We sat down and had a chat to author, Renee Spyrou, about her book Seraphympire: Guardians of the gateways. We wanted to know a little bit more about what drove her as a writer and how she came upon her stories. Here she shares a little of her writing journey with us…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
To begin with, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I was born in a small town thirty minutes south of the Queensland border, to Australian and Greek parents. Growing up half Greek and half Australian was interesting, it became a problem for me when my family moved from Murwillumbah, which had a small Greek community, to Ocean Shores, which had no Greek community, that I knew of. I went from obscurity to standing-out in the space of one week, because of my last name, Papanikolas, the woggiest name you could possibly think of. This was to become my first experience of racial discrimination, something I’d never experienced, or had thought about at the age of twelve.
High school was a challenge, I didn’t fit in – which didn’t bother me really because being different made me who I am today, but being called a ‘wog’ on a daily basis took its toll. Kids can be cruel. I think I’ve heard them all, but one of my favourites was, ‘Why don’t you go back to your own country?’ To me that was confusing because I was born in Australia and my mum was Australian so why would I journey to a country I’d last visited when I was four? It made no sense.
When I finished year 12 I decided to study fashion and have worked in the ‘rag trade’ ever since. My relationship with writing and reading progressively grew as I got older. I’ve always been an avid reader and grew up reading Greek mythology – hence my love for fantastical worlds. I always had a book or a paintbrush in my hand, but wanting to be an author came much later.
What did you want to do/be when you ‘grew up’?
I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer from a very young age. I’ve always been very creative; when I was four and we were flying to Greece, I used the time to hand-sew a vest for my barbie doll. What amazes me is that the vest wasn’t just a plain vest, I had lined it so the raw seams were enclosed within the fabric. What four-year-old sews a lined vest for a barbie doll?
What prompted you to start writing?
Initially I started writing to escape the sad reality of watching my 13-year-old son die from the neurological degenerative disease Adrenouleukodystrophy (ALD), it’s a terrible thing to lose a child, to witness their slow deterioration and not have any control over the inevitability of your child’s death. So I started writing. In my stories I have complete control over who lives and who dies, something we don’t have control of in reality.
ABOUT THE MANUSCRIPT (MS) and THE WRITING PROCESS…
Can you describe your manuscript in 100 words?Seraphympire is about the lengths people will go to, to achieve absolution. It’s a story of revenge, self-worth, compassion, sorrow, manipulation, betrayal, deception, hardship, jealousy, companionship, love, hate and friendship. It’s a story of the sacrifices people will make in order to protect and uphold good values in the face of evil. It’s overcoming adversity and battling on when there seems to be no hope of survival – even if it means dying for what one believes in. It’s about not judging someone for what they are, but who they are by their choices and actions. It is a journey with which there can be only one outcome. It is the journey of the Guardians of the Gateways.
What genre would you say your writing would fit into?
I love Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Supernatural, Sci-fi, Urban Fantasy, Apocalyptic, Zombie, Vampires, Angel, Horror Fiction, and the occasional romance. Anything that falls into ‘mythological’ is pretty much my genre – I love creating my own mythical creatures. I write in the genres I read.
Can you tell us a little bit about what made you write this particular story? Where did it come from?
Seraphympire evolved from a dream I had, I was flying with huge wings on my back, it was the most amazing dream. I have very vivid dreams and this dream is one I often have. Makayla, my protagonist, was the result of this dream. I chose to make her half Vampire half Seraphim because I’d never heard of such a thing, and it was something I could identify with being half Greek/Australian myself, I could take from my emotions, and experiences of feeling inadequate growing up and apply them to my protagonist for a more believable character.
How long have you been writing?
And how long have you been writing this particular MS?
I’ve been writing all my life, I’ve always written in journals, 40-page letters to my mother while I was away at college or overseas… It was always a dream of mine to write a novel, when I was eighteen I thought about it, but my youth and inexperience in life was my downfall. Now I am older and have lived life, seen and experienced things that I believe make me a better writer and person, because I can access the feelings I’ve experienced.
I worked on this particular MS for five years, the first draft took less than a year to write in its entirety, the original draft was 188,000 words, it’s half that now. I did a number of writing workshops and short courses, in-between writing drafts (seven in total). I sent my 2nd draft to The Manuscript Agency, it was to be the catalyst I needed to improve the narrative. I received fantastic feedback and direction, which had a huge impact on the story, it is a hundred times better than the first draft.
