After the interview with June Austin was published, she suggested I contact Bronwen. I am glad she made the suggestion and I’m even happier I followed up on it. It is not just her name that’s interesting, her story is equally interesting. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing you to Bronwen Winter Phoenix …
Aneeta: Bronwen, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Bronwen: Well thank you for asking me! I’m always looking for new ways to promote my books and you have a great website – it’s always good to encourage others to get into writing because not everybody has the confidence to do it at first.
Aneeta: Let’s start with your name. It’s very unique. Were you given such unique names or did you choose them?
Bronwen: Shh! Okay, okay, not everyone knows about my name. The thing is, when I first went into journalism, there was another journalist with – exactly – the same name as me. I used to open the paper and everyone would congratulate me on my centre page spread and it wasn’t my work. I wanted to change my name anyway, and the publishing contract for Escaping Dreams sort of speeded along the process a bit. I have no regrets, I love my name now. And what was it before? I’m not telling, hah!
Aneeta: Tell me a little more about you. Where were you born, what was your youth like, what do you do for a living and where do you live now?
Bronwen: I was born in Fife, Scotland, in a ‘city’ that used to be the capital. There’s dispute over if it’s a city now, but it has a large Glen and Palace ruins as well as a beautiful Abbey, and it’s only around 20 minutes’ drive from the real capital (Edinburgh) so that’s always good!
Growing up, I was an only child so I sort of have that ‘internal dialogue’ thing going on. I was always very creative and art and English were always my best subjects. But no matter what I did, I never really felt like I fit in with anybody else at school – especially in high school I’d used to float from group to group and still not really feeling part of it.
I left school at quite a young age, because of some ‘bad stuff’ that happened – let’s not go into that – but I did suffer an eating disorder and had quite a low period in my life for a while. I started working for financial services for a while, and only came out of that when my long-term boyfriend of 5 years broke up with me. That was a kind of wake-up call, so I quit my job and enrolled in college the same day, was the first one to sit A-levels from February – June (everyone else had started around August) and then went on to study journalism in Edinburgh right after.
In-between that time, I travelled a bit – namely Japan, where I went for almost a whole month on my own, and for a 19-year-old girl, that might be seen as a bit odd but it was an amazing experience, one I don’t regret.
Since then I’ve worked for a couple of publications and also do some odd freelancing work. I left my last job at a local newspaper to move to Glasgow where I live now and I’m currently working on my third novel, an Edinburgh crime thriller entitled ‘Grassmarket Blood’.
Aneeta: On your website, http://www.bronwenwinterphoenix.com, you mention that you’re 23 years old. That’s very young for someone who’s had two books already published! This certainly begs the question, when did you start writing and why?
Bronwen: I’ve always been writing, from a young age. I don’t know what made me start, but I never wanted to stop; I could be absorbed for hours at a time. I used to read a lot too, especially horror. When I was about 10 I read ‘Goosebumps’, but gave up after a couple because they weren’t scary enough. Then I went on to the ‘Point Horror’ series, but those weren’t really any better, so by the time I was say, 11, I’d moved right on to Stephen King. I suppose I fell in love with his writing, and I wished I could be half as successful as him.
I started my first novel when I was around 13 but when it got to say, 50,000 words or so it all got a bit complicated. I started Escaping Dreams after that, and the whole time I was at college I didn’t really work on it, only finishing when I graduated, so it sort of ‘germinated’ for a while I guess.
Aneeta: You mention that you write from your dreams. What does this mean and how does it work?
Bronwen: I write from dreams, and those are pretty powerful. That’s probably one of the main reasons I write; because they are really vivid, graphic in detail, sometimes even quite disturbing and they can play out like movies. They aren’t like normal dreams – I have those too – because they seem somehow more… real.
With Escaping Dreams, it was a series of very powerful dreams that helped shaped the book, while for Nightswallow, it was just the one dream. I’ve also dreamt up a whole novel in itself, but that’s a Victorian-period horror which I might attempt after I’m done with what I’m working on right now.
My second book, Nightswallow was perhaps one of the most disturbing and powerful dreams I’ve had, because I woke up dead and felt nothing but this terrible coldness in my heart. It was like there was nothing else there, I was just completely numb, close up against a cold wall, eyes wide open, and I knew what it was like to be dead. And then the feelings came back to me and I experienced what it was like to be (the character) Night, her fears, her emotions, her struggle. So the first part of the book was a dream, which kind of propelled me forward to write the rest, and the whole time I was writing it I went sort of into her headspace, like I was in another world entirely.
