If you need to be reminded that reading is alive and thriving, take a few moments and visit Instagram and the book community of Bookstagram. Here you will find artistic presentations dedicated to books and authors. I've not only found Instagram a wonderful way to find new books but also a fun platform to meet other authors. We banter back and forth, snap shots of each other's books (when we really should be doing rewrites), post pictures of trees (#treeporn), derelict old buildings and of course our cats reading each other's books (#catsofinstagram).
Except for the characters chatting in our heads, writing is a lonely life, and needs to be. So if I'm writing at midnight in L.A. it's not unusual to get a quirky comment from an author friend across the Atlantic sipping coffee while getting ready to go for a morning run, or another packing a picnic and raincoat for a day of research scouting around an ancient church in a town with a name I can't pronounce. We're a quirky tribe.
James Fahy is one such author, and his Instagram account is not to be missed. Fahy is represented by Peter Buckman of The Ampersand Agency, in Oxford, England, and as his bio states, 'James lives in the North of England, close to wild moors and adjacent to a haunted wind farm'. James attended Manchester University where he gained a BA in English and American Literature, and an MA in English and Classics. His current books include Isle of Winds (Book One of The Changeling Series), and Hell's Teeth (Book One of The Phoebe Harkness Series). During my recent interview with Mr. Fahy, I asked if he writes both series concurrently.
I write them alternately. I literally close one final chapter and fire up the other series beginning at chapter one. They are very different genres, and I find it can take me a few pages to get into the mindset for each. The Changeling Series is a fantasy saga, with a primary (though as I've discovered, not exclusively) younger audience of around middle-grade age. The Phoebe Harkness books are paranormal fiction, much darker in tone and for an adult audience. I alternate publishing both series, and it's nice to flip between them, as they are a very different writing experience and I get to flex different muscles. It's handy though, if I occasionally hit a temporary wall with one book, I dabble in the other series, just to loosen up my mind. People who bought and read one of the series have often bought the other, which I didn't expect to happen, and which has been a pleasant surprise.
I sometimes wonder if the stories we write are born into our consciousness at birth but lay dormant until we're emotionally ready to bring them to life. What are your thoughts?
I know what you mean about having stories inside us like seeds that only flower when they're ready. Changeling (the seven book series as a whole) has been gestating in me in one form or another probably since I was around fifteen, but only came to fruition in the last year or so. I've always written, as far back as I can remember, (though I hope I've gotten better at it over time). My first story was about a vampire called Nasus, whose entire family had odd names, which spelt out mundane human names when pronounced backwards. I think I was around six or seven.
I'm intrigued when I hear an age brought into a conversation. Was there a connection at age fifteen, an incident that may have brought about the idea for The Changeling Series?
I'm not really sure what, at fifteen, set me on the path of writing a very early 'proto-changeling' story. It differed in so many ways to how the tale finally ended up, but the fundamentals were the same. At the time I was still a year off finishing high school. (We finish high school at 16 in England, go on to college for 2-3 years separately, and then after attend university). I was very unhappy at school. I didn't know a lot of like-minds at the time, and I think I could have counted my friends on one hand, with fingers to spare. I spent an awful lot of time inside my own head, which is probably true for a lot of writers. I had a very dreary and unpleasant school experience at that age, and spent a lot of time feeling very unhappy and lonely about it all. I suppose in a way, the seeds of Changeling were a form of wish-fulfillment, as here was someone in a similar situation, living a very dull and normal life, who is suddenly whisked away to a whole new world, where things have more meaning, and where he has some form of validation and begins to build real friendships. It may have been a form of unconscious escape for me at the time.
Luckily, when I left high school behind me, I found my feet in college and met some of the most amazing, creative and artistic people. I ended up with a wonderful circle of friends and still look back on those few years as some of the happiest in my life. I don't think I was ever really myself until I got to college. All dark times end, eventually, if you can ride out the storm.
Isle of Winds is set in two worlds: Netherworlde and the world we inhabit. Early in the story, the main character, Robin, is immersed in the rambling manor of Erlking in all her current grandeur. When Robin begins his journey into the unknown (Netherworlde) he stares up at the skeletal frame of decay that was once Erlking. Your interior and exterior descriptions in both Isle of Winds and Hell's Teeth are luscious, clean and seeped in secrets. Are you drawn to the world of architecture?
