This week Nils Nisse Visser stops by for a chat. Based in Brighton, England, Nils is a fantasy-dreampunk author with five novels under his belt. Two of his works are historical fiction and the others are contemporary fantasies in magical realism style, fusing reality with ancient folklore and the unexpected.
Tonight he shares with us what makes up a great character, why dreampunk is so appealing, and the subtle difference between British and American teenagers.
I am a Dutch national but don’t have a particular affinity with the place other than it being one of the many places I’ve lived. Apart from the Netherlands that list includes Thailand, Nepal, the United States, Tanzania, England, Egypt and France. About half that list covers my childhood during which I attended international schools based on either American or British school systems. I worked as a teacher for some twenty-years but ‘retired’ early after a burnout. I currently try to make do with my writing income which means I am perpetually broke these days.
What road did you walk to become a writer?
I had already been writing non-fiction for five years. Mostly articles for magazines. Hitting rock bottom helped, I had to hew myself a stairway out of that pit and that’s where the fiction took off.
Have you always been interested in punk fiction or is this a recent development in your life?
There’s been an interest since I was young, about seven I think, and visited a life-size model of the Nautilus a couple of times. They had to drag me out of there kicking and screaming, I simply loved it and desperately wanted it to be real. Much later the comic The Adventures of Luther Arkwright rekindled that interest and I even did a steampunk cosplay; but I was much more of a spectator on the sidelines than anything else, partially because medieval re-enactment pretty much devoured any spare cash I had available for that all important Fun Time.
How did you end up getting involved with the Writerpunk group and Writerpunk Press?
After I had published my first novels in 2014 I learned the painful lesson that you actually had to market the bloody things too and I ended up on all of these horrible book promotion pages. Horrible because the majority of the content I encountered there was lurid and focused almost exclusively on lacy underwear and six-packs. Brave Hobbit that I am, I set out on a mission to find self-published authors whose work fit my notion that a character description actually goes beyond abs and boobs. It is the fears they face, the bonds they forge, the obstacles they overcome and the sacrifices they make that make up a great character, as far as I am concerned. I got some of those people to embark on a facebook group which would allow limited promotion and focus more on the reading experience, jokes, discussions and little writing challenges. That page is called Dreamtime Tale Fantasy Books and it’s working out quite nicely. I met Jeffrey and Katherine as part of that because I had totally fallen for the cover of their Foul is Fair. Once I figured out the book featured a contemporary girl who was by no means ordinary to begin with but also linked to the Faery world I simply had to read it because that sentence totally describes my Wenn Twyner books (Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd). Jeffrey and Katherine have a completely different approach but one that appealed to me a great deal none-the-less. I read it in a single sitting and then immediately wrote a raving review when I was still high from the reading experience. They either took pity on me or took a liking to me after that; possibly a combination of the two and it was Jeffrey who suggested I might want to give Poe Goes Punk a try. Jeffrey also knew, by this time, that I have pledged several of my books to animal rescue causes (owls and ferrets), we share our admiration for people dedicating themselves to animal rescue.
So you have contributed a story to the Poe Goes Punk anthology?
Yes, to my delight my contribution was selected for the anthology. It’s a short story called The Oval Sky Room. It’s based on Poe’s The Oval Portrait in two ways. First of all his thematic exploration of trying to immortalize beauty and secondly I tried to emulate his writing style a little. For the Punk element I opted to place part of the story on an airship and I used Brighton in England as the overall setting as I live here now and I simply love this city. It’s a rather creepy story, it certainly freaked me out and I distinctly recall, upon the completion of it, thinking that I might have out-creeped Poe a little.
What it is about the punk genre that inspires you as a creative?
It just seems endless in imaginative creation, if there are boundaries I have yet to find them.
Of all the various *punk genres and subgenres, which one would you like to live?
Dreampunk. The combination of surrealism, beauty, ugliness and sharp edges appeal to me. Throw in the hidden meanings, symbolism and the otherworldly logic of dreams or fairy tales and you pretty much sum up the fictional environment I feel most comfortable in. Till recently I called it Magical Realism but Dreampunk seems more apt for my own particular approach.
