Some Thoughts with … E.M. Kkoulla
E. M. Kkoulla
E. M. Kkoulla lives with her husband and two feline overlords in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. After many years of teaching very small children, she decided to finally put her degree in Classical Studies, along with decades of re-enacting 16th and 17th-century life, to constructive use. Her hobbies include singing in various choirs, walking in the hills, and watching anything with gods, superheroes, and monsters trashing the landscape.
Welcome to my favourite part of the blog, having a chat with the authors. Today we are accompanied by E.M. Kkoulla, author of the Ships of Britannia series, a great historical fantasy work.
Let’s dive in!
1.- What made you decide to take the self-publishing route?
At the time I finished my first book, I wasn’t sure what to do about going down the traditional route of querying. I also know that it’s extremely difficult to get one of the major publishing houses to take an interest without having an agent. The whole process seemed very drawn-out and uncertain, which put me off. I wanted to see my work in print! I’ve also just turned sixty, which made the time scale a little more urgent. As it turned out, a friend of a friend had gone the self-publishing route and gave me very good advice. We’ve since become best buddies! Her name is Natalia Richards and she’s written two amazing books about the early life of Anne Boleyn. I also relied heavily on brilliant advice from David Gaughran’s books, seminars and website, which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone thinking of doing this. Basically, I thought self-publishing would be easier, which in some ways it is, but it can also be very expensive as I have to pay for everything myself. Technically, you can self-publish for nothing, but the result is usually less than professional. I have to pay for cover art, proof-reading, and all the technical services associated with my website, plus formatting and uploading. It was a steep learning curve but I think it was worth it. Another advantage is that I retain total control over my work.
2.- After writing a full trilogy, which aspect of the creative process would you say is the most difficult for you?
To tell the truth, it isn’t the creative part that’s a problem, though my characters often keep me awake at night as they argue about what’s going to happen to them. I’ve learned to give in and do as I’m told. After all, I’m only the author! I try to plot out my stories, but I’ve found that it often doesn’t work for me. Inspiration strikes at the weirdest times and I find the tale veering off in unexpected directions, sometimes good, sometimes to be discarded later or put aside for the future. Writing is the part I enjoy the best, feeling the story taking shape and emerging out of the shadows a piece at a time. The editing part is also fun, but very laborious and time-consuming. Don’t get me started on the difficulties of marketing. I suppose the really scary part is letting somebody else read what comes out of my head, as it’s so personal. Once you’ve already taken the plunge and sent it off, it does get a little less nerve-wracking. A little, tiny bit.
3.- Do you think writing becomes easier once you have several books?Does it become easier?
In some ways, yes, because the more you do it, the more you know what to expect. I’ve learned my strengths and weaknesses as I’ve gone along, so know what to look out for when I’m editing and revising. My proofreader/editor has also helpfully pointed out things I need to improve, so I’ve taken her advice on board. I’m always seeking to do better and I believe that we never stop learning, or what’s the point? Writing is hard work and takes a lot of time and energy, plus the confidence to share your work. That’s why it’s vital to get critiques from others, as a writer is often too close to their own work to see the flaws. I feel more experienced after publishing three books, a novella, and a short story, but my writing journey is still ongoing.
4.- From where did you take all the inspiration for the Ships of Britannia series?
Ah, the million-dollar question! People always ask writers this, especially those who write SFF, as the settings are usually outside of everyday existence. There are a number of influences on my work. My father was Greek-Cypriot, so my mother always encouraged an interest in classical mythology. When I was a child, she bought me books about gods and heroes and I loved them all. My mother was Scots/Irish, with a bit of English thrown in, and had a sense of the mystical about her. These factors collided and produced many of the ideas I use in the books. A big influence is the movie ‘Jason and the Argonauts’, full of gods, heroes, and terrifying monsters, all brought to life by the amazing Ray Harryhausen. There’s also a talking figurehead! It’s still my favourite movie of all time. Add the swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean into the mix and there you have it. The Starship Enterprise, the TARDIS, and Helva, the Ship who Sang, all left their mark too. I just love ships, though I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the chance to travel to unknown lands and have adventures, whether across the sea or through time and space.
5.- I see you are really passionate about classical culture, could you please tell us why?
I’ve always been fascinated by historical subjects, from all epochs and parts of the world. I chose to base my novels around classical culture because I have a degree in Classical Studies and they say write what you know! Also, as I mentioned earlier, it’s part of my cultural heritage. Originally, the series was going to be set in an alternate eighteenth century, but I couldn’t resist mashing them all up together. I wanted gods and monsters, so the two ages collide in a number of ways.
6.- One aspect that immediately took my eye while reading was the protection law for slaves, was it taken from the original Roman Empire?
Writing about enslaved people is one of the more uncomfortable parts of my work, but as it was a fact of life in the Roman Empire I felt that it would have continued into my alternate Britannia. There were few protections for them in classical times, though slaves could be freed and become wealthy, inheriting businesses, or even marrying their former owners. Much like servants in Victorian times, their quality of life depended very much on their situation. It was Roman law that no evidence given by an enslaved person was admissible in court unless they had been tortured first, a notion that is totally repugnant nowadays. My main character, Maia, starts off as an indentured servant, a little better than a slave but technically a free woman, though her situation is dire.
7.- I would like to ask you, how has the pervivence of the Roman Empire in Britain influenced your universe?
I had to give great thought to how Britain might have looked if the Romans hadn’t left. For a start, there wouldn’t have been the separate countries that make up the United Kingdom now, as the Celtic tribes wouldn’t have been pushed out by invading Germanic peoples. There would have been a period of greater stability, where inventions and trade would have flourished. I think that Britain would have felt much more part of a greater Europe, with more diverse people coming and going. This would have led to the sort of expansion that began here in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, connecting more parts of the planet. My Romans have trade links with places as far afield as China and the Americas, not to mention the knowledge of gunpowder. Religion also plays a significant part. The worship of the various pantheons is paramount and generally inclusive. Not many people argue with deities that can turn up on your doorstep and speak to you directly.
8.-I really loved the art style on the covers, did you make it or took an artist? Which statue is the one featured in the bookmarker?
I’m glad you like the cover art! I commissioned a very talented Romanian artist called Thea Magerand, who seems to be able to read my mind when it comes to portraying what I want. Her website is at ikaruna.eu and she does amazing work. She describes herself as a ‘monster maker’, which I can only agree with. As for the figurehead, I found the picture on Shutterstock and fell in love with it, though I don’t know which ship she adorns. Last week, I visited the Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth, where my series begins, and I took lots of pictures of the ships and figureheads there. It’s become a bit of an obsession.
9.- What can we expect in the future from E.M. Kkoulla?
So, the future! I’ve been busy this year moving house and re-booting my teaching career (part-time), but I’m coming to the end of my first draft of Book Four in the series. There will be a fifth one to finish it off; not bad for something that was originally a standalone novel. Everything expanded and I went with it. I’ve also just finished a new short story about one of my Ships, HMS Patience, that I’ll send out free to subscribers to my monthly emails. There’s also a free novella, ‘Son of the Sea’, set in the same world, that is available from my website emkkoulla.com. I like to give my fans extra content as a thank you for their faith in me! As you can see, I’ve enough to be going on with for a while yet. After that? Who knows, but it’s going to be fun. And there will probably be monsters.