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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

SPFBO: Interview with Rachel Emma Shaw (by Lukasz Przywoski)


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Emma Shaw is a London based author. She started writing as an escape from her PhD in neuroscience and has never stopped. She lives in a house slowly being consumed by plants and loves being outdoors. She will frequently attempt to write her books in local parks, only to inevitably end up falling asleep in the sun. If you want her to hurry up and write more books then wish for rain. Her best work is done when it's stormy outside.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

I have a fear of lifeboats. Is that the sort of thing you’re after?

I accidentally stowed away on one when I was six, and was discovered sobbing as I watched my family and the beach disappearing into the distance. Fingers crossed I’m never in need of rescue at sea. I genuinely might drown from refusing to climb aboard. 

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? 

Science communicator for a charity. I’m a scientist by background and spent years studying the brain, and now use that knowledge to help get people excited about the incredible progress research is making every day.

Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influencers? 

Son of Shadows, by Juilet Marillier, was the first book that kept me up reading until 5am. Ever since, when I pick up a new book, it’s with the secret hope of it being so captivating that it will keep me up through the night. As a writer, one of my main drives is to create that same feeling for my readers. To help them be so absorbed by a fantasy world that they temporarily forget the one we live in. Jay Kristoff, Pierce Brown, Jacqueline carey - they’ve all stolen many hours of beauty sleep from me and I love them all for it. 

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer?

Writing is either my purpose in life or an addiction my family should think about holding an intervention over. I’m not a naturally talented individual, I just persevere until something is finally ready. My writing is no different. Each book starts out as a block of stone I keep chipping away at until the sculpture is done. Sometimes I use dynamite.

I’ve been serious about writing for the last five or so years, ever since my partner decided to buy an x-box and told me I would have to find a way of keeping myself entertained while I was over. It kicked me into deciding to give my writing another go. I had always written on and off, but my confidence back then isn’t what it is today, so I didn’t push myself, but this time was different. Perhaps it was because my confidence had grown, or perhaps because I was mid PhD, and so desperately needed a creative outlet, but whatever it was, I became so obsessed with carving out time for my stories that I cut out pretty much everything else from my life. I heard authors giving advice about how that was what you needed to do to succeed, and I REALLY took it to heart. So much so that it resulted in the end of the relationship and of more than a few friendships too, leaving me with even more time to commit to writing, but with an increasingly unbalanced life supporting me. If anything, my journey as a writer has been about recognising how unhealthy that can be and clawing my way back. I have an addictive personality, so I keep having to remind myself that there are many stories I want to tell on this author road I’m on, and I don’t want to burn out before I tell them. That’s why my journey as a writer isn’t really about the words, but about trying to hold together the frayed strands of sanity belonging to the women writing them. 

What do you think characterizes your writing style? 

Dark. Emotionally black pits that I fling my readers and characters into. 

I’m sorry. To everyone involved. To my characters for doing it to them, and to my readers for my having flung the book into the world. I’m truly surprised that 90% of them don’t seem to hate me for it.  

What made you decide to self-publish Last Memoria as opposed to traditional publishing? 

Last Memoria had a traditional offer, but I was so fascinated by the publishing process, that I decided to experience it firsthand for myself. I wanted to know the ins and outs of marketing, etc. Plus, I really wanted to design my own cover and audio-narrate the audiobook (the female half at any rate. I lost my voice attempting the male half and had to admit defeat three chapters in). Couldn’t do those in the ol’ trad route. 

What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?

Getting to know your audience. You’re speaking directly with readers. You’re reaching out to reviewers. You’re seeing what’s capturing their attention and what isn’t working. It’s a goldmine of insight, which you would be that much further from as a trad author.

On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on

The support of an agent/editor cheerleading squad. Writing can be very lonely and requires a lot of determination. Self-publishing even more so, which is why a writing network is key.

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience? 

Yes, but I don’t think of Last Memoria as the be all and end all when it comes to reaching people. That will come with time, a little more with each new book. To me, publishing is as much of a journey as writing and I’m in it for the long haul, but SPFBO has been incredible for helping spread the word... 

Why did you enter SPFBO? 

You’re going to laugh at this, but it was for the chance to be reviewed by so many of the most incredible fantasy blogs out there. The big ones especially are so inundated by book review requests that reaching out to them directly is a long shot (and believe me, I tried! I contacted about 400 reviewers/blogs individually before LM came out). I hoped that entering SPFBO would help me reach more people. What I didn’t expect was the confidence boost that came with getting to the semi-finals and then finals. That was an unexpected surprise.

