Corinna Turner is a fresh new voice in speculative fiction. In some ways here I Am Margaret series is like a more extreme and catholic version of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Her writing is gripping, compelling and in light of recent events somewhat predictive. I encountered her writings and have been hooked since the first few chapters. Recently Corinna took some time from her busy schedule to answer 20 questions for the readers here at Book Reviews and More, so here is Corinna in her own words.
1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you nurture that dream?
I remember writing various childhood stories, and enjoying it, but it didn't cross my mind that I might want to be a writer until the 'short' story I wrote when I was 14. It went on for 37 pages in my homework book and the teacher gave up marking it after about page 8 due to lack of time. I promptly set to and wrote it up into a full length novel. The novel was awful. No one is allowed to see it. Ever! I've been writing ever since, so I've nurtured the dream simply by living it.
2. Who were some of your biggest supporters and contributors to your early success?
A former teacher and a teacher's mother were both very helpful, reading my work and commenting and encouraging me. My own mother has also been fantastic. She is always truthful, so I really value her feedback.
3. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
Hard to say. I might be farming, I might have taken academic study further and be a don (academic), I might have joined the police, or I might be working full time in some sort of charity or church role. As you can see, my interests are varied, so who knows!
4. What authors influenced your writing style and format?
I'm honestly not sure, is the short answer. Some people consciously imitate the styles of their favourite authors, but I've never really done that. I've always just got on and written. Favourite authors have influenced my choice of topic, for example, I started off with thrillers, moved on to vampires, then fantasy, then Young Adult. Format: well, I've written in a variety of persons and tenses and hope to continue to do so rather than get locked into just one for every book. I choose whichever tense and person fits the book. So most of my early (unpublished) books were third person past tense-but one of them was first person past tense. The first book which I felt was really 'there', and which got me my literary agent, was also third past, the next book was first past, but with two points of view. I Am Margaret is, of course, first past, and Someday is not only first present, but has not one or two, but multiple points of view. But I have a historical in the (distant) pipeline that is in third past, two points of view. So it really is a question of what suits the book in question.
5. What does your writing process look like? Take us through the steps from idea to publishing?
Well, I'll have the idea, sometimes in a dream, sometimes not. It develops gradually into a fully fledged plot, sometimes quickly, sometimes over quite a period of time. Sometimes it all comes together fairly quickly and is fairly 'finished', other times, especially with the 'Yesterday & Tomorrow' series I'm working on at the moment, it will be evolving over one or two years, and every time I think it's all there, something else will plop into place. During this stage I may write detailed notes on the idea if I think it will be some time before I can write it. I have notebooks full of partially developed or embryonic ideas, just waiting for the time to be taken further. The ones that get written are the ones that keep coming back and growing and developing, and the ones that just storm over you and take you over and you know you have to write them.
6. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listening to the same music?
I don't actually get around to listening to much music nowadays, perhaps because I'm busy, perhaps because I used to have a need to fill the silence all the time, but now that my relationship with God has deepened that need has gone. I do sometimes have music that I find inspirational for certain books, though. The two tracks that evoked 'I Am Margaret' powerfully to me were 'London' and 'Solomon Vandy' from James Newton Howard's soundtrack for the film 'Blood Diamond'. I hadn't even seen the film at the time that I was writing 'I Am Margaret', but I like James Newton Howard's work so I came across the soundtrack and it completely evoked to me Margo trapped in the Facility and Bane outside, wanting to save her. And some time after I had the idea for the 'Yesterday & Tomorrow' series I heard the song '10,000 Reasons' by Matt Redman for the first time, and it felt like that was all about the series.
7. Are you currently working on any projects now that the I Am Margaret series is complete?
Yes, the first book in my new series, 'Yesterday & Tomorrow', has already been published. It's a prequel novella called 'Someday' and it's a retelling of the kidnapping of the Nigerian Schoolgirls from Chibok school in 2014 by Islamist militants, but it takes place in the UK. It came out in April and due to it having a fixed release date it ended up leapfrogging 'Bane's Eyes' and coming out first! The second book will be along in due course. There will also be a companion volume to the 'I Am Margaret' series, containing what was meant to be a short story but which has evolved into a novella! And I have the odd other thing up my sleeve.
8. Book four in the I Am Margaret series is now out: Bane's Eyes. Unlike the other 3 there is no T in the tile to be a cross. Was that intentional, accidental or foreshadowing?
Um, there is a cross in the title. It is the ' because there simply wasn't a T in the title!
9. How many more books are planned for the I Am Margaret series?
Bane's Eyes is the final full-length novel, other than the companion volume.
