Today I am interviewing Aliya Whiteley, author of the new science-fiction and fantasy novel, The Arrival of Missives.
◊ ◊ ◊
DJ: Hi Aliya! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Aliya Whiteley: Hi, and thanks for inviting me! I like to create stories that take inspiration from lots of different genres. I live in West Sussex in the UK, on the coast, and go for long walks to find new ideas. I also write non-fiction about films, books and television for online sites and magazines such as Den of Geek and Interzone, but making up stories is my passion.
DJ: What is The Arrival of Missives about?
Aliya: It’s the story of a sixteen year old girl called Shirley Fearn who has a huge crush on her teacher, and then discovers some very confusing things about him. That sounds almost straightforward, which is unlike one of my novels! It’s set in a rural village in the UK in 1920, just after World War I, so it’s historical fiction. But it’s also science fiction, in ways that I won’t give away. But love, both familial and romantic, and notions of duty and future are all examined and turned inside out.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Arrival of Missives?
Aliya: A big influence was DH Lawrence. I’ve loved his books since I was a teenager, and there were moments in Missives where I really wanted to pay homage to his voice and themes. Also the films of David Lean were in my head when I wrote. Ryan’s Daughter – the use of landscape and also the relationship between the young woman and her teacher in that film – has fascinated me for years, so that’s definitely in the mix.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them?
Aliya: Shirley is absolutely committed to making the world a better place, and she has ideas about how to do that which might well seem misguided or naive to us, but she believes in them totally at the start of the book. She was a wonderful character to write, with such a clear and passionate voice that smacks of youth. Everything is black and white to her, but then areas of grey begin to seep in as she spends more time with her teacher, Mr Tiller, and realises that he is a wounded man. The world becomes a much more complicated place for her, and I think we can all identify with that process of realising that we can’t solve every problem or even understand it. That’s growing up. I loved writing her, but she also broke my heart a little bit.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Arrival of Missives like?
Aliya: I’ve already mentioned it’s set in the UK in 1920. Somerset is in the South West of England and it was very rural at that time; electricity hadn’t reached it yet and people are living very traditional lives. The village Shirley comes from has farmers and a baker and a blacksmith and one small school for a handful of children. The church is central to their way of life, and yet they also cling to older rituals, such as crowning a Queen and dancing around a pole on May Day (which features in the book). It sounds idyllic, but any environment where people live together and everyone knows everyone else’s business comes with problems.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Arrival of Missives?
Aliya: Looking back on it now, I think the element that challenged me the most has become my favourite part of the journey. I was terrified to attempt historical fiction; I’ve only written a few short stories before in that genre. I think that it needs a real commitment to getting a place and time exactly right that more contemporary novels don’t necessarily need to have. But I found myself really rising to the challenge, and becoming a better writer for it. I’m so glad I gave it a go and overcame my fear about it.
DJ: What have readers been talking about most once they finished it?
Aliya: There’s a key moment in the book where Mr Tiller reveals something – a secret about himself – to Shirley. It completely changes the course of the book. People often say to me that they absolutely didn’t see it coming but they loved it, which is wonderful to hear. (For that reason, I won’t give away any more details here!)
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing The Arrival of Missives? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Aliya: I think I write more to explore my own questions about certain themes rather than to impart a message. Missives explores ideas of love and duty and the future, but there aren’t many completely right or wrong answers to these concepts. I’d like to think that I’ve made people consider these themes in a new light after reading the book.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Arrival of Missives that you can share with us?
Aliya: It’s a book of surprises I wouldn’t want to give any of them away! The moments I like in the book are when our perception of what’s happening changes within a paragraph or two. I hope readers enjoy them when they find them.
DJ: Now that The Arrival of Missives is released, what is next for you?
Aliya: I have a new book out in the UK right now called The Loosening Skin, and that will be published in the US next year, I think. It’s a detective story set in a world where people shed their skins and their emotions every seven years, and then reinvent themselves. My lead character has been many things, including a bodyguard, a soldier, a private investigator and a charity worker, but when her ex-lover returns and asks her to solve a mystery she has to try to pick up the strands of an old skin, and an old way of life.
I’ve also got short stories and non-fiction appearing in a few places through the next year; a good way to find out what’s going on is to look at my website – I update that regularly with new projects.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Arrival of Missives that we haven’t talked about yet?
Aliya: That it comes with a bonus short story! There’s another story at the end of the book called The Last Voyage of the Smiling Henry, and it’s about a sea captain and crew who are sailing to lay claim to a new island. But when they get there they discover it holds some morbid and dangerous secrets. It’s influenced by stories I loved as a child, such as The Lost World and The Land that Time Forgot, but it also heads off in some very strange directions. I loved writing it.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Aliya: Thank you! I had a great time. I hope your readers enjoy the book.
◊ ◊ ◊
*** The Arrival of Missives is published by Titan Books and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
◊ ◊ ◊
◊ ◊ ◊
The Arrival of Missives is a genre-defying story of fate, free-will and the choices we make in life. In the aftermath of the Great War, Shirley Fearn dreams of challenging the conventions of rural England, where life is as predictable as the changing of the seasons.
The scarred veteran Mr. Tiller, left disfigured by an impossible accident on the battlefields of France, brings with him a message: part prophecy, part warning. Will it prevent her mastering her own destiny?
As the village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations, where a new queen will be crowned and the future will be reborn again, Shirley must choose: change or renewal?
I write about all sorts of things but it would be fair to say I’m drawn to the darker side of life.
My favourite writers are a diverse bunch. Graham Greene and Iris Murdoch and George Eliot. Rupert Thomson and Christopher Priest. Octavia Butler, John Wyndham, Ursula Le Guin, Frank Herbert, Dylan Thomas, TS Eliot. My favourite Shakespeare play is King Lear. No, Much Ado About Nothing. It depends if it’s a tragic or a comic day.
I like those moments in stories where you have no idea what’s going to happen next. The moments when genre can’t save you.
I talked further about this idea of being surprised by stories to The Paperchain Podcast.