Debut Author Interview Project: Gabriela Houston

And today we have Gabriela Houston and her debut The Second Bell stopping in. This one not only sounds brilliant, but I’ve also reviewed it on Grimdark Magazine (read my review here). I loved this book so much, and I hope this will make you want to check it out too. Add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

Please tell us about your book

The Second Bell is a Slavic-mythology-inspired fantasy novel, about a striga and her mother.

In a remote community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. Such a child is considered a monster and is cast out. My story follows a mother who chose to leave with her baby and a 19-year-old striga woman, as they navigate the strict social rules governing the striga village they live in and struggle against the taboos threatening to tear them apart.

How did you celebrate its release?

Under lockdown a celebration is a relative term. I had two different takeouts with my family during the day and then joined a zoom launch for my book which was lovely.

Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

I have always been quite earnest about my artistic pursuits, but it wasn’t until after my first child was born that I made the conscious decision to set up writing as a priority in my life. It works differently for different people, but for me that time in my life gave me the razor sharp focus on what I needed to make space in my life for.

How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

Before The Second Bell I wrote one unpublishable moloch of a fantasy epic. I think it took me too long to complete it, and that resulted in a very uneven, underedited mess. It had some good bones and got a bit of initial interest from agents, but in the end I’m glad it didn’t find a home.

It was a huge learning curve. I made ALL the mistakes. And that’s great. I try not to make the same ones twice.

How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

I wouldn’t say it changed so much as all my plans and ambitions suddenly became more likely to be realised, which is a wonderful thing. It definitely gives you the push to work more, as you want to give yourself the best chance to succeed.

What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

No regrets. Except for the one phrase I should have edited out, which I found in the published book. That will haunt me for all eternity.

What challenges do you face as a published author?

I guess my experience so far has been so good, I need to be prepared that not everything will go as smoothly from now on necessarily! As a writer there’s a lot you have no control over, sadly, and I like the control.

Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

Extremely! I have met some incredible people – bloggers, instagrammers, podcasters, other writers! All of whom are passionate about books and are rooting for the debut authors to succeed which is fantastic.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

I wrote a book and a half during the first lockdown (UK), which was great. Since then it’s been up and down to be honest, but with all the pre-launch work I was doing, there wasn’t much time to wallow really (and I did want to wallow, for sure!)

Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

It’s really hard to tell. There are themes tackled in the book that correspond to some of the wider issues at the moment, but whether or not they would have been seen in the same way under more normal circumstances is really hard to tell, especially as I don’t have much to compare it to.

How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

I have defied my agent’s directive to never ever go on Goodreads about a month before the book came out. I guess when you’re dealing with the publishers, your agent, and bloggers/magazine reviewers so much, you get lulled into a false sense of security, where you think “We all like books, right? Book people are my kind of people, the never-be-mean sort of people, who, if they dislike the book, will phrase their reservations in a kind, compassionate manner.”

Needless to say, I will never again go on Goodreads.

On a serious note though, even knowing that you can’t please everyone, there is no way you can prepare for people being unkind or dismissive about the work you’ve poured so much love into. But you grow thicker skin. Eventually.

What are you planning next?

I have a couple projects ready to query, and a couple of ideas more, but nothing’s set in stone for the moment.

Do you have a set writing routine?

I try to write every day (or pre-launch do writing work every day). I have a writing buddy who I meet on zoom and we both do our work with each other’s faces hovering in the corner of the screen. It helps to keep you motivated, and having someone to talk through the thorny plot bits with is incredibly helpful.

What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

I don’t always have one. It has to be something I know well though, or else I start focusing on the lyrics too much.

Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

Both and either. I’m not picky, but I like sipping on something hot while writing.

What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

Strangers reaching out on social media to tell me they loved the book and that it meant something to them. It never fails to move me.

What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

Stacey Halls’ The Foundling, Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn, and right now I’m reading the wonderful The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec at the moment.

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