Welcome Anne Barwell to Sylvre.com. I have an unusual advantage in this interview, because you and I are acquainted, and in fact we’re currently co-writing a book—an honor for me to have that opportunity. But in regard to the interview, knowing you gave me the material to ask some tough questions. So, double thanks to you for visiting and having the good grace to put up with my probing.
Q: You are a musician, and that has a prominent role in your life. Is music a particular muse for you. Some author’s have “soundtracks” for their books. Do you? Do you play particular types of music while writing? How does musical thinking show up in your writing?
A: I always have music playing in the background when I write, and I tend to associate songs with characters, stories and relationships. I tend to play different ‘soundtracks’ depending on what I’m writing. For example Evanesence’s songs are great for writing angst, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Nickleback while writing the end of Shades of Sepia. My daughter introduced me to Ed Sheeran a while back and a couple of his songs are perfect for Simon and Ben’s relationship. I can’t listen to Glass Tiger’s ‘Touch of Your Hand’ without thinking of Kit and Michel from Shadowboxing.
Several of my characters are musicians and on more than one occasion music plays a part in the story, or there’s a reference to it. In Shadowboxing, Kit plays the violin, and Michel the flute. Music plays a part in the sequel Winter Duet too, and that’s reflected in the title. In Slow Dreaming, Sean is a songwriter/musician and Jason is haunted by a song. Simon in Shades of Sepia plays piano when he’s working through things―the music scores Ben notices on the piano are ones I own and play on occasion. The ring tone on Ben’s phone is also set to play ‘Slice of Heaven’, which is a local song by Dave Dobbyn and Herbs, when his friend from NZ texts.
Q: What about magic? Magic is everywhere in your books—even in your sci-fi Slow Dreaming the science seems nearly magical. Why do you like including that element in your stories? Off topic a bit, but if you could have one magical ability, or one thing in your real life world that worked through magic, what would it be and why?
A: I love the idea of magic, of something almost otherworldly and the idea of there being something not quite explained out there. Reality isn’t a fun place to be some days, and being able to imagine something a bit different can be very freeing. Explaining that magic in too much detail, even if it is supposedly based in science, can destroy some of that escapism, although in saying that, I still think there needs to be a middle line. An explanation of ‘that’s a myth’ doesn’t cut it for me; there has to be a mythos for whatever world I’m writing in, and I’m careful to be consistant. There’s the whole thing about suspension of disbelief attached to SF and fantasy and I think we all want to do that on some level at least once in a while. I know I do. I’m also not a big reader of hard science SF; I prefer the ones which drift closer to fantasy. My reading/writing is very character driven.
Besides it’s fun watching characters who are very hooked into ‘there has to be an explanation’ trying to get their head around magic. *Pets Ethan from Hidden Places. Poor guy has only experienced the tip of the iceberg in what I’ve written of that series so far.
One magical ability? I’m torn between two of them. Being able to portal from one place to another would be cool, especially with the price of travel at present. I often feel a bit isolated from the rest of the world here in NZ. The other would be the ability to stop time for a while. I have a ‘to do’ list so long that I’m probably never going to get through it in my lifetime.
Q: History and the lore that surrounds and informs also seems to contribute a lot to your stories. How much do you rely on factual history and regional lore for underpinnings—even in your stories that are fantasy or sci-fi? If your lands, your characters, your stories don’t conform, are you more apt to change your story to fit the research, or to go with your new creation? Why? Can you give an example?
A: I’ve always loved history, and mythology. When creating a fantasy world, or characters, I’m very much aware that I’m only telling a part of their story, a snapshot of their life, so to speak. A person’s history is a huge part of them, and experiences influence decisions that are made and how a person acts. I can’t just look at an isolated week in their life without an idea of how they came to that point and what might happen next. I want to know what their history is even if a lot of it doesn’t make it into the story. It’s too much a big part of them for me to ignore. The same goes for the society in which they were brought up. Something that we take for granted isn’t necessarily going to be by someone else.
For example in Hidden Places, Cathal comes from a land a little different from ours, Naearu. While our world’s advances have come through technology, his has used magic, although in some cases it might be argued that it’s different names for the same things. We take cars for granted; he hasn’t been in one before. His usual mode of transportation is a horse; his partner Tomas isn’t at all keen on the idea because he has very little experience of them.
As for changing story to fit research or vice versa? In a fantasy story I tend to do a little of both, depending on what I need to happen, and I build the world with the story in mind. I like to mix world building with a bit of fact, even in fantasy stories. Both Naearu (Hidden Places) and Astria (A Knight to Remember) have a basis in the medieval period, and existing mythologies although of course with a few changes. I like to start with something factual and add in ‘what if’s.’
