Lee Murray’s Speculative Fiction Show - Ashley L Knight
Welcome to Lee Murray’s New Zealand Speculative Fiction Show, an interview series featuring star acts from NZ’s science fiction, fantasy and horror community, including news, insights, and sneak-peeks of their latest performances.
Today’s guest is author the lovely Ashley L Knight, AKA The Mermaid Lady, author of the Fins trilogy, Falwyn: A Fairytale, and several spine chilling collaborative thrillers. Welcome Ashley!
It is a pleasure to have been invited, thank you. You’re a true child of the world after being born in Bahrain, then living in England, Spain, the United States, and now New Zealand. Have your experiences living in other countries and cultures influenced your writing? In what way?
I believe it has. One can’t travel and not be affected by the experiences encountered. It makes us grow as human beings. You become sensitive to other cultures and begin to develop differing points of view rather than the one you have learned from your family. Travel forces you out of your little comfort box, pushes you to find deeper meaning within yourself, and opens your eyes to the world that is ripe with possibilities. It is crucial to those who desire more, to those who wish for experiences that will alter their perceptions and preconceived notions.
Travel is more than just going on a trip. It exposes you to an endless variety of lifestyles, cututres, unique foods, beauty only God Himself can create, and opens your eyes to endless possibilities of whom you may become. It literally is life-changing.
My time in New Zealand has helped me become more grounded in who I am. I am stronger for it and more confident in my abilities. I am becoming the person I was meant to be and I’m grateful for it. I believe this will and already has influenced my writing considerably. One can begin with Fins – my first book – and end up reading Argo – my last book – and see a significant change in style and maturity in the writing. Travel is a huge part of that change for me.
Is it true that you worked as a professional mermaid? What did that en-tail? (excuse the pun!) Does that mean you cosplayed for a living? That sounds fantastic. We’re all so jealous!
I am known around the world as The Mermaid Lady. I have been a mermaid since the age of five and have been a professional mermaid for over eight years.
It does not have anything to do with cosplay as I have incorporated it into my daily life. Mermaiding is more a lifestyle and a way of living than simply putting on a costume for the day. Being a professional mermaid is more than that: I wish people would understand that a bit more. I have had a lot of experience doing it: starting off with tying up my legs to swim properly while bound, learning proper breathing techniques to stay down longer, learning business practices from Walt Disney World, beginning a mermaid company and making the business a success, working with other professionals, modelling, acting, scuba diving, free diving, working with dangerous animals in aquariums and in the open ocean. I also educate children on the importance of caring for our oceans and the necessity of treating this world as yours because once you do that, you care more for the earth. I work with organisations such as Make A Wish. I volunteer. I have been featured on websites, in newspapers, magazines, radio talk shows, filming and documentaries. I also work with budding new photographers to help them improve their portfolio. This is far more than heaving on a tail and getting a glamour shoot done. It is a lot of hard work and it takes time building your business and identity as a mermaid up. It doesn’t happen overnight as many believe.
Which came first, the Fins trilogy or your role as a mermaid? Did one inspire the other?
I started writing and mermaiding at the same time – age five. In 2010, Fins was published. The book is based loosely on the relationship between my husband and I. Much of the banter and the love the two main characters have for each other is us. I wanted to market my books while on my book tour in the United States and because of my training with Disney, knew that having a character to go with me would open the doors to children. I asked my friend, Annie, to be my mermaid and she toured with me. People brought their children to meet the mermaid and buy the book. It was a huge success.
After the tour, I decided to start my business as The Mermaid Lady. I promoted myself, spoke to local businesses and began with children’s birthday parties. It then progressed to working with businesses, water parks, aquariums, which quickly expanded to modeling jobs around the world. When we moved to NZ, I continued to work sporadically and signed up with the National Aquarium of New Zealand for two years as their mermaid. Right now, I have pulled back and started focusing on my writing a bit more.
My love of mermaiding and swimming as one came first. Then the Fins Trilogy. It has all flowed together quite nicely. I will never retire the tail for good.
Can you share a short excerpt?
Here is a bit from “Fallen” – a short story I’ve had in the works a while:
At first there was nothing – just the static lull of white noise.
Then came the stench.
The unrecognizable smell permeated his senses, forcing him into consciousness. Was it oil, perhaps? A strange, raspy noise raised the hair on the back of his neck and his world slowly swirled into view. He lay on the ground - in an alley, more precisely – and the awful noise was coming from his own lungs.
Lying askew, his body strangely contorted, his face was pressed into the filth of the street. Blackened water dripped off the end of his nose as he lifted his head. And then, the pain rippled through him, taking his breath away. Something had to be broken: his back. He hesitated, afraid to move and then the pungent smell
from the rotting dumpster forced him to vomit.
Lightning blazed across the gray sky – an ominous sign of the impending storm. Shifting his arm from underneath his chest, he cried out as the sharp prick of broken vertebrae made him collapse back into the foul dirt. And the rain began to fall intermittently like an old man spitting from the rooftops.
He wiped his hand across his mouth and drew back in alarm. Streams of dried blood ran from under the sleeves of his coat, coursing along the valleys in-between his knuckles and down the ends of his fingers. Shaking, he pushed the heavy sleeves back revealing terrible scaring along his arms. The white lines zigzagged every inch of his flesh. Thunder boomed overhead, startling him and shifting his focus. He had to get up.
Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to his feet, his body screaming in agony. Barely able to find the strength to stand, he reached for the brick building as the alley swung about him like a ship at sea. With both hands pressed against the wall, he hung his head and stared at the mud squishing around his feet; he was barefoot. Rivers of red disappeared between his toes. The hem of the coat smudged the rain droplets, creating a rainbow of burgundy against his pale skin.
“Jesus,” he cried, ripping at the buttons and opening the coat to reveal a white blood-soaked shirt and drawstring pants. Frantic, he lifted his shirt, searching for further injuries, but there was nothing - nothing but zigzag scars highlighting his skin.
The heavens opened and the rain fell in a curtain of water, soaking him completely. Shivering, he pulled the coat around him and searched the alley for signs of a fight, for evidence that someone had been hurt. The decrepit dumpster lay on its side at the end – its contents thrown up along the street. The black trash bags looked swollen and rotten, like putrid bodies littering a battlefield.
He turned and emptied the contents of his stomach until it ached. Leaning against the brick, he gasped for breath, his knees threatening to buckle. Using the wall, he slowly walked out to the street.
A great lover of the water – you’re The Mermaid Lady, after all ‒ you also love walking in the forest ‒ the inspiration for your novel, Falwyn. If you could live the rest of your life in one place or the other which would you choose: the ocean or the forest? Why?
Let’s face it: if I could be a mermaid and breathe underwater, I would live in the ocean forever. As I am not full mermaid, I would choose to live in a forest on the edge of the ocean. Water relaxes me. I feel centered when I am in it. It is definitely my element. However, I love the smell of tree sap on the wind and the sound of branches rustling against each other. I love the play of light through the forest on a sunny day. I love the call of squirrels as they leap from branch to branch playing tag. Yet the ocean always calls to me. I’d like to have both, please!
Which is yummier: Pumpkin pie or pavlova? Meat pies or green bean casserole? S’mores or ice cream Trumpets?
This is odd, but I loathe pumpkin pie, yet adore pumpkin cake. I like pavlova very much, but the hardened meringue on top hurts my teeth when I bite into it and that alone has turned me off it. The taste is exquisite.
Meat pies – awesome. AS is green bean casserole.
I don’t like s’mores much and I’ve never had an ice cream trumpet. But I love ice-cream!
See what travel does to you??? On the whole, I think I love food a little too much. It’s starting to show. Ha ha!
When it comes to your writing, you’re equally at home as a writer of YA speculative fiction, a poet, a thriller writer ‒ with titles written in collaboration with thriller heavyweights David Wood and Steve Saville ‒ and, more recently, as a writer of devotionals. Do you think it’s important to settle on a specific brand or genre of book?
Most authors will tell you to focus on one genre. I’m still feeling my way about, to be honest. I think your tastes can vary as you grow. If you find your niche, by all means, go with it. As long as you enjoy writing it. The moment it feels like a slough to write, I will be finished with writing.
I am quite eclectic in all my tastes. For instance, I listen to Metallica and Marilyn Manson, yet adore ABBA and Enya. I also listen to opera. That’s a huge variety! I appreciate all the genres of writing and will write what interests me. Young adult fantasy fiction is really fun, but I have moved on to thrillers. I also write action adventure. Seeking God was not something I thought of; it came to me. I was compelled to write the daily Christian devotional and the words seemed to flow prophetically from me. That was an entirely new experience in itself!
