Anne Lyle Interview 2013
It has been a while since we first interviewed you on Fantasy-Faction, back then you were just embarking on being a published author – now you’ve just about wrapped up your first series. Can you tell us a little about life being an avid writer vs life being a published author?
I have to say that being an unpublished writer is much, much easier! You can write what you like, when you like, with no pressure except that which you impose on yourself. If life throws you a loop, you can put the writing aside with minimal stress.
Once you sign on the dotted line, however, it becomes a job. An awesome, wonderful job, but still a job. Most likely you’ll be expected to write a book a year, regardless of how long the first one took – and if you miss a deadline, your book’s publication date may have to be shifted.
Further down the line you have reader expectations hanging over your head as you write…I wouldn’t swap it for the world, but it’s not for the faint-hearted!
So, as I said, you’re just about to wrap up your Night’s Masque series with the third book, The Prince of Lies. Could you tell us a little bit about what to expect?
Readers of the first two books will know that Mal found out a lot about his past and has learnt some new skills that he’s starting to put into practice. He’s also taking the fight to the enemy at last, and you can bet that they don’t take it lying down, so although there are still moments of fun it’s definitely a darker book than its predecessors.
Kit is Mal and Coby’s son, born in Venice; I won’t say any more about his origins as that constitutes spoilers for The Merchant of Dreams! I chose to add him as a PoV because he finds himself being used as a pawn in the war between the guisers and our heroes; it gave me a chance to show the villains of the series from a closer perspective than I’d been able to do in previous books.
Speaking of new characters, you’ve got one of the most famous men to have ever lived making a guest appearance, Mr William Shakespeare. Could you tell us a little bit about your decision to put him into the novel and the role he will play?
It was really a combination of plot expediency and sheer fun. At one point Mal needs access to disguises for a mission, and the other characters on whom he would normally rely for such things are out of London at the time. I could have used one of my fictional characters in the role, but after some readers had commented about the absence of Shakespeare from the first book, I couldn’t resist a cameo appearance!
So, one character I’m especially interested in due to her development is Coby. She started off very unconventional for the time – working in a theatre company, disguised as a boy – but by Prince of Lies she seemed to have settled for a more conventional life. Was this a conscious choice, or was this just the way the character drifted?
It was a conscious choice. In The Merchant of Dreams, Coby is forced to drop her disguise for a while and initially it makes her uncomfortable, but if she wants to be with Mal she really has no choice but to adopt a more conventional gender role. I thought it would be interesting to see how that decision would play out long-term – would she stick with convention or defy it again?
Taking a few steps back now, the first draft of the first book in this series came from NaNoWriMo in 2006, right? How much have your plans, expectations and ambitions for this series changed over the seven years you’ve been writing it?
When I sat down to plan the first draft back in the summer of 2006, I had no idea it would turn into a trilogy! Honestly, my only thought at that point was to finish a novel-length draft that I could potentially revise for submission. As an aspiring writer you’re constantly told “Don’t write a huge epic series because as a debut author you’ll never sell it” – which is patently untrue in fantasy, because series are actually easier to sell than standalones. That said, a shorter series like a trilogy is probably a much easier sell than a ten-book epic. The Wheel of Time set an unhappy precedent in that respect!
Once I signed the contract with Angry Robot, though, I knew I was pretty much tied in to a trilogy. I’d had to supply synopses for two books in order to close the contract, and I needed to do the same for the third book within about six months of signing. By that point I knew enough about the first two books to feel that it would be best not to stretch it beyond a trilogy. I had a clear arc in mind for Mal and I wanted to see that completed and published without the pressure of having to make a second book deal to do so.
In terms of a realistic portrayal of Elizabethan England, when you take the magic out of the equation, how faithful is the Night’s Masque to the period?
Well, you’d have to take the skraylings out of the equation as well, of course! But when it comes to Elizabethan London (and 1590s Venice), everything is as historically accurate as I could make it without a lifetime of study. The geography of London is close to 100% accurate, even down to the names of most of the inns my characters visit. And particularly in The Alchemist of Souls, many of the minor characters, such as Goody Watson the pawnbroker, are real people. I only invented people and places where there were gaps in readily available information on the period.
