Today is my stop on the Who’s Afraid blog tour. A big thanks to Hachette for organising the tour, and to Maria for answering all my questions.
Title: Who’s Afraid
Author: Maria Lewis
Genre: New Adult, Urban Fantasy, Romance
This is the story of Tommi, a young Scottish woman living an ordinary life, who stumbles violently into her birthright as the world’s most powerful werewolf. The sudden appearance of a dark, mysterious (and very attractive) guardian further confuses her as her powers begin to develop and she begins to understand that her life can never be the same again. The reader will be swept up in Tommi’s journey as she’s thrown into the middle of a centuries-old battle and a world peopled with expert warriors and vicious enemies – this is the start of a series – and a world – you will fall in love with.
1. How did you come up with the plot for Who’s Afraid?
Interestingly I came up with the character of Tommi Grayson first. She just sort of sauntered into my head and then I had to reverse-engineer her story from there, which was a matter of adding elements I liked from similar genre books and creating ones I thought I hadn’t seen before. I was once told that the better you know a genre, the more you can f**k with it and play with the conventions, so while the plot and story of Who’s Afraid? sits squarely in the urban fantasy genre I tried to toy with the tropes of the medium and make a few unexpected right turns.
2. Tommi is a fiery and strong character, what inspired you to create a character like that?
I’m a big believer in ‘Strong Female Characters’ being more than just women who can match men punch-for-punch. You don’t have to give a women masculine traits like physical strength to make her a strong character – just look at the brilliant Sookie Stackhouse, Willow Rosenberg or Olivia Pope. Even though Tommi is physically capable because of her werewolf abilities, I think her strength lies in her vulnerabilities. She’s a bit of a hot mess basically – someone who is very emotional while at the same time stunted in that regard. She’s impulsive, sensitive and argumentative all in the one beat. I wanted people to follow a character who wasn’t perfect, who made mistakes and made you cringe but one you’re rooting for because of her core values. I didn’t want a perfect heroine, I wanted an imperfect one because I felt like that could take us further – much the same way seeing female villains represented in pop culture is just as important as seeing female heroes.
3. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Have endurance. One of the pieces of advice I hear tossed around a lot is ‘the hardest part of writing a book is to finish it, so try and do that’. It’s not: you’ll either finish a book or you won’t: it’s everything after it which is truly difficult and requires your emotional, physical and mental endurance. Going through the story hundreds of times, editing it, not being precious and cutting sections, finding an agent, handling rejection, the long wait to publish, dealing with reviews and then the thousand plates you need to spin to get the dang thing out into the world. My advice for aspiring authors is it really isn’t over until it’s over, so steel yourself and take your oil because it’s a long journey you need to push through.
4. What do you get up to when you aren’t writing?
Sleeping, napping, taking a kip, the occasional doze, sleepwalking … My day job is a journalist and has been for the past decade and writing novels has been my hobby at night, so when I’m not writing? Being unconscious is preferable.
5. Who is your favourite author and what really strikes you about their work?
That’s like asking which X-Men is my favourite, because it’s so hard to pick just one (Gambit!). With that in mind I’d say Roald Dahl, just because he was the first author I remember loving as a child and is someone that I still adore reading as an adult. I really appreciate things that manage to hit on multiple levels, like The Simpsons which has jokes positioned throughout so when it’s watched kids take something from it and adults take something from it too – yet those things are entirely different. Dahl was like that, with his stories being something that were entertaining and colourful to kids but were laced with darker and deeper meanings that rewarded adults.
6. What does your writing process look like?
Maybe also this:
7. Do you have any strange writing habits?
Probably sketching. I’ve always enjoyed drawing and art in general, so often when I would hit a wall with the physical writing of the book I would take to the pages of my notebook instead. It gave me an escape from the keyboard, but I didn’t have to run away from the fictional universe altogether. It was an ideal way to mentally unwind and relax, while at the same time physically solidify my characters. Often I would draw a particular character first – everything from the physicality to the clothing – and then use that to describe the character in the text. Drawing has also been a useful way to lay out certain spaces in the book, like Tommi and Mari’s apartment and their local bar Eggs and Ham.
8. Any book recommendations for readers?
Always! How much space do I have here though hmmm… Okay, gotta give some love to Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook because a sequel is coming out this year and I’m thirsting for it. He created such a unique, interesting world that was simultaneously fun and action-packed with that first book. AND he told the story of a female heroine without introducing a love interest, which was fresh. Anne Bishop’s The Others series is bananas and I’m itching for the next book in that series too, so if you haven’t read the first few which start with Written In Red then I highly recommend. When She Woke is one of my favourite books ever and a criminally underappreciated retelling of The Scarlet Letter with lesbians, dystopia, feminism, justice – the works. The She-Hulk Diaries is Marvel’s novelisation of one of my favourite characters from the comic world, Jennifer Walters, and the book is such a riot. Anthony Lane’s collected work from The New Yorker – Nobody’s Perfect – is a book I re-read over and over as he’s such a sharp, skilled thinker. Some other great non-fiction: Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, The Bang Bang Club, Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, Andrew P Street’s The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott and my imaginary girlfriend Amanda Palmer’s The Art Of Asking. I’d also recommend Black Magick, which is a comic by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott being released issue-by-issue at the moment and sits in this intersection between witchcraft and police procedural which is really ground-breaking. More comics that rock and I’m reading currently: Black Canary, Batgirl (Of Burnside), Hellcat, Black Widow, She Hulk, Jem and the Holograms, Lumberjanes, The Runaways and Saga. For kids, Kate Beaton’s Princess and the Pony is flawless. Again, I could genuinely rave about this stuff forever but those would be the few that pop to mind immediately.
I was intrigued to read Who’s Afraid because it showed up on my doorstep in final proof manuscript form! I’ve never received a book to review in that format before so it was definitely a novelty.
For the most part, I really enjoyed reading Who’s Afraid. There was a couple of plot and pacing issues – the middle section dragged, mainly because I couldn’t figure out how all that chatter about the Custodians and Preatorian Guard was relevant to the story. Then there was all the training, when I wasn’t too sure what they were physically training for. And then there was Steven – hello villain with absolutely no motive whatever.
Despite those dramas, I did like this story. I liked how real and dark the emotion was. I also loved Tommi – she had fire and spirt and I love that in a female character. All in all, a great debut by an Aussie author.
My Verdict – 3.5 stars