Sandra Unerman’s novel, Spellhaven, is coming August 17th, 2017, so we invited Sandra to answer some questions and introduce herself…
M|W: Hello Sandra and welcome. Since you’re new to the Mirror World family of authors, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
SU: I’m really enjoying being part of the Mirror World family. Thank you for bringing me on board.
I grew up in London, where I’ve lived for most of my life. I studied history at Bristol University and then qualified as a barrister, which led to a career as a Government lawyer. This was a fascinating job, which included a year based in Minneapolis, when I travelled to various US cities to study land use planning. But the job became increasingly demanding, especially when I was managing a team of about seventy people. So I was pleased to be able to retire a few years ago, in order to focus on my writing ambitions, among other things.
Before retirement, I had attended some Milford workshops. I am not sure whether there is a Canadian version of Milford but it’s a weeklong residential workshop for about 12 to 15 writers, in which you take it in turns to critique each other’s contributions. The atmosphere is intensive but supportive and I’d found it really stimulating. That led me to embark on an MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University, with a specialist strand in SF and Fantasy. The MA helped me develop my writing in a number of ways and strengthened my contacts with other people in the SF community. I am now a member of London Clockhouse Writers, which has monthly meetings. We don’t critique but discuss market opportunities and have go on the spot at writing on a set theme, either on our own or in collaboration. These sessions have also been very productive for me.
My father passed away three years ago and I now share a house with my mother, who is 88. As a result, I don’t do much travelling these days but I visit exhibitions and go out and about in London.
M|W: So you’ve got a book release coming up in August, Spellhaven. In your own words, what’s Spellhaven about?
SU: Spellhaven is an island city ruled by magician lords. Their powers come from the supernatural beings trapped in the island, whose good humour must be maintained with shows and entertainments of all kinds, or they will turn spiteful and dangerous. To keep up the supply, the magicians kidnap artists and performers from other places and make them work for a set number of years, in exchange for their freedom. My novel concerns Jane, a young English musician, kidnapped in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War. She refuses to accept the usual terms to obtain her release. Her anger at what’s been done to her leads to unexpected consequences for her and for the magicians.
M|W: Spellhaven is your first novel, right? Have you written anything else we should take a look at?
SU: In 1979, I had a young adult novel published by Dobson Books in the UK, Trial of Three, which was an Arthurian fantasy. After that, my day job took over and I did not get anything else into print for a long time. In the last few years, I have produced several short stories, as listed on my website. These are not tied to Spellhaven but depict fantastic adventures in a variety of settings. For example, Mountain Tea, (published in Legends, an anthology in honour of David Gemmell, NewCon Press, 2013) is a fairy tale about an heiress with three suitors, who finds an unconventional way of putting them to the test. In The Night Hound, (Detectives of the Fantastic, volume IV, Horrified Press, 2015) a student mage is in love with a young man suspected of a series of supernatural murders.
M|W: We love the concept of Spellhaven, the magical city filled with unseen spirits that must be entertained. Is there anything in particular that inspired you to write about a place like that?
SU: Many different themes and images came together as I was working on Spellhaven. I’ve always enjoyed live theatre, including opera and ballet, far more than film or television. I’d been reading a lot of biographies and memoirs about stage personalities and performers like Diaghilev and Henry Irving. They increased my fascination with the way theatre can create a magic of its own, which doesn’t have to be realistic to have a powerful effect on the audience. I wanted to bring the feel of that alive in my novel.
M|W: So now that Spellhaven is on the way, are you working on anything else?
SU: After I’d finished Spellhaven, I become interested in a group of exiles from the magicians’ city, who end up in London in the 1930s. It’s a time when people were struggling to deal with the aftermath of the First World War and the troubles that led to the outbreak of the Second. And when women, in particular, were beginning to question their roles in society. So my next novel is about people in that setting, who are threatened by an intrusion of supernatural spirits and dangerous magic. They have a lot to learn if they are going to survive.
Sandra Unerman lives in London in the UK. When she retired from a career as a Government lawyer, she undertook an MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University, specialising in SF and fantasy, and graduated in 2013. Since then, she has had a number of short stories published. She writes reviews and articles for the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society. She is a member of London Clockhouse writers and other writing groups. Her interests include history, folklore and medieval literature.