Today I have an interview with Emily Witt about her new book, A More Complicated Fairytale. Emily is a lovely blogger friend with A Keyboard and an Open Mind (I love how the blog title lends itself so well to an introduction!) and I’m really happy to be sharing this interview with her today!
Thanks so much for being on the blog Emily! I wonder if you can begin by telling us a bit about your story, A More Complicated Fairytale.
Thank you for having me! A More Complicated Fairytale is the story of Caitlin, and her begrudging-friendship-turned-romance with Crown Prince Felipe. Felipe takes a shine to Cait when he meets her during a royal festival, and though she’s not as keen on him at first, when he goes to war to avenge the assassination of his older brother, she enlists as a nurse. She ends up taking care of him when he is badly injured and their relationship continues to develop from there.
It is not a re-telling of any specific fairytale and probably has more in common with historical romance than fantasy, apart from the setting being a fictional kingdom. The title is really referencing the idea of a “fairytale romance” that we often read about in relation to celebrities or indeed, royal romances, too.
What inspired you to write this book, do you remember where the original idea for it came from?
I actually got the idea from a dream I had. I was myself in the dream, and my in-dream boyfriend had gone away for a while. I was moping about that, and meanwhile, a prince showed up and wanted to hang out with me, but I just wanted him to go away so that I could continue my moping in peace. This was three years ago now, so I’m lucky to remember that much, but at the time, it must have been a bit clearer and I somehow saw the potential for a romance!
Did any particular authors or films influence you while you were writing the book?
I didn’t realise it at the time, but my main characters, Cait and Prince Felipe, have a very similar dynamic to Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott’s characters in the 1999 movie, Ever After. Given that it’s one of my all-time favourite movies and I re-watch it at least once a year, it’s probably not that surprising they snuck in there.
I was working at the Australian War Memorial at the time I started writing, and often got to read the diaries and letters that got donated to the collection there. Knowing the sorts of things that actually got written by the people caught in the middle of the First and Second World Wars really helped me shape Cait and Felipe’s experiences.
I have to agree with you, Ever After is a great film. I loved Angelica Houston as the evil step mother! That’s so interesting that you worked at the Australian War Memorial. Could you please share some of the letters that you read while working there?
Ooh, gosh, good question! I haven’t worked there in a couple of years now, so I’m having to cast back a bit. I do remember a couple of occasions where the family had all the letters in date order in a folder and whatnot, and the last letter was completely innocuous, and then you’d read a family member’s label on the plastic sleeve that this was the last letter they wrote home. It was always very jarring. There was one from a soldier in Vietnam to his best friend – I’m not sure if he was killed very early in the action or what the situation was, but this was the only letter he wrote home and he was killed while the letter was still in transit. I was warned when I first started in that position that I should probably keep a box of tissues on my desk, and with good reason!
On the other hand, as a Doctor Who fan, it made me ridiculously happy to discover an actual Captain Jack Harkness who fought with the Australian Army in WW2 And there was also the reference to some Australian soldiers being put on court martial for stealing watermelons in Cairo, which I thought was hilarious. So it wasn’t all terrible!
Haha, watermelon thieving – that’s a niche crime! I can imagine that the letters must have been quite poignant or difficult to read at times, though. What’s your writing process like? Do you outline or pants? Any particular writerly rituals you could share with us?
I tend to pants my first draft, but it lacks a lot of details. Once I know how to get from A to B, I set about filling in the gaps. Between the first and last drafts, AMCF doubled in length.
I keep a spreadsheet with my daily word counts all added up in there. On days I write over 200 words, I make the row green, and on days I don’t write, I make it red. In theory, it’s supposed to be visual inspiration, seeing all the green and the increasing totals, though sometimes when I go through a period of not writing much, it can get a bit depressing!
What was your favourite part of the story to write? And what was the hardest part to write?
There’s a scene just after Cait starts getting on better with Felipe, where he is showing her some of the special items the royal family has in its library, including the Nardowyn equivalent of an illuminated medieval manuscript of their religion’s sacred text. I’m a librarian by day, so having my two leads bonding over an item like that made me happy.
Having said all of that, I think actually creating a religion was one of the hardest things to do. I knew it would be difficult, and originally tried to create an entirely religion-free world, but it just felt a bit empty. Religion doesn’t dominate my characters’ lives but it’s good having it there as something that informs them.
If you could go back in time to your previous self about to start writing this book, what advice would you give her?
Hmm, good question! The first thing that comes to mind is to tell her to stop stressing about Cait’s name and just roll with it (Cait went through quite a few names, and I wasted quite a bit of valuable writing time poring over lists of names trying to choose something that felt “right”).The other thing would be to stop putting things off because I was nervous. I always took forever to send early drafts to readers or to answer my cover artist’s questions. I’m hoping that now I sort of know what I’m doing, the next book won’t take three years from conception to publication!
I can totally sympathise with the whole putting things off because of nerves — I went through the same thing with my first book! Well thank you so much answering all those questions Emily!
A More Complicated Fairytale is now available to pre-order on Amazon:
Most of the young women in Nardowyn swoon over Crown Prince Felipe, but Caitlin has never seen the appeal. When she catches his eye during a royal festival, she has little choice but to begrudgingly go along with his attempts to form a friendship between them, and soon learns that there is more to him than meets the eye.
When Felipe goes to war to avenge the death of his brother, Cait enlists as a nurse to be nearer to him. Here, Cait’s connection to the prince will put her in more danger than she can imagine. But Cait’s never been one to take the easy way out, so if her life is going to turn into some sort of fairy tale, with a prince and a happily ever after, it’s no surprise it will be a more complicated one.