Heather Ewings is an Australian author of mostly Speculative Fiction. With a MA in History and a fascination with myth and folklore, Heather’s stories usually feature some form of magical creature. Her short stories have appeared online at Asymmetry Fiction and Lite Lit One, and in anthologies by Insignia Stories, Black Hare Press, Deadset Press and Specul8 Publishing. In 2018 her novella What the Tide Brings was selected to be part of The People’s Library project, and was published in April 2020.
Intervew with Heather Ewing
TTJ: How long have you been writing?
Heather: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, penning short stories all through primary and high school. In college I started a novel, but didn’t finish it till my second year of uni, and then it wasn’t until my second child was born that I started my next novel, joining in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and completing 50,000 words in 30 days! In 2012 I joined an online writers group, which has been marvellous for my productivity and focus. Since then I’ve had over two dozen short stories published, and written several novellas and novels that I hope to get published one day, as well as my debut novella What the Tide Brings, which was published in April.
TTJ: What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?
Heather: Take it easy on yourself. No novel is perfect, ever, so don’t feel bad when you’re first attempts don’t match the shining image in your mind. Just keep practising, keep writing. It’s great if you can get into some sort of routine, but even if you can’t a story can be written in tiny snippets through the day. My second novel was written in the one and a half hours I had in the middle of the day when my two children napped, but I’ve also written good chunks of stories by scrawling on a piece of paper whenever I found a spare moment.
TTJ: How do you handle writer’s block?
Heather: I think writer’s block is one of two things, either I’ve gone wrong somewhere in the story I’m writing, and I need to go back and fix it, or, if I’m between stories and struggling to come up with a new one, it’s a sign I need to do some other things for a while. Great stories are inspired by all sorts of different things, and sometimes I just need to move away from my desk to find the next bit of inspiration!
TTJ: Describe your writing space.
Heather: I have a beautiful little studio space in the back yard. One window looks out over a lovely garden space where all the native birds like to congregate, and the other looks out to our nearby mountain. It’s especially magical on wintery days when the fog swirls amongst the rocky outcrops, it helps to pull me into some sort of fantasy realm, where anything is possible.
TTJ: What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
Heather: Editing is usually where I get stuck, I find it so hard sometimes to take this clunky first draft I’ve got and polish it until it matches what’s in my head, and even then it never matches exactly. It’s especially difficult when I know something is wrong but I just can’t figure out how to fix it, though I’ve found this usually requires stepping away from the keyboard and getting outdoors for a while.
TTJ: How do you handle literary criticism?
Heather: It depends on the criticism! I received some constructive criticism recently in the form of a review on one of my stories in an anthology, and it made me laugh, because the reviewer was absolutely right (but I wanted the story that way, so I’m not changing it)! On the other hand I’ve received criticism which really stung and made me hide away from the world for a day or two (and eat lots of chocolate). But it doesn’t take me long to bounce back. I celebrate every time a story is rejected from a magazine or online journal, because it’s a sign I was brave enough to send my work out into the world.
TTJ: What was your favourite part, and your least favourite part, of the publishing journey?
Heather: Holding my book in my hands was absolutely brilliant. Finally I had something to show people for all the time I’ve spent locked away at my keyboard. As for the worst part, I’d probably say marketing and promotion. That’s the area I really struggle with, though I’m constantly learning new things.
TTJ: Where do you get your inspiration?
Heather: From anywhere and everywhere. I have a historical novel (currently sitting in a drawer), which was inspired by a grave I came across while bushwalking. It was simply a mound of dirt, and two branches lashed together to make a cross. The inspiration for my novella, ’What the Tide Brings’ was more like that stereotypically flash of inspiration. An idea struck me: What if a selkie baby was stolen from her parents, and she grew up with no memory or knowledge of her life under the sea. How would that shape her life?
TTJ: Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
Heather: I’m reworking an older story at the moment. A young girl befriends a tree spirit, not realising she’s the only one who can see him. As he becomes her closest friend she struggles to hide her belief in him, creating all sorts of worry for her parents. As time goes on she is forced to choose a life away from him, and though she convinces herself he was just an imaginary friend who lasted too long, life soon has them reuniting when her father dies, and she returns to care for her mother.
TTJ: What books, or authors, have most influenced your own writing? And why?