With a series like Echoes, which is set against an historical backdrop of something that did happen, I have to change the story to fit the research. I want this series to be as accurate historically as I can get it. Shifting D Day to another location or time isn’t going to work! But in saying that the research can often provide interesting bits of plot that I hadn’t already anticipated. It’s a two way street.
Q: You’ve made no secret that before publishing your fully original fiction, you wrote fanfiction,. What universes did you dabble in?
A: I wrote mainly in Gundam Wing and New Series Tomorrow People but I dabbled in Highlander, Stargate, Roswell, Torchwood and Weiss Kreuz. I’m also a bit of a crossover junkie, so wrote a fair amount of that. These shows are also all SF and/or anime, which is a lot of what I watch and read.
Q: You won an award for writing love or sex scenes in fanfic—what type of award was it (i.e. reader poll, jury, etc)? Writing in which AU? What was it about your erotic writing that was commended? Can you share say 10 to 20 lines from that writing?
A: Goodness, I had to think about that one as it was about ten years ago now. It was a jury judged contest and I was writing Gundam Wing. An AU set in Wellington actually. I don’t remember the details of what was commended as it was a long time ago and the site is no longer there, but I got teased about my win as I was more known in the fandom for writing action/drama, and whumping (hurt/comfort).
Trowa understood about the importance of listening. Remembering my reaction, he’d asked my permission, and then waited for my response. He didn’t presume to know my preferences and desires. I leaned into his strong embrace, allowing the spice of his aftershave to blend with that of the sea. The wind howled around us but I didn’t care. Trowa’s presence offered me an anchor, a previously elusive calm in the centre of the storm. Before I had been content to just be. Now I wanted more.
Lips brushed against mine then withdrew. “You still taste like the sea,” he said, breaking the kiss before leaning in to sample again. After last night it would have been surprising if he’d stopped to ask permission for this.
He explored my mouth with his tongue and I shuddered in pleasure. His hands shifted to grip my bottom, using the action to pull us closer. I stroked his hair with my fingers, moaning as the kiss deepened. It was wet, sensual, and full of unspoken desire.
The heavens opened and the light drizzle turned into a downpour.
Neither of us moved.
Silver white highlighted the sky before surrendering to darkness, the low rumble that followed closely behind a foreboding of the coming storm.
The rain eased back into an infrequent patter but only offered a brief respite. Announcing its arrival with the salt and wildness from the sea, the southerly wind was a reminder that nature wasn’t about to give up in her attempt to take back that part of the city that had once been rightfully hers.
Q: Your books now are not brimming with graphic sex or intimate love scenes. Why not? How much sex do you think strikes a good balance for M/M romance in general? Is this any different than what you would hope to find if reading traditional het romance? How do you know when you have the right number of erotic scenes in your own books?
A: I tend to read for character and plot, and write the same way, and although sex is a part of a relationship, if there are too many sex scenes in a story I start to skim them. Sorry! I’m one of those readers who wants plot in my PWP. LOL. I tend to write sex/intimate love scenes if the story calls for it or the characters really push. Some characters are way more pushy than others. I don’t think there should be more sex scenes just because something is M/M and I’ll skim het romance too (although I must admit I hardly read the genre) if I get bored with the number of sex scenes. I’m more interested in the give and take of the relationship and the characters than what they do in bed. If they want to go at it like bunnies, I don’t want to read about every time they do it. Fading to black and/or offscreen works quite well – it gives them some privacy too which I think is important.
I know I have the right number of erotic scenes in my books when it feels right. I know that’s not helpful, but that’s how it works. If I have too many I know I’ll have one of my betas on my arse asking me to justify it too! Some characters tend to push for more than others, so it’s also down to what feels right for the situation and the characters. My current WIP, Shades of Sepia, has four which is rather a record for me. I’d say vampires are pushy but in this case his partner, who is human, wasn’t much better. One doesn’t argue with vampires, right?
In saying all this, I know there are readers out there who love heaps of hot sex in what they read, and I was a bit nervous about being vocal here about what my reading/writing preferences are, and I can’t stress enough that reading/writing is a very personal experience. I write what I want to read – I think most authors do or what’s the point? We’re all different and if there was only one type of book out there, the world would get be a really boring place. That’s one thing I love about this genre; there’s a big range of subgenres within it.
Q: You’ve said, I believe, that sex scenes should move the story forward. How would that be accomplished? What about the romantic relationship? At what point is sex a must for developing the love between two men, and why not earlier or later?
