Welcome back to our randomly appearing series, Asking Authors Awkward Questions. Next up on the awkward chopping block is Abi Barden, author of the Aether Chronicles series of novels. Let’s see what she has to say for her steampunk self shall we.
Hi Keith, lovely to talk to you and I hope you don’t mind that this is rather tongue in check, it’s all honest, but presented with humour.
What was the first novel you ever sat down to write? How old were you at the time?
Oh lord – no idea. It was so long ago, and I’m too old and decrepit to remember that now! On a slightly more serious note, I really am not entirely sure what the first one I wrote was. I would have been mid-teens and it would either have been a romance or a horror novel. When it comes to fantasy books though, I do remember the first I wrote was called something like “Seeds of …” something or other. I wanted it to be a big Fantasy Epic, I drew the map, worked out the economies, worked out the magic system, had a vague idea of the plot, and totally naffed out the writing.
How old were you when you finally got published? How many novels had you written by then? Which one got published first?
How old – well more decades than I’d have liked to be! I’ve lost count of all the novels I’ve written and not had published. After the scathing (and deserved) criticism I got on my “Seeds of…” manuscript, I avoided writing fantasy for a very long time. Until 2015 when I saw a opening for an anthology and wrote the short story “The Steel Inside” which can be found in the Steel & Bone Anthology from Xchyler Publications. After that, the first steampunk novel I wrote was “Shades”, published by Aethon books in 2020.
What are your crutch words? Which words do you most overuse?
Was, and, that. Yes, all three of those words. I use a grammar checker that tells me which words I overuse and those are always the top three. But when I’m really stuck for a description, “thingy” is used a fair bit, or “contraption”. Since I feel both are kind of derogatory, I try to edit them out in later drafts.
Which character of yours is your favourite, and why? (And why is it never the main character?)
Oh, I hate this question! It’s like asking me which of my children is my favourite… Okay, it’s Great Aunt Flora. She was a late edition, only included a few weeks before submission, and she’s fabulous. She’s 88 years old and uses a walking stick like a ninja nunchuck. She says the things in my head that I would never say – but mostly because I’m not sharp enough to think to say them in the moment.
How’s your grammar, spelling, and punctuation? What mistakes do you make most often?
Appalling. Basically, I can’t spell, can’t type and weren’t [SIC] taught good grammar in comp, like. Plus, my handwriting is so awful only I can read it, and I can’t even guarantee that. My most frequent mistake is just getting letters in the wrong order. To misquote Eric Morecambe: “I’m typing all the right letters, just not necessarily in the right order.”
How disciplined are you as an author? Do you have set goals? How often do you fail to meet those goals?
Discipline, well let me get my whip!
No, I don’t set goals – mostly so I don’t fail them. However, I do write most days, usually I’ll write at least 1,000 words or edit around 10,000 words. I definitely have this thing were if I haven’t dome something creative in three days, my brain starts to itch. I’m driven in that respect, so not sure if that is disciplined or not.
What’s something you hate in other people’s writing that you try to avoid doing in your own but often end up doing anyway because words are hard?
I just hate that they’re all better than me. Well okay, no that’s not really true – Gail Carriger aside – she’s just brilliant. Against her – I’m unworthy. What I try to avoid is info dumps. That can be really hard when writing a series, and wanting the reader to be able to read each book on its own merits too. Thing is, the thing I really hate is bad writing, which yes, I do do sometimes because, as you say – words are hard! But that’s what editing is for.
If you could go back and change any of your already published work, would you? What would you change, and why?
No. Not again. I already did that. I originally self-published “Shades”, and when Aethon took it on, their editor had me make a lot of changes that hugely improved the story into something I’m now proud of. I also kind of feel it’s cheating the readers, it’s like saying, oh I gave you a duff copy, everyone else gets a better one.
Which part of the writing/publishing process do you like the least?
Marketing. Writing a book is hard. Editing is harder. Submitting to publishers is terrifying. Selling the book after is the kind of uphill task that makes Sisyphus’s labours look like a walk in the park. When it comes to marketing, I must try harder, I just don’t want to (sob!).
Aside from book sales and big piles of cash, what does literary success look like to you?
Readers telling me they like the book. I had a lovely message from a reader a few months ago, telling me that reading my books had helped her through a tough time in her life, and helped her be emotionally stronger. I cried when I read that. Had another on Twitter telling me he thought my books would be great on TV – oh wouldn’t I love that. That brightened my day. Can’t ask for more than readers enjoying the books that much. Though being able to pay the bills would be nice too.
Finish this sentence: Reviews are…?
Terrifying! And useful. And utterly necessary. And I really don’t want to read the low star ones, though I do because they teach more than the high star ones. Sometimes.
What aspects of steampunk are you not a fan of?
Badly done – pick an aspect. The truth is, whatever the aspect, if the writer writes it right, it works. If the writer writes it wrong, it’s awful.
The only thing that really gets my goat, baa, is having to explain Steampunk every time I say I write steampunk. As a genre I wish it was better known. Yes, the Great Goat of the Cosmos, can definitely chew on all those explanations. There again, hope it doesn’t as I still need to use them.
Which of your books should a new reader start on? Pitch it to us.
Start with “Shades”. It’s book 1 of the Aether Chronicles.
Amethyst Forrester is not a lady, but a scientist. Or she would be if the academic world would let her. Making the acquaintance of Benjamin Maker, Lord Fotheringham and the Fifth Earl of Umbria, is something she’s ever more grateful for when her mentor dies unexpectedly and the two of them jointly inherit. That they have to call in Inspector Dean Jenson from Scotland Yard to investigate the murder of said mentor adds intrigue and rivalry to the mix. With feelings evolving, lessons learned, truths uncovered and many a mystery resolved, will they be the same people at the end of the series, or even all still alive?
All five of Abi’s Aether Chronicles are available from Amazon, and are currently readable for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited membership. Why not hop on over there and give them a try.