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Again, it’s been a while since our last session with Inquisitor Makhell. This time, it took a prompt from someone who’s spiky shoes you do not want up your rear end – not that I want any shoes up… oh, never mind. Anyhow, our pal, Makhell, seemed to come out of this one as pale as his persons of interest usually do. I’m not entirely sure who put who to the question here, but let’s see what was said, shall we? Without further ado, I give you the Queen of Grimdark herself, Anna Smith Spark:
If I gave you an elk, where would you hide it?
“If you gave me an elk, I’d be grateful. I love elks. Moose. Meese. The megaloceros had antlers so big it may have gone extinct because the energy needed to produce its antlers was too much for it as the European climate changed.
And then there are images like this:
Pedants may argue that those are deer. But it’s close enough.”
Why would you be hiding it? Weird.
“I’m not hiding it. I’m showing you pictures.
There’s a weird deer/elk thing in book two of Empires of Dust, actually. I’m really not hiding it. I’m writing about it.”
Tell us something about your work in progress?
“I’m currently writing Empires of Dust book three. Book one is (was! My bad – JP) out on June 29th(UK)/August 15th (US) (and the paperback is out Feb 8th in the UK – JP), book two, provisionally titled The Tower of Living and Dying, is finished and with my editor (and out Summer 2018! – JP).
I had blithely said book three would be the easiest to write as I know how it all ends. I do. I’ve had the last chapter written since before I finished book two. But it turns out I’ve got a whole book to write before I get there. I can’t really say ‘some stuff happened then the end.’ (GRRM should, though. Seriously. Just publish a single page explaining everything. Closure! We could all stop wondering, and he could stop tormenting himself).
Anyway. Book three. It’s epic. Massively, massively, is this too ott? no, fuck that, chuck in another axe epic. Death death death death death epic. Blow job jokes epic. It may even contain poetry.” (Literally lol’d – JP)
If you were a tree, what tree would you be and why?
“A beech tree. I love beech trees. I write about beech trees in Empires of Dust, as well as elk/deer things. The colour of their leaves in autumn, red-gold like they’re on fire, the sound they make in the wind, like bells. Then in the frost, the way the frost furs them, the bronze leaves with the white frost covering them. The sound beech mast makes when you walk over it, the feel of it crunching yielding beneath your feet. The size of them, these trunks like columns, like a beech wood was the inspiration for a cathedral knave.
Sacred trees. Absurdly, heart-soaringly beautiful trees.”
Were you an avid reader as a kid?
“Oh, yes. I read everything I could find, we’d go on holiday with a suitcase full of books for me and have to buy a suitcase more halfway through the trip. I read pretty much what I read now – mythology, legends, history, fantasy, crime, weird stuff. Some of my earliest memories are of books: the Usborne Children’s History of the World, the early volumes on early man, the first civilizations, Catal Huyuk, Sumer, Babylon; Alan Garner’s The Breadhorse; an astonishing children’s picture book version of the Mabinogion. That’s everything you need to know about me, in fact, in those memories of those books.
But I was quite late to read, and slow to learn. I’m dyslexic, it was a huge struggle at first for me. My reading was terribly, my writing and spelling were basically illegible for years.”
Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?
“I’m the Queen of Grimdark. I have semi-naked leather-clad minions to hunt and gather for me. I write, eat cake and sleep.”
You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?
“I’m an ex-goth. I’m the Queen of Grimdark. What do you think?”
What was the last gift you gave someone?
“I gave my mother a jigsaw for her birthday. The image is one of Monet’s waterlily paintings, a bridge over a river filled with flowers, a cool hazy evening sky. It’s extremely beautiful. It’s also extremely difficult: it’s one of the greatest masterpieces of impressionism, so basically just an indistinct blur of purple-blue light.”
What were you like in high school – nerdy, sporty, etc…?
“Total geek girl and teacher’s pet for years. My history teacher’s goody-two shoes favourite. Then at fifteen my mental health finally imploded and I went a bit off the rails. A particular highlight was a GCSE Latin trip to Hadrian’s Wall where I smoked so much hash I hallucinated, and shop-lifted several kilos of English Heritage fudge.”
What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
“I don’t really watch TV. I try to write in the evening, if I’m too tired for that I read. But I watched 1864 on DVD recently. It’s a Danish series about the second Danish-Prussian War over Scheswig-Holstein. Astonishingly beautiful and brutal. I was given the DVD set for Christmas, I hadn’t heard of it before I watched it.
