Sarah Xanxa Wallace (AKA Xanxa Symanah and Xanxa Raggatt) has always been involved in creative writing. In fact, before she learned to read and write, she would make up stories, telling them to anyone who would listen, or simply reciting them to herself when she lacked an audience.
Today I have the pleasure of sitting down with author Xanxa Symanah. Thanks for dropping by. Can I offer you anything to drink?
I’ll have a glass of verazhynde, please. Oh, wait, I forgot. It only exists in my fictional universe.
Hey, we are not even in the same place or time right now. Anything is possible. I’ll even try some myself.
Let’s begin with the most pressing question. How do you pronounce ‘Xanxa’?
[Laughs] As the old saying goes, if I had a dollar (or a pound) for every time … you know the rest! Anyway, it’s Zhank-zha.
[Sounds of coins on table]
That’s all I have at the moment.
You’re paying me in Sartorian shekels? I am impressed. That currency is hard to get hold of, even on Sartoria!
I have my sources. [winks]
I try to do some research on my guests, but you have a limited online footprint. Is this by choice?
I’m on all the usual social media – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m also on Goodreads and Bookbub. I also have a blog, where I feature character profiles and essays on world-building and culture. I even have a spoken word account on Reverbnation, where you can listen to recordings of me doing readings. My online presence isn’t as big as I’d like, but it’s a work in progress.
Apparently, I didn’t look hard enough. Is your carbon footprint just as small?
[Laughs] I’ve no idea. It’s probably fairly small, since I don’t drive or own a car. I walk to local places and take public transport when going further afield.
Yeah, I prefer to bike or walk when I can. I have a vehicle, but it’s parked longer than it’s out.
You have written quite a number of books. What was the first book you published?
It was a murder mystery called “The Bingo Caller”. I first started writing that story when I was 13. Since that time, it underwent many changes. The version I published bears little resemblance to my teenage scribblings.
Probably for the best. Did you plan on writing a series?
Actually no. I originally intended “Neurotic Mothers’ Battleship” to be a stand-alone story. I got pulled in by the world-building and decided to write other novels based in the same fantasy universe. That’s how my series started.
How many series have you written?
I’ve written two complete series so far. The Virian Chronicles contains seven novels and the Virian Companions contains a further four novels. They’re all set in the same fantasy universe, but each book can be read as a stand-alone. There is a certain amount of carry-over in terms of characters and settings, but it’s not necessary to read all the books. I’ve also published the first two novels in a third series, the Vyrdigaan Prophecies. There will be a further two novels to complete that series. I have vague plans for a fourth series as well.
What is the most difficult part when world-building for a novel?
Self-restraint! [Laughs] World-building is one of my favourite things to do. I’ve been building my fantasy universe for over 30 years. It can be difficult to avoid info-dumping. I keep a world-building document which I call my “guidebook”. It reads somewhat like a travel guide, with geographical, historical and cultural references. I do all the info-dumping in there, then decide what needs to go in the novels.
In my novella world, I drew the map after. I had to go back and change things because the characters wouldn’t have been able to get to certain places in the allotted time. Rookie mistake or maybe they were lazy . . .
Distances and journey times can be tricky, especially in a fictional world. I tend to hedge a lot with mine. Also, most of my sorcerer characters can translocate instantaneously, as long as they have a detailed memory recall of their destination.
Ahh, magic. The solver of problems. What was the first book you remember reading on your own?
I can’t remember exactly. I’ve always been an avid reader. Leaving aside the “learning to read” books from school, it was probably one of the books which I’d previously had read to me as a bedtime story. Most of them were animal stories.
Do you have a favourite book?
I don’t have a single specific favourite. I tend to have favourite series. Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series is probably my most favourite. There’s also Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings, Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician series, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel and Naamah books and Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series and Tamir Triad.
What authors influenced you?
From childhood: C S Lewis and Lewis Carroll. Teenage years onwards: Douglas Adams, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Orson Scott Card, Raymond Feist, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell and some of those I’ve mentioned as favourites.
Music is a big part of my life. What about you?
Definitely. I love songs that tell stories, so progressive rock is my favourite genre. In addition to that, I also like classic rock, heavy metal, blues, folk, world music and some electronica.
Any favourites to share? There are not many genres I won’t listen to from time to time.
In progressive rock, I love Genesis, Yes, Marillion, IQ and Pendragon. There’s a sub-genre of progressive metal and my favourites are Threshold, Arena and Savatage. For heavy metal, I enjoy Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. World music favourites are Milton Nascimento, the Mutantes and Maria Bethania from Brazil, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan, Youssou N’Dour from Senegal and the collective known as Afro Celt Soundsystem. I’m also a huge fan of Van Morrison, who covers a lot of the music spectrum, including blues, jazz, folk, gospel and progressive. Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis) are also favourite solo artists of mine. Kate Bush is another favourite.
I put sneaky little references to my favourites in some of my novels. There’s a Gabriel Rise school in “Probyt’s Progress”. In “Chimera Obscura”, which is still in process of revision, the main character does some jail time and his cell number is 151, a reference to the Steve Hackett song “Cell 151”. In the Virian Chronicles series, I’ve made loads of references to Van Morrison songs.
I haven’t heard the name Marillion for a long time. They were one of my favorites in college.
Are you ready for the lightning round?
I had no idea getting struck by lightning would be part of the interview! Ah, well, you only live once, as the saying goes!
Cape Fear. The 1990s remake, not the original.
Coffee or tea?
What is one place you would like to visit?
Only one? Rio de Janeiro, for the Carnaval. It’s on my bucket list.
Out of those I’ve visited, probably Lisbon.
Name all the countries that have Xs in their name.
Mexico and Luxembourg are the only ones I can think of. I’m not sure if Xhosa counts, as it’s more of a region and culture than an actual country.
Sure, I’ll give you a bonus point. What is the last thing you ate?
Chicken Rogan Josh with coconut rice. (Supermarket version. I don’t cook from scratch)
I read that too fast and thought you said, Joe Rogan.
[Laughs] I had no idea who he is. I had to look him up. I don’t think he’s well-known in my corner of the multiverse.
No great loss there.
Well, we are out of time, unfortunately. This has been a pleasure. Thanks for chatting. Any links you want to share?
StoryOrigin and BookFunnel Promos
Another May the 4th promo on BookFunnel (no banner)
Free Books and Samples
Well, there’s always free books, just not any new ones this week: Discover New Authors and Free Books.
Leon Stevens is a multi-genre author, composer, guitarist, songwriter, and an artist, with a Bachelor of Music and Education. He published his first book of poetry, Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures in January 2020, followed by a book of original classical guitar compositions, Journeys, and a short story collection of science fiction/post-apocalyptic tales called The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories. His newest publications are the novella, The View from Here, which is a continuation of one of his short stories, and a new collection of poetry titled, A Wonder of Words.
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