20 Questions with... S.C. James
S C (Stephanie Claire) James is an author from Staffordshire, England, who has been imagining vivid stories since her first experience of the literary world at a young age. Beginning her own writing journey at the age of 18, she published at 31.
Lily: The Dark World is the start of the Dark World Series, and Stephanie’s debut novel.
Twitter - @SJamesAuthor. Instagram – @sjamesauthor. Website – scjamesauthor.com
Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What was your life like growing up?
For the first twenty-eight years of my life, I lived in the town of Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England. I am currently based in the Northeast.
I grew up with a brother either side of me, a working dad, and a stay-at-home mum who brought the three of us up. Being a big reader herself, my mum loved taking her children to our local library. I have wonderful memories of bringing home a small stack of books, eager to read them all right away.
Did you always want to be a writer? If you also work, what do you do/did you do?
I have always had a vivid imagination, and as a child I enjoyed making up stories.
At the age of eighteen, after what I believed were incredibly poor attempts at my A-level exams, I spent the summer starting my first book. Thirteen years later, and after two rewrites, that original idea has been published as my debut novel.
Growing up, I would never have believed I would one day be published. Now it is my dream to become a fulltime author. Perhaps a fantasy, rather than a dream though.
As for work, I ended up in the field of childcare, something I hadn’t anticipated, but should have seen coming. Becoming a childminder myself and building a close bond with the children in my care, gave me the inspiration to write and illustrate my own series of children’s picture books.
Tell us about your most recently published work in a sentence.
Lily, a YA fantasy with elemental powers, supernatural creatures, a second Earth, and the love of friends and family when the shadows become too deep.
As I’m answering these questions, my next picture book has just been released. The Woolly Jumpers Crew go to the farm - Halloween. Join Mia, Mason, and Jack as they go on a magical adventure, and help a spooky new friend find his missing bones that have been hidden around the farm by the cheeky farm dog.
What are you working on right now?
Not one to make it easy for myself, I have several projects on the go at the same time. I always have a picture book in process too. The next of which is to be set in an aquarium.
One of the novels that I’m working on is Book Two of the Dark World series – Emily. The cousin of book one’s MC Lily, Emily is a witch who lives on the special island of Haven’s Rose, home to the only two ways of getting to the Dark World. Emily’s story explores a new kind of magic to the first book, as well as adding to the growing troubles in both the Light and the Dark worlds.
And the other novel in progress is a tale following Panya and her first time visiting her mother’s homeland of Ahska. After she receives an invitation to a mysterious competition for storytellers from around the world, Panya jumps at the chance to hobble on her bad leg all the way across the sea to the cultural capital of the world. Of course things do not go as Pan was expecting.
Do you have a writing routine, and if so what is it?
Unfortunately life too often gets in the way of a routine, so I’m left with writing whenever I can.
When I have the time to fully immerse myself in the writing process, I will always read back whatever I wrote the last time, giving it a brief edit before moving onto the next chapter.
Where do you write – always in the same space, or different places? Can you write ‘on the move’?
The majority of my work has been done in my room – either at my desk, up sat up in bed, and always accompanied by a hand-picked soundtrack. When I first started writing at eighteen, I did it during my lunch break in a busy café. Now, my increased ADHD couldn’t cope with so may distractions. I need to be alone, and with my music to drown out external noises.
What advice do you have for other authors who are starting out? What is the best advice you’ve heard?
Write your story for you. Your readers will pick up on if you have written purely what is popular, and what you think they want. They will know there is no heart behind your words. The writing world is objective. Rejections do not mean your work is bad. Sometimes it is simply that you have not found the right agent.
The best advice I have been given is that if you cannot find that one perfect agent, it does not matter. Self-publishing is a viable option, and not one to be scoffed at.
Do you enjoy doing live readings or are they a necessary evil – or somewhere in between?
I’m dyslexic, so the idea of a live reading would be torture for me. I also don’t fare too well with a lot of people focusing on me. If I can just become a hermit who produces books without going out into the real world myself, I’d be very happy.
Are there recurring themes in your work? Where do you feel these emanate from if so?
Everything I’ve ever worked on includes a close-knit group of friends, whether as life-long, or in a found family way. Though I’ve had many friends over the years, I’ve not had a close group who I could depend on since I was a child. I suppose I’m living vicariously through my characters.
Should writers have a moral purpose? What is the purpose of a writer in today’s society?
For me, reading is an escape, a chance to lose myself in a fantasy world, to live through another’s story for a while. Though I believe it is for the reader to separate fact from fiction, I feel authors do have a responsibility to not promote particular types of behaviour. I am very much against authors who romanticise abuse in relationships, whether romantic or not.
Do you write between genres or not?
My debut novel is a YA fantasy, as will most of my future novels be. However I have detailed plots for stories within different age ranges and genres. If I find the time in life, I hope to complete each one.
I do already write between age groups as I have my children’s picture books also.
Which living writers do you admire the most?
I don’t tend to look into authors too often, just enjoy their work. The first author of young adult fantasy that I really got into was L J Smith, of the Vampire Diaries, and the Night World books.
Which dead writers do you most admire?
Unfortunately, my favourite author, Rachel Caine, passed away in 2020. I fell for her writing when I first discovered the Morganville Vampires series. One of her last series, The Great Library, has inspired my next book.
What’s the book you wish you’d written?
I honestly don’t know. Though I’ve reread many books, I don’t have one book that I constantly go back to.
What other external influences do you have; nature/place, music etc?
Music is a major influence. My phone is filled with short scenes that have come to me whilst I was listening to a new song. I’ll play the song on repeat until I’ve written the scene out.
If I’m struggling for inspiration, I’ll go onto Pinterest and collect images, some real photos, others fantasy art. I’m a very visual person, so images help my mind create storylines and characters.
Do you suffer from ‘writer’s block’ and how do you overcome it if so?
After starting ‘Lily’ at the age of eighteen, I hit major writer’s block, and depression. It took me years to start writing again. I’ve had short periods of not finding inspiration since, but I can usually get past them after a month or so at most.
I will watch movies, fantasy TV shows, listen to music, look at images on Pinterest, or talk to other writers on Twitter, and this all helps. I love researching historical facts for my writing. This often brings me out of a slump.
What’s been your favourite reaction to your writing?
My first review was fantastic. Not only was it really positive, but to know someone who doesn’t already know me enjoyed my book was a great feeling.
How do your family and friends feel about your writing?
My mum is my biggest supporter. Don’t mistake that for a blind follower. She will happily get her red pen out if she finds an issue in my manuscript, but that’s what I love, her honesty.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
I don’t know the area I currently live in particularly well, so I haven’t discovered an independent bookshop to love. Unfortunately I have to stick to commercial retail, using Amazon and Waterstones. I have, in recent years, tried to find more indie authors on Amazon.
How do you see the future of writing? Will we become more or less dependent on Amazon?
The hope is that I will one day be able to afford to have my books printed somewhere else other than Amazon. I’ll still sell them on the site, but also through my own website. Currently I only have the links to Amazon on there as I simply cannot afford any other options.
Unfortunately the literary world is so objective, it feels almost impossible to be successfully traditionally published. Many book sellers still do not accept self-published authors, especially if they are printed through Amazon. I think this attitude will have to change, as the publishing industry will suffer without indie authors. Independently published books no longer carry the stigma of being poorly written or edited, as they once did. Many indie books in fact prove to be of a better quality and standard than some traditionally published books.