I spoke to author Zoë Sumra ahead of the release of her debut novel, Sailor to a Siren.
Sumra was born in London, but spent her later childhood living in Lancashire, where she started writing novels at the age of twelve due to extreme boredom. After completing the obligatory epic fantasy trilogy in her teens, she spent four years at the University of St Andrews, where she learnt to fence, both foil and sabre, and cemented her passion for space opera. She now lives in London with her husband and a collection of swords. When she’s not writing or fencing, Zoë works as a print controller for an advertising company.
Two things inspired Sumra to become a writer:
My mother, and an Usborne book I owned when I was three. It was one of those books full of small, interesting facts for children, among which it mentioned that the youngest published author was four and a half. I still remember sitting on my bedroom floor reading that factlet and working out that I had a year and a half to beat the record. I didn’t, of course – I didn’t start writing original fiction till I was twelve – but at three years old I was already fond of making up stories to myself, a trick my mother had taught me to get me out from under her feet. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to work out that I could write them down and hand them on to other people if not for that Usborne book.
Her main tip for aspiring writers it to learn how to edit.
Everyone says writers can’t self-edit their own work, and it’s true that writers can’t do the final edit (by which I mean both structural edit and copy-edit) themselves and achieve an optimal result. However, it is of supreme importance that a writer learns both structural and content editing in order to get to the best point he or she can possibly reach before passing the book off to a professional. It saves everyone’s time, and it makes the writer aware of his or her own flaws – note that not making mistakes isn’t anywhere near as important as being aware of one’s favourite mistakes so that they can be removed in the second draft. Secondly, accept that feeling positive and negative in turn about one’s work is a normal part of being a writer and that the crushing negativity will always go away eventually.
Sumra is published with Elsewhen Press, a small publisher.
Until I submitted to them, I wasn’t very aware of the way that small press publishing works (I had researched the process of becoming published with a larger traditional publisher, and had also researched self-publishing). My publisher has helped me fill in the gaps.
The eBook of her debut novel, Sailor to a Siren, is due out on the 17th July, with the paperback being published in November, and is a fantastic example of truly brilliant writing. Sumra’s characters are so engaging, I wanted to know more about them.
Connor Cardwain would have been normal, decent, and even quite conventional if he had grown up in comfortable circumstances. Instead he grew up in a place and at an income level where the only realistic option other than poverty was organised crime. He therefore made the conscious decision to go into organised crime, taking his younger brother with him, and became very good at his job. His major flaw, certainly from an authorial perspective, is over-thinking everything to the point of occasional paralysis when none of his available options appear sound.
Science fiction is fabulous. Fantasy is fabulous. Combining the two produces a stupendous amount of fabulosity, which is merely distilled when I work the plot as a space opera thriller rather than as epic space opera. I’ve written epic, but it can drag a little and the characters can spend too much time feeling sorry for themselves. Though in a thriller format they have plenty of reason to feel sorry for themselves, they don’t have time to express it, which makes the difference.
She’s currently working on two first drafts, one of which is a sequel to Sailor to a Siren, set two years afterwards.
I’m also working on a much later volume – the book that has been eating my brain for about twenty years – set sixteen years after Sailor. Two intervening volumes between the two already exist, one as a complete fourth draft and one as a complete first draft, but I decided that the jump from Sailor to the first of those was too large, so am filling in a little.
If you want to catch her, Sumra will be appearing at several conventions this year:
I will be at the Nine Worlds convention at Heathrow in August as a regular attendee, followed by TitanCon in Belfast in late September, as an author as well as attendee. Sailor to a Siren’s paperback launch will take place at Novacon, which will be held in November in Nottingham.
She’s currently reading The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. I’m very much looking forward to the release of NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings, both of which are due out in August.
Sailor to a Siren is described as ‘a space opera novel with significant nods to the gangland thriller genre’, and is not to be missed. Download it from the 17th July.