Today I have something very exciting to share with you all. About a month or so ago, Susan Dennard was invited to the UK for a book tour and I jumped at the chance to meet her in Manchester. I was then extremely excited to be offered the chance to have an exclusive interview with her. And I have finally had a chance to transcribe it all, so check it out below!
The Exclusive Interview
Faye: What was your inspiration for the Witchland Series?
Susan: So, the Witchlands book I write is lots of little pieces of inspiration that slowly came out over the years but the very first spark of an idea for the Witchlands came while I was couch surfing in Croatia. So, a friend of mine and I, we travelled across Slovenia, Croatia, Australia, just moving from local’s houses, “sleeping on their couches”. It sounds a lot sketchier than it is. While I was in Croatia, I was just blown away by the people, and the history, and the landscape – so beautiful. And they filmed Game of Thrones there so clearly, I was on to something before Game of Thrones was a show. And yeah, I just wanted to write a fantasy in a world like that, so if you look at the Witchlands map, it’s basically the Adriatic Sea blown up. I’ve just like taken Europe and shrunk it down to, you know, the land of Croatia basically, and Eastern Europe. So, yeah, that was really the first spark of the idea.
Faye: How fun is it writing badass supportive female friendships?
Susan: Obviously, I like women who get along so there’s only one woman in the series who is iffy. But even then, she is not out to get over women. That is something that I am very keenly aware of in what to avoid in anything I write. So, yeah, it’s great. I have so many awesome women in my life I just wanted to make sure I write that on the page.
Faye: For those who haven’t yet read the series, how would you entice them to read it?
Susan: I call it my love letter to Last Airbender and Assassins Creed, with the complexity of Game of Thrones tossed in. Which I really that’s a tall order to compare myself to Game of Thrones. I’m not comparing myself but the series has the same level of twistiness. There’s a lot going on and a lot that’s dropped in the early books that won’t fully make sense until the later books. I’m playing the long game with the series and so it takes a lot of patience but nothing is more gratifying than going to an event where someone has their book filled with tabs because they’ve marked every little thing that they think is going to be important. So that’s why I do this, that’s the best part of the job.
Faye: I listened to the audiobook.
Susan: Did you like it? Faye: Yeah, it as good. Have you listened to it?
Susan: Yeah. The first one, yeah. Faye: How did you find the narrator and the way she changed her accent throughout?
Susan: Yeah, so the publisher picked the narrator and they picked her because typically in fantasy novels they like to have accents for all the different nationalities. At least in adult fantasy. And so, they picked her because she’s very good at different accents. And then, I spoke with her and the producer about what accents she was able to do, and how she could use those for each nationality. So, we talked about it, like the New Brethnan accent is Romanian. She uses a Romanian accent to kind of imply this is Eastern European’s type of language. And Iseult’s character’s an Icelandic accent of all things. She was like Icelandic’s a good one because people don’t know it. You know? It’s an “exotic” but it’s not a familiar one, whereas if you’re doing a German accent, people might recognise it. So, yeah, it was interesting. The first time I heard it, I was like wooh, this is weird. This is not how I imagined it because in my head they’re all America, let’s be real. So it was very, very weird but also kind of good because I was able to listen to it and not think of it as my own book anymore. Like, it became her book. This was her interpretation of my novel and that was really cool and it helped me listen to it. Cause I needed to to refresh myself as I was working on the next book, it was a lot easier to listen to her read it and make it her own then trying to read my own book and being all, “ah, I should’ve changed that. That’s terrible, why’d I do that?” So it was an interesting experience and she’s incredibly good at what she does. But I know she’s very hit or miss for some people. Some people didn’t like her but most people do seem to like it.
Faye: Yeah I like how when I started I was like, ooh, she’s an American and…
Susan: Now it’s not. Faye: It was a good way to like separate the characters when they’re speaking as well which, I sometimes with audio, you’re like wait, who is it speaking as they don’t always say, “said blahblah”. So, it was quite good differentiate between the characters.
Susan: It blows me away how she can even do that. I’ve tried. Just out of curiosity, and I’m like “nope, can’t do it.”
Faye: So I have a hard question now, who is your favourite character in the series?
Susan: You know, it’s not a hard question because it’s whoever I’m writing right now. I firmly believe, for me anyway, that if I don’t love a character then I can’t write their point of view. Because I won’t enjoy writing the book, and then that lack of joy will translate onto the page. So, if I’m writing that character – like right now I’m working on Iseult’s point of view, in the next book. So, she’s my favourite right now. But then when I finish her and I shift characters, that person will be my favourite and if that person isn’t my favourite then I know that I’m not ready to write their story, if that makes sense. So, yeah, Iseult is the one right now that I love and her book is the next book. But if I had to pick like one character who I think I love the most in the whole series, in that series, it’s probably the rook. Who’s in Sightwitch. He’s also in Bloodwitch and Windwitch but you don’t really know who he is yet. You learn a lot more in Sightwitch and then you’ll learn even more in the next book.
Faye: You’ve already touched on this but what is your favourite thing about being an author?
Susan: Definitely meeting readers, talking to readers; knowing they read my book. I have all these stories inside of me and the reason that I endure writing is so I can share them. I don’t consider myself a writer. Writing’s fine. I don’t love writing. But I want my story out there. And so, when other people get to read that, and enjoy it – hopefully – that is just like the best felling. It reminds me of why I slog through the actual drafting part that I don’t enjoy. It’s because the end project, and getting to share and connect with someone over this story that’s in my head, is just a feeling I cannot explain. It’s wonderful.