Whilst we’re on the topic of authenticity, I’ve had readers comment on the fact that my gay characters Ned and Gabriel seem remarkably open about their sexual orientation. It’s true that I’ve played down the inner turmoil that gay Elizabethans might have felt, mainly because these characters aren’t the focus of the book, but at the same time, Elizabethan London was a pretty gender-bending culture. Homoerotic poetry was being openly published, and a staple character of satire was the dandy who spent the morning with his mistress and the evening with his catamite. All of this suggested to me that homosexual behaviour was widely known about, even if it wasn’t officially condoned.
A more serious answer, though, is that the historical settings are so rich, you’re spoilt for possibilities. For example, I decided to give Mal a Moorish ally in The Merchant of Dreams in order to balance out the Islamic pirates who were one of the main hazards of the Mediterranean in the 16th century – I didn’t want it to look like I was painting all Muslims as bad guys. Then I discovered that the French conveniently had a political alliance with the Ottoman Empire in this period, so it made perfect sense for an Egyptian-born captain to be working out of Marseille, not far from where Mal has an estate. You really don’t need to make this stuff up!
I guess the extension of this question is how come you chose to write fantasy and not historical fiction in the first place?
Actually, the original draft was set in a secondary world that was merely an analogue of Elizabethan England – the main impetus to write it was the cultural clash with the skraylings, not the historical element. However my writing group persuaded me that the story would be more fun set in the real Elizabethan London, which is how I ended up writing historical fantasy.
One thing people always comment about with Night’s Mask is that you have gay/bisexual characters. Certainly, featuring a gay character within a fantasy novel is an easy way to get attention, but having read your reasoning of raising these issues before – great blog post here – and knowing you are an avid historian – I’d like to ask whether you think there will ever be a time that Homosexuality will be university accepted. Excuse my crudeness here, but do you believe, based on your knowledge as an avid historian, Homosexuality will be seen as ‘normal’ (for lack of a better word) and as legitimate (again, for lack of a better word) as male-female relationships in the future real World?
Huh, I never thought of it as a way of getting attention. I admit I’m interested in gender issues, but mostly I just write characters the way that seems to fit the story. As mentioned above, Elizabethan London was a pretty gender-bending culture, plus I was writing about a theatre tradition in which cross-dressing was the norm, so everything else just grew out of that.
Regarding your main question, I would like to think so. I felt that we were on the way there, towards the end of the twentieth century, at least in the West, but the swing back towards conservatism has dealt LGBTQ rights a series of blows in recent years. I think it’s going to be one of those issues that ebbs and flows, like women’s rights; I doubt we’ll ever get to the point where we never again think that it’s wrong and wicked to not follow sexual (and gender) norms, because human beings are inherently fallible and inclined to turn on one another in times of stress. There’s always someone with an agenda who is willing to turn the privileged majority against the minority.
Editors Note: I wasn’t implying Anne was trying to get attention, quite the opposite in-fact 🙂
I ask most authors this: what do you think about your covers? One thing I noticed is that they’ve moved from being very historical to more action-y (a gun) and now to magical (green flames).
I like them – but then I would say that, since I provided Angry Robot with the cover briefs for the second and third ones! I wouldn’t say that The Merchant of Dreams is more “action-y” than The Alchemist of Souls – Coby is brandishing a pistol, sure, but Mal has a rapier and a dagger and is advancing on the viewer in a pretty menacing manner! As for the third, magic comes to the fore in the final volume as Mal and Sandy take on the guisers on their home territory: the dreamlands. I think it would have been misleading to have a more action-based design like the earlier two, even though there’s still adventure and derring-do in The Prince of Lies.
Similarly, you have a beautiful website. In fact, I’d go as far to suggest that it is my favourite author website; a perfect blend of aesthetics and functionality. How important do you think it is to have a decent website with decent content as an author in 2013?
