Please welcome my chum Nils Visser for book feature and author interview. His latest book, Forgotten Road is out on pre-order now, and is due for publication 10th October!! Go reserve your Kindle copy at a discounted price while you can!
Snazzy slide-show of all Nil’s book covers . . .
Author Interview With Nils Visser
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am pretty much a nomad. Although I was born in the Netherlands I’ve lived in a bunch of other countries around the globe and don’t really subscribe to the concept of nationality. I was educated at English and American schools and feel more comfortable with English than Dutch, which is why I write in English. My impressions of Europe, North America, Asia and Africa form a crucible of experience for the writing.
- When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book? Was it any good?
I meddled for years, since I was a kid really. About five years ago I started writing articles for various magazines and was asked to write more. That was good training. Last year my universe sort of imploded in its entirety and I dug myself out of the inevitable dung hole I landed in by deciding to give my dreams of writing fiction a serious shot. In the space of a year I wrote the Wyrde Woods novels Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd as well as a short novel for older children called Will’s War in Brighton. The fourth novel, Forgotten Road, is nearly finished and due to be published in October.
This summer I read Escape from Neverland just for fun rather than revision and I quite enjoyed it. People who have read it become self-professed Wyrde Woods addicts, which I take to be a good sign.
- Where do you get your ideas?
The Wyrde Woods started with a map which I painstakingly drew on Paint. I totally lost myself in that map for about a week and when I was finished so was the broad framework for the story. When I completed Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd I grieved at losing the Wyrde Woods setting and then solved that by just staying in the Wyrde Woods. Forgotten Road is the first of a new Wyrde Woods series. I love field trips – to Sussex in particular – to get new ideas for the setting. Other than that, I observe people and situations a lot – always good for inspiration. I am also an avid reader so I am definitely inspired by other writers; both established and new authors. I’ve got a small following but they make up for the low numbers in their enthusiasm for the Wyrde Woods and I get useful suggestions from them as well. As for the darker stuff, that comes crawling out of the nooks and crannies of my own poor mind.
- How much of the Wyrde Woods is based on reality?
A lot, though always fused with my own inventions or other ‘realities’. Some of the characters are partially based on people I know but parts of them are mine; I change facts to suit the story or give them characteristics which the ‘originals’ might not recognize. Setting-wise much of the Wyrde Woods is scattered across Sussex with elements from as far as Cornwall and the Isle of Skye. I just brought all of that together in a fictional wood in the High Weald of Sussex. The Odesby Juvenile Care Home, or ‘Nowhere Place’ as Wenn Twyner calls it, is a fusion of various such institutions I have been acquainted with.
The road protest theme in Dance into the Wyrd is based on the destructive Mayfields development plans for an area of outstanding beauty in West Sussex, in fact I have even pledged a portion of the royalties to the protest effort there (LAMBS). As usual, the facts are stranger than the fiction, I had to tone down the sordid connections between big business and politics; it was simply too unbelievable for fiction. A further part of that theme was inspired by C.J. Stone’s Fierce Dancing and the know-how provided by road protest groups.
Some of the setting ideas are…wyrd to say the least. There have been a few which I thought I had made up only to walk into places during field trips and realize – goose bumps all over – that I’ve suddenly walked into one of my own settings. There’s a forest in Somerset where that happened, as well as Kingsley Vale in West Sussex and Dernwood in East Sussex. All those places were totally Wyrde Woods. Local Sussex author Jack Bryer has also been very helpful in revealing fascinating locations for the new books.
- Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
So many! I am a big fan of Thomas Hardy and have placed my setting into a version of Sussex to emulate his Wessex – the sort of place where topographical fact and fiction blend effortlessly. I really like the way that Hardy can instill living character into his settings, just think of that threshing machine in Tess, and I have tried to make the Wyrde Woods a living breathing character. I also owe a great deal to Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence, I’ve always liked the way she mixed mythology into a contemporary setting and also how she uses different POVs for the different novels. Then there’s Gaiman of course…I think he’s a great writer and I am very keen on the works of C.J. Stone – he writes non-fiction books about Britain’s underbelly and subcultures. Contemporary authors Nancy Chase and Simon Williams inspired me to try my hand at children’s’ books.
- If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
Yes, basically it has to do with marketing. I thought my main job was to write a book and then sort of make a single announcement that I’d finished it and people would flock to buy it. I’m very introverted, I don’t like shouting ‘look at me, but my book’ though I’ve had to accept it’s part of the game.
That left me learning the basic ropes of Indie marketing on the spot with an effort here and an effort there, no overall plan really. I’ve learned to improve that a little bit but still find it very hard to access new readers.
- How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre? Which don’t work at all?
The Wyrde Woods books are a nightmare to market really. The Lord of the Wyrde Woods series could be YA, though the protagonists get up to adolescent escapades which might be considered NA in the States. The books of the new series, Secrets of the Wyrde Woods, are essentially children’s books but for older children and teenagers who are advanced readers. However, a lot of the readers I have are adults, they are very keen on the books as well.
Finding a genre for Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd took me forever. It’s Urban Fantasy but also magical realism, eco-fiction, paranormal thriller etcetera. I still haven’t really made up my mind.
I have myself to blame for all of this, I can’t really tell a story if I have to continually think about target audiences and genre so I simply don’t which doesn’t help in the marketing bit.