10. What were some of your favorite books and authors when you were younger?
The Biggles and Worrals books by Captain W. E. Johns. The Three Musketeers series by Alexandre Dumas. Les Miserables. Also Alistair Maclean and Desmond Bagley's thrillers, and Charles Dickens, 'A Tale of Two Cities'.
11. What are some of your favorite contemporary religious authors to read?
I have to admit that contemporary religious fiction is actually quite a new thing for me. When I was in Sunday school they used to give us these twee little books that bashed you over the head with a Bible so hard all you could see were little crosses. It put me off 'Christian' fiction pretty much for life, up until quite recently. Happily I've now become aware that Christian fiction has come on enormously since then. I'm particularly enjoying Regina Doman's 'Fairy Tale Novels'. 'The Shadow in the Dark' by Antony Barone Kolenc was a promising first novel and the promise has certainly paid off in a later short story 'Asking and Telling' which I believe is being published soon in an anthology called 'Image and Likeness' by Full Quiver Press. I've also discovered the very gentle 'Amish Romance' genre, which is nice when you're in the right mood. There are so many books I'd liked to read, and not enough time! I have a stack waiting to be read, after which I may have some more suggestions.
12. If you could only recommend 10 books to a reader looking to be a well-rounded and whole person what books would you suggest?
Difficult question, but here are ten of the most useful I can think of off the top of my head:
1. The Holy Bible
2. The Divine Office (The Liturgy of the Hours)
3. Catechism of the Catholic Church
4. Humanae Vitae - Pope Paul VI
5. St Thomas More - A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation
6. Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity of Women) - St John Paul II
7. St Francis de Sales - The Devout Life
8. The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency - John Seymour
9. Fr Marcus Holden & Fr Andrew Pinsent - Lumen: The Catholic Gift to Civilisation
10. J.M. Gaskell - Explaining Islam (CTS Explanations)
13. What fiction books or authors do you enjoy or recommend?
For sheer skill as a writer, it's hard to beat multi-award winning science-fiction and fantasy writer 'Lois McMaster Bujold', however, many of the positions she adopts in her books are not in accordance with Christianity so I cannot recommend her as whole-heartedly as I would like.
Carol Berg is another fantastic fantasy writer, without the same issues as Bujold. So far everything I've written by her has been pretty solid morally.
I love Eoin Colfer's books, also the Harry Potter books. The Host - Stephanie Meyer (a totally different beast than the 'Twilight' books). A few other favourites are 'The Lady in the Tower' by Marie Louise-Jenson, 'The Secret Countess' by Eva Ibbotson, Audrey Erskine Lindop - 'The Singer not the Song', Captain Marryat - 'Children of the New Forest' and Paul Dowdswell's historical novels for children, especially 'Auslander'. But it's so hard to pick favourite books, so I could go on at length.
14. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?
I think your professor stated it quite well, actually. Knowing how to think and how to learn is far more important. As someone with a rather poor memory, I know how quickly facts can be forgotten. But the ability to go and find facts, to process them usefully and then act on them doesn't disappear in the same way and is far more helpful in life. Unfortunately many modern systems of education focus on exams and this tends to favour rather superficial education that focuses on knowing the right answers at one moment in your life, not on formulating and answering the right questions.
15. Completely off topic but what TV shows or movies do you enjoy?
I don't watch very much TV at all. I did enjoy Poldark the other year. I watch quite a lot of films and have fairly wide interests, ranging from historical dramas like Titanic and Gladiator, fantasy like Lord of the Rings, sci-fi like Star Wars (esp. the originals), classics like The Scarlet and the Black, Quo Vadis, and The Three Musketeers (Michael York version) to more recent favourites like the modern Star Trek films, Avatar, Inception, Ender's Game, The Hunger Games series, Skyfall, Mongol, Solomon Kane, a lot of the Marvel superhero films (esp. Captain America), Child 44, Jurassic World, The X Men films, My Name is Khan, Edge of Tomorrow, Johnny English & Johnny English Reborn, Galaxy Quest, Amazing Grace, To End all Wars, Sherlock Holmes & Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, Slumdog Millionaire, Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3. I also love some classic children's films like Small Soldiers, Just Visiting, Babe Pig in the City, Mulan... I could go on for a long time here, as well!
16. All of your books are available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
There are many positives about ebooks, although mostly I prefer to read a paper copy, but there's no doubt that piracy is a problem with ebooks that didn't really exist with printed books. I think most of all people need moral formation so that they understand they are stealing when they download from these sites. Getting rid of demand is the only way to shut them down. Of course, with human nature being fallen, the chances of completely shutting down such sites seem remote! But one can try.
