Dancing with Death: an interview with Shelley Russell Nolan

Dancing with Death: an interview with Shelley Russell Nolan

Shelley Russell Nolan

If you like gothic urban fantasy you’re going to want to meet Shelley Russell Nolan, who began writing at sixteen and has always had an original take on storytelling. Her first completed manuscript featured brain eating aliens and a butt kicking teenage heroine. Since then she has spent her time creating fantasy worlds where death is only the beginning and even freaks can fall in love. The heroine of her Reaper series is Tyler Morgan, a young woman for whom life has definitely become a lot more complicated since she was murdered. Shelley answers my questions today.

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

I always loved reading, but it was when I discovered books by David Eddings and Anne McCaffrey in the school library that I lost myself in the magic of storytelling. Up until then I had been reading contemporary teen stories so to discover such rich and imaginative worlds filled with magic and dragons and evil gods was a revelation. I devoured the science fiction and fantasy books in the school library and then branched out to the town library, immersing myself in the stories and imagining the adventures I might have if I were to fall into one of my favourite books. It was a natural progression from there to writing my own stories.

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

For many it is a form of escapism, a way to shut out the stresses and rigours of the real world for a while. But it is also a way to experience a different way of life, and I believe it helps the reader to become more aware and tolerant of other people and their cultures. Through a book the reader can become intimately connected to characters far removed from their lived experience. Not just to be a magic wielding youngster or dragon tamer, but to feel what it is like to be a member of the opposite sex or a different culture. To see how what one character does adversely or proactively affects another. Stories open us up to a myriad of worlds and experiences, without us having to set foot outside the house.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

Being able to create a story that resonates with readers, a chance to make them care about characters as if there were real, to give them a visceral experience that lingers long after the last page has been read.

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

My favourite would have to be the sudden discovery of magical powers. I love seeing how supposedly ordinary characters with flaws find themselves with an unexplainable power and have to deal with the consequences. I’m sure it comes from my wishing as a teen (and adult, to be honest) that I suddenly manifested a magical ability. It brings in the whole idea of what would you do with it, what happens if something goes wrong, and how would others treat you if they found out what you could do.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

Many of my stories deal with resurrection, with a main character who dies and is brought back to life. I have often wondered if that was evidence of a fascination with the idea of life after death. But when I sat down to really think about it I realised it was more about giving the character a second chance, which is a recurring theme in most of my stories. Death and resurrection is an extreme version of the second chance theme, but at the heart of it is a character given a chance to make a difference, to become a better version of themselves, to right wrongs and overcome their flaws. For me, my stories are about exploring what might happen if the main character is forced into a position where they must change in order to become the kind of character my readers and I will fall in love with.

If you’d like to meet death face-to-face, head over to Shelley’s website and immerse yourself in the Reaper series.

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