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Life in the big smoke

Writing interview: How an idea becomes a book with fantasy author Maria Turtschaninoff

Say hi to Maria Turtschaninoff, the latest author in my series of writing interviews. I’ve been a fan of Maria’s blog (in Swedish) for a while now, where she writes about her writing process, her life and things happening in the world of genre fiction.

Maria is a Finnish-Swedish fantasy author with four books under her belt. I finished her latest novel, Anaché, a couple of months ago and was blown away by the detailed and carefully crafted world. It left me hungry for more and I was happy to hear Maria is now working on another novel set in the same world as Anaché. But more about that in the interview.

How do you come up with the ideas for your stories?

I collect ideas. I carry a notebook everywhere I go and jot down ideas and text snippets all the time. 80% of what’s in there never gets used. But a few things start germinating in my head, they evolve and grow as I let time pass, and after a while I start seeing patterns: this idea should actually be paired with this idea, and this third one belongs to the same story, too.

For me learning to be open to ideas and cultivating my creativity was a long, hard path. But now the problem is the opposite: I have too many ideas. They fight for my attention and compete at who can scream the loudest. It’s quite crowded in my head at times.

What happens when you have an idea you want to start working on?

I start writing it. It really is that simple. I have to write for a bit before I start seeing the shape of the story, what tone it might need, even what characters will come into play. ARRA, for instance, started with the idea of a mute girl and so I wrote about her. Slowly I begun seeing where she was, what the milieu was like, and the setting for all of my secondary world fantasy was born.

Then, when I have done a bit of writing and learned more about my story, I start planning. But I don’t outline a lot, and I keep planning as I write.

How much research do you do?

That varies from book to book. For the first one, a MG portal fantasy, I did virtually no research. For the second one, ARRA, there was a bit of research on weaving and old-fashioned houses, but that came after I had written my first draft. In the third novel, UNDERFORS, a contemporary urban fantasy, I had to do quite a bit of research: locations, bus timetables, geography and flora and fauna in certain places etc. I also learned a lot about parkour. Some of this research was done prior to writing, most of it after the first draft.

For ANACHÉ, set in the same secondary fantasy world as ARRA, I researched nomadic peoples before I began creating my own nomadic culture. There the research was immensely important to my world building. First of all it was very important to be able to create a culture that would feel real to the readers, so I needed to know quite a bit about similar cultures. But secondly, and maybe most importantly, the real world offers more magical and strange things than I could ever dream up.

Your latest book, Anaché, focused on a nomadic society in a slightly magical world. Where did the inspiration come from?

The original spark for that novel came from a scene I saw in my head: a man cutting a girl’s hair. I had no idea what it meant, or who these people were, but I knew it was a very significant scene. After pondering it for quite a while I started realizing that they were Akkade, a nomadic people briefly mentioned in ARRA.
The world in ANACHÉ is not especially outlandish, in terms of fantasy. I write what I would like to characterize as low-key, psychological fantasy. But I spent a lot of time making the world feel real, so as to seduce my readers into believing in the fantastical elements as well.

What do you think about trends in genre fiction and how do they impact on your work?

Well, right now fairy-tale fantasy seems very big, but it’s probably reached or passed its peak. It’s always impossible to predict future trends so I don’t really think about trends when writing – except to the extent that I try to steer clear of what’s currently “hot”, as it no longer will be when the book comes out. And I don’t want to do what everybody else is doing.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am on a well-deserved break from writing. I’ve written three manuscripts in a year and a half, and I need to charge my creative batteries over summer. I did, however, just get a manuscript accepted by my publisher Schildts&Söderströms, and we are tentatively talking about publication in the fall of 2014. It’s another secondary world fantasy, set in the universe of ARRA and ANACHÉ, but in a new location, with new characters. It’s my first first-person narrated story and I am very smitten by the main character’s voice.

And let’s see how long I can be on a break. All those ideas are clamouring in my head to be let out, and they tend to be very loud…

Check out more writing interviews.

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