As for means; mostly I use FB and Goodreads and I’ve had a lot of fun putting Pinterest pages together. I’ve seen a few interesting programs but they all cost money and I am literally skint, there are weeks where I live off dry crackers. Gets me into trouble in social media author groups sometimes where people occasionally conclude that if you have no money to invest in the books you can’t be very serious. I can get vehement about that because the will is there, even if the means are not. I am told by readers that the quality is there too, which is very gratifying.
I’ve learned a lot about selling e-books from fellow authors in such groups but my main efforts are in getting the printed books out there, in shops and libraries. It’s a slow process, one shop at a time as it were but when I see the paperback on a shelf or in a display window then it’s all worth it. Currently the paperbacks outsell the e-books.
On FB, I find the promotional pages rather horrid places with a lot of ‘shouty’ posts, I got involved in setting up more laid-back pages where promotion is balanced with insightful discussion as well as a bit of malarkey and I am quite proud of those pages (Dreamtime Tale Fantasy Books and Mental Health Awareness Books).
- Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
The main characters in Forgotten Road are Maisy Robbins, an eleven-year-old evacuee from London’s East End, and Joy Whitfield, a local girl of the same age. The girls are very different; they’re both clever but Maisy is hyperactive and blessed with a very rich imagination whereas Joy is much more dreamy and has a darker side to her. Forgotten Road is set in the summer of 1940, during the height of the invasion fears. There are many themes; the experience of an wartime evacuee for one, very young children were suddenly placed in surroundings which must have sometimes seemed like another planet to them. Then there is the war of course, which slowly moves closer to the Wyrde Woods as the summer progresses. There are some rather unsavory antagonists, including a bully at school and there is a supernatural element as well in the form of various non-human denizens of the Wyrde Woods. Those I based on local stories and Anglo-Saxon traditions.
Like the other Wyrde Woods books there is a strong emphasis on girrrl-power and links with the past. Most important of all though, is the friendship between Joy and Maisy. That friendship lies at the core of the book; two outsiders who have found one another and grow stronger as a result.
- What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
The toughest criticisms usually involve the first person narrative in Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd, which was to be expected I suppose because I am an adult male writing from a sixteen-year-old-girl’s point of view in those books. That ranges from ‘why?’ to raised eyebrows and a few trolls insinuating dodgy motives. So why? I think there is a dearth of strong female protagonists in fantasy and the perspective is a way to address that and be doing something different from the mainstream. Wenn Twyner has practically no self-esteem at the beginning of Escape from Neverland but provided with a strong female role-model and local legends filled with heroic female roles she emerges as a leader in Dance into the Wyrd. I’ve seen this happen during my teaching years and the transformation is inspirational.
The best compliments are the ones which keep on getting repeated by many of the readers, their collective impression. The first of those is that they find the characterization compelling and convincing, i.e. they like the characters and really start to emphasize with them. I suppose that really balances out the POV criticism because it suggests I managed to present, amongst others, a realistic Wenn Twyner to them. The second is ‘hey, I know these woods’. Although the Wyrde Woods are meant to be in East Sussex, quite close to Milne’s ‘Hundred Acre Wood’ , they are also symbolic for just about any place near your house, wherever it may be, where it’s possible to get away from the hustle and bustle of 21st century life for a bit and pick up a few natural and mythical connections. For younger readers (and those who remember being young) they are the places where you can play without adult supervision.
- Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Don’t be afraid to cut into scenes you have a personal attachment to if they don’t serve the story. If you’re lucky enough to find honest feedback reflect on that really well even if you disagree with it and try not to get bogged down by the insecurity that sometimes accompanies writing. Never give up.
QUICK SNAP Q&A
- Sweet or sour? SWEET
- Peace or noise? PEACE
- Classic or modern? MODERN
- Horror or comedy? HORROR
- Rock or Pop? ROCK
- Zombies or Vampires? ZOMBIE
- Print or Electronic? PRINT
- Indie or Traditional? INDIE
- Plotter or Panster? PANSTER
- House proud or scruff-bag? SCRUFFBAG
I was born in Rotterdam in 1970 and grew up in the Netherlands, Thailand, Nepal, Oklahoma, Tanzania, England, Egypt and France. I’ve taught English at various Dutch secondary schools for 18 years but my firm belief that education is most effective when it is fun has raised a few eyebrows. I am currently a full time member of the Amsterdam Zombie Outbreak Rapid Response Team and a proud citizen of the People’s Republic of Brighton & Hove.
I have been writing non-fiction for the last five years, mostly articles on history and archery (preferably combined), and fiction since 2014.
Published books so far:
As Nils Visser (more mature content, sort of YA but will appeal to older readers)
Escape from Neverland (Lord of the Wyrde Woods Book One – urban fantasy)
Dance into the Wyrd (Lord of the Wyrde Woods Book Two – urban fantasy)
As Nisse Visser (for intelligent kids who are advanced readers to centenarians)
Will’s War in Brighton (children’s wartime historical)
Forgotten Road (Secrets of the Wyrde Woods Book One – children’s historical & urban fantasy)
Any questions you think I missed? Ask Nils anything you like in the comments section below. Just keep it clean *Wink
Don’t forget Forgotten Road Forgotten Road pre-order, due for publication 10th October!!