This is a first for me – an interview with an actual real life author, Sarah Potter, the creator of Desiccation. The cover is wonderful, harking back to the good old days of sci-fi when people knew where they stood with bugs from another dimension.
Not like these days where villains and heroes are interchangeable and plots rip off other plots to the point where you spend too much time trying to remember which other book the current book you’re reading reminds you of.
We’ll get to the cover artwork in the intermission.
I wanted to share the rear cover because it looks nicely creepy on its own. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:
Mayhem is about to break out at an elite English boarding school. Autumn Term 1967, Samantha, the new head girl, intends to reign supreme and exploit every loophole in the system to her advantage. This includes running an illicit nocturnal business in the gymnasium and conducting midnight séances in the library, although she hasn’t bargained on rough London mod, Joe, entering the equation.
Scholarship girl Janet senses a disruption to the natural order, impossible to explain away with science. When teachers and students start to exhibit multiple personality changes and develop a hive mentality, Janet becomes the despised outsider. But can she trust, as her protector, a hippie pixie who claims he’s an expert in repairing dimensions? And will she muster the courage to help him reverse a catastrophe that could destroy humankind?
I blasted through Desiccation in a couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed a very rich narrative style, creepy characters and a hippie pixie who needs to save the day. I’m fortunate that Sarah agreed to answer my questions and offer a glimmer into her creative noggin.
Rather than leave all the links to the end, where I believe they often languish untouched, I’ll plop them right down here so you can click away before getting to the interview.
Let’s crack on with the questions!
Hi Sarah, thanks for granting me the time to ask you about your novel. Let’s ease into the questions and start with the basics.
How long did you work on Desiccation?
Now I’m going to surprise you. I wrote the first draft in three months (sometimes in nine-hour sessions), twenty years ago. Before starting the novel (then called Spaced out), I carried out two months of research. This was in the days when research meant going to a library and enlisting the help of the head librarian in obtaining obscure books and journals. In particular, I remember the book he ordered for me from a tiny library hundreds of miles up-country from where I lived at the time. It was a fascinating scientific study of woodlice (known as pill bugs or roly-polies in the US).
The first literary agent to whom I submitted Spaced out wrote back telling me that she applauded my imagination but the combination of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and humour was too original for a debut novel.
In the end I got tired of submitting it, as the response was always the same. So I put it away and got it out again at intervals to revise, in between writing other stuff. When eventually I decided to self-publish this novel, under the title of Desiccation, I subjected it to the most savage edits and polishes ever (about five of them), plus throwing it on the mercy of trusted beta readers.
Is this the start of something new for you, a series perhaps set in the same world, or do you have other stories lined up and ready to be unleashed?
I’m not sure if there will be a sequel yet, although I’m tempted to do a Stephen King and have two of the major characters appear as minor characters in another novel of which I’ve written the first three chapters: a psychological comedy horror with paranormal elements.
But first, I have four other novels already written, needing varying amounts of revision: time-travel romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, dystopian speculative, and crossover children’s fantasy.
You chose to self-publish, what made you decide to go this route rather than seeking an agent or traditional publisher?
Although my family had been nagging me for a long time to self-publish, it had to be the right moment for me. My fifth novel – the dystopian speculative one – stretched me to the limit, as I decided to be really experimental and up the literary stakes. It was a make me or break me exercise that left me exhausted and ate up nearly two years of my life through all the revisions. When I started sending it out to literary agents and they said the same old, same old – beautiful writing but too original – this was the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as I was concerned. And I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when one literary agent said it was too literary for her!
After this particular rejection, I decided that it was impossible to please literary agents and it was time to test the self-publishing waters with one of my novels. My son, Joshua, chose Desiccation on the grounds that it had so gripped him as a teenager, that he’d read it in one all-night sitting and was too tired to go to school the next day.
In my upcoming novel, The Holt, I couldn’t resist the temptation to write myself in as a character, albeit with a small quirky part. Is this something you considered in Desiccation or would consider in another project?
