An Interview With Sammy H. K. Smith
Today I’m honoured to be posting my first ever author interview on the blog, and I’m even more honoured to have the wonderful Sammy H. K. Smith as my first
victim guest, talking about her forthcoming novel, Anna, due out from Rebellion Publishing imprint Solaris on 27th May. So, without much further ado, let’s get this show on the road.
SNS: Hi, Sammy, and thanks for agreeing to this interview. To get the ball rolling, please tell us a little about yourself.
Sammy: This is always the hardest part! I live and work on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire/Cotswold border and love my little slice of the countryside. My day job takes up 50+ hours a week on average, so I spend almost every spare moment I have with my children and husband either renovating our house or converting our van into a campervan. I love being outdoors in the garden but sadly I’m not that green-fingered…
I also love animals, so you’ll often find me sitting outside with a cat on my lap! We have 5 at the moment but a few years ago we had 13 at one time…
SNS: Wow, that’s a lot of cats! We have just two of the fluffy terrors here, so I can only imagine the fun you have with five, let alone thirteen. Do you want to tell us how you manage?
Sammy: I’d like to be all smug and say it’s easy – but it’s bloody not! With our 5 at the moment I bulk buy everything and we change the litter daily. The cuddles in the evening make it worthwhile though as my pure white Maine Coon, Geralt, sleeps next to me constantly
SNS: Your new book, Anna, is quite a dark tale. Where did the idea and the motivation come from to write it?
Sammy: In my day job I work with survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and over the past 15 years I’ve dealt with some harrowing cases. I wanted to write something that focused on the emotional and psychological impact of such abuse. The subject matter is hard and working with it daily I didn’t want to set the story in a contemporary setting, and so I defaulted to dystopia (as I enjoy reading and writing in this genre).
SNS: It addresses a lot of disturbing and harrowing subjects, including domestic violence and psychological abuse. Was it particularly challenging to write?
Sammy: I wrote ANNA in the first-person narrative, and so there were certain scenes that I found hard – especially in part one – as we feel what she feels, and some scenes are visceral. I didn’t want to gloss over the pain as that only tells half the story and misses the point.
I remember writing a scene of rape and then I spent the whole night awake downstairs watching television. I couldn’t sleep. My mind wouldn’t switch off and it took a good day or so to calm it down! I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP) and it was hard to step back and remember this is fiction. ANNA may be an embodiment of those I’ve dealt with, but it isn’t real.
SNS: Early reviews have been quite polarising, almost Marmite-like in their division. How do feel about this?
Sammy: Of course, every writer wants every person to adore their work – that’s the aim of the game, after all – so when the first few negative reviews arrived, I was genuinely gutted. I panicked and worried that I’d missed the ball, and that emotionally it wasn’t pitched right or lacking in depth. My confidence was rock bottom.
I then received a review from a survivor of sexual abuse (who also messaged my publisher) and she thanked me for depicting the abuse in such a sensitive and real way. She was so complimentary and positive about what I was doing that I calmed down a little.
As I started to receive more reviews like hers, I relaxed a little more. I soon realised that you can’t please everyone and what one person hated about the story, another loved.
Of course, there will be people who hate it – it’s a story of sexual abuse, PTSD, and a journey through to recovery and closure and I’ve deliberately tried to make my Anna’s reactions as authentic to my experiences as possible (please note, I am not the arbitrator on how a victim behaves when abused – this is one example of one person’s reaction. I do not belittle or tell others how they should or ought to have behaved). It’s uncomfortable to read and if a reader picks this up expecting something akin to YA mainstream dystopia, then they’ll be disappointed.
I’m trying to turn the fact it’s polarising into a positive. If literature evokes strong emotional responses and feelings, it’s doing its job. I’d rather have people hate it and feel real emotion than think it’s ‘meh’.
SNS: Well, it certainly kicked me square in the emotions when I read it, so I’d say it’s definitely achieving that goal.
Now, you’re also a publisher in your own right, through Grimbold Books. Were you tempted to put Anna out on your own, or was the plan always to try and find another publisher for this one?
Sammy: Good question! I seriously considered publishing Anna but also I felt as though that was taking ‘the easy route’ and it felt a little vain of me. When I first started Grimbold in 2013, it was primarily to be a press to showcase my work and those of friends and it’s grown into the British Fantasy Award winning press it is today.
I wanted ANNA to be judged on her own merits, and so I subbed the traditional way and received rejections from agents. When I was told that Rebellion was looking for the ‘English Handmaid’s Tale with something new’ I thought ANNA might be a good fit, and so submitted it to them directly. I was over the moon when they said yes and here we are!
SNS: The end of Anna leaves a few unanswered questions and seems to leave space for a sequel. Will there be more from this world, and these characters in particular? And more importantly, what’s next for you?
Sammy: Ah yes, the unanswered questions… which again, some people have adored while others have been frustrated!
I’m writing a standalone sequel in the same world as ANNA where part of the story runs parallel with Anna’s and involve some other characters: I bring our two main antagonists Will and Simon back for a while, and Olly from part one.
Our protagonists however are new. Emma, a bar owner in the gang-land town who struggles with maintaining power, hiding her dementia-ridden father, and protecting her epileptic brother, and Greg, an Enforcer whose primary job is enforcing the new cruel laws in the town where Emma lives.
I’m about quarter of the way through and working out the nuances and story threads at the moment, but we have county drugs lines, sex trafficking, murder, a who-dun-it, and revenge but with the main focus on the cycles of bereavement (note: I’ve deliberately taken the themes out of chronological order! No spoilers from me!)
After this, I’m going back to my cosy fantasy, book 2 of my Children of Nalowyn series and titled ‘A Time of Truth and Lies’.
With Grimbold, I’m working through some covid delayed admin and then looking to see when we can open up for submissions. We have novels from Joel Cornah, Shona Kinsella and Pete Sutton already in the pipeline but I’d like to acquire some more novellas. Watch this space!
SNS: This all sounds so exciting, and I really can’t wait to read more. Okay, I think that’s all for now. Thanks for answering my questions, and I wish you all the best with Anna and the future.
As mentioned at the start of this post, Anna is due out from all the usual booksellers on 25th May, or directly from Rebellion Publishing if you prefer to do your reading digitally. For those who are interested, you can read my review here, though I should warn you it may contain some spoilers. You can also find details about Sammy’s earlier novel, In Search of Gods and Heroes, on Grimbold Books.