A: The characters I write tend to intertwine their romantic relationship and making love. Sex is intimacy and a cementing of that relationship; that this is forever. They have romantic streaks a mile high although they’d most likely deny it. In my stories most of the sex scenes do drive the story forward, but if I gave specifics in A Knight to Remember and Shades of Sepia, that would be spoilers! Well, for most of Shades of Sepia, anyway. For the rest the guys are being a) horny and b) it shows how their relationship is growing as they’re getting rather more kinky as they go along.
As to the timing of the sex, that depends on the characters and the situation in which they’re in. There’s no sex in Cat’s Quill, as it wouldn’t have fit with the story. They’re still getting to know each other and when the truth comes out about who Cathal really is, they’re running for their lives and that’s rather more of a priority. Magic’s Muse, the sequel, is more relaxed, and they have the time to explore each other sexually so they do. A lot. Although most of it is offscreen as that’s what these guys prefer. I like to listen to my characters. My sanity is better for it.
In Shadowboxing, Kit and Michel are in a very different situation. For a story set in a time and place where any hint of a relationship between them could lead to imprisonment or worse, a lot of sex would not only be unrealistic, it would be dangerous and stupid on their part. They do finally consummate their relationship toward the end of the book but even that’s a risk. They don’t need to have sex to know they love each other, they’ve already put themselves in harm’s way to save the other and I think that speaks far more than an onscreen sex scene ever would.
Jason and Sean in Slow Dreaming had to grow their relationship quickly and that included the sexual side of it. They were on a tight time limit, as potentially they only had a few days together. Better to have loved briefly and lost than not have loved at all. Not saying anymore about that one or we’re getting into spoiler territory again!
Q: Please share an erotic scene (or some lines from one) from your new release.
A: Here’s Denys’s and Aric’s first kiss from A Knight to Remember:
“It’s done?” Denys sounded relieved.
“It’s done.” Aric turned to look at him, trying to manage a smile. Denys was staring at the blood on Aric’s hand. His nostrils flared. He took a deep breath.
Then, without warning, he leaned forward, closing the distance between them, and kissed Aric. Hard. Without thinking Aric returned it, savoring it.
The bandage slipped, his grip on it faltering, his world narrowing to the man next to him, to the smell and taste of him.
Denys pulled away quickly. “Oh God,” he murmured, his face bright red. He pushed Aric away, grabbed the bandage, and pressed down on the wound himself. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to….”
Aric stared at him. He put his fingers to his lips. What had just happened? “You kissed me,” he said lamely.
“Forgive me.” Denys was breathing heavily, his eyes glazed over. “I didn’t mean to. It just… happened.” He made a choked noise and turned away.
“Do you regret it?” Aric asked. Denys had kissed him, and it had felt good. More than good.
“No.” His mind made up, Aric swallowed hard. He cupped Denys’s chin, so that their gazes met. “You took me by surprise, that’s all. It felt good. Very good. So much so that I think we probably should do it again,” he whispered.
And with that he leaned in and brushed his lips against Denys’s once more.
Sometimes actions spoke so much louder than words.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve just finished the first draft of Shades of Sepia which is book 1 of a joint project with Elizabeth Noble. It’s an urban fantasy series is called The Sleepless City and we’re writing alternate books.
Here’s the blurb:
A serial killer stalks the streets of Flint, Ohio. The victims are always found in pairs, one human and one vampire.
Simon Hawthorne has been a vampire for nearly a hundred years and he has never seen anything like it before. Neither have any of others who make up the team of supernaturals he works with to keep the streets safe for both their kind and the humans who live in this city.
One meeting with Simon and Ben Leyton finds himself falling for a man he knows is keeping secrets, but he can’t ignore the growing attraction between them. Ben has only recently arrived in Flint, and finding it very different from his native New Zealand, but there’s something about Simon that makes Ben feel as though he’s found a new home.
After a close friend becomes one of the killer’s victims, Simon is torn between revealing his true nature to Ben, and walking away and avoiding the reaction he fears. But with the body count rising and the murders becoming more frequent is it already too late to prevent either of them from becoming the next victim?
Next up writing wise is The Harp and the Sea – the Scottish historical fantasy you and I are co-writing, and Winter Duet, the sequel to Shadowboxing.
Q: What question do you wish I had asked, but I didn’t, and what would have been the answer?
A: Interviewing some of my characters might have been fun. They love that kind of attention, but then maybe that’s a good thing as they’d probably give out loads of spoilers 😉
Seriously, though, we should organise something like that for another time.