Hello everyone! Today I have with us Anna Smith Spark, author of the debut adult fantasy The Court of Broken Knives which is out TODAY! Y’all definitely need this beautifully dark story (and if you don’t believe me you can read my review). Keep reading for more about the mind behind the book!
All About Anna
You wrote a book! That’s pretty awesome. Why don’t you tell us a bit about what inspired The Court of Broken Knives?
Thank you! Honestly, writing a book is an incredible achievement, the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’m still constantly pinching myself to check it’s all real.
Broken Knives is a book about violence and desire. It’s a mythic book, a book about heroes in the oldest sense – not ‘good guys’ but warriors, war leaders, people who are apart and touched by the gods. And thus people whose lives are not perhaps good lives, certainly not easy ones.
I have no idea where the original inspiration for the book came from. I used to write all the time when I was a child, then for reasons to do with my mental health I stopped writing completely. The desire to write again came very suddenly, wonderfully, and I was writing a fantasy scene, a scene of men, warriors, in the desert, and violence. And then a city, beautiful and terrible, filled with secrets. The plot emerged very gradually. I was discovering the characters, the world, the stories the characters told about themselves, as I wrote.
I studied Classical history and literature at university; I’ve always loved history, mythology, literature, fantasy world role-playing. I think Broken Knives and the Empires of Dust series are the end-product of a life spent reading and writing fantasy and history. All the things I love most poured out into books.
Introduce us to your main character!
This is difficult, as there’s some debate as to who the main character is. People seem very split between Tobias and Marith.
Tobias is very much the everyman, the cynic, the man who generally ends up coming off worst, a hard man but a man you can probably sympathize with. He’s the voice of sanity. He knows the world is pain, knows it, sees it, inflicts it, but … but … somewhere, at the bottom, he hopes and longs for happiness and peace.
Marith is …. The love of my life. Beautiful. Haunted. Guilty. Vile. Selfish. Desperate. Pitiable. Shining like the sun.
Marith broods poetically over life, the universe and everything. Tobias breaks wind loudly and soldiers on.
Walk us through a day in the life of Anna Smith Spark.
I was incredibly, unbelievably lucky enough to able to stop working once I got my book deal. So I write full-time. I try to work at it like an office job, keep myself disciplined. I write from about nine to four, then do an aerobics video or go for a run to put the rest of me to some use. But a lot of that ‘writing’ time is spent, uh, not writing. I read a lot, mess around talking to people on social media, look at the news. Some of it’s formal research, reading up about military campaigns, army logistics, dark age ship-building technology or whatever. But writing is a very lonely, isolating business. Keeping in contact with people is necessary – and if I don’t understand people, how can I write about them? So reading gossip columns and the fashion pages is obviously vitally important to my work.
I edit a lot, too. Probably fifty percent of my writing time is editing stuff I’ve already written, going back over it, rewriting it, changing the emphasis, inserting imagery I’ve realized I need. I think about what I’ve written constantly, all the time I’m not writing. Sometimes it can be weeks before I realize the key thing I need to pull out, how a scene needs to be worked, what I’m actually writing about.
Before I stopped working, I wrote on the train in and out of work, in the evenings, sometimes at work (luckily, I was a junior office worker, not a heart surgeon). It was wonderfully fulfilling but also exhausting. But it meant I got the book written.
Which leads neatly to …
Lots of aspiring authors out there. Any advice for them?
Write when and where you can. Write on the train in and out of work, in the evenings, sometimes at work (unless you’re a heart surgeon). A lot of people have this idea they need a lot of time and space to write. So … when you win the lottery, or retire, or marry a millionaire? Just write when and where you can, even if it’s ten minutes a day. Yes, there’s work and children and housework and partner and sleep and that … but try to fit it in somewhere.
And once you’ve started – DON’T STOP. By which I mean, work at it. There were and are times when I’d rather pull out my own teeth than write. There are times it’s so tempting to say ‘I’m not in the mood today’. Or even ‘I can’t be bothered, I give up’. But just keep going, finish it. Even if it is rubbish, you’ve written a whole book. Which, as you point out above, is pretty awesome. FINISH THE BOOK THEN JUDGE IT. Most people can start a novel. It’s the finishing it that’s the hard part. So what if it’s rubbish? You’ve proved you can write a while novel, which is a lot more than most people can do. And it might not be rubbish. And if it is rubbish, you can edit it or rewrite it or write another book now you know you can write one.
I know asking someone’s all-time favorite book is a loaded question so what’s your current favorite read?
I’m currently reading Tolstoy’s Sebastopol Sketches. These are three short stories/vignettes describing his experiences in the Russian Army defending the city of Sebastopol during the Crimean War. They are astonishing. Human, exquisitely written, they capture so perfectly the strange mixture of terror, horror, excitement and boredom that is life in war. They don’t gloss over the enjoyment of war, either. The fact that people really did and do enjoy fighting, even though they know it means killing and the strong possibility of their own death.
I reread Edna O’Brian’s The Country Girls trilogy recently, which I hadn’t read since I was a teenager. The quality of O’Brian’s writing is breathtaking. It’s the story of two girls in rural 1960s Ireland, coming to adulthood in a world of sexual and emotional repression, poverty, alcoholism, social change. Which sounds hackneyed. But the language, the imagery, the way the landscape and the characters’ emotions intertwine … ah, they are such, such beautiful, haunting books.
And I suppose I’d better add a fantasy novel, hadn’t I? Michael R Fletcher’s Swarm and Steel comes out at the end of August and I was lucky enough to get an ARC copy. It’s dark, viscerally unpleasant, extremely violent. Its protagonists are a living corpse and a cannibal. It’s so full of humanity and sanity and hope. Mike’s books are the best new fantasy I’ve read for ages. Like my own book, though, they may not be for everyone.
Alright, the ultimate question: why should we read your book?
Because the Book Knight likes it, obviously!
I’m going to quote another review, if that’s okay:
‘Anna Smith Spark’s voice is equal parts mesmerising as it is magical. It’s more than epic – it’s operatic! But at the same time it has the distortion and drop tuning of a metal band in full force. The Court Of Broken Knives is cranked all the way to 11, and you’ll either be a fan for life, or not quite sure what’s going on.’ If you like over-the-top lyricism, erotic poetry, stream-of-consciousness descriptions of battle frenzy, and knob jokes, you should read Broken Knives. If you don’t like over-the-top lyricism, erotic poetry, stream-of-consciousness descriptions of battle frenzy, or knob jokes, you’ll hate it.
Kirkus Review hated it. They hated it so much. I was pretty proud of just how much they hated it.
Now for the Fun…
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Beautiful. Brilliant. Deluded.
What is your most embarrassing memory?
So many to choose from …. Farting really loudly in the middle of a supermarket? Telling a crowd of people ‘of course I can walk in these shoes’ and immediately falling over? Finding a really weird typo in the UK hardback of Broken Knives and knowing there’s nothing I can do about it and at least one reviewer picked up on it?
What is your Hogwarts house?
I haven’t actually read or seen Harry Potter. But from cultural knowledge, it’s got to be House Slytherin.
Your characters are sent into the Hunger Games. Who wins?
[Can’t really answer this as I haven’t read or seen the Hunger Games and also trying to explain my choice would be too spoilery]
A famous movie producer wants to make your books into movies and they want you to cast your characters. Which actors/actresses make the cut?
Assuming I can’t go back and forth in time and cast the young Jim Morrison, the young Iman and Idris Elba circa 2013 … and if I can, we’re not going to do anything as boring as making a film …
Marith – Richard Harmon
John Murphy in The 100. I haven’t seen The 100, but … I’ve seen photos … hot damn … and he’s been nominated for awards, so he must be able to act a bit.
Thalia – Nyakim Gatwech
She’s a model. Classic breakout model/actress role. She’s the most beautiful woman in the world, which helps.
Orhan – Chadwick Boseman
T’Challa/Black Panther in Black Panther, which is the first superhero film in years I’m excited about.
Or a debut role for my friend Russell Smith, who dressed up in leather armour for a LARP event and looked exactly like I imagine Orhan.
Tobias – Søren Malling
Johan in 1864. I don’t know if he can speak English, but since watching 1864 he’s possibly how I see Tobias’s face. And he was amazing in 1864, which was itself one of the best cinematic depictions of war I’ve seen for a long time.
A model who may not be able to act, an actor who may not be able to speak English, and a mate of mine. Gonna sweep the board at the Oscars, this is.
You just won America’s Got Talent. What’s your talent?
Wearing insane shoes.
Radioactive space rock fell from the sky and turned you into a superhero/villain. Tell us your new name, describe your powers, and what does your costume look like?
I am Queen of Grimdark. I wear shiny shiny boots of leather with real stiletto heels. I have metal fingernails like sword blades. I write sentences that make grown men weep.
Oh, wait …
I am Bed Girl. I wear pyjamas. I can stay in bed for weeks at a time doing nothing but sleeping, reading and eating cinnamon toast.
This morning you woke up with the ability to time travel to only one time period. Where (or more accurately “when”) would you go?
Hellenistic Egypt, Alexandria under the Ptolemies. A rich, thriving new city, intellectually dynamic, cosmopolitan, multi-racial, not even quite as misogynistic as most places in ancient history, protected from the worst of the Successor Wars. And housing Alexander the Great’s perfectly embalmed corpse. It’s not strictly the time and place I’m most interested in (that would be the kurgan culture of the Siberian steppe, Persia under Alexander himself or Samarkand under Tamerlane) but it would be a fascinating place to go whilst also being fairly habitable for me as a woman and feminist. Also, decent plumbing.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee. Americano with full-cream milk. The occasional coconut mocha latte if I’m feeling poncy and rich, or before a book reading to give me strength.
Best ice cream flavor ever?
Peach melba. The flavor of my childhood trips to East Anglia, staring at the North Sea and the drowned medieval city of Dunwich, worrying about Sizewell B nuclear power station blowing up.
Your theme song/personal anthem?
Anthem by Leonard Cohen. ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’
These fragments I have shored against my ruins.
T. S. Elliot, The Wasteland
What is one piece of advice you would tell everyone?
Write as if your life depended on it. My father has this as a postcard on his mantelpiece. It’s true.
The Court of Broken Knivesby Anna Smith Spark
Series: Empires of Dust #1
Published on August 15, 2017 by Orbit
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Format: ARC, Paperback
Book Depository / Amazon / Barnes & Noble
In this dark and gripping debut fantasy that Miles Cameron called "gritty and glorious!" the exiled son of the king must fight to reclaim his throne no matter the cost.
It is the richest empire the world has ever known, and it is also doomed. Governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The Yellow Empire is on the verge of invasion--and only one man can see it.
Haunted by prophetic dreams, Orhan has hired a company of soldiers to cross the desert to reach the capital city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from the ashes can a new empire be built.
The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Young, ambitious, and impossibly charming, something dark hides in Marith's past--and in his blood
Dark and brilliant, dive into this new fantasy series for readers looking for epic battle scenes, gritty heroes, and blood-soaked revenge.