QBR Interview with Saskia Walker
Where are you from?
I’m British by birth. My mother is Irish and my father is English. I grew up all over the world. I’m told it makes for an interesting mix! I’ve always felt most at home in Yorkshire in the North of England, which is where I live now.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was about 12 years old. I’m an only child and grew up an avid reader. One day it occurred to me that creating my own story would be an exciting thing to do. The desire to be a writer took root then, but I did all sorts of other things before I settled down to give it a proper go.
When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing fiction seriously in 1996. My early desire to write resurfaced when I was doing PhD research on British art and culture in the between-wars period. It sounds funny now, but I found it very restrictive, always dealing with facts! My imagination kept running away, and I guess that rekindled my early desire to write fiction. I made a decision to give up academia then, because I saw it wasn’t right for me.
My reading patterns tend towards fantasy, romance and erotica, and all of those meshed in my vision of what I’d like to do. My first publication was a fantasy short in a small press zine called VISIONARY TONGUE (UK based and still going today.) Shortly afterward, I sold an erotic short story to the groundbreaking label Black Lace, erotica for women. For several years I continued write short stories and dabbled with ideas for novels in the background.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When someone paid me for a short story! I’m not money-oriented at all, so it’s kind of odd, but it felt like it was official and worthwhile, somehow.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I started a novel when I was 12 years old, when I decided that’s what I was going to do when I grew up. Funnily enough, my parents unearthed this early effort recently when they were sorting through some boxes they had stored. What interested me in looking at it was that my heroine, even then, was a strong independent woman and this story was about her adventure.
How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
When I was growing up my parents traveled extensively and we lived in many countries over the world. I draw on that all the time. One example of that would be my next publication, the fantasy novel UNVEILING THE SORCERESS, which draws very much on my experience of living in the United Arab Emirates as a 15/16 year-old. It’s a country where the ancient culture is evident alongside the new, and that fired my imagination.
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
That’s a difficult question, because I like challenging myself with new sub genres all the time. I guess contemporary erotic romance and fantasy romance, equally. I alternate between the two, because that’s very refreshing for me as a writer. Whichever subgenre I’m working in — and I’ve had a go with futuristic, suspense, paranormal, historical and time travel as well as contemporary and fantasy settings — the thing that probably characterizes my work the most is its eroticism.
How did you come up with the title?
THE STRANGELING is a direct tribute to an early mentor, the British fantasy author Storm Constantine. Storm wrote a book called BURYING THE SHADOW, still a favorite read today. I’m always entranced by Storm’s writing, and in this book she described a place called the Strangeling. Storm played a big part in my early writing, she was the first author to edit, encourage and publish my fantasy short work. THE STRANGELING is dedicated to Storm, and the title was for her, too.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not overtly, but it’s important for me that women can be strong, without being seen as hard or cold. In all my stories, the most important thing for me is the heroine’s adventure. The characters I write about come from different walks of life, but they are independent women who earn their rights to adventure, magic, passion, and romance. That’s empowering for me and I hope that my readers feel the same.
What books have most influenced your life most?
That would be quite a list. I think reading Margaret Atwood’s work in my early 20s would be what influenced my life the most, but other books have brought about pivotal moments. A dear friend (my critique partner) sent me a Susan Johnson historical romance novel, PURE SIN. This was a crucial moment for me as a writer, because I wanted to write romance that didn’t close the door on the physical relationship, and stories that were adventures featuring strong, independent heroines.
In terms of fantasy, I have to mention Patricia McKillip’s WINTER ROSE, a book I read regularly. Her lush and vivid prose and her world building are outstanding. Reading her work awes and inspires me. Another book I reread regularly is A S Byatt’s POSSESSION, just an amazing read and again one that make me want to challenge myself as a writer.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
It would have to be Storm Constantine, who I mentioned earlier. Storm is incredibly supportive of new writers and without her encouraging my fledgling efforts I wouldn’t be writing today. I would also like to add that my editor at Juno books, Paula Guran, has been a wonderful mentor, above and beyond an editor’s role. These two women have been crucial in making me believe in my fantasy writing.
What book are you reading now?
I’m currently reading Emma Holly’s Prince of Ice, it’s an incredibly sensual fantasy and I’m enjoying it immensely. Emma is another one of my favorite authors, she’s an auto buy for me.
What are your current projects?.
The main project is my next big contemporary erotic romance, a novel called RECKLESS. It’s set in Catalonia, in Spain, a part of the world I love. That will be published on Penguin’s Heat line in 2008.
Do you see writing as a career?
Definitely. Because I enjoyed writing so much, making it a job that paid the bills became a goal, a dream that I hoped one day to make true. As I began to get more published, I was able to whittle down my working hours and we made the sacrifices necessary to take the step. My real life hero, Mark, encouraged me every step of the way, as did my critique partner. Writers need people who believe in them, self-doubt can be crippling. I am now a full-time writer and I couldn’t be happier!
