Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Interview with Author Rosemary A. Johns

Rosemary A Johns
Oxford, UK

Good morning, Rosemary, and welcome back to Vision and Verse, the place for Art and Authors. I hear you've got something new to share with us.
Yes! Rebel Vampires Volume 1: Blood Dragons – release date August 14th.
It’s the first instalment of a fantasy series.

There are three people in this affair – and two of them aren’t human…
Blood Dragons explores a hidden paranormal world in London, where vampires are both predator and prey. It’s a story of redemption and love in a divided world beneath our own. Blood Lifers are a camouflaged species, who use venom to paralyse and mimic heart attacks in First Lifers (humans). Yet they fear the First Lifers they prey on. Until one Blood Lifer rebels – against his family, species and century old love - to save both their species.

I loved the idea of a novel, which was written from the vampire’s perspective. Dark, intelligent and subversive. But also had a British vampire front and centre. The ultimate anti-hero. A vampire book truly for adults.

The author Dorothy Davies has described Blood Dragons as, "Sharply observed, well written and different…a joy."

1960s London. Light is a Rocker Blood Lifer with a photographic memory. Since Victorian times he’s hidden in the shadows. Both predator and prey. His venom is deadly. But when he discovers his ruthless family’s secret experiments he questions whether he should be slaying or saving the humans he’s always feared.

I’m a traditionally published writer of short stories and plays. This is my debut novel. I’m fascinated by the outsider and concepts of identity and memory: Light can’t forget, just as his human lover of fifty years, who has dementia, can’t remember. So Light writes it down…

Ruby is a seductive and savage Elizabethan Blood Lifer. She burns with love for Light. But he’s keeping something from her. Something that breaks every rule in Blood Life.

I’m passionate about history (I studied history at Oxford for BA and Mst). Blood Dragons is set in the modern day, 1960s and Victorian times – but because the Blood Lifers were also elected in, for example, the Elizabethan period, I can play with those as well.

Kathy is a singer. But she’s also human. When the two worlds collide, it could mean the end. For both species. Unless Light plays the part of hero, he risks losing everything. Including the two women he loves.
A rebel, a red-haired devil and a Moon Girl battle to save the world – or tear it apart.

The series is urban fantasy – the supernatural set within our world. How would a species, evolved but hidden alongside our own, truly survive in the real world? My aim was to write vampires for adults – dark, real to life and with a British spin. It’s love as adults feel it: sometimes destructive, obsessive and agonizing but also redemptive. And lasting up to the very end…

The second book in the series – Blood Shackles – is released in November. It’s out on the 14th August for pre-order.
Welcome to the Blood Club – where the predators, become the prey…

What is your favorite genre to write?
I’ve written in a number of genres. They all have their different appeal. Now I’m writing fantasy (under Fantasy Rebel) and psychological thrillers (for Darker Rebel imprint).

What connects them to historical or dark fiction is the opportunity to be a subversive artist. This means to question the world around us – the easy lies, which society tends to go along with. Each culture has their own and has all through history. For example, ‘old people are boring’, ‘women can’t be leaders/look after themselves’, or ‘disabled people can’t be successful’. They may not be voiced but they bubble beneath the surface.

Science fiction and fantasy, as well as dark fiction, have always been the best genres for challenging these. This is because they’re one step removed from ‘real’ life and so – like the medieval jester – are allowed to get away with it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a great example, or Torchwood.

Almost any novel in this genre is a thrilling read but underneath challenges the reader to think about something within our real world. As a writer, that’s appealing.

Favorite food.
Lasagna! I’m part Italian (and part Irish, as well as Scottish), so a good mix, as well as being a Londoner on my father’s side. So I’ve always been drawn to everything Italian – most of all the food! My characters in Blood Dragons go on a Grand Tour in Victorian times, which includes Florence and Turin – it made me wish I was there! In Blood Shackles Light cooks a meal to impress someone and of course he cooks…lasagna…


Tea or coffee?
Neither – I wish they offered a third choice of hot chocolate at functions…

Pizza or ice cream?
Can I have both..? Cornish or Italian ice cream…then it would be ice cream. They’re the best I’ve had anywhere. Chocolate ice cream, of course. I always say please review my books on Amazon and Goodreads because to me that’s better than chocolate – so you see now how much a reader reviewing means to me..?

