerous typing and grammatical errors. I used to try to let writers know, but the response often was ‘Well, the story is great, so readers won’t mind.’ Readers do mind. Get a proper editor, or at least a number of friends to read the story before you hit publish. Unfortunately, I have to agree with the statement.
What is your favourite genre to write, and why?
I like the freedom fantasy gives to me. In my ‘Penny White’ series, I enjoy taking some of the traditions associated with fantasy creatures (unicorns can heal with their horns, dragons love gold and are ruthless) and use these to build up distinct cultures for each. And, unlike when you write about human cultures, no dragon has popped in to say that I’ve got something wrong. Sadly.
If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created? Why / why not?
When I first started the Penny White novels, I thought (as she did) that Lloegyr was a dream come true. Dragon rides! Handsome unicorns! A cat-sized gryphon as a companion! But as Penny has come to know the world better, it’s obvious that Lloegyr has problems of its own. The country is beginning to industrialise, so all the species which used to live apart from one another are now coming into regular contact. And as they all have differing cultures, misunderstandings and difficulties have arisen. On balance, I think I’d to live there, if I thought I could be a positive influence on the pressures facing their country.
Tell me three unique things about you.
1) I live with a small parrot called Tilly. You can see her interfering with my attempts to read from my novels at my YouTube site.
2) I danced to house music with several North Koreans at a Buddhist temple complex outside Pyongyang.
3) I have undertaken the ‘polar plunge’ in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Both were equally cold!
Chrys, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!