Women In SFF Author Spotlight – HELEN LOWE
Helen Lowe is a teller of tales and purveyor of story, chiefly by way of novels and poetry. Her first novel,Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series: HarperCollins, US; Orbit, UK) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel,The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013.Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we
Welcome to the Hive, Helen. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Recently I’ve read and very much enjoyed The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper (Queen of Swords Press) by fellow NZ-based author AJ Fitzwater. The tagline is Lesbian, Capybara, Pirate – and, of course, Dapper! For those who want to find out more, my review is here. However, the short version is that I found the stories delightful.
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?
Well, I’m very lawful good so that affects my character choices, but I think a wizard with high wisdom and strength, a wand of fireballs and a bag of holding would be a good start. ☺
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!
I work best alone, and often vanish to a remote locale (without internet!) to facilitate this. I do sometimes listen to music, but as often not… I mostly type, but when the plot or character arcs get gnarly then I find writing by hand can help me blast through the gnarls. I am both a plotter and a pantser, in that I always have the story arc in my head and it doesn’t tend to alter much, but very often the route and ‘mode of transport’ to knock off the major story “hits” requires me to be flexible, lateral, and most of all prepared to heed the muses and changes as required. So I do a fair bit of writing and throwing away to achieve the constant story arc in m’head. My daily routine involves three pages longhand to kick things off, then returning to what I wrote the day before and reviewing that before “writing on” – when, that is, the muses don’t decide I need to throw it all away and begin again, Penelope of Ithaca-style!
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
It’s so hard to pick only a few, because the truth about women and SFF is that women have been kicking storytelling ass in the genre for as long as I can remember. As a younger reader I really loved Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea and graduated to The Left Hand of Darkness as an adult. I always cite CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station and Morgaine (and many other of her novels) as formative influences, along with Julian May and Marion Zimmer Bradley, particularly The Mists of Avalon. I’ve loved so much of Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip’s work, as well as Barbara Hambly, Robin Hobb, and Malori Blackman, and more recently I’ve been excited to discover authors such as NK Jemisin and Seanan McGuire, Julie Czerneda, Martha Wells, and Teresa Frohock, to name a very few.
If I could meet these authors and had to pick one – well, I’d pick two: Patricia McKillip because she is possibly the most enduringly formative. And also Teresa Frohock, because we’re friends-in-writing on the Supernatural Underground blog, but have never met in person, living as we do on far sides of the world to each other.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I watched The Luminaries (BBC), adapted from the Booker Award-winning novel of the same name. It’s historical-magical realism with strong paranormal/supernatural elements and it’s set in NZ so of course I had to watch it. It stars Eva Green, among others, and both she and the NZ landscape are luminous.
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?
I’d start with a very long breakfast with plenty of coffee and either read a book or the newspaper from cover to cover. Then, if fine, I’d head into the garden or into the hills or to the beach for a hike. If the weather was poor I’d probably do some baking then invite a friend or three over to watch movies or a TV show – or just keep reading that book!
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m writing The Chaos Gate, the fourth and final novel in my The Wall Of Night series. The road has proven proverbially rocky to date, with plenty of the Penelope of Ithaca moments described above, but I’m on track currently and can see light at the end of the tunnel. Most vitally, it’s the end I’m walking toward, rather than away from. 😉
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most useful, I believe, is that every book is different and you have to approach it in that spirit, even when writing a series, in the same way every race if different for an athlete and every game for a team.
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?
The best motivation is to go all Nike and “just do it”, just as in martial arts the hardest task can be getting to the dojo door, i.e. I canna wait for inspiration or feeling like it—and usually once I start the inspiration comes. And if I have a bad day, well I just channel my inner Scarlet O’Hara, because tomorrow is always another day and the opportunity to start again.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
That’s a tough one, especially as I think we tend to view the past with rose-tinted spectacles. But any/all human settlement of my own country, New Zealand, is relatively recent by world standards and it would be fabulous to visit before the first human being arrived and experience the amazingness of the forest and the bird life that would have abounded. We catch glimpses of both now, but it’s a pale shadow of what must have been there before: including now-extinct species such as the huia, the moa, and the Haast eagle.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
I’ve always loved Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings books (and the movie) and I was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. More recently I’ve enjoyed Katniss in The Hunger Games and I heart Sephy in the dramatization of Malori Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I’m going to shout out for The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper again: it’s new out so I hope will not be underappreciated, but it is from a NZ author and a small press and I really did think the stories were imaginative and a little bit different.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
Ah, the dreaded elevator pitch…
Fortresses of darkness and decay, their garrisons riven by prejudice, suspicion and fear—forcing Malian of Night out of the shadows and into exile, to save the world or set it alight.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Helen!