The author of Urban Fairy Tales: A Short Story Collection and Descendants of Thor Trilogy, first book of which was just recently released.
S.A. Ashdown is my latest discovery, as I was lucky to pick up her new release few weeks ago. I was amazed by her debut novel and the writing skill and style. S.A. Ashdown has the ability to create music with words and each of her sentences resonates with melody. I felt lost in the story, and a bit overwhelmed with the author’s ability to follow several complex plot lines and interweave them together, create lifelike three-dimensional characters and a complex multi-layered world. The author graciously agreed to answer several questions about herself and her writing.
Q1: Please tell us a bit about yourself. What made you become an author and how did your life change since you published your first novel?
A1: I live in England, and many of my earliest memories involve daydreaming, creating characters and other worlds in my head, almost always involving magic. My childhood holidays to the English countryside – Devon, Dorset, and the Lake District – fed my romantic side, reinforced by copious amounts of reading. It wasn’t until I was studying Philosophy and Classics at university that I realised that I loved writing as much as reading, if only as a way to get my thoughts about life and the world out of my head! Now I look back, I was always writing little stories, poems, making notebooks and imagining people in different situations. After I had my son, I had an ‘aha!’ moment, and accepted that this really was the path I was meant to take.
It’s still early days after publishing my first novel, but I feel positive and excited by the prospect of writing for a living and running my own business.
Q2: What inspired you to write this novel – Forged in Blood and Lightning, and what inspired you to go in the direction you chose?
A2: I suffered with insomnia for many years. Sometimes it would take me hours to get to sleep, so to distract myself, I came up with a cast of characters and imagined them in a variety of situations. These ‘people’ grew up with me, evolving as I matured, and I just knew they had a story of their own to tell. It took years to figure out what that was, and two failed attempts to write it. After reading Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series, something clicked, and I rewrote the entire story.
Q3: As I mentioned above, I was impressed with your writing style and the ability to follow several complex plot lines and interweave them together, create lifelike three-dimensional characters, and a complex multi-layered world. How do you succeed in that, in a sense of keeping track of all the little details you use to achieve this?
A3: It helps that I know the characters inside out, because they have literally been in my head for years. That said, they do sometimes surprise me, and that’s the fun in writing. Still, having multiple points of view and a complex plot was a massive challenge! I have at least six thousand words just in notes, but I don’t plan everything in advance. I like to give the characters a chance to change the course of the story or add something in at the right moment.
Keeping the overarching theme in my head is important and prevents veering off course too often. Some of it is practice, an internal map based on the hundreds of books I’ve read myself, and an intrinsic sense of timing. I also use something called a Story Grid, which involves a spreadsheet breaking down scenes and placing them correctly within the whole novel.
Q4: There are several remarkable characters in this book. Theo is amazing, as well as Lorenzo, then there are some less likable, yet very remarkable characters, like Theo’s father Espen, for example. And there are Lorenzo, Raphael, Nikolaj, Ava, and several others. They all feel very three-dimensional and real. Where did these characters come from, what inspired you to create them, and how did they become as they are?
A4: They feel very real to me too. I heard something once that resonated with me – the subconscious doesn’t distinguish between a real event and an imagined one. There is an external, objective reality, and (in my opinion), and equally valid subjective, internal one. Theo, Lorenzo, Menelaus, Ava, and Raphael are plucked right from my subconscious, and because of the attachment I have to them, I write about them with love.
Espen and Nikolaj have been present since the first drafts of the novel, and they act as Theo’s counterbalance when everything else is pulling him into danger. Although they don’t always act the way Theo wants, they are ultimately willing to sacrifice everything for him. I think now I’m a mother myself that has really helped with exploring the parent-child relationship theme.
Q5: You created a complex world which is a mix of urban fantasy and Norse mythology, there are vampires, and warlocks, and angels, and Gatekeepers, and numerous other creatures. The research you conducted must have been extensive. Can you talk a bit about your research, your writing process, and how long did it take? Can you share some behind the scenes details that are maybe beyond what is described in the book? Leaving a surprise for readers in the second half of the book was, well, a lovely surprise. What gave you the idea?
A5: I spent a lot of time nose-deep in library books making notes and thinking about the story. It took about six years to go from initial concept to completion, with a few false starts. That’s okay; I was learning to write, and that takes time! Having read widely in the fantasy genre was an advantage; my first introduction to adult fantasy fiction was really through Anne Rice, who is a terrific writer.
