Author Interview: 15 Questions with Eliza S Robinson

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1. Which books most impacted your writing style?

My earliest literary inspirations were Celia Rees and Garth Nix. I grew up reading historical fiction, and fantasy, and the first two novels I wrote were a hybrid of these genres. History was my first love, before I fell in love with literature. Fantasy has been an integral part of both my literary taste, and my personality, for as long as I can remember.
I wrote Consequence, the earlier manifestation of The Purest Form of Chaos, in 2012, the same year that a dystopian craze was sweeping the Young Adult market. I read The Hunger Games, and it took my literary taste from the past to the future. A few months later, I read Divergent (which I still think is responsible for most of my personality traits). These two books were hugely influential when it comes to the themes I write about — to this day, I’m incapable of writing novels that don’t contain some kind of revolution. I read Jane Eyre, at 17, a few months before I began transforming Consequence into The Purest Form of Chaos. Something I used to struggle with as a writer was description and prose. Jane Eyre taught me the power of descriptive writing, and that the words a character leaves unsaid can be just as powerful as dialogue.
The Purest Form of Chaos reads, to me, like a fantasy novel–even though the genre leans more towards dystopian speculative fiction–so the fantasy novels I’ve read over the years have been a huge influence as well.

2. Which character from The Purest Form of Chaos are you most like?

This question used to be easier to answer. I was Phoenix, through and through. But we both grew in different directions. She’s still the character I most associate myself with. Now, I am a combination of Phoenix, Persephone, and the Tsar. I share Persephone’s impulsive streak and her idealistic side. Like Phoenix, I am an odd combination of flighty and grounded. I’m intelligent and ambitious but I sometimes struggle with other people, and when I love people, I love them with everything I have — even if I want to flee the country to escape them. I relate to the Tsar because he’s spent his life as an outsider, and it’s turned him into a control freak. All he wants is something of his own, something he’s earned rather than inherited, an identity he can choose and create, rather than a role he has to step into. All he wants is the one thing he can’t have, and every time he attempts to put himself first, he royally (pun intended) screws up. I like to think I have a better moral compass than he does, but I relate to his struggle.

3. Who is your favourite character in The Purest Form of Chaos?

Phoenix. Always Phoenix. She’s the most complex, nuanced character I’ve ever created, and I adore her. I love Persephone, and I love the friendship between the two of them. I also have a soft spot for Drew and his flair for the dramatic.

4. What made you rewrite your novel?

I wrote a whole blog on this topic back in March, which you can read here. Take it with a pinch of salt, I’m less of an anxious mess now than I was back then.

5. What was your favourite scene to write? To read?

The first scene of Chapter Thirty was one of the most interesting to write. I added it fairly late in the writing process, and put a lot more thought into it than I usually do before writing a scene. It was an idea I was fascinated by — how would it work? How would it feel? What would the implications be? It’s the moment where Persephone fully comprehends what she is, and it was an opportunity for me to learn more about her, as well as a way to give her a massive identity crisis.
My favourite part to read is the scene between Phoenix and Kai at the end of Chapter Twenty-Eight. I love the intimacy and vulnerability in their interaction. A lot of Phoenix and Kai’s friendship develops ‘off-stage’, and their scenes are like a best-of montage capturing the defining moments of their relationship. This scene shows how deeply they care for each other, it captures the intimacy of confiding your hopes and fears in another person, realising the person you’ve been running from is on your team. It’s a bittersweet scene, but the steady flame of optimism burns brightly beneath the melancholy tone.

6. What is your favourite quote from The Purest Form of Chaos?

My favourite quote is: “Fiery streaks of pink burned through the dark sky as the first hints of dawn hailed a new day, and Persephone, with wide eyes and tousled hair, lying in the arms of her lover, dared herself to believe the world could be good again.” I love the imagery of this line, and the way the external world mirrors Persephone’s internal world. It’s the line that catches my attention every time I read it; there’s something evocative there.
There are many quotes from the end of Chapter Thirty-Nine that I love as well, but they all contain spoilers, so you’ll have to read the book to find out what they are!

