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Author Interview: K.M. Allan

October 13, 2020
K.M. Allan

Welcome to a new author interview. Today I have the absolute pleasure of interviewing K.M. Allan author of the Blackbirch series.

I rub my hands together. It’s been a while since I was able to go out to meet an author. I feel strangely paranoid. But perhaps that is this place? The town has a lovely little touristy flavour. I even spotted some unique shops that I must come back to explore further. The air is cool. My breath appears as ghostly white plumes from my mouth as I breathe. I should have brought a scarf. I’m now heading down to our meeting place. The walk is lovely. A forest of trees greets me as I walk. My note says to keep walking. Soon I am surrounded by trees. They should give off a spooky vibe but to me, there is a strange warmth to them. It feels like love. Strange. I find her in a clearing.

Hi K.M.! Thanks for coming.

First up, tell us a bit about yourself. I understand you are a twin (but not the evil one… though wouldn’t the evil one say that?) How do you spend your day? What does your twin think about your writing?

Hehe, yes, the evil one would say they aren’t the evil twin, but that’s not the case here, I swear! Writing is currently my full-time job, before that, I wrote hair and beauty articles for a virtual hairstyling website, which set me up well for launching and maintaining my writing blog. In my free time, I watch a lot of movies and TV, and I like to take photos. I’m not the first writer in the family. I have a great grandfather who wrote a book that’s in the National Library in Sydney, and my uncle is a playwright. It’s definitely something that runs on my dad’s side of the family. My twin is my alpha reader and gets to read drafts before anyone else. She knows what happens in the rest of the Blackbirch series and has already told me I need to re-write the ending for the fourth and final book, which clearly makes her the evil twin.

She knows what happens next? Arghhhhhhhhh. *must find her and take her for coffee* Ahem, where was I? Tell me about your writing… What age were you when you started?

I do remember writing terrible first drafts of books in high school and giving them to friends to read, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, so writing was part of my life before then too. It all stemmed from being a big reader as a kid.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at, and I’ve just always loved stories and words.

What was your favourite book as a child and why?

I can’t remember a specific book, but I do remember devouring The Baby-Sitters Club series when I was a kid. When they released the recent Netflix series, it made me realise how much I’d learnt about life by reading those books.

Oh my gosh, I borrowed every babysitters club book from my local libraries when I was a kid! So, what about your favourite book as an adult?

Am I allowed to say my own? My favourite is the second book in my series, Blackbirch: The Dark Half. When I finished writing that book, it was the first time I felt like I’d created something I was happy with. I enjoyed the first book too, but for me, the story doesn’t start until the second book, and it contains the scene that inspired the idea of the series in the first place, so it’ll always be a favourite of mine.

Tell me a bit about your Blackbirch Series? Perhaps starting with Book One… Blackbirch: The Beginning. Where did you get the idea?

As I’ve just mentioned in the last answer, book two has the scene that kickstarted the idea of the series for me, so after having this vague idea of a series set in a witchy town with all these characters, I needed book one to really be about introducing those characters. It all kicks off with Josh Taylor moving back to the town where he was born after his parents died in what he thought was a simple car accident. That, and many things about his life, turns out to be untrue, so the first book is about exploring that. Josh discovers he has an ancient magical power in his veins which gives him the gift of strength, and that there are other people out there who have power too, mainly a girl called Kallie who visits him in his dreams. The rest of the series goes on to discover more about the power and where it came from. There’s some surprising twists and connections along the way, and danger from others who want to take the power from Josh and Kallie. They are helped by Josh’s friends Max and Sarah, and there’s some romance in there too.

Tell me about Josh? Is he modelled off anyone?

No one in particular. He was one of those characters that just evolved on the page. He starts off angry with the world over everything that has happened to him, but then as he comes to realise the truth of his parents accident and who his mother really was, he lets that anger go and just tries to keep everyone safe.

What about Eve? And Sarah?

Eve is very much my teenage self and is someone who just wants to do things her way. I was surprised how much readers took to her, with a few telling me she’s their favourite character. Sarah is the goody two shoes type who just wants to be involved.

And the town of Blackbirch? Is this a pure invention or did you base it on a small town you know?

It’s a mix of both invention and inspiration from the places I’ve lived. There’s an industrial section which is like the suburb I grew up in in Sydney, and the trees surrounding the town are inspired by where I live now, which is in Melbourne. There’s lots of greenery in “The Garden State” hehe. I also framed Blackbirch as a highway tourist town based on years of commuting by car from Sydney to Melbourne, and now Melbourne to Sydney.

Indeed there is a lot of greenery in good old, weather crazy Melbourne (and as a Melbournite I know it intimately! haha. So, I love the worldbuilding in this story. Tell me about the magic in this world… where did you get your inspiration?

It was again one of those things that just came out as I wrote the story. I’ve been working on this whole series since 2001, so how specific things came about has faded from my memory, but it’s all in my original drafts, which I’m currently editing into the final/published drafts. The characters don’t know much about the magick because any info has been purposely destroyed. What little they do know is that the power is the original source of magick in the world and that it was split amongst all things living. Anyone who has enough of this magick can manifest a unique “gift”, something that is specific to them. Without revealing anything too spoiler-y, there’s strength, manifesting fire, illusions, healing, and making words magical—and that’s just the first two books! There are more powers as the series goes on, and who they belong to is something that will be revealed in book 3 and 4.

What are you hoping your readers take away from this story?