Oh, I know...it's getting more and more difficult to get reviews. Wine or beer?
I don’t drink, so I’d have to ask for water. I have a bottle of water with me all the time like Gwyneth Paltrow. I have chronic migraines and so need to have a lot of water and no alcohol. Food or chocolate doesn’t affect me, thank goodness. Before the migraines, I enjoyed white wine…

Where would you like to visit?
America. I’d love to go on a road trip right across because I can’t decide where I’d like to visit more. We have some friends there and we’d see them. 

When you come to visit, make sure you see at least one of the following: Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, or the desert in Arizona or Nevada. They are more then beautiful. They are life-changing. Okay, back to work. Favorite musical artist.  Do you listen to music when you write?  What?
I’m a total music fanatic. We’ve run out of space for my CDs. I like physically owning the music. There’s something about the cases, covers and being able to read the lyrics. Downloading music feels less personal; it’s like owning a paperback, rather than buying an e-book. I love reading on my Kindle. Yet when I like the cover or am excited about a book, I buy the paperback. I’m a sensory person. I love the feel of things. It was fantastic to be able to write a character just as in love with music as me in Light.

My musical taste is eclectic but I love rock and alternative American rock. I love Jimi Hendrix, Eels, David Bowie, Ghost of the Robot, Amy Winehouse and Nirvana. Nirvana are my favourite – when I really need an injection of energy, I stick them on and then I’m flying.

I never listen to music on my first draft – I’m too lost in the other world, where time has no meaning – but at all other stages of writing I do.   

What makes you laugh?
Laughter – most important thing in the world. I have a typically English (some would probably say dark) sense of humour. It permeates what I write. Blood Dragons is moving and thrilling. But it’s also funny – because of Light’s voice.  

Writing works best when there’s a contrast of light and dark – tragedy and comedy – Shakespeare did this best.

Favorite work of art or sculpture.
Michelangelo’s Prisoners, or Slaves, (c1519-1534). It’s haunting and ahead of its time.

The sculptures of slaves are unfinished. But it’s intentional. The slaves appear to fight to free themselves from the raw stone. But of course they can’t. They’re trapped forever in the continual struggle. It comments on the human condition in a hard hitting way.

I thought of this sculpture as I was writing Blood Shackles.

Freedom – and what this truly means – is fundamental to what I write. And it’s what’s important to me. 

How old were you when you started writing?
At four I created my first book (including price, barcode and blurb)… I don’t think it got good reviews… From that point on I told everyone I wanted to be a writer. At eight I attempted my first novel. At ten I wrote my first fantasy novel.

When I was thirteen I wrote my first full length play, which I acted in, cast and directed at school for Comic Relief. My first short story was published when I was fourteen.

I don’t think it ever occurred to me I should be doing anything but writing. When I wasn’t writing, I was reading. When I wasn’t reading, I was daydreaming stories.

It’s something I was born with but it’s also something I’ve practiced.

Describe your perfect evening.
Pretending I don’t have a husband and child… I would be writing a first draft (whilst eating a box of chocolates). It’s an amazing buzz being in that zone. There’s nothing like it.

The only feeling that comes close is when I ran a theatre company and also when I acted in plays – both during and immediately after. There was a similar buzz then and closeness to cast.

Where do you get your inspiration?
It’s different for everything I write. Usually there are several different ideas spliced together, however, which have been spiraling around my mind for months (or even years). Then something snaps together and I can see how they connect.

Blood Dragons, for example, came from a number of places.

I wanted to write a vampire novel, which was true urban fantasy – how would they really live, as a genuine lost species, in the real world?

My son is an autistic savant with a photographic memory. I’ve often been told I should write a book about autism or our experiences but feel it’s too personal. However, it occurred to me that if you lived for centuries having a photographic memory could be both a blessing and a curse. 

