#Interview: Deborah Valentine, #Author of “The Knightmare”, Time-Traveling Fiction

Knightmare_ThumbnailAuthor Bio: Deborah Valentine is a British author, editor and screenwriter who once lived in California but far preferred the British weather and fled to London, where she has resided for many years.

She is the author of three books published by Victor Gollancz Ltd in the UK, and Bantam and Avon in the US. Unorthodox Methods was the first in the series, followed by A Collector of Photographs and the Ireland-based Fine Distinctions. A Collector of Photographs was short-listed for an Edgar Allan Poe, a Shamus, a Macavity and an Anthony Boucher award. Fine Distinctions was also short-listed for an Edgar. They featured the characters of former California sheriff Kevin Bryce and artist Katharine Craig, charting their turbulent romance amid murder and mayhem. They are soon to be available as eBooks on the Orion imprint The Murder Room.

With the publication of The Knightmare she has embarked on a new series of books with a supernatural edge. For more visit her website http://www.deborahvalentine.co.uk/ or The Knightmare Facebook page. She is a Goodreads author.

Description: “France, 1209: A Knight Templar riding through an eerie forest is suddenly attacked by an assassin as a man and woman watch from a distant hillside. When his death seems certain, the woman takes up a sword…

Present, Formula 1 race, Magny Cours: Observed by the very same couple, Conor Westfield, a career-obsessed Scottish driver, is in a horrible racing accident. Miraculously, he survives what seemed to be certain death.

As he is recovering from his injuries Conor’s childhood nightmare recurs, a strange jumble of terrifying images that feel more like memories than dreams. Can it be mere coincidence that the very next morning he is informed a mysterious woman with whom he had very brief affair has died and left him as her heir? But this was no ordinary woman and no ordinary affair.

Dogged by a niggling feeling of déjà vu, Conor travels to Amsterdam to identify the body. At her home he finds an illuminated book that transports him back in time, to a woman he left behind and a life lived in the shadow of a tragedy that cries out across 800 years for resolution.

Weaving history with the present, fact with fantasy, The Knightmare is a story of angels and alchemy, betrayal and sacrifice, and truly extraordinary love.”

Available for purchase at Amazon.


About the Author

What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
The first three books were crime fiction but each story was slightly different. Unorthodox Methods was more straight-forward, A Collector of Photographs very noir and Fine Distinctions a thriller. The Knightmare is historical time travel with a supernatural twist. Though I sometimes call it a fantasy that risks being misleading as the term comes with a set of expectations the book doesn’t fit. Most of what I write from now on is going to have a supernatural twist because it’s great fun and also because the supernatural gives good dramatic insight into the human psyche. But I’m a great believer in cross-genre because life is rather cross-genre.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I must have been about 12. I had a fantastic English teacher, Miss Coulter, who, I kid you not, had to have been about 80. A teacher of such great age wouldn’t be allowed these days, but I was in private school then and anything went. She was the best. She looked like Miss Marple! I was in the library one day and she said, “Deborah, you should be a librarian, you spend so much time here.” And my immediate thought was: let someone else take care of MY books. It was the first inkling of what was to come. I suppose after that writing was just the natural course (with a bit of a push by fate here and there).

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read (naturally). Study history. Go to outdoor markets — antiques, food, books, bric a brac and plain old every day junk. Give me an outdoor market and I’m in seventh heaven. I like objects (and people) with a bit of history behind them! A bit soiled by life. I also like spending time with animals.

Where do you hang out online? Website URL, author groups, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc?
Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, The London Book Fair Group and I have a website (www.deborahvalentine.co.uk), which I’m ashamed to say, is in desperate need of updating! I’m still wary of tweeting — God only knows what I’d tweet off the cuff and regret later.

What books are currently on your nightstand?
Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies, all set for its second reading. Speculum Duorum (or A Mirror of Two Men) by Giraldus Cambrensis. The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt — a very interesting study of the codes of chivalry. And Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time. A rather mixed bag…

Do you remember the first novel you read?
I don’t remember the very first novel; I started reading very, very young. But I remember the first book I fell madly in love with. Like a lot of young girls, it was Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

What would you like readers to know about you the individual?
I was once asked to describe myself in 140 characters and this was my answer: “Battered by life, but reasonably cheerful about it. A typical Gemini, running two courses at the same time. Obsessive about writing.” I think that pretty much sums me up.

Who are your favorite authors and why?
Neil Gaiman, I love the fantastical turn of his imagination. Andrew Miller, so elegant in his prose! Hilary Mantel, I love the way she makes history come alive. Carlos Ruis Zafon, fantastical and elegant. The Brontës because, well, because they are the Brontës. Dark, mysterious and in an enclosed world that seduces you in. David Mitchell for the scope of his imagination.

