Interview by David McDonald.
Maureen Flynn works for a small disability provider on the South Coast of NSW. In her spare time, she writes young adult speculative fiction novels and short stories, verse poetry and she has just ventured into writing crime. Currently, she is looking for a home for her YA fantasy manuscripts and is working on a crime novel and a verse novel about ‘the historical Merlin’. Maureen reviews speculative fiction novels at her WordPress blog, InkAshlings. Never one for saying no to a challenge, she also reviews genre books, films and TV shows and has interviewed authors for her blog. Her self-published verse novella, My Heart’s Choir Sings is available from Amazon and Smashwords. You can follow Maureen at her website, on Goodreads or Twitter.
You’ve done a lot of reviewing on your site, going into a great deal of depth regarding various books and TV shows (especially Doctor Who!). How does reviewing the works of others feed into your own creative pursuits?
I know that some possibly think that I’m a harsh reviewer. I don’t think that I am. It’s just that I take my ratings system seriously and stick to it. A book or show will only get full stars if it is something I can watch again and again, a real masterpiece. That sort of system means that sometimes a book will be a very good book, but because it’s not for me (usually because it’s not in my genre), I don’t full star it. I find that reviewing in depth and with honesty makes me think harder about what does and doesn’t work for me in a story. It has helped me to understand that stories aren’t simply good or bad in a simplistic dichotomy, but rather, I can now identify storytelling elements and tropes that do and don’t work for me. When I don’t like something now, I am more likely to identify what it is that I don’t like in the storytelling sense, rather than simply in the emotional or instinctual sense. I like to think that reviewing work has helped me to think deeper about work and that this has translated across into my own creative pursuits.
You’re currently working on a young adult novel. Can you tell us a bit about it, and what the process has involved so far?
I’ve recently finished the first YA fantasy novel in a trilogy and it is currently on the submission round. I’ve had one rejection and waiting to hear back on the second publishing house decision. I also have some kind beta readers looking at the work and making re-write recommendations. This particular novel is about a sixteen year old discredited prince who must find a way (even in his disgrace) to save his brother who has been turned into a bear as the next act in a string of acts in a war. There is magic and revolution and mirrors and I like it.
The process for this particular novel has been a very, very long one. I first started writing the novel as a fairy story re-write of Snow White and Rose Red years ago but couldn’t get the female leads to work. Everyone said the disgraced brother of Prince Charming was a lot more fun to be around so I tried re-writing the story from his perspective. In the end, I found the fairy story framework too restrictive so re-wrote the whole story again as an original fantasy. There have been A LOT of re-writes on this novel even as a straight fantasy. There are more still to come. I believe it will be worth it in the end if I have a better story.
I am also about to work on the second draft of a crime novel. I have been spending the last few months researching (I wrote the first draft sans research which was pretty stupid of me) and now have a better idea of how policing works and how my story needs to be told. I have Pamela Freeman to thank for some great advice on the first draft of my crime novel.
Though I had written another YA fantasy novel and poetry collection before these two works, I feel like I have learnt a lot more about the craft of writing with these recent projects.
I find that poetry is a lot more organic than novel writing for me. I have written free verse poetry since high school and find it is an outlet for me to express emotions first and foremost. If I’m angry at someone, I write a poem. If I’m hurt at the state of the world, I write a poem.
My Heart’s Choir Sings was my attempt at marrying my love of story with my love for poetry in a short and loose novella. I found that though I re-wrote poems constantly to get meaning right and had to also re-order the order of poems, less planning went into this particular collection than what I would normally plan for in a prose novel. I think that is because the story is a very simple one with only two key players, rather than because a verse novel is an entirely different process to a prose novel.
To illustrate the point, I have been working on a follow up verse novel proper titled Sevira’s Curse, which tells the story of Merlin, his life, and why Arthur needed to be crowned King of Britain. This has taken a lot more research, planning and re-writing than My Heart’s Choir Sings, because there is a vast cast of characters, I am trying to remain as historically accurate as possible and the story is more complex.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
I am finally catching up on my enormous ‘to read’ pile. I recently very much enjoyed Kate Forsyth’s latest historical fiction novel set in Nazi Germany, The Beast’s Garden. I am also halfway through reading Tansy Rayner Roberts Love and Romanpunk and think it’s basically the best thing since sliced bread. Romans! Feminism! Vampires! Messing with historical time periods and figures! What’s not to love?
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
This is really, really hard. I like the idea of sitting next to Agatha Christie on a plane and trying to win her trust enough to find out what exactly did happen that day she disappeared and ‘lost her memory.’ I’d like to talk to her about archaeology and about Ancient Egypt and other ancient civilisations she learnt about with her second husband, Max Mallowan!