SN: Sisters Noire (unless otherwise indicated, interviews conducted by Ed Evans).
AM: Alice Macklin.
SN: Hi Alice. To kick things off you could please give us a little background on you?
AM: When I left school I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do, so I figured I would do something that I loved which meant I might stand a chance of studying and getting a decent pass. I love the classics so I ended up having quite a narrow focus and just looking at classical literature going backwards from Homer to the ancient Persian epics, some of the Indian epics like Ramayana, the Epic of Gilgamesh and all that lot. And it was fascinating but it was basically three years of studying how the ancient civilizations told stories, how people wrote them and why, and how the stories traveled. At the end of it I had a good degree, useful for absolutely nothing. So I decided to use it for something interesting instead. My writing is based in those civilizations.
SN: Spiritus is an interesting title, could you please explain where it comes from?
AM: Off the top of my head I think it was a Platonic theory – each individual is made up of three parts: the physical body, or “Corpus”, the intellect, or “Animus” and the soul and emotions, or “Spiritus”. The book is focused very much on the relationship between a brother and sister, how what affects one affects the other as they grow up and get involved in a war, and how that affects their emotional control and their consciousness.
SN: What genre would you say your book falls under?
AM: Historical fantasy.
SN: You are well on the way with your book. Have you found it hard to reach this point in your writing? Have you thrown a lot of work away?
AM: I always throw a lot of work away – or rather, I put it into a separate note document so I can look back at it. In terms of getting to this point, the real challenge has been writing it around real life. That’s the hard part – you get to the end of your working day, you get home and do the laundry and the washing up and the cooking and then you just haven’t got the energy. I had a lot of help from my boyfriend who turned the TV off and stole the remote control, cut off my internet connection and wouldn’t turn it back on until I’d done at least an hour a night.
SN: You’ve got a very supportive boyfriend there.
AM: Very, very supportive, yeah. He even puts up with me having ideas in the middle of the night and getting up to write them down.
SN: Blimey, you want to hold onto him! A lot of people have problems with their family not understanding that they need space and time in order to write and when they’re not published they think you haven’t got a real job. They wonder what you are doing it for, that it’s a waste of time so that’s gotta be a definite plus for you.
AM: Yeah, I’ve been incredibly lucky in my family understanding what I do. My mum in particular. I’ve always written, it’s been like a mental disease. As a kid, my mum used to let me get down from the table in the middle of a meal to write something because she knew there was no point in not letting me do it – I wouldn’t be sensible until I had!
SN: Besides, your writing, you’ve also managed to maintain a blog – Everwalker?
AM: I find that quite helpful. You pick an issue or an aspect of characterisation or a plot device or whatever to discuss and you have to think about it clearly so that you can write the blog post. That means it becomes clearer in your own mind. It’s become a fantastic resource for ideas and incentive – there was one point where I had to justify the war in the plot continuing. I looked at various causes of war in history, the War of the Roses, the Second World War, and frankly none of those reasons made much sense. If you look at it objectively, fighting a war over resources really doesn’t make a lot of sense unless the need is absolutely dire. So I put the question on the blog and all these people came back with historical causes of war and digging under the surface a bit more, so it’s a kind of research tool as well.
SN: Do you have any advice for writers who are just starting out?
AM: I’m always a bit wary of giving advice because there are so many books out there that are packed full of advice and, to be honest, it just comes down to individual style. I think the biggest thing I could say was trust yourself, trust your instincts. Writing is an act of courage – not my quote, somebody else said, that but it’s true – you have to have a certain amount of self-confidence to believe that what you’re writing is something other people will want to read. Just trust what you’re doing. Practice will improve it – keep on reading and keep on writing.
SN: With all of this writing do you still have time to read?
AM: Try and stop me! I have three different books on the go at the moment. One is a present from my boyfriend to keep me writing, which is Stephen King: On Writing. The other one is The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin, which is the second in a series of urban/modern fantasy books, kind of akin to Rivers of London. The third is John Crowley’s Little Big which is a very interesting and different approach to the crossover between Fairyland and the real world.
SN: Do you envisage your story as part of a series or is it self-contained?
AM: I originally swore off writing trilogies because the fantasy trilogy is so overdone – everybody writes a trilogy and there’s often no reason to. One day I was commuting into work and – I’ve never had this happen to me before – this character just walked into my head, fully grown, demanding that I tell her story. She’s part of the world setting for the first book. It might turn into a – what’s the word for two in a series? A duology? So, against my better instincts, there is another story waiting.
SN: As well as your book, you’re running a poetry competition?
AM: Yeah, though competition is slightly misleading as that implies that somebody wins!
SN: There are no winners?!
AM: There are no winners. It’s just to help inspire people to write poetry. Every month five phrases are set and they can literally be anything at all – a word, a phrase, anything you like. Everyone has to try and incorporate those five phrases into a poem. If you don’t use all five, it’s not the end of the world and you can change them up a bit. The idea is just to get people writing poetry.
SN: To get the brain flowing.
AM: Yeah. I don’t set the phrases every month. Every month I ask people if they want to submit a phrase or two – we just take what comes first and what seems most interesting. I’m hoping at the end of the year we’ll compile an anthology – twelve rounds of all these poems based on the same five phrases, and you get to see how different the ideas are that come out of it.
SN: Do you suffer from writer’s block?
AM: I don’t have a problem with ideas, I have a problem with energy levels. I can always sit and write, it’s a question of whether I’m sucked into it or not, and if not – that’s when I have a problem.
SN: Do you have a favourite book?
AM: That’s a tough one. I don’t think I could pick a favourite book. It really depends what mood I’m in. Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman saw me most of the way through uni.
SN: Has there been a dreadful amount of research involved in your writing?
AM: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s the bits and pieces that you just want to get right. It’s craftsmanship. Little things, like did Romans use forks? They don’t teach you that stuff in a classics degree. But if you’ve got a conversation set during a meal, it might come up. So yeah, there’s been tons and tons of research. And of course the background stuff, such as why would you have a war and what are the causes of war. That was quite an interesting one, because I started looking at a lot of wars throughout history to see what the common causes were.
SN: Ridiculous really, aren’t they?
AM: They really are daft. It happens in real life but it’s so crazy you couldn’t get away with it in a story. There’s so much of that in history.
SN: Do you have any writing plans once you’ve finished your book?
AM: Oh yes. There’s book two, which will probably be called Corpus because that’s too cool a word not to use. Then I’ve got a modern urban fantasy one which is halfway written. I abandoned it because it needs hefty revising. I’ll probably get back to that.
SN: I imagine you’ll have learnt a lot since you were writing that so it might be a bit easier to pick it up. Last of all I wondered if you would be so kind to share some of your book, Spiritus, with us?
The slave takes me to a long room lined with benches and hooks. It reeks of sweat and leather. Stained tunics are piled in a corner, waiting to be laundered. I set my new clothes down and sort through them. A blue tunic, white braccae leggings, lorica and greaves. They all show signs of having been worn before. Old clothes for a new beginning.
I put them on slowly, feeling the unaccustomed weight and movement. Revel in the feel of it. This is really happening. I close my eyes for a moment, imprinting the memory, and then run my hands down my ribs. Time to go out.
Astraeus turns as I enter, and the pride in his eyes makes me feel a little shy. Praefect Gyges looks me up and down critically.
“At least you have the figure for a man’s uniform.”
“What do you mean?”
He gestures briefly. “No curves. Nothing distracting. Well… I suspect the sight of a noblewoman in uniform might distract for a while but they will get used to it. And the court beauties will soon remind them where to direct their gaze.”
“If they do not, I will,” Astraeus growls.
“Oh, grow up, Centurion. You will do her no favours amongst the Guard by fighting her battles.” Praefect Gyges stands and gives me a nod. “I expect great things from you, Optio Cirrus. Do not disappoint me.”
He walks out, leaving us alone in the room. Astraeus grins up at me.
“We did it, my sister. Welcome to the army.”
SN: Thank you very much Alice.
Interview conducted 15/06/2012
You can find Alice’s blog, Everwalker, here –