Interview with Zoë Sumra, author of Sailor to a Siren

1. Tell us something about your latest book. Is it your debut? What genre does it belong to? STAS cover

Sailor to a Siren is my debut. It’s a space opera thriller, or if you look at it the other way round, it’s a gangland thriller set in space with fantasy elements. Sailor is the story of two brothers, Connor and Logan Cardwain, who accidentally steal a superweapon and thereby end up in a lot more danger than racketeering had previously offered them. Every nearby crime king and would-be smuggler wants the superweapon, ruining Connor’s ambitions to start his own business. Logan’s girlfriend Éloise – an intergalactic rent-a-cop armed with powerful magic – stands in the way, but in a world where magic itself cannot be trusted, maybe Éloise herself is the biggest danger of all.

2. Is your book part of a series or can it be read as a stand-alone?

It can be read as a stand-alone. All being well there will be sequels, but I left it at what I hope is a satisfying conclusion.

3. When does your book release?

It was released in ebook format in mid-July: the paperback release is in mid-November.

4. Which character of your book was the hardest to write?

I have three viewpoint characters: Connor Cardwain, Logan Cardwain, and Éloise’s brother, Calad Falavière. The hardest to write was Logan: he is quite emotionally unstable, and while he’s an accurate narrator in what he sees, smells, does etc., he isn’t accurate about reporting his emotional reactions to events, or other characters’, as he doesn’t understand them properly. I had to concentrate quite hard in most of his chapters.

5. If you’re not writing, what do you love to do?

I’m a foil and sabre fencer: I have fenced sabre for my county. Absent any injury concerns I spend at least five hours a week at training or in the gym. Competing’s more fun than training, but it only goes well if I’ve trained! I love to read – I think every writer does, or we wouldn’t write – and I love board games, especially the Firefly board game.

6. Did anyone inspire you to start writing or did you always knew you just had to write?

My mother encouraged me to create stories when I was very small, no more than two years old. I started writing original fiction about ten years later, but I’d had that ten-year basis of story-spinning, even if I was the only one who benefitted by it in the interim.

7. Any advice/tips for newbies?

Learn to self-edit as best as you can (structural and copy-editing). No writer can edit his or her own work perfectly, but the more work writers do, the more useful the subsequent discussions with their editors will be. This can’t be done without learning to apply grammar and punctuation correctly – nobody can break the rules to best effect without knowing what the rules are – or studying scene construction as well as plot construction. Reading play scripts and frequently going to the theatre can teach a novelist quite a lot about dialogue techniques, blocking (character entrances/exits/movements around the scene’s furniture) and prop use – if a writer needs her character to finish his drink in dramatic fashion at the end of a scene, she has to make him pour or pick up a drink earlier on in the scene, for instance.

8. Are you already writing a new book? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I am working on two first drafts at the moment. One is a direct sequel to Sailor to a Siren: it opens with the protagonist discovering that his cleaner has been murdered, and then gets very murky from there. The other is set in the same world about fifteen years later, and, all being well, will be part of a short series with a more epic space opera feel – it’s the volume where everything goes horribly wrong for the main cast.

9. A word that you use way too often? (Mine are “quite” and “probably”)

There are many, including “and”, “the X of the Y” and “very”: I get a lot of red pen onto paper finding them all. My absolute worst trick in that respect isn’t overusing any particular words but having the characters discuss, at the end of each chapter, what they’re about to do in the next chapter. Part of each of my edit passes is making sure I’ve got rid of all of those discussions. I don’t try to avoid writing them in the first draft, as I suspect they are my subconscious technique for being sure I know what I’m going to put in the next chapter.

10. Last but not least: What’s your favourite type of candy, if you don’t mind me asking?

Ooh, good question! Any of Hotel Chocolat’s fruit centres, I think.

Author Bio

Zoë 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.