November and December haven’t been the best of months–still dealing with a couple of health issues, which has meant I’ve had to slow down a bit. Trying to get back on track now with my Getting to Know… series, which I had to set aside for a while. Starting to feel a bit more like my old self, so let’s hope 2017 will bring us a much better year. 🙂
For our very last Getting to Know of 2016, we’re sitting down with Alys West, who writes romantic fiction with a steampunk twist. I like that! 🙂 Her latest book, The Dirigible King’s Daughter, and her first novel, Beltane, are both available as ebooks. So grab a cup (or glass) of your favourite beverage, make yourselves comfortable and let’s get to know Alys.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Alys. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from originally?
I live in the lovely historic city of York in in the North of England. I was born in the south of England but I’ve lived in York for most of my life. My interests are drinking tea and eating cake in nice cafés (I’m not sure if that actually counts as an interest but I do spend a lot of time doing it.
I would definitely count eating cake in nice cafés as an interest. It’s one of my favourite things to do.
We’re kindred spirits then. I’m very thorough in my researching of cafes to find the nicest ones), going to folk music gigs, crocheting and baking.
Crocheting is one of those things I always wanted to learn to do, but never got the hang of it. And I guess we can add writing to your list of interests. 🙂 Did you always know you wanted to be an author?
When I was eight my teacher gave us 20 sheets of A5 paper and told us to write a long story over the Easter holidays. Mine grew and grew until I’d not only filled the 20 sheets but half an exercise book. Like most 8 year olds in the 1970s I was reading a lot of Enid Blyton so the story I wrote was heavily influenced by the Famous Five but with added ponies as I was somewhat obsessed with horses at the time. Now I teach myself I feel sorry for my teacher who read every handwritten page but I’ll always be grateful that he set us that task because it set me off on this path and made me believe that anyone (even eight year olds) could write books.
When Harriet Hardy moved to Whitby, newly famous from Mr Stoker’s sensational novel, she thought she’d left her past and her father’s disgrace behind her. But then an amorous Alderman and a mysterious Viscount turn her life upside down and she’s never been more grateful that she doesn’t leave home without her pistol.
But when defending her honour lands her with an attempted murder charge, Harriet’s only option is to turn to the mysterious Viscount for help. Fortunately, he turns out to be not so mysterious after all and, fortified by copious amounts of tea, she sets forth to clear her name.
As the court case looms Harriet fears she’ll forever be tarnished by her father’s scandalous reputation. Can she avoid conviction, and just possibly, find a happy ending? Or will she always be trapped by her past as the daughter of the notorious Dirigible King?
If you like Gail Carriger or Georgette Heyer you’ll love this sparkling romance with a steampunk twist.
I love the blurb! Adding The Dirigible King’s Daughter to my TBR list. I haven’t read a lot of steampunk, but I really like the description of the plot. So tell me, Alys, what’s your favorite part of being a writer?
Making up characters and stories is definitely the best bit of being a writer. I love telling stories whether in novels or making up stories for my nephew and godson. When I tell a story or read to an audience there’s this moment of magic when I can tell that the person listening is hooked and they really want to know what happens next. The best feedback I can get from someone was ‘I just couldn’t put your book down’. And when people tell me that they love one of the characters in my books then that’s an amazing feeling. To know I’ve created characters who can go out into the world and make friends with people I don’t know is a very special thing indeed.
I know that feeling. I really love it when, as a reader, I connect with characters so much I want to tell the author about it. And as an author, I love it when my characters speak to my readers. 🙂 Which of your characters is your favourite?
Harriet Hardy from The Dirigible King’s Daughter is my favourite (but please don’t tell the others as I don’t want them to get upset!)
Your secret is safe with me! 😉
I love Harriet because life has been hard for her, she’s faced grief, tragedy and prejudice but she’s come through them and created a new life from all that adversity. She’s feisty, funny and determined and, because this is steampunk, never leaves home without her pistol.
She sounds like a fun character! I can’t wait to get to know her. Are you working on a new book now? Can you give us a sneak peek of the plot?
I’m currently working on the second of the Spellworker Chronicles books called Storm Witch. It’s set in the beautiful Orkney Islands in the North of Scotland and it starts with a magical ritual in the Neolithic burial chamber of Maeshowe. Winston from my first novel, Beltane, features in this book and there’s some new characters to keep him on his toes. It’s partly a murder mystery and partly a supernatural romance and there’s going to be a lot of mayhem and magic unleashed in Orkney.
Ooh! I like the sound of this. I’m going to keep an eye out for it then. What about dream writing projects? If you could work on a collaborative project with any writer, who would be your dream writing partner?
It would have to be Dorothy L Sayers although I would be so in awe of her that I probably wouldn’t be able to speak, never mind actually write anything!
I know what you mean! If I could have worked on a project with Ruth Rendell…I probably would have been too starstruck to be much help. As a writer, you must be an avid reader. What are you reading now?
I’m reading Beside the Ocean of Time by George Mackay Brown. It’s a book that I first read over 20 years ago and it’s started my love affair with Orkney although it was another 15 years or so until I was first able to visit the Orkney Islands for the first time. As Storm Witch is set in Orkney I’m reading everything I can find about the islands and it’s a joy to go back to this book. It’s lyrical and beautiful and is the next best thing to actually being in Orkney.
I always love finding out which authors other authors would recommend. Who would you recommend to people looking for someone new to read?
For fantasy I’d say check out Guy Gavriel Kay who writes the most amazing fantasy books. The Lions of Al-Rassan is my favourite which is loosely based on the history of the Moors in Spain. I’ve recently discovered War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, one of the original urban fantasy novels which sparked the whole genre and it’s just brilliant. For steampunk, I’ve just finished Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear which has a wonderful, smart-talking heroine and has shot straight to the top of my list of steampunk favourites.
I will have to check all of these titles out. What’s your take on fiction addressing social issues? Some readers say they only read to escape and don’t want to be reminded of racism, social inequality, etc when they open a book.
I think it’s entirely possible to address social issues and still produce a fun, escapist read. One reviewer said that The Dirigible King’s Daughter, which is steampunk romantic suspense, “addressed issues of prejudice in all its forms in a well-woven and thought-provoking way”. I think I’ve been influenced by some of the writers that I love like Dorothy L Sayers. There’s a lot in her books about the position of women in society, prejudice and discrimination but all woven into a really enjoyable detective story.
It’s the same for me. I really love when writers weave issues of the day in their writing. This was something Ruth Rendell did as well, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved her novels. Before we finish up, could you share some words of advice for novice writers?
I teach creative writing classes for Converge, an arts project for people with mental health issues, so I give quite a lot of advice to novice writers these days. I think the most important thing I’ve learned from teaching writing is that everyone can do it. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how good your health is, when you were last in education or how many qualifications you have or haven’t got. Writing is about doing it, about putting pen to paper or touching those computer keys and finding the words that matter to you to tell your story in your way. That’s what makes a writer; not how you’re published or what your rankings are or how many Amazon reviews you’ve got. Everyone’s got a voice and that’s what’s precious because no one else can tell that story or write that poem like you can.
Thanks again for doing us today, Alys! I really enjoyed getting to know you and I am sure my readers did too!
Don’t forget to follow Alys so you’ll always be in the know about her new projects: