TToday we have a brilliant blog post for you: an interview with the latest addition to the Burning Chair family, the author Fi Phillips. Fi’s debut novel Haven Wakes is published by Burning Chair Publishing on 1 October 2019, and she has taken time out from all the hectic preparations for the book’s launch to talk to us about her and her writing.
We were blown away by Haven Wakes when we first read it, and it was pretty much a no-brainer for us: we just had to publish it. The novel is an intoxicating mix of the futuristic and the magical, with strong characters and a story which cracks along at a rapid pace. Basically hitting so many of our sweet spots that we’re aching to see what you, the readers, make of it!
You can read more about Haven Wakes at the bottom of this post, and you can get hold of an exclusive extract from the book by joining Fi’s reader’s group by clicking here.
In the meantime, grab a warm cup of tea, sit back and enjoy the interview!
Hi Fi, welcome to the Burning Chair hot seat (Burning Chair’s burning chair?)! First off, tell us a bit about yourself: who is Fi Phillips and how did you get to become an author?
Who is Fi Phillips? Good question. Who can I ask?
Well, if you ask my family, they’ll say I’m mum, wife, washer woman, taxi driver, dog walker and sporadic cook.
If you ask the HMRC, I’m a copywriter and playwright. Soon, I’ll be adding published novelist to my list of job titles too.
I’m originally from York, but after more house moves than I can count on both hands, I’ve settled in North Wales with my family and a dog called Bailey.
How did I become an author? Well, I’ve been writing since I was a child. Growing up, all I ever wanted to be was a writer. The writing has taken all kind of forms – short stories, poems, plays, blog articles, newsletters – but the dream was always to write novels for a living.
The gear change from ‘writer’ to ‘author’ happened when I sent off my manuscript to you guys at Burning Chair Publishing and you kindly said, ‘yes’.
Tell us about your debut novel, Haven Wakes?
Haven Wakes is a futuristic fantasy novel for an 11+ readership. The main character in the novel is a twelve year old boy called Steve Haven. He’s the kind of child who does okay at school but generally flies under the radar, doing his best to survive boarding school with his best friend, Jon.
The only thing about him that seems to be special is the identity of his uncle, Rex Haven, founder of the internationally renowned Haven Robotics Corporation.
When Rex is murdered, Steve finds himself thrown into a hidden world of magic where the only path out is to locate a magical device, solve his uncle’s murder and face off against the novel’s villain. Not much to ask really, is it?
Where did the inspiration for the story, and the whole Haven Wakes universe, come from?
Brought up in a house of books, I’ve always read a wide range of genres, but the one kind of story that draws me in time and again is a fantasy tale set in the here and now or in a recognisable version of our own world, just like Haven Wakes.
The inspiration for the story itself came from all kind of places:
- a travelling salesman who first turned up in a story I wrote in my twenties,
- the developing culture of robots and how they affect the way we live,
- the thought that magic and super powers aren’t really that different, and
- the many colourful characters I grew up around, many of them magical to a child’s eyes.
Alongside the sci-fi, there’s a healthy dose of magic and mysticism in Haven Wakes, with magic and mythical creatures featuring heavily – something we love! Where did you get these ideas and concepts from?
First off, fairy tales – my favourites are Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood – with their big bads, witches and talking animals.
Secondly, Greek and Norse myths – I read a lot of mythology in my teens and twenties, and I still have a big book of Greek myths at home that I return to for reference. I even studied Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as part of my literature degree. And I have a series of books based on each mythology all ready to write one of these days.
I love reading about British folklore with its superstitions and stories. It’s wonderful to see all the strings of superstitions and tales that were brought to the UK by the Celts, the Vikings and the Romans, amongst others, and how those have mingled to form what we have today.
I have a more than necessary amount of books on witchcraft. It’s a wonderful culture and whether you believe in magic or not, the principle beneath it all of ‘do what you will but harm thee none’ is one to live by as far as I’m concerned.
Finally, I have a massive, battered old book called ‘The encyclopaedia of things that never were’ which I dip into on a regular basis.
Which is your favourite character in Haven Wakes, and why?
