The fourth entry in my Writers and Bloggers interview series features a newcomer to the blogosphere named Emily Ashton. She hails from Northern England and runs the blog Seas of Scribble, in which she chronicles her journey as a novice writer and blogger. From the conversations I’ve had with Emily, I can tell she’s serious and dedicated about the writing craft, and like any writer worth their salt, she too experiences the ups and downs that writing will always bring forth. At any rate, Emily is a young yet energetic new voice, and her blog is an entertaining read.
Bio: Emily is 22 and has been writing fiction since her early teens. She has been working on her first novel for the past two years. Her first book is the opening to a trilogy of Young Adult Supernatural books and she recently completed her first draft during November 2012’s NaNoWriMo. She currently works in the advisory department of a distance learning college supporting students taking on Creative Writing courses and uses her free time to write and work on her blog.
When you signed up to do this interview with me, you mentioned you’re a part-time, unpublished writer who’s new to this blogging thing. I think you’ve gotten a handle on the whole blogging thing, but what do you hope to accomplish with your blog?
I’m glad you think I’m getting the hang of blogging, that’s always good to hear! When I first started the blog, the idea was that if I shared my goal of writing a completed manuscript during NaNoWriMo with other writers I’d be more likely to stick to it. Publicising what I was trying to do was a way of making sure I wasn’t tempted to give up and drop out halfway through – something I very nearly did around the 20 day mark after a few very unproductive days. Right now, I’m keeping up with the blog because I’ve found it helpful in establishing a routine with my writing. It’s also a big help to have a writing community on WordPress that I can rely on for support. Every time I get a comment or a like it motivates me to write more because I know at least one person is reading!
Your blog’s title is “Seas of Scribble.” What’s the story behind that name?
I decided on Seas of Scribble because it fits with the pattern of the titles of the book series I’m working on. It’s a trilogy and the working titles are Seas of Smoke, Seas of Scarlet and Seas of Silence. My first drafts quite often read like a lot of nonsense and scribble to me, so I thought it was a fitting way to document my first attempt at a full manuscript.
When Seas of Scribble came online, what were your goals for your blog? Have those goals been accomplished so far? What’s been the most eye-opening/rewarding aspect of blogging for you so far?
When I first started the blog I was hoping I might get a couple of readers per post and maybe a comment or two that would spur me on through NaNo. Since I’ve started I’ve been so surprised by how many people read what I have to say, especially people who follow and read regularly. I’ve never been someone who finds it easy to share work with other people, especially complete strangers, so realising that a few people liked reading my posts enough to want to read more was a big deal for me. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything particularly philosophical or meaningful on there, so I wasn’t expecting too many people to take notice. It really does help to motivate me having this kind of community around me, even if I never speak to anyone face to face.
When did you first discover that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an author or a book you read? Influences from friends or family?
I’ve always loved stories, so it seemed natural to me from being quite young that one day I wanted to write stories of my own. These progressed from short, two page stories about animals and magic (which I still have) to some darker and occasionally more morbid short stories written in my early teens. They were awful and will never see the light of day again. I always used to tell people I wanted to write a novel one day, but “one day” was very far away and I don’t think I ever really thought I’d do it. My family have always been supportive and I come from a family of dedicated readers, so I’ve never been short of new books to read. I think between us all we have almost every genre covered.
I really started to work on my writing and see it as a possible career option when I was around sixteen or seventeen and decided to make it part of my degree when I was applying to university. I spent the rest of my time at school working on short stories and novel extracts whenever I got the chance. When I finally started my first year at university, writing became a pretty regular part of my week. My portfolio was a quarter of my final grade every year, so if I didn’t take it seriously, I wasn’t getting a degree! I got some honest feedback from other writers in the same situation as me, and even though some of it was fairly brutal I think it made me a better writer. I made some very talented friends in those workshops and I’d like to think that one day we’ll all be sitting around writing together again, only this time we’ll all be working on sequels to our bestsellers.
You wrote your novel during NaNoWriMo. Obviously finishing your novel was the best part, but what did you learn about yourself and the writing process that you didn’t know about either before?
I learned a lot about planning that I’d never given much thought to before. It probably sounds obvious to everyone else, but this year was the first year I really made a plan for my novel and where it was going rather than just writing whatever came to mind and hoping for the best. I also learned that I have a tendency to be my own worst enemy when it comes to writing and editing. I read and re-read my own work so much that it becomes meaningless, then I start to tell myself no one would ever want to read it, let alone buy it, and the delete key starts to look very inviting. I’ve learned now that I can’t please everyone – there will always be people who don’t like my writing. The most important thing is to tell the story I want to tell and hope that a handful of people might love it as much as I do.
I know you hate this question but – and here’s your chance to sell your novel – what’s your novel about?
