Guest Post: Extract from Remember Me By Amy McLellan

Today I am honoured to welcome debut novelist Amy McLellan to my blog. Amy has kindly agreed to allow me to publish the first three chapters of her incredible debut Remember Me for you all to enjoy. Thanks Amy read it now.

Chapter One

Everyone looks the same. That’s the problem with these TV series set in indeterminate olden times. The beards, the straggly hair and the dirty tunics mean it’s hard to tell one earnest plotter from the next. Even the rich ones – easily identifiable because their robes are trimmed with fur and they have morelines – look like they need a good wash. I share this observation and Joanna sighs dramatically. She hates me talking during her shows but I can’t help myself, particularly when it comes to plot holes. When you’ve actually read the books the series is based on, you become very proprietorial. As someone who’s in a book club and describes herself as an avid reader on Match.com, I’m surprised Joanna isn’t more understanding.

I pour myself another glass of wine and Joanna gives me the side-eye. I’m not supposed to drink but sometimes I must, just to feel part of the human race again. Besides, she’s drinking. She can be very insensitive sometimes.Another mud-smeared soldier walks in and whispers in a lady’s ear.

‘Who’s he?’

‘I thought you were reading.’

I raise my eyebrows at her but go back to my book and re-read a paragraph. It’s a froth of a love story and isn’t taking. I look back at the screen, waiting for dragons to appear, but it’s still soldier types whispering in darkened rooms. I can’t help myself.

‘Who’s that?’

‘Jesus, Sarah. Really?’

It’s not my fault if I can’t keep up with the television. I’m just trying to pay an interest but she gets so irritated, as if I’m butting into real-life conversations. I know she’d prefer it if I went upstairs and left her to watch her shows in peace but that’s not really fair on me, is it? I wonder which of them she’s got a crush on. The warrior? The earnest one? Maybe it’s the woman. It’s hard to tell with Joanna. She’s my sister but sometimes she’s a closed book.

I am just reaching for the last of the Rioja when there’s a crunch of feet on gravel and a shadow slides past the window. Joanna shakes her head with irritation. ‘What’s he doing here?’ she mutters. She blows out a heavy sigh as she extracts herself from the sofa. ‘I suppose I’ll get it, then?’ I shrug. We both know I can’t answer the door, particularly not the back door: that means it’s someone we know. I’m better with strangers but that’s not saying much. I’m not really a people person any more.

She huffs and puffs from the room and I seize my opportunity. Goodbye Westeros, hello Classic FM. Triumphant, I settle back onto the sofa, Debussy washing over me and the last of the Rioja in my glass. I lift my glass in a silent salute to the unexpected visitor. Snooze you lose, sis. But the triumph fades when she doesn’t return to chide and tut at me. I wonder what she’s up to. I strain to catch a voice. They must be whispering. Is it a date? Has she got a secret lover? I wonder if she’s been Internet dating again; she’d sworn off after the humiliation of the philandering pensioner. But she’s always so secretive. Is that why she lets me drink wine, so she can have her secret assignations behind my back? It’s not like I can tell anyone anyway.

I’m about to drain my glass when there’s a sudden crash and Joanna cries out. There’s the low rumble of a man’s voice and the scrape of chair legs against the floor. Then silence. I pause as I run through all the justifications to do nothing, imagining the embarrassment of walking in on my sister in the throes of passion with her mystery man. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve read a situation all wrong.

I stand up carefully and kick off my slippers so I can pad quietly across the carpet in my socks. The radio is still playing, and the bright jangle of the adverts provides cover as I inch open the creaking door and step, silent as a sleuth, into the hall. There, in the sudden bright light, with our gaudy coats hanging on pegs and that awful oil painting Joanna bought at the WI on the wall, my fears seem silly. I get a sudden urge to laugh as a memory bubbles to the surface: a television advert from our childhood, a grown man tiptoeing into the kitchen in his striped pyjamas to steal lemonade. Such an absurd image for my brain to hold on to when so much else has been lost.

I’m about to turn back and leave Joanna and her secret lover when she moans again. This time it’s followed by a violent crash, and she cries out, not in rapture but in fear.

I shove open the door, my temper up and as ready for a fight as I can be. I lose valuable moments surveying the horror before me. There’s broken glass on the floor, wreckage from some kind of violent struggle, and the loser, a woman in a yellow cardigan, is slumped and bound in a kitchen chair. My sister. There is blood oozing from a deep gash on her forehead and her skin is ghostly white, beaded with sweat. She looks at me with wide, terrified eyes and tries to speak but her mouth is gagged with a jay cloth. There’s a sudden footstep behind me and strong arms seize me. I scream but at once there’s an arm clamped round my neck, pressing against my windpipe. I claw uselessly at the arm as I’m propelled across the kitchen floor towards Joanna. I try to resist but he is so strong. Joanna’s eyes are wide with terror and she bucks in her chair, trying to get free.

