I’m back with a special Q&A with the author of The Unflinching Ash today!
Angela Armstrong has been so kind as to give us a sneak peek into her research and author life 👀👌🏻 so I’m really excited to share this interview with you today! And if you missed my review of The Unflinching Ash, do give it a read!
Once upon a time, I went to a fancy schmancy magic show with my three daughters. We walked out of the theatre, and my girls gushed in the afterglow the entire walk back to the car. That guy had been amazing! (The guy was fine.) What they didn’t mention, was everything the female “assistant” had done. And reader, she had done a lot. Worse still, no female magician was springing to my mind as a reference! I wanted to tout the name of someone who proved a woman could command the lead role, maybe google her together when got home as damage / balance control? I did not like that no name readily came to me. I mulled on this. The disparity goes way back – magic has generated household names for centuries – all of them male. An alternative history began taking shape.
I got a bite on the idea fast, and began working on the manuscript with a great editor from a great publishing house for months, before she was cut loose in a restructure. Next, I sought representation, and got an offer from an experienced agent and signed up, hopeful we’d find a new home for Ash’s story. We followed her process during a pandemic and without the Bologna book fair. After a year of sub-and-waits and some lovely industry feedback but no contract, I was tired of keeping Ash in the wings. I was losing years to the pipeline when this rewrite of history was already overdue. So I mobilised a team, incorporated a company, and published The Unflinching Ash as an Indie. And I think going Independent suits Ash nicely. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now, I can say this: telling this story feels a lot better than sitting on it.
I, for one, am definitely glad Ash is out in the world right now 😍🙌🏻 And it’s true that more women magicians need their well deserved spotlight. On that note, can you tell us a bit about your research into magicians and mentalists?
I was conducting research for this book before I knew I was going to write this book. My dad is obsessed with circuses, shows, and magic. My childhood was peppered with exposure to all of it. I grew up with him performing tricks too – the man has a stash of illusion props! (And now, I do *deadpan blink*) For years, I’ve been that person who knows how tricks are done while I’m watching a magic show. It hasn’t spoiled it for me, it’s a game. When I started writing The Unflinching Ash, it was more of an exercise in assembling a favourites reel than it was doing a deep dive on magic. The witch trials, on the other hand, I had to read up on. I thought I knew a fair amount going in, but the further I got with the story, the less qualified I felt, so I read a lot of articles and books on trials from our world’s dark ages.
Ash is fierce, determined, loyal, charming but cocky, and unapologetic about all of it. Part of what’s made her those things, is trauma. There are a myriad of ways people grieve and grow. One alternative way to respond to trauma is demonstrated by Ash’s sister, Grete. These two sisters are loosely: fight and flight. While serious pain leads Grete to disavow the Mystic life, Ash’s resolve is only sharpened by it. But the best part: they accept each other’s different responses; both ways of being and reacting are okay. I dig that. It’s my favourite thing about both of them.
For the past 18 months, my family has been constantly on the move, so my routine consists of a scramble for space and time wherever we are while my kids are happily engaged, and in between animal chores (we currently house-sit full-time). I’ve written in libraries, on hallway floors, in beds, at desks, on decks, and standing at kitchen benches. A lot changes about what writing looks like, for me, but my constants are these: 1) sometimes social media is as good a treat as any; 2) power through blocks; and 3) the earlier in the day, the better.
I wish there was only one! Then maybe they’d roll out faster! The project getting the most type-time is a magical realism novel, set in contemporary New Zealand. I’ve also started writing a sequel to an earlier book I published (Unnatural) – those poor characters have waited for their ending while Ash stole the stage, I do need to get back to them. A small revolt for more set in Mórlough is gaining traction though.
Sounds like a very Ash thing to do, stealing the stage 😌👌🏻 We forgive her for it though. But magical realism in NZ sounds amazing, am wishing you all the luck with it!! Now lastly! Was any chocolate harmed in the making of this novel? 😉
Oh no, I have to ease chocolate from its wrapper like a potter working at her wheel – with quiet finesse – else I’m descended upon by undeserving, ruthless scavengers. So, you see, my chocolate never comes to harm, it’s pampered until the very last. There’s no kinder way to go than in the hands of a gentle sneak.
AD | Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book for a review & feature!
In a world like ours, Mystics once ruled the night. Well, so long as they were men. On Ash’s day of naming, she chose the Mystic path nonetheless. The same illusions that garner gasps of awe from the lamp-lit crowds earn her scorn from the basilica. There is only one way forward: a perilous quest – earn the Queen’s Seal, a badge of honour, and immunity. She’ll simply have to avoid being hanged, burned or drowned first.