Friday, 8 March 2013

Anne Barwell's Casting Couch Interview

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I live in New Zealand, and my day job is working in a library. I was an avid reader before I was surrounded by all that temptation and my TBR is very very long. I've been a SF/Fantasy fan for as long as I can remember, and enjoy watching and reading not only that genre, but others. If something looks interesting I'll give it a go. Monday evenings are spent playing violin in a local orchestra, and I share my home with two cats who are convinced they're the owners and I'm just the tenant.

How did you get started in writing? What made you decide to submit your first story and what was your experience with that? Who was the first person you told when you got your first contract? What was their reaction?

I've been writing since primary school. One of my favourite authors wasn't writing fast enough so I started making up stories within that world because I wanted to know what happened next, and I guess I haven't stopped, except now I'm writing my own characters etc. I did take quite a long break while I was raising my children (I have three, now all in their 20s), but discovering the internet gave the inspiration to start again. 

I wrote 'Cat's Quill' when I was studying for my conjoint BA/BTeach degrees, and what was started out as a short story to work on during the semester breaks turned into a novel. I submitted it to a couple of local publishers first, which resulted in letters along the lines of 'well written but not suitable for our list'. It is very difficult to get published in this country and with my story being fantasy and a gay romance, that didn't help. A friend who was published with Dreamspinner Press suggested I try them. I couldn't believe it when they sent me a contract! In hindsight I'd got hung up about wanting to publish locally because I'd always wanted my stories to be available locally, but there was no comparison between the experience I've had with Dreamspinner and the NZ publishers. Dreamspinner has been wonderful and very supportive. I not only could submit my manuscript electronically, but I got a reply to say they'd received it within half an hour. They're always just an email away and very prompt in answering all sorts of questions. I feel as though I'm a part of a family and I love it. 

That first contract was two years ago and I now have four titles published with them. I don't remember who the first person was I told, but I know it was combination of beta readers, family, and work. Everyone was wonderfully supportive and the library has been all over it – they have copies of my books and it's great seeing them being borrowed, and enjoyed. I now have customers (who aren't staff) placing reserves on my books.

Where does your inspiration come from for your books?

Inspiration comes from a lot of sources. I blame music for a lot of it, but I have also a tendency to ponder 'what ifs' and things go from there. I've had a few ideas for stories going around in my head for years that are finally getting written or I have outlined to write. I like to include something of New Zealand in my stories if I can, whether it be a mention, setting, or characters.

How do you make the important choices when it comes to writing your stories? Point of View? Voice? Theme? Title?

I start writing and it just happens for the most part. I tend to write in a close 3rd person POV, it's what I feel most comfortable writing although I have written a few shorter pieces in 1st person. Some stories have just two POV characters, others have more. It depends on the story and what is needed to get the action across. If what I have isn't working I go back and rewrite until I'm happy with it. My characters tend to have distinctive voices in my head and I just let them dictate for the most part, it's less stressful and more productive that way. Some stories come with titles, others I have to hunt for. I know it when I see it, and it feels right. 

Are your characters purely fictional, or do you sample from people you’ve met in real life? Which one of your characters is most like you? How so?

My characters are mostly fictional although some draw aspects from people I've met in real life, and are often an amalgamation of more than one person. I've based a few not so nice characters on people who have annoyed me in reality although suitably disguised of course. I think most writers have done that at one time or another.
I'm not sure any of my characters are like me although they often share some of my interests or passions. Or perhaps they're the people I wish I could have been on some level as they have the courage and opportunity to speak their mind on subjects I don't tend to. Several of my characters are musicians, and Cathal from 'Hidden Places' is an avid reader, and lover of poetry. I blame the Romantic Poetry paper I was taking for my English Lit degree while I was writing the first story for that. Ben's grandfather in 'Shades of Sepia' has aspects of my dad about him.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

Being published! Seriously though, I'm rather proud of 'Shadowboxing', which is set in WW2. A LOT of research went into that one. I'm planning to start on the sequel later in the year. 

If you could co-author a book with any other writer, who would it be?
Funny you should ask that as the two projects I'm working on at present are with other writers. Elizabeth Noble and I are working on an urban fantasy series called 'Sleepless City.'  It's set in present day Flint, a city that might exist in Ohio, and features vampires, werewolves, ghosts and the like. We're each writing alternating books. I've started book one 'Shades of Sepia', and she'll be writing book two, 'Electric Candle'. 

I'm also co-writing a novel called 'The Harp and the Sea' with Lou Sylvre, which is set on the Isle of Skye in 1745. There's a good mix of fantasy against the historical backdrop, together with action, drama and, of course, romance between our two characters. 

What is the one book that you think that very few people have read but everyone should read? What are you reading right now?

I'm sure a lot of people have read it, but I'm surprised when I do mention it how many people haven't heard of it. It's a series rather than a single book as the whole series needs to be read: The Darkis Rising series by Susan Cooper. It's a wonderful mix of fantasy set against a backdrop of Arthurian and Celtic mythology. I blame this series for my fascination with King Arthur and its associated mythology. 

I have a couple of things on the go reading wise as I tend to have a hardcopy book, a graphic novel (for reading during breaks at work), an audio book (for the car) and something queued on my tablet. At present those are 'Wizards First Rule' by Terry Goodkind, Batgirl:Knightfall Descends, Big Finish Audio: The Cold Equations, and 'Loving LukiVasquez' by Lou Sylvre

What do you find the most difficult part of the writing process?