Faye: I’ve been asked to ask from someone on Twitter, what is next for the Witchlands series?
Susan: So, the next book is Iseult’s book. I don’t want to spoil Bloodwitch, but each of the characters was left in a certain location and its links back up with them there and, yeah. The cool thing is that in Truthwitch, Windwitch and Sightwitch, I was really laying down the threads of the story and Bloodwitch is when the first reveals start coming, and the payoff of all the things I had set up is really starting to unfold. So, it’s really exciting for me as an author to have like people reach those reveals and be like “oh my god, it was there all along, I didn’t see it.”, and so I’m really getting to do more and more of those and that’s really fun for me.
Faye: How different was it writing the Witchland’s series in comparison to Something Strange and Deadly?
Susan: So different. Something Strange and Deadly is single point of view, it’s also historical. So, on the one hand I had to do so much research – yes there are zombies – but otherwise it’s pretty historically accurate. I took a few liberties for the sake of the story. Like, one thing I did was add a fence to a location where there wasn’t a fence but other wise I really, I did so much research, and working with primary documents to make it as accurate as possible. I will never do that to myself again. I say that, and watch, I’ll write another historical one day but right now, I’m like egh, so much. Faye: Making it up as you go is much easier.
Susan: Yeah. Not that I don’t research for what’s in the Witchland’s, but it’s different. There’s so much more leeway of what I can do. So, it’s a different kind of research. It’s researching horses and researching medieval warfare or how tall ships work. So, there’s a difference in the amount of research but also; it’s got more characters, it is a longer series, it is a much larger scope. Bloodwitch had six points of views. It’s a lot going on. And so, it has required a lot more planning than the first series did. The first series was very like, there were some subplots but I was able to kind of write as I went. I didn’t need to plan as much. The Witchlands? Nooo. I laid down everything in the first book so I’m locked into what that story is, which I’m happy about, but sometimes I’m like “why’d I do that? I want to change it now, why’d I do that?” So, there is just so much more involved in planning and it takes me longer to write those books.
Faye: What made you decide to start the Misfits and Daydreamer’s?
Susan: Oh yeah, so the Misfits and Daydreamer’s is my newsletter. I started that in 2014, I think. Prior to that, I had a blog for about four years which was quite successful. I just basically write about writing and through the lens of what I’m working on right now so it ended up being very tutorial but also very this is my experience and that resonated with people. I think perhaps because I am too honest about the hard sides of writing but I know for me whenever someone has a hard time, it makes me feel better. Like “oh, yes, I’m not the only one who sucks at this. Thank God.” So, I just share that and I think I’m a natural teacher. When I was in Science, I was a tutor and my favourite thing about Science was actually TA’ing and being a teacher. I just really like sharing what I know. When I’m passionate about something, I want to share it. And I’m very passionate about the craft of writing. So, I decided to start this newsletter instead of just doing it on the blog. It would be exclusive to people who subscribe. It’s free. This was before everyone had a newsletter, so I really don’t know why I did it. In hindsight I’m like, that was very smart planning on my part, now everyone has newsletters. But yeah, I don’t know. I just wanted a different format of giving away my free writing advice. It’s been very, very successful, and still free.
Faye: These are just some general questions that I ask on my blog. If you could live in any fictional world, where would you live?
Susan: Oh my gosh, that’s hard. Probably in either the Dragon Age world or maybe, this is old school, Dinotopia. If you even know what Dinotopia is. It is a world where humans and dinosaurs live in harmony. I mean, ten-year-old Susan was very into it. It’s very beautiful art if you ever look it up.
Faye: If you could befriend any fictional character, who would you choose?
Susan: Oh, that’s really hard. Faye: Normally this is written so they have time to think about.
Susan: Yeah. I mean, right off, the first answer that came to my head was from Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic series. Dane, the main character in that. I remember reading her story when I was about twelve and it was like the first time I really felt like I connected to a character, you know? You remember that feeling, that first time that you’re like “oh, this character’s like me.” And so yeah, if I could meet Dane who made me feel less alone when I was twelve, that would be amazing.
Faye: What is your Hogwarts house?
Susan: So, I always self-identified as Ravenclaw and I have all the Ravenclaw merch. But then Pottermore told me I was a Gryffindor. And then I told all my friends and they were like, “oh yeah, you’re a Gryffindor”. And I was like, “what? This is very conflicting and confusing for me.” So, I guess I’m just a Gryffinclaw. I’m a bit of the two. Or I can say that I’m a Ravenclaw but a Gryffindor moon.
Faye: Favourite Drink?
Faye: Favourite Food?
Faye: Any bad habits while writing?
Susan: While writing? Banging my head against the wall. Not having healthy habits. Never taking breaks. There’s a lot of bad habits in there. Generally the act of writing is one where, because it’s a calling, you’re very prone to just let your life go, which is not a good thing. I think all artists are that way.
Honestly guys, it was such a priveledge to have a chance to chat to Susan Dennard before the event – which was also really incredibly by the way – and I am just so glad that I got the change. Not going to lie, Suze is an amazing person.