Ksenia Anske quit her career in 2012 so that she could write full-time. Since then, her debut novel Siren Suicides has developed into a trilogy that's currently being edited, and writing it (and tweeting lots and lots about it) has helped her to access and write out some deeply painful personal memories.
After following her on Twitter for quite some time, I've decided to ask Ksenia for a little inside information on the writing itself. She is very open about her history and the emotions and experiences that fueled her first book (so do read her blog), but I wondered how exactly you can turn something so personal into a fictionalised form - and even show it to the world?
Here's what Ksenia had to say...
How do you create that necessary distance that makes your own experiences those of a fictional character?
I don't. I write the first draft based on my own experiences, and somewhere in the first third of it, or closer to the middle, the characters begin talking their own language. Then, through multiple drafts, each time I gain more and more distance from them, until they start living on their own.
At least, this was my experience while writing my first novel, Siren Suicides. Now that I'm writing my second novel, Rosehead, it seems like my characters live on their own from the very start. I think the key here is to simply write as many completed books as possible, to have this come to you naturally.
How do you fictionalise your own experiences – what elements do you choose, which do you leave out?
For me, it's all based on a feeling. I don't think about anything, I feel. If it feels right, I include it, if not, I don't. We've all had that feeling as writers, that nagging voice that says: "This just doesn't sound right." The key is to always pay attention to it, no matter how beautiful your own writing seems to you or how important the scene reads. If it doesn't belong, it doesn't belong, that's all there is to it.
Does writing about personal issues help you look at them from a different perspective, does it give you the idea you can finally control them - as a writer?
No, I have to dive deep into my pain, to be able to access it and write it out. It's painful, yet I feel lighter every day, as if via writing I shed it on paper. It's an amazing feeling, really.
Is this one of those “Write What You Know” things, you think?
Yes, although I would paraphrase it to say: "Write What You Feel."
In that same vein: How do you write what you don’t know?
It's very easy, again, you don't have to know any of it, you just have to feel. There are many similar situations in life that might involve different types of interactions, circumstances and characters, but have exactly the same emotional impact on you. This is where you dig, and if you haven't experienced a particular emotion, your readers will sniff you out easily. If you have, you can invent anything you want on top of it, your readers will accept it and believe your emotion.
How do you distort, stretch, blow up, magnify or turn elements up and down like a volume switch?
This is my favorite part. In my novel, I can exaggerate anything I want, and I don't have to feel guilty about it. I can go as crazy as I want, and in general it's related to my own experiences of course, so it's kind of like telling your friend how you jumped off a ten-storey building, when in reality it was no higher than three. The thrill!
Are your characters based on people you know or just plain fictional?
Of course they are all based on one, two or even three people at once - or just certain parts of them. Each character is borrowed from someone I've seen or interacted with. It could be a stranger I saw on the street once who was so remarkable that I wanted to know more about this person. I get the rest of that out of the blue, or whatever other place all ideas come from.
How do you select certain traits of someone you know and leave others?
It has to fit like a puzzle, because a set of characters in your novel has to be interesting and different enough to cause conflict and chemistry, just like with real people. I use my memory as a palette for that, drawing on my past or on the people I knew and know, "feeling" who would be clashing with whom absolutely spectacularly, or who would be absolutely boring.
If you'd like to know more about Ksenia Anske, the Siren Suicides image I borrowed from her, her writing, her inspiration, her novels or her many many inspirational, wacky, nonsensical or simply over the top tweets (there's a book of those too, you see), visit her web page: www.kseniaanske.com