Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Anna Butler – Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time.
Thanks so much, Anna, for joining me!
Want to win some loot? Pre-order The Day of Wrath at a digital store (Amazon, Kobo, Nook etc) and send a copy of the email confirmation (or a screengrab of it) to firstname.lastname@example.org and
(i) Anna will send you the first chapter and some deleted scenes by email. The deleted scenes will be exclusive until the end of the year;
(ii) the first twenty to respond will get a little bag of Taking Shield loot; and
(ii) your name will be entered in a draw to win one of seven signed first edition paperbacks of Taking Shield 02: Heart Scarab. Winners will be announced on publication day.
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Anna Butler: Writing style? Mmn, wordy! I almost never write one word when ten would do better. I love words, you see. Can get drunk on them. So what better occupation than be a writer and indulge myself with those wonderful creatures day in and out?
That doesn’t mean that I just write reams of guff. At least, I hope it doesn’t. I’m as keen on the next writer to write clear, lucid prose and I actually love the editing process that polishes it up until it sparkles. I think what I love most is getting the right cadence with words, treating them like notes in a piece of music.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
AB: A little novella called FlashWired. I was trying my writing wings, reluctant to splurge out on a full length novel until I got in some practice. Short as it is, FlashWiredis a sample of my writing style: genre sci-fi with LGBT main characters, where there is a relationship but not a romance. It’s set in the future, when Earth is moving out to colonise the stars using pathfinder-class ships stocked with small scout vessels for surveying possible planets for terraconversion and colonization.
Here’s the blurb for FlashWired:
One day, someday soon, Jeeze Madrid was going to wake up and realize just what he’d been passing up; he’d see what Cal Paxton was offering him so faithfully—”Faithfully, Jeeze! Even you can’t deny that!”—and grab it. And they’d finally have what Cal wanted.
Cal Paxton and Jeeze Madrid are the top scouting team on the Pathfinder-class starship, the Carson, on the very outer edge of Earth’s expansion across the galaxy. Cal and Jeeze find the uninhabited planets, the Carson evaluates them for colonization.
Cal and Jeeze are wingmen, best friends… and lovers. Cal wants more than a casual relationship but Jeeze, recently divorced, is wary of commitment. When Jeeze’s scout ship is shot down over a planet inhabited by a race Earth has never before encountered, what will Cal find when the Carson can finally mount a rescue mission? Will he ever succeed in persuading Jeeze to take up his offer of hand and heart?
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
AB: Research the heck out of something and fill in my book ‘bible’—the folder of notes, maps, gossip, and anything else that might be useful.
I finished the final Taking Shield book in mid-April, and I’ve had a hard time starting something new. So I’ve been researching everything from the epithets of the god Thoth to the Antikythera mechanism, from aerodynamics to the flora and fauna of Eritrea. This is steadily filling in the background, and my mind, for the third Lancaster’s Luck story. At some point it will gel nicely and I’ll start writing, and all that lovely information will be bubbling along just under the surface.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
AB: Of course I read my reviews. If ever a writer tells you they don’t, then that’s a writer being more than usually economical with the truth. I don’t believe them. I haven’t yet met a writer with enough fortitude not to care what’s being said about their work, their baby, the one they travailed over with wailing and crying and labour pains. Ignoring your reviews? You aren’t human!
And yes, some reviews hurt when they’re bad, and hurt in a different, glad way when they’re good. Some bad reviews have cost me sleep, but some good ones make me want to sing out loud. One recently said “Another of the chief pleasures of her writing is her ability to combine Jane Austen levels of emotional restraint with the contextual vividness of Dickens or Trollope.” So oh WOW. Reading that made up for ten less enthusiastic ones.
Key things for you to remember are that not everyone will love your work. Nor should they. You’ve hated books that have been wildly popular (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, anyone? Phooey!), so why should readers be any less free to dislike yours? Remember that those readers you do touch are your blessing. Keep a few glowing ones in your back pocket so that when you see a bad one, read it, learn from it if there’s anything to be learned, and then go and read your glowing reviews to take the bite away.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in Day of Wrath (Taking Shield 05), and how well do you feel you achieved them?
AB: I had two main things to achieve in Day: an ending, of sorts, to the century-long war humanity had been fighting with the Maess, and a resolution for my heroes, Shield Captain Bennet and Fleet Lieutenant Flynn.
When I say I don’t really write romance, this is a prime example of it. The Taking Shield series is the story of a war between humans and an enemy that most of them have never even seen. It’s a wide, sweeping space opera with battles and politics and death, and the main thrust for my MC, Bennet, is his role in trying to ensure humanity wins. Or at least, survives. Threaded through this bigger story, though, is the love story of Bennet and Flynn. Circumstances have kept them apart, even when serving on the same ship, and I had both those, and Bennet’s annoyingly strong sense of duty and honour, to resolve if I could.
I’m happy with the ending. It’s what I envisaged when I first started made up the final line for the series. That’s exactly where I ended up. So, yeah. Achievement there.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
AB: Writing “the end” and saying goodbye to Bennet and Flynn. As I said, I’ve been writing Shield on and off for over a decade—seriously so over the last three years since Gyrfalcon was published in 2015—and they have been part of my writing life forever. It was very hard to realise that I’d come to the end of their story. I’ll miss them.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
AB: Oh my gosh, yes. I can’t remember not being able to read. I’m sure that like everyone else, I learned in Infants school (old UK system. I have no idea what they refer to it as now. Not Kindergarten, but real school that you start when you’re about five). But I don’t remember being taught. I do remember that I exhausted the shelves of reading books very early, and spent most of my school years sneaking into the next class up to raid their supply.
JSC: What action would your name be if it were a verb?
AB: Procrastination, thy name is Anna!
JSC: What do you like to read in your free time?
AB: (Blushes) I have a tremendous fondness for Pride and Prejudice fanfic and I have a huge collection of published variations on my Kindle account. I just can’t get enough of Elizabeth Bennet (who do you think Bennet was named after, huh?) and Mr Darcy. I’m also very fond of Golden Age detective stories, with Lord Peter Wimsey leading the pack of favourites there.
JSC: If I were a Hollywood producer about to put your book on the big screen, who would you want me to cast as the leads? Why?
AB: Oh this is easy! I’m the sort of writer who has to have visuals to work with. I always go hunting for pictures to ‘be’ my characters.
Bennet is striking: dark hair, grey eyes, cheekbones to die for. So Matt Bomer it is.
Flynn’s golden, biracial with green eyes. I always thought of him as having the same overall look as actor Hrithik Roshan. Gorgeous!
And now for Anna’s new book: Day of Wrath:
The award-winning Taking Shield series comes to its shattering conclusion in Day of Wrath.
In less than a week, Bennet will finally return to the Shield Regiment, leaving behind the Gyrfalcon, his father, his friends… and Flynn. Promotion to Shield Major and being given command of a battle group despite the political fallout from Makepeace the year before is everything he thought he wanted. Everything he’s worked towards for the last three years. Except for leaving Flynn. He really doesn’t want to leave Flynn.
There’s time for one last flight together. A routine mission. Nothing too taxing, just savouring every moment with the best wingman, the best friend, he’s ever had. That’s the plan.
Bennet should know better than to trust to routine because what waits for them out there will change their lives forever.
Bennet, sending out the first active scanner bursts in the direction of Aglaia, let Flynn’s acid commentary wash over him without needing to focus on it. He spoke briefly to the Gyrfalcon,alerting them to both the odd signal and to the status of the ensigns. Quist couldn’t get anything on long-range sensors, but she was willing to let Bennet check it out. She sounded thoughtful. Cautious. She didn’t like crap like this any more than he did. He signed off and returned to the task. His primary responsibility now was no longer for the ensigns—he could leave Prue to manage them for now—but for reading and analysing the reflections of the radiation bursts from his sensors.
And staying alive, of course. Passive sensors at least gave the illusion that they were just listening in to the universe. Illusory, because the Hornets were giving off heat and energy signatures of their own that another passive sensor system would pick up instantly. Actively scanning by pinging radiation off a potential target… he might as well stand up in the Hornet cockpit and wave his arms over his head, yelling “Look! Look! Here I am!” His saving grace was that Aglaia’s atmosphere really was thicker than mud. Most of his pings were bouncing all over the star system. Finding anything in that muck would be a miracle—but at least that cut both ways.
Not that he really thought anything was there. Space was full of weird EM oddities that played with a ship’s sensors. This was probably one of them, and just to prove his point, absolutely nothing interesting came back from his active sensors. There was no real, firm planetary surface to scan, of course, just the arbitrary one of a gas layer where the pressure equalled that at Albion’s sea level. Nothing but roiling gases there. When he checked out the moons, though, the screen did manage to decode some of the 3-D imaging returned by the laser imaging detector, the point cloud resolving into a rocky terrain of craters and mountains. Unenticing, to say the least.
But nothing suggesting heat or energy signatures.
He re-calibrated, shifting his position and altitude, and tried again.
He shifted position again. Nothing. Again.
When Flynn found him, eight minutes later, he was beginning to think he’d imagined the entire thing. “I’ve told the Gyrfalcon,” he said by way of greeting. “We’ve been ordered to take a careful look.”
“Is that careful of ourselves, or careful not to go too far into the system and upset the Thorns?”
“A little of one and a lot of the other.”
Flynn snorted in derision. “I left Prue taking the ensigns around in circles, practising their formation flying.”
“I’m half-tempted to send them back home. Getting anything?”
“Me, too. And with only one signal detected, we have no way to triangulate a possible position. If there is anything, of course.” Bennet held them in position for a heartbeat or two. “We’ll go in and take a look. We might pick up something closer in, where there’s less scattering from Aglaia’s atmosphere.” He flicked the comm unit to long-range comms to hail the Gyrfalcon. “This is GyrLeader to Gyrfalconcommand. Respond please.”
“Quist,” said that worthy, so promptly she had to have been hovering over the comms desk, waiting on the call.
“We’re going in, ma’am. We’ll likely lose long-range comms as soon we’re inside the exosphere, given the conditions down there.”
“Yes, we’re anticipating that. I’m sending Gamma Patrol Three your way. They’re thirty thousand miles from your position, and will rendezvous with Lieutenant Prudence in seventeen minutes.” Quist’s tone was heavy. “This may be a fool’s errand, Captain. If that signal is no more than some sort of atmospheric anomaly, we’re wasting our time… but it needs to be checked out. Make one high level pass and gather as much data as you can. Keep this channel open and keep streaming the data back to us—with luck, some of it will get through. We’ll monitor you as far as we’re able, but we’re likely to lose you in that atmosphere.”
“Yes, ma’am. We’re going in now. Flynn, on my mark.”
Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service.
These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.