Saturday, 1 July 2017, I attended Felixstowe Book Festival 2017.
The first event of the weekend took place at Felixstowe Library and was a talk from author Alwyn Hamilton on her YA Trilogy, Rebel of the Sands.
Alywn was interviewed by Hannah Rowe and then opened to the audience for questions. This article is based on my notes of what she shared so there is chance I may have misinterpreted something.
Alwyn told us that originally Rebel in the Sands was intended as a stand alone novel but once she reached 80,000 words and was nowhere near finished, she realised that she’d have to break the story up. She describes the trilogy as a cross between a Western and Arabian Nights. The final book in the trilogy will be released February 2018.
Learn from you writing mistakes
Alwyn worked on six novels before writing Rebel in the Sands. All the predecessors were scrapped on completion but enabled her to critique her own work and identify where she needed to develop to improve her story writing skills.
There’s a chance that she may revisit and improve the last of these failed projects but the others will never see the light of day!
Using what inspires you
The story was triggered in response to an article she read about Katniss in Hunger Games being an unrealistic heroine because women are not strong. Alwyn didn’t agree with this and it got her thinking of all the different ways someone can be strong that doesn’t involve strength. She gave examples of characters such as Hermione from Harry Potter who is strong due to her intelligence.
She knew early on that her character would use a gun. Although she was unable to physically learn how to use a gun, she used the internet to research and find out information. In addition, the weapon in her story is more old fashioned than the style we have today, so not only was research cheaper but also more relevant.
I imagine her search history has been flagged by MI secret service and her name is on their watch list – like most good writers.
Environments are characters too
Alwyn has had the opportunity to travel and live in different countries. This has given her a great appreciation for different landscapes and cultures. This love has inspired her world building and the level of detail sounds high fantasy. Her publisher asked for a map that could be included in the American version of the second novel “Traitor to the Thorne”.
Alwyn said her sketched map looked like a six year old had drawn it so her published decided she should ‘stick to the writing’.
Alwyn enjoys creating environments that are as vivid as her characters. I believe she said she has camped in a desert and lived in France, England and America.
She admitted to being stubborn with her ideas. For example, when she has an idea she loves that doesn’t fit with her story, she will find a creatively solution to make it work.
She was a bit vague (so not to give the story away) about her original vision for the MC Amani to be The Blue Eyed Bandit. However, due to the setting, the habitants would not have blue eyes and she didn’t want to stray from that either. She found a creative solution so she could have both but you’ll have to read the book to find out more.
Write what keeps you up at night, not what you know. Alwyn admitted this quote was not her own but it had always stayed with her and has been true for her writing experience. She spoke quite a lot about being an insomniac.
She also made us laugh with examples of how late night ideas are not always the brightest. For example, when you imagine ‘someone should invent something that is colder than a fridge’ then you wake up and remember that something has been invented and is called a freezer.
However, I would say that Alwyn does write what she knows even if it is not intended.
For example, she spoke about the Denjin (like a Genie). She explained that when we anglicised the word it changed from a ‘D’ to a ‘G’. She studied art history and the revolution inspired her writing. She spoke about working at an auction house and the artefacts she saw. She spoke about working at Christys (maybe spelt wrong) book store in the Children’s section and she read the YA novels so she could recommend them to customers.
Whilst signing my novels, she told me “Life is too short to read bad novels.”
Setting boundaries in fantasy novels
A friend of hers complained fantasy novels have no limits. When the characters get in trouble they get a new power and it feels like a cop out (get out of jail free).
Alwyn then considered making rules for the powers so that they were not limitless. One of the rules she set is that the powers must relate to what we traditionally believe about Genies. The powers related to the desert (i.e. fire, sand, etc). She wanted the main characters to all have different powers so it wasn’t repetitive and then considered situations when those powers could be useful.
Alwyn would most like to have the power of Teleportation as is always running late, however, she hasn’t included this in the novel. Of the available powers she’d like Shapeshifting so she could make herself look like Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe.
She also was concerned that having such power would make it very easy to become evil and she could easily rob a bank.
