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Anna Stephens Interview

Anna StephensToday we are talking with Anna Stephens, a UK-based writer of epic-y, gritty, grimdark-y fantasy. Her debut novel, Godblind, was released by Harper Voyager on June 15, 2017, with the sequels penciled in for 2018 and 2019.

Hello Anna, thanks for joining me here today. I always start my interviews differently, sometimes with easy questions, sometimes with difficult ones, and, on occasion, with some weird stuff. Since this is your debut, it stands to reason that a lot of people don’t know you (yet) so let’s start yours with an introduction. Tell us a few things about yourself and your debut.

Hi Petros, and thanks for inviting me to interview! Yep, my debut novel Godblind was released very recently – 15 June – and there’s a chance I’m still a little hungover from the after party, but I’ll do my best!

Godblind has been called grimdark, epic, gritty and, occasionally, nasty. I suppose I should reassure people that I am actually a nice and well-adjusted individual, I just think up some pretty grim stuff from time to time.

I work in corporate communications four days a week, write seven days a week, and this year I’m hitting several conventions to promote Godblind. Come and say hi!

Hi! What’s the biggest excitement of your career as a writer, so far? When you signed the publishing deal? When you got the first copy of Godblind on your hands? The day that your book was released? Or something completely different?

Oh that’s a tough question. Every one of those things you’ve just listed was a first for me. Getting the phone call from Harry, my agent, offering to represent me was a huge, huge deal for me, to the extent I burst into tears when I hung up. It was the start of everything that has happened since, so as amazing as getting the first copy, or seeing the artwork, or getting my publishing deals, or the launch party, were, I’d go with that call from Harry. If he hadn’t seen something worth cultivating in me, we might not be here now.

Be sure to say ‘thank you’ to Harry from me, too! Anna, since I mentioned the publishing deal, will you tell us a couple of things about it? What has been like working with the Harper team?

Godblind (cover)Harper Voyager are hands down brilliant. My editor, Natasha, also edits for people like Sarah Pinborough, Peter V Brett and GRRM, so I’m in really good company! Her assistant, Lily, is amazing, and Jaime, the marketing lady, is awesome too. The artist who did Godblind’s cover, Dom Forbes, is supremely talented.

Am I gushing? I’m gushing, aren’t I? But honestly, they’re such a great bunch of people, they’re so enthusiastic about my book, books in general, authors, the whole process. They’ve put up with a lot of debut author idiocy from me, and they’ve all been instrumental in making Godblind a better book. I couldn’t be happier.

And what about that magnificent cover? Can you tell us more about the cover artist? Did he work with you, or did you only see the final outcome?

Dom Forbes actually put together three different covers for me, and then between me, Harry and Natasha we settled on the final one – and it was a unanimous decision. I didn’t have any input at all on the design, which is a good thing, as there’s no way I’d have come up with anything as incredible as the final version. I had no idea what to expect, but I fell in love with it the second I saw it.

The cover’s not the only thing that’s impressive. Godblind has some awesome and chilling-to-the-bone plot-twists. Were they always part of the plan, or you came up with them while writing? In short, are you a spontaneous writer, a planner, or perhaps a bit of both?

These days I’m both. Early versions of Godblind were very much written spontaneously, but over the years of rewriting I learnt the value of planning. Some of the twists, however, were only put in during the very last rewrite, with input from Harry and Natasha.

For the sequels, and because I’m now writing to Harper Voyager’s deadline and not mine, I’m planning everything a lot more. I need to know where I’m going and when. I have a strong outline of the novel, but then everything else remains fluid, which allows for some spontaneity. As long as my characters get where they need to go in the manner they need to get there, they can do what they like along the way. And often do. It’s like I’m not even in control of them sometimes.

One of the aforementioned plot-twists came in paired with a cruel and cringe-worthy (to us men) torture scene. What was the inspiration for that? WHAT DID YOUR HUSBAND THINK ABOUT IT? IS HE AFRAID OF YOU NOW? BECAUSE I AM.

Godblind window displayHa ha ha, oh that scene is becoming notorious! The torture scene was written a couple of years ago in a former version of Godblind and paired with that plot twist quite recently. The characters and events leading to that particular point were revised extensively – in fact, Prince Janis didn’t even exist until about a year ago – that scene happened to someone else originally.

I think my inspiration was two-fold: first, sexual violence towards women is becoming more common in SFF books and films (in my opinion) and quite often doesn’t serve a purpose. I’m not saying sexual violence ever has a purpose, but there are occasions when a plot changes direction because of it. So, as a female reader and viewer I’ve seen a lot of this. As a female writer, I wanted to tackle it from the other side, so to speak.

And second, it’s good to make readers cringe!

And as for my husband, well, he’s not keen on me doing DIY anymore…

I can imagine… On to safer topics, now! Although Godblind has a lot of magic elements, it was defined by its realism. How did you achieved that? Have you done research on medieval elements (life-style, armors etc.)?

Oh, I did a lot of research, I really did. I didn’t want there to be any overt magic in the book – everything has to be ‘real’, so the physics and chemistry and landscape are all familiar. I studied and loved medieval history and classics at A Level, so Godblind was always going to be a book set in a world without ‘modern’ technology. Since then, I’ve read books on the Hundred Years War, infantry warfare of the 14th century, castle siege and defence, herblore and armour. Anything that I could include that would make the world more realistic. It’s a fascinating subject.

What’s your favorite character to write about, and with whom do you identify the most?

I love all of them to varying degrees, with the exception of Galtas, who I hate with a passion. Galtas needs to die. I’m not saying he will, but he’s a disgusting example of a man. My favourites tend to change as I’m drafting and as I get wrapped up in the individual psyches and cares of each character. I’ve got a real soft spot for Crys – the journey of self-discovery he undertakes during Godblind is one of my favourites. I also really like Rillirin and how she slowly comes out of her shell and engages with the world again, even finding the courage to fall in love.

I think, though, that I probably identify most with Tara. She’s a woman in a man’s world and she doesn’t let it scare her or make her small. She’s got a big voice and she’s not afraid to use it. I’m not quite Tara, but she’s someone I’d like to be. She’s not afraid to take up space in the male-dominated world she’s chosen to inhabit. I like that about her.

Godblind has received some great first reviews so far, but life as a writer doesn’t end there. What are you working on now? Could you give us people who have already read Godblind a couple of hints for the second book?

Ooh, could I? Probably not, I think my editor would shout at me (and she’s scary). Godblind ends on the sort of cliffhanger that some people will find teeth-gnashingly annoying – sorry! Book two picks up immediately where Godblind ends, so we find out what’s happened to the various characters pretty much straight away. Rilporin is under siege, and boy, do things go badly. Dom’s storyline takes an even darker path, if that’s possible, and heroes begin to emerge from the chaos.

And to finish this interview, tell us one question that you would have liked to be asked from a reader/interviewer, but never did, and then proceed to answer it.

Dragonflight (cover)This is actually surprisingly difficult; the interviews I’ve done and the questions I’ve been asked so far are surprisingly comprehensive.

I don’t think anyone’s asked, “which was my gateway book into fantasy”, so the answer to that question is Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight from 1968, which I read when I was about ten. Oh, how I longed to be Lessa and ride a golden dragon! I read a lot of the Pern books as a kid and they still hold a special place in my heart.

Thanks again to Anna for taking the time to talk with us! Godblind is now available in the UK and will be out in the US this July. You can learn more about her work on her website or you can follow her on Twitter!

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