• When did you start writing?
I wrote my first story when I was twelve. It had lasers and swords and crazy-high castles and even personalised Sam Parr illustrations, and was wonderfully terrible.
However, I didn’t start writing ‘properly’ until I was 18 and went to university. Even then though, I spend far longer thinking about writing than actually writing. It wasn’t until covid that I really started producing stories.
• How many books/stories have you written so far?
I’ve written around 25 finished short stories, a few poems, and vast labyrinths of unfinished stories and novels I will likely never return to. It’s probably about a million words in all.
• How many times did you enter the Writers of the Future?
6 times, over the span of six years. I got an ‘Honorable Mention’ twice which, like many authors, gave me fuel to keep going.
I submitted to lots of other magazines as well, and got many, many rejections. After a recommendation from an artist friend, I actually changed my goal from getting published to getting one hundred rejections – and that really helped!
• Can you share a bit about your story in Writers of the Future?
Of course! Here’s the tag line from the anthology (L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 39):
“The Grand Exam is a gateway to power for one, likely death for all others—its entrants include ambitious nobles, desperate peasants, and Quiet Gate, an old woman with nothing left to lose.”
It started with a question about two concepts: could you take the brutally long Civil Service Exams of Imperial China and make them a magic battle royale?
It’s high fantasy, but there are plenty of other excellent genres represented in the anthology. It’s got magical realism, hard sci-fi, cosmic horror, and time travel, meaning there’s not only something for everyone, but also a variety of styles and genres to learn from.
• Which characters do you relate with easily? Why?
Those that are flawed and struggling, yet ultimately aspire to good. I often find myself writing older characters: those who have found themselves on the tail-end of their lives, bemused and bewildered by what they have become. I love characters who are struggling physically and mentally, who are overshadowed by their peers, who aren’t immediately ‘admirable,’ but, through striving and persistence and hardship, still achieve great things.
And when I say great, I mean that in the context of the character. Seeing a character make even a small forgiveness, or the first step after a disability, is just as inspiring as seeing them lead an army or fall in love.
• What are you trying to achieve with your story?
Honestly, I don’t think there is one ‘message’ with my story I wanted to convey. But my favourite fantasy stories are dense, yet elegant: they give you a snapshot of a rich, strange world and curious characters in a way that is intriguing rather than confusing, making you feel there is far more beyond what is written. If I hoped to achieve at least something, it would be to create a similar sense of vastness for readers.
• How long was your research for the book?
In some ways, years. I had been interested in Chinese culture and the Imperial Exam ever since learning about it when I was twenty. However, my explicit research took me about two months, and I did it while planning and writing the story, using what I found to inspire me.
• What’s your favorite book/story among the ones you’ve written?
I’ve just finished a novelette set in a high fantasy world, from the perspective of someone with a chronic illness. I am quite happy with it, because (I hope) it manages to convey some of what it’s like to live with chronic pain, without being an absolute misery-fest. It also has lots of bells, and bells are cool. I’m finalising it before submitting it, however; let’s see if the publishers like it as much as I do!
• Which of your books did you find very difficult to write?
Haha, all of them!
But, to be honest, probably those in my early twenties. Here I knew enough to see the flaws in my writing, but not enough to be able to fix them. With experience and (a bit of) validation, it has gotten easier. The Contest was really helpful for that. Firstly, the fact it has so many types of award beyond just winning (e.g. Honorable Mention, Silver Honorable Mention, Finalist) meant there was something more attainable for me to aim for. Secondly, I recently came back from the week-long workshop for winners of the contest, and the encouragement they gave me has made the past two months of writing the easiest and most joyous I’ve had.
• Which part of your book gave you the most challenging time?
The ‘villain’ of the piece. When I started writing him, he was two-dimensionally evil, and whenever he appeared the scene just stopped dead. I remember spending a whole day wrestling with what to do with him.
Eventually, light came when I searched beyond myself for inspiration. I had just finished ‘Piranesi’ by Susanna Clarke, and loved the main character’s warmth and hope. I started to wonder – what would it look like, if such a character was the villain of a story? And so, the character of Ceaseless Charity came into being.
• Which of your books did you have the most fun writing?
