Natalie Bolderston

Playing with Reality: An Interview with D.K. Mok

D.K. Mok is an up-and-coming novelist with a flair for the weird and wonderful. Having already published two novels and a whole bunch of short stories, she is set to release her third book, Squid’s Grief, in March 2016 – a work she describes as ‘cyberpunk’ (I don’t exactly know what that means, but I know it sounds extremely cool).

Merging her passion for fantasy with her (hilarious) sense of humour, D.K. has developed a gripping style reminiscent of Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. And, having been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and a Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award, she’s gaining more and more recognition. Ellipsis recently got in touch with D.K. to talk magic, imagination, and Ghibli films (now doesn’t that sound exciting?)

Ellipsis: How old were you when you started writing?

Mok's second novel

Mok’s second novel

D.K: I started writing when I was about five. I loved authors like Graeme Base and Roald Dahl, and I was captivated by wordplay and rhythm and the power of stories to transport me to fantastic places. I carried around a little red notepad and jotted down stories and poems, and I soon realised that this was my passion. I loved conjuring worlds and sending people on delightful adventures. I still carry around a notepad wherever I go, and it’s usually full of scribbles like “dreaming mice” and “magpies are watching you”.

Ellipsis: Which other writers do you draw inspiration from? Where else do you find inspiration for your worlds and characters? 

D.K: Growing up, Graeme Base and Roald Dahl introduced me to wondrous worlds full of bookish lions and telekinetic girls. However, the single greatest influence on my writing has been Sir Terry Pratchett.

I started reading Sir Terry’s books when I was in high school, and I’ve always loved the way he combined absurdist humour, incisive social commentary, and heartfelt stories. His books not only entertained and uplifted me – carrying me through some rough times – they also transformed me. They taught me how to be a better human being.

I’m also a big fan of Isaac Asimov, whose stories of marginalised robots explored issues of civil rights and social justice. Shaun Tan remains one of my favourite authors/artists, and his quirky, poignant and powerful picture book The Arrival is nothing less than a masterpiece. The animated films of Hayao Miyazaki never cease to inspire me. Films like Spirited Away and Nausicaä are full of breathtaking wonder, compelling themes, delicate moments and adorable soot-balls.

I’m also an avid podcast listener, with some of my favourite programmes being Science Friday, BBC Click Radio, Discovery, Science in Action and Off Track. We live in a strange and endlessly fascinating world, and I draw inspiration from everything.

Ellipsis: What draws you to fantasy as a genre? 

D.K: What I love most about fantasy is the sense of wonder. I’m drawn to fantastic worlds and the sense of discovery, exploration, awe and delight that often comes with them.

I marvel at the infinite possibilities of fantasy, and of speculative fiction in general. I appreciate the way these stories can hold a mirror to our own world, or show us entirely unimagined ones. Fantasy is one of the most unconstrained genres, and there’s a kind of joy in playing with reality. Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a magnificent example of a world where nothing has to make sense except the characters’ motivations and the heart of their journey.

Ellipsis: Have you ever had writer’s block? How do you get through it?

D.K: I think most people experience writer’s block at some stage; many on a regular basis. Having a great idea is a relatively small part of the process. Crafting that idea into a compelling, elegant, coherent and satisfying story often requires practise, persistence, commitment, and a sufficient number of hours spent drowning in pages of plot notes.

It helps to recognise that the words don’t always flow, that the ideas don’t always descend like divine fire. There’s a lot of drafting and re-drafting involved. If you’re stuck on a particular plot point, insert a place-holder scene and move on. You can always edit a wobbly draft, and sometimes the shape of a story emerges gradually as you go. Brainstorm with trusted friends; follow your curiosity; conduct more research; give yourself time to mull and contemplate; and get the words down.

However, when I get really stuck, I find that long walks or listening to music often helps me to re-energise and get the mental gears going again.

Ellipsis: When publishing your work, did you find an agent or self-publish?

D.K: With my first novel, The Other Tree, I approached the publisher directly. Spence City, an imprint of Spencer Hill Press, was taking unsolicited submissions at the time, and I sent them the manuscript for my adventure mystery novel. They liked it enough to sign it, and they subsequently also picked up my epic fantasy novel, Hunt for Valamon.

Many publishers now have open submission periods, and their websites should have details about the when/what/how. There are so many avenues for writers these days, whether it’s agents, small press, traditional publishers, self-publishing, or a combination of these.

Ellipsis: Do you have any more advice for aspiring writers? 

D.K: If you find something that you love to do, something that makes you feel truly alive, then go for it. If your passion is writing, then my advice is: write often, read widely, work on your craft, listen to constructive feedback, write more, always be professional, be persistent, never forget why you are writing, and do what you love.

Hear more from D.K. Mok: You can keep up with her on Twitter and via her blog. Hunt for Valamon and The Other Tree are available from Amazon.

Featured image credit: Taken from Amazon.

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