Finally back with part 3 of the ‘double interview’ where Ryn Lilley (a fellow Snapping Turtle author) and I talk about writing, music, conventions whatever else comes up! This time we’ve focused on heroes and tropes and authenticity.

RL: What tropes do you find yourself running afoul of as an author, how do you ustilise them in your own work?

AC: I think the one I notice most in my writing is the ‘save the world’ trope because I simply like big stakes in fantasy. Not to the point of excluding other stakes, but that’s generally my favourite as a reader and a writer.

I’ve left that particular trope alone at times, so as to provide the reader with that sense of familiarity, the epic scale, but what concerns me about it is how many big threats are there really? And how many ways can you save the world anyway? There’s always going to be a certain amount of repetition in fiction in terms of themes and plots and characters, but I often remind myself that not every reader has seen it done as many times as the next reader – and so I try and make some aspects of the ultimate threat new and still stay happy with that particular trope.

AC: The big tropes have led me to heroism so I thought I’d ask you, who’s your favourite hero/heroine and why are they so memorable for you?

RL: I have a few, though often the hero/heroine of a story aren’t necessarily my favourite characters. Anghara Kir Hama, from Alma Alexander’s Changer of Days duology is a favourite. I’ve said of Alma’s work before that if she wrote a lunch menu, I’d read it! Why is Anghara memorable? From child of high position, to having to flee for her life, she carries both incredible power, and an inner serenity. Even when totally lost and in a foreign land, she learns and adapts. She is lovable, even when she comes back to reclaim her throne; resolute and about to change even the Days of the Gods – she is still just Anghara. There is an authenticity to her that allows the reader to accept her ability to talk with ancient and harsh gods, and to see her as a Queen in her own right, but still need to be loved for herself.

RL: Back along the same route, who is your favourite hero/heroine, and why?  

AC: Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, a manga and anime from Hayao Miyazaki. She strikes me as a girl with conviction, bravery and kindness, a difficult balance to write I feel. She’s one of those characters who is open and while she’s very capable, she’s also very quick to put herself at the mercy of enemies in the pursuit of peace – which seems another difficult thing for some heroines to do.

In your response to heroes I noticed you mentioned ‘authenticity’ and I’ve always been attracted to this quality in poetry and fiction, over say, any idea of ‘originality’– how do you strive for authenticity as a writer?

RL: The key to authenticity, for me, is a character who learns and grows through the circumstances they’ve been placed in, but their core character remains. They are not all things to all people, they are human and fallible, but true to the beliefs the author has built into them. Originality is a term I am uneasy with, for there are only so many plots, so many situations … but there are alternative universes; each choice can lead us somewhere different. A character who is authentic goes down the rabbit hole and is changed, but not unrecognisable. This is most apparent, I think, in villains. Think of Antonov Latanya in Jennifer Fallon’s Second Sons series; his belief that he is acting as a good, and utterly righteous man, pervades his every action. That his actions, approved by the High Priestess, further his ambitions and increase his wealth is merely a happy coincidence. You can’t just hate him for being a bad guy. He has far too many layers, and holds to that central tenet of righteousness throughout all, making him a thoroughly authentic bad guy.

RL: I’m tempted to ask you questions on villains, but your mention of authenticity in poetry intrigues me. What, for you, makes for authentic poetry?

AC: Tough question, really glad you asked it! I don’t know how well I’ll be able to answer it but I’ll try start by looking outward for a second. Authenticity seems to be something hard to see at first glance. In fact, it strikes me that only across the oeuvre of a poet that we might truly see artifice, appropriation or the kind of obfuscation that exists solely to exclude readers, to see poetry that feels unauthentic.

Again, it’s difficult to judge whether poetry is or isn’t authentic and a certain amount of biographical knowledge about the writer might help, but I think
what the avoidance of those aspects and techniques could well leave behind is both honesty and bravery.

Poets who write what they fear cannot or should not be said, poets who do not lie to themselves, who understand and work with their obsessions and poets who do not censor themselves strike me as most authentic.