I am most recently writing a story set in a vast, vast world (millions of times the size of earth), full of different types of life. I have recently become fascinated by speculative biology and science fiction, and so it’s been an absolute joy to write, as it gives me an excuse to watch and look at all kinds of cool art and worlds.
• What’s your experience with writer’s block?
It sucks, and I definitely have it a lot. I wish I could say I found a silver bullet for it, but I haven’t.
That said, I found the greatest barriers to it were a lack of confidence, a lack of having fun, and an over-focus on what writing means for me as a human. Writing is challenging, but it’s also really, really fun, and writing a ‘bad’ page does not make you a bad person.
My best writing comes when I treat it as a serious hobby: something that requires effort and skill, but that I do for fun, not my day job.
• How do you handle negative reviews on your book?
After all my low confidence, I’ve been surprised to find I’ve been okay about negative reviews. I was so worried about my work sucking, and yet, when people said it sucked, I found I didn’t mind. I think I handle it in three ways:
- As a spur to be even better. I’ve got so far to develop as an author, so when someone highlights something I know is a challenge for me (e.g. confusing world building), it’s motivation to develop it.
- As a simple example of taste. We all like different things. You can write the best romance novel in the world, and it probably won’t get into my top 100 books of all time. Unless it has mutant spiders or dragon-soldiers, that is…
- As something not worth worrying about. A small percentage reviews are just nasty for the sake of being nasty, and I feel like those ones say more about the reviewer than the book.
Looking back at your successes can also be helpful. For example, in 2021 when I got record numbers of rejections, I could look back at my honorable mentions and remember at least someone liked my work. Also looking back at my old work, and how I’ve improved, always helps.
• What’s your advice for upcoming authors?
I’m wary of writing advice, as we all tread our own path. If I listened to all the writing advice I’ve heard, I’d think I had no business writing.
But, the biggest thing for me has been this: treat writing as a challenging joy. It’s hard, stimulating work, but it should be fun.
If you’re into speculative fiction, please do consider entering the Writers of the Future contest. It’s free, it’s incredibly generous, and it’s an excellent way to structure your writing. There are four quarters every year; if you aim to submit to all four of them, you’re committing to producing at least four stories a year. Then, as long as you’re learning along the way, the honorable mentions and beyond will soon come rolling in.
• Do social media play a role for you as an author?
I stopped going on social media several years ago, as I found I was becoming a compulsive lurker, and just comparing myself negatively to others. So, I’m not very good on it at the moment.
That said, I have been exploring it again recently, and think there is a lot of joy and human connection in it, if you approach it with authenticity and enthusiasm. I was viewing it as a constantly updating list of other people’s successes, rather than a space to connect with others, and explore cool stuff. I very much want to do the latter, now that I’m almost nearly possibly a grown up…
“Outstanding new voices, telling stories that cover the range of speculative fiction. There’s something for every genre reader among this year’s winners, as well as stories from established writers Kevin J, Anderson and S.M. Stirling and two how-to essays for hopeful SF Writers and illustrators. “VERDICT This collection of winners will satisfy readers of SF, Epic and urban fantasy” —Library Journal
“No corner of the speculative fiction genre has been left untouched with these epic stories. This book represents the best and brightest upcoming authors and illustrators within the genre. I completely loved it!” —The International Review of Books
“This is a treasure of extraordinary journeys beyond the boundaries of imagination. L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future volume 39 is a ?must-read? for science fiction and fantasy connoisseurs. Highly recommended!” —Midwest Book Review
“Enjoyable. An early glance at writers who may become major talents in the future. A strikingly original and intricately imagined fantasy world. Unusually vivid and convincing cyberpunk.” —Tangent Online
“Perfect 5 out of 5 stars. This volume definitely inspired me. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the short stories. There is literally something for everyone, and the illustrations linked with each short story were mesmerizing. They fit perfectly.” —OnlineBookClub.org
“Riveting. An epic collection with beautiful new voices, bonus stories, and remarkable artwork.” —Readers’ Favorite
Amazon UK https://amzn.to/3Dg8KuX
Amazon US https://amzn.to/3pQBjfr
Spotify (Same as US): https://open.spotify.com/show/0LdPqDfL8I1c0I9qNZtdYP