Recently, I posted a Call to Writers, asking my fellow author bloggers to allow me to interview them for guest-spots on my blog. (If you are interested in participating, please contact me.) I asked everyone thirty-five questions — some were basic, and others were multi-part inquiries — and I asked them to answer only what they wanted to or what was applicable. My friend and fellow-blogger, Bryony Porteous-Sebouhian, had some very interesting responses which I’m sure will captivate you, as well. After you read her interview, please be sure to hop on over to her blog and follow her for a regular dose of her charm. And now, I present Bryony …
1. Please tell us your name (or pen name) and a little bit about yourself:
My name is Bryony Porteous-Sebouhian (a bit of a mouthful I know). I am 20 and in my second year studying Creative Writing and English Literature at York St John Uni in York. I’m a bit of a Goth, though it might not be extremely obvious (it’s what is inside that counts), and have a morbid fascination with how disturbed people’s minds work, probably because of all that psychological thriller stuff I read.
2. Please provide the link to your blog (and website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, etc.):
http://afewlettersandwords.wordpress.com/ – my WordPress blog, (follow me if you like)
http://www.youth-grows-pale.tumblr.com/ – my writing blog on tumblr (I accept peoples writing submissions on here which I then publish so if anyone has tumblr and fancies it…go ahead!)
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bryony-PS-aspiring-writer/698956106856047 – and finally, this is my Facebook page which I made a few months ago after being persuaded by my brother (and others), that as a writer I should enhance my online presence. So please do go ahead and like!
3. How many books have you written?
I have not yet completed an entire book. I am currently working on a collection of short stories, some of which I have already written, others are still to come, which I will hopefully finish in the next year. In a more long term aspect however I am in the midst of writing my first novel. I have written just over 25,000 words so far and it is all coming along nicely, if not a little slowly because of annoying distractions like university.
My book will be split into 3 parts, the first of which is available to read for free, and in three separate posts on my WordPress blog:
http://afewlettersandwords.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/i/ – 1
4. Has any of your work been published yet? If so, please share the link(s) to purchase it:
I haven’t as of yet had any prose pieces published, I have however had 2 poems published in national anthologies by United Press Ltd. The first of which is called ‘Short Conversations’ and was published in their ‘Festival of Poetry’ anthology, the second is called ‘A Revenant’s Allure’ and was published in their ‘Between the Lines’ anthology.
http://youth-grows-pale.tumblr.com/post/46860791319/they-ask-me-if-it-hurt-they-ask-me-when-they – ‘Short Conversations’ from my tumblr blog.
http://youth-grows-pale.tumblr.com/post/42042146740/a-revenants-allure-like-the-instant-before-your – ‘A Revenant’s Allure’ from my tumblr blog.
5. How old were you when you started writing? When did you know you wanted to be an author?
When I was 5 I was given my first notebook, that my mum told me I could keep as a poetry book, because I made poems up all the time. In the front of this book I wrote:
Bryony Eilish* Porteous-Sebouhian, A poet and author (probably spelt a lot poorer than that. *my middle name).
So I guess I would say, since then, I filled 3 poetry books while I was still young and still have them at home today. I lost sight of what made me happy and what I felt passionate about enough to call a vocation while I was 14/15/16, but quickly made my way back when at 17 my mum gave me Phillip Pullmans ‘His Dark Materials’ to read (I had never been much of a reader before this and was aiming to become a clinical psychologist) and I fell in love with it, and fell in love with the idea of being able to make someone feel the same way about my writing, as I did about his.
6. What would you say motivates you to keep writing?
What motivates me to keep writing, is the idea that, my book isn’t finished, and even if it is rejected a million times before someone says yes to it, or even if it’s never published, I could die any moment, and that would mean I never even had the chance to try. That might sound rather morbid, but I did warn you…Goth.
7. Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you currently reading (or what is the last book you read)?
My number one favourite author, as you probably already guessed, is Phillip Pullman; his books quite literally changed my life, and I will always owe him that. Another favourite of mine is Markus Zusak, after HDM (His Dark Materials), I didn’t think I’d find another book I loved as much, but his book, ‘The Book Thief’, delighted and broke me – a truly amazing read. Stephen Chbosky’s ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is another favourite of mine. I love Neil Gaiman, he is magical. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (hello cliché Goth moment), I actually think is massively underrated and I love it. Other than that, Scott Fitzgerald, Margaret Attwood, Mo Hayder, Emily Bronte and I can’t not mention the poet John Keats, who inspires me every day.
As far as a book I am currently reading, I am reading Ursula LeGuin’s novel ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ for my ‘Imaginary Worlds’ module at University.
8. What is your preferred reading method? (i.e., Kindle, Nook, paperback, hardback, etc.) Why?
Paperbacks all the way. This might shock you, but I am a binding breaker. I love to be able to fold a book over and get snuggled up in bed and just read and read – it is nigh impossible to do that with a hardback. I have special hardbacks, like all booklovers, that aren’t really for reading, but to look at, on special occasions *cue Barns and Noble leather bound, blood red hardback edition of Dracula*.
9. Do you write in first or third person, past or present tense, and why?
My knee-jerk reaction is always to go to third person, but I have been challenging myself in my creative writing classes and assignments to try out first person, which is difficult for me, because I like to feel a little detached and in control of what I am writing, where as I find when I am writing in first person, it becomes more personal. When it comes to tenses, I can’t imagine writing in present tense.
10. Do you “always read” or do you take breaks between reading books?
I spend a great deal of my time reading, especially recently due to my course at university. However, I do take breaks, over summer for example, where I will read really easy going things that are literally just for entertainment value, nothing that might tempt my English Literature brain to analyse. For example, when I got home from York at the beginning of summer this year, I read ‘Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban.
11. How many books would you say you read in a year? How many at any one time?
It honestly depends. Last year my reading list was a little ridiculous so there was around 20 I read, just for university. If I wasn’t at university, depending on how motivated I feel I’d say the average would be 10. I am currently reading 3 books at once, a novel, a book of poetry, and an informal textbook style book called ‘Writing Poems’ by Peter Sansom.
ABOUT YOUR CURRENT BOOK::
12. What is the title of your current work in progress of the most recent manuscript you’ve completed?
As I have mentioned above, I haven’t as of yet got a completed manuscript, however the book I am in the middle of writing, is for the moment, titleless. I have had a few ideas such as ‘Games in the woods’, ‘A game for two sisters’, and ‘The silence in the fireworks’.
13. What is your novel’s genre? Would you say there is a sub-genre? What makes yours different than other books in the same genre?
I would say my novel fits nicely into the ‘psychological’ genre, however it deals with a lot of issues surrounding growing up too, as the main character, Alice Knight, is only 13, so it could slip into others.
I think the layout of my novel is different to most I have seen, it doesn’t have chapters, only quite short, diary style entries, with the dates at the top, to help the reader keep track of where they are in the timeline, as it jumps into the past and then back to the present a lot. The story also starts with a transcript which I thought was a cool idea.
14. What inspired the current or most recent story you’ve completed?
The piece I am working on currently, (the half completed novel) was interestingly enough, inspired by watching an early 2000’s B-movie, a horror movie too, called ‘Ginger Snaps’. The film is focused on two sisters who have a very strange relationship, and I got to thinking about sibling bonds, what these characters would have been like when they were younger, and then my own characters, who are also very strange in their own right, and different from the sisters in ‘Ginger Snaps’ came about.
15. What is your target audience’s age, gender, etc.?
In terms of gender, any…Anyone who likes a bit of weird, and a bit of ‘playing the detective’. When it comes to the age of the audience I would want to focus my book on, I would say 14/15+.
16. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your story?
Absolutely! My story is set (for the most part) in 2012. It begins on the night of November the 5th, on this night in England we light bonfires and set off fireworks to commemorate the foiling of Guy Fawkes’ plan. So, on this night of November the 5th, 2012, two sisters, Alice and Lyssa Knight are sat inside, away from the fireworks as they start at 6pm. The rest of the story follows on from later that same night when, Lyssa, the older sister of the two is found dead, stabbed to death. During this turn of events the younger sister, Alice, is taken in as suspect, and when, in questioning she breaks down, it becomes clear she isn’t stable and it is through this that the second main character is introduced, Dr Graham Pellman, a child, clinical psychologist. The book focuses on the events unfolding in the present:
Dr Graham Pellman helping Alice remember what happened on the night of the 5th and her experiences with him, the police, and at a psychiatric hospital.
Graham beginning to question Alice’s innocence.
There is also some focus on the past:
Snippits of memory, told in stories, about Lyssa and Alice’s experiences together, and alone as children, but also during the month before Lyssa’s murder. These ‘flashback’ style parts in the book serve as a kind of Hansel and Gretel, breadcrumbs effect, which will eventually explain why Alice is the way she is, why Lyssa was the way she was, and how it came to be that she was killed.
ABOUT HOW YOU WRITE::
17. How often do you write?
I write at least 3 times a week.
18. Approximately how many words do you write at each sitting?
If I am writing my book, between, 3/5,000 words. If I am writing poetry, it depends on the poem.
19. Do you do your own editing or send it to someone else?
I have a good friend who helps me with my grammar (which is sometimes atrocious), and he has, in the past looked over my book (so far) and sent me all the corrections I needed to make.
20. What is your method of writing? (i.e., Do you write the entire manuscript, then go back and make changes? Do you plan chapters as you go along or write the story then go back and add chapters? Do you re-read as you go along or after you are done with the first draft?)
I write at least once a week because I feel like I should keep up the commitment, but, I really enjoy writing when I have an idea I just have to get down. With my book, I plan what I want to do in the next 2/3 parts in my writing journal and then when a great idea for how to start it hits me, I write. Luckily enough I have a lot of ideas going around in my head, in the background all the time, most of them are rubbish and useless but because it’s pretty much constant I haven’t had a problem with knowing what to do next (*touch wood* as of yet). I constantly re-read my work and change small details, words, phrases.
21. Do you have a muse? If so, please elaborate. If not, what inspires you?
I don’t really have a muse no, but I definitely have a transformative process that I go through when I am getting into the right state of mind to just sit down and write for a few hours, this usually includes me (bear with me here) becoming slightly immersed in certain images in my head that make me calm. The best way I can explain it is by comparing it to Keats’s ‘Negative Capability’, it’s a process of letting yourself be open to inspiration I guess. This isn’t some romantic, poetic three hours though…It takes a few minutes. I don’t really believe in the whole ‘muse’ thing, I think if you’re a writer, and you want to be successful, it takes effort and its hard and you work at it, yeah sure there are a few moments of true spontaneous inspiration but, relying on a ‘muse’, nah. So much inspires me, people inspire me, but I guess over all, the fragility and shortness of life, I want to do this while I can, because I love it.
22. How do you come up with your character names and geographic location / business names?
Character names are always tough for me, with Lyssa, for example, I knew I wanted her to sound magical, almost not human, and I was hoping I’d find a name that meant something that links to her character and then I found Lyssa, the Greek Goddess of rage.
23. How long (or how detailed) are the notes you take before you start writing?
It depends on the piece I am writing, sometimes it’s only a few bullet points, and other times its paragraphs upon paragraphs of ideas about a character or moment.
24. Do you have any “must haves” to help you write? (i.e., a full cup of coffee, a view of the ocean, etc.)
A must have for me is a nice notebook that I enjoy writing ideas in, a nice pen, preferably a biro, that feels nice to write with. Depending on my mood, sometimes I need really solid quiet, others I have music on in the background, those are usually the times when other stuff is blocking up my head and I am finding it harder to clear it so ideas can flow in and out. Most importantly however, is for me to have my own space. If I don’t have a room, or a corner or something that is mine and that I can disappear in for a few hours, I can’t write.
25. Do you only write during a certain time of day or in a certain location? If so, do you make yourself stop after a certain time?
I try to write during the day, mainly because my grammar goes out of the window on a night and my writing turns into more of a stream of consciousness style than what I want it to be. Also I manage to keep a clear head much more easily during the day than on the night, and I can’t write good prose if I am thinking about everything else in my life, the world…the universe (oh god).
26. Does your real life ever neglected because of your writing? If so, how do you feel about that?
Not at all, I am very good now, at not getting lost in my own thoughts or world. I am a student, I need to have some kind of balance to my life so it’s not really an option, staying in my room all day and writing, I mean.
27. What is the quirkiest thing you do or have ever done when writing?
Oh gosh. I do this weird thing every so often. Where I’ll be writing, and I’ll pause and just look up for a moment, think, and then just lay down and my ideas just swim about in my head for a few minutes, and then I’ll sit back up and go back to writing like nothing has happened. I guess it’s all just part of the whole negative capability thing, by the way if anyone doesn’t know about this term and what it means…Definitely 100% google away and read about it because I have talked to so many people about it at Uni, who are writers and they feel the same way as I do about it, and I wasn’t aware there was a name for it before finding Keats.
ABOUT YOUR WORK::
28. If you could be one of your own characters for a day, who would it be and why?
I would love to be in Dr Graham Pellman’s world and mind for a day. Even though the ‘beating heart’ for lack of a better phrase, of my book is the two sisters, he adds something very important, reality, and he is so smart, and he truly understands people. As I mentioned before I used to want to be a clinical psychologist so the idea of being one who has found a field to specialize in (child psychology), who gets to work with the police because he has such a good reputation, is so appealing to me. Also, Graham, is a deceptively complex and interesting character, his ‘craziness’ may not be as obvious as Alice’s or Lyssa’s but it’s in there. He has made mistakes in the past with other patients, and it may be locked away, deep, but it’s there, and sometimes as the book goes on, we will see just how much it eats away at him.
29. If one of your books became a movie, who would you choose for the “perfect cast” of main characters?
Oh…This is hard. I can’t even begin to think this far ahead… There is a character that will become more and more prominent in the second and third parts to my book called Daniel, who will become a bit of a problem for Alice in the hospital, but also a friend, and when I first wrote about him I immediately thought of the boy who plays Hugo in Martin Scorsese’s film with the same name, ‘Hugo’. The actor is called Asa Butterfield (great name) and he has the ability to look sad and scared while still looking interesting, and there’s something engaging about his eyes, that I imagine Daniel to have, so yeah, Asa as Daniel. I can’t imagine ever finding anyone in the real world to look like how I imagine Lyssa.
30. What is the oddest thing you have ever researched for one of your books?
This isn’t for my novel I am writing, but, in one of the short stories that I have written, which I am hoping to put into a collection, there is a character with severe memory loss and I researched a lot into people who have come out of crashes with severe brain damage and the things they forget, remember, the people they become, how different they are, is, mind boggling. You think your ‘self’ is so intact and stable, and it is quite the opposite, a knock to the head, in principle, could change everything about you. There was one man who, after his accident, had real difficulty processing memory out of short-term and into long-term, and he would see his wife like it was the first time he had seen her in years, every 5 minutes. Then there was another man who had forgotten everything, absolutely everything, except, music, despite everything, he could still play the piano, and slowly but surely because of that music, bits and pieces started to come back. Amazing.
31. What is the most difficult thing you have ever researched for one your books and why?
Having to research the effects of psychological trauma like neglect and abuse on children is never easy, but I wanted to make sure that the way these two very different sisters act in reaction to their unbelievably uncaring parents was realistic.
…That was fun, and interesting. Thank you!
Thank you, Bryony, for allowing me to interview you. I hope everyone else has enjoyed learning about you and your work as much as I have.