This issue, we’re pleased to present an interview with Anne B Walsh, who regular readers might remember from Issue Four as the author of A Widow in Waiting. She’s also the author of the ever-popular Dangerverse series in the Harry Potter fandom.
Tell us a bit about The Chronicles of Glenscar.
The Chronicles of Glenscar is, or will be, a four-book series of historical fantasies, set in the late 1780’s in England and Ireland. They’re similar to what is often called Regency romance, though (nerd alert) strictly speaking, the Regency covers only 1811-1820, so they’re properly referred to as Georgian after King George III. You might like them if: you enjoy mystery, romance, music, magic, humor, or suspense; you like getting to know a large cast of characters and feeling that there are more stories about them just waiting to be told; you like to read at a leisurely pace but not feel that the story is dragging or padded; and most of all, you prefer your endings happy without being sappy.
The first, and so far only, book in the series is A Widow in Waiting, which follows John (or Sean) Marlowe, son of the landowner of the Irish farming village of Glenscar, where magical powers are not only accepted but expected, and Eleanor (or Noreen) de Maine, Lady Farnton, daughter of a rich English merchant and the titular widow. While John greets Eleanor as the fulfillment of seven years’ worth of his magic of true dreams, Eleanor is scarred by her few months’ forced marriage and unsure of the two new powers she now possesses: her own long-hidden magic, that of moving, and the sudden love of a man who, unlike her late husband, cares more for her than he does for himself.
Future books in the series will include Playing with Fire, the story of John’s strong-minded sister Grace and her love-hate relationship with Thunder, the leader of a caravan of traveling folk who have come to Glenscar for reasons of their own; Shadow’s Dancing, which features Thunder’s sister Shadow, a dancing-girl countess captivated by John’s best friend Kieran, a noble-born highwayman and the only man Shadow has ever met who could resist her trained wiles; and The Highwayman’s Apprentice, all about Kieran’s apprentice/annoyance Nevan and Eleanor’s former sister-in-law Lady Isabel, who must decide which world, if any, is wide enough to contain the love between a scofflaw farmboy and a Marquis’s daughter.
I’ve tried to explore a lot of themes while working on the Chronicles. Among them are the need to use both your heart and your head when you’re solving a problem, because just one will leave you unbalanced; the idea, truly revolutionary in the time period I’m writing about, that both men and women can be strong and self-reliant, and that their strengths can be complimentary rather than having one dominant over the other; and the notion of “the place between”, that life doesn’t have to be, that it shouldn’t be, all one thing or all another but some of both. (Whatever your “one thing” and “another” may happen to be — work and play, duty and pleasure, travel and staying home, etc, etc.)
Your writing journey started with fanfiction – how did you discover that?
I was introduced to the wonderful world of Harry Potter fan fiction by a college roommate named Sylvia, and thus there will always be one character with that name in every world I write. In the Dangerverse [DV], it’s the owner of the broom rental in Hogsmeade; in Glenscar, it’s the Marchioness of Calverton, Alfred and Isabel’s mother.
How did the Dangerverse series come about?
Mostly through thinking too much. Harry and Hermione, in almost every story which doesn’t ship them (including canon), are described as being like brother and sister, and the best fan guess at that time was that Hermione was two months younger than Harry, rather than ten months older as we later got confirmed by JKR. And I would just like to take this opportunity to say: Hermione’s age in the DV is NOT a stupid or careless mistake on my part. Living with Danger was started BEFORE we knew her age for sure and when we did find out, I did not feel like going back and retconning something that intrinsic to the story. So : -P to everybody who’s tried calling me out on that one.
Moving on… I also noticed that Remus Lupin and Hermione had a lot in common, both intellectually and physically, and could have been mistaken for father and daughter. So the basic structure of the Pack was already starting to build in my head, and then I got the idea that I wanted to give everyone a happy ending. Just ten chapters, I said. It’ll be sweet and fluffy, I said. It can skip straight to the Final Battle and show how awesome Harry is when he has a family, I said. Oh, how little we know what we do…
The original of chapter one of Living with Danger was hideously Mary Sue-riffic. I changed it within the first HOUR that it was up, it has completely disappeared from my hard drive and my life, and I don’t even want to think about it too much. In any case, I started building on the revised chapter one, sometimes staying up until 3 AM, at which point my other roommate, Jen, who had the bunk above mine, would threaten to drop her organic chemistry text on my head if I didn’t stop typing and go to bed.
Round about chapter four or five, I spotted a challenge on somebody’s bio page. “Write Draco as a Gryffindor!” This may have been a bad thing for me to see, as it started wheels turning in my head… could I add that to this story? Make it twenty chapters, maybe, instead of ten? Or no, it was going to have to be thirty, because I got Sirius out of Azakban early and married to his girlfriend, and married people, well, they have kids, so I’d need a little time to introduce their daughter Meghan…
That was almost eight years and 209 chapters of mainverse ago. Don’t even get me started on the AU’s of AU’s that have managed to spin off this crazy thing!
What encouraged you to branch out into original fiction?
