Welcome to the one hundred and ninety-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with historical fiction novelist Anna Patricio. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Anna. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Anna: I am a debut novelist from Australia. My historical fiction ‘Asenath’ was recently released by Imajin Books, an independent publisher. It is a fictional memoir of the Egyptian priestess who married Joseph of the multicoloured coat fame.
Unlike most writers you hear of, I did not do much writing in the past. The reason is very simple: I did not know what I wanted to write about. I have always felt inclined to writing, as it is something I am better at than a lot of things, and I greatly desired to just sit down and write. But what about, I didn’t know. This was frustrating, needless to say.
As a result, I only wrote when I had to – which was for school, obviously. I tried writing a few times outside of academic requirements though: poems, short stories, some contemporary fiction. But it all felt so forced.
When I was 17, an acquaintance introduced me to historical fiction: ‘River God’ by Wilbur Smith. Immediately, I fell in love with the genre. I was impressed with how Mr Smith brought the lost world of Ancient Egypt to life. It was as if he had really lived in those times.
However, as much as I loved historical fiction, I never thought to write it. I thought it was out of my league. After all, it entails a massive amount of research and plot development.
Morgen: I feel the same about crime, although I do think historical is harder (especially for me as it was my worst subject at school). 🙂
Anna: Sometime after my graduation from university, I was wondering what to do with my life when the idea to dabble in historical fiction appeared from, well, out of nowhere. Just like that. At first, I ignored it, but it persisted. So finally I gave in even though I knew it would be no easy feat. Two months or so later, the first rough draft of ‘Asenath’ was born.
I did not intend to take ‘Asenath’ to the next level though. I was just happy to have written something of substance. But I found myself going back to revise it for a second draft, then a third draft, and so on… And 3 years later, ‘Asenath’ was completed.
Morgen: You finally gave in… I love that. 🙂 It sounds like you’re consumed by historical, have you considered other genres?
Anna: It would be nice to branch into other genres. One never knows – as I said, I didn’t even expect to write a novel per se. Maybe in the future, some contemporary drama. But for the time being, I can’t imagine writing anything other than historical fiction.
Morgen: And that’s no bad thing. It’s very popular at the moment (as is crime). 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Anna: ‘Asenath’ is indeed available as an ebook. My publisher produces both eBooks and paperbacks. I am glad my novel is available in both formats, because then it will be able to reach out to a wider range of readers. However, I myself prefer the so-called traditional way of reading. I love holding a book in my hands, plus I like to give my eyes a rest after being on the computer. So, no ebooks for me.
Morgen: Me neither, although I do own an eReader, I still have SO many paperbacks to read. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Anna: When Imajin Books accepted ‘Asenath’ earlier this year. It definitely still is a thrill, especially as I went through heaps and heaps of rejections prior to this.
Morgen: And my next question was… have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them? 🙂
Anna: Er, wow, I answered this question in advance. Like I said, yes, I had to go through lots of rejections. It was disappointing but then I just had to move on and continue searching for an agent or publisher.
I did hear, by the way, that rejections are really part of the natural process of writing, as difficult as they may seem. Still, there were times when I would become greatly discouraged. However, I had a support network who never stopped encouraging me. They really kept me going.
Morgen: That’s great! I think it’s far too easy to give up (I nearly did after a poem, one I’m still fond of, was pulled apart in my first writing workshop) but if you really want to write… What are you working on at the moment / next?
Anna: I am playing around with ideas for a novel set in the time of Moses, tentatively entitled ‘The Princess By The River’ which is about, as you might have guessed, his adoptive mother. I actually wrote a rough draft sometime ago. But there is still heaps of room for improvement. So it may be a while before I submit it for publication.
Morgen: But you have the first draft, which is invariably the most difficult part – as the saying goes “you can’t edit a blank page”.
Anna: I might add that I wasn’t sure if I was going to write a second novel. But one day, this idea appeared to me. After all, like Asenath, not much is known about the Egyptian princess who adopted Moses, so I thought she would be an interesting person to write about. The fact that she is pretty obscure gives me a lot of opportunities to stretch my imagination as far as possible.
Morgen: Which would be great fun. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Anna: No. Sometimes I spend the day conjuring up ideas and playing around with them. As for the most I’ve written – I think about 20 pages? Not sure how many words that is.
Morgen: Sounds pretty good to me. 🙂 I’d say about / at least 10,000 words?
Anna: When I began writing ‘Asenath,’ you see, I measured my writing prowess by number of pages rather than by words. It was later on that I discovered that writers normally measure their works by number of words. As for when I was writing ‘Princess By the River’ I can’t remember as it’s been a while since I touched the manuscript.
Morgen: Which is no bad thing, easier to edit as fresh. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Anna: Writer’s block is plain annoying. For me, it’s like… I want to write, but can’t. So needless to say, yes I have suffered from it. Sometimes, when it’s clear that I really can’t get anything done, I leave my work for the day. I find that when I am active or busy, my imagination is rekindled and I can happily resume writing.
Morgen: Absolutely. Now for a question some authors dread: where do you get your inspiration from?
Anna: Hmmm, I guess I would have to say the ancient world. Hence when I write historical fiction, I can escape into a lost, fascinating world, full of mystery and beauty.
Morgen: And colour, lots of gold and sand… 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Anna: The latter. Everything I do is pretty spontaneous. I do have a few ideas of what will happen in the story, but there is no definitive structure. For the most part, I make it up as I go along.
Morgen: Most interviewees have said that and it certainly works for me… I love letting the characters take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Anna: Again, it is all spontaneous. But I try to make them believable by patterning them after people’s behaviour that I have witnessed or encountered in my life. So my characters’ personalities are a mix of me and many other people I have met. (Someone once said, by the way, that a writer must meet people in order to be able to develop characters. I am generally an introvert, but I still make an effort to go out and be with people every so often, and though it is not always easy, I find in the end that it was all worth it.)
Morgen: It certainly helps. I’m leaving my job at Christmas and someone said to me that I need to go out and meet people so I can write them but I’ve been ‘meeting’ the same five people for nearly two years. I mentioned editing (or rather, not editing a blank page) earlier, do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Anna: Both. Well, I took ‘Asenath’ through numerous drafts, so I did do a lot of editing and, in the process, improved my writing. I guess you could say it worked two ways. And I really did learn a lot.
Morgen: It’s practice. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Anna: Quite a lot, especially as this was a historical novel. Because I studied Ancient History at uni though, I already had a sufficient background. Still, while researching ‘Asenath,’ I learned a lot of new things. Ancient
History is so vast, there are still so many things I am not aware of. As my title character was from a priestly family, I did a lot of research about the Ancient Egyptian temples, priesthood and theology. I also did some research on the Pharaohs that would be figuring in my novel, even though they were minor characters. Of course, I also researched on the facts of Ancient Egyptian daily life, such as food, houses, gardens, etc. As for the Biblical angle, well prior to writing I had already read a lot of stories about Joseph from midrashic sources and even a bit of the Quran. So I incorporated some of those episodes into my novel.
I have received feedback from readers, saying that my novel was well-researched, so I am glad to know my hard work paid off. Though I also got feedback on the presence of some modern terminology / speech. Well, it’s always good to learn something from constructive criticism.
Morgen: I remember our class coming second in a historical school play because someone was wearing a digital watch. I’m sure it’s not the only reason but there’ll always be someone who knows more about your subject than you do (one does) – even Alexander McCall Smith has got things wrong (and many others I’m sure). What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Anna: Hmmm, nothing in particular actually. I just sit down and write. Oh, well, I am more productive at night than in the daytime. As a matter of fact, I can hardly work in the daytime. I was that way even during my student days. Not sure why. Guess I am just a night person.
Morgen: I’m a morning person (so suit my name; Morgen = morning in German). 🙂 Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Anna: Ironically, though I like to do a lot of things the “traditional” way, it seems to be easier for me to write on a computer. I guess I can get ideas out quicker, more fluidly. Though I guess I ought to try writing a draft by hand one day. After all, a friend of mine commented that all the novels of the past were written by hand – and in candlelight, at that!
Morgen: But then they had no choice. Writing and typing do use different parts of the brain so some authors write their first drafts and then type it up (which also often becomes their first edit). Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Anna: I need silence. Absolute, cemetery-like silence. I once tried writing with classical music but it was too distracting.
Morgen: I can get away with classical but there has to be no lyrics – it doesn’t take long to blur into the background. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Anna: So far, I have just done first person. Even in the draft of ‘The Princess By The River’, I did it in first person. With reading, any point of view is fine with me. But in writing, first person just seems to come naturally to me. I think part of the reason is because many of my favourite novels are in first person. So I guess they influenced me.
Morgen: And a great way of getting inside your character’s head, especially when it’s mainly about that one person. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Anna: Originally, ‘Asenath’ had a prologue. But I was advised that it wasn’t necessary. I guess it depends on the novel – case-to-case basis.
Morgen: A lot of readers (including myself) don’t read them. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Anna: Definitely. Some really awful poetry I wrote back in my student days.
Morgen: (see earlier reference to my still-fond-of-but-shot-down-in-flames poem :)) What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Anna: Favourite – well, everything. That I finally found something I love doing.
Morgen: Me too! It only took me thirty-something years. 🙂
Anna: That I was able to turn my passions (ancient history) into a career. That I have found my niche, especially with my novel now being published and all. Least favourite… well to be honest, I can’t think of any. Some people have commented to me though that writing is a strange thing to dabble in and even a waste of time, but I really couldn’t care less about what they think.
Morgen: Good girl. Let’s hope they end up reading your book(s). 🙂 If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Anna: Hmmm… well, probably that I completed a novel! I never expected to write a novel, let alone write per se. In fact, I imagined that if ever I wrote something, it would be a short piece. Never a novel. This whole thing has been one big surprise.
Morgen: And a nice one, clearly. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Anna: Um… never give up? Oh, and before submitting to publishers and agents, research on them first. There are a lot of scams out there who prey on unsuspecting newbies.
Morgen: There are. http://pred-ed.com is a great resource on that topic. What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Anna: Well, I try to be a wide reader though I am mostly inclined to historical fiction. But I keep myself open to all genres. I really love Arthur Golden’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’.
Morgen: I’ve not read the book but I did enjoy the film. Very moving.
Anna: And for those looking for good historical fiction, I strongly recommend the novels of Wilbur Smith and Pauline Gedge. In my opinion, those two are the best. In the classics, I love Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’.
Morgen: I read Jane Eyre at school and really liked it (also did Macbeth and Lord of the Flies – great choices!).
Anna: I love stories of strong women overcoming adversity. I might mention that ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ were influences for ‘Asenath’.
Morgen: Wow. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Anna: Too many… oh, I recently saw this one: “Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”
Morgen: I love that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Anna: I listen to music, watch TV and movies, do some amateur photography (though I haven’t done any in ages) and play with my dog. (I am a dog lover.) Oh, and of course, I read. I guess this would be by default, me being a writer and all.
Morgen: My hound will be pleased to hear that last bit (I did read it out actually and yes, his tail did wag). 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Anna: Yes. This would be a good place to start: Writer Beware http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware.
Morgen: Absolutely, like Preditors & Editors. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Ah yes, you did mention Imajin earlier… I have a few interviewees from Imajin, as I do Oak Tree Press – clearly-loved publishers. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Anna: Lots and lots of things. The possibilities are boundless.
Morgen: 🙂 If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Anna: Hmmmm… Maybe start writing and reading voraciously more at an earlier age. You see, when I was in high school, I kind of lost interest in reading as there didn’t seem to be anything interesting around. Now, I am trying to make up for those lost years.
Morgen: Judging by your photo you’re quite a bit younger now than I was when I started writing (six years ago). Like you I stopped reading but only because I left home and life took over, and like you I wish I’d started earlier, but still, we’re here and that’s what counts. 🙂 Thank you Anna.
I then invited Anna to provide a little more information about her book…
Two Destinies…One Journey of Love: In a humble fishing village on the shores of the Nile lives Asenath, a fisherman’s daughter who has everything she could want. Until her perfect world is shattered. When a warring jungle tribe ransacks the village and kidnaps her, separating her from her parents, she is forced to live as a slave. And she begins a journey that will culminate in the meeting of a handsome and kind steward named Joseph. Like her, Joseph was taken away from his home, and it is in him that Asenath comes to find solace…and love. But just as they are beginning to form a bond, Joseph is betrayed by his master’s wife and thrown into prison. Is Asenath doomed to a lifetime of losing everything and everyone she loves?
Anna Patricio is a lover of ancient history, with a particular interest in Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Rome. She is also intrigued by the Ancient Near East, though she has not delved too much into it but hopes to one day.
She undertook formal studies in Ancient History at Macquarie University. She focused mostly on Egyptology and Jewish-Christian Studies, alongside a couple of Greco-Roman units, and one on Archaeology. Though she knew there were very limited job openings for ancient history graduates, she pursued her degree anyway as it was something she had always been passionate about. Then, about a year after her graduation, the idea to tackle historical fiction appeared in her head, and she began happily pounding away on her laptop. Asenath is her first novel.
Recently, she traveled to Cairo, the Sinai, Israel, and Jordan. She plans to return to Egypt soon, and see more of it. In the past, she has also been to Athens and Rome. Anna is currently working on a second novel, which still takes place in Ancient Egypt, but hundreds of years after Asenath.
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