And we’re back with a new interview with Amanda Fleet, hope you guys enjoy!
STARTING OFF WITH A BANG
Introduce yourself! An easy question to start off with. Who are you, what do you write?
My name’s Amanda Fleet. I mostly write what I call urban fantasy, but that’s starting to be a very varied genre. Perhaps ‘contemporary fantasy’ is the new term? My books are set (mostly) in modern, real times, but include fantastical elements like demons that can reach into your chest and steal all the energy from your body (killing you). I’ve also published a crime novel and a psychological thriller, and written some other books that are still just lurking in my laptop.
Is this your first time in SPFBO?
It is indeed.
What book did you enter into this year’s event?
“Aegyir Rises: The Guardians of The Realm book 1”
Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
Probably Finn is my favourite – the main character’s partner. He’s a real ‘bloke’ (I don’t know if that translates well outside of the UK…). He’s into footie (soccer), he’s protective of his partner Reagan, and he tries to do his best (though doesn’t always get it right, and when he gets it wrong, it can be spectacularly wrong!).
What was the inspiration for the story? What are your future project(s)?
You know, I started writing it so far back, I’m not 100% sure what the original inspiration was, beyond a vague question to myself one day of “What if we’re made up of three things: a physical body, a character, and the energy to make it alive? What happens to the energy and the character when we die? First law of thermodynamics and all that… what happens to the energy?”
Most of my books have started with random questions like that!
What are the key themes and/or messages in the book?
For one character, it’s about working out where she belongs. She’s always felt as if she’s ‘not in the right place’ but then, even when she ends up in somewhere that’s technically the ‘right place’ she doesn’t belong there either. And of course, there are big themes of right versus wrong, but there are also questions about who decides what’s right or what’s wrong. Who decides which life is more important when it comes down to it? If it isn’t possible for both lives to continue, who gets to decide which one has to die in order to save the other?
What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
There were a number, some not related to the book directly! When I started writing it, it was 2014, I was getting close to hitting burnout and a breakdown as a consequence of the job I was working, and I’d developed a serious heart condition (now resolved, thankfully!). There were physical, emotional and mental challenges associated with all of that. Towards the end of 2014, I went off sick from work for just over 6 months. In the summer of 2015, I had a major heart operation, and handed in my notice at work.
After that, I managed a lot more writing 😊, and then what had started out as a single book appeared to be >140K words long. It had a point that would be a clear ‘end of book 1; start of book 2’ so I split it. Unfortunately, that break was about 1/3 of the way in, and I had a lot of re-writing to do. Once I’d finished sorting out the second book, I then realised there was a third book looming, so decided to make it a trilogy.
In between all that, I published the crime novel and the psychological novel! All in all, I really couldn’t recommend this method of writing and publishing 5 books!
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
Well, there are already two sequels to the book entered in SPFBO as it’s the first part of a trilogy, but I’m currently working on a fourth book in the series, set five years after the end of the trilogy. The two main characters now have a four-year-old kid, so life as warriors has some new dimensions! They’re also now battling creatures who can brainwash you into either not seeing them at all, and/or attacking your own side, so the whole ‘being pretty handy with a sword or your fists’ has just become a major disadvantage for them and has knocked them for six. How do you fight a foe that can make you kill your own side? It takes the thing that the defines those characters and which they are most proud of, and turns it against them.
MORE RAMBLES ABOUT WRITING
What is your favorite book you’ve written?
It’s a toss-up between the middle book of the trilogy, “Aeron Returns” and a book I’ve not yet published, called “Fault Lines” which is in an entirely different genre (dark, gritty romance. Does this even exist?). I suppose in both of them, the main character’s equilibrium is turned on its head, and the books explore how they come to deal with it.
Who are your favorite authors?
Patrick Ness, Sarah Fine, Harry Bingham. I would probably read anything written by any of them.
What makes a good villain?
One that has lots of good about them. To them, they think they’re the good guy. I like the villain to be ambiguous – not all good, not all bad. I like to see where they’re coming from. I may not agree with their methods, but I like to agree with their principles (at least to some extent). Like Thanos in The Avengers. I was rooting for him. The universe is over-populated.
Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?
No single blog in particular. I flit about and read a number of different ones, if and when I get the time.
Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shoutout to?
Oh, lots! I’ll try and restrict myself! Most of them are crime-writers as that’s where I started in this whole ‘writing a book malarkey’. So, shout-outs to the Scottish posse of Jackie McLean, Stephen Watt, Tana Collins, Lesley Kelly and Sandra Ireland. SFF online friends (we’ve not met in person) would be Martin Shannon, Wayne Turmel and Julianne Berokoff.
Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?
That I need to work on descriptions more. And that my editor is always right, except about the word ‘bicep’, which doesn’t exist!
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
Plotter. I spend a lot of time brainstorming and getting all of my pantser tendencies out of my system before starting on the book. I’ve learned the hard way! The very first book I wrote wasn’t planned at all and it still in my laptop at 160K with a rambling plot and a load of editing needed. It’s too disheartening to even open the file and look at it again! My brain may have a gazillion ideas about a book, but once I’ve let them all have their moment in the sun in the brainstorming time, I start winnowing it down to what will actually be in the book and loads of it gets cut.
If you had to give up both snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?
I don’t listen to much music when I’m writing and I certainly don’t snack (or I would be the size of a small house!). But if you tried to separate me from mugs of tea while writing, I would have to kill you.
Which is your favourite season to write in, and why?
