Let’s start with an introduction: Who is T.A. Willberg?
I suppose I should call myself an author now but until four years ago, I was a full-time Chiropractor specialising in spinal deformities. Writing, other than for scientific papers and essays, just wasn’t a part of my life until I moved from my home country (South Africa) to live and work in Malta.
What else? I’m an outdoorsy, animal-loving introvert. I enjoy reading as much as writing, travelling as much as staying at home and chocolate as much as exercise.
Your new novel, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, will be published by Trapeze in May. It looks really intriguing: How would you introduce it to a potential reader. Is it part of a series?
Thanks! There’s a lot of genre-mixing going on in my novel so it’s always hard to describe, but I’ll give it a go: Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a quirky locked-room murder mystery set in an alternative 1950’s London with elements of grounded fantasy and loads of steampunk gadgetry.
It’s the first instalment in a planned trilogy that follows my protagonist — Marion Lane — through three years of apprenticeship training at the super-secret underground (literally) detective agency: Miss Brickett’s Investigations and Inquiries, an organisation that solves London’s most bizarre and complex crimes.
When an employee at the agency is murdered and Marion’s colleague is framed for the crime, she must battle against friend and foe to bring the true killer to justice before they strike again.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Long story short, moving to Malta inspired the novel. As I mentioned above, before I left South Africa, being an author had never crossed my mind. When I arrived in Malta, I was alone and unemployed and started writing just to fill my days with something meaningful. The specific idea for Marion Lane came in dribs and drabs as I started drafting, taking shape over months and hundreds of thousands of words. It was a concoction of themes and characters inspired by all the fantasy and mystery novels I’ve read in my lifetime.
In general, I draw inspiration from everything around me: Books, movies, real-life people and my own experiences. I’ve always had a wild imagination and held the belief that magic is around us all the time. You just have to look.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was my first love. I remember reading it over and over, completely enthralled by Middle Earth and Bilbo’s adventures. I yearned for a life of excitement and travel and magic (I still wish dragons were real!) and The Hobbit (and later Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter) gave me just that. What’s even more wonderful now is that I get to craft my own mystical worlds, exactly how and when I please.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
There’s nothing I’d rather be doing. It suits my introverted, wildly imaginative self just perfectly. I also love the collaborative side of things; working with my editors, agent and publishing teams. It really is a dream come true.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Not exactly. I can write anywhere and at any time of the day, though I certainly prefer the mornings and relative silence. When I start drafting, I draw up a basic plot (inciting incident, midpoint and climax) and go from there. If I get stymied by a particular scene or chapter, I just skip ahead and come back to it later. One thing I’ve learned over the course of writing Marion Lane is that you can’t wait for inspiration or some bright and perfect idea. Those things come as you write.
When did you realise you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I know the classic answer here is “I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember”. But not for me. I only realised how perfect writing was for me when I started drafting Marion Lane in June 2017. So yes, I look back at my first foray into writing — although it was rough in many other ways — with great fondness. It changed my life!
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I’ve always thought SF and Fantasy have the most enthusiastic and dedicated readers. I think the genres are one of the most important in the industry, especially in times like these, because they allow readers to take a break from reality and forget their troubles.
As far as Marion Lane “fitting into” the SF/F genre, well, I’m not sure it does exactly. Nor does it fit into the traditional crime/mystery scene. Marion Lane is something of a cross-genre mash-up of historical crime and speculative fiction with maybe a touch of science fiction and steampunk. When my agent sent the novel on submission to publishers, it got a number of rejections based on the fear that it didn’t fit the mould of any genre. However, I do think (hope) that SF/F readers will find something they love in Marion Lane.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on the edits for the sequel to Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder (called Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose) as well as book 3 in the series. I do have an idea for another series in the pipeline, too, but I’ll let that one simmer for a while…
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
I love this question because I always recommend Alexander McCall-Smith’s Tea Time For the Traditionally Built to everyone. I can’t express how much I love this book (and all the others in the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series). Not only is it guaranteed to lift your spirits, but it captures the essence of Africa and her people, something I think the world could learn so much from.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a bit rubbish at spelling, even though I read and write all day long. Thank heavens for spell-check.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Seeing my novel in a bookstore somewhere and connecting with the readers who enjoyed it.