The pressure on my throat tightens and my world compresses to a vital urgent fight for breath. My eyes swim with tears, my feet thrashing as I try to land a kick, while my hands scrabble desperately to try and loosen the relentless pressure on my neck. The panic starts to swell as it dawns on me that this pathetic scrabbling, this useless flailing, could be how I use my last moments on earth. I try to muster all my strength but the life force is leeching away from me. I am going to die. There’s a momentary release as he adjusts his position, grabbing my right wrist in a vicelike grip. I suck in a whisper of air just before he increases the pressure on my neck and with his other hand lifts my wrist so that my hand scrapes against Joanna’s cheek. My nails scratch her wet skin and her eyes meet mine. She’s trying to tell me something but her mouth is clagged with that awful rag and I can barely see now, through the tears and the darkness fogging the edges of my vision. Everything is distant, like I’m looking up at the world from the bottom of a lake. My whole being shrinks to a focal point, to an arm across my airway, to a crushed centimetre of cartilage and tissue, to a single breath. I see my death mirrored in Joanna’s horror-stricken, dilated pupils.

Just as the blackness closes in, the pressure on my throat is released and I fall to my knees, air rasping into my greedy lungs as tears stream down my face. I am alive. I put my head down, my forehead on the floor, and suck in lungfuls of air before raising my head fearfully to see who has done this to us. A tall man in a black hoody looms over me, the lower part of his face covered with one of those black fleeces that bikers wear. It’s imprinted with a realistic image of a skeleton’s jawbone, like an x-ray image of bones and teeth, adding to his menace. My insides feel like liquid; this man, I know, brings death to our house and I am the only one who can stop him. I grab a shard of broken glass, the only weapon to come to hand, and leap up to lunge at his face. But he’s quick, turning effortlessly to dodge my attack. I lunge again, my hand slick and warm with blood as the shard digs into my palm, and almost connect, dislodging the skull face mask. He laughs, a twisted hollow sound, as he swiftly grabs my wrist and turns my arm painfully behind my back. Every muscle and sinew screams, and my body buckles to try and release the pressure on my contorted arm. He jerks a knee into my gut, knocking the air from my body and I collapse to the floor.

He stands over Joanna now, a knife in his gloved hand. I know that knife: it’s the pink one Joanna ordered from the shopping channel to cut meat. I scrabble desperately across the floor to stop him but I’m too late: his hands are so quick and the knife is so sharp. Joanna makes a low surprised gasp as blood, her blood, drips from the knife, pooling darkly on the kitchen floor. He steps back as if to admire his handiwork and I rush forward to help her. There is so much blood. It pulses through my hands, the air thick with its coppery sweetness, as I desperately try to stem the flood and piece her back together. But hands grab me and pull me backwards, away from my dying sister.

My legs flail, trying to find purchase on the floor but he’s so strong that it takes just seconds to propel me out of the kitchen and into the hall. He pushes me towards the stairs and I stumble, a bloody handprint smearing the paintwork. Joanna will be mad with me, I think, but the thought is fleeting. His boot lands in the small of my back and my legs fold beneath me like a comedy drunk. My head bounces off the bottom stair onto the parquet of the hall. He laughs as my skull lights up with an explosion of pain, then all light and sound is extinguished and I fall into the deepest black.

Chapter Two

A hammer, or is it a drill, maybe a vice, ratcheting up the pain,screw by screw. I can’t identify the tool. I can’t see anything yet. There is just pain, blinding, deafening pain. It blocks out the world, like white noise. I wish it would stop. I force open a sticky eyelid, and feel my world tilt. Dizzy and nauseous, I close my eye again. The pain is so intense I can even hear it. Definitely a hammer, it’s like a pile-driver inside my skull. It even hurts to breathe; my throat burns with every inhalation.

I try to move and the pain flares white inside my head, down my spine. The noise has stopped and I open my eyes again and wait for the world to stop spinning. I am on the floor, my body twisted uncomfortably, one arm numb, my hips screaming in protest. I scrape my fingers against the floor. Wood, not carpet. I am on the hall floor by the bottom of the stairs. Did I fall downstairs? Does Joanna know, or has she already left for work? I roll onto my side, releasing the trapped arm, which flops rubbery and useless. What has happened, why am I on the floor? Why hasn’t Joanna come to help me Adrenalin flushes through me, a surge of icy dread floods my veins: have we had another fight? I moan, crumbling into myself with guilt. I know I’ll get the blame again.

I close my eyes and try to breathe through the pain and  nausea but the hammer blows start up again, echoing round my skull. I open my eyes, blinking against the light, but the noise is relentless. It’s not just inside my head, it’s outside. Outside. I am suddenly frozen with fear, my heart thundering in my chest. Outside. I remember now, I know why I’m on the floor, I know why everything hurts. Outside is thundering at the door. He’s back.

I push myself into a sitting position, a thunderous headache pounding behind my eyes, my breath burning in my throat. He’s here, pounding at the front door. I desperately crawl towards the kitchen. I have to find Joanna, she was hurt last night. This time it’s my turn to protect her.

There’s a phone on the kitchen wall, I swipe at the long twisty cord and pull down the handset. I need to call the police but my rubbery arm is hot and uncooperative as blood finds its way back to my hand. Hot tears burn my eyes as I fumble the numbers, and then I see Joanna. She’s lying on the floor in a dark puddle, her back to me.