Can you tell us a bit about some of the people that influence you the most?
As a kid I loved (and still do) Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence. I greatly admire the way she fuses contemporary times with ancient British mythology. I am very keen on Neil Gaiman’s works as well for that same reason; his ability to ground his work in something we all recognize and then just spin us off into parallel realities. Classically I will never cease to enthuse about Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and I have always been a great fan of the Wessex created by Thomas Hardy. Rudyard Kipling has written some interesting fantasy and I have always been fascinated by the futuristic visions held by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Other than that I think William Kotzwinkle is a genius and for a nitty-gritty view of modern Britain nobody can beat C.J. Stone (non-fiction).
Do you have a set routine when you work?
Procrastinate and doubt, twiddle my thumbs, pick my nose, doubt some more etcetera. Then finally start to scribble down some words and hope the story takes off. It always does and I always manage to be surprised.
Do you have any work published outside of Writerpunk Press?
Yes, all self-published. There is the Lord of the Wyrde Woods series, set at the beginning of this millennium, and consisting of two books: Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd. They are dreampunk with a few dark twists, all woven around a classical girl-meets-boy theme with the Faere Folk and a few bulldozers tossed in. Those are by ‘Nils Visser’. Unwilling to let go of my setting, the Wyrde Woods in Sussex, I started a new series, Secrets of the Wyrde Woods, in which I visit the childhood of some of the older characters in the first books. The first book, Forgotten Road, was published in October 2015, and the second is due to be published this spring (Hidden Springs). I used ‘Nisse Visser’ for those because the content is suitable for younger readers too, unlike the Wenn Twyner books which have an ‘R’ rating, I suppose, because British teenagers get up to all sorts of things involving drugs, sex and rock-n-roll and I am reliably informed American teenagers never behave like that. At all. Ever. Apart from that I published a historical wartime YA book called Will’s War in Brighton. The sequel to that, Will’s War: Exile from Brighton, should be published within a month or so. Just to utterly confuse matters even more (you get an insight into my amazing understanding of marketing books here) those two wartime books feature characters from the Wyrde Woods and the Wyrde Woods themselves too. All of these series, however, can be read separately from each other. So a good place to start would be Escape from Neverland, for example, without knowing – or needing to know – anything about the other books. Should you choose to read the other series, you will find it very rewarding as the Wyrde Woods setting will gain more and more depth. A word of warning: Many readers do kind of get hooked on the Wyrde Woods. I don’t know how to sell books, but I can draw you into a story and make you care about the people in it. There is a small group of junkies who follow me around (RT or VT) like zombies and all they say is: “More Wyrde Woods. More Wyrde Woods.” It is a rewarding and terrifying experience at once.
What is your life like when you aren’t being one of those weird creative types?
I have kind of managed to make that my full-time life right now. Limiting in financial means at my disposal but exhilarating in roguish freedom.
Will we see you associated with future Writerpunk Press works?
I certainly hope so. I am very keen on the next anthology as well, as I do know and appreciate my classics. I’d love to punk a great many of them.
Do you have anything else you want to tell our adoring public or add to this interview in any way?
Well if you have managed to bear with me for this long you will understand that I am an absolute noob in creating works which are easy to classify and market. Convention would have it that I bombard you with all the sales links at the end of this interview but being kind of stubborn and very proud of my work I’d like to invite you to look at the related Pinterest pages instead. Lots of imagery there which was either created for the books or is relevant in some way. Links to extracts, interviews and reviews there as well. So pretty please take a look. If the imagery doesn’t appeal, the stories probably won’t either. If the images do appeal then you’ll probably like the Wyrde Woods. The only thing missing on the Pinterest pages are direct sales links, because finding Nils or Nisse Visser and the Wyrde Woods on the internet really isn’t rocket science and you must be dead clever if you’ve read all the way down to these last sentences. Apart from that, I hope that when you read The Oval Sky Room it will make your skin creep, give you chills and goosebumps and make you wonder at what kind of deviant mind concocted such a tale; for it was devised to achieve those reactions.
We like the sounds of that! Will’s War: Exile from Brighton and Hidden Springs will be out soon, but until then you can check out the Wyrde Woods on Pinterest: