I like Aliya Whiteley. I’ve said it beef and I’ll say it again. Hers, I think, was the first blog I subscribed to (way back in 2005, I think) and she even published one of my very early short stories (or one of the early ones I was happy with at least), when she was editor over at the brilliant, but now sadly no more, Serendipity Magazine. (It’s called Martha’s Dance if anyone wants to google it.)*
So it’s with an enormous amount of pleasure that I welcome her back to the blog (she’s been here many times before) to talk about her seventh book (seven! see how far we’ve come! and see! we’re still here, still doing this thing!) Skein Island, which I am very much looking forward to reading as soon as I get the chance – and about the joys of unpredictability (probably another reason why I like her). Of course I’ll let you all know what I think about it when I do. Until then, over to you, Aliya..
Skein Island is the seventh book I’ve had published, and the fourth novel. But it’s the twelfth book I’ve written, and the seventeenth book I’ve started to write. There have been a lot of book corpses along the way.
If you were to look only at my published efforts you might struggle to find a common thread. It’s been a strange twenty year journey through comedy, mystery and science fiction that has led to fantasy-horror with my latest offering. I’m not even taking into account my first published effort under a pseudonym, which was a romance between a penniless artist and a movie star (so I suppose fantasy isn’t really a new direction at all). But the unseen books would probably fill in the gaps: the crime novel with mythological overtones; the romantic comedy set in space; the mystery solved by a 1950s RAF Officer. Well, perhaps all it really explains is why some of my books have been deemed unpublishable in the first place.
Here’s the thing; I hate predictability. I don’t ever manage to work out what somebody is going to do next in life, and so I rarely like that quality in literature. Having said that, the tension that readers’ thwarted predictions bring to a novel or a short story can be very useful. Think of the way we react to the memorable and yet not at all expected end of Gone With the Wind.
Skein Island has a quest, and a strong hero, and an evil villain. It has an ancient monster, and a wise man, and a comedy sidekick, and a feisty heroine, and everything a good quest narrative should have, but all of those characters don’t want to be what they are, just as Scarlett O’Hara didn’t really want to be, above all else, Rhett Butler’s wife. Still, they find that some personality traits are unavoidable simply because of the roles into which they have been forced. They are fascinated to discover they are types as well as people.
At the time of writing the book I was reminded of how many personality tests exist out there in the world, and how people love to take them, perhaps often with a tongue-in-cheek approach to whatever the results might proclaim them to be. Mostly B’s? Then you’re energetic, cheerful and keen on tapestry weaving. We don’t fit into boxes and we do. We hate to be thought of as a type. Well, the type of people who hate to be thought of as a type hate it. Marketing tells us we’re all unique and special snowflakes while categorising us according to spending habits. It’s a confusing business. The novel is about the tension that exists in a hero, or a villain, or even a monster, between being a personality type and an individual.
I’ve written in a lot of genres, and sometimes I worry that I’m not enough of a type for readers. Can I build a following? Will people read across horror, or fantasy, or even romance? The thing is, when I think about it, readers aren’t exactly types either. We don’t only pick up the same kind of books every time, no matter what the marketing department tells us. And it doesn’t really matter that I’m not one type of writer, because everything I write is still a part of me, and it bears my voice. You might not have any idea what I’m going to say next. I myself rarely have any idea of what I’m going to say, do, or write next. But one thing is for sure; I’m going to say it in the best way I know how. I can’t help it. That’s just part of my personality.
Skein Island. Dog Horn Publishing. 30th March 2015.
* It is there. I just have.