Aneeta: I understand that you are a published author of 2 books, Escaping Dreams and Nightswallow. Please describe both these books.
Bronwen: Escaping Dreams is fantasy/horror and is based in the world of Orenia. I didn’t actually intend for it to be a fantasy novel at first, but it was also sort of set in the future and the scenes I wanted and the setting that seemed to materialise all just seemed to fit better in fantasy than in reality.
The main character, Xanther Aerts, is agoraphobic but in a milder form, where he only leaves his apartment at night. He’s at a very low point in his life when he sees a burning building on fire and hears someone inside and makes the choice to go in and save her. After that, he wakes up in hospital, goes to see her, falls asleep at her bedside and wakes up and it’s morning – so for the first time in a long time he’s in a strange place, the sun is shining and he’s with her and suddenly he doesn’t feel all these problems anymore. And from there the journey is just getting started, the girl (Beth) is actually from another world and there’s plenty more colourful characters, elements of horror and action and adventure along the way.
Nightswallow is perhaps a darker story, a supernatural horror – although I try to find beauty in the most unexpected places in all my writing and I think that shows. Night is a former travel journalist who sees something very unusual on what should have been a deserted beach in Thailand. But she’s kind of facing her own demons at the same time, and when she takes something with her she’s followed back and well, murdered. But that’s the back-story. The story actually starts when she wakes up dead in her London apartment, and the other bits of the story are sort of intertwined. Night is perhaps a lost soul, and she meets some pretty powerful spirits that all have a hand in helping her along the way. Eventually she has to face her killer and stop him from destroying all that she loved in her life.
Aneeta: From your website, you also state that you’re a journalist. Tell me, does this vocation help much in your writing?
Bronwen: Not really, because journalism is a completely different writing style. When I first studied journalism I had to learn everything from the start again, because writing news is nothing at all like writing fiction. Looking back, I’m not sure if it’s helped any to have two different styles – maybe it has, but I’m finding fiction is more of my calling than just straight journalism. And I’m not sure I’ve the ‘heart’ for hard news, either.
Aneeta: Am I right in saying that your books are published by a ‘traditional’ publisher, Pegasus? If so, can you explain what was the most challenging part of finding a publisher and how did you overcome any problems you might have encountered?
Bronwen: Yes, with Escaping Dreams I sent my sample chapters and synopsis, and I was totally prepared for how hard it is to actually get published. I got plenty of rejections – some were very nice, others not, and some were like ‘this is a very interesting story, but unfortunately it’s not for us at this time’ and that’s what you have to remember – publishers have to reject thousands of manuscripts all the time and yours is no different, you just have to keep on trying. It’s not even been a year since Escaping Dreams was released – it was out on June 25.
As for Nightswallow, I saw that YWO (YouWriteOn) were doing this offer where they publish a certain amount of books – for free – and 10% of the publishing profits go to Sightsavers International. And I thought, you know, why not? I was already a member of YouWriteOn, funded my Arts Council England, and I really admire what they do to help other writers, and it was also a quick way to get Nightswallow out there quite fast after my first book. I didn’t even send it to any other publishers (apart from Pegasus, who said they’d have to review the situation in the summer due to their financial situation), and I don’t really regret that, although for my next book, ‘Grassmarket Blood’ I do have quite high hopes and it’d be nice for one of the bigger guns to take it on.
Aneeta: As you know, this website caters for storytellers. What advice would you give to those people who’d like to start storytelling?
Bronwen: Go for it! Write with your heart, and maybe try to write a little every day – it doesn’t matter how much; it’s quality as opposed to quantity, and just take every criticism gracefully, learn from it and never, ever give up! If you get knocked down, just get right up and you’ll come back stronger.
Aneeta: Bronwen, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Bronwen: Yes, to anyone reading – please do check out my website, www.bronwenwinterphoenix.com for more information on myself and my books. I’ve been doing book signings recently, so there’s update on those and all sorts of other bits and pieces.
Aneeta: Bronwen, thank you.
Bronwen: It was a pleasure, Aneeta.
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