Today on the Speculative Fiction Showcase, we are delighted to interview Sammy H.K. Smith, author of In Search of Gods and Heroes and Creative Director of Grimbold Books.
You are learning Ancient Greek and Latin with the OU – what made you choose those languages?
I’m honestly not overly sure. I love Greek mythology and a large proportion of the OU module studied ancient Greek texts. The language itself is beautiful and that particular uni year it made sense to study Latin as well. I was so glad when that year finished though! Languages are hard, hard work and when you add in that I work full time (40hr weeks, minimum) as a detective, I’m a new mum and run Grimbold, I was utterly shattered!
I changed my pathway to English Language with Creative Writing and re-start my modules this year after 18mths off – wish me luck! Only 2 years studying to go!
What sparked your interest in mythology?
I don’t really know. I just love the complexity of pantheons and the manipulative nature of gods. The idea of just one deity has always seemed strange to me (I grew up in a C of E household) but from a historical viewpoint, different cultures and the extremisms of religion interest me. I love how societies evolved around their beliefs, often ignoring logic and sense and instead appeasing some deep-seated faith.
Has your interest influenced your own writing?
Yes, I think it has. In Search of Gods and Heroes was my first ever piece of writing, and I wanted to create my own pantheon and different societies and cultures that surrounded gods. I wanted to a cross-section of ages and genders and so focused on (amongst others) a young woman, a young man, a prince, a seer and the gods themselves.
They say “write what you know”. How does this work for fantasy writers?
I think it is possible for fantasy writers to write what they know. Complex characters with emotional layers, for one example, can be written in any genre. It’s a fine balance of not shoe-horning in your knowledge and instead letting it become part of the narrative.
What made you want to explore “the baser side of human nature” and “the failings and ambitions of the gods”?
This echoes back to my fascination with the human psychology and strength of religion and belief vs what is considered ‘taboo’. Religion (forgive me, I’m lumping all in together here, unfairly maybe) places a lot of emphasis on virtue, goodness and purity, but it is human nature to push against rules and ask ‘what if?’, so my characters struggle with the choices they make. One, in particular, tries to walk the path of redemption but it just isn’t him.
Gods are wily, fickle things. Why should the goddess of Love be pure and loving? Why should the goddess of Pain be cruel? I wanted to have fun with my characters and try break a few stereotypes.
Are there any contemporary epic fantasy writers whose work you admire?
Far too many to list. Seriously. I love and adore Jacqueline Carey. The complexity of her worlds is far superior to anything I’ll be able to create.
What are you planning to write next? Will the series continue?
Oh yes, absolutely. I’m 60k into A Time of Faith and Lies. I’ve been 60k into it for 2 years now as I haven’t had any time to write at all. My plan is to start carving out some hours when my little boy sleeps and I’d love to have a first draft finished by the end of the year.
I have a spec-fic dystopian novel called Anna finished and about to go through editing. My agent at the time described it as a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and The Road. I am immensely proud of it and can’t wait for it to be published – watch this space for more info!
When you are world-building, what comes first – the characters or the world?
Characters first. I usually plot them out in my head and then build the world around them. I then look at the history of the world and plot the land borders and make up the history of the country, wars, and so on.
Is your fantasy Good vs Evil, or something more complex?
I like to think it’s more complex. On the surface it’s a coming-of-age novel that explores a young girl and her parentage. But, she isn’t the main character, she is perhaps the character that brings them all together, but each POV character has their own arc and story. In my mind, there is no ‘good or bad’.
Why do we still love to write and read about demons, gods and other beings in the 21st century?
The world can be an awfully depressing place, full of hate and darkness. I love reading something that allows me to switch off and away from it all. To stretch my imagination and become part of the story.
Do you have any pets? Do they influence your writing?
Yes! I have 12 cats and 2 dogs. Yes, really. My cat Oscar inspired a character called Sheiva in In Search of Gods and Heroes. Sheiva is a gender fluid changeling with a smart mouth and quick wit. Oscar is a mainecoon cat who likes to ‘talk’ to me – I’ve always wondered what he’s saying and so Sheiva was born…
What is your favourite Science Fiction (or Fantasy) film?
Far, far too many! I love Inception and Interstellar, and with fantasy I would have to say I have a weakness for the 80s classics: Legend, Labyrinth, Princess Bride, Krull and so on… (I’m not including Star Wars or Star Trek as they are obvious favourites!).
Are you--or have you ever been--a gamer?
I’ve never been able to get my fat fingers to work on a console controller, but ‘back in the day’ I did love Diablo on the PC! I love board games, though. Settlers of Catan, Munchkin, D&D, Call of Cthulhu, anything really.
Do you cook? What is your best/favourite/most popular recipe?
I’m a rubbish cook. We have a saying in the house ‘If it doesn’t go ding, it doesn’t go in’. Saying that though, I do an excellent roast dinner and have been known to take control at Christmas and cook for the whole family. My pan-fried Brussel sprouts and bacon are to die for!
Do you have a garden? Have you ever grown your own food?
My garden is tiny and an absolute mess at the moment (we’re renovating), so we don’t grow anything yet. My little boy is nearly one though and I really want to grow some salad greens with him when we can. I hope it will encourage him to eat healthily and spark an interest in gardening :)
Would you prefer an independent bookshop, or a big chain?
I love supporting indie bookstores, and those that know me know that I support small businesses as much as possible. It can be hard though as indies have higher costs and more to lose financially per store than the chains, so when books are more expensive it is tough making the decision where to buy. If I can save £5 buying from a chain and that £5 can buy me a friend’s ebook or whatnot, then I’ll buy the paperback from a chain.
Do you have your own office, study or writing space, or can you write in a cafe or the library?
I used to have an ‘office’ (spare room) but that is now a nursery, so I renovated a bureau and have that in the playroom. It’s gorgeous and I love it.
Who do you consider are your major influences in writing?
I honestly don’t know any more. I think Ian Irvine and James Clemens, with a splash of Karen McIntosh.
What writer, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Jacqueline Carey, for reasons above.
How would you define Speculative Fiction?
Gah. Ok, I don’t know if this is strictly correct, but for me, it’s fiction that pushing the boundaries and asks ‘what if?’ – be that with a futuristic setting that could be dystopic or utopian, or magical and urban. It looks at characters and their reactions and emotions.
On a scale of 1-10, how eccentric are you?
Oh not very, I don’t think. Maybe a 6/7?
Do you consider yourself a slave to the muse?
I’m a slave to an 11-month old baby, the muse has to wait!
About Sammy H.K. Smith:
Sammy lives and works in the sunny county of Oxfordshire in the UK with her husband, her pets and her gorgeous little boy. When time allows, she writes. In Search of Gods and Heroes is her first book, and the first of the Children of Nalowyn series.
Between working and writing, she studies with the Open University.
She enjoys reading (obviously!), mythology, music, films, and a host of other uninteresting hobbies.
She can be found on Facebook: www.facebook.com/sammyhksmith