How did your manuscript develop, both in your initial
thinking about it and in the revision process?
My manuscript’s structure, plot and sub-plots evolved with each draft. In the beginning the plot had less twists and turns and red herrings.This development was a result of the feedback I received from The Manuscript Agency – getting my MS appraised was the defining moment of Seraphympire. I was forced to think about how I could improve upon the characters and the story. I had to change my thinking, and re-evaluate the story to make it richer, more full-bodied.
In the beginning I had a basic story, the bones, and I needed to flesh it out, which I did. Constructive criticism is very important when writing because it gives you the knowledge and courage that you need to make changes, possibly rewriting the entire book – which I did when writing my third draft.
Revision is important because you get new ideas that devlop and further the story. Every time you look at your story from a new angle you see new ways of adding to or taking away from a scene. You need to be very critical. Some characters changed greatly in Seraphympire, where others were completely removed. I’ve read my story so many times, I began to see patterns and themes, by revising your work you can add emphasis to these themes and improve the narrative.
Every author wants their readers to connect with their characters, and be invested in their plight. So I found humanising my characters by giving them weaknesses and imperfections made them seem like real people. To me, my characters are real people with real problems in an unreal world; I want my readers to feel the same way.
Don’t be afraid to cut and change your narrative to a better, tighter story. Sometimes less is more.
When you write, do you jot down all your ideas first,
or do they come to you as you go?
A bit of both, I usually get really good ideas while I’m at work, I work two jobs during the week sewing on industrial sewing machines, so while I’m sewing I’m usually thinking up scenarios for my story and characters for whichever MS I’m working on at the time. I have a notepad next to my sewing machine and jot down ideas when I get them, because if I don’t, I forget them. I also get spontaneous ideas when I’m writing, I love this the most. I usually write late at night, and any ideas I’ve had during the day I add at night whilst writing.
What is your writing process?
Do you plan what you are writing and write plot lines beforehand?
I absolutely do not have a plan when I’m writing, it’s funny, but a plan develops as the story evolves. I write by the seat of my pants, I love not knowing what will happen next it’s more spontaneous and exciting. But, I do have an idea of what I basically want to happen, and I also have an idea of the ending and a basic plot. I’m as surprised by things that transpire as much as my readers are.
What happened in writing that you didn’t expect would happen?
What I didn’t expect was how spontaneous writing really is, many times I’ve re-read my writing and I’m still amazed that I penned this story. I certainly didn’t expect to be an author. One day I got up and just said to my husband ‘I’m going to write a book, I have a great idea,’ and I did. He just nodded his head and smiled that smile he does when he’s supporting another one of my hair-brained ideas, like he’s thinking, ‘yes Renee you do that…’ I think he was a little surprised when I finished it.
I’ve never been a quitter, and I truly believed in the story so I did the unthinkable and self-published, something I really wasn’t going to do because of how much work was involved. I was originally going to go traditional and try and get a book deal with a publishing house, self-publishing was very unexpected.
Why did you decide to pursue publishing?
I pursued publishing because I believed in the story; it’s unique and attention-grabbing, it’s something I would read if I saw it on the shelf of a bookstore. It’s also something I would go to see at the cinemas if it were a movie. I believe it’s a story readers will enjoy.
What are the reasons you decided to self-publish?
I wanted complete control of my book in every aspect, cover, editing, royalties, etc. I put all the hard work into my book so I feel I should reap the benefits.
What did you find easy, difficult, surprising
about the self-publishing process?
Hmm, good question, in the beginning I found it all very overwhelming and difficult, simply because I was so out of my league. But with time I’ve educated myself through YouTube tutorials, workshops and short courses. Self-publishing is very rewarding, but very challenging; at the moment I’m at the marketing stage of my book which is something I’m trying to teach myself how to do. It is the most important thing for the success of a book next to having a great story to market, that is!
The surprising thing about the self-publishing process, I’ve found, is how much work is involved, for example, formatting for an Ebook, for print, cover design, book blurbs, video book trailers, websites, social media marketing and traditional marketing etc, etc. I did all these things myself, the only thing I didn’t do myself was the editing, which I paid someone to do twice as well as getting my manuscript appraised, which was the best decision I’ve made so far, because my story wouldn’t be what it is today.
