Queen’s Creative Writing alum Liselle Sambury talks debut novel ‘Blood Like Magic’

Sambury grateful for Professor Carolyn Smart’s mentorship

Image by: Jodie Grieve
Liselle Sambury’s first novel will debut June 15

Carolyn Smart’s Advanced Creative Writing class was the first time Liselle Sambury, ArtSci ’13, had her work published, but it won’t be the last.

Sambury will publish her first novel, Blood Like Magic, in June. According to her, it wouldn’t have been possible without the mentorship of Queen’s creative writing professor, Carolyn Smart. 

Sambury majored in Linguistics at Queen’s and took Smart’s Poetry and Prose course in her third year before gaining acceptance into Advanced Creative Writing where a handful of talented students collaborate on an anthology called Lake Effect. 

“Having the class gave me a dedicated space to really focus on honing my craft and getting better,” Sambury told The Journal. 

“It was good to have that group critique environment. You read your work and then everybody says something about it, and you get that direct feedback. It can be harder to find—once you’re outside of the school setting—to find critique groups like that.”

Sambury said Smart taught her how to be an active critic, to go in-depth with your comments and figure out how to help others with their writing in a way that’s constructive and meaningful. She said the experience made her a better writer and self-critic too. 

“I’m really, really happy I had Carolyn for a professor,” she said. “She’s always gone above and beyond. She kept contact with me throughout my time after Queen’s and that really meant a lot to me. It shows she cares a lot about our careers as we go beyond.”

“I was really happy to have taken the class. It’s always great to have a community of other writers that are passionate about writing that you can discuss craft with and that you can learn with. I think that’s what was great about [Smart’s] classes, is that there were so many people with different types of writing styles.”

Along with providing creative writing students with the space to work and a network of like-minded students to collaborate with, Smart provided Queen’s students with necessary technical writing skills, the stuff Sambury referred to as “plain craft skills.” 

“I was very, very bad at formatting my dialogue and doing things like that. That was something that Carolyn had directly helped me with,” she said. 

Blood Like Magic debuts on June 15, 2021 but it’s not the first time Sambury has written a full-length novel. 

“One I wrote when I was 18 and it was not very good,” she laughed. 

Her second book she wrote at 22 and actively tried to get it published but with no success—a combination of bad writing and bad solicitation etiquette, she said. 

It took a lot of research on how to properly pursue publication but on Blood Like Magic, she had much less difficulty getting noticed. 

“I queried for a month and a half before getting an offer from my agent.”

Her agent Kristy Hunter at Knight Agency then helped Sambury revise the book for six months. They sent it to editors and after four months she received an offer from Simon and Schuster. 

“Blood Like Magic is about a family of Black witches living in a near-future Toronto and in particular, [it’s about] 16-year-old Voya Thomas, who is forced to choose between killing her first love or losing her family’s magic forever,” Sambury said. 

“It’s very steeped in Toronto. I’m from Toronto, and so I wrote it very much into the city but jumped over 50 or so odd years into the future and, of course, with magic.”

At Queen’s, Sambury wrote primarily mature literary fiction, meaning sophisticated and grounded stories, but eventually she decided to write in the style she likes most. 

“Let me dip my toes into trying to write what I’m primarily reading,” she said. 

By making her writing more personal, Sambury has found success. 

“There’s a lot about family and strong family ties, and what it means to have expectations on you from your family when you’re still trying to figure out what you even want from yourself.”

From Lake Effect 6 to Blood Like Magic, Sambury is grateful for the mentorship of Carolyn Smart. 

In a written statement to The Journal, Smart said of Sambury, “I always found her huge imagination thrilling, and was impressed by her hard work and kind workshop attitude.”


artist profile, author profile, Lake Effect

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