It’s that time of the week again! Today I bring you an interview with Caroline Thaung, who has brought her novel A Quiet Rebellion: Guilt to this year’s SPFBO. Here is a link to her book down below:
Please check out my ongoing SPFBO5 Interviews down below!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
So far, I’ve written a novel trilogy (of which my SPFBO entry is the first one), a pile of Tweet-sized stories, and very little fiction in between those sizes. The novels are light steampunk/mannerpunk, with an emphasis on social tensions and interpersonal relationships rather than gadgets or magical powers. Looking forward to expanding my repertoire!
How do you develop your plots and characters?
As with a lot of writers, I suspect, I start off with a “What if…?” question and see if that might give rise to an interesting situation or conflict. I then find characters with strong beliefs about some aspect of my hypothetical world and explore how they might be challenged: both by the world and by each other.
Tell us about your current project.
Right now, I’m working on a science fiction murder mystery. It’s set in a near future world where people’s stem cells can reliably be grown into organs to replace the original ones. I’m lucky enough to work in a biomedical research institute which is strong on regenerative medicine research, so I have lots of experts to approach for advice.
Is this your first entry into SPFBO? If not, how many times have you entered?
Yes, this is my first entry. I released my first book just a year ago, so it’s my first chance to enter. Hopefully not the last!
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
The main character in my A Quiet Rebellion trilogy is Jonathan, a world-weary convoy captain. He’s expected to implement the governing Council’s (not terribly sensible) plans for the rural settlements, but without proper support. Additionally, he’s responsible to a fault, making life more difficult for himself than it need be.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Don’t be afraid to experiment, and don’t expect faultless prose to flow on to the page. You can always edit, and hopefully you’ll see improvements each time (but don’t overwrite previous drafts, just in case you realise you preferred the older version). Have fun! Mess around!
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
I don’t remember specific examples, but I read a lot of scientific papers as part of my day job. Sometimes a detail mentioned in passing will spark off a worldbuilding idea. I do have to thank my partner as well—he has a degree in politics and economics (about which I know embarrassingly little), and we thrashed out a plausible society based on my hypothetical “What if”s.
What inspires you to write?
I can’t say I go round looking for inspiration, but my mind will often go off on “What if?” or “I wonder what’s going on there” tracks, some of which I follow up on. In terms of motivation, I like the satisfaction of creating something uniquely mine. And in a more negative sense, it’s an activity that I can afford to “get wrong” without it mattering too much. (Note: my day job is in a pathology lab. If I get something wrong, people could potentially die.)
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Trying not to spoil the plot too much, there’s a scene I dubbed “the torture scene”. It wasn’t graphic or anything, but it took me six weeks of excuses and avoidance before I felt mentally able to tackle it.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
Although I haven’t yet settled into one, I’d certainly like to have a routine! I started writing fiction in 2015, and writing bursts have been fitted around day job priorities. I’m trying to come up with a system for plot outlining etc that doesn’t require multiple starts and rehashes. Maybe one day it’ll click.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
In A Quiet Rebellion: Guilt, my second major character is a herbalist named Annetta. Her huge flaw is that she’s conflict-averse, to the extent of not challenging other people when they’re seriously wrong. She gets off to a rocky start with the town mayor who proceeds to impugn her competence. In the latter part of the book, she… still doesn’t confront him, but manages to get back at him in her own quiet way. It’s a very small scene, and a very small achievement, but I was so satisfied when she stopped behaving like a complete doormat. To my relief, she develops further in the later books, to the extent that her “act of bravery” in Book 2 still makes me cackle.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
Bearing in mind I hadn’t written any fiction before (apart from essays while at school *ahem* decades ago), I learned a huge amount about writing in general. The sorts of things that work plot-wise, structure, characterisation, description, prose and everything else. Not that I’ve become an expert at all, but I feel like I’ve had an intensive writing course. And I’m hugely grateful to all the folks at Scribophile who provided input into my work, especially those who tolerated my truly awful first attempts.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
My natural inclination is to want to plot in a lot of detail, but the one time I tried that (for my final book), it killed my desire to actually write the first draft. I think my brain thought I’d written it already. So I probably fall in between. Have a birds-eye view of where and when things ought to happen, and then allow the characters and their situations to get them through in the most plausible way.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
I’d like to think I have strongly depicted characters, but they certainly didn’t start off that way. As I revised AQR: Guilt, they became more fleshed out and distinct. Poor Annetta needed several character makeovers before I stopped wanting to lecture her on standing up for herself. Of course, the second and third books in the trilogy were easier since I had mainly the same characters.
For my new project, the characters are still vaguely formed, but I hope they’ll come to life as I revise. I’ve already had one character refuse to pay another money owed, which under the circumstances is a good sign.
What are your future project(s)?
On the back burner, I have another steampunk project featuring the kidnap of a prominent inventor. I’m also trying to get more into short-form fiction, maybe by giving my Tweet-sized stories a little more room to breathe.
What is your favorite book ever written? Who are your favorite authors?
Phew, it’s difficult to pick a single favourite book since what I want to read really depends on my mood—do I want to contemplate life, be cheered up, read something exciting or enjoy poetic prose? Today I’m dipping into Homer’s The Odyssey (Lattimore translation), but tomorrow it might be Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. My go-to favourite authors are Terry Pratchett and Roger Zelazny.
What makes a good villain?
Same as with any other character, I’d like to see what drives them to do what they do. I think they need some reason to believe they’re doing the right thing—at least, right for them even if not morally right.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
What is this “spare time” of which you speak? Writing has rather overtaken everything else, but I enjoy dressmaking. Well, “enjoy” might not be the right word, but I like having clothes that fit…
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Writing is my secondary occupation. I have the great fortune to be in my ideal job already, in a very niche specialty (eye pathology). I’m accounted an international expert in my field of practice, I meet interesting people at scientific conferences, I keep up with the latest developments and I get to teach up-and-coming specialists from all over the world. What’s not to like? Though I wouldn’t mind a bit more time to sleep! If you’re curious about my actual day job, you can see some of my material at https://eyepathlondon.com/
You can travel to any planet or moon in the Solar System. Where would you go, why and what would you do there?
I’d prefer not to, really. Conferences aside, I don’t enjoy travelling at all.
Pick any three characters from a fiction novel. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Given my above-stated aversion to actual travel, I’d pick characters with whom I could go out locally. Let’s see… I live in London… So that would be Holmes and Watson. And for the third, no doubt Moriarty would save us from wondering what to do.
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
Thanks for the opportunity to chat!