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Interview with fantasy author KT Davies

KT Davies has published two fantasy novels, The Red Knight, and Breed, which was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Society Best Novel Award. She also writes short stories that have been published in various anthologies including Fight like a Girl. KT also works as a ghost writer and has reviewed books and games for SFcrowsnest. She’s guest edited for the British Science Fiction Association, and Focus magazine, and runs a genre writing group called the Inkflingers.

What do you enjoy about fantasy writing and why did you pick it?

Cheesy I know, but I don’t think I picked it – I think it picked me. Or rather, I fell into it without giving it much thought.  I’ve loved fantasy for as long as I can remember, and I’ve loved making stories up for the same amount of time.

I think I enjoy writing in secondary worlds because you can explore issues that interest you more easily using the language of fantasy. Using metaphor and similes allows a writer to approach subjects that interest them obliquely, rather than head on. It’s a broader canvas. Also, dragons!

Have you ever finished a book and completely scrapped it because you didn’t like it?

Not an entire book. The most words I’ve jettisoned at one time was about 40,000. It wasn’t that they were horrible (some were, I must admit), it’s just that they weren’t the story I wanted to tell. They were useful, for all that I didn’t use them. They told me a lot about the characters I wanted to write about, and helped underpin the novel I ended up writing.

 Do you ever begin writing what you think will be a short story and it turns into a novel or vice versa?

Yes, quite often. More often a story ‘dies out’ rather than grows. It might be that the central concept isn’t strong or big enough to support a story and it runs out of juice. Or that there is too much material to stuff into a short story or even a novella.

Do you ever find yourself writing a certain archetype again and again?

I wouldn’t say so, but I don’t have a huge catalogue of work yet to look back on.

How did you publish your first book and was it easy?

No, it wasn’t, it was a hard slog, but I learned a lot by the time Anachron Press picked my first novel up. After a few rejections, not many it has to be said, because I only approached a few publishers, it was published in the usual way: I approached the publisher, they liked what they read, wanted to see more and then, bingo, much joy.

How many words would you class as a novel?

On average, an adult novel is generally regarded to be somewhere between 70 to 120,000 words, but genre plays a part in what is an accepted length and most publishers have their own guidelines. A general rule of thumb is that fantasy, particularly secondary world novels, will be on the longer side, because you’re explaining fauna and flora that doesn’t exist, and explaining unusual phenomena such as magic, as well as telling your story. Of course, my novel Breed is set in a secondary world and is only 85,000 words, so go figure.

Did you aspire to be like another author and who were your idols?

No, I didn’t. I think most writers want to be original. With regards to those fantasy writers whose work I admire and enjoy, I’d have to say Robin Hobb is right up there as are David Gemmell and the wonderful Terry Pratchett.

What was the best thing you ever bought to help you write?

A nice notebook…or twenty. In fact, I have some notebooks that are so nice, that I can’t bring myself to write in them, which sort of defeats the object. Craft books have been very useful. As for actual tools, nothing fancy really; pen and paper and Windows Word. Oh, Post-It notes, lots of Post-It notes.

What is the best way to market a book or piece of work?

It varies. What works for one writer/publisher won’t necessarily work for another or indeed another book or it won’t work for long. I would say, rather than focus on marketing, focus on writing the best darn book you can write. If you can’t string a sentence together all the marketing in the world won’t stop it stinking and getting bad reviews.

How do you select the names of your characters?

Sometimes I make them up but within a certain lexicon for their race/nation/creed etc. Sort of linguistics light, because I’m not out to create entire languages (yet). There does need to be consistency to make your world appear real, unless it is real in which case, I don’t pick names that are too similar in order to avoid confusing the reader. I quite often borrow names from history and I’ve used names of people I’ve met in day to day life.

What is your writing process, how do you work best?

My writing process is, write whenever I get chance. I have a busy full-time job and family. I write in the gaps.

What’s some of the best writing advice that stays with you?

The best writing advice I’ve had is, writers read and writers write. Do both. Read as much as you can of the best that there is and write.

What advice do you have for young writers just starting out?

My advice for new writers is pretty much the above. Spend less time on Facebook and more time curled up with good books. Read them, learn your craft, and then write and don’t stop doing either until you’re dead. Do not write unless it’s a passion because it can be a tough gig. Be the child of a very famous person, this will also help greatly.

How long on average does it take you to write a book/novel?

It really depends on many things and again, it varies so much, it’s impossible to even give an average amount of time. I aim to write between 1,500 and 2,000 words a day (Monday to Friday) for a first draft. This doesn’t always happen for one reason or another. Sometimes I write less, occasionally more.

If I had wrote what I thought was a fantastic piece of work how would I go about getting it published?

If you think you’ve written a fantastic piece of work, then I’d get a bunch of people who do not love you to read it and give you their feedback. When you’re sure your diamond cannot be polished any more, that it is as bright as you can make it, then research which publishers and agents (if you want to go down that route), would be a good fit for what you have written. It’s not much good sending your horror novel to an agent or publisher who specialises in romance.

When you’ve found a bunch of agents and publishers who publish and represent the kind of thing you’ve written, check out their submission guidelines and send your work off according to those guidelines. Then wait. It could take anywhere from an hour, to a year, or sometimes (rarely) they won’t get back to you at all. Do not lose heart. Keep submitting, take on board any feedback, but always, go with your gut.

What can we expect next from you/what are you working on?

I’ve just finished writing the second Breed novel : Breed: mad, bad and dangerous to know, which will be followed by a third, and then a spin-off (technically) fourth Breed book. Then I have a cracking idea for a new series of books that I really, really want to get started on.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to speak to me!

No problem, Nicole, thank you for your questions. It was nice meeting you at the workshop. I hope my answers offer some useful insight about my/thoughts way of doing things. Of course, everyone has their own process. Good luck with yours.

Interview Nicole Abnett

KT has worked as an actor, scaffolder, teacher, and until recently, a theatrical prop maker. Born in the wilds of Yorkshire (or ‘the North’ for Game of Thrones fans), KT now lives in the West Midlands with a grumpy cat, four dogs, two children, and a husband (hers as it turns out).