7. Why publish independently?

Two reasons. One: The Purest Form of Chaos has changed a lot since the days of Consequence, but it has the same basic narrative, and the same characters. I can’t submit it to a traditional publisher when an earlier version of it is already published. Two: I’ve spent a third of my life working on this book, and I wanted to put it into the world on my own terms. I did my research, and traditional publishing is no guarantee of greater marketing success, and authors receiver a much smaller percentage of royalties than they do from publishing independently. My novel’s fate is in my own hands now. Its success rests on my shoulders, but I know myself, I know how determined I am, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from spending seven years on this novel, it’s this: when it comes to my writing, failure is not an option.

8. What have you written that you’re most proud of?

It goes without saying: The Purest Form of Chaos. I’ve worked on this novel for seven-and-a-half years, it is my greatest achievement.
As well as novels and blogs, I also write poetry. I usually write about whichever emotion is overwhelming me that week — or the occasional character poem — but recently I wrote an absurdist comedy poem called Pussy Cat, which has become my new favourite thing. I wrote it as a joke for a friend, and inadvertently discovered a talent for absurdist poetry. My best writing comes when I push myself out of my comfort zone, and vengeful cats living in unsavoury parts of the human body are definitely far from my usual style!

9. What is your favourite novel, and why?

My favourite novel changes every few years, and I haven’t yet found a novel that perfectly fits where I’m at in my life right now. The last book I read that I absolutely loved was Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I love fantasy novels, and I found the magic system in this book particularly unique and intriguing. I adore the slow-burn romance, where the build-up is so subtle that you don’t even realise the love interest is a love interest for most of the book, and then it hits you at the same time as the protagonist.

10. If you had to write something completely different to The Purest Form of Chaos, what would you write?

I’m a big fan of melodrama and scheming villains — some of my favourite TV shows are Gossip Girl and Jane the Virgin (not to mention my love of Grey’s Anatomy, the most melodramatic show ever). I love the twists and turns and questionable motives, and I want to write something like that. As someone who’s spent a disproportionate amount of the past three years obsessing over my love life, I feel like I should at least attempt to write a romance novel one day. But I prefer to write romance as a subplot. I love love, but for me it’s never the whole story.
When I was 15, I started writing a novel about a female dictator’s descent into madness. I had an error with a USB stick, and lost 23,000 words. I never finished the novel, because I didn’t know how to replace what I had lost. I want to finish it one day. I’m fascinated by villains, even more so by protagonists who don’t realise they’re the villain.

11. What is your writing routine?

Bold of you to assume I have a routine. As I write this, I’m watching Gossip Girl, checking my phone every few minutes to see who’s viewed my instagram story, and making kissy noises at my cat. I’m easily distracted. I’m ambitious and passionate about my writing, but I have the attention span of a toddler with Red Bull injected into their eyeballs. It would be simplistic to say I only write when I’m inspired. I have a stronger work ethic than that; I’ve taught myself to be disciplined. But I can’t write when I’m not inspired. So I find ways to inspire myself. Music is helpful — I create themed playlists for everything in my life, and often I have playlists for my novel, or for specific characters. I wrote my first novels by hand, and even though I’ve migrated to a laptop since then, I still find handwriting helps me if I’m struggling with writer’s block. Bonus points if I have sparkly purple pens to write with. When it comes to sticking to a routine, editing is easier than writing. I can sit for hours with my book manuscript and a cup of tea and a fitting playlist. Sure, I get distracted, but it’s easier to pull myself back to the task at hand. Because the material is all there. Procrastination often comes from a fear of failure. I get distracted from my writing because I feel I can’t do it justice. Editing is all about refining the work I’ve already done, editing means I can do it justice.

12. What are the challenges of writing books set in the future? In foreign countries? Why don’t you just write what you know?

