Interview with F. D. Lee

Describe your desk
Lol! I don't actually have a desk, but I am lucky enough to have a room to work in. I mostly write from home, with my laptop on my lap (at least, when there isn't a cat there).
My writing room is also my book cave - I have bookcases along two of the walls; the other is taken up by two windows and the third with a sofa bed. The bookcases started as a mixture of short and tall, but as time has gone on I've had to replace the short bookcases due to lack of space. I currently have about one or two shelves free, but no space for anymore bookcases so I foresee some difficult choices ahead! My writing room/book cave is also the place where I keep my geeky nick-nacks: posters, dolls, figures, lego, toys, lunch boxes... all the usual stuff that mounts up when you're in a few different fandoms.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
This is an interesting question.

I grew up in Bournemouth and Poole, which are seaside holiday towns on the south coast of the UK. They're quite odd places to live (though I suppose most places are, once you get to know them). Bournemouth and Poole both have varied economies, with some areas being very rich - Sandbanks, for example, was for a long time one of the most expensive places to live in the UK - and others very poor. This, of course, has had an influence on me and my writing. In my novels, you'll find characters from the very wealthy ends of society and those from the poor or marginalised. Having said that, I don't hold that one's economic status is the only aspect of their personality - but it is true that wealth (or lack thereof) can influence the experiences you're is exposed to growing up, and the types of people you might meet (for better and for worse).

There are also large communities of foreign students who come to learn English. This is excellent, as it saves the area from becoming quite insular, and means that there are a number of different cultures around you. In fact, I trained as an EFL teacher and taught it for many years. Teaching English was fascinating, as it pushed me to analyse my language, how it fits together and the ways it can be manipulated. Many years later, this interest led me to do a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics, specialising in social linguistics.

I think (hope!) that this interest in language can be seen in my writing. At one end of the scale, I'm not afraid of a joke or a pun! In fact, in my second novel, The Academy, I spend about thirty chapters setting up a pun! All that work for one line - but I think it pays off. At the other end of the spectrum, I'm very conscious about how language works between people, the ways in which it can be used to present one's identity but also how that presentation is received; how directness and indirectness, hesitations, pauses, and word choice can completely change the meaning of something that at first seems relatively straight forward. I try to use this knowledge when my characters are speaking to each other, and I think it gives the reader a lot enjoyment to see how these factors play out. Character is very important to me, as a reader and writer. A plot can be amazing, but if the characters don't seem real, I find I lose interest.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I like the freedom and, somewhat paradoxically, the control. I'm not hugely interested in making a tonne of money or becoming famous, I just like story telling, and self-publishing allows me to do that.

I write fairy stories - or, as Tolkien would have said, stories in the land of faerie. So by being self-published, I can write the stories that I want to tell without having to worry about whether of not a big distributor, like a supermarket, will buy them. This means I can have protagonists who don't fit the normal mould (such as a fat, stubborn, kind, confused cabbage fairy who wants to be a godmother; or a chain-smoking elf miscast as a witch). Equally, my stories don't have to centre around traditional 'Happy Endings', as one might expect from a fairy story. In fact, my first book (The Fairy's Tale) is about what happens when the heroine doesn't want the happy ending!

Also, by being self-published, I'm not tied to any one genre, which means I can tell the story of Cinderella as a comment on freedom of choice, or write a ghost story set in a Gothic mansion starring dwarfs, imps and fairies. I can have scary moments, dark moments, silly moments and happy moments without someone telling me it's not 'going to sell like this'.

I also like the control I have in terms of my titles, my book covers, my marketing and exposure. I'm very slowly coming to identify myself as a writer, despite now having two books out, and I appreciate being able to manage this new aspect of my life.

Of course, on the downside, I have had to learn a lot by trial and error! While my books have been well received and had a lot of downloads and sales, I definitely made mistakes. But I'm learning from them - and I love learning!
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I like the freedom and, somewhat paradoxically, the control. I'm not hugely interested in making a tonne of money or becoming famous, I just like story telling, and self-publishing allows me to do that.

I write fairy stories - or, as Tolkien would have said, stories in the land of faerie. So by being self-published, I can write the stories that I want to tell without having to worry about whether of not a big distributor, like a supermarket, will buy them. This means I can have protagonists who don't fit the normal mould (such as a fat, stubborn, kind, confused cabbage fairy who wants to be a godmother; or a chain-smoking elf miscast as a witch). Equally, my stories don't have to centre around traditional 'Happy Endings', as one might expect from a fairy story. In fact, my first book (The Fairy's Tale) is about what happens when the heroine doesn't want the happy ending!

Also, by being self-published, I'm not tied to any one genre, which means I can tell the story of Cinderella as a comment on freedom of choice, or write a ghost story set in a Gothic mansion starring dwarfs, imps and fairies. I can have scary moments, dark moments, silly moments and happy moments without someone telling me it's not 'going to sell like this'.

I also like the control I have in terms of my titles, my book covers, my marketing and exposure. I'm very slowly coming to identify myself as a writer, despite now having two books out, and I appreciate being able to manage this new aspect of my life.

