A couple of weeks ago I got the fantastic chance to meet and talk to the author that’s come from wishing he could spend his primary school playtime inside writing to having his own book hitting the shelves in a few weeks’ time, Thomas Welsh. We met in a Starbucks in Glasgow one Monday and he and wouldn’t let me buy him a cappuccino until I insisted (I had hyped myself up about it the interview and the slightest misstep from plan, like not buying coffee, was a little harrowing). It was great finally getting to meet Thomas because I’ve been excited for his debut as an author Anna Undreaming for months now, but he confided that he’s still not sure whether or not he should say he’s an author or a novelist. He has been writing for a long time though, from pop culture articles to short stories and now he’s endeavouring on the second instalment of his own fantasy genre. I got to ask him all about it; the journey he’s been on with his writing and how it’s affected his life and I got to learn about the world of Anna Undreaming and where it will lead…
Pop culture with friends
Hailing from Wishaw, Thomas originally focussed his writing on the topics of pop culture; concentrating mostly on games with a little bit of film journalism on the side, he wrote for the likes of Unwinnable magazine. He centred his attention on the subject of pop culture, games and movies for around six or seven years when he realised that his attention should be turned to his dream of writing a book. As a massive fan of games, he loves the likes of Darkest Dungeon, Bloodborne, Dark Souls and TellTale Games The Wolf Among Us. He even spent time teaching games programming at Stow College and Glasgow Caledonian University.
Although he’d been wanting to write a book for around two years at this point, he realised that he hadn’t: “It was entirely possible that I wouldn’t write a book,” he said, so he got to it and began with a gift for his wife. A short story.
“The story didn’t really finish, it was just like a set-up, and she was like, can you write more?” Thomas told me. “I think that was all the encouragement I needed to keep going. That got me thinking, that if there’s one person that’s excited to read this, that was motivation for me to keep writing.” Thomas presented his short story to his wife, Nana, who he married in April 2017, as if from a “make believe author.” It was printed off to look like a real book. The love of this gift led Thomas to start doing what he’s been doing the last two years: writing short stories and his Metiks Fade trilogy, of which Anna Undreaming is the first part.
Although a lot has put Thomas off writing in the past, the one thing that has kept him going is having someone was keen to read what he wrote. “If you’ve got someone that you trust, and maybe even love, and they’re very supportive and positive…that’s all I needed, one person who was very supportive.” This encouraged him to keep on writing, and his own way of encouraging himself was to keep on writing as well, which just so happens to be his process for getting the work done. He doesn’t have a step by step guide on sitting down and writing and getting the job finished, he just does. He said that if he happens to be stuck on whatever he is writing one day, he’ll go back and rewrite what’s already been done, which he finds very helpful. Maybe he’s got a secret tip for it all, but when talking about it he said he’d forgotten it; maybe he’s got a hidden trick up his sleeve? “I think if you’re not doing the part where you’re writing something new, there’s lots of other productive things you can be doing around that,” he said. “Even sometimes I can be writing a different type of story.”
Once all the writing was done for Thomas, the publishing process came, which he described as really tough. “I remember at one point I had sent away a lot of stuff and I got very little encouragement. So I’d done a ton of short stories and I’d pitched my novel to a lot of publishers and at this point I think that’s when I was like, well I’ve been playing around with being a writer, and I thought I’d taken it quite seriously and I’m not getting anywhere, so I guess I have to decide now if this is something I want to stick with or give up.” Writing is hard, anyone will tell you; you put your heart into an idea and spend hours putting it to paper, perfecting it, and all you want is to see it do well. If it doesn’t, it’s easy to want to give up, but Thomas didn’t: “I thought, no, it’s fun. I looked at all the stuff I was doing and I thought I could do this better and I totally could! So I went back and rewrote the first three chapters of my book and I looked at it and I thought that I had gotten better as a writer towards the end of my second book [the second and unnamed instalment of the Metiks Fade trilogy] than I was at the start of the first. I went back and rewrote and it made a difference.” The difference must have been noticeable because when Thomas sent his rewritten book out to publishers, there was a massive change in response from the second round of feedback from publishers. I mean, his book has been published now so he had to do something right then.