Educating myself, has saved me a lot of money, many authors would have paid someone to do all this work, in all honesty I couldn’t afford to pay someone so I learnt how to do most things myself. I have a new appreciation for indie authors simply because prior to writing and publishing my novel I took for granted how much time it takes to actually write a book and publish it. Now when I pick up a book I appreciate it more than I did before writing my own novel because now I know the challenges an author goes through to get their written word printed. I’m also surprised by how much I’ve done and my capacity to learn new things, if you told me ten years ago that I would write and self-publish a book, I would have said no way, but here I am a self-published author.
Do you usually read e-books or traditional?
Where do you mostly buy your books from i.e bookstores, online?
I read both traditional and ebooks. I usually buy my ebooks and reference books on Amazon, I also buy reference books and paperbacks from ebay, but mostly I buy them from the QBD bookstore, as well as Big W, Kmart, and occasionally St Vinnies or secondhand book shops.
Which authors do you most admire, and why?
I admire Stephen King, Dean Koonz, Charlaine Harris, Julie Kagawa, Stephenie Meyer, Cassandra Clare, J.R. Ward, Deborah Harkness, L.J. Smith, Lauren Kate, Kristen Painter, Veronica Roth, Laurie London, Maggie Shayne, Pitticus Lore, Robert Ludlum, Michael Crichton, Clive Cussler, Anne Rice, Nicholas Sparks, Brian Lumely, Kim falconer, there are more, I just can’t think of them, I read a lot.
I admire them because of their books, because of their gift for storytelling, and their ability to hook and keep me enthralled from the get-go.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Escapism. I’ve always loved reading and writing stories; creating new worlds and characters is like giving birth, what’s that old cliche, ‘You have one life, read, and you have many.’ I love this the most about writing, creating and inventing supernatural characters who have problems and secrets just like an ordinary, living, breathing person. What I love most of all, is entering another realm, another universe, it allows me to step from reality into a world of endless possibilities.
Are there any writing forums, blogs, groups that you follow
or belong to that you have found to be invaluable?
I’m a part of the Goodreads Author Feedback Group, it’s very informative, I’m also part of the Max Haim Social Media Group.
Do you remember the first story you read,
and the impact it had on you?
Enid Blyton’s The Wishing Chair, I guess it’s the 1970s equivalent to Harry Potter, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was another book I read, I absolutely loved both of these books, not to mention all the Greek mythology I use to read. These books inspired me to write the same sort of fiction I write today, fantastical and magical.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer is being able to create new worlds and characters. I like that a story has it’s own evolution. A writer has an idea and a plan when beginning a new story, but sometimes you’re just the scribe writing it all down. The story takes on a life of its own, and not even the author knows where it’s going to end up, I like this the best because it’s fun to see the characters come to life in a most unexpected way.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Believe in yourself. Be determined. If somebody says you won’t be able to do something, prove them wrong. The inner critic will always be parked on your shoulder reminding you of your inadequacies. Ignore the critic and rise to your full potential. Don’t be afraid to dream. Don’t take constructive criticism personally, it’s a tool in which you can learn from. A first draft will always be terrible, mine was, you can improve and refine the story in following drafts. Be prepared to work hard, it takes time. If you’re self-publishing, get a professional specialising in your genre to edit your work. Always be willing to learn new things, nobody knows everything no matter how old they are. YouTube is a great place to find tutorials. My last bit of advice would be to read a lot of books in your preferred genre and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
What do you hope people will take away from reading your work?
What I want most for people to take away from this story is a feeling of camaraderie and acceptance of one another, that in the scheme of things we are who we are and should be appreciated and accepted for these differences. I want people to feel they’re able to overcome any adversity thrown in their paths and rise to their full potential.
I hope people can escape into the world I’ve created, to become so enthralled by the story that they barely come up for air, I hope they sympathise with the characters’ plights and are so invested in the story that they realise there is a deeper message within the story, that no matter our differences we are connected through our humanity and experiences.
Tell us what’s next for you?
I will be doing a book signing event at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo at the Gold Coast Convention Centre between the 17th and 19th of April and a book signing event in Greece on the island of Kalymnos at the Philoxennia hotel mid-August, we’re still working on the dates.
I’m working on book two, Seraphympire ~ Keeper of the Key at the moment, it’s the next instalment to Seraphympire ~ Guardians of the Gateways (pronounced Sera-fim-pire).
Where can we buy your book?
And is there anywhere else we can find out more about you?
My book can be found at my website and these links: