Please welcome Sammy H.K. Smith to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Anna was published on May 25, 2021 by Solaris.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Sammy: Thank you so much for having me! *waves*
Oh wow, this is a great question and I remember my first fully formed story so well! I was about 9 years old and it was a story about a group of kids who found magical stones that transported them to a world where an evil witch was trying to capture and cook them. They had to smash the stones with a hammer from a wood fairy to stop the witch and of course they succeeded and everyone was safe (such an intense story! Oh the peril!). Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of it any more but I really remember sitting at the desk in Primary School writing it out and drawing accompanying pictures. Ahhhh, the nostalgia!
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Sammy: I’m definitely a hybrid. I have a rough story idea and an idea where I would like it to go and try to write out the key scenes and work from there. I find it easier to plot than pantz as with the latter I get myself caught into too many plot holes and corners!
I plotted out ANNA quite tightly, and only added in extra bits and pieces during editing.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Sammy: Time. I have 2 young boys (5 and 3), I work 50+ hours a week in the main job and also have a labour of love second job. Most days I get up at 6am and don’t get to sit down until 8pm and by then I’m knackered! I’d love a clone (or three!) to do my day to day work so I could sit and write…
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Sammy: I draw influence from everywhere, whether I realise it or not! With my fantasy novels I have a fondness for tropes – I know, I know, but I like the comfy feeling and the way my brain switches off. I love a good ‘chosen one’ story when there’s a bit of a twist, or a little bit of romance.
With my dystopia, I go for social commentary and emotions. They’re definitely darker and more hard-hitting.
TQ: Describe Anna using only 5 words.
Sammy: Terror, Journey, PTSD, strength, peace
A tale of feminine strength
TQ: Tell us something about Anna that is not found in the book description.
Sammy: This is an excellent question. The description of the book is deliberately vague, but Anna is a story of one woman dealing with her PTSD following traumatic sexual abuse and finding the strength to rebuild her confidence and self.
We didn’t want to paint the entire story on the blurb, and instead felt that readers would better connect and understand if they travelled with Anna on her journey, seeing and feeling what she did.
TQ: What inspired you to write Anna?
Sammy: I work in domestic and sexual abuse and come in contact with victims and survivors of rape, vicious assaults, coercive control and other heinous crimes on a daily basis. The majority of those I deal with are women (but I absolutely strongly stress that male victims occur and I feel their crimes as victims are hugely underreported, something I wish I could change).
These women have so much more strength than they ever realise, and yet nearly all of them try to blame themselves for the perpetrator’s actions by either suggesting they should have fought them off or not angered them in the first place. I wanted to write something to show readers that strength comes in many forms and that physically fighting isn’t the only response.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Anna?
Sammy: I really want to make it clear that I haven’t used any of my cases in this novel. All the events are fictitious, but I have taken that underlying mindset I mentioned above and weaved it into the novel, along with some of my own personal observations and experiences.
Anna is set in a near-future dystopia where world wars have ravaged the land. Fossil fuels are scarce and economies have crumbled. I researched the MAD doctrine, UV filter systems for eco homes that could survive without electricity, composting toilets, water tanks and similar. It was really interesting learning about the ‘shelf life’ of fuels if stored correctly, and reed bed sewage systems.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Anna.
Sammy: My cover was by the wonderful company ‘Head Design’.
I just love how it’s stark and striking. Just like the world she lives in and Anna’s actions. It isn’t the easiest novel to express in art but my editor Kate Coe absolutely nailed the themes and chose the best design from the excellent shortlist. It’s symbolic rather than a clear scene/theme from the novel, but I love the repeated bear trap design, too.
TQ: In Anna who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Sammy: Oooh. I think Nikky was the easiest – a fun, bubbly character who is naïve to a lot of hardship. I viewed her as a younger teenage version of myself (though Nikky is older) and recalled how I was around 17/18.
The hardest was Simon – a gruff cruel misogynist with an ulterior motive for everything he does. He (and my main antagonist) is perhaps the furthest away from my own beliefs and mindset, and so I would write sections, leave them, come back a few days later and make sure I was happy with the motivations and dialogue.
TQ: Does Anna touch on any social issues?
Sammy: The main thread of the novel is about sexual violence and the reactions of a victim to a perpetrator’s control and abuse, but there’s also the theme of power.
The power a perp has over their victim, the power of brute force, the power of government and controlling bodies brainwashing the masses. Power corrupts.
TQ: Which question about Anna do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Sammy: Why does the pace change so obviously in the three parts of the novel?
I’ve had so many comments about this and want to explain: part one is intense and terrifying, and Anna’s experiences mirror this. It’s quick, sharp, shocking and gives us little time to breathe. This is how Anna feels. Constant state of alert and unable to sit back and pause.
Part two is slower, the plot has moved on and so has Anna. She’s adjusting to the changes and like a cautious animal she’s slow and wary, finding her place in the world but still hyper-sensitive to everything around her and all the minute details of this new place.
Part three brings us somewhere between the two, she has found balance and resolution.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Anna.
“It’s not easy talking about stuff, but thank you for trying to make me feel welcome. One day I’ll be okay.”
“You’ll never be okay, Kate,” he murmured, “but you’ll learn to live with what happened and find some sort of peace.”
Adaptation, like creation and death, is one of nature’s imperatives, part of the perpetual cycle. The world has suffered, we’ve annihilated each other and yet we’ve adapted and moved on, and the land renews, it forgives.
TQ: What's next?
Sammy: I’m currently writing another book in the same world as Anna and exploring the themes of grief and bereavement alongside the duties of a carer and homemaker in a broken world. There’s a strong theme of family in this novel but I’m also touching on human trafficking, drugs, murder, whodunit, and a little romance! It’s tentatively called ‘Emma’.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Sammy: Thank you so much for this interview! It’s been so much fun ☺
Solaris, May 25, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 300 pages
A chilling feminist novel set in a near-future dystopia, Anna
explores the conflicts between selfhood and expectations, safety and
control, and the sacrifices we make for the sake of protection.
Beaten. Branded. Defiant.
Anna is a possession. She is owned by the man named Will, shielded from
the world of struggles by his care. He loves her, protects her, and then
breaks her. Anna is obedient, dutiful, and compliant. Anna does not
know her place in the world.
When she falls pregnant, Anna leaves her name behind, and finds the
strength to run. But the past – and Will – catch up with her in an
idyllic town with a dark secret, and this time, it’s not just Anna who
is at risk.
Sammy H.K Smith lives and works in Oxfordshire UK as a police detective. When not working she spends time with her children, husband and pets, renovates her house, and inadvertently kills plants. A keen writer and lover of all things science fiction and fantasy, she’s often found balancing a book, a laptop, a child, and a cat whilst watching Netflix. Follow Sammy on Twitter @SammyHKSmith.