I don’t know whether I’d do that intentionally, but on a subconscious level it’s hard not to put something of oneself into characters. A number of my fictional characters are eccentric and some are quite insane. I’ll leave it for you to decide if they’re a reflection of their creator! I certainly wouldn’t be averse to making a little cameo appearance in a future novel. Thank you for giving me an idea, Dave. And I’m going to be looking out for you in The Holt.
I found Desiccation to have a rich narrative style. Who influenced your writing?
To name a few — Thomas Hardy, Lewis Carroll, William Golding, Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Peter Høeg, Rose Tremain, Eowyn Ivey, and Donna Tartt.
I’m not someone who sticks to reading one genre. Depending on my mood, I read anything from techno-thrillers to literary stuff (provided the latter isn’t pretentious).
Was there a particular moment when you realised you wanted to write or did you ease into it?
I learned to read before I went to school, through Angela Banner’s “Ant and Bee” books. Also, my mother read me some amazing books far beyond my reading age. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t write, but there must have been one, as I wasn’t born with a pen in my hand. As a child, I liked to write poetry – very flowery stuff. Then in my teens, instead of doing any work at boarding school, I filled up exercise books with pop star romances and sci-fi stories for the entertainment of my classmates. In my twenties, I was too preoccupied with work and how to pay the rent each week to manage anything but depressing poems, with the occasional darkly comic one thrown in.
The novelist thing started after I went to night school in my thirties to study AS English and managed to achieve an A-grade, with full marks for my creative writing assignment. If I look back to that time, my writing must have been the literary equivalent of wading through a field of treacle for the reader. Yuck! The memory of all those adjectives and adverbs makes me cringe, but still it got me an A and gave me the motivation to write my first novel.
Okay, dear blog reader, we’ll take a break here and touch on the subject of the creator of Desiccation’s cover art.
Let’s see, how about something old and artsy?
About that cover.
It was created by Jamie Noble – The Noble Artist – and so intrigued by his style I headed over to his website. Jamie has an amazing gallery of his projects, both professional and personal. It was his use of light that I found particularly interesting. He certainly has a unique style and really understands how light and shadow work.
Jamie is adept at a variety of styles from science fiction to fantasy and real life – book covers, commissioned pieces, cartography, board games.
Here’s Jamie with a cute pup.
Since then I’ve been in contact with Jamie who has agreed to craft a piece for my novel, The Range, and I’m currently waiting with barely contained excitement to see what he creates. I’ve found him to be very passionate about his work and a good listener to my ideas.
Hopefully I’ll be commissioning Jamie to work on covers for The Holt and The Retreat too.
And we’re back with Sarah Potter, author of Desiccation.
So, Sarah, now you’re a real author, have you signed any copies of your book for people? If so how does that feel?
Yes, six copies for the same person – one of my beta readers, who keeps giving copies to her relatives, plus I gave her a complimentary copy as a thank you.
It felt strange signing – like I was practicing being famous!
Now your baby is out there in the world, are you tempted to “accidentally” leave a print copy on a bus or train or public place? Or even ask a library if they’d take a copy?
My baby is too much of a new born to leave abandoned in public, but perhaps when it has learned to walk and gained a bit of a following, I might consider leaving a few of its clones scattered about the place. Meanwhile, I have 5K advertising flyers to distribute and am hoping to enter into a flyer-swap with some of my fellow authors. Dave has kindly already distributed some in his part of the country, and I will be doing the same for him in the future.
As for my local library, yes, I will ask them to take a copy when the time is right but I would like to do this when I publish my next novel, in the hope that borrowers at the library who’ve enjoyed Desiccation will be desperate to read another one of my books; meaning that either they put in a request to the library to buy a copy, or they purchase one of their own.
If Desiccation was made into a film, which actors could you envisage playing your characters?
In truth, I have no idea. Twenty years ago, when first writing the novel, I probably had some actors in mind but they would be too old now to play most of the parts. I’m terrible at remembering actors’ names, apart from my particular favourites. I would quite like it if some unknowns were auditioned to play the younger roles and then one or two established actors were given the older parts, as happened in the Harry Potter films.
