We’re going all fantastical, dear listener. As we haven’t yet finished a new lurcher article, we did the next best thing and got you a writer with a greyhound. Indie UK author Joanne Hall joins us to talk about her writing, her editing and acquisitions work in a brand new interview. As an added extra, we also poke a cautious spear at the multi-headed Fantasy-Faction, a major fantasy community on the web, which is looking to extend its scaly reach.
The greydog himself, John Linwood Grant, has more author-type news, but we haven’t room for him today. Maybe we’ll let him mumble something next time. We’d rather get talking to Joanne Hall, who has being scoring multiple hits with her novel Spark and Carousel and then her duology, The Art of Forgetting.
Not content with this, she has recently edited the anthology Fight Like A Girl (with Roz Clarke) and later this year she will be releasing her next fantasy novel The Summer Goddess. Our guest is tragically based in South West England, not Yorkshire, but she makes the best of it, and her website describes her thusly (which saves us typing it in again):
Joanne Hall is the same age as Star Wars, which explains a lot…. She lives in Bristol, England with her partner. She enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, playing console games, watching movies, eating chocolate and playing with the world’s laziest dog.
To the interview-mobile…
greydog: Joanne, welcome to greydogtales. We’ve been looking forward to speaking to you for a while, but now we gain reflected glory because your novel Spark and Carousel is on the Gemmell Award long-list for fantasy fiction, and in grand company. A surprise?
joanne: Complete surprise. Especially considering some of the other names on the list. It’s a really strong longlist this year, so to be on it with people like Joe Abercrombie and Robin Hobb, especially as a relatively unknown indie author, is amazing. I’m a huge fan of several of the authors on the list, so have got this far and to be in their company is not something I was expecting!
greydog: We’ll ease our way in with an old standard. You’ve been at this a while – what first drew you into writing in the fantasy field, rather than just reading the stuff?
joanne: I always knew I wanted to write, even when I was really young. But reading Diana Wynne Jones and David Eddings, and David Gemmell a year or so later, was what made me realise that what I wanted to write was fantasy. It just seemed like these authors were the ones writing all the fun things, and I wanted to write the fun things too.
greydog: Apart from Spark and Carousel, you’ve had quite an impact with The Art of Forgetting – Rider, and then Nomad. Have you any idea what it is about your work that’s caught the imagination of readers? Themes, characters, or a particular style that you’ve used?
joanne: That’s a really hard thing to quantify. I write the sort of books I like to read, so I guess in a way I’m writing for me and people like me. I guess I write characters that are really relatable to a lot of people; they’re flawed and damaged and they make mistakes, but most of them are essentially good at heart, or acting for reasons that they think are good ones. They’re easy to empathise with even if they’re not always likeable.
greydog: We’ve been amusing ourselves by reading some reviews of your work (which are very positive, we should add). They range from complimenting you on the subtlety of your use of more ‘adult’ themes to being shocked but impressed. Is Joanne Hall on a mission to inject reality into fantasy?
joanne: The only mission I’m on is to eat this bag of doughnuts before my boyfriend gets home… I think my fantasy is quite grounded in reality. It’s muddy. It rains a lot. People have vaguely unsatisfying sex and go to the toilet (not at the same time…) I’m not interested in a pristine world. I’ve studied History my whole life and I’m interested in the weird bits, the bits (and the people) that don’t quite fit, so I guess my background interest in history has lent a veneer of reality to the fantasy I write. But it’s not a mission statement, it’s just how the stories tend to come out.
greydog: For people who don’t know your work so well, you started with the New Kingdom trilogy, from 2005 to 2008. How do you think that your writing has changed since then?
joanne: I think I’ve grown more confident. I’m more willing now to try new things and see if they work, and to know to ditch them if they don’t. I think I trust my instincts more now, and I’m less worried about what people might think, having been on the receiving end of some sharp reviews!
greydog: Some fantasy writers obsess on maps and genealogies, others on tiny quirks of personality. We know that they’re not necessarily exclusive, but in general would you say that you’re a world-builder or a character-builder?
joanne: Both, I think. The world shapes the characters just as much as the characters shape the world. I like to be able to create a wider world than the one you see on the page, one with a history and culture shared by the characters that doesn’t have to be spelled out to the reader. Juliet McKenna calls it “writing off the edge of the map” which I think is a good way of looking at it.
greydog: The Art of Forgetting is a duology, a format of which we rather approve (as an antidote to padded trilogies). Is it really one story which turned out to be too big for a single volume, or did you plan it in two distinct sections?
joanne: When I wrote “The Art of Forgetting” I wrote it as one long book, in one massive sprint (I say sprint, it took eight months to write the first draft, so it was more of a marathon.) But it did kind of fall naturally into two halves. When I was submitting it a lot of people where very positive about it but the overwhelming response I got was that at 190k it was just too long. I actually submitted to Kristell Ink because they said they didn’t have a problem with long novels, and it was Sammy’s suggestion to split it into two books because it just made more sense economically.
greydog: You have another book, The Summer Goddess, coming this year. Care to give our listeners a hint or two about what they’ll find there?
joanne: The Summer Goddess is a stand-alone sequel to The Art of Forgetting. The heroine, Asta, is forced to undertake a perilous journey, and forges an uncertain alliance with a pair of assassins, to save her nephew from both slavers, and the deranged worshippers of an imprisoned god.
greydog: Onto other aspects of your work. You recently edited Fight like a Girl with Roz Clarke, not your first time as an anthology editor. Is it a role you enjoy?