Finding the time to write! I have so many stories I want to tell, and am struggling to find the time to do so. The other thing I struggle with is the waiting process after submitting a story. I'm in the middle of that one at the moment, and no I'm not obsessively checking email nor can I tell you the date I submitted it, and how long I've been waiting for. 

What is a typical working day like for you? Where do you write? Do you wait for inspiration? Do you set certain writing goals? Are there any specific tools you use to help you write?

I work afternoons/evenings and weekends in the day job, so I set an alarm in the morning and get up so I can write before work. Everything going well, I get at least an hour's writing done although, depending on what's going on, that can turn out to be less or more. My laptop is set up on my kitchen table so I can multitask and do the other stuff I need to do at the same time so I'm often up and down while I'm writing, and have a chat programme running too. I try to write a bit each day, and aim for at least 3000 words a week. Often it's more, but I figure aim low and achieve more as it's more affirming than the other way around. I use a combination of hardcopy notebooks and google docs for notes and research. Often when I'm working on a particular project I print out the outline and end up scribbling all over it. Outlines make me feel as though I have some control although that's a bit of a fallacy. For example, in the story I've recently finished two main characters weren't even in the original outline!

What is your greatest guilty pleasure (literary or otherwise)?

Cheesecake makes most things better. Literary though, I am just a tiny bit addicted to graphic novels, and since I've managed to get my hands on a lot more through the library, I've read quite a few of them of late, in particularly DC and Bat family related. 

And…last but not least: What are you working on now and what can we expect to see from you in the coming year? (If you’d like, you can include an excerpt or snippet)

I've recently finished an M/M fantasy novel called 'A Knight to Remember' which is about dragons and a quest for a magical sword. Crossing my fingers it's accepted for publication. Here's the blurb and an excerpt:

"The last of your line will be in the embrace of a dragon."
Aric's family has lived in fear of a dragon curse for generations but when he speaks with one it makes him question the beliefs instilled in him by his father, the king of Astria.  Denys has kept to himself since his parents died, but when he meets Aric, he is drawn to him like a moth to a flame. But Aric is not the only one keeping secrets, as Denys has a few of his own, which, when revealed, will change both their futures forever.
Will the sword the dragon tells Aric about be able to save the kingdom or is Aric's quest a ploy to ensure the prophecy becomes reality?  



"You said you had something to tell me." Aric cleared his throat, not wishing to reminiscence about such things, at least not now. He was losing his mind, he must be. This was a dream, it had to be. Yet why did it feel so real? "And my name is not Brandric. It's Aric. Brandric is what my father calls me."
"Aric then." The dragon inclined its head again, lowering its voice. "Your sister is to marry the prince of a neighbouring kingdom. This must not be allowed to happen. It will not unite your kingdoms, but is merely a ploy to gain your father's trust."
"I already know that." Aric had heard two of King Malachite's men talking. Once the marriage had taken place, King Malachite planned to invade Astria and claim it in the name of Logan, his own kingdom. "He...they talked about using magic." Aric had told his father about what he'd overheard but hadn't been believed. King Malachite, King Brandr assured his son, would not attempt to betray Astria by using the evil that was magic. Nor would he use their children's marriage to gain control over Astria. He was an honourable man who had stood by Astria and its people many times, their armies united against a common foe. Together they had triumphed over those who might use magic against them, and worked to rid both their lands of the threat of dragons. 
Aric had never trusted King Malachite. There was something about the man that made his skin crawl but if asked to explain, he couldn't. Only two people had ever believed him: Georgia and Aunt Hannah.
"The only way to fight magic is with magic." The dragon looked around, and cocked its head to the side as though listening to something Aric could not hear. "You must seek the Sword of Sherwin, Aric. The quest will not only save your kingdom, but also your sister."
"I...." Aric stared at the dragon. He'd heard of the sword, of course he had. It was an old tale, told to him by both his aunt and his mother. It was a thing of power. "It doesn't exist. It's just a story. Or if it did, it was lost generations ago." He shook his head. Surely the dragon couldn't be serious?
"Then it is time it was found again, isn't it?"
"You make it sound simple. It's not." Aric looked up at the dragon. Its eyes were the same colour as its scales. They seemed to bore into his own, searching his heart, and his soul. There was something ageless about it, powerful yet lonely. He shivered, and averted his gaze.
"You see what others don't, young Aric." The dragon opened its wings. Aric gasped. They were the length of several men, black cobwebs of fine leather and scale.  "Follow your heart, and trust your instincts."
"But I don't know where to look." Aric wanted to believe the dragon, he truly did. Georgia couldn't be allowed to marry Prince Thorold, and Aric could not stand by and let his kingdom fall. Killing dragons had only been part of the oath he'd taken. He might not intend to keep that part of it, but he certainly would keep the other.
The dragon had already begun to flap its wings. It was ready to leave, and Aric knew once it took flight he'd never be able to stop it. "Follow your heart, Aric. Do what is right."
Aric stumbled back, his sword falling to the ground. He couldn't kill the dragon, but more than that, he didn't want to. "I don't know where to look," he yelled after it. The dragon did not reply but instead took to the air, gliding, hovering above him, its movement graceful, majestic. Something about it called to him, touched him.
He wiped at his eyes. They were wet.
When he looked up again, the dragon was gone.



Thanks for having me, and I'm looking forward to your visit to my blog. 



  1. Nice post! I have not read that Susan Cooper series---will go and check it out.

    1. Thanks, Skylar. Although the series is children's fantasy it's one I still reread. She's written another book called 'King of Shadows' which is worth checking out too.

  2. Great interview. I really enjoyed the excerpt

    1. Thanks, Jana. Glad you enjoyed it :)