Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing my exuberant friend, Bia Helvetti. She is not only cleverly talented but she is also the esteemed indie author of the fantastical novel IMPS: All is Lost [which I am currently reading!]. I will be sure to post a review of the book in the future!
Hi Bia, thank you for agreeing to this extended interview. I hope that my readers are excited as I am to learn more about you! So, getting started, tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Hi Joshua – you’re most welcome, it’s a pleasure! 🙂
I’ve spent most of my life roaming around from one part of the beautiful British Isles to another, collecting stories old and new. I write them all down on scraps of paper and old envelopes and tape them to my kitchen wall so that when I walk into the room it is like literally walking into the book or story I am working on. If I haven’t any paper to hand I write on my clothing instead so sometimes I look like a walking story too – which is fun because I really believe that we are all walking stories, continually being added to as we wander through life. I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life when I haven’t been surrounded by stories and I’ve used my love of them constantly in my career, working with community groups, youth groups, in schools and at festivals to support, nurture, heal and teach through the magic of storytelling, writing and drama. When I’m not writing, travelling or spinning yarns, I drink far too much tea: (Lapsang Suchong , black, brewed for at least 5 – 10 minutes), grow veggies and cook scrummy vegan meals, play far too many rpgs and practise my German longsword. The first book in my gothic fairytale / fantasy series, IMPS, was published earlier this year and the second book will be available next year. I’m also working on a steampunk series of graphic novels which will be out next year as well.
That is so exciting! When did you decide to become a writer?
I’m not sure I did! To be honest, I come from a long line of aural storytellers. Storytelling has always been a huge part of our culture. Even as a child, if you ever approached an adult with a question about anything you’d be sure to get the answer in the form of an elaborate story (usually involving folks they knew and almost always embellished if not completely fabricated!). We were never expected to believe the ‘truth’ of these stories. It was the message or moral within that was important and as children we always understood that. So I grew up listening to and telling the stories of my own family and as I grew older I became fascinated by the folk tales and myths of other cultures. I began to recognize the similarities and universal truths that echoed between and across these ancient tales. Soon, I was spinning new yarns by taking the old tales and mercilessly mutilating them to suit my own generation. That is how my brand of ‘Deviant Folk Tales’ began and blossomed. So I suppose I will always view myself as a storyteller, rather than a writer and I deeply believe that we are all walking stories – we carry around with us the stories of our ancestors. We add to those stories each day as we act and make choices and suffer circumstances in the world, and we help, by our actions, successes and mistakes, to shape the stories of our children.
So, as a writer / storyteller, what are your ambitions for your writing career?
It may sound bizarre in a climate where most folks are desperate to get hooked up with a publisher or agent, but my deepest hope is to be able to remain independent. I’ve seen the power that large publishing and production companies have over writers, musicians and artists and I know folks who’ve been bullied and harassed by producers into compromising their ethics, even amazingly talented writers who’ve been reduced to tears over the awful covers put on their books upon discovering they have absolutely no power over that decision. To be perfectly candid I was almost lured in early on when I received a publishing offer for the IMPS series, but when I began to read through the contract and realised that I would have little to no power to control what artwork, publicity, advertising, film rights, merchandise etc was used to promote my work I sobered up and pulled out. I completely understand why many folks want to go the traditional route – placing your work and the bulk of the load regarding advertising and promotion in the hands of experienced people who see its potential is certainly alluring and, let’s face it, probably far more sensible than tramping up the indie hill to possibly nowhere! And I am by no means suggesting that there aren’t many authors for whom the traditional publishing experience is perfectly satisfactory. However, for me personally, the joy of creating a published work lies in the collaboration with all the editors, artists, potential readers, etc. who all place a little piece of their own soul into the work along the way and I don’t think I’d have that same depth of collaboration and total ownership of my work if I stopped being indie.
(Sorry, I think I’m making my work sound like some multiplicitous horcrux!)
Not at all! I can tell you are passionate about your work! Who are you currently working with?