Of course, on the downside, I have had to learn a lot by trial and error! While my books have been well received and had a lot of downloads and sales, I definitely made mistakes. But I'm learning from them - and I love learning!
What do your fans mean to you?
Everything!

I'm so grateful to the people who have embraced Bea, Melly, Joan, Chokey and the gang. It's such an amazing thing. I did a book launch for my second novel, The Academy, and I overheard two people discussing whether or not Bea was at heart a cynic or a romantic. We three ended up having a genuine debate about it - it didn't matter that I had 'written' her; she was as real to them as she is to me. That was wonderful, truly wonderful. That other people can see my characters, think about them, care about them... In fact, I don't even think they are *my* characters anymore. They belong to themselves and to the readers. I just help them along.

I love hearing what people think about the books and the characters. Not out of ego - well, not exclusively! But different people bring different experiences and understanding to them, and interpret their actions through their own lenses. This gives me such a privileged insight and definitely filters back into the writing. It a very dialogical process in that sense. It's also fascinating how different characters resonate with different people - there is such a divide, for example, over whether Seven is a good or a bad person, and that's a lot of fun to play with. I kind of channel George R R Martin there, when he tweeted that he'd noted how popular Lyanna Mormont was (though I don't know if that's necessarily good news for Lyanna...)
What are you working on next?
I'm currently (2017) working on the third book in The Pathways Tree series, the title of which is The Princess And The Orrery. I know what the story is in the grand sense, but I'm still at the plotting stage. I'm itching to get going! I'm also playing around with an idea for a stand-alone SF noir about a time traveller and a penguin.
What are you working on next?
I'm currently (2017) working on the third book in The Pathways Tree series, the title of which is The Princess And The Orrery. I know what the story is in the grand sense, but I'm still at the plotting stage. I'm itching to get going! I'm also playing around with an idea for a stand-alone SF noir about a time traveller and a penguin.
Who are your favorite authors?
Ahhhhh. I've been asked this question before, and my answer was, uh, not exactly concise!

I love Terry Pratchett, and that definitely shows in my writing style (though I certainly don't claim to be nearly as good as he was). I'm also a huge fan of older books. This is partly as a result of not having much money growing up: I used to buy a lot of books from charity shops, and more often than not that meant Penguin classics or Mills and Book romances. Mills and Book didn't stay with me, but the classics did. I like the older style of writing; it has a very unique flow which I enjoy. I recently read Charlie Jane Anders' novel, All The Birds In The Sky, and I adored it on every level - the plot, the characters and the writing style were all spectacular, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

I'm not too hooked on genre (really, who is?). If I enjoy it, I enjoy it. Some of my favourite authors, in no particular order are: Max Brooks, Jim Butcher, Douglas Adams, Suzanne Collins, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Hugh Laurie, Seanan McGuire, Stephen Baxter, Grant Naylor, Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, George Orwell, Jerome K. Jerome, P. G. Wodehouse, Somerset Maugham, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Poe, and Oscar Wilde.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The cats screaming for their breakfast!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
This is a tough one.

I was actually quite illiterate when I was younger, and didn't really get to grips with reading and writing until I was something like ten or eleven. However, this didn't stop stories being in my life. Both my mum and my dad used to read to me all the time - they are (or were, my father passed away) avid readers. I remember mum reading me The Hobbit and Shadow The Sheep Dog. I loved Shadow, I must have made her read it to me a hundred times! My father was an actor at one point in his life, and he used to put on all the different voices, which was magical.

I'm not sure exactly when reading 'clicked' for me, but at some point it did. I can remember reading the novelisations of films, or the books films were based on (such as The Abyss and Jaws). I think it helped my reading as I knew the films so could use that to help me decode the writing. I think probably The Abyss was the first full length novel I read on my own - I remember being at camp and reading it, and the other kids thinking I was very dull as a result. But for me, once I cracked reading, I couldn't stop!
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I'm honestly not sure. Sometimes it isn't joyful at all! But I can't seem to stop. If I'm not writing, more than likely I'm thinking about it.

I do like writing conversation. I love seeing how two people bounce off each other, what they choose to say and how they choose to say - or the things that slip out in unguarded moments. For me, that's fascinating. I wonder if that sounds a little pretentious? As if I am not in control? But really, sometimes I'm not so sure I am. More than once, I've started to write a scene and then, somehow, awoken an hour or two later and looked at the screen and had no idea how those words got there. It's a very strange experience. Perhaps that is my greatest joy - that sense of channelling something 'other' than myself.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I remember writing fanfiction of Anne Rice. I know now that Rice doesn't care for fanfiction of her work; all I can say is that it certainly never saw the light of day!

I also remember writing a short story at a writer's event my mum took me to in 2004, the LFB Creative Writing Masterclass (thanks Google!). Everyone in the audience was asked to write something during the lunch break, and mine was one of the ones chosen by the panel. I felt very proud of myself! But it didn't occur to me to ever write anything until years later. Perhaps my mum knew something all those years ago which I didn't?
Published 2017-01-24.
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