Women in SFF Author Spotlight – Laura Laakso (ROOTS OF CORRUPTION)
Laura Laakso is the author of the Wilde Investigations series; paranormal crime novels set in modern-day London, but with magic, murder and general mayhem. Though originally from Finland, she is currently living in Hertfordshire with her three dogs. When she is not writing, editing or plotting, she works as an accountant. With two degrees in archaeology, she possesses useful skills for disposing of or digging up bodies, and if her internet search history is anything to go by, she is on several international watch lists.
Welcome to the Hive, Laura Laakso. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris. It’s the sequel to Chocolat and it delves far deeper into the world of magic. I love the mix of South American symbolisms, fairytales and chocolate in creating a unique style of magic. Definitely worth a read and I’ve got the next two books waiting on my phone.
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?
First of all, I’ve been preparing for this my entire life (or at least the past twenty years)! I love playing a druid, so really there’s no choice. As for a weapon, that depends on the party level. A high level druid with a decent number of Wild Shapes per day is her own weapon, but on a lower level, I’m going to lead from behind the tank with my perfectly ordinary quarter staff and cast plenty of healing spells.
Wow you weren’t kidding about being prepared!
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!
Okay, I need to know more about the serenade of the damned souls of dead shrimps? That should be a story. Has someone written it? As you can see, I’m easily distracted…
It isn’t, but you should get on that!
When I’m at home, I like to listen to instrumental music while writing. My favourite spot is on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, with a laptop and one or two dogs draped across me, usually trying to use the keyboard as a pillow. I’m also weirdly prolific on public transport and view a train or plane ride as an excellent opportunity to get work done.
I have one WIP at the moment that I’m writing wholly by hand, but normally the notebooks dotted around the house are just for jotting down quick ideas or scenes in the middle of the night. With my paranormal crime series, I’m a meticulous planner because not only am I writing magical murder mysteries, but there’s also an overarching storyline that spans in excess of ten books. Try as I might, I can’t keep all of that in my head! For my other stories, I jot down notes and information about the characters and locations, but letting the story form naturally as I write. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of the latter, a long walk with my dogs usually solves the plot snarls and I can get back on track with the writing.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Kelley Armstrong’s Women of Otherworld series has been a huge influence in wanting to write urban fantasy. All the books in the series feature sassy women solving mysteries and getting into all sorts of trouble, which is simply wonderful. Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy was one of the first fantasy series I ever read (when I first go into the genre as a teenager, not many books had yet been translated into Finnish) and she remains one of my favourite high fantasy authors. I’ve already mentioned Joanne Harris, who transforms chocolate into magic and has a gift for writing descriptions that cover all five senses.
In terms of collaboration, I’d have to say either Joanne Harris or Neil Gaiman. They both have a tendency to take simple details and ideas and turn them into something extraordinary. If I could get over being a squeeing fan girl, I imagine working with either would be an incredible experience.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Recently, I’ve been obsessed with Penny Dreadful after my first reader raved about it. It’s Gothic, dark, sensual, sexual, and refreshing in not being heteronormative. There needs to be more bold television like that.
While I occasionally think back to the good old days of playing Dungeon Keeper 2, my time is very limited these days and the only game I get to play regularly is a weekly D&D session over on Houseparty.
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 have three dogs, the youngest of which is only just 5 months. A non-writing day would simply involve long dog walks, some dog training, and trying to figure how my home got filled with dog-related stuff and where I’m going to store it all.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’ve got four WIPs on the go, which I’m pretty sure makes me either stupid or insane. I’m half way through the fifth Wilde Investigations book, about 30k into a speculative fiction novel about aliens in Oxford, I’m in the very early stages of work on a steampunk mystery set in Victorian Cambridge, and I’m writing an MG story about a young carer disappearing into a fantasy world by hand. One thing I’m not is bored…
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most helpful is that every writer should give themselves permission to experiment with voice and genre and style until they find what suits them. Write what feels right, not what you think you ought to be writing. My uncle recently suggested that my urban fantasy books are good enough that I could write proper literature and I just laughed. I know what makes me happy and that’s what I’m sticking to.
On the other hand, I hate the frequently touted suggestion that you’re not a real writer unless you write every single day. For me, that creates a toxic expectation that takes the fun out of writing and makes me feel like a failure on the days when I’m too busy or sick to write. So I have given myself permission to have days off as and when I need them. It doesn’t make me any less of a writer and places a greater importance on self-care.
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?
If I don’t feel like writing, there’s usually a reason for it. If I’m exhausted or stressed about non-writing related life stuff, I give myself the day off. But one of the benefits of having several projects on the go at once is that if I don’t feel like writing one of them, I can procrastinate by focusing on another.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
While I’d love to see dinosaurs in the flesh, I’ve seen enough of the Jurassic Park films to know how well that would end. As Stonehenge features heavily in one of my future Wilde Investigations novels, I’d love to see it being built and in use.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Catwoman is a firm favourite and I like ambiguous female characters and anti-heroes. Marvel have got several in their MCU, though elements of it are also deeply problematic. Also, Miss Marple absolutely rocks!
Many of my female characters tend to be sassy and snarky, with deep flaws and big hearts. I especially enjoy writing older women as there’s so much untapped potential for rich characterisation and amazing life experiences.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. The SF film Arrival is based on the novella, and it’s one of those rare occurrences where I can’t decide which is better, the book or the film. They’re both extraordinary, but in different ways as they are in different medium. I hope that one day I’m going to be good enough a writer to create a story that has as much of an impact on a reader as Story of Your Life had on me.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
In the middle of modern-day London, magical races co-exist peacefully with humans and Wild Folk PI Yannia Wilde lives in exile. She accepts cases that other PIs won’t touch, which take her to the upper echelons of the magical society, to the world of deadly illusions and even to the realm of the Fey, all in search of the truth. Wildest of the wild creatures in the city, she finds allies in a goth Bird Shaman adored by pigeons, a mysterious Hearth Spirit, aloof cat burglar and an ancient Plant Shaman. But her unique magic makes her a target in a city with many hidden dangers and with every case, the ripples she creates extend a little further…
That’s brilliant, thank you so much for joining us today, Laura!