Women in SFF Author Spotlight – Heather Child (THE UNDOING OF ARLO KNOTT)
Heather Child’s two novels EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU and THE UNDOING OF ARLO KNOTT are published by Orbit (Little, Brown).
Heather lives in Bristol, UK. Alongside writing she has had an eclectic career in charity marketing and communications, and currently works in sustainability.
You can find out more about her novels, including discussion questions for book clubs, at www.heather-child.co.uk or follow her on Twitter at @Heatherika1
Welcome to the Hive, Heather. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I thought M R Carey’s new novel, The Book of Koli, was a great read. The world is a little like that of The Girl With All the Gifts, only even more post-apocalyptic.
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 needed a bit of help with this one, but luckily I live with a keen D&D-er… apparently I’d be a multi-class paladin. I like the idea of having a Wand of Teleportation so I could just point to enemies and send them off to a desert island.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? 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 a little bit about your writing method!
My ideal writing spot is in the garden beside my small pond, which is full of companionable frogs.
If deadlines permit, I prefer to write everything in longhand first, which requires less brain-control than touch typing and allows a bit more creativity to surface. I am very much a plotter. Sometimes I wish I could just write a detailed plan and push a magic button to convert it into a fabulous, fluently written novel!
Ah if only!
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Enid Blyton, as a child, especially stuff like the Magic Faraway Tree. At school I read Margaret Atwood, and more recently I’ve loved the work of people like Sheri S Tepper, Susanna Clarke and Emily St. John Mandel.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
The last thing I watched was that Eurovision movie with Will Ferrell – nice to feel a bit of Eurolove as we nose-dive towards Brexit!
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
If it was hot I’d probably go to the river and swim, or there’s a nice cheese farm towards Bath that I visit occasionally for a cheese cream tea.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
My third book is about narcissism, set in a future where the most popular person is in charge. Sort of like an ‘instagramocracy’.
Sounds interesting! Skirting closer to the kinds of themes in Everything About You!
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
There’s a little nugget I stole from Brian McClellan (who told me he probably stole it from someone else) which is that your character should always be chasing something, and being chased by something.
In my writing group we also came up with the idea of a ‘draft zero’, which is basically unreadable, but gets you started. It’s quite helpful if you don’t know where to begin but just need to go for it!
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?
Biscuits and Belgian beer! Or, alternatively, thinking about the end goal, and reminding myself which aspects of my work in progress really intrigue me. If anyone needs a good inspirational speech, I’d recommend this address by Neil Gaiman.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
This probably sounds a bit tame, but I think early nineteenth century society in England would be interesting to experience – really different, yet containing the seeds of the modern age. Plus you could meet fascinating people like Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Jane Austen.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien comes to mind – so iconic and uncompromising, and one that was originally written for a man (take note, Hollywood!) Captain Marvel was pretty good too, though you really can’t fight like that without your hair tied back…
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
This will be far from obscure in Latin America, but there’s a brilliant short novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares called The Invention of Morel. It’s about a man who gets marooned on an island full of holidaymakers who can’t see him. It’s inventive, unusual and you can read it in a weekend.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
The Undoing of Arlo Knott is about a man with an ‘undo’ button for life. He can experience anything and impress any friend… yet his whole life is shaped by regret. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to have the power of hindsight, this book is for you!
I also have ten custom book plates for any Fantasy Hive readers who would like a signed copy – contact me via heather-child.co.uk or on twitter/facebook.
That’s very kind of you Heather, thank you! Thanks again for joining us today.