Author Spotlight: Sammy H. K. Smith (ANNA)
Sammy H.K Smith lives and works in Oxfordshire UK as a police detective. When not working she spends time with her children, husband and pets, renovates her house, and inadvertently kills plants. A keen writer and lover of all things science fiction and fantasy, she’s often found balancing a book, a laptop, a child, and a cat whilst watching Netflix.
Welcome back to the Hive, Sammy!
Let’s start with the basics: dazzle us with an elevator pitch! Why should readers check out your work?
I write fiction that focuses on human emotion and the authentic human connection. I like exploring the darker side of emotions and leave the reader asking questions and thinking about the reactions of my characters.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method?
Hmmm, not really. I have a 5 and a 3-year-old, work full-time and also have rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, and so I grab writing time whenever I can and feel up to it! When I do it’s usually in the living room with my headphones on and my lovely husband at my side bringing me cups of tea that I half-drink before they get too cold…
Do you find music helps?
I do actually. I like having different playlists for different emotional points in the piece I’m working on as it helps me fire out the words. Unfortunately though, I end up spending far too long faffing around with playlists and procrastinating than writing sometimes…
Well at least you’re honest about your procrastination!
Give us a glimpse into your world – what inspires your worldbuilding?
So, with my fantasy series (In Search of Gods and Heroes is book 1) I love the old school ‘gods and magic’ stories. I have three worlds and portals to each (you travel on the breath of a dragon by letting them breathe fire on you; on their whim you get to either travel or be burnt alive). My inspiration comes from everything I’ve read. I have aspects of traditional medieval western fantasy, and then parts set in what would be my equivalent of fantasy inspired Persian empire.
With my dystopian speculative fiction, ANNA, I’ve set the world not too far in the future and focused on what would happen if greed and the far right took control following world wars.
Do you have a magic system/s? If so, can you tell us a bit about it?
Simply put, my magic users draw their energy from either the Kingdom or the Underworld, depending which church you belong to. Not everyone can wield the magic, but tattoos help enhance your skill. The ink is from devotees of the respective church and tie you to that ‘side’ for eternity. The ink becomes linked to the emotions of the user and move around the body in their own sentient way. The balance of power between the gods rests on the mortals who pray to them.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences?
I’m particular to the likes of Jennifer Fallon, Fiona McIntosh, Trudi Canavan, Karen Miller for my ‘old school’ love and comfort reads. I think I adopted my pace and tone from the way they write. With regards to the darker characterisation, I read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel Trilogy over and over and moved on to Elizabeth Moon – both write in different ways, but they show the gritter and more faceted emotional responses.
Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
What a question! I’ve been thinking about this long and hard and coming back to it and I just don’t know… I would LOVE to be involved with something with Ian Irvine or Jacqueline Carey, but equally I’m thrilled if anyone wanted to work with me! I’m a ‘no-one’ in the scheme of things ☺
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?
I’m awful…I don’t write when I don’t want to. I struggle so much to work through writer’s block and it leaves me frustrated.
If it’s particularly bad, I sit down prepped to write but then just re-read what I’ve already got and sketch out a few more ideas in Scrivener. If I manage some words – great! If not, I’ve worked out a few more details and still pushed the project on. I try not to measure my success based on my word count… if I did, I’d be thoroughly disheartened!
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! How involved in the process were you?
With ANNA, I left the cover in the very capable hands of Kate Coe, my editor at the time at Rebellion. Head Design (company that worked with Rebellion) did an excellent job of making the cover bold, dangerous, and simple. It’s so hard conveying the themes but the cover really captures attention.
With In Search of Gods and Heroes, I contacted an artist and had the cover drawn to my specs, which is indulgent and I love it.
Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
Yes, I really wanted the danger to seep onto the cover. I had no idea whatsoever how to do this myself and because of this I’d never pictured a cover for ANNA. I was lucky and had a contact sheet of several ideas and I think the final text-based cover absolutely works. It’s not a whimsical story, it’s about Anna so she needs to be the focus.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève (Kushiel’s Dart) is my absolute favourite character of all time – she’s fearless, strong, independent, intelligent, unabashed and ridiculously beautiful. I also love Cassie Palmer from Karen Chance’s novels, and back ‘in the day’ (my youth) I loved Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter.
With pop culture my favourite will always be Kara Thrace aka Starbuck from Battlestar: Galactica, closely followed by Melanie Cavill from the Netflix show Snowpiercer – I find both these ladies fascinating and their back stories nuanced.
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?
Sleeping… and finally reading Starless that’s been on my bedside table for months and months…
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
Guenhwyvar – she’s a giant black panther and from the Dark Elf Trilogy (R A Salvatore). She’s fast, deadly, regenerates quickly and cool as hell. I’m a cat lover, so it would have to be something feline!
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
The sci-fi novel Autonomy by Jude Houghton is an excellent piece of work. Set in 2035 there’s a new world order, Autonomy, that controls and dictates the poorer workforce and everything revolves around money and maintaining the lifestyles of the rich. A resistance is brewing, however…
There are multiple points of view, and all the characters are shades of grey. The novel covers some 25 years and is a hefty beast but it blew me away the first time I read it.
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects?
So I’m finally pulling my finger out and finishing my second fantasy novel, but also working on EMMA, the standalone follow-up to ANNA. It’s the same world, but entirely different cast of characters and themes. This time I want to focus on a who-dun-it, drugs county lines, murder, bereavement…
Do you have any upcoming virtual events our readers may be interested in?
www.boundbybooks.co.uk – every week, John Dodd and I video review a book that we’ve both read that week. We’re focusing on hidden gems and novels from indie or smaller/genre presses.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
Questions. I hope whoever reads my work thinks about the responses and actions of the characters and the whys and wherefores of their behaviour. I want people to think about my stories long after that last page has been turned.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
I’ve had ridiculous fun. Thank you so much!