I have been absolutely thrilled to work once more with my IMPS illustrator at Isa Designs, as well as my favourite indie artist and animator Rae Smith and I have also had the absolute honour to meet some amazingly talented steampunk makers and artists, including Deb at Dreamed Designed and Tracy at Funky Crafts, whose props we are going to be using, not forgetting my wonderful stage manager Becky and all the fabulous talents of the Everyday Extraordinaries themselves. I was able to personally cherry pick each person involved in the project because of their amazing unique talents and gush idiotic about how much I adore their creations, and they specifically chose to support my work because they thought it was something fun, unique or inspiring and they wanted to be a part of that. There’s just no substitute for the thrill and the joy of working with folks who are as passionate about your work as you are and when this project is completed I won’t look at the finished article and think ‘this is mine’ rather ‘this is ours’. I feel exactly the same about my readers – I recently saw a youtube video of Ringo Star pleading with his fans not to send him any more fan-mail because he did not have the time to respond and I almost cried. How awful to have so many folks adore your work and not to have the time to connect with those wonderful supportive people who have taken the trouble to write to you! And how awful to write to someone whose work you admire and not to get a response!
(Now if my work ever becomes as admired as Ringo’s I expect I shall eat all these words and become a head-up-my-own-derriere A-hole and should that grim day ever dawn I would charge each and every honourable person reading this interview to feel personally obliged track me down and lynch me from the nearest tyburn tree 😉 )
But it is my hope, my wish, my prayer – call it what you will – that I will always be able to connect with the folks who read my work. I would much rather have ten readers who have read and loved (or hated) my work and know that they can contact me and tell me what they liked or ask me what the hell I was thinking / playing at when I wrote such and such, in full confidence that I’ll take the time to make a thoughtful and personal response, rather than millions of readers who I will never have a hope in hell of connecting with at all. I really believe that each story has a spirit of its own and that spirit is built, fed and strengthened by everyone who connects with it. Ha! Now there’s a massive slice of pretentious cream-cake to stick in your gullet 😉
Where do your ideas come from?
Without a doubt, from the places I visit. There are so many sleeping stories locked into the heart of my island home, wherever I go there is always some restless spirit, some disconsolate demon, some small, desperate or, often, petulant voice crying ‘What about me? Who will tell my tale? Woe! Oh woe! Why am I forsaken and forgotten?’ etc etc. I think they lie in wait for writers and ambush us when we turn up ‘on site.’ Sometimes I imagine the various genius loci of a wood or a hillside convening together to bemoan their sorry and forsaken state when suddenly, along the path, plods an oblivious poet or bard and the sprites all raise heads and cackle and rub their fingers together and debate the best way to pounce upon the unsuspecting fool and usurp his/her talent to write themselves back into the world – back into being, because, for the spirit of a story, to be forgotten is to be destroyed.
And so, like many other storytellers, I do my best to listen and appease and write them back into the collective consciousness, adding a little of my own spirit along the way. Even my longer works like IMPS are only really epic versions of these flagrantly stolen and mercilessly mutilated folk tales.
I know that is one of the most unique answers I have ever heard! Okay, tell us about the Child of the Island theme of your website. Where did it come from?
I’ve spent my whole life moving from one place to another across the British Isles. We’ve met so many amazing, talented, magical and beautiful folks over the course of our adventures and, as different and unique as each of our friends are, we all share this deep connection – we are all ‘children of the island’; children who are privileged enough, through birth or choice, to call The British Isles our home – and this is what I tried to express in my folk song ‘Child Of The Island.’ Wherever my wandering feet take me across the world, this little collection of islands will always be my home.
So, what have you written?
I’ve written freelance for ethical magazines for almost a decade but, as I said before, I’m more of a storyteller than a writer, so most of my tales are still in my head I’m afraid – I am slowly trying to write them all down and you can read quite a few of them on my blog, along with some of my very silly filk and folk songs. I’m also going to try and record some of my storytelling sessions and a couple of special gigs this summer so I’ll be adding those to the blog as well.
The first book in my fantasy series IMPS was published earlier this year and is available through amazon and most other outlets and the second book in the series will be available next year. I have a collection of my Deviant Folk Tales called ‘Gather Around The Flame’ which is also available through all the usual suspects, including amazon and includes some fantastic stories by other independent writers – Roe Malan, Danny Boyle and Rae Smith. The steampunk LARP book I’m working on right now, The Everyday Extraordinaries, will be available later this year and then next year, if I can keep all the plates spinning, I’ll be (finally!) releasing the first graphic novel in my Steampunk series which is called The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry and is packed full to bursting with land pirates, wizards, witches, skywaymen, tinkers, tea fiends and vigilante mechanical angels, with a hefty dose of gunpowder-tea, adorable octopi, flying rocking chairs and exploding tropical fruit thrown in for good measure.
