Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Living With the Writer - Deborah Beale

This interview was originally posted to FanLit! There is a giveaway running there for Tad Williams/Deborah Beale books, so do go and check it out!

Here we are with the second edition of Living With The Writer, a semi-regular feature where I grill the partners of those authors that entertain us with their speculative fiction. My guest today is a very special one: I’d like to introduce Deborah Beale (a name that may well be familiar to some of you), otherwise known as Mrs Tad Williams.

AMANDA: A very warm welcome to you, Deborah, and thanks so much for agreeing to conduct this interview for the readers at FanLit. First things first, can you introduce yourself in your own words?

DEBORAH: I’m a woman who works in a room of her own in California, with a glorious view of a hill. I’m someone who always tries to live every moment to the maximum because that way there can’t be any regrets. I’m obsessive and perpetually uncomfortable in my own skin. I have more desire than I have time and energy, so it cheers me up to think about how eternal it all is. I have laughing Buddhas on my desk. I have two growing kids and we’re all beginning the teen years, which is frightening and huge and already quite a rough passage. I run the business that is the backbone of Tad, Inc. I write with Tad – we collaborate on a series of children’s books. I write a whole bunch of stuff on Twitter. Tad and I live entwined lives.

AMANDA: If it isn’t too personal, can I ask why you’re not Mrs Williams?

DEBORAH: I’ve never used Williams and styling myself ‘MrsTad’ for Twitter is the first time I’ve ever used Tad’s name in connection with me! I’m quite enjoying it! I have a thing about patriarchal naming (and Tad does, too) so I’ve never been able to do it before in good conscience (and, besides, in the sci-fi and fantasy world my name has a little bit of recognition, so I’m not about to jettison that!)

AMANDA: Would you tell us a little about a typical day in the life of Tad Williams and Deborah Beale?

DEBORAH: I’m up early, between 6 and 7, and Tad’s up late, around 10 or so. We have separate offices right now but I’ll be back in the big office when my mum comes to stay from England – she’ll reclaim this room for her own. I like to work early when my energy is best. Tad has no settled time of day right now, other than not in the morning. I spend blocks of time online, juggling all the business pins, but if I’m sunk in writing something (at this moment in time I’m between projects) then I prioritise the writing and do my best to cut off from things and get work done. For parts of the day Tad either plays basketball, or lies on the bed or a sofa, thinking. The thinking is critical to the writing process; at some point he has done enough work in his head to go and nail down his 12 pages a day (sometimes in only an hour or two), which is what is happening right now, being his meeting-the-deadline speed, and is quite intense. At some point in all of this the kids come home from school and dinner happens. There are also homework struggles and chore issues round about this time, and bathing issues too – the kids not the parents! Tad is then the hero who puts the kids to bed whilst Mom reads and crashes out.

AMANDA: How did you meet Mr Williams? Was this as a result of your work in publishing (Deborah was one of the founding members of the Orion Publishing House)?

DEBORAH: I was Tad’s British publisher, and after a while we fell in love. It was neither politic nor wise, and involved a two-year hell quest to achieve our fairy tale ending.

AMANDA: Since we’re talking about it obliquely, how did it come about that you were a founding member of Orion? Was this something you always wanted to do or did you fall into it rather by accident?

DEBORAH: Oh, well, when I was a kid I wanted to write, but the wind blew me sideways on that one. So then I pursued book publishing, because I’ve always been (as my niece calls me) a books fanatic. I chased my breaks and I worked hard. I didn’t get much of a break at first, one result of which was I ended up working with and sometimes writing all kinds of non-fiction and fiction books whilst thrashing my way around the industry. In the end that turned out to be a blessing. Then my break came, working for Anthony Cheetham, who is a publishing entrepreneur; and when he plus his wife Rosie Cheetham (now de Courcy) and his business partner Peter Roche started up a new company, they asked me to join them. Which was heaven and hell all combined, as is, I imagine, any start-up venture.

AMANDA: Why and when did you take the decision to move out to the States?

DEBORAH: After the Grand Adventure of the Orion Publishing Group, I was at a point where I felt I had done a great deal and wanted to stop and have children. And, basically, learn to write too.