The one thing I do watch live is Grand Tour cycling. The Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia. Beautiful mountain scenery, skinny men in lycra, drugs scandals, pain – it’s got it all, really.”
What do you want to be when you grow up?
“A fantasy novelist. Ha ha ha ha ha.”
Describe the colour green to somebody who is blind.
“The way the air smells after it’s rained in summer. Heavy rain, and the earth is soaking it in, the air smells of the world bursting out into life.
The sound of birdsong at dawn on a summer morning, joyous, untouched, grieving, utterly free.
The feel of wet grass beneath your feet. The feel of a cool breeze.
It’s painful in the heart it makes you think of childhood, those summers as a child when the world really was a magical place. Everything growing, rushing out, being alive, washed clean, stinking of life.
Who would win a fight between Frodo and Sam?
“Sam. He’s Frodo’s gardener. He’s working class, not a minor public school posh boy like Frodo, who in another life where he’d lost the One Ring down the back of the sofa would clearly have grown up to be a Tory MP. I’m cheering on Sam. I’m always up for decking Tory MPs.”
A white rabbit hops through the door right now wearing a helmet. What does he say and why is he here?
“White rabbit: ‘You’ve OD’d on sugar again, haven’t you?’
Me: ‘It was salted caramel milk chocolate. It was worth it.’
(I have blood sugar issues. I have had some very unpleasant experiences after a good sugar binge).”
What’s your favourite game, be it video, board or tabletop?
“2nd edition D&D. I spent many happy hours at university playing D&D. I was a priestess of the dark gods with charisma 25. My best friend was an axe-wielding barbarian called Drull the Legend. The other player was a bumbling wizard called Rizwind. Gods, it was fun. We all got to about level 30, game highlights included the three of us single-handed defending a castle from an orc hoard, Drull the Legend beheading a dragon with one blow of his axe, and my character ascending to demonhood and seducing Nyarlathotep.”
The last book you read was…?
“Gerald Russell’s Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms (probably something else now, I’m so late to publish this – JP). It’s part travelogue, part cultural history, exploring some of the different pre-Islamic religious groups that are still just about surviving in Central Asia and the Near East. Gerald Russell was a British Civil Servant who worked in Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s, speaks fluent Arabic and Farsi. He became fascinated by the minority religions of the areas he visited, interviewed as many members of these communities as possible, in their historic heartlands and in America and Britain. As you can imagine, the book is both fascinating and extremely sad. The Zoroastrians, for example, essentially practise the same religion as the Achaemenid Empire of Xerxes and Darius; elements of Mandaean ritual practise seem to go back to ancient Babylon; the Samaritans still practise the religion of the Israelites described in the Old Testament, before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.”
Supercar, Superbike or Superboat, and why?
“I walk. I love walking. As well as the dyslexia, I have a condition called dyspraxia, which affects my concentration and motor skills and means I can’t drive. Walking is good. Walking allows me to eat more cake. I do a lot of plotting and editing in my head whilst walking, too.”
Where is your preferred writing space?
“I do a lot of my writing in my local independent coffee shop, Coffee Corner. They do amazing coffee, homemade chocolate cake, brioche cinnamon toast … I was getting free cake and coffee there for a while as ‘writer in residence’. I find going out easier, as I tend to start messing around doing housework if I’m at home.”
When’s your next book out?
“The Court of Broken Knives is (was released – JP) out in the UK/world-wide on June 29th (2017) with HarperVoyager (paperback Feb 2018 – JP), in the US/Canada on August 15th with Orbit.”
Do you have a question for me?
JP: “Why not? They’re the end of level boss of the deer world.”
A huge thanks to the Queen of Grimdark for patiently waiting for this to be released. Apologies (to her and the others waiting in line). I’ve listened to The Court of Broken Knives on Audible and I have to say, Wow! It’s a unique approach to story telling – for me, at least – and I absolutely loved it and threw my five stars at it immediately. You really do need to check this piece out! You can follow Anna (whom I have had the pleasure of meeting more than once – her shoes really are very spiky) on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and on Goodreads (mark her books to read!). I’m sure we’re all – I am – excited about book two. Cannot wait to get stuck into it.
I’ll try not to leave it as long until the next inquisition, all of which should be released through The Fantasy Hive too, when that behemoth of a fantasy platform goes live on January 1st 2018. Don’t miss out on that!
For now, I’m off to write. Laterz taterz,