Two characters who pre-date Haven Wakes by about thirty years – Hartley Keg and the darkling. Both of these first appeared in a full-on Tolkien-esque fantasy called The Crystal Prince which I wrote in my early twenties.
Back then, Hartley was a travelling salesman who always had just the right thing in his stock for any dilemma and wonderful skills of persuasion.
The darkling played on the side of the villain, sent to capture the heroes, but found love with another of the villain’s minions which opened her heart to the possibility that there was another way to live.
I love Hartley’s take on life – that it’s for the taking and that there is magic to be found in the most mundane of things like the smell of freshly cut grass or a stranger’s smile.
The darkling is driven by a promise. She’s devoted, self-sufficient and a talented warrior. She cares too, although her soldier exterior often hides her good heart.
Full disclosure: Hartley Keg is probably our favourite character too – he’s a brilliant mix of the mysterious, bumling and whimsical, but with a hard edge as well. Anyway, moving on: which authors / books have most influenced your writing, and why?
As a child, I devoured books by Roald Dahl with his dark but funny take on life. I read fairy tales and mythology, and often wrote my own.
As an adult, Terry Brooks’ Kingdom for Sale/Sold was a favourite, as was his later Running the Demon. The writing of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker figured heavily too.
Through my studies, I discovered Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, with her thought on what makes a real monster, and I returned to my love of Shakespeare’s plays.
As a mum, I discovered the Skulduggery Pleasant and How to train your dragon books while reading them to my children.
More recently, I’ve loved The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, both with a heart felt take on magic, loss and family.
How do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Plotter all the way, but after a massive brain storm session where I throw down all the ideas, strings of dialogue and characters I can think of. I find that plotting allows me to shape the story alongside the characters. If I get stuck, I sometimes plot backwards from the end to the point where I’m stuck.
What’s your writing routine? What do you find the hardest, and the easiest, parts of writing?
I tend to write in 20 minute bursts, taking a break in between to stretch my legs or play with the dog. If I have a block and can’t figure out what to do next, I’ll walk away for a few minutes and do something mundane like the washing up.
The easiest part of the writing process is the brain storm at the beginning and creating dialogue.
The hardest part is deciding what elements to cut. Thank goodness for my ‘put it in another book’ file.
For all those would-be authors looking for advice, what are your top three tips?
Write. Get it down on paper or the screen. You can improve scrappy writing, but the only way to improve a blank page or screen is to fill it.
Read it aloud. If it flows well as spoken text, it’ll flow well on the page.
Write for you first. Tell your story the way you want to tell it. Worry about saleability later.
Finally, what’s next for you and the Haven universe?
Book 2 in the Haven Chronicles – Haven Journeys. The places he’ll go, the things he’ll see. Steve’s world has changed forever. Things will never be the same again.
Thanks Fi – we’re sooo looking forward to release day, on 1 October 2019! And we’re already champing at the bit to read the next book, and the next…
Haven Wakes is published by Burning Chair Publishing, in ebook and paperback – check out the book’s description below. You can read the first eight chapters for free by clicking here.
Or, if you’re already sold, you can pre-order by heading to books2read.com/u/3RaKLY.
The Haven Chronicles: Book One
By Fi Phillips
The year is 2110.
Everyone has their own robot, and magical worlds are just behind the next door…
Steve Haven always thought he was just another ordinary twelve-year-old boy. Well, as ordinary as he can be given he’s the nephew of Rex Haven, founder of the Haven Robotics Corporation.
But when Rex dies in mysterious circumstances and Steve is given a strange artefact known only as the Reactor, he finds out that the world he thought he knew is a lot stranger and more threatening than he ever imagined.
On the run from a group of dangerous villains, Steve finds himself plunged into a hidden and dangerous magical world. With his parents missing and no one in the normal world he can trust, Steve must join with his new-found magical friends to discover the truth about the Reactor and his uncle’s death.
Haven Wakes is the debut novel by Fi Phillips and the first in The Haven Chronicles, an exciting and enthralling journey through new worlds, both futuristic and magical.
If you enjoy fantastic settings, magical powers and futuristic devices, then you’ll love Haven Wakes.
Or, if you’re already sold, you can pre-order by heading to books2read.com/u/3RaKLY.