Vampires could also be used as an analogy for the ultimate outsider, which was appealing to me, as well as divisions between the species – and why people are divided. Light’s friend – Alessandro – is clearly autistic. But he was elected into Blood Life before such labels. This opened the idea of memory and identity…which led to dementia…

Vampires are often portrayed in fiction as loving human lovers in their twenties or teens. But never what happens after. I wanted to show a deep love, when the vampire stays with their lover for fifty years. In other words, I wanted Blood Dragons to be not just another vampire novel.

So within the framework of a thriller with romance, there are these big questions and issues as well.

That’s how my mind tends to work. Often they’re sparked by a photograph, song or snippet of conversation.

What do you do when you get a writer's block?
Touch wood – hasn’t happened yet! In fact I have a long list of projects waiting to be written, it’s simply a matter of time. For me, it’s time which is the most precious thing. I’m very busy! Motivation has never been a problem for me. Writing is my passion.

Who is your favorite author?
Fantasy author – Neil Gaiman.
Gaiman’s Neverwhere was on TV when I was young and inspired my love of this genre. The idea of another world beneath our own. The excitement of that. American Gods is perfect urban fantasy.

Best book you ever read.
The seven book series, which had me riveted when I was a teenager, was Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. A mix of fantasy, science fiction and horror (as well as western and Arthurian legend), it was the most compelling and original series I’d read – and still is.

It was also thought provoking and cerebral – it never gave easy answers but challenged the reader in ways other books didn’t. As a teenager I loved that. I never went back to ‘easier’ YA books. And I drive myself to challenge the reader and try to recreate for them that emotional compulsion and connection, which I felt for The Dark Tower.

Last book you read.
Burned by Benedict Jacka. It’s an urban fantasy set in London, so I was interested to read it. It’s a world where mages (light and dark) exist. The central protagonist – Alex Verus – is the strength of the novel. There’s a similar vein of English humour – I think it’s a national trait!
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a writer?

I’ve worked in the theatre - behind stage and front of house.  I don’t think you can write plays, if you don’t know it technically as a craft. It often comes down to timings. Writers need to know it from all angles.

I’ve worked in shops, recruitment and marketing. I’ve been a history tutor and would love to be a teacher. I’ve also worked with a number of disability charities.

You can earn money but that’s not the same thing as being fulfilled. I had to take a break from writing professionally to care for my son. But that didn’t mean I stopped writing – if I was never published, I’d still write. I think that’s what being a writer means.

Being able to be published – that interaction between reader and author - is what fulfils me. I know that’s a blessing.

Who is the one person who has influenced your personal life the most and why?
My son. Blood Dragons is dedicated to him. You can read it in the paperback. We are all different. Individuals. And we all have our place in the world. He inspires me every day – he doesn’t give up. He faces a world, which is challenging, difficult to understand and sometimes hostile. But he gets up and does it every day. If he manages that, then what should we achieve? And what should we try our hardest to improve for the better?

If you could sit down and have a conversation with ONE person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be and why?
Lestat – from Anne Rice’s novels. The Vampire Lestat is my favourite of Anne Rice’s novels. Lestat is a complex anti-hero, who sees himself, however, as a hero. He hates being portrayed as a monster and in fact seems to love humans. He can also be very altruistic. ‘The Brat Prince’ is also plagued by philosophical moral questions. It would be fascinating to discuss these – and then Light’s own redemption with him…

What advice would you give someone who aspired to be a writer?
Read – anything and everything. And when you do, think about why the writing works. Or doesn’t. Then read books on writing – learn the craft. Because it is a craft. While you do this…write. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or not, it simply matters that you get the words down. It’s been said that you need to write 100,000 words – the length of a novel - before you’re any good (just like a violinist needs to practice for thousands of hours). Then you throw those words out and start again.

Write a little every day and then build up over time. But do what works for you. Everyone is different. What works for someone else, won’t work for you. So work out what feels best and stick with it.

Discover Rosemary A John’s dark scribblings online:

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