The Writer's Life with Melissa Coleman
- Tom Linkins
- On March 16, 2020
Airships, and automatons and German spies — oh my!
Adventure hits hard and fast in Melissa Coleman‘s latest release. Upon losing yourself in the first few pages of The Hidden City of Alchemy you’ll be plunged into the bowels of a French abbey and learn of a collective tasked with defending one of the world’s longest kept secrets. Newest member to the taskforce is Albert, described as an irresistible and “sexy French guy.” Need I say more?
Shortly thereafter, Albert is united with Lizzie; a rebellious, daring and ambitious young woman who manages to stand out in a sea of gutsy YA heroines thanks to Coleman’s witty and giggle-inducing prose. After Lizzie’s mother is abducted by German spies her and Albert’s lives are thrust into turmoil. And if there’s anything that adds flame to the fire of a budding romance, it’s turmoil.
As the duo race through 1920s Paris and London (given gritty steampunk makeovers by Coleman) their role in the secret Albert is sworn to protect begins to reveal itself, and threatens to change everything Lizzie thought she knew about herself.
The Hidden City of Alchemy promises readers romance, adventure and suspense, set in an exciting and fantastical steampunk world conjured by the wild imagination of Melissa Coleman.
In Conversation with Coleman.
The Creative Issue sat down with Melissa Coleman to talk books, finding inspiration and her life as a writer.
The Creative Issue: What are you reading at the moment?
Melissa Coleman: Matthew Riley’s The Four Legendary Kingdoms. He’s one of my favourites.
TCI: Do you find that what you’ve been reading or doing lately somehow finds its way into your work? Or at least inspires it?
MC: It does inspire it. Especially Matthew Riley; most of his chapters are full of action. It’s usually a good place to start looking at how to write action scenes by reading his books, I think. I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from his writing to do with action scenes in my book, Hidden City of Alchemy, because he just writes them so well.
TCI: Do you have any other touchstone authors or works you return to for guidance or inspiration?
MC: Neil Gaiman. I love reading his books. His imagination is just wild. I pick up lots of little bits from his writing. You know; what could I do with that, or how could I write about something like that? It makes me think of where my imagination can lead me.
TCI: A lot of author’s writing practices are shrouded in rituals and habits; waking up early to write, writing in certain rooms, editing in others, and so on. We’d love to hear you talk a little about your own rituals and writing habits.
MC: Well, I usually sit in my lounge room on my big couch — it’s so big, I really sink into it. I’ll have my laptop and a tea or coffee, and then I just write. I usually wake up, stupidly, at 2am – ugh it’s so annoying – and work on my novels til about 4 or 5. Luckily I don’t have an office job haha.
TCI: On top of being a novelist, you’re also a freelance writer and PR manager. How do you divide the time? And more importantly, how do you reserve enough energy for writing with the time comes?
MC: So I usually do my freelance writing and PR work all day. From about 9am to 3 or 4pm. Anything creative I’ll do outside of those hours. I also make sure to incorporate exercise into my everyday for a source of energy. It helps with my mind; getting out there and getting fresh air. Add that to my list of rituals.
TCI:What do you do when writer’s block strikes, or you find yourself struggling to move past a plot-point?
MC: I exercise, I go shopping – you know, retail therapy! I actually had [writer’s block] a few times whilst writing The Hidden City of Alchemy. One time it was really bad. It took me months to get over that one. It wasn’t for lack of trying or being inspired. It just didn’t connect with me, so eventually I had to go back and change the story a bit.
TCI: The Hidden City of Alchemy takes place in a fantastical reality that blends elements of our own with sci-fi and steampunk. A brief glance at your author bio suggests that you’re no stranger to world-building; what is your process of researching these elements and devising these worlds?
MC: Research takes a fair bit of time before I even start writing. I’ve actually started researching my next book already. So I’ll use journals and Google Scholar for more precise information, and reading, documentaries and audiobooks to help me get into the mind-space for the world.
TCI: This one’s just for fun; do you ever find yourself dreaming about the worlds or characters you’ve created?
MC: Oh my God, yes! So crazy! In my collection of short stories, A Confabulated Compendium of Anecdotes, there’s one called ‘War Machine’. I actually dreamt it and then wrote it down the next day. And when I wrote The Halfling I would dream about all the crazy things the characters could do; a few elements found their way into the book.
TCI: As a hub for young writers it would be remiss of us not to ask if you have any advice for the rest of us getting started with our craft?
MC: Develop your own style of writing. They way I did it was from reading other people’s books. When you first start writing you always seem to have elements of your favourite authors in your work. But overtime if you keep writing and practicing, daily, on different topics – not just what you want to write about – then you start to develop your own voice as a writer. Just never stop writing; it’s a muscle you have to keep exercising.