Today, I welcome Steampunk and Fantasy author, Aiyana Jackson, to my blog. The intriguing Aiyana answers some of my questions regarding her works and the genres she writes in. Her novella, Encante was released this month and personally, it’s a book I look forward to reading!
Aiyana, can you give us a little history about your writing and how you came to write steampunk and fantasy?
I began writing fantasy years ago, when I was still in my very early teens, mainly I think out of a need for a creative outlet. I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction novels and also watched a lot of films and television in the same genres. I was a typical teen, basically, but socially very awkward. I had trouble making friends as I moved around a lot and (sad as it sounds) the characters in my favourite books—in particular the works of Robin Hobb—became more like friends to me than my actual peers. Consequently I grew up with a rather amusing sense of style and conversation, which a lot of people failed to understand. I immersed myself in fantastical and made up worlds and, as I got older and realised I was quite good at writing, I began to create new worlds and characters of my own. That, I think, was when I started to gain a little more confidence in myself; I stopped feeling like such a loner because I could literally create as many friends as I wanted.
Once I hit college and university I soon found there were a lot of people who were like me, who enjoyed the same sort of things I did, and who actually understood what I was talking about. It was somewhat of a revelation. I never stopped writing though, in fact if anything the more I realised there were people who could understand that side of me the more I indulged it. I spend almost every spare second writing now, it’s the one thing I’m truly passionate about, and it doesn’t seem to matter what else is going on it’s always an escape. I had quite a rough time of it growing up and I think that’s what really drew me to fantasy, the escapism.
Steampunk is something I first became interested in when Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy came out. I was about twelve, I think, when I read Northern Lights and it just stuck with me. I read voraciously by that point and, as we had the internet, was also able to start looking up the aspects of novels I enjoyed and beginning to understand more about them. There wasn’t really a great deal ‘out there’ about Steampunk at that time (c.1996), or at least if there was I didn’t pick up on it. It wasn’t until my late teens I really started to understand that this was an actual genre, and not just a few cool books that had things in common. Once I did I devoured anything and everything I could find. James P. Blaylock’s Homunculus is the first thing I recall purposefully buying as ‘Steampunk’, that was when I was about sixteen. It was a while before I began writing in the genre. Unlike fantasy truly good Steampunk novels are few and far between, and so it took me considerably longer to get a real feel for it than I had Fantasy. Encante isn’t the first Steampunk story I’ve written, but there weren’t many before it, and it is the longest so far.
Your novella, Encante, was released this month. Can you tell us about the novella and what inspired you to write it?
It was very heavily inspired by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I’ve always been a fan of the classic authors like Verne and H.G. Wells, but again they were stories I never thought of as Steampunk when I first read them, as that was in the time before I knew Steampunk existed. I began writing it after a friend of mine, who runs Kristell Ink Publishing invited me to write a piece for their first anthology, which was to be Steampunk. I was delighted, and set to it immediately. At the time I’d just bought the beautiful Barnes and Noble leather-bound edition of the complete works of Verne and was half way through re-reading them. The notion of a hollow earth has always fascinated me, and I have also always had a great love of mermaids, in their various guises, including of course the Hans Christian Anderson tale. I decided to explore both notions in a single story. The concept however, ran away from me a little (a problem I often have) and the story ended up being far too long to be included in the anthology. I was given the option of cutting it down, but it would have meant losing about fifteen thousand words out of what was then a twenty-five thousand word story, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead it was shelved. I had been working on a steampunk novel before being asked to participate in the anthology and, coincidentally, both story-worlds utilised portal devices which were relatively similar. I decided to tweak the original short slightly and expand upon it some more, so that I could include it, and its characters, in the world of the novel.
(The beautiful cover for Aiyana’s novella, Encante)
Is Encante a part of a series or is it a standalone work?
Encante is the first in a series called The Fifteen Solars. At present there are four planned novellas and at least one novel in this series. The novel, Soul of Avarice, was actually the first to be written, but the world in which it is set is extremely complicated, involving a very large cast of characters all with their own unique and very interesting backstories. Rather than have pages and pages of long exposition to explain this, I decided to write a few separate, but overlapping, shorter novels which introduced various worlds and characters in the story-universe. Soul of Avarice itself is still nowhere near finished and already a very long novel, so I suspect it will be split into two, or possibly even three, making a trilogy.
