If you haven’t met Lesley Smith yet, you should. She lives in Norfolk, England, is a former freelance games journalist and has written for Future PLC and The Guardian. Since 2012, readers are enjoying her novels that she also self publishes. And she has a black lab named Uni, which is just awesome.
SB: Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Let me dive right in with my first question: I read the first three lines of the blurb for your book The Changing of the Sun and was immediately hooked. In fact, those first three lines were the reason I thought, “I’d like to interview that girl to see what it’s all about.” I know you probably know the words by heart but, for my readers, here they are:
The world is shifting and only the blind have eyes to see it. In a seaside village, a woman has come back from the dead, the only survivor of a tsunami which wiped out her clan. When she speaks, it is of things no Kashinai should know. She says danger is coming and only an Oracle can save them…one who has not yet been called.
Wow! My question to you is this: How did you come up with the notion of, “only the blind have eyes to see.” What made you think of it and how did it occur to you to put them into a story?
LS: I’m visually impaired myself, registered legally so in the UK, but I have a little vision and a lot of people are surprised by that. I wanted to be able to have who reflected different impairments (Jashri, for example, has no vision, Saiara can see blur while Eirian sees light and shadow) but who are still strong and independent characters. They empowered themselves and the exchange of vision for wisdom or knowledge is an archetypal thing reaching back to Tiresias and Odin. The wordage in the blurb is also simple reference to the people with 20/20 miss the obvious while the visually impaired ‘see’ more because they pay attention.
SB: Tell us a little bit about The Changing of the Sun. What was the emotional hook for you that made you want to write the story?
LS: I wasn’t intending to write an epic but I did want to write a book from a completely alien perspective. Humans don’t even appear properly until the final book in the trilogy and while we share some similarities with the Kashinai physiologically, I wanted to make them very distinctly ‘not human’. I also wanted it to be one of those stories of survival where the very aspect of survival is in question. In a way, I suppose it’s the story of a civilisation’s downfall where a species survives literally by the skin of it’s collective teeth. Each book is set in a different period in the history of the same planet, which humans will eventually nickname Coronis (yay for Classical mythology references) and follows a key number of people as they’re reborn down the years, each instalment focuses on the same collective of souls wearing different faces and forever changed by the experiences of the previous books. For the Kashinai, and in the the larger Ashteraiverse in general, reincarnation is a given and I loved being able to write the same characters as they grew through successive lifetimes. It’s not what I’d call a metaphysical book either. Technically it’s science fiction except the first book reads like fantasy while the second is a mixture and the final one is most definitely sci fi.
SB: What made you want to become a writer?
LS: Oh I’ve always written. I did a creative writing module during my religious studies and theology BA. Then, after training as a journalist, I found creative writing, as opposed to features and news pieces, kept me calm and gave me an avenue for escape. I officially retired from journalism in 2012, suffering chronic depression, and writing saved what was left of my sanity. I can’t draw to save my life or make things, instead I weave with words. If that fails I go get a bow and do some archery.
I routinely tell people that I’m just writing down what the residents in my head are saying. My narrators are residents, even when I’m writing third-person POVs. Normally, however, I write in first person and I enjoy doing it. I become a conduit for the people who have stories they want to tell. Some are tidier than others and they pass through, some stay for days, others months and if that happens things get finished. Being a writer does take a particular kind of odd insanity and, to be honest, I’m much happier in my own universes, following the adventures my protagonists are having. Their lives are so much more colourful than mine.
SB: We have a target made of straw bails in the back yard. There are times when archery seems like a good idea, yes. Just warn the neighbors :-). Is there a character who seems to bug you more than others? Her voice more urgent than others, almost making you tell her story? If so, who is that?
LS: See this is the thing, the person whose story I want to tell, I have to set this trilogy up first. I have lots of narrators, male and female, human and alien. Some get short stories, other’s novellas and a couple entire books. Each of them has their own arc and sometimes one lifetime just isn’t enough. This is partly while I love the idea of having three different periods of history in which to set up camp … I liken it to watching American Horror Story where, more or less, the same cast plays different roles in each season. Sometimes there are guest stars and other times people cameo and that’s it.
SB: What’s an average day like for you? When do you generally write? Do you have a special writing spot in your home? Do you need quiet or do you write to music?
LS: I need noise, usually this means a playlist on Spotify, audiobooks or a movie/TV series that I can binge-watch. It’s all about turning off — or in my case distracting — a part of my brain so that I can concentrate. If I’m at home, I’ll write on my iMac and have whatever it is I’m watching or listening to on my second screen. My Aspergers means I ususally abuse the repeat button a lot and I have particular playlists with songs for certain characters or relationships.
I can write anywhere and everywhere. I carry my life around with me in my leather backpack, it amuses me that I can replicate my at home set up in pubs, cafes or other people’s houses with just an iPad, a WiFi connection and my trusty MacBook Air. I have a particular Starbucks I like to write in, the staff are lovely, Uni (my guide dog) has her own bowl and gets lots of fuss and attention, there’s also Reverse Mochas almost on tap which is an added bonus as I’m very particular about how I like my coffee.
I’ve trained myself, partly through a decade of journalism, to write almost anywhere. I just have to put in my earbuds and get on with it. I do procrastinate though, especially at Starbucks, but once I’m firmly entrenched in a project that’s it. Writing is, for me, like running is for other people: it’s hard as hell once you first start but it gets easier each time, the ability to write is just a muscle which you need to exercise. The first ten miles seem like a slog but it gets easier the more you do it. I write every day, even when I don’t want to, and usually have at least four projects on the go so when I get tired of one, I’ll just jump to another.
SB: Those Reverse Mochas sound delicious :-). And I like the concept of distracting one part of the brain so that the other can get to work. I’ll have to try that.
LS: They’re a venti Starbucks hot chocolate with three extra pumps of mocha and two shots of whichever expresso is in the machine, extra hot, no whipped cream. They’re delicious. I actually don’t like the taste of coffee so this gives me the hit and covers the flavour. I’m getting the point in life, thanks to chronic illness and tiredness, that I do find coffee helps me function, especially when it’s cold outside.
SB: Do you have a note block next to your bed in case you wake up at night and jot something down?
LS: You know, I should. I usually have my iPad (that way I don’t need to faff with lights) next to my bed (It’s prime reading time).
SB: Do you feel like you draw from real life situations when you write? I’m asking because It happens to me that I unconsciously pick up something I hear on the news or see somewhere and it finds its way into the story, even if I write fantasy or sci/fi.
LS: Oh good gracious yes. Sometimes it’s direct stuff, other times it’s just something which interests me. I got bored last year so did an Access course on Creative Writing a couple of days a week; we did a whole module on zeitgeist and I’ve come to really appreciate that word a lot. I don’t write with an agenda but sometimes zeitgeist slips in.
SB: Okay, dream a little: where do you see yourself in 5 years with regard to your writing.
LS: In all honesty, I’m too old and ill for dreams. I would simply like to continue being able to write, to have a small but dedicated following and be able to Kickstart a minimum of two books a year.
I’d love to find an agent and be signed by Tor or Orbit (I’m old school in that, in my head, that kind of publication validates things, even though I have more control as an indie author) but it would have to be on my terms.
SB: I love that, Lesley. I think you are a gifted writer and I’m in awe of your courage. The world needs more people like you. (I know there’s no question there but I just wanted to say that 🙂
LS: I’m just trying to keep my head down and follow Michael Bunker’s example, helping folks up a couple of rungs as he helped me. I’m lucky in that I’m in a position where I can write full time, most people can’t.
SB: Lesley, thanks so much for chatting with me. It was wonderful to get to know you a little more. As a closing, do you have any advice for other writers, a line of Lesley Wisdom perhaps?
The Changing of the Sun is coming 7th October: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lesleysmith/the-changing-of-the-sun
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