I do hate this question, but it’s one I’m hopefully going to be asked a lot, so I’ll forgive you. My novel is the first in a trilogy of supernatural young adult books. It revolves around a group of teenagers who descend from legendary creatures and live in a community made up of other such people situated in the North of England. The creatures I’m working with at the moment are Selkies, Seers, Fawns and Golems. The story really starts when their home is discovered by a cult of humans who trade magical blood on a “black market” of sorts because it gives them a small amount of magical power. They call themselves Sorcerers, but until very recently they have been powerless without a regular supply of magical blood to consume. At the start of the first book, a baby has been born to a Sorcerer couple with natural magical gifts, and they believe that they have managed to make magic part of their DNA. This continues to happen to other families and leads to their top minister calling for a gradual stop to the blood trade, as he wants to eventually create a new race that is not dependent on consuming “artifical” magic.
The rarest and most desired kind of blood is Seer blood, as they are naturally always one step ahead and have ways and means of sensing danger. My protagonist, Meg, is a Seer and is being hunted for her blood by members of a rebel group of Sorcerers who are unsatisfied with the rationed amount of magical blood they are now allowed. She is forced to abandon her family and go in to hiding to avoid putting them in danger. She allies herself with a small group of other creatures who promise to hide and protect her if she will help them to fight back against the Sorcerers and stop the blood trade altogether, but it soon becomes clear that they are being betrayed by one of their own.
What’s been the inspiration behind your work in progress? Is there a novel or author that’s inspired you to write?
I’ve always had a fascination with myths and legends, and I love reading fantasy and YA novels. I’m getting sick and tired of Vampires and Werewolves, so I thought I’d go back to my old books of myths and legends and find some other creatures to explore that might give me a new angle on my favourite genre. Selkies are creatures I read about when I was very young, I think the book I had was called Stories by Firelight and I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of the version I had when I was younger for a while now. I love the sea, especially the northern coast where its all a bit grey and wild and mysterious, so that made the setting of the novel quite easy.
As a born and bred northerner I’m disappointed that most books I read set in the UK are automatically set in London. There’s so much about the northern coast and countryside that’s dark and a little bit magical that, to me, it’s always seemed like the perfect place for a supernatural story. Authors I read when I was forming the story in my head were Cassandra Clare and her Infernal Devices series, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London and its sequels and almost anything by Neil Gaiman, but especially his Fragile Things short story collection.
Did you find that when you were writing your novel during NaNoWriMo, were you sticking to your outline or what you plotted? Or did you “pants” and give yourself the room to improvise? Knowing what you know now, do you prefer to outline going forward?
I was surprised by how well I stuck to my plan, I think it was sometime in week two before I deviated from it at all. I gave myself the chance to stray from it if I needed to, but the loose structure of the story is the same as it ever was. Having a plan to look at was helpful on the days when I wasn’t sure where to start. I picked a scene that needed to be written and started there. Then I just kept going until I hit another wall and had to choose another starting point. By the end of NaNo I’d written up most of the scenes in my original plan, and now I’m just left with the task of tying together some of the gaps in the story. Obviously some things have changed and I need to go back and read through everything I’ve written for continuity’s sake, but I’m additionally proud of myself for sticking to the plan and working through all the plot issues that cropped up.
A lot of great fantasy has often come out from England. What is it about England, or the English sensibility, I suppose, that makes it such a fertile ground for such great fantasy fiction?
I think it has a lot to do with the history we have in England. It’s a relatively old country and we have a huge bank of folk tales, myths and legends, a lot of which are based in magic. You’ll most likely find old stories about magical creatures, ghosts, witches and the like in every town in England, whether people believe them or not it’s a big part of our culture and our history. I think living where I do has really affected what I write. Even though I’ve always lived in more urban, built up areas, I’ve only ever been ten or twenty minutes from the moors and the untouched parts of the country. There’s something about them that always seems desolate and worlds away from civilisation and it’s not hard to imagine something supernatural going on there when no one is around.
How’s the editing process been for you since you’ve completed the first draft?
I’m happy to say that the editing process is going well so far. Despite my doubts when I was writing it all down, I’m finding that there are a lot of sections of my first draft that are good and don’t need as much work as I thought. I’ve also have a month away from the story to think through some of the gaping plot holes and start tying them together. The thing I’m finding difficult is setting aside the time to sit down and do it. Without a daily word count I have to reach, it’s difficult to make myself sit and work for an hour when I get in at night. It’s going a little slower than NaNo did, but I’m hoping that that’s a good sign. I have the luxury of having more time to spend on every page now that it isn’t a race to the finish line and I’m finding that I don’t quite hate everything I’ve written.
Are there any other ideas you’re exploring, other than your supernatural trilogy?
Other than the supernatural trilogy I’m working on improving some old short stories that I plan to enter for competitions eventually. I studied Creative Writing at university as a joint major with English Language, so I have three years’ worth of portfolios and first drafts that need to be polished before I can send them off. Some of the things I wrote really are beyond help, but now and then I find something that has potential. These stories tend to be more realistic and based on family life or relationships. It’s a relief to have a break from writing fantasy sometimes and go back to writing something a little closer to real life!