I first wrote this book at 14. When I was homeschooled. You can’t write what you know if you’ve had zero life experiences. It’s different now, many of the things I wrote that were once alien to me have become familiar. Whether it’s friendship, running away to Estonia, or drunkenly making your feelings known to someone, I understand my characters’ experiences a lot better at 21 than I did at 14.
Consequence was set 300 years in the future. I changed this during the rewrite, and The Purest Form of Chaos takes place from 2149-2154. A couple of years ago, I was discussing my novel with an acquaintance, and he asked me a question about futuristic technology. I’ve never focused much on the technological aspects of my futuristic setting; my novel focuses more on inter-character relationships. But this did make me realise I shouldn’t set it so far in the future.
When I wrote Consequence, I hadn’t been to Russia or Estonia. During the rewriting process, I have visited Estonia four times. I lived in Estonia for two months this summer, working at a hostel. Not only was this where I finished writing The Purest Form of Chaos, it was also where I met my cover illustrator! Writing about Estonia is different to writing about Russia. Estonia is familiar to me now. I know the landscape, I know my way around Tallinn. It doesn’t feel like a place I visited as a tourist, it is the place I keep running back to to find myself. I wish I had visited Russia before finishing The Purest Form of Chaos. But of the two countries, I’m glad that Estonia is the one I have come to know. Phoenix and Persephone both experience Russia from a distance; they are both alienated from the reality of the country. Whereas Estonia becomes Phoenix’s home, her salvation. She, like I, found herself there.

13. Do you prefer writing friendships or romance?

My favourite romantic storyline to write was a friends-to-lovers romance, so I guess I like a good mix of both. Often with romances, the characters that fall for each other don’t know their love interest very well. There’s intrigue and mystery, and so much of their ‘love’ is unknown. It’s different writing love that blossoms from friendship, because the familiar becomes mysterious to the point of frustration, and every small gesture is heavily weighted. I love the sweetness, the youthful insecurity, that blind terror when the most precious thing in the world is at stake and honesty could either transform it or destroy it. I am a hopeless romantic, and I love love.
That said, platonic friendship is my favourite kind of relationship to write. It was a joy to write the ride-or-die love between Phoenix and Persephone, to capture its beauty and complexity. Friendship isn’t always easy, it’s not just about liking each other and supporting each other. Sometimes friendship means holding people accountable, making them look in the mirror and acknowledge the worst parts of themselves. The friendship at the heart of this novel is far more nuanced than the romantic subplots. I worked for seven years to perfect it, and the result is more true-to-life than I could have hoped for. When I read it, I am reminded of my own friendships; I created something real.

14. Who is your target audience?

When I rewrote my novel, one of the many changes I made was ageing up all my characters. I didn’t want it to be a book about teenagers doing adult things. Phoenix and Persephone are in their late teens at the beginning of the novel, and their early twenties by the end. The Persephone myth is an allegory about the journey from childhood to adulthood, and this is a book for adults. In terms of age, it’s aimed primarily at the New Adult demographic (18-30), but it is for anyone who wants to read it. The themes of friendship, love, autonomy, identity, what it means to be human… these are universal. It’s definitely not for younger readers, because there are parts where it gets rather dark. Other than that, I want it to be read by as wide a range of people as possible.

15. What are you working on right now?

I’m currently writing an absolutely thrilling Film & Television Studies dissertation. Aside from that, I’ve begun work on the sequel to The Purest Form of Chaos. Originally, these books were part of a trilogy. The Purest Form of Chaos largely follows the same narrative as its earlier edition, but from book two onward, the series is going in a completely different direction. It’s still early days, but my current plans are to merge storylines from books two and three, and incorporate them into the new narrative I’m writing for book two. I haven’t decided how many books there will be in total, but I know how the series will end.

You can buy The Purest Form of Chaos here, here, or here, or take part in my giveaway competition to win a free signed copy.

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