With our goal of promoting more indie authors, we reached out to award-winning SFF author, F. D. Lee, and she answered! In this exclusive interview, we asked Lee about her background, her relationship with her work and her characters, and advice she could offer burgeoning writers. She replied with fantastic and nuanced answers, all of which can be read below. If you would like to check out F. D. Lee's novels and short fiction, you can visit her website at fdlee.co.uk.
You write in both the genres of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Do you feel
these two genres have any correlation? Is there a large difference in your
mindset when you set out to write a Fantasy story versus a work of Science
“I think there is a strong correlation between Fantasy and Science Fiction, yes. For me, they both offer opportunities to explore situations and characters outside of what is ‘normal.’ Though, of course, we all have different ideas about what normal means! One of the things that has always drawn me to SSF is that worlds and societies can be, and often times are, wholly different from the world as I experience it. The ability to explore these different places is at the heart of my love for the genres.
As a writer, I always start with my characters. They are the centre of everything, so in that sense, my mindset remains the same whatever I’m writing. It is imperative to me that the people my readers and I spend time with in my books are real. Whether you love them or hate them, I want you to know them, understand them. That’s where the real joy comes from, I believe. I certainly can’t finish a book, whatever the genre, if the characters aren’t complete.
Still, there are differences when I write two genres. With my fantasy series, The Pathways Tree, the story begins as a retelling of Cinderella, told from the point of view of a wannabe fairy godmother, Bea. Bea makes decisions in the first novel, The Fairy’s Tale, which lead to huge political and social fallout in the later books. So, things start off relatively ‘safe’ in this series—we are within a known story. The struggle comes from Bea and the other characters’ behaviour within that original Cinderella setting and, later, other fairy tale tropes. In my SF novel, In The Slip, everything is new—the world, the characters, all of it. There isn’t that level of familiarity; everything is more ambiguous. Kong, the protagonist, and the reader have to unpack the world he lives in and come to their own conclusions about whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”
You have an intriguing collection of short fiction available to read on your author website. Do you feel that offering “samples” of your writing lures in possible readers?
“Honestly, I’m not sure! But I enjoyed writing them and wanted to share them. I find them an excellent way to explore different writing styles and genres, so you’ll see that some of them are pretty… experimental… shall we say?! Short stories are also a kind of release valve; I find that writing helps me balance my head and, if I’m struggling with one of my novels, short stories are my go-to therapy. I might publish the ones on my website and in my Dropbox one day as a collection, but for now, they exist for myself. In fact, the idea for ‘In The Slip’ was generated by a short story I completed as an assignment for a writing MA I audited. I haven’t included that one on my website because I wrote a whole novel about Kong, but perhaps that might make it into a collection one day. For now, if people read them (and everyone is very welcome to!) and enjoy them, that is wonderful.”
You have an impressive educational background, with a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing. Do you believe your thorough education has enhanced your writing and helped you become a better author?
“Absolutely! My academic life has allowed me to explore new ideas and theories, all of which make their way into my writing to varying degrees. I’m lucky enough to lecture at a University in London, which means I have access to a vast range of academic journals and experts in various fields who I can ask for help when I need it. I think that this adds an additional layer to my writing; it makes it more believable. As a reader, I really enjoy books that weave in real-world facts and theories, as Terry Pratchett did so adeptly, so I write that way, too. Though I certainly make no claim to being as expert at it as Sir Terry was!
“There is a lot of research related to the climate emergency in In The Slip. When I was writing the novel (around 2016-2018), many of the things I included were discussed in the literature as dire future indicators of collapse, yet in 2020 many of them happened. Not only is that really scary, but it also makes me look much more prescient than I am! I just did the research. In the same vein, for the Pathways Tree series, I’ve spent a lot of time researching fairy tales and how these stories have come to affect cultures and beliefs. This has really helped me weave in the sinister elements of storytelling as the series has progressed. I also like to share all this background reading with my readers. I offer special access to the research and ideas that informed each book, along with unpublished material, to my mailing list. I think that for those people who are really into my work (enough to sign up for my newsletter!), these additional insights are a lot of fun.”
In your novel, The Fairy’s Tale, the protagonist, Bea, wants to be a Fiction Management Executive so much it becomes an obsession and drives many of her decisions. Do you believe there’s any correlation between Bea’s obsession with this dream and your drive in your early career to become the successful author you are today?
“LOL! Yes, almost certainly. I love Bea, but she is very stubborn and, yes, obsessive. That definitely correlates to me. When I get the bit between my teeth, there is no stopping me. I completed my PhD in under three years and wrote and published The Academy in that time. I was totally obsessed!
“To be honest, all my characters reflect me in some way. I draw a lot on my own emotions when I’m writing and let those emotions feed into the characters. They may not behave as I would (I certainly hope not in the case of some of them—looking at you, Julia!), but that emotional grounding helps me to find them. I studied drama and theatre for many years, which has proven invaluable in terms of finding the core ‘I’ of each person I write.
“True story: when I write from Julia’s point of view, I often have to shake myself afterwards. Jump up and down or busy myself doing some chores around the house, anything to get her away from me. She is an awful person! But there must be something in me that resonates with her to have been able to create her and get into her mindset. That thought shakes me up a lot!”
Lastly, what advice would you offer a fledgling author who is just now wading into the big, wide world of the internet and wants to find a platform for sharing and selling their work?
“Make friends with other writers! Writing can be a very lonely and insular process, and it’s easy to get lost. You need people around you to cheer you on, read your work, offer you feedback, discuss your ideas with, and vent your spleen at when your story or your characters aren’t behaving.
“More than that, though, other writers will be able to help you find those platforms that are right for you and can guide you through the processes of getting your work out there. Whether you want to self-publish or go the traditional route, other writers are your friends. Don’t be shy or embarrassed; get yourself out there!”
About the Author:
F D. Lee is the author of the internationally bestselling fantasy series, The Pathways Tree, and the award-winning SF novel, In the Slip. A lifelong Fantasy and Science Fiction fan, Faith is an advocate of self- and indie-publishing and has a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing. She has been featured in The Independent, appeared on Radio 4 to talk about her research into genre fiction, and has given a mini-TED talk on why stories matter. Faith is online and always happy to chat! Facebook: @fdleeauthor; Twitter & Instagram: @faithdlee. Visit her website, www.fdlee.co.uk, to read her work!