Meet Anna Smith Spark

Every Friday, we meet a member of the BFS and peer deep into their soul (or, at least, a form they filled out). Want to be featured? Email us: online@britishfantasysociety.org

Name, including preferred pronouns:
Anna Smith Spark (she/her)

Which region are you based in?
London

If you write, which genre: 
Fantasy

Are you drawn to any specific SFFH sub-genres?
Grimdark, high fantasy, epic fantasy, folktales and folk horror

Your influences

Tell us about the book/film/thing that got you into SFFH: What was it? How old were you? What impact did it have on you?

I’ve loved fantasy and mythology my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad reading my children’s version of the Iliad, the Matter of Britain, the Norse myths, and wonderful old children’s fantasy novels like the Weirdstone of Brisingamen and the Chronicles of Narnia. Later he read me the Lord of the Rings, gave the different characters different accents, sang the poems …. We’d go only holiday every year to Suffolk or Devon or Cornwall, so I’d often be walking around in landscapes very similar to those in the books I was reading, with my dad telling me the folklore and folk history of the places we were visiting. It was all absolutely real to me.

How does that early influence show up in your work now?

It made me everything I am today. I’m still telling my own versions of those childhood stories. On one deep level I really believe in the old folk tales and myths, that there are fairies beneath the Hollow Hills, that the Gabriel Hounds are running in the night sky – and until the Hollow Hills open for me, I’ll write it instead.

Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

Everything and anything around me. My reading – I read a lot of ancient and medieval history and archaeology, and reread Greek, Norse and Celtic myths and folk tales regularly, also a lot of travel writing and writing about landscapes. Literature – especially poetry. Art. Films. Visting historical sites. And walking – I love waking almost as much as I love reading, urban walks or long hikes in the country. I spend a lot of time just looking at something, a tree in flower, clouds, birds, neon lights in a wet road, trying to capture it in my mind and find words for how it makes me feel. 

My life is kind of really just trying to experience beauty and strangeness and the textures of the world so I put those feelings and memories into words on a page.

(Photo by Kristijan Arsov on Unsplash)

Who do you look to as a genre hero? Why?

Oh goodness! Where to start? R Scott Bakker for his astonishing world building and battle scenes. M John Harrison for his astonishing prose. Moorcock, Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin for … everything. 

Your work

You’re stuck in an elevator for 60 seconds with that hero, and they want you to describe your work. Give us the pitch.

Literary radical feminist high fantasy grimdark heavy metal mythology with dragons and poetry. Tolkienesque masterworks of dark fantasy / borderline unreadable nihilism by someone with no understanding of basic grammar. You either really like it or you really don’t.    

What are you working on right now?

The next book in The Remaking of This World Ruined, the follow up to A Sword of Bronze and Ashes. A Sword of Bronze and Ashes has been compared to Moorcock, M John Harrison, and Tolkien. Trying to write a follow-up to that is crushing me. 

Thinking about all the stories/work you’ve done, what sticks out most in your mind? Why?

That it’s happened at all. Ten years ago I longed to write a book but was certain it wasn’t possible. Like, for me ‘writing a book’ was about as achievable as flying to the moon. I’ve now written five novels and multiple short stories and co-authored a novella. It still feels utterly unreal. 

Where and when do you create/are you at your most creative?

I have a day job three days a week and two children (hence the day job), and I have fatigue issues related by being multi-neuroatypical. I live in a very small house, and have to write at the dining table when everyone else is out. So I don’t get much time and space to write at all. I spend a lot of time thinking about the thing I’m working on, then grab any chance when I’m alone to write. 

I used to write in the evening when the children were in bed, but at the moment I’m too tired to think creatively in the evening. I try to spend the huge amount of time I can’t be creative researching and getting inspiration. But it’s hard with children. 

What’s the best advice you’ve received about creativity?

Keep going. (See above).

What’s your writing soundtrack?

I have the Sol Invictus albums The Blade and Lex Talionis, the In the Nursery album Anatomy of a Poet and the Fairport Convention tracks Tam Lin and The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood on repeat constantly while I write. I’ve had them on repeat while I write since 2018. I think it would be fair to say I’d now struggle to write without having them playing.

The quickfire round

Sci-fi, fantasy or horror?
Fantasy

Quiet or loud?
Quiet

Dark or light?
Dark

Strict lines or genre blend?
Genre blend

Awards or bestseller?
Coming second in an award – not the obvious choice but highly acclaimed by those who know.

Fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction

Poetry or prose?
Poetry

Plotter or pantser?
Both/neither – I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, who these people are, what’s happening to them and why. I’m in a state of wonder/despair as I try and get any sense of what I’m writing. Then suddenly I see everything and understand it all.

Reading or listening?
Reading – my dyslexia and ASD means I have no ability to listen to things without a visual hook to keep me focussed. So I can watch films and TV, but not listen to the radio or audiobooks. I tune out immediately to the point I’m listening to each individual word separately with no memory of how the sentence began let alone what the sentence preceding it was about.  

Notebook or computer?
Computer – my handwriting is illegible even to me. I can only write creatively typing on a keyboard. If I’d been born even twenty years earlier, I would never have been able to write or even do most office jobs. I can’t use touch screens or speech-to-text or anything, I can only think creatively using a keyboard. 

Favourite SFFH book of all time?
Viriconium by M John Harrison or The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin. Or possibly the Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin. Or Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin. 

Last book you read?
I’m currently reading The Land of Green Ginger by Winifred Holtby

Any SFFH author on auto-buy?
R Scott Bakker, Steven Erikson. Also, really weirdly I keep discovering more Mary Stewart Arthur novels that are obviously thirty years out of print and have to be hunted down on Abe Books. I think I have all five now. I think there are only five.

Favourite podcast?
See ‘reading or listening’ above – I really struggle with podcasts. Of the podcasts I’ve been on (and therefore been rather more focussed on), probably Worldbuilding for Masochists. Or The Beard of Darkness vlogger channel, because how could you not love that as a name?

The home stretch

What’s the best thing about being a SFFH writer?

I live in a far better world surrounded by magic and wonders and dragons.

Time to plug your stuff! Where can we find you and your work? What have you got coming up? Consider this your advertising space.

I’ve written five novels so far: the grimdark epic fantasy Empires of Dust trilogy The Court of Broken Knives, The Tower of Living and Dying, The House of Sacrifice; the standalone grimdark low fantasy A Woman of the Sword; and the folk horror high fantasy A Sword of Bronze and Ashes, the first book in the series The Remaking of This World Ruined. All are available anywhere good books are sold. Although there’s a special edition of A Woman of the Sword that’s only available directly from Luna Press. 

I released a novella last month, co-authored with Michael R Fletcher. He dubbed me Queen of Grimdark, he then got dubbed Apocalypse God; that might tell you something about where we’re coming from … The book’s called In The Shadow of Their Dying, the publisher is Grimdark Magazine, one of the early reviews describes it as ‘one of the most disgusting, vile worlds ever. And that’s said lovingly’. That might also tell you where it’s coming from. It was probably the most fun thing I’ve ever written. 

I’m on twitter as @queenofgrimdark, Facebook and Instagram as Anna Smith Spark, and my website is www.courtofbrokenknives.net You can find some beautiful videos on my website, and readings from some of my books. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

14 + 6 =