Alwyn Hamilton is an author of books in the young adult genre, with her her debut novel Rebel of the Sands having achieved an incredibly positive reception. Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto, but also lived in Europe and Canada whilst growing up, before her parents settled upon living in France. Alwyn would continue this trend of moving countries, when she moved to England to study History of Art at King’s College at Cambridge University. Following the success of her first novel, Alwyn Hamilton is planning to write two more books to complete a trilogy. After her success, I researched Alwyn a little further and discovered that like many writers, she has a passion for reading and collecting books. I reached out, and she agreed to talk books with me for a little. Please enjoy my interview with the lovely Alwyn Hamilton…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
While I was still working a 9-5, I hid behind my day job for a long time, even after I got my deal because I didn’t know what to call myself. But since I started writing full time, I have gotten used to saying “I’m an author”. Because if I say writer, I’ve found people often assume I’m a journalist and it confuses the issue. Also, because only about 50% of what I do on a daily basis is write. “Writer” conjures up images of me sitting by a typewriter poised in black and white. Whereas “author” also includes the far less glamorous, “glaring at my receipts until they make sense” and “asleep on a train between school visits”.
I’m reading Summer Days and Summer Nights by Stephanie Perkins, the anthology of twelve stories of summer romances, by twelve different young adult authors, and all edited by Stephanie Perkins, who wrote Anna and the French Kiss. Mostly because the winter is dark and bleak, this one in particular, and I needed some brightness.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I think it’s actually learning to read in English? I grew up in France and was taught to read in school in French. I then kind of…figured out how to apply it across to English, which is my native language and figuring out the sounds that don’t translate, the English “th” and “ough” etc., from context clues and parental help. I remember reading Mr. Biff The Boxer by Allan Ahlberg by myself. I also have a really distinct memory of being read to as a child, by my Dad. He did this thing where he read where his voice would fall at the end of a sentence and it was very lulling. To this day I doze off when listening to audiobooks.
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I can! It was called The Tangle Monster. Basically, I have a lot of very thick hair. Like, really thick. Like, two years ago I broke a hairdresser’s scissors when she cut through my ponytail when I was donating my hair to charity, that kind of thick.
When I was a kid it was also very long, and I would wake up with my hair completely in knots every single morning. This resulted in a painful ritual of hairbrushes dragging through knots and tugging through tangles and crying and complaining. To me, how my hair got this way from just…sleeping, was a mystery. Thus was born the story of a small monster that came in the night, and tangled up a little girl’s hair. I dictated it to my mother to be typed out on an early 90’s PC, and it was illustrated by me in all my five year old talent. I can’t quite remember how the little girl ended up defeating the monster in the end, but my suspicion is that she cut her hair short?
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I’ve actually never hated any of my jobs, not every day at least. Though there have been days in every job that I have hated them. They’ve all taught me something. My “real” jobs were working as a shop assistant for a little under a year, and then working for an auction house for five and a half years. But, I did briefly do work experience working breakfast service in a hotel and…getting up early was never my forte.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
The main piece of advice I always give is, when you’re staring at a blank page, don’t think of it as “be creative” think of it as “write a story only you could write”. They mean the same thing, but “be creative” is a phrase that would make anyone freeze up as you scramble to think of the most incredible, original, never before seen idea to bring into the world. “Write a story only you could write” makes you think instead about who you are, what your interests are, what your fears are… Any of these things on their own may not be unique, but they make you up as an individual and they will make an interesting story. Though not always directly.
e.g I wrote my university dissertation on art of the French revolution, and then worked in Islamic Art for a while. And I wrote a book about a revolution set in a partly Middle Eastern inspired desert.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Definitely not. Especially since becoming a writer ironically. Something about the pressure of deadlines makes me freeze up when I turn to a book to relax, and I wind up turning to a movie or a series instead, far too often. Plus the deeper you go into the world of books, the more you realize how much there is to read, and the more you are asked to read, or find that you want to read, or feel obligated to read, or… Basically I think even if I could read a book a day I wouldn’t read as much as I want to.
There are quite a few actually. Though the one that stands out is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Though I never literally read it until I was into my 20’s. To paraphrase The Princess Bride by William Goldman, for a long time it was my favourite book that I’ve never read, I had it on book on audiocassette when I was a kid and I listened to it over and over and over again. It’s a comfort read, I know it inside out.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
At the moment, The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig. Through my life, probably Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley and Alanna by Tamora Pierce.
Who would you say are the three writers that continue to inspire you?
Tamora Pierce, Leigh Bardugo and Marie Rutkoski.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
YA Fantasy. I loved it when I was an actual Young Adult. And after taking a brief detour from it, I love it again now.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Full of oral histories, and storytellers. I just think telling tales and making a narrative within lives which otherwise just…happen and seem to have no thread or point, is too human an instinct. Even if we didn’t have books we would still have stories.
However I would worry about History, and that being forgotten and repeated, because oral histories are totally fallible with how much they change in the telling. And some things need to be told the way they are so that they can be remembered. The true things.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Marie Rutkoski, Leigh Bardugo and Heidi Heilig.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I’d be very surprised if they did! I definitely get the convenience of e-books. I mean, I will pack six books for a five day holiday. I’m that person. And I especially find my e-reader useful when being sent books in their early forms to read.
But when I want to chill out and curl up and read a book in bed I will always reach for a paper book and I don’t think books as a beautiful object, a collector’s item, will ever go out of style either.
I feel like Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling holds quite a few good lessons for today’s day and age. And the current generation.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
Heist Society by Ally Carter. Because it is the book that brought me back to YA after university.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
So many that were published in 2016, by my fellow Debut authors, and which I didn’t have time to get to due to…also being published in 2016. But I’m also planning on reading some classic fairytales and non fiction early 20th century high society, the Mitford sisters, for a future idea I have.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
I wouldn’t be able to resist a pun so probably “Alwyn: All Win.” Which makes me sound like a gambler, or like I’m channelling Charlie Sheen.