I cannot wait to see more of that! Where can we buy or see them?
I’m a sucker for dishing out freebies and you can read extracts from all my work on my blog www.childoftheisland.com. All my published works are available through Amazon and kindle. You can also order them from most bookshops and libraries. You could always come along one of my storytelling gigs or open mic events, or spot us at craft fairs where you can pick up a signed copy of any of the books as well as lovely handmade character dolls, artwork and iconic merchandise from both the IMPS series and the Smith and Skarry adventures. For example, we have Cuddly Colin the Steampunk Octopus, Dr J Sallis’s Aether Colliding Energy Ray Pistol, and Eightcups Max’s Theremythium Accumulator Hat.
What are you working on at the minute?
Until September, all my energy is going into the production of materials for The Everyday Extraordinaries project. The photo shoot for the book is at the end of May so we’re finalising props, costumes (and of course refreshments!) for the big day!
What can you tell us about your project, The Everyday Extraordinaries, on indiegogo?
I’ve been playing rpgs since my early teens and larping around long before ‘LARP’ was even a widely recognised term in the UK. I still enjoy rpging but my husband and I have found that larping plus kids is pretty difficult – even without the logistics issues of nappy changes, feeding, travel sickness and tantrums there is the sheer expense of it all. So, sadly, we decided that live action role play and re-enactment weekends would have to be put on hold until our little family grows up a bit. However, I have an extremely hyperactive and restless spirit and I can’t simply ‘sit back and wait’ for ‘the opportune moment’ so I decided to cast caution to the wind and design a larp game that could fit into our unpredictable, and often cash-strapped life style and The Everyday Extraordinaries was born: a crazy hybrid love child of an rpg and a larp which can be played every day, any day, anywhere, by anyone. The book is set in the same steampunk universe as my Smith and Skarry series – an alternative retro-futuristc dimension where an evil wizard has (or so he claims) banished the Green Goddess and all her fairy minions and seized control of the three vital substances that keep the universe running smoothly: Tea, Cake and Magic. Players can chose to play a variety of characters in this world, from skywaymen, pirates and tea smugglers, to tea time lords, urchins and law-keepers. Once they have chosen their character and built their time/space/dimension travelling machine, the book presents players with a series of adventure hooks which they can choose to develop and play out according to their own, time, resources and interests.
There are plenty of printable resources to help enhance the adventures and the book will also include some gorgeous victorian style photographs of real life Everyday Extraordinaries dressed in splendid steampunk style as characters from the book, along with links to the makers and designers who created the costumes and props. That is where indiegogo comes in; we are trying to raise enough money to pay for the props and costumes, venue, photography and printing to produce the book – it’s a bit ambitious but I wanted to create something that was not just a book but a beautiful piece of artwork as well. The presentation of the book will be in Victorian style as well with the language, fonts, borders and embellishments carefully crafter to give a vinatge flavour. It’s the biggest project I’ve worked on so far and I’m both excited and anxious to see how it all works out, as well as enormously grateful to everyone who has supported it so far. For those who do chose to support us in reaching our target of £600 on indiegogo, there are some awesome perks which range from handmade steampunk octopi and handy tearing tea-totes, to signed copies of the finished book, plus, of course, a lot of love on twitter, facebook and The Extraordinaries website.
Give us an insight into your favorite main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
If you are asking about the IMPS series, I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite because I both love and hate each and every one of them – they all have the potential to do amazingly good and noble things, and they all manage to spectacularly fail to live up to that potential. Narco, for example, was The Dark lord’s most feared and powerful advisor, priding himself on the tight rein he keeps on his wife and adolescent children, but when the dark throne falls to the buffoonish faerie king and his Love Peace and Harmony Enforcement Team, Narco is the first to let himself slide into a daze of depression and alcohol-induced lethargy. He immediately gives up, allowing his son to slide completely off the rails and fall into the manipulative hands of the psychotic dryad, Howl. By the time he finally rouses himself, his family and his people have already begun a speedy spiral downward toward destruction and even his best efforts at that point are unable to salvage them. It’s the same with each of the characters – they try, they fail, they get the chance to try again and some will succeed in that whilst others will continue to fail… but with three books still to be released, I don’t want to give too much away!