joanne: I really do. It’s so nice to be able to work with new authors, and to see them then go on to other projects. That’s the part I enjoy most, being able to give inexperienced authors an opportunity, and being able to edit them and bring them up to the standard of more established writers. And it’s great to be able to bring the stories together, to see what themes develop over the course of putting together the anthology. Roz and I also edited Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion, and Colinthology, and she’s a great editing partner.
greydog: Fight Like a Girl is a great collection, with a fabulous cover. When you started the project, were you looking for strongly contrasting stories, or those which blended in with each other to give a particular feel?
joanne: The cover was by Sarah Anne Langton – have you held it under UV light? It was important to us when we started out working on Fight Like A Girl that women were involved at every stage of the process, from writing to editing to publishing to cover art. Our only criteria when we took on the project was that we wanted stories of combat written by women, or people who identified as women. We never stipulated that the stories had to feature female protagonists, but that’s what we got! I’m really impressed at the range of stories that were submitted to us, and the high quality.
greydog: The UV effect is neat (but we won’t spoil it here). Now, you’re Acquisitions Editor for the publisher Kristell Ink (imprint of Grimbold Books), ploughing through SFF novels. What sort of experience has this been – a lot of doleful head-shaking, or pleasure at the range of potential new authors?
joanne: A bit of both! Though by and large the quality of submissions has been very high, and it was really hard in the end to choose which books we were going to publish out of our final shortlist – contracts are going out pretty much as I type. (I didn’t think it would be just as exciting being on the sending end as it is on the receiving end, but it actually is…)
Most of the books that we rejected quickly were ones that had committed some fundamental error, like sending three completely random chapters when we asked for the first three, or send us epic poetry, which we don’t publish. I’m really happy that we’ve taken on some brand-new authors, and I’m looking forward to working with them!
greydog: Another one of your sidelines is that you’ve been the Chair of BristolCon, the science fiction and fantasy convention, for some time. We used to do some con-running ourselves, and it can be hell. Are you a convention junkie?
joanne: I would go to more conventions if I had the time. Or the energy. Or the financial wherewithal. I really do enjoy them, but then I come home and have to sleep for about a week to recover. They are a great way of meeting people and networking and catching up with old friends, but sometimes they can be full on. Especially the bigger conventions. Luckily BristolCon is a petite one-dayer, and very friendly. You can find out more at www.bristolcon.org.
greydog: Given that this is the home of the weird and the lurcher, we notice you also have a rather lovely four-legged companion of your own. May we have a quick word-portrait to share with our three reprobates?
joanne: That would be Lyra, who is deeply weird even for a greyhound. She doesn’t know she’s a greyhound; she thinks she’s a hippopotamus, and her mission in life is to wallow in every puddle and muddy spludge she can get her feet into. Her main interests are sleeping, scrounging and bullying her best friend Charley in a variety of entertaining ways. Like me, she was last in all her races and, also like me, she has a passion for frozen yoghurt.
greydog: She would fit right in with our odd crew, by the sound of it. Finally, apart from The Summer Goddess, what’s coming up for you in the next year? Do you have any grand plans to extend the rule of the Hall-ian Empire?
joanne: Taking over the world by increments is the general plan… The Summer Goddess will be out at the end of September, all things going to plan. I’m hoping to finish a new novel set in an entirely different world by the end of the year, and I’m sure there will be various projects I happen along on the way, but my main focus right now is on The Summer Goddess. After that I might take a breather for a few weeks!
greydog: You deserve it. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you, and we look forward to reading The Summer Goddess!
You can find out more about Joanne and her work on her own site and at her author page on Amazon:
We do love fantasy literature, although we often crouch at the old and weird end of the spectrum. A couple of weeks ago we rattled on about earlier fantasy authors (see 10 classic female fantasy authors), but occasionally we want to read something new. And as we pad through the murky swamps of social media looking for such fodder, we occasionally come across groups and blogs which do not make our heads explode. One such is the Fantasy-Faction Facebook Group, which has two especially laudable aspects:
1) The members are genuine fans, and are always full of interesting suggestions about modern fantasy stories, novels and authors (with a jot of old-style surfacing occasionally).
2) It’s a group which discourages arrant self-promotion – the best discussions are about other author’s books and what might be got from reading those (we writery people have to self-promote, but gods-help-us, not all the time, please)
It’s a great place to get reading recommendations, or to query other fans about what they thought of a particular character, story or book.
That’s not all, though. Behind the Facebook group looms the dark, brooding presence of Marc Aplin, with his Fantasy-Faction team. Marc started the UK-based website towards the end of 2010 after being exposed to too many good fantasy novels. Fired with enthusiasm, he wanted to build a network which promoted quality fantasy and encouraged people to explore the genre. So the website hosts all sorts of reviews, major author interviews and articles related to modern fantasy. And it does have a very positive vibe about it. As they say there:
“Why the name Fantasy-Faction? A faction is basically a grouping of like-minded individuals. Five years later our faction is part army, part family, and all lovers of fantasy books. We are now one of the largest fantasy communities on the web and it’s all thanks to our amazing contributors and our loyal Factioners.”
Access to the Fantasy-Faction site and their huge range of articles is free, but they have now started a Patreon page to help with costs and developing the range of features that they offer. If you’re a fantasy enthusiast, have a look at their site:
And here’s the direct Patreon link if you’d like to support them:
Next week on greydogtales – we bring you up to speed on greydog’s own writing, have an illustrated mega-interview with award winning artist/writer Alan M Clark. drop a few names and throw in a longdog or two…