It has been far too long since I interviewed any of my fellow authors on my blog and I thought it was high-time that I started showcasing some of the talent that is out there at the moment. First up, I can’t think of a better person to start back with, than dark fantasy, science ficiton and horror writer, Simon Williams.
It’s been five years since I last interviewed Simon Williams, author of many novels, including the wonderful Aona fantasy series. Back in the February of 2014, Simon was three books through a proposed five-books series, so I thought it was long overdue that we sat down and had another chat to see where his wonderful imagination has taken him and his readers to.
As we welcome back Simon, let’s jump straight in with a follow-up question to the very last question I asked him in 2014 which was “What’s next for you?” Back then he was working on his Aona series and about to launch Summer’s Dark Waters.
So, in short, Simon, what have you been up to since then?
I’ve been writing, reading and sleeping, and occasionally eating. Life has been one long stream of adverbs. 😉
What sparked the idea for your Aona series? Was there a single moment of inspiration you can identify, or was it a collection of ideas that evolved over time?
It evolved (slowly) over time really. The first book was changed and edited considerably over a number of years until I was finally happy with it. Once I’d got that right, the other books flowed considerably more easily – each one took about a year, which is not bad for me, considering that they’re all a decent length. I would say that the moment I finished Oblivion’s Forge (the first book) qualifies as a single moment of inspiration, because I immediately knew how to craft the remaining books, even if I didn’t know the precise plot they would follow. I also had the beginnings of an idea about how it should all end, so I had something to work towards from that point of view.
Your Aona series has had some wonderful reviews to date – can you tell everyone about how you found writing a 5-books series, a little about your own writing journey and the process of creating such a grand saga?
My process appears like chaos to the outside world. I often chop and change things and I often have little idea what the journey a particular book takes will be. But that works for me. I don’t need to plan meticulously in detail – for a start, I often find that I don’t like something or I have a better idea, so plans just end up in the bin. Aside from that, I love the fact that the journey is unknown even as I set off along it. I have a vision of how it should feel, I know a lot of detail about characters, and quite often I know the end point, but the journey is just some dark void between A and Z and there’s a lot of fun in shining a light through that chasm and painting the story based on what I see or imagine.
In view of that, if you could send a message back to yourself at the start of your writing journey, what advice and/or warnings would you would pass on?
Ditch the pompous trad-fantasy approach. Bring to life characters who the readers care about (or hate – both work fine – you need a balance).
They’re created by Russian artist Slava Gerj, and I knew when I first saw them that they would be perfect for the Aona series. The previous covers (the “symbol” covrs) had proved divisive- some people loved them, others hated them, but so far I’ve had almost universal good feedback on the new covers, with people who’ve read the series telling me what I believed straight away- that they’re perfect for the series.
Salvation’s Door, the final volume in the Aona series, perhaps because I was able to draw a lot of character threads together, bring closure to a number of things (and deliberately leave others open to debate) and because it goes some way towards explaining the (admittedly pretty deep) concept at the heart of the series. I don’t want to give away spoilers, hence my annoyingly enigmatic response to this question…
‘The Light From Far Below‘ is the sequel to your YA Fantasy novel, the wonderful ‘Summer’s Dark Waters‘ – for anyone not familiar with these books, could you tell us a little about them? Will there be more?
Summer’s Dark Waters deals with two children who find that they’re rather more than they assumed and the world is not what they thought. It’s a coming-of-age saga and broadly speaking a YA / sci-fi adventure. The Light From Far Below is quite different- set roughly a year and a half after the events in the first book, it’s (despite the title) darker in theme and works in a number of themes relating to today’s society that kids / teens would empathise with. But although the setting and some of the themes are in some ways contemporary, the book is also very much a chase / fight for survival and lays to rest many threads from Summer’s Dark Waters. The scope is also wider and I guess you could say it’s a slightly more challenging read in some senses.
And I’ve had a lot of people ask if there will be a third book! The short answer is, actually, wait, I don’t do short answers- the *answer* is possibly, but not for some time. Again without giving anything away, the ending gives closure but at the same time there is scope for a third book. That said, I think it would be set years later and I might even write this one for adults (which sounds odd, but Alan Garner did something very similar- his recent novel Boneland is a distant sequel to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Moon of Gomrath, and is written for people who read the first two books as kids and are now adults). By the time I write any third book, many people who read the first two will probably be adults so it’s something I might do. *Might*.
In terms of process it was the same, but I did have to consciously think harder about the characters and their mannerisms, ways of acting and reacting, simply because of their age. That was the one thing that made it tougher than writing the Aona books. But it was also a voyage of discovery because I proved to myself that I could write for a different readership and have just as much enjoyment in so doing. It was therefore a very satisfying experience.
What’s next for you? Will you be returning to Aona? Or are you headed somewhere else?
I’m working on various standalone novels, all of which are very different to one another.
One is a dark epic fantasy but with maybe a smaller cast than the Aona books, and with more of a gothic horror feel and less of the sci-fi element. It introduces more fairy-tale imagery and I also decided to bring religion to the fore (particularly as a point of comparison between “religious magic” (miracles, for example) and “natural magic” (denounced by the practitioners of “religious magic” as the work of demons and shades from other dimensions). I wanted to do this as there’s so much conflict and dubious morality to work with. In terms of plot, something that complex could go anywhere which makes it exciting to work with. Somehow, I also seem to have ended up with a “trinity” of three powerful female characters who (at the moment) are also the main protagonists. Suffice to say there’ll be no simpering at court dances or marrying off to fatuous princelings in this cheery tale. As I said, there’s a lot of material to work with here so it’s immensely rewarding.
The second is difficult even for me to explain- set in a mysterious city it follows the paths of four very different characters- it’s broadly speculative / dystopian / fantasy but with elements of steampunk and even a sort of noir detective touch (as one of the characters is a detective… a very special kind).
The third may well turn out to be a bit smaller, perhaps novella size, and is more in the realm of magical realism / horror. This is about a boy who sees something amazing and terrifying on the beach one morning, and then the struggles he has with reality in the years that follow. It’s about the nature of reality in one sense, and the interface between the unknown depths of the sea and the world we think we know. Also tied into it is the grim setting of an archetypal English seaside town (particularly in the off season). I think those settings are great for inspiring works of horror and dark fantasy- there’s something seedy and dated about them in a creepy way that makes you wonder what happens when you peel away the surface.
And there’s a fourth- one that suddenly popped into my head the other day. This has the feel of an Edwardian YA magical realism / horror at the moment but I haven’t yet decided when it will be based. As is often the case, the characters have come fully alive with only the beginnings of a plot at the moment – they’re angrily waiting in the attic of my mind, so I’d better sketch them a path to follow sooner rather than later.
What do you love most about being an author?
Lots of things. Those flashes of deep, profound inspiration. Receiving a personal message out of the blue from an author who loved one of my books. Completing a book or a series. Wondering what will happen next. Never plan the journey! – let the journey show you its own plan.
What do you like least about being an author?
Marketing! Could someone tell me how to do it, please?
As an author I am sure your mind is always whirring away with ideas – what do you like to do when/if you have any spare time?
Reading, music, travel, keeping fit
Final question for now, Simon (hopefully it won’t be 5 years before we chat again) – if you were fleeing to a desert island, to escape an apocalypse, which three books would you take with you and why?
Three? Meanie! I think Clive Barker’s “Imajica” (or possibly “The Great and Secret Show”), Tad Williams’ “Otherland” (yes, I’m cheating – they’re four fat volumes) and Cecilia Dart-Thornton’s Crowthistle Chronicles. I might have different answers tomorrow, but I have a permanent love for all these, and others.