VVSoup is a a fantasy author who’s belief seems to be everything is better with dragons, and she comes alive off the page as surely as her characters. I read only a few pages of her award winning novel The Faintest Ink before I couldn’t resist the chance to send her a few interview questions.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A few years back, I got called a ‘theatre brat’ by a very grumpy old man in the foyer of the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End. I think that description suits.
I see a lot of theatre. Crazy amounts of theatre. So much that about five years ago I realised that if I was going to stand a chance of avoiding bankruptcy, I should probably get a job where free tickets were part of the package.
Now, I work for one of London’s most famous venues, spending my day transforming copy (the blurb that tells you about the show), drafted by producers and artists, into something that actually makes sense, working with designers to make it look beautiful, and basically making you want to see a show.
It’s not a career path I could never have anticipated. I grew up in the West Country – in a place known for its orchards (or more precisely, its cider) – in a tiny hamlet on top of a hill. There were no shops, no pubs, and definitely no theatres. Just fields, cows, and the annual sheepdog championships.
Our one claim to cosmopolitanism was a phone box a half-mile down the road. We did have a pretty 11th century church though, which was unlocked once a year, on Christmas Eve, for Midnight Mass. I like to think that growing up next door to a medieval graveyard fed the darker side of my imagination.
Who made your cover?
It was made by the very talented Christa of Paper & Sage (paperandsage.com)
Can you tell us a bit about The Faintest Ink and its themes?
The Faintest Ink is set in a fantasy world, where magic is real and available to everyone. You don’t need to be a witch or a sorcerer to cast spells on someone, all you need is there name. And what do you do when someone can control you through your name? You keep it secret, right?
Except the King, frightened of the ever more rapid pace of technology and seeing traitors in every corner, decides that his need for safety outweighs his people’s and he orders that every name of every subject, is taken and recorded. It is the ultimate in citizen policing.
The story starts with his execution, and follows the revolution from there, exploring the right for privacy and how far we will go to ensure personal freedom.
Fantasy obviously requires world building and deciding what qualities your magical people/creatures have and what they can do. Can you tell us about how you went about deciding these things for your story?
I have a document on my laptop, which I lovingly call the ‘dump folder’. It’s where I shove all those random ideas I get for stories. And they are incredibly random. Titles without plots to go with them, links to news articles that I found interesting, character names… all sorts of tiny fragments.
I revisit this document every couple of days – mostly to put stuff in, but while I’m there, I’ll skim over the endless pages to see what I find. Usually nothing, but sometimes two totally different entries, stored at opposite ends, will leap out, and tell me they belong together (and who am I to stand in their way?).
That’s how I came up with the ideas behind The Faintest Ink. A few years ago, the British press was full of talk about the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, which allows our government to retain data about our emails and phone calls. Around the same time, I needed to get a copy of my birth certificate, so applied to the General Register Office for one.
So, I was thinking a lot about names being the key to our identity, and the right to privacy at the time, and then, while scrolling through my dump folder, something leapt out at me. A line saying: ‘a Princess with a name so long it is bound in a jewel-covered book’. That was it. I had my story.
Other characters, like John who fell through a faerie ring, and Sienna, the artist’s muse, came from the dump folder. But mostly the world-building came together because of that one moment. There had to be a 17th century tech-level. Any earlier or later, and the story just wouldn’t work. I needed a Brotherhood of Scribes to write the book, but I also needed a printing press. My soldiers are equipped with swords, but there are also guns. It couldn’t have worked any other way.
What was the thing that made you want to write novels?
I’m not sure there was a specific catalyst, but books have always been a natural refuge for me. It took me a long time to find my place in the world, and novels were my lifeline during those years when I was still floundering. The jump from consumer to creator felt like a natural one.
What’s your favourite genre/s to write? Are they the same genres as you read?
Fantasy is my jam. I tend to go for the lighter, fun-stuff, than the huge door-stoppers which take 3-pages to describe a tree (I’m looking at your Tolkien). Sir Terry Pratchett is always the writer I turn to when I’m in need of comfort or inspiration. All my copies of his Discworld novels are wrinkled and faded and loved so hard they are falling apart. His stories are as close to perfection as I think I will ever experience: gloriously original but still as familiar feeling as a favourite sweater. They are richly laden with detail, and yet the storytelling is simple and the writing slips down like warm butter. I cried when he died.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write anything like that. I’m a doorstop-book fantasy author (I write big books and I cannot lie… as Sir Mix-A-Lot didn’t sing) but I hope my readers will never have to plough through 3 pages of dendrological description.
Are you the type who needs to know every last detail of the story before you write, or do you have a sort of partial plan and then link things together as you go along?
I like to think I am an intense plotter, but I’m just lying to myself really. I get down a couple of pages of notes, with a chapter-by-chapter walk through, but once I start the actual writing, it doesn’t take me long to realise that I was completely wrong, and that so-and-so character could never do that, and the what-you-ma-call-it would never be kept in such an inconvenient location, and I have to go back and change everything.
So, I re-plot, write, re-plot, write, until I run out of story to re-plot and have to concede defeat.
What about the rest of your writing process?
My process mainly involves lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, and drinking endless cups of tea (not at the same time, mind you, that would be messy). And walking. Most plot points are solved while trudging to the tube station of my way to work (and I have to quickly email the solution to myself from my phone before the train comes).
The saying is, a picture paints a thousand words. Do you ever get an image in your head of a particular moment or scene and then struggle to capture it? How do you overcome this?
All. The. Time.
Especially action scenes. I find dialogue fairly easy to bang out (I blame my theatre-habit), but describing a fight, or anything where a lot happens in a short space of time, a real challenge,
On those occasions, I probably get through an average 5 cups of tea for every page of writing.
What’s the piece of writing that you’re most proud of? (A whole story or specific scene.)
I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of anything I’ve ever done as winning a Watty (the annual awards run by Wattpad) for The Faintest Ink.
But the piece of writing that I’m most chuffed about is preface of my current project, Touch – which is my take on the vampire romance (I know… I know…).
It’s a piece of legislation from my alternative Victorian Britain, where vampires are used as slaves to keep the machine that was the British Empire chugging away. It lays out all the rules of controlling vampires with silver, in bald legal language. I spent a ridiculous amount of time studying reams of legislation from the 1840s to get the wording spot on and it tickles me every time I read it.
Is there a genre you’d love to write, but don’t have the bravery to tackle?
I’ve tried writing other genres, but everything always comes back to fantasy. I could be writing a perfectly normal romance and then, about 300 words in, I’ll start thinking: ‘but wouldn’t this be better with dragons?’ (the answer to this is always ‘yes’. Everything is better with dragons).
Somewhere, lurking on my hard drive, I do have a historical romance novel, utterly devoid of any fantasy elements (well, unless you consider Mills & Boon-style-love to be fantastical). It’s set during the English Civil War, and there’s plenty of silk-dresses and britches going on. So, perhaps it’s just the olde worlde costumes I enjoy. Still, it could do with a couple of dragons.
If you want to check out her books take a look at her wattpad profile.