As a lot of steampunk novels have elements of magic/machinery/science in a Victorian-style era, was there a lot of research involved in respects to writing Encante?
In some respects yes. In others, not nearly as much as you would expect. I think I actually spent more time researching submarines and the various practicalities and realities of life aboard them than I did anything else. Obviously, the Narwhal (the submarine in Encante) is a fantasy submarine, and as such it isn’t written as accurately as it would have been were I writing historical fiction, I still wanted to ensure I got the basics of life aboard a submersible correct. The one notion that really fascinated me, and became quite pivotal to the plot, was the fact that a sub could take on only so much air and would therefore be able to dive for a finite amount of time before needing to re-surface and take on more, rather like a whale.
There were many other aspects of the plot that required some research, but due to the amount of novels I’ve read myself in this genre, and the fact that I have an interest in history also, I didn’t actually need to do a vast amount of research, as I’d already read a lot on the era. There are certain things you find you have to check while writing, odd things, like the correct word for a certain item of clothing, or how they referred to a sofa. The one thing I did do a lot of research on was language and slang, as I wanted to give them a relatively accurate manner of speech for the time.
Are there any authors in particular you find have inspired or influenced your own writing?
Robin Hobb is, without doubt, the greatest influence on my own work. I am a huge fan of her work and have read all her books countless times. China Mieville is another great inspiration to me, although I’m not sure he has necessarily influenced my style of writing so much. I think it is likely that people have had far more influence on me than I realise, and it would take someone else reading my work to say ‘yes, you can tell she’s read such a person’. Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman and of course Terry Pratchett had a large hand in the way I think about fiction, and there are a score of other authors I admire and respect who probably deserve mention too.
I write almost exclusively in the first person and that, I believe, is a direct result of Robin Hobb’s Farseer books, which are written in the first person, and the extent to which I fell in love with Fitz, the main character. That way of writing, that manner of totally immersing your reader in your character to the point where you almost feel as if you are that character yourself, was something I tried to emulate from a very early age.
What are some of your favourite novels? Can you tell us why you love them so much?
My favourite novels of all time are, without doubt, Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy and Tawny Man Trilogy. I love the Liveship Traders books and Rain Wild Chronicles too, but the books about Fitz and the Fool have been my favourites since I was sixteen. I re-read them all at least once a year and I was beyond delighted when she announced she was writing a third trilogy about those characters, as it was always a story left unfinished, I suspect because she always had the final series in mind. I believe the reason I love these books so much is because you come to know Fitz so well that you love him, you truly understand him, and yet he is a very damaged, very flawed character. He makes a lot of questionable decisions and does a lot of things you’re not quite sure sit right on your conscience, yet you know he did the right thing, because there was no other thing he could have done in that situation. It takes phenomenal skill to write like that. It takes a tremendous character and a perfectly constructed world to allow such a feeling to take over you as you read. I will never get tired of reading those books.
Can you give us a brief on what you are currently working on? What are your works-in-progress about?
Oh, there are so many! The main one at present is a short story I’m working on for a forthcoming anthology, All The Night-Tide. The concept for the anthology was to base each of the stories on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe but transform it into a Steampunk story. I’m really enjoying writing it, but at present haven’t quite found its title. I’m almost finished on the final draft of Honour, the next novella in The Fifteen Solars series and I’m also working on books three and four, as well as Soul of Avarice.
Those are all steampunk titles, however I do also have a fantasy novel in the works, in the early stages at the moment, called Briar. That’s a strange one to try and explain because the entire concept came to me from a photograph. I’m a huge fan of the photographer Kirsty Mitchell (http://www.kirstymitchellphotography.com/), and when her Wonderland series first came out, I was looking through all the wonderful pieces and there was this one image that just jumped up at me. I’m not sure what it was about it, as they’re all stunning photographs, but there’s something about this one that really captured my every possible sense and filled me with this whole world of possibilities. I’ve never had that happen with a book before, it’s always started with an idea and then I’ve built it up from there, but this one, it was just WHAM, fully former book in my head just from looking at this photograph.
