SilentRoamer: Firstly, thanks for submitting Inish Carraig for review, it was an enjoyable read and thanks for taking the time for this interview.
Jo Zebedee: It was a pleasure to be asked and to receive such a thoughtful review.
SR: I wanted to get a bit more information on the person behind the work. What would you say your motivating factors are and what from your life shapes the way in which you write or the themes you write about?
JZ: The motivating factors in terms of writing – it’s something I really enjoy doing, a place that gives me space on my own away from my many, busy, aspects of life.
In terms of how much of my life I bring, I’m not sure. I have a strong belief in existentialism which runs through The Inheritance Trilogy, but I’m not sure I bring that to other books (although most of my characters take a lot of strength from within.)
One theme is of juggling a level of unbalance with carrying on as normal (interestingly, Inish Carraig doesn’t have that theme.) The edges of mental imbalance, if you like. I don’t have anything startlingly clever to say about why or how, suffice that I do believe many, many people have things like anxiety and depression – and a range of other disorders – that somehow gets overlooked in society. We’re very bad at admitting that many of us struggle from time to time and I like to challenge the notion that perfection is normality. It also gives great conflict!
SR: Some of the themes in Inish Carraig are tonally quite dark and carry some real emotional punch – how did you find these to write?
JZ: My writing does tend to dark little corners. I’m not sure why I’m not a dark person, in general. When I’m writing, it often doesn’t seem to be as dark as readers find it.
Inish Carraig is nowhere near as dark as Abendaus Heir, though, so I didn’t find that aspect of it too difficult. Instead, it was fun what can I do to creep people out and send a shiver up spines?
Whereas in Abendau, it was about how I could take the pathos of a cruel situation and show it in a way that left the reader a little shell shocked. The events of Abendau’s Heir (my main character undergoes an utterly hellish ordeal) shape the characters and story – much more so than in Inish. Its the central tragedy, the event that cant be moved past.
As such, writing it was a challenge. I couldn’t back away from what happened and had to be pretty unflinching in showing it. Which made for hard writing but I think I did it justice I certainly seem to be the reader of choice for such scenes from my critique partners, which is a little worrisome.
In Inish Carraig the darkness adds to the feel of the book and it suits the set-up I’ve created, I think the broken Belfast, the cracks in society for people to fall through. The landscape the book takes place in Belfast and the north coast of Northern Ireland – is craggy, with hard, volcanic rock and a sea that hits with huge force, so somehow that fits the tone well.
SR: Inish Carraig is self published but Abendau’s Heir (first in the Inheritance Trilogy) has been picked up for publication by TicketyBooPress – how did you find the publishing experience differs and can you offer any advice to those trying to get published?
JZ: I’ve enjoyed both experiences very much. I think if I hadn’t already been trad published, it would have been harder to break out as a self published author. I enjoy the camaraderie of being in a publishing house and having others on the same journey. Its nice, too, to have support with the promo. Also, obviously, the upfront costs for a trilogy would have been much higher than for a standalone so that came into my thinking, too, that Id like to reduce the risk a little. But, of course, in reducing that risk I also make less per copy sold.
With Inish Carraig I’ve had fun learning the business end of things. I run my own promos, I do my own research into review sites and what not. I also had to learn all about Kindle and how it works, about distribution channels, that sort of thing, and I feel I’m more equipped to operate in the publishing world having self published.
Giving advice is hard as I feel I’m very much still at the stage where I need advice (and people have been very generous with theirs). I think, regardless what direction is taken publishing-wise, patience is a big thing. There are loads of voices, all clamouring to have their book read. To be heard amongst that takes time.
I’d also advise, whatever route is taken, that the polish applied to the book should be no different. Nothing will bring bad reviews quicker than shoddy editing and formatting. A poor cover will struggle to sell. I can honestly say that Inish Carraig and Abendau’s Heir had the same attention from me. They also had the same copy editor and internal formatter (and cover designer in the fab Gary Compton from Tickety Boo Press), so there should be no difference in the end quality of the books.
Oh, and get your stuff out. I am no better writer than many, many others I know – I just have stuff out for people to read. That’s moved me further forwards in six months than nearly 18 months of being agented did. Publishing is changing and sitting hoping for the big break is like waiting for the lottery rollover, frankly. It gets done, by both self publishers and trad, but not often. In the meantime, you might as well be selling something and learning the other end of the trade. (Because writing the book is one thing – editing, promoting, and writing the next book in the middle of all that is another skill altogether.)