In terms of writing process, I tend to work in the evenings. I’m definitely a night owl. While I do outline the plot to a degree, the characters control the actual story. While I’m in the midst of book-writing, I pay special attention to my dreams because a lot of good ideas – if not all of them – come from the subconscious. For instance, Nikolaj’s tale of Thor and the whole chapter, ‘Agony’, came directly from dreams.
The idea behind the midway surprise came from a fellow author and also, partly from my husband. It seemed right to give Ava a bit more voice, although I’m happy to say she plays a bigger role in the rest of the trilogy.
Q6: Raphael is depicted as a sort of angelic creature, and a representative of Mother Nature. What can you reveal about his character without giving spoilers?
A6: Raphael has a very special mission involving the Clemensens, which is why he is immune to their magic. I won’t say too much, but it will all become clearer in ‘Norns of Fate’, Book Two in the trilogy, which should be out in June (2018).
Q7: You also wrote a short story collection of five urban fairy tales – Trolled, Bewitched, Jewel, Matchstick Girls, Wake. Before I started reading the book, I thought it was re-telling of the classic fairy tales, but I was surprised to find out how you actually wrote your own contemporary stories with only marginal use of some inspiration from the stories, and an extensive contemplation of current issues. Quite unexpected. What was your inspiration to write these stories and publish this collection? Do you have a favourite fairy tale?
A7: I originally wrote ‘Trolled’ for an adult fairy tale competition, and it was published in Writing Magazine. That was inspired by trip to Norway, where a local tour guide regaled us with legends about trolls – a classic fairy tale character. I was actually in the middle of doing the recycling when inspiration struck. We have modern day trolls – online ones – who ruin just as many lives as those from children’s stories. They say that humans never change, and that’s so true. All the themes from the classics can be extrapolated and applied to the modern era. I am very interested in social justice, feminism, and psychology, so it felt natural to use fairy tales as a lens to explore issues such as child abuse, homelessness, drug addiction, modern slavery (which is rampant) and the destructive power of online anonymity.
I’m not sure I have one favourite fairy tale, but I had a very old, beautifully illustrated book of them as a child. I suppose if I have to choose, it would be a toss-up between The Ugly Duckling and the Little Matchstick Girl.
Q8: How did it make you feel writing short stories and fairy tales, as opposed to writing a complex trilogy? Which came first?
A8: Believe or not, short stories are just as challenging as novels. In fact, I find them harder, because I like having a lot of white space to allow characters and events to play out and evolve in their own time. You don’t have that option with short stories. However, I plan to write more shorts in the future but mainly as a vehicle for exploring contemporary issues. Even so, fantastical elements often work their way in somewhere!
Q9: What kind of books do you like to read?
A9: I started with more non-fiction during my teens, exploring psychology, philosophy, classics, and spirituality. But I also enjoyed vampire fiction, from Anne Rice to Deborah Harkness. Now I’ll read almost anything. The genre isn’t so important as the story, although I do tend to struggle with crime genres, unless it has a strong socio-cultural element.
Q10: What have you planned for the readers in the next year or two?
A10: I’m hoping to finish the third installment of the Descendants of Thor Trilogy this year, and have it published by Christmas. I also have a couple of spin-off novellas in the pipeline. After that, I face a rather enormous dilemma; at least three trilogies and a YA series are competing for my attention, so it could be anything from a swashbuckling epic fantasy to a series that intertwines with the Descendants of Thor books.
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Books by S.A. Ashdown
Descendants of Thor Trilogy
This is a fantastic series with numerous great characters. Theo is the main character, but there are Lorenzo, Raphael, Ava, Penny, Menelaus, Espen, Nikolaj, Malachi, and Julian. Some of the characters are likable, some are not, but all them are well developed and three-dimensional. There is magic, warlocks, Norse mythology, vampires, witches and a lot of supernatural elements, as well as regular human contemporary reflection. The plot is incredibly complex, consisting of so many intricate details that they felt infinite at times. Amazing series, well worth reading.
Standalone Fairy Tales Retelling
Contains five stories Trolled, Bewitched, Jewel, Matchstick Girls, Wake. It is an interesting and educational, collection of contemporary stories dealing with current social issues. Themes are very familiar, not only because they are discussed in classic fairy tales, but because they cover the modern times, social media, and problems some of the less fortunate young people are faced with. It is more suitable for young adults and adults than children, because although most of the stories have a happy ending, the themes are realistic and harsh at times.
Other work by this author featured here: