I loved my creative writing degree, and wouldn’t take it back for the world. While it’s an invaluable experience … it’s not the be all and end all, and there’s no “right” way to write.
— Helen Scheuerer
As Helen Scheuerer continues to take the indie publishing world by storm with her Amazon best-selling YA fantasy epic, Heart of Mist, I sit down to chat all things writing, the HoM audiobook release and the upcoming sequel—Reign of Mist.
JAM: I wrote my first story when I was seven years old–a thriller sprawled across eleven pages of those little exercise books they gave us in primary school. It was called ‘A Night in the Graveyard’ and featured my then-best friend and I bumbling through a graveyard, a volcano and then probably the moon. It was wild. I remember being so proud of myself and so happy when Mum and Grandma said how much they liked it that I decided then and there, ‘This is what I want to do’.
How old were you when you started? Do you still remember your first story?
HS: That sounds like a very impressive story for a seven year old! Funnily enough, I wrote my first story at seven as well. Though mine was far less sophisticated. Also written in one of those school exercise books (with the Opera House on the front?), mine was about a clown and a kitten at a circus. The audience threw oranges at them and they ran away… Award winning stuff!
JAM: Hey, I’d read it! On to present-day writing: I find it difficult to write certain scenes or even characters depending on what mood I am in or where I am physically attempting to write. I try to contain my work to my designated study, but sometimes I just can’t get the words to flow. One of my characters—Kio—is very easy to channel when I am sitting at my desk; others such as a Amika and Rei seem to prefer it if I’m writing by hand elsewhere, be it outside or just in the living room on the couch.
What writing space to you prefer when you’re working? Does it change depending on what you’re writing? Or are you fortunate enough to be able to write anywhere?
HS: It’s so interesting that you have different spaces for different characters! I love that!
I wish I could work anywhere, but the truth is, I find it super hard to concentrate anywhere other than my desk. I can do other work (social media, emails, scheduling) in front of the telly, but when it comes to putting actual words on the page, I generally need to be at my desk with a cuppa.
The only exception is when I’m feeling blocked, I’ve taken to going down to the beach with my notepad and writing by hand. There’s something about handwriting that just gets things flowing again.
JAM: I have to agree there is something magical about handwriting to get rid of writers’ block. Now for a quick one! Writing juice: tea, coffee or wine? (For myself: coffee for day; wine for night. Never tea.)
HS: Really? I’m tea all the way! Mostly English brekky (no idea how many a day). And while I love the idea of sitting there with a vino and writing, I find after two glasses I’m a bit useless.
When I was in Edinburgh recently I discovered whiskey, but am yet to trial that as an evening beverage choice 😉
JAM: Haha, I never said wine was useful… Anyway, majoring in Creative Writing at university was one of the greatest decisions I made in my life. Unlike my peers who moaned about their chosen courses, I loved mine—even when studying Avant Garde critical theory. It certainly bolstered my skills across the board and I’ve never felt more confident in my ability to construct a solid sentence. However, I felt very much pigeon-holed into solely reading and writing literary fiction that I lost sight of my passions and projects. In recent years I’ve rekindled my love of fantasy and started reading more YA than ever and consequently found myself unlearning some of the things I was taught at university in order to cut down on the “emotionally cold but perfect sentences” and really get to the heart of what I wanted to create.
As a fellow Creative Writing undergrad, did you experience anything similar once you were out in the world and free to pursue your own projects? Did what you learn in your undergrad course inspire or influence your decision to proceed onto post-graduate publishing studies? And finally, what is the one you took away from you undergrad (positive or negative) that you think aspiring Creative Writing students should be aware of?
HS: Haha, I feel like you just described my life. I too loved my creative writing degree, and wouldn’t take it back for the world. I met incredible, creative people, and learnt how to take criticism (which is obviously super valuable in this industry).
However, the degree was certainly limiting in that there was no real exploration of different genres at all. It was all about the classics and literary fiction. I often wonder how many genre writers sat in the classroom alongside me and never got to explore their passion.
One thing I never agreed with in our course was that we were constantly told we’d never make a livable income from writing. That writing was all about the art and not at all about the business. I look back on it now and think, wow—what a shit approach to instill in young writers.
We also didn’t really touch on any aspects of publishing in my undergrad other than ‘submit to lit journals’. I had always been interested in how books were created and marketed, so I decided to pursue that as a Masters degree at Sydney uni.
As for a takeaway lesson…? I suppose I would advise that students take everything with a grain of salt. While it’s an invaluable experience learning creative writing at a tertiary level, it’s not the be all and end all, and there’s no “right” way to write.
