The following is an interview with Hanna C. Howard on the release of her debut YA novel, Ignite the Sun, from publisher Blink. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Howard about the inspiration behind the story, her creative process in bringing the story to life, the impact that she hopes that Ignite the Sun may have with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your debut YA novel, Ignite the Sun! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Hanna C. Howard: Thank you so much!! Ignite the Sun is a story about a teenage girl who has grown up in a kingdom with no sunlight, but who discovers that she has an elemental magic link to the banished sun, and might be able to bring it back to the world—if she can defy and defeat the witch queen who created the Darkness in the first place. The story was in some ways my exploration of the role of light and hope in my own life, except that I made it all very literal, and melded my desperate need for mental light and life with a physical struggle that I found really compelling.
BD: The novel deftly combines not only fantasy and swords/sorcery, but a path for readers to navigate the struggle with anxiety and depression. What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving these narratives together, and what have been some of your creative influences?
HCH: Yes! I was in the thick of my first experience with anxiety, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and panic attacks when I started the very first draft of this novel, and a large part of those earliest drafts was my own processing of the darkness of mental illness, and my longing for the light of joy and health. My process in weaving that narrative with fantasy was a sort of messy one: At the beginning, I just wrote in as much of the former as felt good at the time; but then gradually I honed and edited until the mental illness thread was subtler and less intense.
My creative influences have not traditionally been people who frankly address mental illness in their work, which may be why I prefer to weave the theme into a fantasy setting rather than deal with it outright. The earliest and most profound influences on my writing have come from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Rowling’s Harry Potter, and Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted; all of these books contain struggle and suffering, but they do it in a fantasy context, which for me clears a mental space to deal with and process concepts with fresh perspective.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Ignite the Sun’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
HCH: That’s so wonderful! What a great initiative. Stories have been so massively impactful on my own life, and I sincerely hope Ignite might connect with readers in a similar way. To me, the prevailing theme of the book is that light is always there beyond the darkness, and that there is, therefore, always hope. I have always desired the story to convey hope to readers, especially those who might be dealing with the darkness of mental illness.
And to be perfectly honest, it was important that I tell this story because I needed it. I needed to tell it and I needed to read it, both because the story was pushing at my edges and asking to be written, and because it was the story I needed to live in during that period of my life. Traditional though it may be in its elements, I also think it’s an important story for this moment in time: We live in the darkness of global illness, anxiety, and fear; we live in the darkness of racial injustice and violence; we live in the darkness of political polarization and deep anger. We need light and we need hope.
BD: What makes Blink the perfect home for Ignite the Sun?
HCH: Ignite is ultimately a story of hope, and it was written for all readers, not just mature teenagers. Blink focuses on “clean” fiction, which to me is just a lovely way of making stories accessible to a wider age range and allowing parents who may want to give their younger readers a broader scope of story and narrative to do so without exposing them to the heavier complexities of later adolescence.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the novel into subsequent books or even into other entertainment mediums, if given the opportunity?
HCH: I would certainly love to do either one, if given the opportunity!
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
Nothing I can say much about, but I am currently at work on an other YA fantasy novel, set in a different world from Ignite!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Ignite the Sun and your other work?
HCH: Follow me on social media and check out my website! I’m @hannachoward on Instagram and Twitter, and my website is hannachoward.com.
Thank you for having me!!