It was a real pleasure to sit down with Astrid V.J this week. Read on for some enthralling revelations on her motivations and process.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself! eg family, hobbies, bucket list.
Where am I from? That’s a complicated question because people often do a double take. Recently, someone even said: “how can you be from x if you live in y?” Yeah, I know. Few people understand migration and how much it can affect a person. And in my case, there’s many generations of migration.
I grew up in South Africa. My father is Bavarian, my mother South African-Italian. I now live in Sweden, and people think I’m Swedish until I speak… with a very odd accent they can’t place.
I am married to a Mexican-Swede (yes, we’re a perfect match) and we have two children (I bet they’re going to be confused).
What got you started in writing?
When I was twelve, I read a book. It was non-fiction and way advanced for my age, but I got halfway. Then an idea struck. I put pen to paper. Literally. And I haven’t stopped since. I mould the world around me into fantastical places and miraculous adventures, drawing on History, Human Transformation, Archaeology and Social Anthropology to write Fantasy in a variety of sub-genres.
What do you like to read?
Why books of course 😉
I am an avid reader and audiobook listener. I love almost all genres and am always willing to give something new a try every once in a while. I love being surprised by new authors. That said, anyone following me on Goodreads will know my shelf tends heavily towards Fantasy and Steamy Romance.
Tell us about your first published book OR your favorite work. How did it get started?
I read Ella Enchanted when I was fifteen and it’s one of those books that was both wonderful and awful at the same time. I love Gail Carson Levine’s writing style and I LOVED how she gave Ella of Frell a decent romance with the prince before the ball. However, it was, yet again, another Cinderella story and after reading and watching as many versions as I had, it felt like a disappointment.
I remember complaining to my sister that there were sooooo many other awesome fairy tales out there, so why did everyone write Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White?
I picked my favourite German fairy tale, less well-known in English, and wove together my love of Ella Enchanted and Jane Austen’s works into what became The Siblings’ Tale, a two-part retelling of Brother and Sister.
How do you create your characters?
Each character has their own journey and creation process, and they come to me in different ways. Viola Alerion, the lead character in The Apprentice Storyteller, is very much inspired by my paternal grandmother who, when I was a child, appeared to me as a very hard and sometimes downright terrifying woman, but as I grew older and began to understand what she’d been through, I began to see a woman who was kind and gentle, but hid her amazing side behind a hard exterior. Another element of Viola came from my own journey implementing the the transformational principles I’d learned as a life coach in my own life, and the doubts and fears I encountered on the way.
Elisabeth, the main character from my debut two-part retelling, The Siblings’ Tale is very different. She just came to me, fully formed and I realised later, once I’d finished writing her that she was essentially the combination of everything I hated about myself and everything I aspire to be.
Where do you write? Do you plot extensively or are you a pantser?
I write anywhere I can. As a teenager, I wrote on paper with a proper fountain pen. I used to walk around school with a massive hard-cover folder under one arm and my fingers coated in ink. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more practical and use the notes function on my phone to jot down important points as they come to me, and then I write exclusively using the computer.
As for my style, it oscillates. Some stories start out more on the pantser side, others are planned and then take their own paths that I never expected. A lot of my planning goes into the character arc. What is the main character going to learn? How are they going to learn it? Who is going to teach them? From there, the rest of the story usually falls into place.
What are you working on as we speak?
The Wordmage’s Tales. This is a series of standalone novellas connected to my recent release, The Apprentice Storyteller. Each one engages with one of the key principles of human transformation, showing how that principle works in action. At the same time, this series will serve to expand on the worldbuilding that I’ve started for the Haldrian Empire in The Apprentice Storyteller. It offers some of the history of the different peoples who now form part of the empire.
At the same time, I have started my preparatory work for The Lion, the Lark and the Lady, my next fairytale retelling. At this stage, I’m thinking a lot about the character who’s been introduced in my latest book, Naiya’s Wish, and what her trajectory will be, while sticking to the original fairytale, The Singing Soaring Lark.
What would your advice be for aspiring authors?
Write what’s in your heart. Only you can write the stories that reside in your heart. No one else can. This is your purpose with writing. It doesn’t matter what others around you think. The first step in embracing your nature as a writer is to stay true to yourself and write what’s there. Everything else will fall into place around that as you take the next steps on your writing (and publishing) journey.
What has been the pinnacle of your writing career so far?
I’d say, there are two. The first, which I didn’t even believe possible, but I went through the motions of a submission anyway, was winning two International Literary Classics Awards for my debut novel, Aspiring, Part 1 of the Siblings’ Tale in 2019. The book I hadn’t believed worth publishing for 13 years was acclaimed with a silver award for Young Adult Fantasy and a gold award in the Fairytales category.
The second came just last week. After more than a year of work together with a group of amazing Fantasy authors, we’ve all received the USA Today Bestselling Author tag, and I’m still reeling from this latest success. When I started my publishing journey just under two years ago, I could never have dreamed this would be possible.
All I can say to anyone else getting into this field, “just keep swimming”. Take each day as it comes and do what you can towards your dream of being an author. Slowly but surely, things fall into place, opportunities come your way, and successes manifest.
How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
Newsletter signup: https://www.subscribepage.com/subscribeE+EWORLD
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Astrid-V-J/e/B07S8WGPTT
Street team sign up: https://forms.gle/RrpvzSLdfs3Ywh959
Other: I’ve started a fiverr account to support other authors as a beta reader, developmental editor and worldbuilding expert: https://www.fiverr.com/astridjohnsson
Newest or upcoming release:
Upcoming, in quick succession over the next three months, four titles in The Wordmage’s Tales:
The Sewing Princess
(exclusive to my newsletter subscribers and street team)
The Artist and His Muse (on pre-order)
The Last Warrior (on pre-order)
The Companion’s Tale