We are all slaves to the story

Interview with M.E. Vaughan – author of the fantasy novel The Sons of Thestian.

Kinga Budzyn: Starting from the beginning? When did you actually start writing?

M.E.Vaughan: I have always loved telling stories. Since the very beginning, I’ve always had a tale or two running through my head, which I would rattle off to anyone who listened. Growing up with dyslexia meant I struggled to put these words onto paper, so it never occurred to me to really try. One day, my school hosted a talk from Caroline Lawrence, the author of the Roman Mysteries books, which I loved. I was so inspired by her, I suddenly knew that I had to be a writer too…That that was always where I was headed. I worked very hard for many years in order to overcome my learning difficulties. I wrote songs, poetry, stories and at 14 completed my first novel. I have never looked back.

It must have been difficult with dyslexia. To win such a struggle you must have been very patient, how did you manage that? Did you ever want to give up?

I’m not a very patient person! But I am extremely determined, and have a very loving, and supportive family. I think if I hadn’t loved stories so very much, it would have been a lot harder, but I have always believed in fighting for what you want, and I wanted to write! It took many hours of extra work each day. I had to read a great deal, I had to spend extra time on every morsel of work I produced. There were many people who didn’t believe in me, and told me to be more ‚realistic’ with my exceptions and ambitions. It was very demoralising, but I knew that I could do it. And now, I have!

The journey to succeed in writing must have been a difficult one, but what about the journey to publishing?

Well that was difficult as well. It’s a very difficult industry to get into, and a popular one. Many people thing that writing is easy, and a quick way to make a lot of money, but they’re mistaken on both accounts. I was rejected by many agents and publishers before I found mine, and whilst being rejected was devastating at times, it always gave me the motivation to improve my work. In the end, that paid off.

You’re very young and The Sons of Thestian is your debut novel, yet it has already proven an astounding success. How do imagine your future?

Hah, well perhaps I’m being optimistic, but it is my hope that I will be able to live off my writing one day. More than that though, I want a good reception for the books. The Harmatia Cycle trilogy has been incredibly dear to me, and I want to one day overhear two people on the bus talking about it. I want people to remember it fondly. That is my dearest wish.

Tell me something more about your writing. Do you get attached to your characters?

Oh yes, I get tremendously attached to my characters. They become very much like friends, and I think and speak with them often. There is a part of me in every one of my characters, just as I think they have also had a profound effect on me. I like to write complicated characters, and when I create them, I remind myself that each one of them is the hero of their own story.

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I just have to ask that now. If so, how does it feel when you kill them?

Hah, many of my readers think I take pleasure killing characters. I don’t. I mourn them, very much. I mourn the loss of their voice in the story, and it’s difficult for me. That being said, there is a kind of glee you get when you’ve killed someone off, and get to watch other people’s reactions. It’s cruel, I know, but it brings me a small amount of solace. Sometimes, we are all slaves to the story. And unfortunately, in stories, people die.

Do you base your characters on real people? Many writers do that, creating their characters of their friends or family or themselves. Are any of Harmatians people from your life?

My characters have been inspired by real people, but none of them are based directly off of someone. I try to make each of my characters unique, and so they can actually draw on qualities from several people I know, including myself. The closest a character has come to being based off of someone is ‚Jionathan’, who was named after my brother Jonathan. The character of Rufus, was inspired in several ways by my best friend Alex.

Parts of your story, such as characters or places are inspired by Arthurian legends, and you are also fanfiction writer. Do you think that fanfiction can also be considered art, or is it as some claim, imitative work?

Fanfiction is wonderful. It gets a lot of stigma because people think it’s all porn and wish fulfilment, which is a little sad. During my studies at University I did a module of ‚Textual Intervention’, which is a heralded art-form; things like the revamps of Sherlock Holmes, the BBC Merlin, and other classic retellings are Textual Intervention. The fact of the matter is, Textual Intervention is just a fancy word for Fanfiction. We as a society love to recreate and retell stories, and now it’s easier than ever. I owe my ability to write to fanfiction sites. In the days were I was still struggling to find my narrative voice, and had trouble keeping people in character, the best place to get feedback was on these online communities! People were supportive, and because of it my writing improved in leaps and bounds. I loved the characters I was writing, I wanted to do right by their creators. It taught me an important lesson in knowing your OWN characters. Not all fanfiction is good. Some can actually be pretty terrible, but I think that fanfiction is wonderful, I really do. Because the only thing that motivates a fanfiction writer is a love of what they’re writing. People who look down on that need to get off their self-righteous peddlestool.

You’re a woman of many talents. You write and draw astonishingly, also prove to a be a great musician. Which of those is closest to your heart?

That’s a tough question. I think my enjoyment of art and music stem from my love of storytelling. I think if I had to choose between the pair, I’d have to go with music! My art isn’t anything to write home about, but I love singing and composing… I think that and my writing go hand in hand. I couldn’t choose between those two.

Photos from M.E. Vaughan Facebook profile.