I do find architecture very appealing and interesting, though the only formal education I had specifically regarding it was when I studied Classics, before moving more specifically into literature at University. I can still tell you the difference between an Ionic and Doric column, and I know my pediments from my metopes, and can identify an early classical kouros sculpture at twenty paces, but beyond classical Roman and Greek sculpture and architecture, I'm just an enthusiastic amateur. I've read up a lot on Medieval and Gothic, and everywhere I've travelled I've always been fascinated by the stories different peoples tell with their architecture. Manchester, my current base of operations, has some stunning Gothic examples, as anyone who follows me online is aware, as I'm always snapping pictures of whatever takes my fancy. The Phoebe Harkness books are peppered with my own observations on the wealth of Oxford architectural wonders, and as for Erlking Hall, well that's just the kind of place I always wanted to grow up in, a vast rambling old house filled with dusty empty rooms, doors painted shut and higgledy-piggeldy corridors. I suppose I'm living vicariously through Robin.
Hell's Teeth is written in the first person. Phoebe Harkness is an intelligent, courageous, quirky, sexy scientist with a love of history. I'm impressed with how well you adapted to the female mind and Phoebe's POV. Was it difficult for you to write as Phoebe?
I didn't find it difficult at all to write Phoebe first person. (Though as a male writer I do seem to get asked this a lot) I think the inherent problem is that people have an expectation that sex or gender should define a character foremost above any other attribute they have, whereas I approached Phoebe's intellect and personality first. I'd read so much urban fiction where the main character, traditionally female, was a hero only by being either a robotically 'tough' ultra-mean badass, or by being a complete b*tch, and I found it annoying. I'm surrounded in my life by strong, intelligent women, and none of them feel the need to be hardcore, bulletproof, man-hating ball-busters to function well. They are all well-rounded, realistic humans. It's frustrating that you don't see that reflected in fiction enough. I wanted Phoebe to resonate with them. For her to be human, with weaknesses, foibles, no particular superpowers. It's more relatable. But at the same time she's fiercely intelligent, strong willed and opinionated, and not cowed by authority. It was important to me that if I didn't like her as a person, readers probably wouldn't either. I suppose the biggest challenge was describing her attraction, as men and women I think (and I'm generalizing here) approach attraction in different ways. Men are very visual, women are more tactile. Intention and inference are often more important than display.
Isle of Winds is about as juxtaposed a story to Hell's Teeth as one could get. Which story came first, and what is your interest in science, specifically bioengineering?
Isle of winds came first. It's always been my story, in one form or another. Hell's Teeth started out as a side project, just a bit of fun while I was working on trying to land an agent and publisher for Isle of Winds. Ironically, it was Hell's Teeth which first got me an agent, who then happened, luckily, to like Isle of Winds too. The latter was picked up for publication first, and then Hell's Teeth followed. I've had such overwhelming support and feedback for both series, that I've now ended up with two completely separate genres on my hands, but I'd rather be published and busy than not, so I'm not complaining. I also have a third project on the go, but I'm not sure yet when I'll have the time to bring that to fruition, so I'll keep quiet about that for now.
As for science, I find the subject fascinating. I think as writers, we like to tinker and find out how things work, to dissect what everything breaks down into, and find out how the world works. That's all science in a nutshell, we're a curious tribe of intelligent apes. The reason I decided to include science in the Phoebe Harkness books is that I thought it would be more interesting to have something potentially plausible, like a mutated genetic experiment gone wrong, rather than just a 'zombie plague' and I wanted the 'vampires' and other creatures and beings, to be things that the human characters in the book are only barely beginning to understand. Phoebe needs to have an inquisitive nature; it helps her get into trouble, which makes for good storytelling. As someone said: When a volcano explodes, sensible people run for their lives, scientists run toward the explosion.
Well, Phoebe definitely runs full throttle! When can we expect the next books in both series to be published?
Changeling Book Two, which is called Drowned Tomb, will be completed late summer this year, so I'm hoping for a release around August. The second Phoebe Harkness book, Crescent Moon, which has Phoebe running into a whole new breed of GO's while dealing with an amorous vampire, is scheduled for release later this year, hopefully, and fittingly, around Halloween.
With graduation in full force and new writers emerging, I thought it fitting to sign off with a quote from Mr. Fahy on the importance of reading.
I honestly believe that if you want to be a better writer, you need to read, and to read outside of your comfort zone. I've read so many hundreds of books thanks to university that I would probably have never chosen to pick up, and I feel the richer for it.