Josh starts the story very much on his own, Eve has made it so that she’s on her own, and Kallie has been forced to be on her own. As the series goes on, they all come to realise that there are just certain things you can’t go through by yourself, and having help from others, or finding an inner strength, can get you through what life throws at you. I hope that’s something that gets taken away from the books.

What about Book two? Blackbirch: The Dark Half… Can you tell me a little about book two?

Since I’ve rambled about some of it already, I’ll go all in here. It literally picks up where book one ends, and if you thought the cliff-hanger for book one wasn’t fair, wait until you get to the last page of book two. It was so fun to write. In book two, we get to know Kallie Jacobs, who appeared in Josh’s dreams in the first book. He wasn’t sure she was a real person, and when he finds out that she is, he also discovers how she came to have her own power, and its connection to his own family. There’s also a murderous professor (who was mentioned in book one), who is trying to complete a spell that will unlock a magical crystal. There’s a few good twists in this book, which blindsided all my beta readers, and going by some of the reviews I’ve received so far, it was the same for readers, which makes me really happy as a writer who loves a good twist.

What is your writing process?

I am not a planner at all, so my process is just starting with an opening sentence and seeing where it takes me. I like to reverse outline after I’ve done the first draft, just to see if what I’ve got on paper makes sense and to get an idea of what needs to be added, removed or re-arranged. Then, I’ll draft again until I have something for betas, then draft again based on their feedback. After that comes the editing drafts, which I have a love/hate relationship with. Removing extra words needs to be done, but it’s pretty tedious. When I’ve gotten to the point that I can no longer stand reading the MS, I know the book is done!

How long did it take you to write book one? And Book 2 – was it any easier?

I started working on the first draft in 2001, and I didn’t publish the book until 2020, so a long time hehehe. There was about six years where I didn’t work on the series in there, and the first drafts of the story have a lot of elements that aren’t in the published version. For instance, Sarah at one point was Josh’s neighbour as opposed to the published version where he lives with her and her mum. And in an early draft, Josh’s father was still alive. Eve even had her own coven of friends, which isn’t something that happens in the published drafts. Writing different story variants and drafts took years, but the drafts that will be the published books have really come together in the last five years. It probably takes about a year for me to take one of my initial drafts and edit and re-write it until it’s the draft that will become the book. As for book two being easier to write, because it was the story I liked the most, it was. The easiest draft, however, was the fourth book. I wrote it in six weeks. I’d been thinking about the ending of the series for so many years, and already written down the first three books, so it just poured out. When I’m ready to start working what I have of that book into the final draft, I’m hoping it stays that easy.

I understand you are working on book three at the moment? How is that going? What can you tell us about it?

It’s going well. I was hoping to be further along with it than I am right now, but I think everyone’s 2020 plans got thrown out the window. This draft was last worked on in 2017, so I’m now having to make sure it lines up with everything in the first two books. Thankfully, the overall story is fine as is, it’s just making sure the writing and the character arcs are where they need to be. I can tell you that book three brings back Eve. She kind of disappears in book two, but there’s a reason for that and it all becomes painfully clear for Josh and his friends in book three. As usual, the main story will get resolved in book three and then something new will happen to carry the reader into book four.

What was your publishing journey like?

I was kind of thrown into publishing. After three years of querying, I was offered a small press contract for book one and spent almost a year waiting for the book to be edited and readied by them. About six weeks before the release date, it became apparent that there were issues behind the scenes, and when I was asked to sign a new contract, I opted to get my rights back and not proceed with them. Because I’d been talking about this book on my blog for three years already, and I was more than ready to get it out into the world, I decided to self-publish and tried my best to stick to the original release deadline. That meant learning how to format books, get a cover created, and working out which publishing platform to use ASAP. It took about a month from the time I made the decision to publish to get the book out, and I wouldn’t recommend that process to anyone. Now that I know how to do it, it doesn’t take that long once I have a final draft ready, but I try to allow for at least two months just so I can get ahead with promotion ideas and marketing graphics, and to have everything ready to roll. I’m a bit of a control freak, so self-publishing has been something I enjoy. At the same time, there’s no one accountable but you, so you really have to be happy to do everything and to watch for burn-out.

Wow, that’s so impressive! What advice would you give to someone wanting to write a book?

Find the process that works for you. There are parts of writing that are so fun, and parts that feel like the biggest task in the world. If you’re trying to achieve those things with a plan you didn’t come up with, sticking it out becomes a chore. If you don’t like planning what to write, don’t. If you can’t put down a word until you know what’s going to happen in every chapter, then that’s how you write. The only person who can get the book written is you, so do it your way, and enjoy it!

 Fantastic advice! Thank you so much for your time today K.M. Allan! It was lovely speaking with you.

I wave goodbye and wander back through the forest of incredible blackbirch trees. I feel warmer here but as soon as I step out the icy cold returns. I peer back over my shoulder but she has disappeared. Weird. A shiver runs over my skin and I tremble. Time to head home. I’m shocked when I reach town. Night has fallen. Huh? I didn’t think we’d been chatting for so long…

You can find K.M. Allan at the below links.

Her books are available online and you can read more about them via the below links.

You can also read my review of book one Blackbirch: The beginning here (I’m reading book two so that review will go up as soon as I finish it.)

  1. Wow, is just right. Great interview, KM is so positive and inspirational.

  2. Forest clearings are one of my favorite spots!
    This was such a fun way to get to know K.M. more.
    Very insightful for fellow writers.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Review – Blackbirch: The Dark Half by K.M Allan | Rambles, writing and amusing musings

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