If you were to ask me about Smith and Skarry, I know everyone would guess that Eightcups Max is my ‘darling’ but, actually, she (as Magdalene) and he (as Max) is really too much of an alter-ego for me to have as a favourite character. Without a doubt it is actually Jack Diamond, captain of The Chronic Agro, who is my favourite. He struts about the deck of his griffon-shaped landship in his basque and leather hot pants with his opulently coloured Mohawk and his heirloom china teaset and one would think that as a character he would be extremely flamboyant and camp, but actually he is completely down to earth as a person, very shrewd, very quiet and plainly spoken and I love the way that this contrast unnerves the other characters – it’s wonderful fun to watch them stumble over their words and back-track and cringe when faced with Jack who can say far more with a single raised eyebrow than the eloquent wizard Mercurio can with all his verbal diarrhea! Jack has a heart of gold, both literally and figuratively. He gave his own heart to the pirate king Billy Blythe and, although Bill could never return Jack’s love, they have become the very best of friends. The way he cares for the mutilated automaton ‘Junkie’ and treats her like a real high-born Lady and the fact that he saves Smith and Skarry from being fed to Bill’s Clockodiles, despite the fact that he fully suspects they have stolen the Wyrd Web, are just two examples that show this lovely aspect of his character. But despite his magnanimous nature, he is still very much a rogue – ruthless in a very quiet and matter-of-fact sort of way; if he needs to slit a throat he will without ceremony but he would much rather bury a town under a pile of stinking fish and rotten fruit pulp fired from his spratapult and his mango-knell whilst belting out one of his tortuous sea shanties or music-hall renditions, than blow a gentleman’s brains out with his blunderbuss. Unless of course that gentleman had stolen his tea, then he might take great pleasure in the act.
You have done some work supporting Woman’s Aid and supporting the work of homeless charity SHELTER. Can you tell us more about this?
I’ve spent my entire working life in the field of community work and education; using my storytelling skills in classrooms, youth clubs, community centres, on stage, and at festivals and other events to support children and vulnerable adults. If there’s a cause I feel passionate about and I see a way to support it I will do everything I can to do that. Domestic violence is an issue I experienced firsthand as a child and, as it is a major theme in the IMPS series, I felt it was appropriate to donate part of the profits of each book to Women’s Aid who work and campaign tirelessly to support vulnerable families suffering from abuse. Also I thought it was necessary to include the contact details of the charity at the back of the book so that if anyone reading it felt that they, or someone they knew, would benefit from that support they would be able to get in touch with the charity easily and quickly. Domestic abuse can only continue because those who are aware of it keep silent and this is very evident in the first book of the IMPS series; because Narco is so respected in society, even his closest friends find it awkward to challenge him on his behaviour towards his wife and children. When Narco rescues the gypsy lad, Iggy, from his violent father, the hypocrisy of the action is appalling but still nobody has the courage to stand up to him.
As for Shelter, the homeless charity which does amazing work with those who are at risk of or experiencing housing problems, again, I’ve experienced brief periods of homelessness myself and have wanted for a long while now to make a collection of stories supporting this charity. All the money from Gather Around The Flame will be donated to Shelter and I am thrilled to have had the support of some amazing indie writers who have contributed their own stories and poems to the collection: Rae Smith, Roe Malan and Danny Boyle. The book is a collection of stories and poems suitable for telling around the campfire or hearth, it is divided into sections with stories appropriate for Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter and each section has a brief introduction to the season and the symbolic nature of the flames we gather around at this time – from tentative candles as our first lights of the spring, to roaring Beltane fires as the sun gains strength, through the cleansing and purging bonfires of autumn, to the comforting hearth flame that sustains us through the long, dark winter.
Okay, now the tricky question – What advice would you give to your younger self?
Ha! I wouldn’t waste my breath! – She was a stubborn, head-strong little imp and would never listen anyway. But, for what it’s worth, my advice to any young person considering storytelling / writing as a career would be ‘never quit and never compromise.’
I think that is excellent advice, Bia! Last question, how can readers discover more about you and you work?
Blog: www.childoftheisalnd.com / www.theeverydayextraordinaries.wordpress.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bia-Helvetti / https://www.facebook.com/EverydayExtraordinaries
Twitter: @BiaHelvetti / @bextraordinary
Thank you so much again for joining! I would encourage readers to check out IMPS and your project. From experience, I know they are both excellent and worth the gander. Readers can look forward to my review of IMPS in upcoming months!