I am excited to introduce you to self published author Zara Alam creator of The Endless Sea. If ever there were the ultimate self publishee, she would be it. Zara is a dynamo! She is a one woman show who does EVERYTHING herself and is succeeding. Take note!
Why don’t you first tell us a little about yourself?
I’m just thrilled to do this, thank you so much Shelly. So, I grew up in Northwest London, but my parents come from a background that connects to India and its surrounding countries. When I was 9, I started at an unusual school that was arty and inspiring and had wonderful teachers; I was there till I was 18 and feel that that place has made me who I am. The school was removed from reality in a way, but it taught me to dream, to be creative, and aim high. It wasn’t all peaches and cream as I wasn’t popular, but then that fact probably feeds my work the most. When I started university (and realised that lots of people did want to be my friends) I studied Philosophy and Drama, because I knew deep down that both subjects would add to my writing, and if I had had the choice, I would have gone to drama school, but life had taken a different turn. In the years after that I did a Masters in Psychotherapy, not only because I was deeply interested, but because I knew it would really help me with my characters –but I didn’t tell anyone that at the time… Along the way, I loved learning about mythology, meditation, psychological astrology and am a Nigella Lawson disciple, as her books taught me how to bake, cake for the soul...
Did you always possess a passion for writing? When did you have the epiphany that you actually wanted to publish your work?
I knew that I wanted to write a book when I finished university at 21, but my passion for writing started when I was 14, I had a great English teacher, and felt very inspired and encouraged by my classes at school. From 14 to 16 it was all creative stuff that we had to do for our coursework, like write a short story in the style of the book we were studying, and many of the novels and plays we did, from Tess of the D’Urbervilles to Cherie and King Lear are mentioned in The Endless Sea as things that my characters are studying at night school, not to mention that my old English teacher is immortalized in there too, I owed him that much – but I haven’t told him yet.
You are very passionate about art and nature, how do you draw inspiration from this?
Art and Nature constantly affect me, from all the paintings I’ve ever seen to every spiked and blooming rose bush I pass, they both stir my soul and have an energy that is contagious, always wonderfully forcing its way into my work. Keen favourites are works by Rossetti and Waterhouse.
How have you gained the courage to let love and heartbreak inspire your work?
Ha –it wasn’t courage, it was fury. Let’s start from the beginning: I have always been fascinated by the nature of love, studied Jung and learned all about one version of it there, and Freud of course had other things to say, my ragged love life made me hunt for answers to what binds us, to what we seek to cling to, and what tears us apart – all inspiring to me in itself. When I had to experience loss in this area, I did not mean to let it inspire me, or even let it drive me, I had no idea that was happening at the time.
The Endless Sea can be classified as a literary thriller, in essence it is about betrayal and love being imperfect, but here is a rough sketch of the plot for you:
There is a worldwide embargo on travel, and London is on lockdown, as a far off disease in a distant land is trying to be nipped in the bud. Yet Luc still drives into London from France to start a new job for the British government, hoping to start a new life after losing his mother in the last year.
Luc then reconnects with his old childhood friends in London, but these same friends have secrets that they have kept from Luc for his whole life and for generations, but which now weave into the very department that Luc has started to work at.
Soon, Luc stumbles upon things at work that show that his friends with so many secrets are in danger, and he tries to save them, while at the same time he falls in love with Mer, a woman next door who lives alone in a magnificent house, who tries so hard not to let him get too close…
Where did you the inspiration for this come from?
When I was 21 years old, I knew some people that have left an indelible mark on me; in fact the three main male characters in the novel are based on these people in looks and manner. But it’s a lot more than that, I was really enthralled by the bonds that male friendships can have, and also enchanted by a life they seemed to have lived in the past as they grew up together, so there was a seed sown during the time I spent with these people, and then I wanted very much to talk about apathy. There is much reference in the novel to World War II and I wanted to contrast this with what I felt was a lack of fire amongst many these days, to value their freedom, to fight for a better life and to cherish the relatively easy life we have in the West now compared to the past, it was what all those soldiers died for. And so, the secret organisation in the novel that tries to create some justice, was born.
Why did you name your story The Endless Sea and what meaning does it carry behind it?
The title came right at the end, after I was finished. I tried to be calm and take a deep breath and it came to me, because it was only after I’d written the final chapter did it make sense. The idea of an endless sea represents that feeling of boundlessness, of infinity, otherworldliness, of feeling connected to something that fully nourishes you; love and passion can feel like this. But this feeling is also dangerous in a way, as it is not compatible with what we perceive as our earthly ‘limited’ reality. And so, this feeling is how Luc loves the main female character Mer, and it is what gives his decisions grace.
Your work is heavily influenced by Art Nouveau, and the power of nature. How does this translate through to your work and why is it so imperative to your book?