I think it’s important to have a web presence of some kind, so that readers can find your books and learn a bit more about you – and it probably helps if it doesn’t look like it was designed in 1998 and forgotten about! Beyond that, though, I think it’s up to the individual as to how much effort they want to put into their website. I’m a web developer by trade, so it’s easy for me to maintain a good-looking site with well-structured content. I like the fact that I’m in total control of my site because I pay for it, unlike social media sites where I’m at the mercy of random shifts in policy.
Everything you’ve done with these books seems to be working, because you recently got nominated for a BFS award, right? What does it mean for your work to be nominated, what do you think of awards in general and how do you fancy your chances?
I’m hugely flattered to have been shortlisted for an award that’s been won by the likes of Scott Lynch and Joe Hill – who wouldn’t be? Awards are a boost for the author’s ego, to be sure, and a sign of recognition within the community, but I’m not sure they have much effect in the outside world. How often have you chosen one book over another because it said “Winner of the Obscure Genre Award 2013” on the cover? 🙂
As for my chances…there are ten candidates on the shortlist for the Sydney J Bounds Best Newcomer Award, so although I think my chances are as good as anyone’s, those are pretty long odds!
I’ve been lucky enough to catch up with you at a number of conventions… you’re always chatting with fans and having a good time. Could you tell us a little bit about how you approach them? Are they marketing, networking, to meet your readers, to have fun (get really drunk?). What do you like and dislike about them?
*LOL* I started going to conventions in 2008 on the recommendation of Juliet McKenna, mainly for networking purposes. And since I met my editor at FantasyCon and pitched to him (late at night in the bar, of course!), I have to say that her advice worked!
Nowadays I mostly go for two reasons: to meet readers, and to hang out with fellow authors. The former goes without saying really – it’s great to meet people who enjoyed my books, and I hope that my appearance on panels garners interest from people who haven’t read them yet. Regarding the latter, writing is a lonely, stressful business, and no-one really understands what it’s like better than your peers. So many people I’ve met at conventions have gone on to have their own book deals – we’re like this massive support group, cheering one another on and holding one another’s hands through the rough patches. Getting drunk, though…not so much. Not very professional, plus a killer if you’ve got a 10am panel the next day. Pleasantly tipsy, maybe!
In our interview a few years ago you said the thing that annoyed you most about the SFF world was the under-representation of women. Certainly, many agree with you and there has been a ‘conscious effort’ to change things by the bigger conventions – some newspapers even picked up the debate. As a female writer, is this all talk or have you noticed a better balance?
I think things are gradually getting better. Many conventions are making an effort to invite women onto panels rather than hoping they’ll volunteer, and they’re also instituting explicit anti-harassment policies rather than just hoping everyone behaves themselves. Of course you’ll get push-back from immature types who are scared of change, but that’s true in all walks of life. We have to keep moving forwards, or why bother?
Well, thank you again for taking the time to answer all my questions. One more though if that’s OK because I’d hate to leave our readers thinking this is the last they’ll see of you for a while: Now that you’ve finished this series, what is next for you; both long-term and short term?
In the short term, I have a short story out in the upcoming BFS anthology “Unexpected Journeys” – I hope to re-publish that at some point, but for now it’s only available to BFS members. In the longer term, I’m working on a new fantasy series set in a secondary world that’s vaguely 17th/18th century in flavour – I love Moll Flanders, the Scarlet Pimpernel and so on, and the fledgling science of the period lends itself to fantasy very well. I’m writing the first draft of Book 1, Serpent’s Tooth, for NaNoWriMo 2013, so it won’t be going out on submission until some time in 2014 – which means you’re extremely unlikely to see another novel from me until 2015 at the earliest. Annoying, I know, but that’s the way publishing works. I don’t want to dash out another book for the sake of it, otherwise – as I mentioned at the beginning of this interview – it becomes just another job. As Terry Pratchett once said, “Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself”. I’d like it to stay that way.
Just want to say a HUGE thank you to Anne for taking the time to do this interview with me. Anne has been a big supporter and friend of Fantasy-Faction over the years and it has been an honour to have her visiting and supporting our site and a real delight to see her career go from strength to strength over the past few years.