JAM: There’s nothing truer than that!
Heart of Mist really has set the bar high for indie and self-published projects. It’s been an Amazon Best-Seller, maintained a 4-star review average on Goodreads for the entirety of its life, and in presentation and polish sits comfortably alongside any traditionally published book. Seeing the success and professionalism of Heart of Mist has even got myself considering the indie route, when previously I had been very skeptical about self-publishing given the heavy (and to some extent well-founded) stigma attached to it.
You’ve previously spoken about why you went indie as opposed to traditional, but what were your hesitations (if any) and how did you overcome them?
HS: Shucks, thank you so much. I had always said to myself that I wouldn’t publish anything that couldn’t sit on a shelf alongside the big 5, so that means a lot 🙂
You definitely should consider the indie route! I’ve never looked back. It’s been rewarding in so many different ways.
Haha, yes, it seems I’m always harping on about why I went indie, but as for initial hesitations, I suppose the main one would be the fear that no one would take me seriously. One of the ‘stigmas’ of self-publishing is that it’s a last resort for the author – that if you’re self-publishing a book, no one else wanted it and it must be crap.
Of course, that’s not true at all. In fact, I had one of the big 5 interested in Heart of Mist from very early on, but in the end, decided that having the creative control and the control over the publication schedule was too important to me.
As for overcoming my hesitations… I just got to a point where even the life-long dream of being published with a big 5 house wasn’t tempting me. I wasn’t even excited by the possibility anymore, so I thought fuck it, clearly the best option for me is indie, so let’s stop mucking around and just do it.
JAM: Honestly, the indie route is where I’m currently heading at present. You’ve really inspired me to go out there and keep control of something that is mine, and really own it on all levels. So, thank you for that! It’s a really empowering position to be is as an aspiring author.
On the topic of Heart of Mist, the first installment of your widely loved Oremere Chronicles has just been released as an audio book. Audible has only been a recent discovery of mine but it seems that not all traditionally publish books end up in this format. Presumably, it’s even less common for indie publications. You must be so excited to see Heart of Mist presented in this manner.
How did the audio version come about? Was it a long process? How much say did you have in narrators and pronunciation of character names and places?
HS: To be honest, it’s super weird! I’m over the moon with my narrator and how she’s interpreted all the voices, but it’s still a bizarre experience hearing your story acted out for you. Especially as when I wrote HoM, I never imagined that it would become an audiobook.
The audio version came about thanks to my agent, Sarah. A few months after Heart of Mist came out, I was contacted by an agency wanting to represent my rights for film, TV and audio. As an indie author, even this was just completely unexpected.
Pretty soon after signing with my agent, we had two offers for the HoM audiobook. I chose Audible and from there, it was less than 6 months until we had a final product.
I didn’t have a choice when it came to the narrator, though I did request a woman. Angele Masters was introduced to me over email, and from there, I sent her recordings of me saying the names of characters and places.
However, the accents and voices she does throughout the book are all her own interpretation, and I LOVE them!
JAM: I’ve got my copy but haven’t had a chance to sit down and start listening. I’m so excited to see how it turned out!
Finally, I’m not the only one hanging around for this year’s release of Reign of Mist, Book II of the Oremere Chronicles. I understand you’ve completed your beta rewrites and have begun work on Book III. At this point is there anything you can tease as to what might be install for Bleak and the gang? No spoilers, of course!
HS: I can’t wait to share it with you all! And yes, Reign of Mist is currently with my editor, so I’ll have that back soon and it’ll be onto the book production side of things like typesetting and proofreading, which is a scary thought.
The drafting of Book III has already begun, which is another surreal feeling. I’ve got three books on the go at the moment, all at very different stages. It can definitely get overwhelming.
As for teasers… I’m terrible at this…
There were a lot of secrets hinted at throughout HoM… Let’s just say our favourite characters face the consequences of these in REIGN OF MIST.
Book II is action-packed right from the get-go, so readers are in for a bit of a wild ride 😉
Once again, a HUGE thank you to the lovely Helen for her time! She’s such a sweetheart and inspiration to a great number of young writers out there, myself included. Go on and swing this lovely lady as much support as you can—she more than deserves it.
Some quick links for Helen Scheuerer and Heart of Mist:
Buy Heart of Mist -> https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07556VD4Y/
Add Heart of Mist on Goodreads -> https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36128982-heart-of-mist
Add Reign of Mist on Goodreads -> https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39216289-reign-of-mist
Heart of Mist Prequels: https://bit.ly/2GLxVdf
Writer’s Edit: https://writersedit.com/