Monday, April 15, 2013

Zena Shapter, Towards White

AUTHOR: Zena Shapter
BOOK TITLE: Towards White

Why don't you start with telling us a little about yourself? What genre do you write in and why?

Hi, and thanks for asking me over here Penny! I’m a British-Australian writer based in Sydney. My debut novel Towards White is currently with my literary agent seeking its best publisher. In the meantime I’m writing my second novel, as well as some short stories. I’ve written a plethora of short stories over the years, won a few competitions with them too.

As for what I write… I like to write in a variety of genres. Sometimes my characters live in this world; sometimes it’s here and now but with a twist; sometimes it’s very very far away! Whether I’m writing speculative fiction or general fiction, though, I always like my characters to face their worst fears – because I believe it’s only when we’re in a crisis that we find out who we truly are as people, as friends, as lovers… as ourselves.

Tell me about your current book which you are promoting.

Here’s the blurb for my debut novel Towards White – a story about the ultimate quest for truth, a futuristic technology, a dangerous glacier, murder, a bit of the unexplained, a thought-experiment and a scientific theory guaranteed to get readers thinking – not that my characters have much time to dwell on anything too fantastical. Much like life, it all just seeps inside them when they’re not looking…

Scientists in Iceland think they’ve figured out one of our greatest mysteries – where the electrical energy in our brains goes after we die. But when Becky Dales travels to Iceland to repatriate her brother, she doesn’t care about science, or the positive-thinking practiced by the Icelanders, she just wants the death threats she’s started receiving to stop. Having stumbled on something she thinks the Icelandic government wants covered up, Becky must piece together the answers fast… before she becomes a victim herself.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid at school. I used to read books like they were going to be taken away from me, often well after bedtime by torchlight (hey, I still do that!); and I wrote whenever anything troubled me. Since most kids get troubled fairly frequently, I had a lot to write!

Soon my poetry was up on the walls in class. My stories were published in the school magazine. It all started from there…

What got you interested in writing, and what inspired you to write your first book?

I came to love writing not just for the escape it could offer me, but for the escape it offered others. When I read a good book, it takes me away from all those problems that otherwise lurk around each day. I’m teleported into a different world – sometimes that world differs just a little from our own, sometimes it differs a lot. When I stop reading, time often seems to have disappeared. Time is precious, but reading in this way also gives me headspace, and that’s what I want for my readers – teleportation,  headspace, and time travel. Because with just a little headspace, all those lurking problems seem easier to resolve.

I would have loved to start writing novels after I graduated from university, where I read an English degree. But at that stage I didn’t believe I had enough life experience to write what I wanted. So I worked in publishing for a while, then retrained as a solicitor – I wanted to travel the world! After I did travel the world (almost fifty countries to date!), after I had kids and a mortgage, I believed myself finally ready to devote my heart to writing, entirely.

In fact, it was during those world travels that I was inspired to write my debut novel Towards White. When I visited Iceland in 2001, I’d already been playing around with theories about the afterlife and the electrical energy in our brains. But from the moment I landed in Reykjav√≠k, I fell in love with the country’s austere beauty and knew it was the only country for my story. Inspiration simply poured into my brain from there.

Do you outline before you write? If not, what’s your initial process?

I always outline – sometimes in my head, through daydreams and thought-drifting, and sometimes in writing. I used to think that made me a planner rather than a pantser. But after researching what writers believe is and isn’t planning, I think the whole panner/pantser debate is more of a sliding scale. You’ll see what I mean here:

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Finding the time to commit to writing it. Isn’t that always the case for writers!?

Did your book require a lot of research? How long does it take to write a book for you?

For all my stories, I do an incredible amount of research. It’s a habit leftover from being a solicitor. Because I’m thorough, I like to know exactly how everything works, worked and will work. I read. I study photos. I travel, if I can. I watch relevant documentaries and movies (okay, so maybe that’s just an excuse to watch television… I love documentaries and movies!!). I google the most bizarre questions. As well as entertaining readers, I want to convince them that my character’s world is not only possible but also very real. Facts that ground readers are a great way to do that.

It’s hard to say exactly how long it takes me to write a book, because often I research plot and conjure characters years before I write of them. I’ve always got ideas bubbling!

What are some of the challenges in your writing process?

My greatest challenges are dealing with the isolation and self-confidence. Writing is something I do in solitude, yet I’m a very social person. That mix can be tough to take. Social media is how I get through it. As for self-confidence… who says I get past that at all?!

Describe your writing space.

My desk is in our hallway. I’m a work-from-home mum of two gorgeous kids. So when the kids are at school, I earn my living by editing for others and teaching (courses on social media & advanced creative writing techniques). In the spare time I have between clients, I write… in the hallway. At 3pm, when the kids get home, it’s down-tools-time because they need me (and because they’re very loud, especially when you work in the hallway!).

What is your marketing plan?

I’d love to visit bookshops stocking my novel (once its published) and help boost their trade by selling face-to-face. I love meeting people and chatting (never let me corner you at a party!). I love blogging too, so hopefully I’ll do some blog tours and run some competitions.

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?

I’ll give you three!
1– Don’t even try to get published before you’re ready. Know when you’re ready by joining a writers’ group, getting a manuscript assessment, or finding some other way to get an objective opinion. Never put yourself out there if only you and your loved ones have read your work.
2– Write something original or different from what’s already out there. Be unique.
3– Realise that a description of an incident is not the same as a well-drawn character in a detailed setting having a problem they need to solve.

Where can people learn more about you and your work?

You can find out more about me and my writing on my website here: If you’re a writer looking to learn more about the publishing industry, there’s also my blog here: I blog about contemporary book culture. Stay in touch too, if you like… I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads and lots more. Just search for my name – it’s an unusual one, so I’m easy to stalk!! News about my debut novel, as well as how I eventually get published, will appear on my blog as it happens. Why not follow my journey?

Thanks, Penny! That was fun!


“I sink down into my seat and wish the passengers on my Flybus would stop staring at me. I’m sure they don’t mean to make me feel uncomfortable, that would be a negative thing to do. But the subtlety they’re attempting simply isn’t working. I’ve seen their multiple side-glances, gazes roaming the aisle only to pass over me. Too many people have pretended to look out my window – though at what I don’t know. It’s midnight and there’s nothing but black outside. I don’t blame them for being curious. They just want to know if I’m one of them. And if I’m not, they want to assure me that I should be. Still, I wish they’d stop. They’re not the reason I’m here.”


  1. Good luck with your book Towards White, sounds exciting!

    Writing is a journey and fighting the demons of confidence and solitude is all part of it. Just know you aren't alone. . . most of us struggle with it.

  2. Towards White sounds good. Best wishes, Zena.

  3. Thank you Yolanda and Joylene. That's very kind of you to say so :)

  4. Great interview, Zena! I'm amazed that you wrote all your work in a hallway (let alone with kids in the offing). I wish you every success with your book - you've earned it!

    Can't wait to see Towards White on the bookshelves. Rob