Honour and the remaining two novellas will be out next year, while Soul of Avarice (or more likely the first part of Soul of Avarice) will be out in 2015. As far as Briar goes, I’m afraid I have no idea when you can expect to see that yet.
And finally, for anyone who is interested in writing, have you any advice for them? Is there anything in your experience that you’ve found invaluable and might be of help to others?
I think it’s important not to underestimate the need for feedback. A lot of people start writing and keep it all to themselves because they either don’t have confidence in it, or they think it’s already great and they don’t need hear other people’s opinions. I say the opposite is true, you should get as many opinions as you can, from as many different people as you can. Make sure you keep an open mind to their feedback. Some will be helpful, some won’t, and some will be worth its weight in gold. Never get annoyed with people for their opinion, even if their opinion is that your story is terrible: it’s their opinion, they’re entitled to it. It doesn’t necessarily mean your story is bad, it may mean it just wasn’t to that person’s taste. It may also mean it needs a lot of work. If it’s the latter, don’t give up. The thing we forget, when reading all these wonderful books we buy in WHSmiths and Waterstones, is that we never read the first draft of them. We read the final, drafted, re-drafted a few hundred times more, edited, polished, re-edited, proofed version. If we read the first draft, we’d be asking for our money back. That is true of almost all authors, even the best. Develop a hide like an alligator, or a rhinoceros, something with very thick skin, and resign yourself to the fact that you will have to draft, and redraft, and continue to do this for a very long time before anything is even remotely good enough to consider submitting it to agents or publishers. This is a mistake a lot of people make, and it’s a bad one. They submit something that is essentially a first draft, and get nothing but form rejections and very bad feedback. Even good drafts get rejected 90% of the time. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot!
Many thanks to Aiyana for coming ‘on board’ and sharing her thoughts about writing and her works, and for the snippets of advice and wisdom for authors hoping to follow their dream of being an author.
For more information about Aiyana and her novella, follow the links below.
Synposis and Info for Encante:
Deep under the ocean, Simeon Escher, protégé to the leader of the order of Loth Lörion, finds himself an unexpected guest aboard the submersible, Narwhal. Home to a crew of humans, and strange mer-folk few people are aware exist, Simeon is swept up in their quest to find a world within a world, a possible safe haven from the insidious reach of the Kabbalah. Yet how can he think about his mission when the captain’s niece fills his every thought, distracting him from all that’s important to him, including his own fiancé.
Encante is the first in a new Steampunk series, set in a multiverse known as The Fifteen Solars. For those of you who don’t know what a multiverse is, put simply it is a Universe in which there are several worlds existing in the same point in space and time, but they run parallel to each other. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is probably the most well recognised example. The Fifteen Solars is so named due to the fact there are fifteen planets existing in parallel, each very different from the next, but all connected. The inhabitants of these worlds have not yet mastered space travel, and so for the most part the adventure is contained to their own respective worlds. They do however have the means to travel from one parallel world to the next and, consequently, the events and politics of all fifteen planets have become intertwined. As the series unfolds however it will become clear that there is far more at work, and the reasons for these worlds existing as they do is much more complex than simple happenstance.
Encante serves as an introduction to one of these parallel worlds, as well as offering more than a few hints as to what is happening in the wider multiverse, and how the series will unfold. It is a self-contained story in the most traditional Steampunk style, heavily inspired by Jules Vernes’ 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, it is a blending of mermaid folk-lore, Victorian-esque costume values, and the technological quirks that make the Steampunk genre so beloved. It is a tale of romance, of adventure, and of prejudicial values in a seemingly idyllic society. Some of the characters will recur in later books in the series.
There are currently three additional novellas planned to follow Encante, two to be released in 2014, the final to follow in 2015. There will also be at least one full length novel following these. The second novella, Honour, is currently slated for release at the end of March next year, and while the additional two novellas are as yet untitled, I can reveal that the novel shall be titled Soul of Avarice.