Therese von Willegen

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Born sometime during the previous century, Therése von Willegen has a penchant for red wine, Earl Grey tea, cats, and crumbling Victorian-era buildings. At present, she resides in Cape Town, South Africa, where she spends most of her free time concocting tales about women who should know better getting involved with tall, looming men of ill repute.

Her interests include gardening, reading Tarot for unfortunate visitors, and enthusing about how much better the world would be if everyone saw sense in electing her as benevolent dictator. She drives a 1949 Hudson Six and makes a pilgrimage to the small Karoo Hamlet of Nieu Bethesda every few years to pay homage to the spirit of Helen Martins and the Owl House.

Small gifts of Tibetan incense, candles, bubble bath, bottles of estate wine, and trees make her extremely happy. It’s the simple pleasures in life that count.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

A: I wanted to write novels ever since I was twelve, but everyone said it couldn’t be done and that I must take up a sensible career like teaching or electrical engineering. After all, who’d want to publish my writing? I’m glad to say I’ve proved them wrong, over and over again. I grew up around books and my parents instilled a great love for reading in me. I wrote my first novel in 2007 and sold it late 2008, and haven’t looked back since.

Q: How long does it take you to write a novel?

A: If I were writing full-time, I could probably finish a novel in a month, but since my day is full of many different activities, I try to write a new novel every two to three months, average between 500 to 2,000 new words a day, depending on how busy I am. Once I’m done with a novel, I set it aside for a few months while I usually revise or write something new. When I return to a manuscript, I do so with fresh eyes then take it from there. It’s better not to rush things.

Q: What music do you listen to when you write?

A: It totally depends what mood I’m in. My favourite artists include Dead Can Dance, Hans Zimmer, Coph Nia, Laibach, Max Richter, Queen, Type O Negative, JS Bach, Steve Roach, Einstuerzende Neubauten, David Bowie, Steroid Maximus, Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Bauhaus. My tastes are highly eclectic but I prefer sounds that are dramatic and textured.

Q: What sparks off your novels?

A: Most of my ideas occur when I ask “what if?” This could take place while I’m reading a story, and start thinking how I would treat a particular theme. Sometimes my ideas come from dreams or, if I’m in need of inspiration, while visiting the library.

Q: How do you put your novels together?

A: Once I have an idea, I usually write a summary of about twenty words. Using a system roughly based on the Snowflake method, I outline the chapters, working in some sort of try/fail cycle until I’m happy with the ending. I usually consult with some of my writing buddies when it comes to hammering out a few troublesome plot bunnies but then it’s a case of simply writing the novel. That’s the easy part. I struggle to get around to revisions.

Q: Who are some of your favourite authors, and why?

A: Definitely the mistresses of epic fantasies, such as Jacqueline Carey, Storm Constantine, and Mary Gentle, because they are able to combine exceptionally detailed world-building with strong erotic content. Other authors I adore include Poppy Z. Brite, Neil Gaiman, and Charles de Lint, but I must tip my hat to William Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson. Most of these authors bring about very tactile settings that are not so much about the interaction between people but also offer dreamlike quality when they string their words together.

Q: Has it been difficult getting published?

A: Yes and no. I struggled in the beginning because I simply had no idea how to present myself and my work. Also, it was difficult with my first novel because I still had a lot of exposition to weed out. It gets easier with each sale. The trick is to submit to agents and publishers without expectations, and to make damn sure to read their submission requirements and stick to them. The other trick is not to take the rejections personally. Oh, and it's true what they say about patience being a virtue.

Q: Why do you like old cars?

A: Old cars have character, especially in our contemporary culture where things are manufactured with built-in redundancies. Rebuilding an old car is a way for us to acknowledge the styles of the past by bringing them into the present. An old car on the road is a piece of history, a work of art, to be cherished and appreciated. I guess the same could be said for writing.

Q: Why do you like bad guys?

A: A bad guy is so much more interesting than the boy next door, don’t you think? Some of my favourites include Anakin Skywalker, the Kurgan, and Peter Steele. They may not be good for our health but they sure as hell know how to have fun.

Q: What is your advice to people wanting to be a published author?

A: Familiarize yourself with your chosen genre. Read agent's and author's blogs. Make time every day to write and do what you can to join a writer's group, or start one. Don’t take criticism of your writing as a personal attack, and try to read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, not just your chosen genre. When you work with an editor, try to learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them. Realize that becoming a better writer means actively looking for new ways in which you can improve your writing.

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