17. Some authors monitor torrent sites and have their publishers contact them to remove their content. Do you do so or have someone do so for you?
Many marketing experts think that until an author is very, very famous, obscurity is a far greater danger than piracy. So I don't get wildly excited when I see my books on torrent sites. If anything I feel flattered because they wouldn't bother putting them up if they didn't think someone might want to download them. But I will try and get them taken down, now and then, since I believe it's necessary simply in order to protect my copyright. It's something I'm meaning to look into in a bit more detail, tbh.
18. I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?
My characters are very real to me, but perhaps because they mostly inhabit other places, frequently fantasy worlds or other versions of our reality, they don't tend to be (metaphorically) walking around my house, as it were. But of course I know heaps more about them than can possibly go into a book, including what happens in the rest of their lives after the books ends (assuming they survive that long!). I imagine this is the same for most authors.
19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
Impossible decision, but going for variety and length(!) a reasonable selection might be:
1. The Holy Bible
2. The Divine Office (The Liturgy of the Hours)
3. Catechism of the Catholic Church
4. Prayers and Meditations - St Anselm
5. The Curse of Chalion - Lois McMaster Bujold
6. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained - John Milton
7. The Host - Stephanie Meyer
8. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
9. Audrey Erskine Lindop - 'The Singer not the Song'
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J. K. Rowling (or possibly an Eoin Colfer, perhaps 'The Airman', only 'HP and the DHs' is so much fatter, so it's a tough decision...)
20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists particularly those looking to have their art reflect their faith?
With regard to the artistic part of it, write. Don't talk about it or just sit around thinking about it, as soon as you have an idea that you really want to write, sit down and do it. When you've finished, then you have two choices: put away your first novel and start another. Then another. Then another, until you get one you think is fit to be seen. Or go over and over and over the novel you have written, editing, rewriting, tweaking, improving. I would recommend the first if put to it, but only because that is what I did. But the fact is that some authors do one, some do the other. Everyone is different, and it may ultimately depend on whether you have one idea, or lots of them.
If you want your art to reflect your faith then most importantly, don't be shy about putting it in. But subtly. It should be a 100% natural part of the story, it should not jar or 'bash' the reader over the head. It should be integral to both the characters and the plot. (Though be aware that for some non-religious readers, ANY positive presence of Christianity, however naturally it occurs, will feel like proselytisation and freak them out, and there really is nothing you can do about that.) Resist the temptation to make the good characters perfect, but make them good enough that people can aspire to be more like them, whilst recognising their faults and humanity. If you're writing 'secular' fiction you will need to be very subtle indeed. So subtle that I got fed up with writing 'secular' fiction because my faith felt smothered.
Most importantly, concentrate on your own faith life. You can't write what you aren't living. Pray, go to Mass (or other services if you're not Catholic)-and take purity seriously, in thought as well as action-and I don't just mean sexual purity. I've read some truly horrible novels recently purporting to be 'Christian' which glamorise violence, present revenge as perfectly okay, mention forgiveness not once and so on. So think about what you're reading and watching, and recognise that anything you see or hear WILL have an effect on you, and that once you've taken it into yourself, you cannot get it out again. Ever. Think about it: can you choose to forget a memory, just because you want to?
What do I mean by 'think about what you read and watch'? Well, here's a personal example. I would love to watch 'Game of Thrones'. In fact, it's a big temptation. I'm pretty sure I would really enjoy it. But I choose not to watch it. I'd heard it was way off the acceptable scale for violence and sex and especially both together and I watched the first episode to form my own opinion and had to concur. As anyone who has read 'I Am Margaret' or 'Someday' will know, I don't shrink from depicting necessary violence. But the level portrayed in 'G of Ts' and other such series-and books-is simply not necessary, and I will not support it. I would encourage you not to either. You can show the same events and make them every bit as powerful without actually employing gratuitous sex and violence for shock value-in fact, the shock value is essentially a crutch that allows poor writing to slide on by. A really good writer (not claiming that's me, mind you!) can easily make such a scene more powerful, whilst showing much less. Aim to write like that.
Thank you Corinna for your time. As you can see from this interview Corinna has put a lot of thought and work into her craft. All of her books that I have read are amazing and I highly recommend them. If you have not read them definitely check them out!
Books by Corinna Turner:
I Am Margaret Series:
I Am Margaret
The Three Most Wanted
Margo's (Attempted) Diary & Notebook
Yesterday and Tomorrow Series:
Author profile and interview with Corinna Turner.