Where are you from originally?
I was born in California but I hated the weather (no, not joking) and fled to Britain as soon as I could. I am a British citizen.

Your Writing Process

Why do you write?
Because I’m not fit for anything else. I was definitely created ‘fit for purpose’.

What excites you about writing?
Everything. Sentence construction, finding just the right word. The characters, seeing them go off and do their own thing, being surprised by someone that is (supposedly) your own creation. I don’t outline — I know the first line, I know the last — so each approach to the computer holds a sense of anticipation, of discovery. I love the editing process, finding things in the story you hadn’t realised were there but were lurking in your subconscious. Every day is an adventure. Every day is a risk.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
It’s 9 to 5 (or so). Like an office job, but a lot more fun. And really, with writing you never stop. Every holiday, everything you see and do, everything you read feeds into being a writer so you’re never off-duty.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read voraciously. Write obsessively. Learn all you can about the business of writing and what it means to be a professional. Leave your ego behind and develop a thick skin and a very strong sense of humour. And if you don’t love it, if you don’t feel that unless you write you can’t breathe, don’t bother.

What would you consider is your favorite part of a book to write? The beginning, the middle or the ending?
Pressed for an answer, I think my very favourite part is editing the full draft. I love going over and over it again, the whole process of revision and refinement.

Do you listen to music or have another form of inspiration when you are writing?
Music is essential! I feed off it, it keeps me focused. Usually it’s some kind of medieval chant. Each book has its own playlist, so I do vary it to a degree. I listen to Ludovico Einaudi sometimes or Nitin Sawhney. But I listen to the same CD all day, day after day. It would drive a sane person mad. I’m sure the cat must get annoyed. That’s another thing I need — an animal to hand, a connection with a creature that is instinctual and doesn’t require words.

Most people envision an author’s life as being really glamorous. What’s the most unglamorous thing that you’ve done in the past week?
Laid on the sofa with a packet of frozen peas on my knee. I’ve had surgery on it recently with more coming in the future. I’m supposed to do this three times a day. You feel like an idiot. I try to use the time productively by reading, but there’s no getting round the fact you’ve got your leg hoisted up compromising your modesty and a melting lump of veg on your swollen discoloured flesh. Not attractive.

Do you prefer writing series books over non series or does it matter?
Series. The first three used the same main characters. The series that is starting with The Knightmare is more a group of interconnected stories with characters dipping in and out. For example, ‘Who Is Huggermugger Jones?’ is the next book and we will follow the next segment of Conor and Mercedes’ complex entanglement but we will also be introducing the character of Whit Rhys Barry and seeing things from his point of view. In a lot of ways, it’s his book. He will also be a part of the book following it, The Cruel Humour of Women, where it’s unlikely we see Conor and Mercedes much, if at all. They will come back in another book elsewhere. I aim to create a whole world where each character has its day within a broader social environment.

What would you like readers to know about you the writer?
That I truly want to entertain them and also give them something to think about, something they can relate to, no matter how fantastical the story may be. An alternate world to live in from time to time.

What is the best and worst writing advice you have ever received?
The best: just keep writing. The worst: just write anything to get it on the page. No. Think about what you put down.

Do you track work count or write a certain number of hours per day?
I do write a certain number of hours per day, but I find there are some days I get a lot down on the page and others I don’t. That’s not a worry. The time you spend thinking, letting the well fill up so to speak, is time well spent. Without it you wouldn’t have the big bonanza days.

Have you ever had one of those profound “AH-HA!” moments while you were writing?  Would you be willing to share it?
Halfway through the first draft of Unorthodox Methods I thought “AH-HA!”, yes indeed, this is what I do. I am home.

What was the most uplifting moment you’ve experienced during your writing career?
I think seeing the reviews for Unorthodox Methods. It was the first thing I’d ever written, so I was notably concerned. But the reviewers said such nice things I felt it justified everything I’d gone through to get into print. It WAS uplifting. The Edgar nominations for A Collector of Photographs and Fine Distinctions were also very nice.

Your Books

Your book is about to be sent into the reader world, what is one word that describes how you feel?

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I’ve had four published, another that was never intended for publication, and yet another that was commissioned but due to oddball circumstances beyond my control was never published, so six altogether. Fine Distinctions used to be my favourite until The Knightmare. Now The Knightmare is my definite favourite. There is a huge chunk of my soul in that book. I also have two books in the first draft stage.

When a new book comes out, are you nervous about how readers will react to it?
You do want people to like it, you do want them to be entertained. But you also have to realise not everyone is going to love you — and that’s okay. C’est la vie.

What can we look forward to in the upcoming months?
I’m hoping to finish the sequel to The Knightmare, Who Is Huggermugger Jones?, and after that a ghost story called The Cruel Humour of Women. We may be looking at more than a few months, though!

Of all the books you have written, which would you consider your easiest to write? The hardest to write? The most fun to write?
I don’t know that I would consider any of them easy… but perhaps A Matter of Luck, the one I never intended for publication was the least stressful. It was an experiment in comedy that just kind of flowed out. The hardest would be A Collector of Photographs, because I had to spend a lot of time in the head of one terribly unpleasant character. The Knightmare was the most fun because I really let my imagination rip and the whole story was so close to my heart — it was GREAT fun!

What kind of research do you do for your books? Do you enjoy the research process?
When it comes to the history sections, I do a lot of factual research reading. I also visit museums, both history and art. I get a lot of inspiration by looking at art. I visit locations. And yes, I really enjoy the research process and playing with ideas.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I make a lot of notes while researching and write down snippets of dialogue, or thoughts and descriptions that come to me, but I don’t outline. If I knew everything ahead of time, I wouldn’t bother writing it. Writing should always carry with it a sense of discovery. Or perhaps I’m just too scatty to plan!

If your book is available in print, how does it feel to hold a book that has your name on the cover?  What is your favorite cover of all your paperbacks?
It’s lovely to hold a book you’ve written in your hand, but weirdly I find I feel like it doesn’t belong to me anymore, that somehow I’ve let it go. There’s a strange sense of distance that comes with it. My favourite cover for the paperbacks is the Bantam version of A Collector of Photographs, it’s very noir and captures the essence of the story. A very good representation, I feel.

Is there something special you do to celebrate when one of your books is released?
Crack open a bottle with friends. Not very imaginative perhaps, but great fun.

Your Characters

Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
I don’t know that anyone comes up with characters totally from the imagination. Someone always inspires them, but by the time they have their life on the page they are totally unrecognisable. They’ve taken on a life of their own, separate from whoever inspired them. I also think the writer is like a petri dish, that if you isolate certain of your own character traits, someone else entirely grows out of it. Many, perhaps most, of my characters crawl out of a hidden corner of my psyche.

Is it hard coming up with names for your characters?
It can take a certain amount of research. I like the names to mean something, if only to me, to keep me on track of a character trait or simply an important association. Occasionally a character will name itself!

Have any of your characters ever haunted your dreams or woken you up during the night demanding attention?
Oh, yes. Many times. I think the most dramatic was the day I had to kill the Knight Templar in The Knightmare. It’s a book with idea of reincarnation at its centre, so of course he had to die in medieval times. But when the day I had to do it actually arrived, I woke up at 4am quite upset. It was going to be a horrible death. I didn’t want to do it, didn’t want to confront it. I had to ring a friend to get me settled down before I could get on with it to any sensible degree. Fortunately, I had the wit to wait until a more reasonable hour to ring him or perhaps our friendship would have died a death as well!

Which of your stories would make a great movie?  Who’d play the lead roles?
The Knightmare would make a great movie but very expensive. I’ve actually written a screenplay for it that has received very good feedback but, oh, the expense! There has been talk of A Collector Photographs being made into a film and that may yet come to something. I don’t like speculating on actors to play them though. I’ve noticed in films that sometimes an actor you’d think perfect for a role, doesn’t turn out to be; while someone you’d never consider stretches themselves to do a remarkable job. There was a read-through for the screenplay of A Collector of Photographs and someone who I’d never have thought of in a million years did such wonderful things with one of the roles it was difficult to imagine anyone else doing it.

Do you make a conscious decision to write a certain type of character with a certain occupation, or do the characters decide for themselves what they want to be?
Well, sometimes story-wise you need someone to have a particular occupation, but I find the characters themselves decide exactly who they’re going to be and what flaws or plus points they’re going to have. It’s out of your hands.

What in your opinion makes good chemistry between your leading characters?
Sharp dialogue, conflict and humour.

Is there a character from one of your books that resonates deeply with you?
Conor in The Knightmare. It took several drafts in before I realised how much we had in common! More the unattractive than the attractive qualities as well!

Random Questions

Name one website you visit every single day.
The BBC every day except Sunday. Sunday is a non-computer day.

Where do you get your daily dose of news?
The BBC online and ITV’s London Tonight.

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Filed under Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Interviews, Writers and Writing

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