Broken glass cuts my hands and knees as I pick my way across to her, a prayer whispering through my veins. Please, God, please let her be OK, please, God. The puddle is sticky under my knees and she is so very still. I touch her shoulder, then press my fingertips to her face. She is cold. I jab at the telephone again, and hear a dial tone, then a distant voice. I rasp into the handset. ‘Police. Hurry, please.’

The noise outside is louder now, the house under siege. I want to lift Joanna’s head off this sticky hard floor, where her blonde curls are stiffening in the dried blood, but it’s too heavy. My fingers connect with something cold and hard and I instinctively close my fingers around it; I won’t let him hurt us again. I press myself into her, willing my life force into her cold still body, and then the front door crashes open.

Footsteps crunch over broken glass. There are voices, men,  a woman too. I hold Joanna close, whimpering with fear. It’s selfish when she is already gone but I don’t want to die, I have barely lived.

‘In here.’ It’s a man’s voice.

I flinch, every sense heightened. Footsteps scuff over the parquet and my fingers tighten on the metal. I won’t let him hurt us again.

Someone gasps. ‘Oh my god.’ A voice I think I know. ‘Get him out of here.’ I don’t recognise this one. More footsteps, the crackle of a radio. ‘Sarah? It is Sarah, isn’t it?’ The voice is gentle. A woman. I lift my head from Joanna’s hair and squint up at the voice. It’s a woman in a police uniform. Oh, thank god.

‘Is there anyone else in the house, Sarah?’ I run my tongue over my cracked lips. ‘A man attacked us.’ It hurts to talk. ‘Last night.’ The woman turns and looks behind her. There’s another police officer, a man, shoulders like a battering ram. He nods, and leaves the kitchen. I can hear him opening and closing doors, his heavy tread on the stairs, the sound of him pulling back the difficult sliding door on Joanna’s wardrobe which you have to jerk and lift off the runners to open fully.

‘Clear,’ comes a voice.

I can hear sirens in the distance. More voices outside. My head pounds and the room swims, and I vomit on the floor by my feet, the retching sending shockwaves of pain through my body.

‘OK, Sarah, we’re going to get you some help,’ says the woman, lifting her radio to her mouth. She’s young, not a line on her face, even with no make-up. She’s blond, with her roots showing through, her figure hidden under her bulky uniform, a small tattoo of angel wings just visible on the inside of her wrist. Someone retrieves the phone handset, finishes the call for me: It’s OK, we got this.

There are footsteps in the room again now. The big policeman is back, surveying the room, before his eyes come to rest on me again. ‘Come on, Sarah,’ he says, his voice gentle and coaxing, his hands spread, as if approaching a cornered animal.
‘Put the knife down.’ The woman takes a step back. She hadn’t noticed the pink knife in my hand, still half hidden by Joanna’s hair. I pull the knife out from under Joanna’s hair and release it, noticing how the wide blade is crusted with black blood. Joanna’s blood. I retch again, but nothing comes up. ‘That’s it, good girl,’ says the man, talking to me as if I’m a small child.

The sirens have stopped. There are more footsteps now, more voices. People in uniforms, some of them police, some of them paramedics, stand in the doorway and look down at me and Joanna. Their faces are impassive but I know what they’re thinking: they think I killed my sister.

Chapter Three

We never use the dining room, not since James left home. It’s become a dumping ground: two suitcases in the corner, Joanna’s exercise bike gathering dust and a pile of clothes destined for the charity shop. James used to do his revision in here, books sprawled across the dining table, his laptop glowing blue late into the night. He marked this room as his territory: his compass scored his initials into the table top, cans of Fanta bleaching the wood white. After he left, Joanna and I had stared fondly at the damage, evidence that once this house was a home where we raised a child and how different it was from our own childhoods, when a broken glass or ink-stained skirt prompted slaps, pinches and the silent treatment. I am glad the years didn’t turn us into our mother, at least not in that respect. Perhaps it’s because we have both lost so much over the years that it’s hard to be upset over little things like scratches on a table. And besides, we never used the table: we are kitchen snackers and tray eaters, the radio and television our dining companions. Once James left home, Joanna gave up worthy family dinners, or maybe it was just my company she couldn’t stand?

It’s cold in here now. We probably haven’t had the radiators on since James finished his exams. Already there’s a bloom of damp under the windowsill. I remind myself to tell Joanna, and then reality rushes in like a sucker punch to the gut that leaves me gasping for air.

A hand touches my shoulder and I flinch. It’s another person in a white suit. They are all over the house, grounded astronauts, padding around, murmuring in corners.
‘You OK?’ says the white suit. It’s a woman with shortcropped black hair and elfin face. She looks about twelve. A child playing dress-up: today, Mummy, I shall be a forensic crime scene examiner.

I nod. It’s instinctive. Don’t make a fuss, Sarah, no one wants to know your dramas. Mother’s voice. But of course, I’m not OK. Nothing will ever be OK again. There’s an ambulance parked outside, ready to take Joanna away. No blue lights. They don’t need to rush to where she’s going. There are so many people outside. A lot of police, most of them just standing around. A large white tent has been erected by the front door. It looks like the preparations for a macabre garden party, with police tape for bunting.

I look away and hug myself. It’s so cold in here. I just want to go and lie in my bed with the duvet over my head and never wake up again. An image keeps replaying in mind, my sister’s blood, slick and hot, pulsing through my useless hands, and I think I may never sleep again.

‘Sarah. Is it Sarah?’ I realise the twelve-year-old is talking to me. I nod again but I can’t recall the question. She glances away, over my shoulder and she mouths something. Now, there’s someone else with me, another woman, with blond hair this time. Have I seen her before? I’m usually good at noticing little details but I can’t seem to focus. I can hear people tramping in and out, occasionally saying things I don’t understand or opening big black carry cases with a snap that makes me jump every time.

She starts talking to me but I can’t seem to concentrate on her words: the image of Joanna’s body, her blood on my hands, replays again and again.
‘Your full name?’
‘What? Oh, Sarah Wallis.’
The woman nods at me. ‘And you live here with your sister,
Joanna Bailey?’
I nod.
‘Does anyone else live here?’
‘James.’ Then I shake my head. ‘But he left last year.’
‘Who’s James?’

‘My nephew. Joanna’s son.’ My voice breaks, a hard ball blocks my throat. What will I tell James? He’s only twenty and this is the second parent to be killed. Hot tears burn my eyes. What can I say? ‘And it was just you and your sister in the house last night?’asks the policewoman again.

I nod. ‘But then the man came to the back door.’
‘What time was that?’
I try to think. Joanna was watching her show. And I was being a bloody cow about it. I always made life so difficult for her. I couldn’t even answer the door so she could watch her show in peace. It should have been me, my blood. And it swims before my eyes again, Joanna’s blood spilling through my fingers, my fumbling hands unable to hold her together or make it stop.

The policewoman is talking again. I raise my eyes to her face and try to concentrate. ‘Is that OK with you, Sarah? We’re going to get you checked out.’ I realise they want to take me somewhere. ‘What?’ I croak, my mouth dry, my throat closing as the familiar panic starts to swell.

‘We need you to see a doctor, to make sure you’re all right.’ A doctor. I know doctors, I can do doctors. I have spent so much time in hospitals they are almost a safe place for me. Almost. My body shivers violently with cold and what I suppose is shock. They let me get a coat and my handbag and then I’m shepherded out through the battered front door, blinking in the white light. The cold air tastes of wet grass and diesel fumes. Cars have churned up the gravel and there are deep tyre treads across our scrap of front lawn.

I shiver in the cold spring air. The ambulance has gone; where have they taken Joanna? But before I can ask, I am guided into the back of a police car which quickly pulls out onto the street. The trees are in bud and there’s a confetti of pink blossom on the grass in front of the church. The rush of colour takes me by surprise: it’s the first time I’ve left the house in six weeks.

About The Author

amc

Amy is a freelance journalist and copywriter. She lives in Shropshire with her husband, fellow author Adam Hamdy, three kids, a cat and a serious caffeine habit. Remember Me is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter. https://twitter.com/AmyMcLellan2

Why not pre-order on this link.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Remember-Me-Amy-McLellan/dp/1409185141/ref=sr_1_1?crid=Z9AWLNVDIX31&keywords=remember+me+amy+mclellan&qid=1569839624&s

Interview with KV Johansen Conducted by Dan Stubbings

Today I am delighted to welcome KV Johansen. Author of the Gods of Caravan Road Series for an interview on my blog.

DS: Thanks for being here KV. Its a pleasure to interview you.

KV: Thanks Dan. Its a pleasure to be here.

DS: Lets begin

DS: For readers who aren’t familiar with you as a writer would you mind telling us a little about yourself and how you first got into writing?

KV: I’m a Canadian with an academic background in Medieval Studies and English Literature. I started writing as a kid because I’d always been fascinated with language and with stories. I used to tell stories to my sisters; the natural progression was to start writing them down. They were always fantasy stories; I mostly read stories that were fantasy or had an historical setting (whether by virtue of being historical fiction, like Rosemary Sutcliff, or being stories of an earlier era, like Arthur Ransome), so fantasy seemed to be how I naturally expressed the stories I wanted to tell.

DS: Your dialogue is extremely rich. Do you plan the dialogue, or does it grow organically as you go?

KV: I don’t plan the dialogue in advance. It just flows out while I’m writing. Sometimes I’ll compose quite long bits in my head while I’m walking or driving, too, though once I get back to my computer and start writing them, they’ll shift and go in different directions as the larger story demands, but that’s not exactly planning that some particular characters are going to have a conversation that’ll do X or Y. For me, it’s important to have a good ear attuned to the way that the characters are speaking. They may use certain diction in specific situations, and another mode of speech entirely in a different circumstance or with different people. Speech seems to be part of shaping the character, when I write. I don’t consciously consider how a particular person’s way of speaking will reveal them; it seems to be a fundamental thing that happens naturally as the character grows. I suppose that goes back to this lifelong fascination with language. It’s like developing an ear for music — it’s been something in my head for so long I just do it.

DS: You have wrote stories for all ages from picture books to adult novels. What different challenges did each style of writing present? How did they make you grow as a writer?

KV: I find that remembering being someone of that age taking in stories really helps in hitting the right voice for the audience. In a way, it’s a case of writing for yourself at whatever age or reading level you’re feeling that a particular story is for — telling that past you a story you would have wanted. If you have that memory, it’s a huge help in keeping the tone you need, in remembering what matters and what doesn’t. If you write for the very young you who would have been delighted by “Pippin splashed in that puddle, splish! splash! splosh! until she was muddy from her great big ears to her curly black tail ..” rather than for some imagined adult gatekeeper, you’ll hit the right tone, rather than sounding arch and condescending, which is a pitfall potentially lying in wait for picture book writers.

I suppose one challenge in the children’s novels was that the Torrie books, but most especially my YA series Warlocks of Talverdin, kept edging towards something older and darker as time went on, because I although I had been writing adult fantasy all along, I wasn’t having any luck finding an agent or a publisher at that point in the late nineties and early 2000’s, and the desire to be working on that more kept leaking into other things I was working on, so that I had to keep reining in the complexity — not because children or teens couldn’t deal with it, but because no Canadian publisher was going to let me have that kind of length. It wasn’t what the market in Canada wanted at that time. It drove me to writing Blackdog, to be doing the kind of thing I needed to do that wasn’t able to find full expression in Canadian YA.

I think that in writing the Torrie books in particular, I was reminded of what really mattered to me in a story, and thinking about that consciously became something I could take into my writing for adults. Torrie, more than any other of my children’s books, was me writing for myself.

DS: Who were your writing influences growing up? Which writers would you encourage everyone to read and why?

KV: Tolkien was by far the biggest influence on me. His use of language, and the way the language shifts to suit the mood and the mode, really affected how I expected words to work. Other writers I read who were big influences on me would be Rosemary Sutcliff, Arthur Ransome, Eleanor Farjeon, Mary Stewart (her Merlin, not her romance-thrillers), and Alan Garner. Also, as a teen, Cherryh, McKillip, LeCarré, and Deighton.

I’d encourage everyone to read Sutcliff and Diana Wynne Jones. Sutcliff wrote historical fiction for young people, more often featuring youngish adults, not children or teens, and she took her characters through some pretty dark places in their lives. At least three of her books end with the hero’s self-sacrificial suicide or outright sacrifice, though usually she ends on a note of hope and the carrying on of light into the future, even in those. She wrote with an intense feeling of landscape and of people finding a connection with their land — the one to which they’d come, not necessarily the one in which they’d been born or grown up. She wrote about characters wounded, in body or spirit, who found a way to heal and survive and carrying something onwards into the future.

Diana Wynne Jones, on the other hand, is an author I never read as a child, though finding a blurb for The Ogre Downstairs in the back of some other book in the library (Garner, maybe) I wanted to. I never found a book by her until I was an adult researching the book I was writing on the history of children’s fantasy, which was when I bought and read them all. She was an incredible, awe-inspiring writer in her mastery of story, impossible to predict. She also wrote very complex psychology with incredible lightness of touch. It’s just there, in a way children perceive and understand without consciously thinking about it, and yet by showing these things, her books open up minds a little wider, shed a little light in dark places where you can start to see and think about things you might have been desperately needing to without anyone ever offering you the words. (I’m thinking of one of her more obscure books, The Homeward Bounders, here, and Jamie’s isolation and determination to do what needs to be done to keep his world safe. Or Christopher’s behaviour in The Lives of Christopher Chant and his growing self-awareness when he’s so close to becoming a terrible and dangerous person.) But she’s also very funny and mind-bogglingly inventive. Quite chilling, too, when she wanted to be — Time of the Ghost, for instance.

DS: Are you a plotter or discovery writer or a mixture of both? Which ever you chose what are the benefits of this, and what are the drawbacks if any?

KV: I usually start with a character in a situation and figure out the story as I go along — definitely a writer who has to discover the story along the way. That said, I’ve been trying to work it out more in advance for my next project. I work by writing until I grind to a halt, which usually mean the story has gone down the wrong path, backtracking to where it was working and then writing onwards from there again, so that by the time I get about half to two-thirds through, the first parts may have gone through  five, a dozen or more drafts. By half or two-thirds suddenly I can see everything, this synergy kicks in and its all there and I write the rest really quickly and have a quite polished final draft. However, there’s an awful lot of frustration along the way. I’ve hit twenty-five drafts for … I think it was Gods of Nabban. I’d have to look at my files to see; when I do a major ‘out of cheese error, redo from start’ thing (to steal a phrase from Pratchett) I renumber the file.

I’m not sure if trying to work out the general shape of it more in advance is really working for me or not. I still seem to have been writing and rewriting the start of the new project for endless months, with the variation that each time I do, I have to rewrite the outline as well. On the other hand, for my ‘lit’ project, a real world non-fantasy thing, I did have most of the story in my head before I started, and was able to write a sketchy outline of the structure and then sit down and write the book. It would be nice to take that approach into a fantasy novel, I think. But on the other hand, that was dealing with a clearly established world — Kingston in 2016. I didn’t need to invent it; I just had to make what already existed come alive. That exploration as I go way of writing is a huge part of how I make a world come alive in writing fantasy. I guess the approach that works for me is always going to be the metaphor of a path through the forest, or a tree growing, but I’d like to be able to bring a bit more outlining into it, to cut back on how many drafts I have to write to find my way to the end — to at least have a sketch map when I set out on the journey.

