Belgium writer and NaNoWriMo veteran Celine Terranova talks me through her fascination with sci-fi and fantasy writing and how fanfiction inspires her writing.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards sci-fi and fantasy fiction?
I’ve always been a big fan of these two genres, as far as I can remember. Every story that I made up when I was a child had a part of sci-fi or fantasy in it. I was especially fascinated by witches, and I used to ask my mother to bring me books about them from the library (every week!). I was also a big consumer of any sci-fi/fantasy film or TV series that I could find, and it’s left a mark in me.
I think these genres give you a certain kind of freedom that you don’t have otherwise. I can speak about difficult or divisive subjects without being too upfront about it. Genre fiction provides a distance that doesn’t trigger the reader’s inner censor. It’s very powerful!
I started writing for Young Adults mainly because I am fascinated by the changes that we undergo at this age. Many opinions that I have were forged by books I read when I was a teenager, and my dream is to be able to have that kind of influence on young readers too.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing?
I wanted to become a writer since I was a child, but I was advised against pursuing it further because it’s not the kind of job that could pay the bills. In Belgium (where I was born), writing is mostly seen as a hobby and not a serious career. At school I was good at science, so I studied Physics at university, but it was not really my passion.
During school and university, I continued writing with little success. It was not really understood or even accepted by people around me. I was then very lucky to discover the fabulous world of fan fictions. Internet really opened for me opportunities that I didn’t know existed. I wrote and published fan fiction for twelve years, and it helped me understand that writing was my real calling. In my “real life”, I quit working in science, I moved to the UK, and started working in a much more creative industry (theatre).
I definitely owe a lot to fanfiction. It taught me how to discipline myself, how to work with a critique partner, how to deal with feedback from readers and how to craft a proper story. I’ve taken all that experience and I moved to writing my own stories a couple of years ago. It was extremely scary at first (it still is to be honest), but I enjoy creating my own characters and settings!
You write a lot of short stories. What draws you to this style of writing? Do you find the limited word count restricting or freeing?
I started writing short stories because of several challenges that I found online. The first one was the 48h challenge for the SciFi London Festival, where I had to write a story and film myself reading it. Short stories helped me make the transition between writing fanfictions and writing my own worlds. I really enjoy having to build an entire story within a restricted number of words. It helps me try many things that I wouldn’t dare trying in a novel. I definitely find it freeing!
Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?
My biggest ideas always come to me in dreams. I have very vivid dreams and I try to write the most important down, because I know they can lead to a good story. I always have a notebook ready in case I need to write down the details of what I dreamt.
I used to have rituals to put me in the mood for writing, for example I would put a specific playlist on, or sit at a specific table. Now, it has become a routine so I don’t need it anymore. If sometimes I need more motivation, I use a timer to get me started (I write for 30 minutes, then I can get a coffee). Usually by the end of the time, I have forgotten about the incentive and I keep writing.
Why did you choose to participate in NaNoWriMo and how are you finding the challenge?
I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time two years ago. I had wanted to do it for years, but somehow there was always something happening in November that prevented me to do so. In 2015, I made the decision to take the leap, mainly to improve my English. I wrote a NCIS fanfiction (which I haven’t published yet) and it was a crazy ride! Writing 1667 words per day, every day, when you have to juggle with a full time job, is not easy. I was very surprised to win and it proved to me that I was capable of crafting a long story in another language than French.
Last year, I participated with my first original novel in English. It was much harder than the first year! I had spent months plotting the story, but I was really not sure of myself. I changed the plot right in the middle of the month, and had to fight writer’s block many times. I won the challenge (50K), but it took me another 8 months to complete the first draft (which reached 100K in total).
This year, I’m a NaNo rebel because I’m writing the second draft of the same novel, Healers. The first draft was honestly not very good, but it is a start! I’m much more confident with my abilities now and I have planned this NaNoWriMo more than I have ever done before. The story is very similar but pretty much all the scenes have changed. The only struggle this year is my new job in theatre, that is eating away all my free time. I find the challenge more exhausting than the previous times, but I enjoy very much the support and sense of community on Twitter!
What style of writing do you enjoy reading yourself? Are there any particular authors you admire?
I read a lot of Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy, because that’s what I enjoy to write too. Most recently, I devoured La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. He is one of my absolute favourite authors and I was lucky to attend his conference in London in October. I find his stories so inspiring, and they had a big impact on me when I was a teenager.
There are plenty of major authors that I admire (J.K. Rowling, Orson Scott-Carr, and Tolkien), but if I had to choose only one it would probably be Pierre Bordage, a French author of several series that I revered as a teenager. His style is still a major influence on what I write.
If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I would love to collaborate with the French writer/actor/producer Alexandre Astier. He writes for TV, which is something I would like to get into one day, and he’s a magician with words. I am a very big fan of his work, his humour and his work ethic. I would probably be very intimidated, but I think it would be a unique experience.
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
My main project currently is my novel Healers, which is the first book of a Young Adult science fiction series. Otherwise, I have a couple of projects in the pipeline: a zombie apocalypse story, a supernatural crime podcast, and I also recently completed a sci-fi/horror short story called Video Time that I’ve started to send to magazines.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?
I’m definitely looking forward to the follow-up to La Belle Sauvage. I am also eagerly awaiting the next Cormoran Strike book. Other than that, I recently fell in love with a book by Leah Thomas, Because You’ll Never Meet Me, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you Hannah for giving me this opportunity to talk about my projects! If you would like to know more, visit my website: celineterranova.com or follow me on Twitter: @CelineTerranova
Thanks for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been fascinating.