The themes of Art Nouveau are secretly woven into the book in description and characterisation. These include: Innocence, purity, sin, magical poetic qualities which evoke nature and the cycles of life, with lastly, the idea of the ‘Nouvelle Woman’ a new liberated woman. All these ideas are also archetypal concepts which fit well with my mythological motifs through the novel too. Both mythology and Art Nouveau I find utterly beautiful, and in the case of the latter the original idea was that industrialisation could be reformed through beauty, that Nature’s logic is impeccable and thus it completely demolishes man’s arrogance. Hence, my main point is that in a horrible, brutal, unkind world, beauty can heal us, save us, and Nature can guide us better than our sorry selves.
How did you go about writing your book? What is your planning process (if you have one)
Oh God, how I love stationery. First I write ideas, main plot, main points of the characters I want, and what the feel of the novel should be. All of this involves the café and doodles and soya cappuccinos. When I feel I have it all there in ‘scene’ form on pen and paper, however out of order, I then put it in order, and create a character page: one page for each with everything I know about them, even with a symbol if it helps. I also create a list of what happens in the plot, and have to resift all my café work to make it fit in at the right time in the plot. Then I write the skeleton, and hammer it out on the computer. Once I have a skeleton, some writing down, I can fix it, and that is what I do, I embroider it until it sings.
It came organically, and then on edits and rereads I would feel that there may be more tension needed, or more trouble for Luc etc.
Tell me about the characters and how you came up with them?
Initially they come from what they stand for in a very distilled way, for example Luc is not perfect but he stands for purity, Clara stands for passion and abandon, I get the need for an essence of something first and then I put flesh on their bones, and as I said earlier, some people just brand themselves onto your mind and you have to make them characters. Some of my characters are an homage to people I have met, and what I found in them.
How did you balance the spy aspects, the mystery and romance?
This was very technical and at the editing stage I looked for weight: The Endless Sea was never supposed to be a Spy Novel in the classic sense, so I made sure that these two aspects wove together and that the balance was right with each chapter, and how they fit together.
I can’t believe that you drew your own artwork for your book! You are so talented! Why did you do this and what meaning does it have to you?
One day I drew a picture inspired by my novel, then I drew a few more. The main picture on the cover of my book is of the sun containing the moon, about to be engulfed by waves, when I drew this I had no idea that I was symbolising the concepts of Luc/the Sun/hero and Mer- whose name means the moon, and the idea of the waves/feeling/emotion engulfing them into an endless sea. But I liked it. I really wanted to have my own artwork on the cover of my novel or a photo that I took, I feel that my novel is a whole package, my hard work inside and out, and I wanted the outside to correctly reflect the inside.
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
So far I am pleased to say that the spectrum has ranged from a very grown up and professional male lawyer to an avid contemporary and literary fiction reading woman, and both have loved it. I think anyone who likes Isabelle Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Angela Carter (my absolute hero) would like it, also anyone who likes the feeling of lushness, heady prose, mythological motifs, deep feelings and something stylised rather than hum drum.
You have self published your book and I was wondering why you went down this route?
First I tried the traditional route, and it was such a learning curve, I learned through experience and also from reading the Writers and Artists Yearbook, that agents take on writing for reasons far beyond whether it’s any good or not, often they are looking for obvious writing that fits either the mould they want to easily sell or worse the type that fits in with the image of their company. I however received two of the most fabulous rejections ever from massive literary agents, one of them, The Blair Partnership,(who represent J.K. Rowling) was so encouraging and enthusing about my work, even though they couldn’t take me on that it gave me heart; apparently literary agents don’t say nice things unless they mean it. So then a person floated into my life that really encouraged me to self-publish, so I took it as a sign and went for it. The freedom it gives me, where do I begin, just being my own boss, presenting my work as I want to, marketing how I desire. Just wonderful. I know it’s risky, but here I am, I can’t help myself.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers about releasing a self-published book and marketing it yourself?
Social media, yes vital, but also create some nice cards with not only info about your book and where to get it but also a quote, or picture or something that catches the imagination, this you give to people after they ask you: where can I get your book? Which will happen a lot socially if you make a good impression, even when you are not meaning to talk about your book. Also please, please get your own ISBN number, never ever go for a so called ‘free’ one; if you don’t have your own, then they own you. And lastly, if you are hard enough on yourself about how you craft, then don’t become a victim of every person who is negative about your writing or your possibilities, be brave about your work, if you love it, if you are sure it’s good enough, then fight for it. If we all listened to nay sayers there would be no innovation, and no magic…
Thank you Zara, this has been a great interview! You are seriously a superstar and a literary mogul and I wish you the best success! I hope that you continue spreading your gift of both writing and art; it is something the world truly needs!
If you want to hear more from Zara and watch her go from strength to strength, you can follow her on her other accounts:
- Instagram: @zaraalam_autho
- Facebook: The Endless Sea
- Twitter: @zara_alam
- Webpage: www.zara-alam.com
- Email: email@example.com
- You can also find her book on Amazon:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Endless-Sea-zara-alam/dp/099312030X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432836642&sr=1-1&keywords=zara+alam