I had the pleasure of meeting author Anna Thayer in 2012. We were attending ‘Return of the Ring’, the last large-scale Tolkien conference at Loughborough University. At the time, we were beginning our journeys as writers and we had the chance to spend good quality time together talking about Tolkien, books, writing and, of course, Italian food! Today, we catch up with Anna, three years down the line and three books later.
FB: Anna, I always find writers’ journeys fascinating. Can you tell the SFFN readers how did you start and why were you drawn towards the fantasy genre?
AT: The roots of this journey start in my love of listening to Tolkien and Lewis, which my father used to read to my sister and myself when we were little. The stories sparked my imagination and I was writing fantasy series – on lined A4 sheets in fountain pen – every minute I had by the time I was 11. But they really were just imitations of Tolkien, even if they had heroines instead of hobbits!
Whilst at university I tried to publish a trilogy, but realised it wasn’t original enough to make it. I stopped writing, really disheartened, and focused on my studies. In hindsight, that was really valuable, because I feel that all the reading that went with a literature degree, and self-discovery that goes with that time of life, became the crucible for ‘The Knight of Eldaran’. I remember feeling that there was nothing left to do in the fantasy genre, until I had a revelation: walking to lectures one morning, I came across a tree that was wizened and established, but which had just one sapling branch sprouting from its thick trunk. That image struck me powerfully, and I wrote a short piece after I graduated – of which nothing came.
I was by now temping at a wine merchant’s, and one day took a call from a gentleman who wanted a price list. When addressing the envelope, I encountered the name Edesfield and thought, there’s a story to that name. The flash of inspiration that followed – of a king Ede riding into a battle he would lose – became the seed of the trilogy.
As for my love of fantasy, the real pull of the genre for me is its eucatastrophic capacity; it can transport its readers to a place where they can come face to face with life and see it clearly, perhaps for the first time. More than any other genre, fantasy enables piercing moments of transcendence – and it can tell darn good stories!
FB: Tell us about ‘The Knight of Eldaran’ trilogy. What is the full story behind the story?
AT: I’ve already mentioned the first ‘germ’ of the story. Once I had this idea, I wanted to explore what would happen if the hero was tied to the villain, and the trope of “true returning king fights to take back his Kingdom” could be narrated through such a protagonist. I had got to the point in the story where Eamon reaches the villain’s capital, Dunthruik, at exactly the moment when I moved to Palermo in Sicily to teach. The impact of that amazing city of the feel and direction of the rest of the trilogy cannot be understated – thus book two’s dedication.
FB: Your trilogy has won an IndieFab award for new fiction in the fantasy category. Take us through your feelings when you were nominated and then won the award.
AT: I was really shocked to be nominated! The IndieFabs nominate hundreds of books across dozens of categories, and there were over 60 for new fantasy. I didn’t know I had come third until Peter Gladwin (with whom I coauthored ‘Out of the Darkest Place’) messaged me to ask if I knew I had won! I was ecstatic, and a little incredulous!
FB: Anna, you are no stranger to the academic world, having written several papers on Tolkien and fiction in general. What do you find appealing about literary criticism?
AT: I love exploring themes and nuances, and the ways that language can expose the deepest parts of the human soul and expetience and transmit that to others. In my day job as an English teacher, I try to pass that passion to others! When you spend a lot of time studying one writer, you come to know them intimately, almost as a friend.
FB: Most writers, even established ones, have to juggle more than one career these days, just like us two. How do you manage to stay focused on your writing, in the midst of life?
AT: Life is genuinely busy, between a day job, 3 year old, 7 month old, and the quotidian humdrum! It’s about being disciplined and making the time every day – though frustrating when you can’t predict where that time will be! Even just a few minutes a day helps, and once it’s habitual it gets a little easier. For myself, prayer also helps immensely!
FB: What’s your next project, Anna?
AT: I’m hoping to dabble in a few projects in 2016, perhaps some more coauthoring. There are some really exciting opportunities opening up on the academic side, and I hope to put something together on Tolkien for Luna Press Publishing. On the fiction side, I’ve been challenged by friends, family and publisher alike to try my hand at a period romance. Watch this space!