Is genre even important?
It’s important to those who read it and to those who write it. It’s important to those who wish to separate them at the library.
Any genre you haven’t written in yet that you hope to tackle one day?
Non-fiction. Although, Seeking God might be considered that. I’d like to tackle a biography someday. I have a great reverence for history and believe it is important to remember the past.
Which genre is the most challenging to write in your view?
I believe writing a help book for others would be incredibly difficult because try as you might, you can’t please everyone. Everyone is unique and has their own opinions on every matter. I would be concerned that I may offend or give them the wrong advice.
Falwyn is, at its heart, a fairy tale. These never seem to fall out of favour. In your view, what’s the appeal of fairy tales that makes them so popular?
The appeal is escapism. Anything can happen in fairy tales. You are not bound by reality. It also makes for very easy writing. Many first-time authors begin with this genre because they don’t have to find a practical way to figure things out when the writing gets tough. It can be construed as lazy writing because of this. I tend to think of it as imaginative.
That Lara Dupree is quite the character, isn’t she? A feisty non-nonsense heroine. Did you deliberately set out to write an independent female protagonist, or did it just happen?
That’s a lovely compliment, especially as I wrote me. Or rather, me at the time of the writing. I have grown since then. I did start out with her in mind as the main character. My mother always taught me to be strong and self-sufficient and I believe those characteristics played out in Lara.
We’ve had mermaids and werewolves, witches, wizards, vampires and dragons. What’s the next big thing in YA speculative fiction, do you think?
I’d really like to see something not quite so obvious. Perhaps something from the older tales – the stranger tales. Something like the manticore, or nephillim, or dryads. I tire of zombies and witches. I like original. I like “never seen before” so I am hoping that the next big thing is something we haven’t seen. Hopefully, one of my WIPs, “Kyne”, will be that. :)
One of my favourite words is spooling. I love the way it falls off my tongue. It makes me think of the steam that curls and spools from my mother’s teacup. Do you have a favourite word?
I’m afraid there are too many to choose from. I think the French have it down pat – I could listen to them speak all day long. I enjoy agape, plethora, and my own word: palantheer.
You’ve been writing since before you were a teen. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you offer young writers embarking on a writing career?
I would advise them to write all the time. When they are angry, sad, in love, happy, or can’t find anything to write about. Once you slow down and take a break, it can enable you to take more and more and soon, it’s been a year since you’ve written anything and you feel as if you’ve lost your edge. I’m speaking from experience here. Write, write, write! Do not care what anyone will think. Be you and write you.
Growing up, what were your favourite books?
I found Greek Mythology enchanting and exciting. I also adored unusual fairy tales. I still own a few of my childhood books including my beloved, “The World of Fairy Tales” retold by Vladimir Kovarik, translated by Stephen N. Finn. This book has incredibly fascinating tales such as “The Magic Fishbone” by Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant”, “The Princess of the Shining Star” by Francois-Marie Luzel, and “The Golden Apple Tree and the Nine Peahens” by Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic.
I can recall grabbing my books, stopping briefly at the freezer to get myself a bowl of ice-cream and laying on the deck in the sun, slowly eating ice-cream and reading until the sun turned my skin bright pink. That was heaven to me as a child.
We know from your books that you love to read about legends and mythology. Did any particular story or legend discovered during your time in Aotearoa touch you?
The legend of Pania of the Reef was beautiful. I am a romantic at heart and tales of such are always a delight to me. I also really enjoyed the story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai.
Tell us about your current WIP? When can we expect to see it in the bookshops?
I am finishing a contemporary thriller and hope to have it to my publisher, Kent Holloway, in November. It would be lovely to see “Five” on shelves in the beginning of 2019, but things are never so set in the publishing industry. I have attached the cover and synopsis for you below.
What is the biggest take-away from your time in New Zealand?
The biggest take-away for my personally is how much I have grown spiritually and mentally here in New Zealand. I am happy with the person I am becoming and that is of huge comfort to me.
Best of luck, Ashley. We’ve been so pleased to have you with us as part of our speculative fiction community.
I have enjoyed my time with you immensely. Thank you for making me feel so welcome.
Ashley Knight is a wife, mother of two, author, publisher, mermaid, and lover of cats. :-P www.ashleyknight.us