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Always! I feel every work is part of a big learning curve. The very act of writing teaches us so much every day. I believe my writing improves as I move forward on this learning curve, so there’s always something I want to change about the last project. I think that’s a common thing, it’s something we must try to see positively because it shows us how far we have come.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It definitely stemmed from being an avid reader, from losing myself in the worlds I found in the pages of a book.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Everything about it! But that’s also part of what’s exciting about it. I enjoy challenging myself, trying to write about different relationship complexities, creating different worlds, working in different lengths, genres and sub-genres. It can be a lonely job at times, but the writer communities on the Internet have made this a very different job than it would have been ten or more years ago.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Favorites are so hard. I’d have to say Storm Constantine, a fantasy writer who has marvelous vision and creates worlds that are vivid and lush. Her strong characterization is the anchor point. Her characters live on in my mind, like friends. I also love her sensual voice, and the fact that she addresses gender and sexuality issues in her work.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I don’t travel as much as I used to, because I have a physical disability now and I can’t do as much walking as I used to. I draw very much on the travel I did growing up and into my early 20s, using settings I have lived in or visited. Having said that, I recently spent a week in Scotland in a small coastal town, dong research for a paranormal book I hope to write later this year.
Who designed the covers?
The covers for THE STRANGELING and UNVEILING THE SORCERESS were done by fantasy artist Timothy Lantz. His work is simply stunning, and will be featured on most of the Juno book covers. You can see more of his work on his website here: http://www.stygiandarkness.com/ and in the Juno gallery here: http://www.juno-books.com/gallery.html
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
With THE STRANGELING and also UNVEILING THE SORCERESS, there is that extra challenge of remaining completely in the ancient world and not saying anything that pulls the reader out of it. I think and rethink the use of every word to try and make it authentic to the world I have created. This sometimes means I’m moving a lot more slowly in terms of the writing, while the ideas for the story are shooting ahead — makes the old brain hurt a tad.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
That challenging myself is a good thing. It pushes me forward and shows me I can do things that I thought were beyond me.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Keep writing, and keep reading. The more you write the more you learn about writing. Never stop reading, that’s where we learn the fundamentals of good storytelling.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Let me entertain you? Seriously, if I can weave a bit of magic and passion into someone’s day through one of my stories it makes me immensely happy. I’d also like to thank the readers who bought an author who was new to them, and hope they want to come back for more.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It’s hard to gauge, although I would say approximately three or four months for a novel if I was working on it full-time. Usually I have several projects on the go at once. UNVEILING THE SORCERESS (which is due out soon) was different though, because it started as an idea many years ago and I’ve been doing research for a long time, so that’s slightly different again.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I need chunks of time, several hours a day where I am just writing and don’t have to break. I often edit and do my short story writing in the evenings. I try to write every day, because I find I get rusty very quickly and the hardest thing is starting a new project when I’m not in the zone.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Everywhere! Sometimes a story idea can spiral out of a suggestion, an image, a dream or a song lyric. Other times I will want to set a story in a particular type of place — as with UNVEILING THE SORCERESS. Once I had the foundation I let myself daydream about the sort of story that would happen in that world.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read, watch films and comedy shows, listen to music. I especially love live music performance. Dress up! I’m a goth rock chick at heart and I love to dress up. I also like drinking good red wine or real ale, socializing and chatting with other authors. I’m very lucky in that I have a wonderful erotica author friend, Portia da Costa, who lives a half hours drive away from me, and we meet up every couple of months. All these things are important for refilling the creative well, and keeping me in touch with the real world where the ideas come from.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I’m up to four novels now, with a half-dozen novellas and nearly 50 shorts either published or forthcoming. Usually I find that the current project is the favorite for me because I get so immersed in it. I’m living every part of the story, reveling in every part of the world. So, as yet, I don’t think I’m able to say I have a favorite overall.
Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Write as much as you can, and every time you learn a new thing about writing, go back to a favorite story of yours and put that new knowledge into action, see how it improves the work. It’s always easier to write something new than to go back to our old work, but it can be a really good exercise. Another thing that I found useful was taking a passage from a favorite book and analyze how the writer has made it work so well. I also try to read something about writing every week, something that is going to make me think about the process again. Believe in yourself! If you have a story to tell, the craft can be learned.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I have been hearing from readers, yes, and it absolutely makes my day. I’ve had messages on my guest book at my web site, and e-mails, and sometimes readers call by my daily blog and post a comment saying how much they enjoyed my work. I run a newsletter and a handful of the recipients always respond with their thoughts and encouragement. That’s just wonderful. One of the things that surprised me was when readers said they would like to see a story about a secondary character they liked. I love that feeling that we’ve shared curiosity and interest in shared characters.
What do you think makes a good story?
The characters and the relationship dynamic totally make a story for me. I believe that if a character is compelling enough, a reader will follow them through whatever happens in their adventure.
What’s your latest news?
It’s a very exciting time! I just received a contract from Penguin for my second contemporary erotic romance (RECKLESS,) and my second fantasy romance is due out from Juno in the next few weeks (UNVEILING THE SORCERESS.) I also recently heard that my first novel, DOUBLE DARE, has been listed as a finalist for the Passionate Plume, an award presented by the Passionate Ink chapter of the Romance Writers of America. As a woman who dreamed of being a writer for so many years, seeing my work reach publication and entertaining readers this way has been the most wonderful experience.