Updated: Feb 25, 2019
| by Winter Lawrence |
I recently sat down to answer some very cool and candid questions for Amy Bernal. It was an amazing experience, and days later, I found myself still thinking about it. One question, in particular, seemed to resonate with me the most, probably because it was a question that I’ve so often asked as an interviewer, but not one that I’ve ever had the opportunity to answer as an interviewee. The question went along the lines of what advice I would give to aspiring authors, which I answered with a pretty nifty response about writers reading as often as they can. I wrote, read about writing, among other things, which I truly believe is great advice, but after a few days, I felt as though I had left something out . . . something very important; something along the lines of: read what you love — read what makes you laugh — and most importantly, read what entertains you!
Of course, when I think of books that I devour because I absolutely adore them for doing all of the above, I instantly think of Molly Milligan. She’s the paranormal mystery author of the amazing, iconic, and prolific book series The Celtic Witch Mysteries and The Everyday Witches of Wildham-on-Sea, both of which I cannot recommend enough! And, when I reached out to ask if she would participate in an interview, she not only agreed, but she also offered me some friendly advice about making sure that I remember to concentrate on my writing as much as I do everything else in life. She’s a gem, and I’m thrilled to share her take on her fabulous book adventures, her writing process, and her exciting life across the pond!
(Q) Molly, when you so graciously accepted my invitation, you also offered some great advice on concentrating on my writing. What other advice do you have for aspiring authors, and what inspires your writing?
(A) First of all, thank you for reaching out to me, and letting me blather on here!
Secondly — your question, which I’ll take in two parts. My first answer is going to sound hypocritical but my advice would be, get off the internet! Or at least, ration it. Be very aware of your time, and what you are doing with your time. It’s so easy to sit at the computer and think you’re working just because you’re staring at a screen. I hear about writers saying they work 12 or 14 hour days. Maybe so — but are all those hours productive? Every single day? Be brutal with yourself and analyze exactly how productive you’re being. Walk away from the computer. You don’t need to be present on every platform — choose one that you like that is also where the bulk of your readers are. Concentrate on that. Enjoy your writing! If it’s not fun to write, will it really be fun to read?
(Q) There are currently a whopping seven books in the Celtic Witch Mysteries! In and of itself, that’s amazing, but the amount of authentic lore you provide in each installment is awe-inspiring! What’s your research process? Do you prefer hitting the library and reading old books? Are you more of an internet-search kind of author? Or do you prefer venturing out into the world, making face-to-face inquiries?
(A) Well, that will teach me not to read all the questions before I answer them! I touched on it above. I’ll go into more depth now.
I’ve always been interested in traditional tales. I’ve performed at storytelling events and used to belong to a folk music club where I’d tell stories. Storytellers swap stories and we all learn from one another. Then I grew interested in the psychological importance of myths, and how the repeated themes are actually fundamental to how we, as humans, relate to one another and our place in the world. Over the years, I have accumulated books, but also there’s a whole seething heap of snippets of information that is in my head.
Because the Celtic Witch books are based around the eight pagan festivals, I have those as a starting point. I think about the theme of the festival and jot down my initial feelings – will it be a light and fun festival or is it about reflection and endings? Once I have my existing knowledge out there, I go looking for more to fill in the gaps. I turn to my own books then head to the library. I use the internet, too, and scribble down all sorts of things. Then I let it lie, and ignore everything for a while. When I come back to my research, I can see connections, and so the plot starts to grow.
(Q) Let’s talk themes, because in each of your books, you touch upon some really sensitive material. In The Celtic Witch Mysteries, for instance, one of your main characters, Maddie, is half Black, half Welsh, and you very often address issues of race and the feelings of isolation and anger that come along with being bi-racial. Was it always your intent to tackle social justice themes like racism and sexual identity, or did that those just happen to come along because of the characters you created?
(A) Aaaaah this is a really tricky one as I stumble blindly through the ankle-deep floodwater of my white guilt. I had no intention of writing anything other than light, fluffy entertainment. That was my full and complete aim. I deliberately chose an American character because in my other books, under other pennames, I’ve encountered issues with my blatant Britishness. Many readers have been confused by some terminology or reference and it pulls them out of the story if they don’t understand. So, by having an American character new to Wales, she can experience the confusing things and therefore those things are subtly explained to the reader. I began to picture her, and she popped into my head as biracial.
I said, no. I can’t write her like that. It’s not my story to tell.
