Catching up with Valerie-Anne Baglietto!

Headshot_ValerieAnneBaglietto

Hi Val, welcome back!

Your first interview was back in 2013. So what exciting things have happened since then?

When you asked me, just before Christmas, if I’d like to do this update, I seem to remember silently screaming, No, go away, can’t cope with this, or something along those lines. Basically I was in festive meltdown – organising kids, grandparents, husband etc. – and didn’t want to have to think about work. After I calmed myself down and messaged you back, you kindly reassured me I could leave it until after January.

So here I am, revisiting my old self from a few years back, remembering what goals she set and what she was planning writing-wise. I’m satisfied that she appears to have achieved her aims, and of course, she’s set some new ones since then, too.

 (I’ll slide firmly into first person POV now, so I don’t sound any more pretentious than I have to.)

Firstly, ONCE UPON A WINTER, which had just come out before I was last here on Val’s blog, went on to top the Amazon UK Fairy Tale Chart in 2013 and at the last count had over sixty 5-star reviews. Understandably, I was thrilled about that, considering it was my first attempt at modern magical realism. The feedback from readers, both old and new, was encouraging.

Last time round, I also mentioned a short story I was contributing to the ‘Sunlounger’ anthology organised in 2013 by Belinda Jones. There was another one the following year, and I took part in that, too. My second tale, PANDORA  AND THE MUSIC BOX, has also been a featured read on Wattpad. I hadn’t attempted a short story in years, but I valued the discipline of keeping to a strict, low word count.

As for the novella I spoke about last time, I actually ended up writing two that year. A GIRL I KNEW (formerly known as The Trouble With Knights in Shining Armour) and my Christmas themed THE LITTLE BOOK OF LOST HEARTS. The latter set the scene for the next full length work, FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY, which I have to admit is the favourite of my contemporary fairy tales so far. It was shortlisted in the 2015 Love Stories Awards and was a 5-star read of 2015 on Chat About Books.

Last year was a bit of a departure, though, as I started working on something different from anything I’d attempted before. I even invented a pen-name – a whole other person to hide behind, which was liberating. But as the year drew to a close, I realised I wasn’t happy. I missed my fairy tales. For reasons rooted in insecurity, I’d begun to think they weren’t ‘proper’ books, not worthy somehow, and could never stand alongside the amazing, emotive fiction being published today.

Then it all changed. FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY was listed as a top read for 2016 on Portobello Book Blog, along with a dozen other titles, many of which I’m in awe of. Out of the 140 or so novels Joanne (@portybelle) had read that year, mine had been memorable enough to hover in her top 10(ish). I felt touched, and very grateful. Something clicked in my fragile writer’s brain. A realisation. Just because I choose to weave reality – or our concept of it – with traces of magic, doesn’t mean my work isn’t of value, or unable to hold its own in a crowded market. If this were true, then why is it  some of the most famous and enduring stories in our culture happen to be fairy tales, myths and parables? All through history, fiction has worked to make sense of the world around us, and often metaphors are the best way to do it.

So, when the kids went back to school at the start of this year, I dug out a notebook bursting with the plot for a sequel to FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY, and sat down as Valerie-Anne to begin this new project. And that’s what I’m working on right now. Oddly, it’s as liberating as having a pseudonym. I feel as if I’ve come home, having forgotten what a wonderful place it can be. I’m  energised by my writing again, rather than drained, and excited to find out what 2017 holds for me.

Thank you, Val, for inviting me to return to your blog, to share an update. I’ve enjoyed looking back as well as forward, and come to the conclusion that it’s quite a healthy thing to do at this time of year. Maybe everyone should give it a go!

 Exciting times for you, Val. I wish you every continued success in the future!

An Interview with Liesel Schwarz

LieselI am delighted to welcome Liesel Schwarz, Queen of Gothic Steampunk to my blog this month. I first came across Liesel’s work when I read her debut novel ‘A Conspiracy of Alchemists’, which is an action packed adventure described as “Combining the best elements of Gothic fiction with contemporary Steampunk”. It was chosen by Random House to launch their SFF imprint (Science Fiction and Fantasy) Del Rey in the UK.

Welcome, Liesel, and thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions.

To me the combination of history, invention, science, fantasy, romance and thrilling adventure is a magical blend – literally too, as it reveals a deadly game between Alchemists and Warlocks as the creatures of light and dark walk among us.

Hi. Thank you for inviting me!

How do you describe Gothic Steampunk?

That’s a question that requires a rather long and convoluted answer. I think steampunk, in broad terms, is the fascination with Victorian optimism. It concerns itself with technology and progress. The Victorians had this obsession with making the world a better place, by “civilising” it. We know today that much of what they did was deeply misguided, but I think their hearts were in the right place. Steampunk takes its cue from those intentions. Gothic romanticism is more about Victorian disillusionment. It is the 19th century’s nostalgia for the romantic ideals that originated in the Dark Ages. I’ve always been a fan of the 19th century Gothic literature and I love steampunk and so I thought it would be cool to create a world that was bright and technologically progressive on the one side while dark and organic on the other. Two sides of the same coin, but in direct opposition with the other. This is how Elle’s world came into being and so I suppose in a way this is why they described the books as Gothic Steampunk.

That’s a great description which captures the complex essence of the genre. When I read your first novel what struck me most was the energy and enthusiasm that came through the words on the page. Have you always been a natural story-teller?

I’m not so sure about the story telling part, but I do know that I have however always been a natural story maker-upper. Telling the stories you create in your head is, I think a natural progression in this case.

Where did your writing journey begin?

When I could hold a crayon. It took a few detours, and I decided to start writing more seriously after I left university but I think writers tend to be born that way. It is again a natural consequence of story maker-uppers.

How long did it take you to become a published author?

A few weeks! No, I’m serious. I was incredibly lucky. I met my agent, he sent my book out to market and I literally had a book deal a few weeks later. Before I met my agent, I did however spend years and years honing my craft. This involved writing stories, polishing them, having them rejected and then starting all over again. I also studied the craft of writing quite intensely. I have an MA in Creative Writing and I am also busy with my PhD on the subject.

Will you ever forget the moment when you were told yours would be the debut novel of Del Rey?

I think I was more excited by the mere fact that my book was going to be published, to be honest. The fact that it would be the debut for a new imprint only really registered with me a bit later. It’s great when you have a good relationship with your editor and publishers and again, I am extremely lucky in this respect.

There are many aspects to your novels. The research of actual inventions must be meticulous – but you have also blended in your own to make the fiction appear real and the impossible plausible. Have you always been drawn to this age of invention?

Yes. I think it started when I was very young. I remember watching films like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I found the sheer eccentricity of it all irresistible. This fascination grew as I started reading and it’s been with me ever since.

Do you have great fun spending many hours inventing your own machines on the page?

Actually, many of the machines I use in the books were actual patents filed in the British Library. I think the Victorians were far better at inventing fantastical machines than I could ever be. I think the reason for this is because there was an element of naivety about their inventions. Today, with all the marvels we have at our fingertips, we are a little jaded. Although, I suppose that in a hundred years from now, people will look at us and think, “Oh, how quaint!”

Elle Chance and Mr Marsh are strong characters who continue to develop. Do you have plans for the series to continue over many novels?

I think all characters must develop within a narrative. You can’t really have a story without that and so yes, I have further plans for Elle and Marsh. There will be a book 4 and a book 5 in the future.

Do you constantly jot down ideas for the next book as you work?

I must admit that I am quite bad at jotting things down. Or, I tend to jot things down and then forget about them. Ideas that are live and have potential tend to stick in my mind. They niggle away at me until I write them into a story. I do however carry a notebook with me at all times. I sometimes jot down bits of conversation I’ve overheard when I’m sitting in a coffee shop.

Elle travels widely – how do you research the many locations that your novels cover?

I like to travel and so the settings I use tend to be places I’ve visited. You have to place settings into historical context though and so I do a lot of research as well. I am particularly fond of old city maps. For example – the Cafe d’Enfer in Paris which appears in Sky Pirates really existed in the early 1900s. Today, it is a 1-Euro store (Pound/dollar store) but the doorway still exists. I find that fascinating.

What is next for Liesel?

Well, I have two short stories which will be appearing in anthologies next year and I am currently working on a standalone novel before continuing with the Chronicles of Light and Shadow – so keep watching this space.

More from Liesel

An interview with Valerie-Anne Baglietto

AuthorCentral

Thank you for being my guest this month.

When/how did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

I was four when I ‘wrote’ and illustrated my first book, and my granddad stapled it together for me. I think I knew back then it was something I wanted to do. I quickly got bored of the books school tried to foist on me, with barely any plots, and my parents introduced me to Enid Blyton and the Famous Five. When I realised the worlds that books could introduce me to, I was hooked! I instantly wanted to reproduce some of that magic for myself.

You were born in Gibraltar. Do you think this has influenced your work?

I am currently working on a short story for Belinda Jones’s ‘Sunlounger’ anthology, coming out this summer. My contribution is set in Gibraltar, but this is the first time I have used it in a story this way. My great-grandfather and grandfather were writers, though, so I suppose the writing gene is in my blood.

Your stories mix reality, romance and fantasy, such as ‘Once Upon A Winter’. ‘The Moon on a Stick’ is another eye-catching title. Where does your inspiration for the titles come from? Do you begin with the plot, character or title first?

This really varies from book to book. Each one has been different. My first four novels, published by Hodder, were rom-coms, including ‘The Moon on a Stick’. Now that I’ve added a magical, fairytale element to my work, I suppose my titles will need to reflect that. ‘Once Upon A Winter’ had an altogether different title while I was actually writing it, but when I finally tested it out everyone hated it! So I started playing around with ‘Once Upon…’ until I hit the right note. When it comes to ideas for the books themselves, sometimes it stems from a fragment of a plot, or a character. I have no set rules I work by. I usually let ideas ‘slow-cook’ before I start putting them down on paper, but with ‘Once Upon A Winter’ it was more of a quick blast in the microwave before I sat down to write the first chapter.

Could you tell me something about the Novelistas?

I could go on all day about the Novelistas! The group has evolved over time, but it was started by Trisha Ashley over ten years ago. I was one of the early members, along with best-selling saga author Anne Bennett. I hadn’t long moved to North Wales from Essex, so it was wonderful to find a group like this so quickly. We became the ‘Novelistas’ about two years ago. I was inspired by the term ‘fashionista’. And the Spanish for ‘novelist’ is ‘novelista’… you can see where I’m going with this. There are a dozen of us at the moment and we meet once a month near St Asaph, coming from as far as Anglesey in one direction and Manchester in the other. We’re also very varied in what we write, and all at different stages in our careers. We’re good friends as well as writing buddies and we inspire and support one another, and we always seem to have something to celebrate, so lots of champagne corks get popped at our lunches – and launches!

What key advice/tips would you give aspiring writers?

OK, my favourite pieces of advice are: firstly, you can never please everyone, so above all please yourself and write something you feel passionately about. It will show if you don’t. Criticism is hard to hear, but it is inevitable because any sort of creative work is subjective. If you can truly connect with just one person through your writing, though, everyone else who may also come to love it is a bonus.

Secondly, don’t rush it. Write with your heart, finish it, put it away for as long as you can. A month or more, if possible. Come back to it and use your head this time. This is the only way you can really discover your inner editor and see your work through fresh eyes. Sending it out too prematurely can be the difference between rejection and acceptance, so why risk it? Similarly, publishing it yourself before it’s ready can be the difference between the best-seller charts and obscurity. Don’t hit that ‘publish now’ button too soon!

What is next for Valerie-Anne?

As well as the short story for the ‘Sunlounger’ anthology, I am working on a novella which will be out spring/summer this year. Just like ‘Once Upon A Winter’ it has a contemporary fairytale theme and is set in North Wales. I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings, and feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world. There is also another full-length novel simmering away, but this won’t be out until 2014.

Thank you for taking the time to write such interesting and inspiring answers.

More by Valerie-Anne Baglietto:

Once Upon A Winter is currently at a Valentine’s special promotional price!

Once Upon A Winter