Ooh. I don’t know that I have one. My least favourite is Summer, because I have hay fever so however much I might want to write outside, it’s a bad idea. But I also live in Scotland and Summer always promises much and delivers little, so I’m constantly both disappointed that the weather is too bad to work outside and relieved that I can’t go out because at least the rain’s keeping the pollen down.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
I spend a long time thinking about them before I start writing. I have huge dossiers on most of my main characters and think about all kinds of things that could affect them – what was their childhood like; what were their parents like and how has that influenced them. Most of the stuff I think about never gets into the books directly, but it helps me to know how and why they react the way they do to the things I throw at them.
What is your writing process? Do you have one? What is your workspace like?
As I said earlier, I have a long preparation time – between brainstorming the plot and working out my characters, I can fill a lot of pages of a notebook (in fact, I can fill several notebooks over the course of a book). I maybe spend up to a couple of months thinking, plotting, brainstorming, making notes on settings and so on, then try and get my key scenes sorted (at least in note form; not usually actually written). All of these notes are long-hand. I think better when I’m writing by hand.
Once all the planning is sorted, I get my key scenes into documents on Scrivener and I get an idea of how many scenes there are between the key beats. Then I start writing, but I need to do scene-planning long-hand before typing anything. It takes me a long time to get to the end of a first draft, but then editing is much easier.
I write standing or sitting at my desk (which is always a mess), looking over part of the garden. The cat sometimes helps by checking that gravity still works and that pens will still fall on the floor when knocked. The desk is an old-fashioned wooden one, with drawers down each side, and I have a stand for my laptop for when I’m writing standing up.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I never really know. A lot comes from being out in the countryside, but it’s indirect. For example, I started to come up with the ideas for The Guardians of The Realm series after a walking holiday in Yorkshire. And although I can see direct correlations between the scenery in Yorkshire and the scenery in the books, there aren’t energy-stealing beings roaming around Yorkshire (as far as I know), and the limestone crags aren’t actually a portal to another world. But something about the landscape and being outside seems to free up my imagination.
How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?
At least three other books are waiting their turn! I’m ¾ into the first draft of another book set in The Realm (the setting for the trilogy), which I talked about earlier. There’s also a heap of short stories set there that are waiting to be written. Then there’s a book I plotted out, way back in 2012, but haven’t written yet – I have quite full notes on it. It’s involves a parallel world to Earth, peopled by the ‘same’ people, although there’s something a bit off about all of them. The main character accidentally stumbles into this alternate version and prefers it there, but to stay, she’ll have to dispose of her Doppelgänger. It’s kind of half crime and half fantasy.
There’s also a book I started thinking about two years ago, but I haven’t allowed myself to get too distracted by it, because I needed to finish all the work on the trilogy. This is set in the wilds of Scotland and draws on some Celtic mythology of cailleachs (though more on the weather deity and creator deity aspects than the old hag aspects). It’s still pretty embryonic, plot-wise, but I know the characters and can see the setting as clear as day.
Do you have any new series planned?
Not at the moment, though the trilogy started out as just one book and there will be at least four. I love the characters in it so much, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more books to come in that series.
MORE ABOUT YOU
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m a keen runner (although my Achilles is fragged at the moment so I’m not running, which is driving me insane). I also knit, garden, walk, draw, and play the violin, though not all at the same time and not in that order!
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Run a bookshop, though I’d be like Dylan Moran in Black Books and never want to actually sell any.
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
Tea. Never coffee.
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
My cancelled holiday this year in northwest Scotland and the islands. Because it was supposed to be my reward for working my ass off to get all three books of the trilogy ready for launch. We were scheduled to go away on 28th March. Lock down started on the 23rd March and everything got cancelled with less than a week’s notice. The last book of the trilogy was launched on the 21st March and I was exhausted and absolutely desperate for my holiday!
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Oh, good grief. Um… Lisbeth Salander, Jeeves, and Jackson Brodie. We’d head to a secluded cottage in the middle of nowhere in Scotland and Lisbeth, Jackson and I would plot the downfall of the government, while Jeeves kept us fed and watered and fixed all the disasters we would no doubt get into!
What superpower would you most like?
I’d say invisibility, but I was a woman in academia, so I kind of had that one covered for 18 years.
I’ll go for mind reading, instead.
What are two of your favorite covers of all time? (Not your own.)
There’s a lot to love in the old green Penguin crime covers. And the site where book covers are improved by the addition of googly eyes is an absolute treasure…
I don’t know if I have all-time favourite covers, especially as I read a lot on my Kindle (and therefore only see the covers before I start reading the book).
I like the simplicity of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology
I’ve not read this, but I think the cover is interesting: Liam Brown “Skin”
If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?
The Dalai Lama, but what I would make for him, I don’t know! Whatever he asked for!
Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.
I have a hole in my heart which was only discovered during heart surgery.
It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and pandemic comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?
Meet some friends for tea and a cake.
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)?
Book Bub: @AmandaFleet
Universal Links to the books:
The Guardians of The Realm Trilogy
Aegyir Rises (Guardians of The Realm #1): http://mybook.to/AegyirRises
Aeron Returns (Guardians of The Realm #2): http://mybook.to/AeronReturns
War (Guardians of The Realm #3): http://mybook.to/WarGoTR3
Lies That Poison (psychological thriller): http://mybook.to/LiesThatPoison
The Wrong Kind of Clouds (crime novel): http://mybook.to/TheWrongKindofClouds