Getting to Know H G Parry

July 21st 2020

H. G. Parry stopped in to chat with us this week, ahead of her signing at Vic Books this Thursday. She spilled the tea on her literary heroes, what it’s like to be a full-time writer, and the perks of being an internationally published fantasy novelist.

What is your day job?

Full-time writer.

What is your connection to Vic Books?

I studied and then worked at Victoria (as a tutor) from 2009-2018. I knew Vic Books very, very well!

What are you working on at the moment?

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians was the first half of a duology, so I'm working on the sequel right now! I handed in the first full draft a couple of months ago, so now I'm at the editing stage.

What is your latest publication?

My debut, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep (Wellington, Dickens, sibling rivalry), came out in the U.S. last July and in the UK/Commonwealth in January this year. My second novel, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians (18th Century, magic, revolutions), just came out last month. They're very different books, and I've loved working on both of them.

Could you tell us a little bit about your experience working towards your PHD in Children's Fantasy Literature? 

My exact path to children's fantasy was: I did a research essay in Honours about the Odyssey story in science fiction and fantasy, and found I was more interested in The Lord of the Rings and classical epic than I had room to explore; I did an MA on The Lord of the Rings and classical epic, and found I was more interested in The Hobbit and classical epic than I had room to explore; I did a PhD in children's fantasy and classical epic, and I'm probably still not done. (Somewhere in there I also read Watership Down -- Tolkien and Richard Adams basically take the blame for all my major life choices.)

But I pretty much knew when I started university I wanted to keep studying to PhD level, and even though I'm genuinely fascinated by almost all of English Literature, science fiction and fantasy was always my first love. I expected to love every second of it, got warned repeatedly (and very wisely) that I might not, and was lucky enough to, in fact, love every second of it. It was challenging and all-consuming and wonderful, I got to go to conferences in Worcester and Dunedin and mess around in archives in Oxford and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and I learned a lot about writing and research that I use every day.

Now that you're a full-time writer, how has your life changed? What do your days look like while you're writing?

I wish I had an answer that makes me sound more organised, but honestly it's still just me writing wherever and whenever I can, the same as always! The only difference is that I have a lot more writing time, which is wonderful, my writing deadlines are a lot more pressing, I have publishing-related things to work around rather than university-related things, and I can work at home with my pets if I want to, which is also wonderful. I've got back to a lot of my thesis-writing habits, like taking my laptop to libraries and routinely panicking that words are impossible.

Do you still write short stories or is your time wholly devoted to novels now? Do you find either easier to write?

I still write them! I haven't submitted any for publication in the last couple of years, because the novels got more pressing after The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep sold, but I love short stories and hope to do more with them very soon.

I think they're both equally difficult in different ways. Short stories for me are more about words and craft -- I love them because their length gives you a chance to play and experiment with different voices without worrying so much about failure, and because of the game or challenge in making each word do as much work as possible. Novels give you the chance to delve deeper into plot and character and world-building, though obviously they're a lot more time-consuming. The Unlikely Escape started as a short story that ended up running away with itself.

You incorporate plenty of your English Literature background into your work, but you also draw heavily from historical events and revolutions in your latest novel. If time-travel was an option, what historical places or moments would you most like to witness?

Ohhh... The trouble is, most of the times and places I'm fascinated by (Ancient Greece, the French Revolution, 18th Century England, Victorian London) would not be much fun to visit in person! When I go overseas, I like visiting famous writers' houses more than anything, so I'd probably use a time machine to hop about and meet as many authors as I could, like some kind of shameless time-travelling autograph hunter. If I could have tea with Jane Austen, pester Keats at Hampstead Heath, call on the Brontes at Haworth, visit Lewis Carroll at Oxford, and go listen to Dickens do a reading, that would be perfect.

What does your bedside table look like at the moment? What kind of a book buyer are you? What are you waiting to read?

One of the best things about the last year is that I'm now getting sent books to read by publishers ahead of their publication, which means my bedside table has advanced copies of things like The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow, The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart, and The Midnight Bargain by CL Polk. (Yes, they're amazing, yes this is a shameless brag.) They're being kept company by Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light, and Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. And I'm staking out the mailbox for Sam Hawke's City of Lies, Katherine Addison's The Angel of the Crows, and Phillipa Swan's Night of All Souls.

I'm a very cautious book buyer online, but a completely impulsive one in physical bookstores -- I find it very hard to put books back once I've picked them up.

Who do you look up to most in life and writing? Which characters and figures have inspired you the most?

Far, far too many to mention! Confining it to writers alone: JRR Tolkien, Richard Adams, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, Dostoevsky, Daphne du Maurier, Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Peter S. Beagle, Charlotte Bronte, Ray Bradbury, Anthony Horowitz, CS Lewis, Rosemary Sutcliff, Sherryl Jordan, Margaret Mahy, Hilary Mantel, Jude Morgan, Lewis Carroll, LM Montgomery, Dodie Smith, and I have definitely forgotten people.

Some recommended reading?

This is impossible. I'll try to do a mix of old and new...

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri.

Torn by Rowenna Miller.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. 

Nobody needs me to recommend The Lord of the Rings, right? Just in case:

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien! It's good!

What are you reading at the moment?

The Midnight Bargain by CL Polk.

What do you like about it?

It's smart reworking of Regency romance tropes, its heroine, and its magic.

Which literary character do you most identify with? Why?

Bilbo Baggins. He loves stories and tea and his house, goes on one reluctant adventure, then comes home in one piece and spends all his time writing a book and talking to elves, which is my life goal.

Hardback or paperback?

Paperback.

Favourite coffee?

English Breakfast tea (I don't drink coffee).