Hello gentle reader,
I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a YA author today! Meet Alwyn Hamilton, whose YA Fantasy debut REBEL OF THE SANDS will come out on 4th February 2016 in the UK and on 8th March 2016 in the US.
A writer in the spotlight – 32
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and spent her childhood bouncing between Europe and Canada until her parents settled in France. She grew up in a small town there, which might have compelled her to burst randomly into the opening song from Beauty and the Beast were it not for her total tone-deafness. She instead attempted to read and write her way to new places and developed a weakness for fantasy and cross-dressing heroines. She left France for Cambridge University to study History of Art at King’s College, and then to London where she became indentured to an auction house. She has a bad habit of acquiring more hardcovers than is smart for someone who moves house quite so often.
My interview (8th November 2015)
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When/How did you decide to be a writer?
I pretty much did, yeah. I don’t remember ever not knowing that’s what I wanted to do at least. Somewhere my parents still have the story I wrote when I was about 5 or 6, called “The Tangle Monster” about a monster who would tangle a little girls’ hair (I had a lot of hair and I hated having it brushed). My mother typed it for me and I illustrated it.
And then later on, well, the French School system which I was educated in, as you probably know, is very career driven. I don’t know if you had to do this but when I was about 11 we were meant to submit a project detailing what future career we wanted, and including research about what Bac we would chose, and what graduate degrees we’d have to do. I didn’t do that. Instead I submitted a single sheet of paper on which I had written “I want to grow up to be a writer. I will do an English Degree to achieve that.” And turned that in. I did an Art History Degree instead of English, but the rest I did manage.
Are you a full-time writer? When and where do you write?
I am gradually moving towards being a full time writer. When I wrote REBEL OF THE SANDS, I was very much working full time, 10 or 11 hour days, Monday to Sunday sometimes. I was thankfully able to cut down to working 3 days a week this past summer. My writing habits haven’t changed very much though. I write in cafes near my house on weekends/my days off, from about 10 a.m until 5 p.m, preferably cafés without internet and fuel myself on coffees, with headphones in and 1 song on perpetual repeat.
But I’ll be leaving my day job entirely at the end of 2015 to write full time. Or at least be a full time author, I’m finding out that even with the best of intentions, the closer I get to book publication (and with the book being out in Italy) the more things spring up that are book related, but aren’t writing from the fun ones like getting to do interviews to the less fun ones like having to figure out your accounts.
What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?
I wish I had something groundbreaking and original to say, but I don’t. I think there’s already a lot of great publishing advice out there but the ones that stand out for me are, keep going, perseverance will get you a long way and don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s.
Oh, and if you’re a younger writer, don’t listen to your parents. And I don’t mean that in a negative way or in a ‘ignore their urging to get a job and just follow your dreams’ (personally I think writers should have another job first, and I think everyone should have to do some crappy jobs in life, but I digress…) That goes whether they are discouraging you (ignore all discouragers as a rule) or encouraging you because chances are if you are serious about being a published writer you have done your research and you know more than they do. (Most) Parents will want to help but (unless they work in publishing) you probably know more than them for once. And regardless you have your own idea of what your publishing path looks like and what you want to spend your energies on and you shouldn’t stray from that path because of someone else’s idea of what it should look like.
To write REBEL OF THE SANDS, where did you get your inspiration from?
Originally I wanted to write a Western. Except I didn’t really want to write a Western. I just knew that there was a girl who went by the Blue-Eyed Bandit and that she was on an adventure in the desert with a stranger and that looked a lot like a western to me. But I didn’t actually want to write a Historical. I had this niggling notion that it could be a Western and something, I just didn’t know what that something was. I was wracking my brain for ages about and then it hit me in the middle of the night to combine it with the 1001 Nights.
I was working in an Islamic Art Department at an auction house at the time, which probably helped. It seemed like it was possibly either a perfect idea or an idiotic one, which is always possible in the middle of the night. I spent the next hour lying away, thinking of all of the elements that connected the two: the desert setting, outlaws and bandits, societies with a strong religious base and so on, until I had essentially talked myself into it doing it. And that meant I got to bring in a lot of great things from both, train robberies and shooting contests from the wild west, and magical doors and a Djinn from the Arabian Nights.
Your book combines an Arab-inspired setting with Wester-like guns, what kind of research did you do for this?
I grabbed quite a few research books about things like the history of Persia and about the mythology surrounding the Djinn. And a few about the Wild West, and one about clothing through the ages, and one about weapons which are both great illustrated reference books when I need to check something specific. But mainly I read a lot of Middle Eastern folk tales. I found that I was more likely to stick with books that had a narrative and you glean a lot of details about regular life just by what is naturally included in these folktales. I found these really helpful because I wasn’t necessarily trying to mirror any specific country or ruler, but more get a general feel of the stories that were told in these cultures and create something that might fit inside one of these (in sort of the same way that Cinderella is very French without being specifically about France…depending on whether you watch Ever After or not I guess). I also read a few travel books about westerners living with desert nomads, or visiting middle eastern cities, (Waterstone’s Piccadilly very helpful lays out all their Eland travel books on one table on the ground floor to tempt me every time I go in).
Both your US and UK covers are gorgeous, did your publishers ask for your input while designing them?
Thanks! They did a great job, and I can’t wait for people to see the finished copies in the flesh (in the paper?) the pictures don’t do them justice! And they are actually now the same cover as the one that Faber designed for the UK is being used for both English versions. I saw a really really early draft this cover way back in January my agent and I gave our thoughts then. And then saw both the UK and US ones before they were officially out in the world. They were both gorgeous and the only comments I had were tiny things.
What are you working on now?
Book 2! The as of yet unnamed sequel to REBEL OF THE SANDS (Currently entitled Rebel 2: This Time It’s Palatial), which is the 2nd in a planned trilogy and is the first time I’ve ever written a whole book to deadline which is a new experience.
What are your favourite books? Any books you’d recommend?
…How much time do you have?
I don’t think I have loved a book as much as Marie Rutkoski’s THE WINNER’S CURSE in a long time. It was one of those I started at about 9 p.m, thinking “I’ll read one chapter before bed” and then next thing I knew it was 4 a.m and I was an emotionally distraught mess in a tangle of sheets as I finished the last chapter. So if you too would like all your coworkers to ask you why you look so tired while your tired brain tries to come up with a lie so you don’t have to just admit “I’ve had 3 hours of sleep because Kestrel and Arin tore my heart out” I’d recommend that.
I also love loved VIVIAN VS THE APOCALYPSE by Katie Coyle and THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Lesley Walton. Those have stayed with me and I recommend them any chance I get.
In YA series old and new there’s Ally Carter’s HEIST SOCIETY series, Leigh Bardugo’s GRISHA trilogy, Rae Carson’s THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS series, Tamora Pierce’s ALANNA, Robin McKinley’s THE HERO AND THE CROWN…
I could go on, I mean seriously, how much time do you have?
Thanks Alwyn for this interview!
You can add REBEL OF THE SANDS on Goodreads here.