S.B Nova, the YA author of the Southern Fire series discusses writing fantasy and her new novel, Draken.
So, what inspired you to become a writer?
Honestly, becoming a writer was a freak accident, or to put it more poetically, a twist of fate. I always had so many different ideas growing up of what I wanted to be. Eventually, I figured it out (or so I thought) and I went to university to study film and then after that, business. I knew I wanted to tell stories somehow, and I thought I’d get the opportunity by being part of a film or a television crew.
But after university, that twist of fate happened and I realised a family member needed me to act as a carer. After that, I did a hell of a lot of soul searching, which sounds like I spent my days meditating and wandering the woods. Some of which might be true. But mostly I was just tearing my hair out and reading about how bad the economy was.
What flipped that switch then – how did you go from tearing your hair out to writing?
Honestly, it came from a pretty dark place, and it was when I had to watch someone I care about struggle with long-term illness. I realised that the only thing that matters is health because all we really have in the end is, time. We control so little of our lives and with the way the world is now, there are no more ‘secure jobs.’ So I asked myself the big question…
When I look in the mirror and I’m 80, what do I want to see? What do I want to have done with my life? What would make me proud and not full of regret?
I’d always wanted to write a book, because I’d had these characters in my head for years. But I always put them off and said, ‘later! I have to go find a job first.’ It took a while before I realised this could be my job. If only I was willing to risk it and live a different kind of life.
Wow, quite a story! So are there any books or writers that have influenced you? What first drew you to the fantasy genre?
It was when I saw the Lord of the Rings at the cinema and went home to buy the book that my love of fantasy exploded. Tolkien entered my life and not far behind him, was J.K Rowling. It probably isn’t an exaggeration to say, they were my childhood. And although there have been many other authors in between who have inspired me, Garth Nix, George R.R Martin, Sarah J. Maas, Christopher Paolini and Diana Gabaldon to name just a few. Those two authors will always have my undying gratitude for what they did for me.
So, for those who haven’t read Draken, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Sure. I don’t want to give too much away or rehash the blurb, but Draken is named after its protagonist, Skyla. It holds true to the themes of YA fantasy, in that the character’s trajectory is centred on a discovery of self and of their place in the world. There’s magic thrown in, mythical creatures, adventure and a bit of romance. But to me, it’s the friendships formed between the characters that are the beating heart of this book.
What was your favourite part of writing Draken then, was it the friendships between characters? Do you think that’s what readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
My favourite part! That’s difficult because, like many authors, I had a lot of ‘wow’ moments and just as many, ‘I must be crazy, I should give up’ days. But thinking about it now, it was always the love I had for these characters and their relationships to one another that kept me going. When I was sitting at my desk and there voices were pouring through me – that was the happiest I’ve ever felt. Or should I say the most contented, because it wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan moment. It was months; years even, of being a conduit for Skyla, Ruby, Henrik and even Halen. Of course, I loved creating the world and the magic, what fantasy lover wouldn’t? But the characters will always be my favourite part of any story, but as for everyone else… I couldn’t predict what part of Draken they would pinpoint as their favourite. I hope everyone has something different, whether it’s the friendship between Skyla and Ruby, or the history and the different cultures within Arthia.
Speaking of our favourite parts, I have to mention Skyla and Ruby’s friendship; did you plan for it to be a focal point from the beginning?
Well, it’s only been since I finished writing Draken that I’ve realised readers are hungry for a friendship to take centre stage, and not always to be curtailed in favour of a romance. Now in my book, a female friendship drives a sizeable chunk of the narrative and of the dialogue, but this was actually a natural process and not done to make a statement. All I can say is that throughout my life, I’ve spent more years learning the value of a friend, than I have with other kinds of relationships. So I’m not surprised that’s leeched into my writing, and I truly hope readers find their friendship to be interesting and complex, just as any real friendship should be.
Before we wrap up, I have to tell you that I loved your front cover! How did you come up with the design?
I give full credit to the designer, Rachel Lawston, for persevering with me and making my shaky vision come to life. I wanted a cover that was simple, gender neutral and invoked a sense of what the book was about without giving anything away. The colours were inspired by the magic system within Draken. But it was the ship and the castle on the wings that made it for me. I wanted that sense of going on an adventure and coming home all at the same time, and I think we nailed it. The idea that someone can have their roots and their wings is a powerful one for me, and it’s a theme that will run throughout the Southern Fire series.
Now that Draken is released, what will you be working on next?
Well, I’m already working on the sequel to Draken, but I’m also writing a new Faerie series called Outcasts, of which Exiled (coming 2017) will be the first. I’ve almost completed the first draft and I’ve written it long-handed, if you can believe it! I also want to go to more conventions, and my friends and I have been floating the idea of doing a flash mob in our local library for a while now…
A flash mob! And in a library, would that be for publicity or just fun?
Finally, do you have any advice for writers that you’d like to pass on?
Write what’s in you. You’re going to have everyone and his uncle telling you that becoming a career author is next to impossible. But honestly, is there a job worth having that’s easy to attain? I would say probably not.
There will always be someone with an opinion – it’s up to you whether or not you let other people’s dogma shape your choices in life. And quite frankly becoming published is the easy part. Nowadays, there are options; you can self-publish with the help of editors and other professionals. The hard part comes when you realise that to make your dream of being a full-time writer come true, you’re going to have to write a book a year, minimum.
If you take that leap and start writing, I can promise you, you’ll find out if it’s the right path or not. You’ll inevitably face that moment, when it’s not just the world that has doubts, it’s you and you’ll find yourself thinking, ‘this is the worst book that anyone has ever written, period.’
If you still feel compelled to sit down and write the next day, then you’ll probably discover what I did early on. That being a writer isn’t a choice, it’s what’s in you, it’s a calling and you’d do it even if you were writing for an audience of one.
Also, don’t hesitate. Get it all down on paper, and don’t sweat the first draft. Everyone’s first drafts suck – you’re not alone!
Great advice! And where can readers find out more about you? Or if they don’t already have their copy of Draken, where can they buy one?