AMANDA: And you seem to have learnt very well to write, going by the fact you and Mr Williams are now collaborating! How long have you been doing this, and does it fulfill the dream you had as a girl to become a writer?

DEBORAH: Our Ordinary Farm books started in the middle of the aughties, I think.

Nothing would fulfil the dream I had as a child, short of a Pulitzer, and Oscar, and all them awards (and the money, ha!) If I had really been able to follow that particular dream, then I would have ended up a journalist, because I think that is where my particular strengths are. But then I would have been unlikely to meet my amazing man, so what kind of life that would have been, who knows… I have the writer’s life now, any which way, and before that I had an astonishing life as a London media-chick with a bit of a brain. Nothing about the London life was accidental, and I had to be brave and overcome quite a few things: ultimately the whole damn enchilada’s been wonderful, despite life’s woes.

AMANDA: Have you been one of Mr William’s test readers since the early days? If so, do you wear the hats of both ‘publisher’ and ‘partner’ and how do these conflict when offering advice?

DEBORAH: Being involved in Tad’s work as a reader/editor – that tends to be sometimes yes, sometimes no (and I have to say that Tad’s editors at DAW, Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, are the BEST). It depends on what else is going on in our lives. I had less involvement with Shadowmarch, but probably more with Otherland. The upcoming ‘Angel Doloriel Books’ (working title) I had more involvement with at a conceptual stage: I’ve never done that before – it took the form of us working together with Tad’s initial synopsis.

Business and personal don’t often clash for us, but when they do there can be lots of hurt feelings and pouty faces for everyone, ha.

AMANDA: Since you are both busy working on respective projects at any given time, do you ever find it difficult deciding who takes priority?

DEBORAH: I don’t think we ever have clashing priorities. Our interests are all wrapped up in each other. We don’t have anything in the way of power battles, either. We do have occasional flaming yelling arguments that upset the kids and the dogs and cloud everything till they’re resolved. I suspect we exert gravity on each other, as we live and grow and change; sometimes we pull each other over, sometimes we’re running hand in hand through the daisies.

AMANDA:When do you feel proudest of Mr Williams?

DEBORAH: Ooh, I get all squidgy when he pulls off a cool speech. There was a moment in Germany when he was accepting the Corinne Award, which is like a national book award in the US, or maybe a Whitbread in the UK (except I think that’s gone now). And Tad, doing his speech in German, live on national TV, stepped on his own joke. Which actually worked to make it even funnier, fortunately (a line about Schwarzenegger’s mangled English being the model for Tad’s German).

There are a lot of moments like that that go by me, if I’m touring with Tad, or at a convention with him. It’s a lot of fun. He’s a grand performer, and when he’s up there having a good time, well, it’s the best. I’ve seen him reduce a room of thousands to helpless laughter.

AMANDA: With regards to the travel: has it been extensive? Do you always travel with Mr Williams? How does this affect family life?

DEBORAH: Sometimes I’m with him, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes we travel as a family. Sorry, I don’t have anything interesting to say – except that I’m hoping to take our kids to Montana this year to visit Christopher Paolini and family, because they kindly invited us and it will be good for the kids to see a successful writer who isn’t their father!

[Deborah told me that this dragon eye was doodled on their message board by Christopher Paolini!]

AMANDA: Finally, what are the upsides and downsides of being the partner of such a well-known and beloved fantasy author?

DEBORAH: There’s a Michael Marshall Smith novel ‘Only Forwards’ (which in itself is a killer title and a bit of a mantra round here!) I seem to remember there is a room in the novel where the gravity is adjustable. I think about that room and imagine what it would be like to live with - lightweight over here, much heavier over there. Living with Tad is a bit like that for sure. Funnily enough, I think I’ve only recently discovered this, which is a bit of a while into the process, ha!

The upsides most definitely include him. It’s living with a man who has this incredible mind. Tad’s my buddy and we do it all together.

AMANDA: And on that note, which brought a slight lump to my throat, can I just say thanks so much for your honesty and eloquence. It’s been fabulous having this insight into the working life of Tad and his amazing wife.

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