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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Interview with Sarah Ash (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Sarah Ash Website
Order “Flight Into Darkness
HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Thanks to Mihir Wanchoo, I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to post an email interview that he conducted with fantasy author Sarah Ash. Sarah is a British novelist whose bibliography includes The Tears of Artamon trilogy and the Alchymist’s Legacy which was concluded with the recently published book, “Flight into Darkness” (January 27, 2009 / Bantam Spectra). Read on to find out more about Sarah Ash, her books, her inspiration, her writing and much more:

Q: What made you choose fantasy as a genre to write in?

Sarah: I think that fantasy chose me.

I loved myths and legends from an early age, especially those that inspired musical versions like the Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky ballets (‘Swan Lake,’ ‘Firebird,’ ‘Petrushka’ etc.) I had a vivid imagination and used to scare myself rigid by reading ghost stories and science fiction with a torch after lights out. Somehow, all of these influences eventually coalesced in my own writing. I feel that there’s a certain kinship for me between music and writing fantasy; it’s possible to convey certain things in a fantasy context that won’t work so well in an historical or contemporary novel. I was thinking, for example, of the journey that Kiukiu undertakes into the Ways Beyond, searching for the soul of her lover, whom she fears is dead. Underworld journeys permeate the myths of many different cultures and they are meaningful to us on many different levels. Only in fantasy is it possible to describe such a journey without having to resort to the lame excuse of ‘it was only a dream.’ Fantasy allows the writer and the reader to fly.

Q: To any reader who hasn’t read one of your books, how would you convince them to give one of your novels a try?!

Sarah: When I read a novel, I want to be drawn into the story from the very first page by fascinating characters, intriguing situations, and a swiftly-paced style. So that’s what I set out to do in my own writing; story-telling is an art that’s alive and well in the fantasy genre and it’s my aim to try to tell a story that’s so vivid that you can’t help but be swept along by it.

Q: If you could give one book of yours to anyone in the world to read, which book would it be and why?

Sarah:Lord of Snow and Shadows” is probably a good one to start with: I can promise a snow-covered country haunted by ghosts, a murdered lord, a shadowy drakhaoul-daemon with a craving for innocent blood, unrequited love, imperial ambitions, court intrigue, an ancient legend about a dead emperor’s cursed rubies…

And a dragon.

Q: Your first book came out in 1995 along with a couple of anthology short stories a couple of years earlier. Could you share with us your experiences of first getting published?

Sarah: After years of doing the rounds with novels and amassing a bulging folder of rejection slips, I was very lucky to have the first short story that I ever sent to
Interzone accepted. It had been a disappointing summer (we'd been trying to move houses but the sale fell through at the last minute and so we lost our summer holiday as well) and we were trying to make the best of it by taking our sons on day trips out. We'd been down to Chatham Historic Naval Dockyard (well worth a visit if you’re interested in naval history) and on returning home, I noticed that the answer phone light was flashing. The message was from Deborah Beale, then senior editor at Orion, saying that she'd read the short story in IZ and would I like to send her the novel I had just finished? Would I? You bet I would! So, I'm eternally grateful to Interzone and to Deborah Beale for giving me my first break.

NOTE: For people who are interested in reading Sarah’s first short story, “Airs From Another Planet”, click
HERE.

Q: It’s been nearly 15 years since your first book came out. What advice would you have given yourself if you had the opportunity?

Sarah: Nearly fifteen years; help! Where did the time go? Well, most of all, it would have been to get an agent. I didn’t; I sold my first three books unagented and, with hindsight, it was a big mistake. Thank goodness for John Parker, who took me under his wing in 1997, and who has been wisely guiding me—fighting my corner—ever since.

Q: Where do you find the inspiration for your stories, (i.e.: nature, events, people, etc.)? And is there a particular life experience that influenced your writing?

Sarah: The inspiration comes from somewhere in my subconscious, I guess, from that soup of experiences that we all accumulate as we go through life. But I realize, as I’m outlining several new projects at the moment, that I do like my stories to have a tangible root in the real world, whether it’s a place (Mont Saint Michel has popped up again recently), a legend local to that place, or even something as insubstantial as a phrase of music.

I often make mention of my own experiences as a musician because I’ve created several characters who are performers and/or composers, like Celestine and Jagu and their master/mentor Henri de Joyeuse. In my earlier novel “Songspinners”, the heroine Orial, has been forbidden to learn music by her father because her mother died due to a rare affliction known as the Accidie. To develop the Accidie means that you can hear the music that other people have going round in their heads when they get a tune ‘on the brain.’ After a while, this sends the sufferer insane. The idea sprang from my own ability to be gifted (or cursed) to hear music (and often to memorize it) as my memory replays it over and over again. Loudly. I’m sometimes surprised that other people can’t hear it! Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have driven me insane so far, although it can be very annoying. In Orial’s case, this inherited gift opens up a new and magical world, when she meets the badly injured composer Amaru Khassian and, defying her father’s wishes, becomes his amanuensis. But it also puts her in considerable peril…

Q: Who is/are your favorite character/characters from your books and why?

Sarah: If I have favorites (and like a good parent, I try to regard all my characters with equal affection) it's not always the ones that readers might imagine. I confess that I have a soft spot for Count Oskar Alvborg, the ‘bad boy’ of the Tears of Artamon. And in Alchymist’s Legacy, Kilian Guyomard was great fun to write, first as a troublesome schoolboy at Saint Argantel’s Seminary, and then a deeply conflicted adult in “Flight into Darkness”. But if I had to pick out one, I guess it would have to be Kiukiu, who starts out as the most insignificant of all the servants in the Drakhaon’s kastel in “Lord of Snow and Shadows”, and, thanks to her dogged determination to believe in her dreams, discovers her gift as a Spirit Singer, and uses it to fight for the man she loves.

Q: What type of writer are you. An Outliner or a freewriter? And could you give us a glimpse of your writing style and schedule?

Sarah: I'm both, in that I need to know a basic outline of the story (the theme, the beginning, the middle and the end) before I begin to write. But I never stick rigidly to a detailed chapter plan; I’m not that organized! No, the real reason is that I like to discover new things along the way. I can write a convincing outline for a story—and then find out that it works so much better trusting my instincts as I go along. However, I’m not advocating meandering vaguely for many chapters; everything I write is focused on the main theme/situation/conflict of the story and building toward the climax.

As to style, I know if I like the way I've written a sentence. I’m one of those picky writers who’ll spend ages putting in a word—and then taking it out again if it doesn’t work for me. I’m a great believer in getting the rhythm of a sentence right.

Schedules? I try to write every day whenever possible, in the same place (my desk in my cluttered little room on the second floor), at the same time of day. The window is on my right and high up, so that I can’t stare out and distract myself. Mornings are best for creative writing, so evenings tend to be more for catching up on emails, reviewing and revising/editing. But if it’s near deadline time, I’ll be up there, typing away till all hours!

Q: The world of Artamon which you have created is quite a vast and intriguing one. Besides the eastern European tinge, how did you go about creating it? What was your inspiration and what were your inventions in context to world-building? And what's your take on the debate of a character-driven story versus a fully realized world?

Sarah: In creating the world of Artamon, I wanted to create a believable, realistic society (not unlike that of our own eighteenth century) in which the growing interest in rationalism and science is countered by the discovery that there is truth in the old folk tales and legends: dragons do exist! I am an avid amateur historian and so many little details culled from my readings of contemporary diaries and historical biographies, or visits to 'old houses' seep their way into the narrative.

Having created a world in which ghosts haunt the living and shaman spirit singers can cross into the land of the dead through their music, it was important to establish the theological/ mythological context very early on. The spirit singers visit the Ways Beyond at their peril; there is a constant risk that they may never be able to return to their physical bodies and become Lost Souls. I was influenced in some ways by Judaic beliefs (seven hells, seven heavens), and so there are many different realms in the Ways Beyond, including the dust-ridden wasteland known as the Realm of Shadows. Each book opens up new layers of these hidden worlds! In Alchymist’s Legacy, the secret dimension that separates the mortal world and the Ways Beyond, is revealed: the Rift of the Emerald Moon.

But all of this world-building would be dry as the dust in the Realm of Shadows without the characters through whose eyes we get to experience these places. Rieuk’s first vision of the Emerald Moon—when rival Imri steals him away from his master, Linnaius—is a life-changing experience, as devastating as love at first sight. Or when Kiukiu has her first glimpse of the Realm of Shadows, we have to feel her horror and disgust at the plight of the souls trapped there. So for me, characters and world-building are inextricably intertwined; ‘you can’t have one without the other!’

Q: What are your plans for the future?

Sarah: Like many other authors at the moment, I’m feeling the squeeze of the ‘credit crunch.’ Every day I read of new cutbacks in all aspects of publishing and this makes me very sad. It also means that it’s incredibly difficult to sell a new project. Everything depends on how well your last book sold at the Electronic Point Of Sale—and even if you sold in reasonable numbers and went to reprint, it doesn’t mean your next contract is a certainty. You may have to reinvent yourself with a pseudonym, which means that you can’t write more about the characters you’ve already used (no sequels) as they are associated with your original identity. Which means disappointing the fans who were hoping for that sequel. Not to mention the necessity of investing a lot of time and imagination in a brand-new project—that may well be rejected. But hey, that’s what writing’s all about! The ups, the downs…

So to all those kind and encouraging readers who email me (and I really love those emails because it’s such a treat to hear from people who have enjoyed the books; please do keep ‘em coming) I have to say it’s not that I don’t want to write the sequels, far from it! It’s just a very difficult market; unchartered waters, maybe. So tell all your friends to buy the books and spread the buzz around—not just for me, but all your favorite authors. Because that’s the only way (unless we’re talking J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer here) that you can be sure the publishers will invite us back to write more.

Q: How do you cope with the stressful nature of schedules & deadlines?

Sarah: Hair-tearing and too much caffeine. No, seriously, a regular writing schedule is essential for me, or nothing ever gets done! In truth, I really enjoy having a routine (at the desk every morning with Radio 3 and a cup of coffee.) Deadlines are always stressful, but they are a necessary stress; there's an extraordinarily exhilarating feeling when coming to the conclusion of a novel, when you're tying up all the loose ends and seeing various plotlines come to fruition. But I found meeting the deadline for “Flight into Darkness” very difficult because I was taken ill about a half of the way through, was in hospital for a week, needed some weeks afterwards to recuperate, and therefore had to ask for an extension. My kind and lovely editor, Anne Groell, was very understanding, for which I will always be very thankful indeed as I was pretty desperate!

Q: If not fantasy which other genre would you have chosen to write in? And do you have any plans to publish books in any other genre?

Sarah: Historical novels are my other love and, indeed, I wrote an historical novel back in the mid 1980's which failed to find a publisher. It was just as well, because not long after I had finished it, I discovered some new research which completely negated my imagined version of the central character's 'missing' years! So, no plans at present, unless it be historical fantasy.

Q: As a writer, what still challenges you and what do you want to accomplish?

Sarah: ‘To get it right' is the constant spur and challenge in writing. Every time I apply fingers to keyboard (or more rarely these days, pen to paper) I'm aware that I'm still learning the craft and there's so much more to be worked at and improved. You never stop learning and experimenting.

Story-telling is in my blood; above all, I'd just like to be given the opportunity to carry on telling the stories that demand to be told. And if other people enjoy reading them, then that gives me such a buzz!

Q: It has been mentioned that you are a comic book & manga fan. Which comic books and characters are your favorites, and do you have any manga recommendations for us?!