Writing’s really the only thing I love to do, the only thing I could happily wake up and do every day for the rest of my life, so writing that could earn me money seemed like the logical next step. I saved up a bunch of money from four years of a secretarial job, then took the plunge at the end of last July and quit. August and about half of September were dedicated to noodling around, playing with various worlds I’d half-started, and then in September a DVD I’d been looking forward to seeing for two years was finally released, and it took over my mind. I could hardly think about anything else.
As has already been recorded in these pages (so to speak), that DVD is Celtic Thunder: Storm, a charming little musical fairy tale which uses fifteen songs and the movements of the singers to tell a series of interwoven, loosely delineated stories. It ends at a fairly vague moment, with very little resolved, and I like my stories to have closure… so I sat down and gave it some. Since the only other time I’ve been this absorbed by a story was in the early days of the Dangerverse, and that’s gone beyond my wildest dreams, I have to say I think I’ve got something here.
Just for the record, I’m not affiliated in any way with Celtic Thunder. Not that I wouldn’t be terribly flattered if that should come about, but at the moment I’m obscure and happy with that. No infringement was intended or desired, and this is your official notice: I strongly encourage you to get the CD or the DVD of Storm. For best enjoyment purposes, get both. Put the CD into your computer, look at the song list, then check the dedication on Widow. It should make more sense. After that, watch the DVD with Widow in hand and see if you can match everybody up!
My other current original projects include Cat Tales, a personal short story collection of science fiction and fantasy stories with feline themes (including a short prequel to Widow, telling the story of John and Grace’s parents), and Homecoming, a novel set in my original fantasy world of Trycanta. Certain characters, family dynamics, and nicknames in Homecoming may seem familiar to longtime DV fans…
Who is your favourite character to write?
I have to pick just one? That’s hard. How about two? Will you give me two? Ok, from the DV, it’s Draco and Meghan; from Glenscar, it’s Thunder and Eleanor’s nurse Annie; and from my other stuff… well, the names wouldn’t mean anything to you yet, but their names are Vani and Rye. You’ll meet them probably within the next year or so.
Have you been Sorted into a Hogwarts house?
Not officially, but given that I was reading fluently at age three and a half (the particular chapter of Laura Ingalls Wilder I chose to demonstrate my skill is entitled “Surprise”, and oh boy, were my parents ever), I’d have to say I’d fit best into Ravenclaw. However, there is a long-standing fandom joke/tradition that pairs me, or rather my DV character, with Alexander Slytherin, Salazar’s “good” son, so I guess I’m an honorary Serpent as well.
What advice would you give to budding authors?
How much time do they have to listen?
In order of importance:
Practice, practice, practice. Write all the time, write every day, write about anything and everything. The only way to be a writer is to write. If you think it’s terrible… well, you’re probably correct, but it’s just like music or drawing or any other form of art. You have to be terrible before you can be passable, before you can be good, before you can be great. Practice, practice, practice.
Criticism hurts. It hurts like having somebody stomp on your foot, kick you in the shins, punch you in the face. It’s supposed to. If getting criticized about your writing doesn’t hurt, that means you don’t care about it, and neither will anybody else. The pain never goes away, but you learn to deal with it after a while. Take what’s useful from it and discard what isn’t.
Go on. Always go on. Never let them win by giving up. Pay attention to what you hear people saying, but take it your own way. Think like a lawyer, or a five-year-old, which is often the same thing — slip around the edges of everything. Misinterpret, reinterpret, finagle, put it away for a week or a month or a year, do whatever you have to do, but don’t ever just give up, on an idea or on yourself.
Do your research, keep good notes, but if you get a spur-of-the-moment idea, explore it. It’s your world. Nobody can tell you that you’re wrong. On the other hand, if the idea is grinding, don’t be afraid to set it aside and try something else. Grinding can mean this is a dry well. Of course, it can also mean you just have to push through. How do you know? By doing it wrong a couple times…
To borrow a phrase, the first million words are the hardest. Except for the million after that, and the million after that… no, really, I’m kidding. It will probably never be easy, but you do learn your own tricks and twists after a while. Just remember that you’re never done learning, you’re never done growing, and you’re never too old to try something new.
And seriously, folks, invest in dictation software. Carpal tunnel is not fun.
Who would you say has influenced you the most?
My family. As mentioned in the acknowledgments of Widow, my mother got me to write it by basically telling me not to. This isn’t our usual frame of relations, I swear, but you use what works… most of the time, I love my parents and siblings (two brothers, one sister, all younger) very much. My determination to show that Tolstoy was wrong — happy families are NOT all alike, and we need to see more of them in fiction now that so many of us don’t have them in real life — is a definite part of what’s kept the DV going this long, and what informs my originals, no matter where they start out.
Anything else you’d like to add?
When I’m not writing, I’m probably reading, cooking, petting my cats, cleaning my house, singing at my church, or ringing handbells at the same venue. Or working, which is not my favorite thing to do, but the bills must be paid. The sooner people buy lots and lots of books from me, the sooner I can never have to spend eight hours being bored behind a desk again… so please, give A Widow in Waiting a try. I tried to put something in it for everyone, so I really hope and believe that you won’t be disappointed!
Anne B Walsh was talking to Roxanne Williams.