The publishing process and a new world
Although not every publisher was keen to publish his book, he was delighted with the responses anyway. “Sometimes getting a personalised note feels like a win. To send off to a publisher and to have someone say, ‘I really liked this, but it’s not what we’re looking for,’ that could have you jumping up and down for joy! So you have to take any small encouragement.” Thomas warns that to get these signs of encouragement, it takes sending your work and content out to a lot of different publishers. “I got a little paragraph published in a book and it was such a minor thing but it felt amazing for me. It was some of my words in print, it was the crack that opened it all up.” From getting a small paragraph published to winning a short story contest and to having his work published in the likes of 404 Ink Magazine, Thomas has been receiving news about his writing that has sent him over the moon; winning the short story competition was the happiest he’d been about a piece of news he had received about his writing at that point.
When Thomas finally received his offers of contracts, not all of them were completely fair. “It’s very stressful because a lot of people want to rip writers off. You have to be quite cautious and you have to make good choices.” He described the situation as being quite different from winning a competition, where once you’ve won, that’s it! You’ve won. “It’s untainted good news,” he said. Thomas received three offers of contracts which he weighed together carefully before making the decision to sign with Owl Hollow Press.
The rock star lifestyle is yet to set in for Thomas but it’s starting to set in that the world he created for his book, that he in his head has spent so much time in, is no longer just his world. A few friends have seen it along with some proof readers and publishers, but now he’s at the stage where the world is also open to this world. “People have started talking about the story and they say they like this character or that seems exciting: I have this thing in my head where I’m like, ‘how do you know that!?’”
Over time, Thomas believes his writing style has gotten better, and better still since being published. Feedback he’s received from publishers, friends and loved ones has helped, but the way he writes hasn’t changed much. “I still write from this deep point of view that’s very close to the character. I think whenever I change perspective in the book it sticks very closely to the character.” This is very beneficial as, across all mediums of prose, Thomas feels a connection to his narrative character. “Most of my short stories just happen to be written in first person, which is good because it lets me write it in a different way, it lets me practice at a different kind of thing.”
In a word: MAGIC
Anna Undreaming, which will be available in stores in March, follows apathetic student Anna who is losing herself to the darkness of the city she lives in. She finds herself under the pursuit of Dreamers, artists capable of altering worlds. Anna discovers that she is an Undreamer and possesses powers that she doesn’t understand.
In a word, Thomas describes his debut novel as “magical,” which is funny because you can scan the whole book twice and you won’t find that word once. “When I was writing the story I wanted to write about something like magic in the real world; I didn’t want to write about magicians or wizards, I didn’t want to write about ant particular style of magic (incantations or necromancers or any kind of that fanciful tropey thing.) I wanted to have a new lexicon for all of those terms and I wanted to have quite solid rules and I wrote rules that drove conflict in the story.”
To engage Thomas’ new magical lexicon, he endeavoured never to use the word magic once and so went through the whole story on his computer on a control-F hunt for the word. It’s not used once in a hundred and four thousand words.
Inspired by dance
Modern dance performances could be either fascinating or dull for Thomas, depending on the mood he’s in or what the performance is like, but one performance two years ago spurred him on to have unspecific ideas that led to the specific idea of Anna Undreaming. Watching the performance, with no screen to stare at, Thomas found room to be mindless, letting the music and the dance prompt vague ideas which led him to fill in the gaps. “I was thinking, if I were to be writing a story about magic, what would it be about? You know whenever you’re in a performance on the stage, I think it creates a little world that you’re in and I thought that was a really cool idea.
“So I had the idea that performers or artists, musicians, sculptors or anything, that the area they work in changes the reality around them. I thought it was a really cool metaphor for magic and magic happening in this story and that was a cool way for me to have all sorts of different types of magic and build a system around it.”
Anna Undreaming, which is set in our world but has no specific setting, encompasses genres of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Thomas developed a framework where in which he could write about what he wanted to write about at any particular time. While the book may not contain tropes common in the horror genre Thomas feels he includes very tense and often horrific imagery in Anna’s story, especially near the beginning when she encounters an antagonist known as the Midnight Man. Sci-fi elements in Anna Undreaming are littered in around as texture, as what Thomas called “crunchy bits.”
The Girl Who Girled Until She Could Girl No More
Anna Undreaming wasn’t always the original working title of Anna’s story. Thomas liked its original title plenty, A Girl Dreams of Fire, but felt it was too similar to other titles, for example, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or the Girl Who Leapt through Time. After picking A Girl Dreams of Fire, Thomas said, “I started to see all these tropes and one of them was sort of like a joke in one of these writers groups and one was the Girl who Girled Until She Could Girl No More; so many ‘girls’ used in these titles! So I had to change the title.”
Along the journey of changing the title, Thomas also changed a lot of parts of the story, one particular part was about Anna and her place as an Undreamer that wasn’t in the first draft. When Anna Undreaming came, it came very easily and it just seemed to fit the story. Thomas’ second instalment of the Metiks Fade trilogy is so far nameless, although the first draft is done and Thomas is now working on the editing process. As the first book was meant to be called A Girl Dreams of Fire, the second was going to called A Girl Dreams of Blood, but his wife Nana reminded him that that title might resonate differently with women…”It was never going to be called that, it was a placeholder name. When Anna Undreaming came along I spent quite a lot of time thinking of what Anna could un next…like, can she unbleed?” Although Thomas doesn’t want to give too much away about his second book, he said that while his first one focusses largely on fire, the second one deals with concepts about blood. But maybe that will change; the second book is all a big secret right now.
The Metiks Fade trilogy wasn’t always meant to be a trilogy. “It was two books together and it got too long but I just kept writing. As I got further with it, I liked the story more,” he said. Anna Undreaming was becoming stronger and stronger by the word. “Eventually it got too big to be one book, so whenever I rewrote all of that first half and it became quite a different book, from character names, motivations and rules about the world.” Having the first book led to the second being rewritten as well, and soon Thomas’ beta readers will have their hands on it. The third and final instalment of the Metiks Fade trilogy exists only as a concept right now.
Never play their game, their game is always rigged
While Anna Undreaming is largely about Anna finding her footing in a whole new magical world, meeting powerful beings with world altering powers, it all begins with Anna being slipped a date rape drug.
Over the past several years the topic of sexual harassment has been hotly discussed and with more and more people coming forward, telling the world of their own experiences with harassment and the rise of the #MeToo campaign, the first chapter of Anna Undreaming is extremely relevant.
Thomas, in his book, tackles misogyny seriously; it takes precedent in his story. Most of the villains in his first book are men. Of course there are antagonistic women as well, but Anna, even in a shadowy world called Behind the Veil, faces problems and difficulties that women face in the real world as well. “One of these problems is a lot of big horrible men in power who get there by bullying their way in and subjugating everyone else,” Thomas said. “Those problems that we have in our world are definitely mirrored and discussed in that other world too.
“Anna’s main mantra that she repeats to herself over and over again is ‘never play their game, their game is always rigged.’ That completely refers to men, the men that she’s always had in her life who have tried to manipulate her into being what they wanted her to be or into backing down.” Anna being slipped a date rape drug plays the part of a manifestation of the kind of dangers that exist for a young woman living in the city.
Metiks Fade and beyond
Writing a lot of short stories is a good way to play around with ideas, Thomas finds, and so he’ll continue doing that once Metiks Fade comes to an end. Currently, he’s writing background material for some games which he’s found to be very fun. “As for bigger stories, I’m writing a fantasy story that is provisionally called Hope is Coming to Eat Your Heart and that’s kind of a grim dark with a main character called Anu.” Anu was originally a character from Anna Undreaming who got cut, but having too strong an idea of what she was like, Thomas had to keep her. Now she’ll have room in dark fantasy stories that Thomas likes to write, and her own place as a queer character.
When it comes to the possibility of Anna Undreaming coming to the big screen, Thomas has considered some of the prospects of it all. He’s spoken to friends and discussed who would play who, but his friends all see his characters very differently from the way he does.
He has high ambitions for a possible movie: “If it was a movie I’d love to see it not be terrible.” When it comes to what he’d like to compare the potential movie to, he’d like to see some aspects from American Gods in it, for example, amazing visuals.
“I’ve seen a lot of adaptations of books that I’ve liked into movies recently that have been really terrible, like the Dark Tower movie was so depressing,” Thomas said. As a big fan of Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan, he’d be completely open to Nolan directing any movies.
Thomas discusses his characters like real people that, when writing them, he is getting to know as he lives their stories with them; there’s real passion in the people in the worlds he’s created.
As for going back and giving himself advice, he wouldn’t; the possibility changing where he is now is a little scary. “I’d be scared that any advice that I gave myself would discourage me because I’m amazed that I’ve gotten this far.” Doing interviews and seeing people read his story is a whole amazing and new world he’s embarking on. “I guess I knew what I needed to know back then, so I wouldn’t send myself any advice back. I’d just leave me to do it again.”