Interview With Author Ann Marie Thomas

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

I’ve been writing poetry and making up stories since I was a child, but I only started to write seriously when my children were grown. My main ambition was to write science fiction, but along the way I got fascinated by local history and distracted by a major stroke. However, I wrote poetry about my stroke and spent my recovery writing a local history book. Taking early retirement gave me more time to concentrate on my writing.

I’ve been married since 1974, and we have 4 children and 8 grand children. Although disabled with fibromyalgia, I was working almost full time until my stroke. Since then I found a new determination and persistence. Although I lost the use of my right arm and my right leg is impaired, it has focused my attention on the important things. I have been able to do so many things since, including my writing.

What is/are the story(ies) behind your book(s)?

One day I was standing in Swansea town centre, opposite the ruins of Swansea Castle, and I wondered what the castle and the town were like in the castle’s heyday. I searched the internet and went to the library, and found a remarkable story that captured my imagination.

Three years later, and lots more research and writing, there was the book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, published in April 2012. The success of that book has led to four other popular history books so far.

I did eventually get back to my science fiction. The story of the development of that side of my writing is further down the interview.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I’ve always written stories and poetry since I was a child. Anything can provoke an idea.

How do you deal with creative block?

Because I write in more than one genre, I’ve always got more than one thing on the go, so if I get stuck on one project, I just switch to another project. The only real block is tiredness, when my brain doesn’t work at all.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

The thing that annoys me most as a reader is when a book ends on a cliff-hanger, to be resolved in the next book in the series. You can’t do that to readers. There may be issues unresolved, but you must have a complete story in each book.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

It’s essential to have a professional-looking cover, otherwise potential readers will be put off at first sight. Unless you have graphic design skills, pay for your cover.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I appreciate constructive criticism, but don’t read the plain negative stuff.

How has your creation process improved over time?

I am a great fan of science fiction, particularly the classics, like Azimov. I am also a fan of the older TV science fiction. Star Trek of course, Blake’s 7, and Babylon 5, for example. During my teens, when I was trying to get to sleep at night, I used to make up stories about my favourite shows.

I would imagine myself on the Enterprise with Captain Kirk, for example. How would an ordinary person like me end up on the Enterprise? Was I from a less developed society, so I wasn’t familiar with the technology (saved me from having to make it up)? Was I, perhaps, from a different time all together – got there through some sort of time warp? Was I hiding from someone? Was I a victim of some ‘bad guy’?

As I tossed ideas around in my head, my cares would fade away, and I would relax, and at some point I would fall asleep. The following night I would try to remember where I had got to, and elaborate on it. Sometimes I would work out some more details, sometimes take the story further on. Some nights, I would be inspired to take the story in a completely new direction. Night after night I would go over the story again and again, until eventually I would tire of it and start a new one.

Many years later, when my children were grown, I decided I enjoyed these stories so much that I would write them down. I soon realised that having myself in every story was not a good idea – there are only so many damsels in distress you can take! My first story had a damsel in distress, which I thought was an acceptable place to start, but later stories managed to have other key characters.

Also, it was a huge cheat to use other people’s settings and characters. I didn’t want to write fan fiction, so I invented my own ship and crew. It took me ages – ready-made scenarios are so much easier. Enter the Kestrel, a fast-response ship with a crew of 11, working for PACT (the Planetary Alliance for Cooperation and Trade), a sort of interplanetary United Nations force.

Because of the way my story-making began, I was entirely plot driven. I knew the characters and scenery from the TV series, so I just made up the plot. Having got to the end of writing my first story, called ‘Intruders’, I realised all the characters were cardboard, just there to move the plot on, and there was virtually no description at all. At one point in the story, some time had to pass while the Kestrel travelled to an uncharted part of the galaxy. I had no idea what to do with it, but it seemed very weak to say, “some time later they arrived.”

This was the point at which I started reading books on writing, and became aware of all my shortcomings. I finished the story, so I had captured the whole plot, and then went back through and started ‘padding’. My husband told me off for calling it that, as it sounds like putting in any rubbish to fill it out a bit. That’s not what I mean, it’s just my shorthand for filling out the story so it becomes more real. It’s interesting to hear authors talk about their characters coming alive for them, and sometimes taking over the story and sending it in a new direction. This was all new to me.

So I spent all my spare moments, including those when I was trying to get off to sleep, working out just who the Kestrel crew were – what they looked like, their temperament and character, and their relationships with each other. This also developed sub-plots and made the stories richer.

After rehashing Intruders multiple times and taking advantage of workshops, both online and offline, I got an editor friend to read it. The verdict was that the story and characters was good, but the writing looked like it had been patched. All that messing about had left it with no flow. So, with a heavy heart, I wrote the whole thing again, and after several edits it went for professional editing and was published in 2016.

Meanwhile, there are all those other stories to work on…

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

With my history books, there were some amazing things that happened. My husband emailed the local art college and a lecturer took it up as a project for some of his students. So my books have beautiful line drawings by a talented artist.

What are your plans for future books?

I’m currently working on Flight of the Kestrel book three and book four(!) and also a Christian non fiction book. I’ve had some suggestions for future history books, but not done anything about it yet – I’m too busy.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

1. My Dad worked in the City in London, but as a lowly accounts clerk.
2. I’ve got medals for ballroom dancing.
3. I’m mad about minions (from Despicable Me).
4. I love dragons, but prefer the friendly ones. I have a dragon tattoo on my right hand.
5. I can recite the alphabet backwards.



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