Imogen Howson Interview
Posted by Michelle on March 12, 2008
I came across Imogen’s site whilst following some blog links, and I was immediately hooked. Her books are all available on her site, some as free reads.
Q. To begin with, can you tell us a little about what you write?
A. With pleasure! I write crossover fiction—that is, fiction that can be enjoyed by young adults and adults. I find myself peculiarly incapable of writing anything set in the real world, so my writing always has something ‘other’ about it—whether that’s some kind of future world, fantasy world, or our world with a side order of weird.
Q. How would you say that your YA fiction varies from that aimed at adults, or do you think they all cross over?
A. I think well-written YA fiction always has the potential to cross over. If something is good, then it continues to be good whatever age you are. And well-written adult fiction only lacks that potential when it deals with themes in a manner that may be a bit much for younger readers.
My YA fiction is mostly labelled that way because my protagonists tend to be young—late teens, generally. I also avoid explicit sex or graphic violence. But that’s mostly because I don’t like writing them!
Q. Where do you get your inspiration from, for both your stories, and your characters?
A. My favourite way of writing a story is to take a well-known story and re-imagine it. I like the feeling of taking a framework and adding my own bits—or removing the bits I don’t like. Ha ha, you will have a happy ending.
Normally, I start writing the story and the characters kind of float their way into it. To be honest, they’re probably a horrible mishmash of bits of my own psyche mixed with bits of everyone else I know—I just hope I disguise them well enough!
Q. Which was your first published story?
A. Falling. I sent it off to Drollerie Press, and heard back that same day that the editor ‘loved Rapunzel’ (on which Falling is based) and was looking forward to reading it. Which was encouraging, of course, but painful experience has led me not to pin too much on that kind of comment. Then I opened up my email the next morning to find that the editor had read it, loved it, and wanted to offer a contract. At which point I cried.
Q. The dreaded question – do you have a favourite?!
A. Hah! The favourite is always the one I’ve just finished. So at the moment it’s Dust and Dead Roses, my Sleeping Beauty ghost story. I think possibly I’m proudest of Frayed Tapestry, though.
Q. Can you tell us a little about why your publications are as ebooks? What do you see as their main advantages and disadvantages?
A. Well, the stories I’ve had published so far are too short for print—they’d be leaflets, not books! I could send them to magazines, but I really like having them published as separate books, each with their own cover (I love my publisher’s cover art).
One of the advantages for me, as an author, is that they’re constantly—and easily—available. If someone reads one of my stories and wants to read more, they can go straight to my publisher’s website and buy another. Whereas with a magazine, once the current issue has been superseded by the next, my story’s gone.
It also seems to me that the ebook market is more willing to experiment with weird cross-genre books. It doesn’t give the (sometimes-huge) advances of large print publishers, so there’s no pressure to sell enormous amounts in order to earn out your advance. And because there’s less cost involved in producing ebooks, the company isn’t risking bankruptcy if a book doesn’t sell as well as expected. Which translates to more freedom for the authors.
As to disadvantages, the biggest disadvantage, for me, is that ebooks are still in their infancy. With the majority of people to whom I talk, I can’t just tell them I’ve got a book published, I have to give them a whole explanation of what ebooks are, how you buy them, how you read them, why my publisher isn’t publishing them as ‘real books’ (true-life quote). And, of course, not everyone has internet access. Which leads to a more serious concern: in writing ebooks, I’m writing for the reasonably well-off. Books shouldn’t be a preserve of the relatively wealthy (ie. those able to afford computers and internet access). They should be available to everyone, whatever their financial situation. And with ebooks, they’re not.
Q. You run your website, and your blog, and offer free short stories on there.. do you enjoy this type of promotion? Do you think it’s important these days to have an online presence?
A. Ah, I love my website and blog. And yes, I do enjoy running them. I like fiddling with html code, I like getting feedback on my free reads, and I like chatting with people via my blog.
As a reader, when I discover a new author—or hear about an author I might enjoy—one of the first things I do is search for their website. I’m sure some big-name authors don’t need them for promotional purposes—I think we’d all know who JK Rowling was, website or not—but I’m just a little-name author and I can’t afford to pass up internet advertisement!
I was thrilled to death recently. Frayed Tapestry had just gone on sale, and Dust and Dead Roses was available to read for free in Drollerie Press’s ezine. And I got bunches more reader feedback on Dust and Dead Roses than I did on Frayed Tapestry. And really, although royalties are extremely useful, I write the books for readers, not for money, so I was very happy.
Q. Moving onto you, do you enjoy reading yourself, for relaxation? Who are some of your favourite authors?
A. Oh, all the time! My ideal world would include a weekly Amazon delivery. At the top of my list are Diana Wynne Jones, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Rumer Godden, Elizabeth Goudge, Mary Stewart, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. If you’re familiar with their work you’ll know that list comprises authors of—amongst other things—young adult fiction, fantasy and romance, so I think it’s fairly clear who I’ve been inspired by!
Q. How about your children, have they picked up the ‘reading bug’? How about writing.. have they shown any interest there?
A. It’s been lovely to watch my children get bitten by the reading bug. They both have that ability to go completely deaf when they’re reading, and to rush through dinner so they can get back to their book.
As far as writing goes, their teachers tell me their creative writing work is excellent (yeah!), but that in factual-based work they tend to go too creative, which means they don’t keep to the stricter parameters they’re supposed to. Um, is it bad to be really proud of this?
Q. Finally, what are you working on at the moment, and what are your aims for the rest of this year?
A. Right now, I’m working on a science fiction version of Little Red Riding Hood. After that, as well as some more short stories for Drollerie Press, I’m going to be working on a young adult novel. It’s tentatively named Waterworld, and so far I’ve been describing it as ‘Dirty Dancing—with mutants’. Which I think is an excellent concept, although I do admit it sounds a little odd.
Ideally, I’d like to find an agent for this book, and aim at the big print publishers. And win literary prizes, and get thousands of readers. And have that weekly Amazon delivery.
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