Interview: with Abigail Simpson

Born in England in 1991, Abigail Simpson was dragged kicking and screaming to New Zealand at the age of ten. Writing became a coping mechanism; then a passion; then a career. Abigail’s hobbies include acting, role-playing gaming and alphabetising her growing horde of books. Her blog is called Poms Away. You can find her short story The Girl, the Cat and the Goblins in our fourth issue (available here).

First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in the North of England and started writing at the age of six. It began as a Toy Story-inspired “novel” about a girl and her talking doll, but grew into an epic fantasy series, feeding on my mental health as it took over my life. Somewhere in the midst of that, my family emigrated to New Zealand.

I was a typical nerd: braced, bespectacled and hiding from bullies in the library. Aside from D&D with the boys, my outlets were writing and acting. I got prizes for both and went on to do Drama at Auckland Uni. Now I write and act for a living. (A meagre one, admittedly, but I’m chasing the dream!) My blog’s called Poms Away: A British Immigrant’s View of New Zealand.

Are there any horror/fantasy/sci-fi tropes or sub genres which you feel are played out? And vice versa, what tropes would you like to see more of?

It’s impossible to be entirely original when telling stories. The best stories are often those that have been told over and over again, but told well. I’m going back and reading the classics at the moment, tracing the origins of the tropes, and not enjoying them any less for being – now – clichéd. One thing I do miss, reading the classics, is a real female perspective. I’d love to write Day of the Triffids from Josella’s perspective, for example, although I was pleasantly surprised at how John Wyndham handles his female characters.

I’m writing a sci-fi novel at the moment, and without realising it I’ve gone and written a reversal of the classics. My main character, a young woman, rescues a man. I’ve also just finished a Regency-era zombie story, (a reaction against the rather disappointing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) that features a female ex-slave wielding a blacksmith’s hammer in a stolen redcoat’s uniform. But I digress.

Do you have any particular writing rituals you are comfortable sharing?

My go-to ritual is putting off writing because I’m afraid I’m not good enough, until I hate myself more for not writing than for writing. Then I sit down and write, usually in a beautiful notebook made to look like the Book of Kells or something.

The best way to start writing is honestly just to start writing. Try not to worry about how awful it is and hopefully you’ll become absorbed. And don’t worry about writing “well” – if you’re not feeling inspired, just write in a basic way, knowing you can always go back and improve it. (When you make an effort to write “well” you usually end up having to cut a load of flouncy adjectives anyway.)

What books are beside your bed right now?

My partner Tim and I like to read to each other before bed, and at the moment we’re working our way through the classics: things like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Brave New World and The Time Machine. Individually, I’m bingeing on the works of John Wyndham and Alan Bennett. I usually have a history book on my bedside table as well. At the moment, it’s Peter Rex’s Hereward, (the guy who lead a guerrilla force of Anglo-Saxons against William the Conqueror.) My favourite authors are George Orwell, Terry Pratchett and Oscar Wilde.

Given the wide amount of fan fiction being published in countless places online, what are your thoughts on fan fiction in general?

I see fan fiction as a fantastic reminder of how NOT to write. I’m sure well-written fan fiction exists, but my limited experience has yet to yield any. Redundant sentences and unnatural dialogue abound. I once read a piece of fan fiction set during WWI, in which the characters referred to themselves as being in the midst of “World War One” – how terribly pessimistic of them!

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