Have just updated my website with all my events in the U.K. this summer! Hope to see you at some of them! They are as follows: 1st of July I'll be at Felixstowe Festival 28-30th of July I'll be at YALC 12th of August Free Event at @foylesforbooks talking Feminism with @laureevewriter as part of Storybox 20th August at the @edbookfest with @turtschaninoff
Good vs Evil
When asked why she enjoys reading and writing fantasy she explained that she enjoys tackling difficult questions in a safe environment. It is detached enough from the real world that they can be addressed without being too close.
In the first book in the series “Rebel of the Sands”, Alwyn said it is very straight forward who are the good guys and bad guys. However, in Traitor to the Throne this becomes more complex as she includes challenging scenarios to test her characters of what makes them good or bad.
For example, a person with good intentions but no ability to successfully execute change or someone who has to make difficult decisions and do wrong things but for a good reason.
Planning to write
Alwyn does not believe in creating a schedule and forcing herself to write at set times. She doesn’t agree with setting herself a word count and marking her success against meeting those targets.
Her preferred method is to outline her story by identifying the scenes that she wants to happen during the journey of the story. She then sets herself targets to write a ‘scene’. A scene could be very short (i.e. 500 words) or long (5,000 words), however, when she dedicates herself to getting the scene written that is her goal and she will write to whatever length it takes to naturally achieve it.
Life as a writer
Alwyn has had weekends where she has lost the world to writing and not had human contact. However, she finds that this can cause her to go a tad crazy. She loves the creative side but appreciates the need to have do the other writer tasks.
Other things that she does is handle her own taxes and administration and responding to emails. These tasks her keep her sane. She enjoys taking a walk and finding inspiration in the world around her (see above regarding art work, newspaper articles and challenging friends genre perspectives).
Naming the novels
One of the very interesting things that Alwyn shared with us is that she did not name the book. She advised that it is common for an agent or publisher to give a book a new title that they think will sell better, however, some titles get kept.
Here are the a few that Alwyn shared with us:
- “Wild West Meets Arabian Nights.” The title Alwyn gave her novel whilst querying
- “Creator of Smoke and Fire.” I think she said this was the title her agent used whilst contacting publishers.
- “Gun and the Girl”. This title was considered too taboo over fears that titles that include the word ‘gun’ may incite high school shootings.
- “Dust Walk”
- “Miarage Rebel.” Marketing rejected this due to is containing a made up word and making it difficult for potential customers to find and buy – I’m not sure if I’ve spelt it right.
- “Rebel of the Sands” They liked the word ‘rebel’ and it stuck and led them to come up with the final title for the first book in the series.
The name of the final book in the trilogy will be announced on Monday, 3 July 2017.
Alwyn was passionate about YA fiction and was dropping recommended reads throughout her talk. She shared a funny story of when she worked at a bookstore and a mother who was frustrated with her daughter’s obsession with Twilight requested a new book – Alwyn recommended, Shadow Hunters.
She also recommended:
- High Society – Elle Carter
- If Birds Fly Back – Carlie Sorosiak (currently reading)
- The Winners Curse – Marie Rutkoski
- Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo
She also spoke of a story that stayed with her for years about a cross dressing girl (similar to Mulan). I believe she said it was called Alana but I can’t find it online.
Alywn confirmed that the series has sold Film Options (means it could be made into a movie). This is with a studio called Cartel Studio and Will Smith. There have been rumours about who may play Armani. Alwyn has been clear that the ethnicity of the actress should be accurate and it’s possible the role could be Willow Smiths!
She sounds like a great choice and certainly brought colour to her music video “Whip My Hair”. I’m so pleased that they are trying to stay true to the characters in the novel as I do find it frustrating when movies change characters to fit their actors – the world is vast, so should your cast. I really hope this movie happens – It will be epic!
Alwyn is an amazing public speaker. She was so comfortable in front of the audience that it felt like she was speaking to us as her oldest friends. As you can see from this article, she covered a lot in her 1.5 hour talk.
She was so endearing I had to buy her books. They sound amazing and well thought out and I think my husband, who doesn’t read often, will enjoy them too due to depth of thought put into powers and world building.
Alwyn is definitely a fan of Hunger Games, Coffee and… Felixstowe.