But she persisted. And so I did a ton of research and read a lot of first-person accounts, to try to really understand what I might be getting into, and whether a white writer could even hope to approach this without getting it wrong, and I was scared. There are enough problems in the world without my well-meaning attempt to white-knight my way in and fix everything.
But when I read a book, I do want it to reflect the society that I see, and that society is a multicultural and diverse one. Having a totally white cast of characters felt wrong, too.
I prevaricated a long time about Maddie but she stayed resolutely biracial in my head, and so in the end, I went for it. I didn’t want to turn her into a “theme” character though. She’s not there to illustrate any big messages about harmony or whatever. She is who she is. Unfortunately I suppose I can be accused of falling into the “black best friend” stereotype but I hope she is a significantly strong character with her own agency that she doesn’t do too badly.
As for social justice — that was inevitable as soon as I had Maddie. Because honestly, you can’t just say “this character is black in a white society” and then forget it for 300 pages, like ticking a diversity box. Her race, and how other people perceive her, then runs through every interaction she is going to have, and I wanted to show some of the unthinking micro-aggressions a person of colour deals with all the time, without getting preachy about it.
(Q) I can’t ever get enough of how magnificently you capture the beauty of Wales and the Welsh culture. You also nail Maddie’s Californian vernacular so well that one can only wonder if you’re a Californian native! So what are your secrets? Have you lived in both places, or do you have a special research method when it comes to writing about different people and places?
(A) Aww, thank you! The Welsh side of things was easy. I went to live in Aberystwyth in 1995, to study art and art history. I threw myself into the local culture. I went to Welsh evening classes, and joined a Welsh choir, and got involved in a local theatre group. I had to work to support myself, and had jobs in a pub, a fuel station, and a legal office. After my degree ended, I stayed in the area, working. I’m living in England again now, and I think writing my books is a self-indulgent way of returning to Wales!
I am glad to hear I have got the Californian thing right. That’s not too hard for a Brit. I have to say, we are swamped by American culture in the UK — that’s not a bad thing! — Books, films, music. Most of my online friends in forums and FB groups are American. When I’m writing dialogue, I hear the words in my head. When Maddie speaks, I have this mental Valley-girl thing going on. I sometimes worry I’ve overdone it, though!
(Q) You currently have four audiobooks available! That’s amazing! Can you share your experiences with us? How do audiobooks work? How long is the process? Do you get to pick the voice actor? And how long before we get to hear the rest of your books?
(A) Audiobooks were something I wanted to get into, but was put off by the financial outlay involved. For a long time, ACX (like self-publishing for audio) wasn’t open to non-U.S. folks, too. That has changed but to do it right, I would have needed a ton of money. Then I was approached by an agent who felt she could sell my books to audio publishers. Naturally, I snatched that opportunity up! She did indeed get me a deal for the first four books.
Now, doing it this way was new to me. I am used to having full control over everything. I did get a say in the narrator, though finding someone to do the multitude of accents was impossible. Gemma Dawson is amazing but she has had to go with a more generic English accent, and I pulled some of the Welsh phrases out of the text too. They used the same cover art. The process took a few months and the books were released every four weeks. The experience for me was smooth and seamless — because I didn’t have to do anything! Well, except promote them, and that is very hard.
I’d very much like to see the rest of the series in audio too. There is one more book to come in the Celtic Witch series, and at that point, my agent will be revisiting the series and approaching the production company again. It will depend on sales though — sales of the audio of the first four, and ongoing sales of the whole series. Nothing is set in stone. With amazing new authors and new books popping up all the time, there is a lot of new, shiny competition, but I have my fingers crossed.
Molly, just wow! What amazing, mind-blowing responses! I would quote a few of my favorite lines but I would, in essence, just be repeating the entire interview! I know that with a recently released book and so many amazing projects in the works that your time is valuable, so thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your thoughts! I’m eternally grateful and I know that everyone will enjoy getting to know you!
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Molly Milligan is a paranormal mystery author that writes books that are full of fun, magic, cats and . . . well, murder! She’s penned The Celtic Witch Mysteries, currently a seven-book series featuring Bron, a traditional hedge-witch who walks the boundary between the living and the dead, and The Everyday Witches of Wildham-on-Sea, a new series that follows the adventures of Jackie, a features writer of a *certain age* who lives in the strange and mystical county of Norfolk, in a cottage on a headland overlooking the wild North Sea.