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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Axel Forrester talks about the inspiration behind her latest book release, A Cornish Odyssey.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Axel Forrester about her life and career, the inspiration behind her new book, A Cornish Odyssey, and her creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Axel Forrester. Both American and British Citizen living near Hastings in the UK. I grew up in Los Angeles and came to the UK 14 years ago to teach. My training has been as an artist first and then later as a writer. But story telling has been a part of me from the very beginning.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was six years old.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I’ve always been writing, but I got serious about learning the craft about 14 years ago. Much later in life.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
That is always a hard question to answer. I’ve been working on three novels over 14 years, none of them released yet. They need more work. But I wrote three novellas from 2022-2023 and each was based on experiences I had 20 years ago. Does this mean they took 20 years to write? Well, yes. All my experience for those 20 years contributed to the writing. But they came out of me pretty quickly. Each taking about 3 months to write.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Time has no meaning when you ask how long did it take to write a book. You can’t separate your experience, how long it takes to learn the art of your craft, the inspiration that makes it come alive or the sheer luck involved in it all coming together. There is no right answer if you are writing fiction. If you are writing genre fiction or non-fiction and have a steady practice in which you can predict a pattern to your writing, then you might have an answer.
I’ve read that some writers like Lee Child say they write a book in a year, spending M-F, 8 hours a day. They know exactly how to write a book that readers expect from him. I don’t write for that reason or that way. I write to discover the story. Much of it is unknown until I finish the many drafts of it.
I like writing like this. The writing life I want demands I write this way.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write A Cornish Odyssey?
I wanted to explore other options I might have taken for my life, other roads. I used the setting of a great adventure I took, set up a character that had some of my characteristics but not all, and explored what this character might do. So, it was autobiographical, in that I did the real journey, but I made up the character, who was of a different gender, and had many other different characteristics. It was light hearted and fun but also deeply meaningful.
What were your biggest challenges with writing A Cornish Odyssey?
To not over write. I had to learn to trust myself as a writer and let the story and character fly without too much rewriting. Finding the voice of my character, I just had to trust in it and see what it could do.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
The feelings I had recalling the trip that the character was now taking in my imagination. The PLACE was a character too and I had to be true to my experience of it and the other people I met along the way. I also had to be true to the main conflict in the character. I had a similar conflict, so I felt I had to get in touch with that and really explore it.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Real life events. There are plenty of people in real life who will try to dissuade you from following your dreams.
What is the inciting incident of A Cornish Odyssey?
When Grant is on his holiday walk along the coast of Cornwall and receives the call from his boss that he has lost his job.
What is the main conflict of A Cornish Odyssey?
That Grant has settled for a teaching job that he does not really want, and not answered the call to be a photographer, something he wants very much. Discovering Cornwall excites his imagination and he becomes a seeker of magic and mystery. He finds the way to a path he belongs on. The coastal path of Cornwall becomes a hero’s journey and he discovers who he really is on this symbolic path.
Did you plot A Cornish Odyssey in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I do both. This one about 90 percent fly by my instinct and imagination first and edit later. I didn’t plan much, but relied on memory of an actual walking trip I took in 2004 when I was teaching. Much of what happened to Grant happened to me too.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did A Cornish Odyssey need?
No support with editing until the final stages of publishing. Didn’t need much.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Read the book – Out of Silence, Sound. Out of Nothing, Something: A Writer’s Guide by Susan Griffin
It is the best book I’ve ever read on writing in 14 years of studying it. And I believe, if you want to write you should invest in learning the craft and tools of writing. That often means an education in writing. An advanced degree. But there are many ways of doing this. It depends on your circumstances how you accomplish it and no sure way. But I’ve never found it interesting to read books by authors who have no curiosity about reading other writers and about writing. I’m equally obsessed with reading fiction as well as writing it. I find I learn much doing both. It is a continual process and part of the writing life.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m working on three books right now. All three are ones I’ve been writing and rewriting over the last 14 years. I rotate working on them for about a year at a time. And each of them gets better with a little distance between the rewrites. Good editors have helped over the years. Good courses, writing groups, feedback. I’ve developed my process over this time too. But I want to see these three books become the best versions they can be of these stories. So, I’ll keep working on them until they are ready to go out into the world.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am proud of the accomplishment of having written three finished novellas that are being read by people in 12 countries and have won awards. It is gratifying to find readers and get positive feedback about the stories and the writing. I’m proud to have first chapters of two of my novels win awards and recognition and hope they will be finished some day with the help of great editors and more feedback. But the best accomplishment, the most important to me, is having found my writing life.
My writing and reading are so much a part of what I do each day that it doesn’t feel like a chore to do them. It is necessary for my happiness. I want to continue to grow as a writer and to reach more readers, tell more stories, but I know that isn’t the most important reason that I do it. I do it because the rewards of reading and writing fiction are so many and go so deeply into my being that I can’t imagine a life without them. It does take effort to get to this place. Getting there is the hard work that finally makes you show up in your writing place most days and try again and again to get that feeling back, the one where you see something wonderful, where words on a page transform into an experience.
Anyone who has invested a long time in the process that changes you from student to practitioner, understands that it is this transformation that is the reward for your effort, not a product. It’s crazy to think you can write fiction for money. There are easier ways to earn it. It’s no reason to write. In a world that values authors and books according to big seller statistics, it has become a bit like wishing to be a sports star or a film star.
Yes, it happens to some, but it is not likely to happen just by wishing for it. Those who are rich or famous as writers work hard AND have some luck and of course there are some who have a keen understanding of what booksellers want and write to that. But I believe one has a better chance of being happy finding a path, a destiny that suits you, doing something you feel born to do.
Putting work into something brings a kind of peace and satisfaction that helps you keep on going for the long journey it takes to transformation. I’m most proud of making that journey.
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