DS: Which characters do you enjoy writing and why?

KV: I  enjoy writing almost all my characters. I think maybe the two I love best to write are Ahjvar and Ghu — the way they interact and bring each other to life for me is something special, but two I particularly enjoyed in The Last Road were Yeh-Lin and Ailan. Yeh-Lin has such a zest for life; she’s been in the series since The Leopard but in The Last Road she really gets to shine, and to show what she’s made of. It was a chance to do her justice as a central figure at last, rather than as someone peripheral to Ghu’s story. Ailan is a new character; he comes in as the young, inexperienced person falling into a story where he’s surrounded by competent hero types, and he’s trying so hard to figure things out, to figure himself out, too. His story is really only just beginning at the end of the book. He’s also someone who brings a new perspective to Ahjvar, both as a point of view observing him, and as a way for me to show some of the changes that Ahjvar has gone through.

DS: Would you mind talking about your upcoming release The Last Road? The final book of the Gods of Caravan Road Series. What can we except no spoilers please?

KV: In The Last Road you can expect things to get darker. The stakes being played for may be the very existence of the gods. There’s an army of religious fanatics advancing on Marakand from out of the west, led by an incarnate god who, in contradiction to what everyone understands of the nature of the gods of the earth, is not bound to his land, and who is destroying the gods and goddesses of the lands he conquers as he comes. You’re going to find out more about the nature of the devils and the Old Great Gods and the relationship between them, and see all the non-human heroes of the previous books come together to stand against what looks like the ending of their world as they know it. You’ll meet some new mortal human characters, too, not just Ailan, whom I mentioned above, but the cowherd turned warrior Jolanan, and Nikeh, an orphan who survived the massacre of her village to be adopted as an apprentice scholar and spy by Yeh-Lin. And you’ll finally get to see what happens when Moth is pushed too far.

DS: Finally, what is next for KV Johansen?

KV: My next project is going to involve a much smaller map, not an entire continent, and a smaller cast of characters, but it will bring the same richness of character and world to its story. I’m hoping it will have a bit of the flavour of ancient legend in the background, vast forests with mysteries in the shadows, and the protagonists, not sure whether they’re the heroes or the villains of the tale, entangled in treason.

DS: Thanks so much KV for your fantastic answers I have really enjoyed interviewing you.

KV: Thanks for your wonderful questions Dan. I have loved being on your blog. Thanks for having me.

This interview was carried out over email. Thanks to KV for doing the interview providing such brilliant answers. I encourage everyone to read her work.

If you would like to learn more about KV and her books. Then why not check out these links below.

kv

K.V. Johansen
http://www.kvj.ca
http://www.pippin.ca
http://thewildforest.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/KVJohansen

 

 

Interview With Susie Williamson Author of Epic Fantasy Return of The Mantra Interview Conducted by Dan Stubbings

Today I am pleased to welcome the incredibly talented Susie Williamson. Author of Return of The Mantra, one of favourite books of 2018 to my blog for another female author spotlight interview.

DS: Welcome Susie. Thanks so much for agreeing to the interview

SW: No problem Dan. Thank you for having me.

DS: Lets begin I am dying to find out more. For readers who aren’t familiar with you as a writer would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you first got into writing?

SW: Growing up in a village in West Yorkshire, some of my favourite childhood memories are the Saturday morning ritual of visiting the local library, and returning home with a stack of books to devour. Stories are a gift, and I started writing them as soon as I could write, mostly pages and pages of adventures that never seemed to have an ending. For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to write a book. Life took many tangents, until I finally found the inspiration, and space, to get serious. I returned from four years living in Africa and settled in Exeter. While taking walks around the river Exe, I mulled over characters and scenes, and soon my door was covered with scribbled on post-it notes. The plan was developing, the characters taking shape, and 300 words a day around various shift work saw the first draft make progress. After several drafts I began to believe I might one day have a book I wrote nestled on my bookshelf. I still live in Exeter with my partner Kate, and my writing partner, Mia the cat. And with Return of the Mantra nestled on my bookshelf, I’m working towards seeing my second book sitting next to the first.

DS: Please can you tell us a little about your writing routine if you have one?

SW: I allocate writing days. I have a tendency to analyse, overthink, and get distracted, so writing on days filled with work or too many chores doesn’t work well. Writing days involve get up, get dressed, and turn the computer on by 8am at the latest. Aside from a midday walk, I’ll stay there until 5ish. I don’t have a problem with self-motivation, and find that just making a start, writing something, anything, gets the creative juices flowing. In the early days I found these stints more difficult to maintain, and disciplined myself by writing to a word count. 300 words at the very beginning, turned into 500 words and then 1000 words. When I hit 2000 words I stopped counting. Then, when I started editing with the mantra, every word must count, I realised that progress involved reducing the word count. Ultimately we all have to find our groove for what works for us, but make a start, write something. You can’t edit a blank page!

DS: You’re quite the globetrotter. How much has your travels impacted upon your writing?

SW: Living in Africa from 1999 to 2003 greatly influenced my debut novel. From the extraordinary sights and sounds of Khartoum to South African township life, the colours of the social and geographical landscapes inspired the world building in my novel. Living and teaching among local African communities, with drumming, prayer and ritualistic chanting the norm, magical realism didn’t feel too big of a stretch. Together with extraordinary African wildlife, the concept of the book, complete with its magic system, was born. Writing Return of the Mantra became a refuge to revisit Africa and relive cherished memories. When I read extracts now, I’m reminded of life in the rural South African township; the smell of bonfires, and cowhide soaking in big barrels of water, then being dragged out to dry in the sun ready for making drums. The seemingly magical rituals of the Sangoma, and the tight bonds between members of the community as they lived with the reality of poverty and violence. I’m reminded of the lush green landscapes and incredible wildlife, and the efforts to preserve it. And then there was the contrasting Sudan, with its arid landscapes, rolling haboobs and much needed rainy seasons. I’m reminded of the old woman roasting coffee beans over hot coals in the market, of the stern Sudanese soldiers upholding curfew, and a gift I received from a Sudanese friend – a matchbox with a big emerald green beetle inside. He told me a story that day, about a game he used to play as a boy, tying string to the legs of these beetles and flying them like kites. This childhood tale is just one example of how I used realism to add depth to the characters and environment in this land of contrasts

DS: What do you think makes a perfect fantasy novel and why?

SW: Primarily, as with any novel, I look for character driven storylines. Beyond that, imaginative settings with a plausible magic system. I look for protagonists that I can root for from the first, someone I can relate to and empathise with. I look for settings that spark my imagination, plot lines and character back stories with depth, and fantastical elements that make sense, that are explained, that have logic. I look for diversity among the characters, written with sensitivity and free from stereotypes, stories that are inclusive and represent our diverse societies. I think the genre of fantasy in particular gives us great opportunities to reflect this diversity.

DS: Your main protagonist Suni is a teenager. Yet you make her endure some brutal experiences. What made you decide to write these scenes for such a young girl, and what do you feel this brings to Return of the Mantra?

SW: I aim to write with representation of diversity in mind, to attempt to reflect society. For me, this is more than looking at gender, race, etc…, but more broadly, including life experiences. In writing my debut, I thought back on my life and the lives of women and girls I’ve known, both in Africa and here in the UK. In the UK I spent five years working in a women’s refuge, supporting women and children fleeing domestic violence and abuse, as well as prostitution. Domestic violence and abuse was discussed at length with students in the Sudan, and this, as well as sexual oppression and violence was sadly prevalent in the South African township. In writing a female protagonist, as well as a number of female secondary characters, I wanted to see women and girls represented, to include real life experiences, to not shy away from the suffering experienced in real life but to also include messages of empowerment. Some of these experiences are more common than many would like to believe, are uncomfortable subjects that are often, conveniently, brushed under the carpet, meaning those who experience them are ignored. Readers look for characters they can empathise with. I wanted to include characters that people I’ve known might be able to relate to.

DS: The relationship between Wanda and Suni are some of my favourite scenes in Return of the Mantra. They are written so beautifully. How much of the relationship did you have to plan out before you wrote it down, and how much grew organically as you went deeper into your fantasy world?

SW: In South Africa, I met a number of young children who were sadly orphaned. In a way, Wanda’s character came to represent these children. Although Wanda is not the main character in Return of the Mantra, his character was one I came to know first. He’s an orphan, yet I wanted his story to be positive; I wanted him to find people he would look upon as family. Suni’s role in caring for Wanda was established in the planning stages. From the first, this relationship was central to the overall storyline. As the story developed, their relationship strengthened, as well as their own roles developing independent of each other.

DS: Please can you tell us about your journey to being published and what made you decide to go with Stairwell Books?

SW: After a number of drafts, painstakingly combing through edits, striving to make the story as good as it could be, I began to realise that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Then came the doubts. Am I good enough? Can I write? Should I get a proper job? After scouring through a writer’s magazine I came across the writer and editor, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, offering a professional critiquing service. I dared to hit send, offering up my beloved manuscript for some objective feedback. I found this support invaluable and would definitely recommend writers to get their work critiqued professionally before sending it out. Then, with a tightened manuscript ready, I searched the Writers and Artists Handbook and came up with a list of potential publishers. The rejections came thick and fast, until I began researching companies more thoroughly and narrowing down the list of publishers. Looking into Stairwell Books, I came across a U-tube clip of Rose Drew. As well as writing and publishing, among other things, she is also a performance poet. Seeing her perform one of her poems in the clip, listening to the content, it struck me that she might like my book. And she did. Seeing Return of the Mantra with the others titles of Stairwell Books feels right. Among their selection they look for work that offers good representation and diversity, and stories that make you think.

DS: Return of the Mantra is book one of a planned trilogy is that correct? If so, what can we except in the next two books, and when are they scheduled for release?