SR: There were some great local idioms in Inish Carraig, surprisingly many Yorkshire and Irish phrases have some crossover – how did you decide what would be acceptable to a wider and non-Irish audience and was this easier considering Inish Carraig is self published?
JZ: I don’t think being self-published affected this my next Northern Ireland-based book is going with a traditional publisher but, absolutely, keeping it understandable is a real challenge.
I had a good number of beta/first readers, including some Americans, which helped a lot if they got pulled up, they told me. Also, my copy editor, the fab Sam Primeau, is American and tells me when I go wrong (sometimes my punctuation goes a little awry when I’m trying to capture the NI idiom, for instance.) But I think context is the big key most people will work out an eejit is a mild, half-joking insult if its used in that manner. Some of the NI lines make me smile there are some great turns of phrases and its nice to share them in something that is, really, quite mainstream.
SR: You have teased that any future sequels rest on the success of Inish Carraig – given the recent Amazon sales rankings does this now look more likely?
JZ: Its still early days the books only been out for a couple months. But it is doing well and I always wanted it to be a duology… I do similar sales over the next couple of quarters Ill definitely be looking at it.
Time is an issue, though! I have two books coming out in 2016 and one lined up for 2017, so fitting the writing and editing of another will be challenging. But I write quickly, so its certainly not a rule-out.
SR: If sequels are a potential then as a reader I want more exposition on the Zelotyr and Barath’na. Do you plan on exploring the Zelotyr and Barath’na in more detail? Will you expand on the Galactic Council?
JZ: Yes, that would be in the plan. One of the drawbacks of the way I write close into the character with no shifting out of close character point of view is the reader can only know what the character does. And in Inish, John and Henry, to a lesser extent, know very little. That’s great for ratcheting up tension and keeping the readers guessing, but doesn’t make world building easy.
Suffice to say, I know a lot more about the set up than is in the book (I even wrote a Galactic charter when I was drafting the book) and Id love to share that.
I would hope to have a lot of fun with the aliens in any sequel because in Inish the Zelotyr are off the scene almost at the very start, and there were many Northern Irish-isms I have planned about aliens smelling of shit…
SR: We are given some interesting concepts – such as the Zelo killing more than once and that they have FTL travel – do you intend on taking any subsequent volumes off earth? Maybe visiting the Zelo/Barath’na home worlds and showing the reader more tech?
JZ: My plan for book two would be to have John, Henry and Neeta on the run on the Zelo planet and a second narrative with Josey, Sean and Peters on Earth supporting it. There are no spoilers since I don’t know anything more than that I’m not a planner.
SR: Your first traditionally published book Abendaus Heir is now available – do you have a release date for the second in the series and any further information?
JZ: Yes, Sunset over Abendau comes out in March 2016, with the final instalment coming out in the Autumn. The series is a true trilogy in the sense that many of the joining dots don’t come into evidence until book three. I really enjoyed that aspect of writing it. I found myself nodding and going ah-ha more than I’d expected.
I also enjoy the character growth in the series. We’ve been with Kare since he was a child of seven. In the next book he’s a man ten years have passed between book one and two and a much different person. Its hard to see how he couldn’t be, given the events of book one. But there’s still something of that seven year old in him, and balancing that was tricky.
I’m really looking forward to it coming out and anxiously waiting to see what my editor thinks of it, and looking forward to getting stuck back into the world. 2016 will be my Abendau year, which will be lovely.
SR: What more can we expect following the completion of The Inheritance Trilogy – any other projects in the works?
JZ: Lots. I could write full time with the work I have on, except for the need to eat and keep a roof over my kids heads.
After the Inheritance Trilogy, my first fantasy book will be coming out. Its set in the Glens of Antrim and is a dark fairy-fuelled roadtrip through the glens, capturing the sense of a magical place in.
I also have a standalone science fiction I’m doing a last run on before deciding on the route to a home with it. Its a similar demograph to Inish Carraig but much more psychologically dark. After that, dependant on Inish, I have a YA sf an English Roswell and then I have plans for a frontier fantasy series about a race of Storm mages.
The nice thing about the hybrid route is that I don’t feel anything I write will be wasted I have a route to release it, either through publishers (Id hope if I wrote anything more in the Abendau world, which I’d like to, that Tickety Boo will have done well enough with the trilogy to consider it), or through self publishing.
The only thing I know for sure is I don’t intend to stop writing. Therefore, the onus is on me to choose the right channels and try to make a living at it. With the way things have taken off in the last month, I’m a little more confident of doing that.
SR: Thanks for taking the time out for this interview Jo. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing Abendau’s Heir.