Author Spotlight – Shona Kinsella
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Shona Kinsella!
Shona Kinsella is a Scottish fantasy author who lives on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond with her husband and three children. She is the author of Ashael Rising (Unbound, 2017), Petra McDonald and the Queen of the Fae (Fox Spirit, 2018) and Miranya’s Oath (an illustrated web serial). You can find out more about her work at www.shonakinsella.com and she loves talking to new people on Twitter (www.twitter.com/shona_kinsella).
Thanks for joining us today, Shona. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Oh, I’ve read so many good books recently, it’s really hard to pick just one … OK, let’s go for The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It’s the first in the Echoes of the Fall trilogy (the other two books are excellent as well) and won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel last year. The first book mostly follows Maniye, a child of both the Tiger and the Wolf, a young woman who is divided by her dual nature and wanted by neither tribe. It’s one of those books I knew I was going to love within the first few pages. Adrian Tchaikovsky is very skilled at world building and at creating characters you care about. If anyone hasn’t read this series yet, I highly recommend it.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I’m a little bit ashamed to admit this but I’ve never played D&D. I suspect I may be the only fantasy author in the world to have this shameful secret.
You’re not the only one, Shona. How about writing? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I usually type because I can type faster than I can handwrite – at least if I want to be able to read it again! I still prefer paper and pen for somethings though. I almost always handwrite my to-do lists and when I’m struggling with my writing I’ll switch to longhand and just free-write some notes which often gets my head back in the game.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
I prefer to work in silence. As a parent of three young children I rarely get that tough. More often I work with the sounds of kids playing, the TV in the background or music or kids arguing. I’ve even been known to write while singing nursery rhymes to try and entertain the baby long enough to finish one … more … paragraph.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
I’m pretty much a pantser. I started writing Ashael Rising, my debut novel, with nothing but an image in mind and I didn’t know how it was going to end until about three days before I wrote it. With the rest of that series, I have more of an idea of where it’s going but there’s still a lot of pantsing from one big beat to the next.
With Miranya’s Oath, the web serial I’m collaborating on with artist Joe Slucher, I am figuring out each chapter as I go, which is a somewhat unique experience since each chapter is released as it’s written. I don’t have the luxury of going back and changing things like I would with a novel.
Whatever I’m working on, I keep a notepad beside my laptop and often write notes to myself as I go along. Things like which characters are going off in a hunting party or a reminder to myself that I’ve started a new subplot.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
I’ve always loved folklore and I think a fair amount of that finds it’s way into my work. That and fantasy art. Who can fail to be inspired by images of other worlds?
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
We’re currently working our way through Black Sails which is about pirates in the early 1700s. It was recommended to me by a couple of Facebook friends because I’ve enjoyed similar things. I really enjoy watching historical dramas and Black Sails is very good.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
NO! I need to work! Ok, if I’m really not allowed to write for the day then I would probably read. Or go out for the day with my husband and kids. If the weather was good, we’d probably head for a park or do some geocaching. If that wasn’t on the cards, then maybe a trip to a museum or historical site.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
The interrobang. There are so very few times when it’s use is justified, and some authors are way too fond of it, in my opinion. I’m looking at you, Dan Brown.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
It’s the second book in the KalaDene series and it’s a bit darker than the first. After the events of book one, Ashael and the folk are ready to start fighting back against the Zanthar and are going in search of allies. We learn more about the world of KalaDene and all of the peoples that call it home but there are a lot of difficulties and a few sections that have made me cry while I was writing them!
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
Hmmm this is a tough question! I have lots of friends who are very talented authors and I’d honestly be happy to work with any of them.
If we were talking about totally unrealistic dreams, then I’d probably say Raymond E Feist because I have loved his books since I was about 15 or 16 and he’s one of the authors who pulled me into reading adult fantasy.
Or Adrian Tchaikovsky because I just love his writing and his world-building, and I think we could work really well together.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
One of the things that I’ve found really useful is to remember that you can’t edit a blank page. When I’m deep in the middle of a first draft and despairing because I can’t make it shine the way it does in my head, I try to remind myself that everything can be improved in editing, but I need to get through the first draft first.
I think, for me, the least useful piece of advice is to write every day. I understand that regular writing practice makes you better and I do find that the more often I write, the greater my productivity during each writing session, but I have three children and sometimes their needs interfere with my writing plans. Feeling guilt about not writing just gets in the way of my creativity when I do get a chance to sit down at the computer.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I think I would stay in Scotland but go back to the time before the Romans came to what is now the UK. We know so little about that time period and the people who lived here and worked the land since they didn’t write things down.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
First, I think about why I don’t want to write. Do I need to rest? Do I have too many other things taking up my mental space? If one of those is the problem, I might give myself a day off. Or I’ll try to do some of what call writing-adjacent work. I’ll check out the Horizons submissions, do some editing, answer emails, write up reviews, that type of thing.
If I don’t want to write because I’m not sure of where the story is going, or I feel like I’ve gotten off-track somehow, I’ll sit down with paper and pen and write out thoughts and ideas long hand. More often than not, that’ll get me back in the groove.
If I’m just feeling lazy or not in the mood, I’ll tell myself just to write 500 words or for half an hour. That’s not a lot. At the end of the time/words I’ll often want to keep going because I’ve found my way back in. If I still can’t settle into it, at least I’ve done a little bit. That forward progress is really important to my state of mind.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
That’s a really tough question. I’ve read so many brilliant books but since I don’t pay too much attention to what everyone else is reading, I have no idea what’s obscure!
I don’t see many people talking about Starborn by Lucy Hounsom and it is excellent. She’s great at world-building and her protagonist is really interesting and well-developed. I would definitely recommend it to people who love fantasy.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
Ashael Rising – a stone age fantasy with a strong female protagonist and important relationships that are not romantic.
Miranya’s Oath – bargains with gods, mountains exploding, and a mysterious plague called the rot, all accompanied by stunning artwork.
Petra MacDonald and the Queen of the Fae – a bisexual, pagan artist, gods, magic, the fae and various creatures from folklore, all colliding on a small Scottish island.
Brilliant, Shona. Thanks again for joining us today, and good luck with your latest release!
Shona Kinsella is the author of Ashael Rising, Miranya’s Oath, and Petra MacDonald & the Queen of the Fae.