What was the most enjoyable chapter or scene you wrote in Desiccation?
I particularly enjoyed writing both scenes involving that old soak, the professor. I also enjoyed writing that rather tragic scene about Terence in the changing rooms. It might seem rather a paradox to enjoy writing downbeat or tragic stuff, but in both cases I experienced deep sympathy for the characters involved.
And what was the least fun part?
The least fun part was deciding where to start the story and having to axe the first two-thirds of the first chapter in the process. I really loved that first third but needed someone to tell me that it had to go. A very astute Swedish fellow in an online writers’ group pointed out the exact point at which the story needed to begin. Being a fan of Nordic writers, I did what he suggested.
Some writers declare they don’t enjoy the editing process. Is this something you shied away from or took pleasure in?
Editing is something that needs doing. I’m incredibly pedantic and perfectionist about some things in life, and editing is one of them. Also, I hate embarrassments and have a real fear of making a fool of myself by messing up a job. But it did cheese me off when I had to check through three separate paperback proof copies of Desiccation, because I kept finding errors. Then I had to hold back from okaying its publication, until I’d got the Kindle version ready, which also required reading through umpteen times. It’s amazing the errors you spot when both editions are in their final formats. I still loved the story at the end of it all, but there had to be a time to let go of my baby and click on “publish”.
If you had the opportunity to pick an author, or indeed movie director, to read your book, who would it be and why?
I would probably ask Neil Gaiman or Stephen King to read it, because I really admire their writing and because they are both master storytellers who could be trusted to give valuable constructive criticism.
Movie directors –- you know I’m terrible at names. I would love to see it as a crowd-funded film project that wasn’t answerable to a big bank but helped some poverty-stricken film graduates on their way to success.
I’m a big fan of playing certain types of music when I write – emotive, orchestral themes for epic or sad moments for example. Do you find music a distraction or are there particular styles you find aid your writing?
I like absolute silence when I’m writing, which is difficult sometimes as I live with a musician who enjoys playing a three-manual electronic organ with great gusto.
In my review of Desiccation I was struck by how strongly the theme reminded me of classic British science fiction, whereas I believe you classed it as Urban Fantasy. Desiccation is listed on Amazon under Urban and Science Fiction & Fantasy, did you find it tricky to choose a suitable genre style to list it under?
The answer to that is, yes, I did find it tricky. Going on the feedback I’ve received from readers since publication, I’m now leaning more towards it being science fiction than fantasy. The latest listing on Amazon has science fiction>aliens as my book’s main Kindle category/sub-category. This being the case, I might switch categories for the paperback edition accordingly. Create Space only allows one category, so I have to decide between urban fantasy or science fiction, whereas Kindle Direct Publishing allows two categories, which makes it easier.
The thing I’m finding harder is deciding upon a target age group. I have it set for 14+ teenagers but I suspect that most of my readers so far are aged 40+.
About the writing process, are you a steadfast every day writer no matter what? Or do you delve in when the mood suits you?
I have to work around my family, so this means that whether I’m writing or editing I have to treat it like a Monday to Friday nine-to-five job. This is a good discipline for me, although in reality I normally only manage two sittings of two hours each on an average day.
When working on a first draft, I’m very strict about not going on the internet until 3.30 p.m. except for research.
Looking to the future, can you give anything away about your next writing project and when fans can expect another book?
I’m not intending to write anything new from scratch for a while, apart from the odd short story or piece of flash fiction to keep my writing muscles exercised.
The next book I’ll publish is the children’s crossover fantasy, titled Noah Padgett and the Dog-people, which is another interdimensional story (as is Desiccation), but involving a twelve-year-old boy and his chocolate Labrador puppy.
Big thank you!
There you have it, dear blog reader, and it just goes to show that a single novel can kick around inside you for twenty years and still have life breathed into it!
Thank you to Sarah for the interview, it has been most enlightening.
Remember the links to find Desiccation are near the top, so have yourself a click!