- Nikky Lee
10 Questions with Anna Kirtlan
Anna Kirtlan is a writer who lives in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her fiction is a mixture of sci-fi, fantasy, horror and humour, often with a nautical bent. Her non-fiction work focuses on mental health advocacy and attempting to sail. You can find out more about Anna's work and read her blog at annakirtlanwrites.nz, follow her on Instagram and Twitter as @Seamunchkin and visit her Facebook page Anna Kirtlan Writes.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
My name's Anna Kirtlan and I'm from Canterbury, but I call Wellington home. I write a mix of non-fiction and fiction. My non-fiction is mostly based around sailing and mental health and my fiction is a combination of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, with humour a big factor in both.
2. What drew you to that particular style?
My non-fiction writing grew from my previous life as a journalist and regular columns I used to write. I also kept a blog while sailing around the South Pacific on a steel yacht with little real experience and a raging anxiety disorder, and this led to a publishing deal for my first book Which Way is Starboard Again? In terms of the fiction I write, I basically write what I enjoy reading. I find humour, and particularly dark humour enormously fun, and rather therapeutic to write, and I'm drawn towards speculative fiction because it is a genre of glorious escapism that you can have a lot of fun with.
3. What’s your best known work?/What are you currently working on?
Can I answer both? My best known work at the moment is probably a short story collection I wrote and released after lockdown last year called Ghost Bus - Tales from Wellington's Dark Side. The novella I am currently working on, and which will be released on March 1 this year is Raven's Haven for Women of Magic, which is part of the Contemporary Witchy Fiction project.
4. What inspired you to write it?
The first short story I wrote for Ghost Bus was based on a running gag a friend and I had about Wellington's Unity Books being a secret pick up joint, if you knew which section to lurk around—and I added some aliens into the mix to make it a bit more interesting. The rest of the stories were inspired by the wonderful weirdness that is Wellington, and of course, our public transport system.
I was inspired to write Raven's Haven for Women of Magic by an amazing group of Kiwi writers who got together during lockdown to create something joyful rather than post-apocalyptic, and the Contemporary Witchy Fiction project was born. They are stories from all around New Zealand about magic, spells, and familiars, where the end is not nigh and love can prevail. Raven's Haven is an extension of a story in Ghost Bus. It's set between a fictional Wellington City Council and a retirement village for troublesome elderly witches, and involves a lot of cats! It's been wonderful working with such a supportive bunch of writers and I have learned so much, You can find out more about the project at witchyfiction.com
5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, panster or somewhere in between? How do you research?
Definitely somewhere in between. I saw the term planster somewhere and that pretty much sums me up. I tend to have an idea, perhaps some snippets of dialogue (I come up with my best dialogue while gardening for some reason) and a general idea of where things are heading, then I just go for it and tidy up afterwards. I tend to write a bunch of notes about my characters too, which helps me get my head around them. Having written my first novella length work now though, I am planning to do a bit more plotting. The planster approach works fine for short stories, but longer tends to get a bit more tangled and messy (as my poor witchy fiction editors discovered!) I'm a bit old school too, in that I hand write most of my work before typing it up story by story or chapter by chapter. I have notebooks everywhere - in my handbag, by my bed, next to the sofa. For some reason I feel more of a connection to my stories and ideas if I dump them straight out of my brain and onto a page. And when I type them up it gives me a chance to rework things and make them sound better.
6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
The most interesting thing for me recently was the sinking of the Russian cruise liner the Mikhail Lermontov in the Marlborough Sounds in 1986 and the rescue operation conducted by the locals after the captain refused to call a mayday. It features in one of the stories in Ghost Bus. The strangest? Penguin teeth (yes I am aware they are not actually teeth).
7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
The chapter in my first book Which Way is Starboard Again? Where I talk about living with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. It is something that I am very about—I wrote about it when I was a journalist and blog about it, but putting it in a book that would go into bookstores and be promoted around the country was something much bigger and more terrifying. It is also one of the best things I have done. It led to radio interviews and talks at libraries and even now I get the odd email from people living with the same thing thanking for me for being open and candid about it. Every email and message I get like that means so much. If my fluffy, humorous book can help make things a little easier for people like us then that's everything to me.
8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?
I'm not claiming to be able to write like them in any way, but I would say my two biggest influences are Terry Pratchett and Steven King. Pratchett in the way he took fantastical, fun and silly characters and situations and had them address important issues and the most human of conditions. King in the way he creates accessible, readable horror in places and situations you could imagine yourself in.
9. What books are on your bedside table right now?
Too many, it's embarrassing! I find when I'm writing, it's all consuming and I don't really read. If I do, it's short stories or magazine articles, so I can feel like I've finished something. So apologies to the books by my bed, I'll get back to you soon! At the moment I am catching up on the Witchy Fiction books I haven't read yet. I am currently reading Witching with Dolphins by Janna Ruth, which I am really enjoying. Next in the pile is The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez, Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, A Clockwork Orange and The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Anderson. The last novel-sized book I actually read was The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, which I inhaled and absolutely adored.
10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
You can find all my books, and a list of current retailers on my website Anna Kirtlan Writes (annakirtlanwrites.nz). Ghost Bus and Which Way is Starboard Again? are also available on the majority of ebook platforms and Raven's Haven for Women of Magic is up for pre-order on Kindle Unlimited and will be available from March 1.
Follow Anna on these platforms!
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