Imagine an Earth, another Earth.
Like our Earth, but also… not.
Amnar is another Earth, a world like ours, with people like us.
Our problems are their problems, our joys are their joys, and our wars are their wars.
Amnar is a mirror of Earth, another world but strangely very much like our own. Discover their world, and you might find yourself thinking it all seems very familiar…
Welcome to the Nut Press, Joely! Can you take us right back to the beginning & tell us what inspired you and how you originally came up with the concept for the world of your Amnari books?
Amnar evolved out of a lot of different worlds I played with when I was a kid. I’d been writing all through childhood and teens, and in 1999 I wrote a version of The Inheritor, but scrapped it because I was in the middle of my degree, convinced it wasn’t any good.
It was in about 2003, while I was doing my PhD, I told a friend about the world, which really wasn’t all that developed about it, and she said I should write the story properly. By the end of the year, I’d started writing the books and it all evolved from there. I’m not entirely sure where the idea came from, it was just there and I wrote it, and kept working on the world from there.
One of the many things I like about Amnar: The Execution (the prequel to The Inheritor) is how you retain enough familiar elements from our world in that of Amnar and these make it easier for the reader to quickly become immersed in your fictional world. How much of this is a conscious decision and how hard do you have to work at achieving a balance between the new and what is assumed as already known by the reader?
A lot of it is conscious. I’m aware that because Amnar’s social structure is nothing like our own, and that there’s a lot of background to learn, people need to feel that other elements are easy to cope with.
I try to make sure that anything people have to learn can be conveyed in conversation or in some way that isn’t excessively clunky, and the reason for writing The Inheritor first was that it allowed me to use a character who didn’t understand the world so the reader could explore it with greater ease. I do put a lot of faith in the intelligence of the reader, but I think that you wouldn’t have a good story if you didn’t have something there for them to relate to, regardless of whether they’re Amnari or not.
The scope of Amnar is vast and it’s an ambitious project with a large cast of characters. You provide a “dramatis personae” at the beginning for the reader but how do you keep track of the world and its characters while writing and how do you avoid inconsistencies?
I included a dramatis personae for The Execution because I was asked to, and because the book came out before The Inheritor. I’d originally intended it for people who knew the world, who were already fans and could just have fun with a background story.
I have a Wiki for Amnar that’s just for me, as well as a different one that’s available to the public, but a lot of Amnar is stored in my head and in a massive Scrivener file with all the books that’s easily searchable. I’m lucky in having a memory bolstered by synaesthesia and I find that a lot of it I can keep in my head and not lose. I do go over and check everything, doing my best to make sure any inconsistencies are corrected, but I’m sure I miss things along the way occasionally.
Amnar started life as a series of podcasts and in between books you continue the story in a weekly serial on your blog. [Does the serial run between the two books or from the end of The Inheritor?] You’ve also self-published the Amnari stories through Smashwords and they’re now available on Kindle. Did you decide to go down this route from the outset or have you tried/would you consider traditional publishing?
The serial is set twenty years before the start of The Inheritor. The Execution is the first part of the serial, The Expulsion (due out at the end of the month) will be the second part and I’m working on The Excision, the third part now.
I have had ‘traditional’ deals with commercial corporate publishers, but none of them worked out. I have to confess, I wasn’t convinced anybody would want to publish Amnar, or see any commercial value in it. Essentially, this is a way of working out whether there is any interest in the stories or whether I need to get real and get another job.
I would definitely accept the right kind of traditional deal for Amnar, because I still see a great value in commercial publishing. I was waiting to see whether once my health improved I’d be able to organise a deal, but there was a lot of clamour from people to be able to read the books, and as they’re just sitting gathering dust, I thought, why not try making them available?
You’ve said that you like Amnar because it’s a world of endless possibilities and you could spend all your time there and still never tell all the stories there are to be told. What’s coming up next in the Amnar series? And do you write non-Amnar stories or see a time when you will want to leave Amnar behind to move onto other writing? (I’m not suggesting for a moment that you should do so!)
After The Excision is done, I need to get back to finishing the final drafts of the books that follow The Inheritor. Then there are a lot of other background series I could write to flesh out for people how everything led up to the events of The Inheritor series. And an entire civilisation that predates Amnar, as well.
I do write non-Amnar material but only rarely. I can’t actually envisage not writing Amnar. There’s a great deal of variety, and because I can approach it from different levels, with a whole slew of characters, not to mention a whole bunch of locations I’ve never even used, it’s constantly keeping me interested, which is the important thing.
(This is the obligatory squirrel question, I’m afraid!) There are dragons in Amnar, so I’m not sure how well squirrels would survive there but, assuming they do, how would an Amnari squirrel differ from a squirrel here?
Amnar has pretty much all the species we have on Earth, probably more because they are less motivated to hunt to extinction, so there are definitely squirrels in Amnar. I doubt they’d differ all that much, to be honest.
You publish the Amnari books as I J Black. Is this to appeal to both male and female readers or because of the genre you write in?
Yes, I was unnerved by the whole ‘women don’t read fantasy and men won’t read a female author’ thing. I’m not sure how true it is, but I stuck with I J Black because it’s less of a mouthful than my real name.
Describe your ideal writing day and place.
I write pretty much anywhere, depending on how much I feel like writing. I remember once going to my grandmother’s with my parents for Christmas several years ago, I sat in the back of the car and wrote on my laptop. I’ve also written on planes and took the laptop all around China five years ago. Right now, I’m writing on my sofa under a duvet, as that’s been most comfortable, but it does change depending on my mood.
Now tell us what a ‘real’ or ‘typical’ writing day is like for you.
I start the day by going to the gym. I either swim or weight train, depending, but it’s my way of getting blood into my brain so I can start working. Once I get back and have eaten, then I usually have to spend a bit of time meditating and doing other things associated with recovery (I’ve been recovering from a breakdown for the last year and a half, and that takes up a lot of time). Then I generally write in the afternoon through the evening.
I write non-fiction best during the day. I organise a book club and do various other bits of reading and research then, and usually do my best Amnar work in the evening.
When you’re writing, do you start with a character, a place or a plot idea or does it vary? Which of these was your starting point for Amnar: The Execution and Amnar: The Inheritor?
The Execution began with the execution itself, so I had to work back from that. I did also want to explore Arist and what she got up to. I approach background books like that with a set of research questions. I want to know what happened when, with whom, and why, so that if it’s referenced in the main series I know I have the history sorted.
The Inheritor was different and began with an event happening to a person, the ‘set-up’ as they call it. The scene was Io somehow being challenged to change her life, make a decision, discovering new information, in a way that made her stand up to the regime in which she lives. Everything evolved from that point onward.
Does Amnar have its own soundtrack or does each book in the series have its own soundtrack that you listen to while writing?
I do write to music, yes, and I have collections going back to about 1992, when I was very young and wrote books by hand (!), which have inspired Amnar. A lot of music I hear has a specific scene choreographed to it. Some of the bigger moments, such as the end of The Inheritor have three or four pieces of music strung together. In other cases, I pick up pieces that convey a specific mood and I’ll use them for a variety of different scenes.
Can you read other fiction while you’re writing your own or not?
I often find reading good fiction is one way to kick-start writing, or give me new ideas, so I do read when I’m writing. I used to avoid it, but I’ve found it so beneficial recently that I try to keep reading as much as I can.
What books are on your bedside table at the moment OR what book have you read recently that you’d recommend?
I’m not actually reading any fiction at the moment. I’ve been going through a phase of research reading for Amnar so the books on my bookshelf are both Kathleen Taylor, one on brainwashing and another on cruelty and the human brain.
Finally, which character (actual or potential) from Amnar would you most like to be, and why?
I keep changing my mind about this. I think I’d like to be Maali. She’s long dead by the start of The Inheritor, but she has a fascinating job, and she lived through some of the most interesting times northern Amnar has experienced. She also has a dragonmastership, which is not obligatory for most Servants.
Thanks very much for visiting today and answering our questions, Joely. All the best of luck with the Amnar series and we look forward to continue reading more from that world!
I J Black has been writing for several years and has completed many books, most of them focused on the fantasy world of Amnar. She is a former academic, with a degree and PhD in geography. She has been a teacher, a student, a coach, and a business owner. When not writing she likes painting, photography, history and keeping fit.
You can find I J and more information about Amnar, including the web serial, on her website Amnar: Another Earth or follow her on Twitter where she’s known as TheCharmQuark. The Execution and The Inheritor are both available from Smashwords, Amazon UK and Amazon.com.