Heather: I always find this question so hard to answer. I have loved stories like Margo Lanagan’s ’Sea Hearts’ and Heather Rose’s ’The River Wife’. Ellen Van Neerven’s story ’Water’ (The second in her novel Heat and Light) was a brilliant look at the relationship between a fairy creature (for want of a better word), and a human. I also love Joanne Harris’s work, especially her book ’Blackberry Wine’. There are so many!
TTJ: How many books have you written? Which is your favorite? And Why?
Heather: I’ve written close to a dozen novels all up, though the first few are not fit for anyone else’s eyes! My favourite is probably a tie between my published novella What the Tide Brings, and a historical fiction set in Tasmania in colonial times, called On Demon’s Shores, which I’ve shelved for the moment while I work on other things. These stories have really captured my imagination far more than any of my other stories so far, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed
TTJ: How do you do research for your books?
Heather: It depends on the depth of research needed. For my historical fiction novel I spent five years researching about the time period, and because it is a novel set during the colonial period in Van Dieman’s Land I also read quite a bit about the people Indigenous to the area as well. This ranged from historical texts and newspaper reports, to both non-fiction and fiction written by Indigenous people. What the Tide Brings needed hardly any research, a quick google usually brought me answers to my questions, though I have read lots about selkies and Scotland in the past, so there was a lot of information already in my head.
TTJ: Which of your books were the most enjoyable to write?
Heather: What the Tide Brings was the easiest by far! The words flowed when I was writing it, it was fairly easy to edit, and the characters just came alive for me, right from the start!
TTJ: Tell us about your first published book? What was the journey like?
Heather: The first draft of What the Tide Brings was written by hand. It was an experiment, to see if that process made a better story. When I finished the first draft I decided that writing by hand was too laborious, and too hard to back up (my daughter spilled water over a page, which was still legible, thank goodness, but showed just how fragile the medium is!). But when I went back to edit, I found I didn’t really need to change much at all. The story was definitely much better written than if I’d typed it. I was invited to submit it to be part of a local art ’exhibition’. The People’s Library was part performance library, part interactive artwork, where just over 100 Tasmanian authors were invited to submit their work. The stories were printed and bound in book form, and were available over the space of a couple of weeks for the public to come and browse and share their responses to the stories. The exhibition started with an enormous book launch, followed by several weeks of author readings and conversations and various other presentations by those involved. It was a brilliant experience all round, and really gave me the confidence to send my book out into the world for real.
TTJ: Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
Heather: Myna’s parents could never have children, and her mother so desperately wanted one, so when she saw baby Myna on the beach with her selkie mother, she didn’t think twice. She ’saved’ the very human looking baby from the woman she knew would soon turn into a seal. No one thought about the effects this might have on Myna herself.
TTJ: What is the key theme and/or message in the book?
Heather: I guess the main message is that the past is important, and affects the present in ways we don’t even really consider. The past shapes each of us, even if the only signs of it, in Myna’s case, at least, are the bottled up secrets her parents would rather not share.
TTJ: What is the significance of the title?
Heather: What the Tide Brings is a catchphrase the people of Myna’s village use to refer to things out of their control: ”You just have to accept what the tide brings”. Myna herself was one of those things the tide brought, a child for her parents who couldn’t have children of their own.
TTJ: Tell us about the process for coming up with the cover.
Heather: I spent a lot of time visiting online bookstores, comparing covers of similar stories. In the end I felt this cover captured the essence of the story.
TTJ: What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
Heather: It has been suggested to me that it feels like their should be a sequel, though I’ve had no ideas for further stories in the world just yet. There are two short stories which are prequel’s of sorts. One is available for purchase, and the other I’m not happy with, but I’d like to get it that one finished and published, too. Those stories focus on Ronan’s mother, Maggie, and on Ronan himself, the husband of Myna, the main character in What the Tide Brings. There’s history there which explains some of the things that happen in What the Tide Brings, which I couldn’t bring into the story, because there is no way the characters can find that out themselves.
TTJ: Do you write listening to music?
Heather: If so, what music inspired or accompanied this current book? I need silence to write. I can manage, if absolutely forced, to write while my children are playing around me, but it’s much slower than if I have peace and quiet.
TTJ: Your story is set in Scotland. Why did you choose that as the setting for your book?
Heather: While What the Tide Brings is set in Scotland, I don’t think it’s necessarily obvious in the story. I originally wanted to set it in Australia, where I live, but I couldn’t find a way to make it work without completely ignoring the history of the people Indigenous to this country, which I did not want to do, so I changed the location to one of the homes of the Selkie tale, Scotland.