Sarah: My elder son Tom is the comic book expert in our family; I can't pretend that I haven't borrowed and enjoyed his X-Men collection—and, of course, Neil Gaiman's amazing Sandman graphic novels too. But manga is my real passion, especially as I feel a great kinship with some of the fantasy and science fiction themes to be found in the work of certain gifted mangaka. As for recommendations . . . at the moment, a couple of current hot tips from me are dark fantasy adventure “07-Ghost” by Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara (which is so good I can hardly wait for the next volume) and “Momo Tama” by a favourite mangaka of mine, Nanae Chrono, which draws on the traditional Japanese legend of the Peach Boy to create a bizarrely funny and inventive contemporary science fictional adventure.

Q: What book/books have you read recently that have made an impression on you?

Sarah: Two fantasy novels that were published in 2008 particularly impressed me. One was “The Magicians and Mrs Quent” by
Galen Beckett, the first book in a promising new series that manages to combine elements of the novels of the Brontes (the moors, the lonely house, the nysterious owner, the impressionable governess…) with an imaginative and unusual magic system. The second, “Havemercy” is by the impossibly young Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. Undoubtedly anime-influenced (and none the worse for that!) it deals with a squad of airmen learning to fly mechanical combat dragons, like the formidable Havemercy, to fight their enemy.

Q: Which authors that you have read & are your favorites, would you recommend to your fans esp. in the fantasy/sci-fi genre?

Sarah: Ah, there are so many good authors out there! I’ve loved the works of Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen, Mary Renault, Mikhail Bulgakov, and J.R.R. Tolkien since my teens. Then I always have to cite Ursula LeGuin, for “The Left Hand of Darkness,” probably my favorite-ever science fiction novel ever, as well as the first three Earthsea novels for fantasy. I shouldn’t omit Anne Rice from a favorites list; “Interview with the Vampire” made a great impression on me with its lushly dark style and the unforgettable creation of Claudia, the child vampire.

I belong to a group of fantasy writers called
The Write Fantastic and we frequently visit libraries and literary festivals to spread the word about the genre. As part of our work, we’ve produced a leaflet with some of our recommended reads; please do visit our site to learn more: http://www.thewritefantastic.com/

Q: What do you do when you are not writing or reading books? Any hobbies?

Sarah: Oh, I’m so embarrassed to admit that I do very little these days that isn’t connected to writing. I used to sing in choirs, I used to play the piano properly, I even used to bake cakes.

But then I also work at a primary school! Primary school generate plenty of extra activities—and running a computerized library of c. 10,000 books, with c. 700 borrowers does take up quite a lot of time and headspace. So my day job is like my hobby. A very rewarding one, too, as working with young readers is endlessly interesting. Never a dull moment!

Q: In closing, any last words for your multitude of fans worldwide and what we can expect from Sarah Ash next?

Sarah: I’m so grateful that readers have enjoyed the books; that’s all a writer can ever hope for, really! So (bows deeply) thank you for your interest and support.

As to what next, well . . . I’m hoping that my next projected series, To the Angelspire, will find a backer. But having already(stupidly) mentioned it in another interview, I now fear the wrath of the gods. It’s happened to me before; I’ve dared to say the name of the project and hint the contents a little, and then the publishers have said a big ‘No.’

ABOUT MIHIR WANCHOO:

Mihir Wanchoo is a physician in Houston, TX who has aspirations of getting his book published in the future. When he' not busy working, studying and writing, he's blissfully lost in the worlds of Jeffrey Deaver, James Rollins/Clemens, David Gemmell, John Connolly, Sarah Ash, George R.R. Martin, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, and many others...

5 comments:

Darshan said...

The interview was really awesome dude...m just flattered by your way you took the interview...i was all glued to the topic and followed it all...keep up the good work and hope you send me this book :D

-Darsh...(19/03/2009)

Vickie said...

So glad to add this author to my list of 'to look for'!
Thank you!

Thinkersblock07 said...

Yay! A manga fan! Loved the interview. I'll have to add this to my list of "to look for" also.

shruti.. said...

hey...you intervied Sarah Ash...!!!
great...I have only one book of her - Tracing the shadow...

and u had a nice long interview...

Meghna said...

Hey Mihir, interview was really awesome. Keep up the good work.
& looking forward to read ur interview also.:D

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