What would you do if you won the SPFBO?

Die of shock. There were a lot of grammar mistakes in the copy I submitted to the competition. I had it proofed, but because I have reading problems, I didn’t notice them at the time. I’ve had them fixed now and changed my proof editor for book 2, but I’m not expecting to win for that reason alone. And also because LM is marmite. It’s a slow burn emotional journey into darkness that is just not everyone’s cup of tea.

How would you describe the plot of Last Memoria if you had to do so in just one or two sentences? 

A memory thief is haunted by her past for things she’s done that the world won’t let her forget. She seeks out redemption, but will she get it and what form will it take if she does?

What was your initial inspiration for Last Memoria? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

Ideas always evolve. Normally unrecognisably, but not in the case of LM. The original spark for this one was the thought of a young woman on the run, trying to reunite with her family, who had been forced to separate to increase their chances of making it to safety. 

If you had to describe Last Memoria in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Heartbreaking. Thought provoking. (I’m counting that as one :D) Different. 

How many books have you planned for the series? 


It’s a duology, so two. Scars of Cereba is the second and it’s almost finished. Just needs a good ol’ proofing. It’s best described as the ambition of LM, but amped up to the max, exploring the next level repercussions of the magic system. The beta’s seem to love it though.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to Last Memoria’s protagonists/antagonists?

Cool question!

Sarilla - a memory thief who hates what she is and what she’s been forced to do.

King Renford - her half uncle and the dude who has been forcing her to steal memories from his people. Paranoid psycho.

Falon - a man who had some of his memories stolen by one of King Renford’s memory thieves (under King Renford’s orders!), and is fighting to get his memories back.

Cedral - Falon’s lover with a secret he’s trying to hide.

Havric - The character all the readers seem to love most. I think it’s his smile. 

Does your book feature a magic/magic system? If yes, can you describe it?

Memoria can manipulate memories. When they take them from you, the memories become black marks on their hands and they have instant access to all that information, which can make them go insane if they take too many. There’s more to the magic system, but I don’t want to spoil book 2! 



Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Last Memoria?

It’s to convey the tone of the story, which (as you might have guessed by now) is rather dark thematically. For a large part of the story, Sarilla and the others are traveling outside through the forest. I like to think of the cover as what they were seeing while they sat on watch or lay awake at night, unable to sleep. Both because of what’s waiting for them in the dark, and from the memories they have/haven’t got in their heads.

Which question about the series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 

Why did you think to create a magic system about memory loss?

Great question! I forget. I think it was something to do with my masochistic tendency towards my sanity when it comes to my writing. You’ll understand why when you read book 2. My brain needed a holiday after that one.

What are you most excited for readers to discover in this book?

How twisted I am as an author. LM is more literary fantasy than epic. If there’s a scale with plot on one side and character on the other, I try to keep it balanced, but LM definitely leans on the character side. As a beta reader recently said to me, my writing is better the more emotional pain my characters are in, and I love reading reviews where the reader has clicked with that. For most who don’t love the book, it seems to be because they haven’t connected with the characters, which makes sense, but for those who do connect, they are in for an emotional rollercoaster.

Can you, please, offer us a taste of your book, via one completely out-of-context sentence.

“Some say it’s a gift to walk a day in another man’s shoes, but have they ever had the misfortune of trying?”

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

Busy! I put out a couple of prequel short stories to the Memoria Duology in September (they’re up on my website if you want to get a copy for free!), and I have the conclusion to the duology (Scars of Cereba) coming in 2021. On top of that, I’m currently finishing off the first book of a second duology, which I can’t wait to share more details on, but that I’ll have to keep silent about for a couple of months more.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers? 

Only to say thank you to all those running the competition/making it possible. Esme at Weatherwax Reports is incredible and has not only been reviewing the books for SPFBO, but also running her blog with other book reviews and she has a small child to care for. How she does all that, I don’t know, but I know it’s similar for all the blogs and Mark with all the behind the scenes stuff he does. Without reviews, self-pub books are dead in the water, which is why this competition is such a fantastic opportunity for authors. We know SPFBO is a huge time commitment, so on behalf of all the authors this competition has helped, thank you.

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