SW: Yes, so far it’s a trilogy, but never say never to more… In books 2 and 3 expect new worlds and cultures, and storylines exploring how lands are connected. In book 2 I’m excited to see the development of Wanda’s character, in particular the impact of his past. Written as a split first person narrative, the story is predominantly told through Suni and Wanda’s differing perspectives. As for release dates, with life as in stories, the unexpected happens, and due to a recent illness there has been a delay in the writing. But progress is being made and book 2 is safely in the editing process, so I will keep you posted.

DS: Which author would you compare your writing style to? Which authors have influenced your writing career?

SW: I have a collection of Ursula Le Guin’s works which I’ve read and reread countless times. One of my favourites is the Tombs of Atuan from the Earthsea Quartet. The young priestess, Tenar, is born into servitude to the Nameless Ones, destined to live out her days in a dark underground world. When she first meets the wizard, Ged, she thinks he’s a thief. But instead of leaving him to die as she’s supposed to do, she begins to consider the world outside, and dares to question everything she’s been brought up believing. The truth turns her world upside down, forcing her to realise how she was controlled. The fact that she stepped outside, leaving everything familiar to venture into the unknown, is something that stuck with me. She was a heroine, not for brandishing swords and fighting wars, but for her strength in reclaiming her identity. Female characters that break stereotypes, unconventional heroines and heroes, are certainly motivators for my own writing.

DS: You tackle some complex themes in Return of The Mantra. Which ones were the most difficult to write, which were the easiest and why?

SW: The art of fiction is writing believable stories, characters and worlds, and fantasy is no exception. Writing scenes which portray the physical and sexual oppression of young women were the easiest in terms of believability, since I have significant work experience in this area. At the same time, they were the hardest scenes to write, since, like all character writing, they involved getting into character, seeing the experience through their perspective. This was an uncomfortable process.

DS: LGBT relationships feature heavily within the story which I adored. Why did you feel it was important to include this topic in your work?

SW: Readers look for characters they can empathise with. As a gay woman, I am no exception. LGBT people exist in all walks of life, therefore if a story with a cast of characters is to be representative of society, LGBT cannot be ignored. Over time I hope to see more LGBT in stories, in such a way that it isn’t defined as LGBT but rather as mainstream. This goes for all aspects of diversity. In the end, the more people who write, hopefully the more diversity we’ll see.

This interview was done over email. Thanks again to Susie for agreeing to do it, giving some amazing answers.

Mantra-Cover-Front-V5-P2b

Interview with Aurealis, Ditmar and Norma K Hemming Award Winning Author Sam Hawke Conducted by Dan Stubbings

In my ongoing quest to make more people read female authors and give them the spotlight they deserve. I am delighted to welcome Sam Hawke writer of the multi award winning City Of Lies for a insightful interview into her work.

DS: Sam thankyou for agreeing to do this interview. Its pleasure to have you on my blog today.

SH: Thankyou for having me. Its great to be here.

DS: So to start us off. For readers who aren’t familiar with you as a writer would you mind telling us a little about yourself and how you first got into writing?

SH:  When I took friends home for the first time as a kid, the first reaction they always had was to gape at the books. Our lounge room had ten foot floor to ceiling bookshelves on the walls, and though this was completely normal to me, it was obvious that we had more books than any of our friends had ever seen in a house before. Which is to say, I grew up in a house completely stuffed with books, with parents who always read to us and took us to the library regularly, and siblings who were big readers; books were always such a critical part of my life that the second I figured out writing them was a thing you could do, it was the thing I wanted to do.

How seriously I took the idea that I would one day be published varied over the years. I was still in primary school when I made my first effort to write a terribly derivative Enid Blyton-esque adventure novel (an upgrade from the previous attempts at stapling lots of paper together and writing Very Exciting chapter names on each one, and not much else), and in high school when I started on my first (bad) epic fantasy. I did a lot of editing for other people during my 20s and then started writing again in earnest when I was home looking after my first kid, because by then I’d figured if I didn’t do it then I never would.

DS: Wow sounds like a fantastic upbringing! Numerous poisons feature heavily within City of Lies. How much research did you do on poisons? Why did you decide to make them so important in your story?

SH: The first idea I had for City of Lies was tied very closely to poisons; Jov and Kalina came to me, more or less as they ended up, inexorably connected to their family’s job. Poisons were part and parcel of the characters, and it was a secondary step to start building a world around them that would make sense of who they were – what kind of society would have the need for a role like that? Why were poisons, rather than any other kind of violence, the attack of choice for powerful people?

I did do a lot of research on poisons, especially naturally occurring ones and poisons that were popular historically (I even had a good wander through a few poison gardens in Europe, which was a lot of fun!), but only as an influence rather than an instructional manual. I used fictional poisons rather than real ones for a couple of reasons. First, since I was writing a relatively low-magic fantasy, I wanted an opportunity to make the world feel different, and flora and fauna are a good non-supernatural way of establishing that feeling of a world not our own. Second, I wanted my readers to be in the same position as the protagonists, so if Jov didn’t know what a poison was, I didn’t want readers to be able to think, ‘oh that’s obviously arsenic’, or whatever, and solve things for him. But having said that, a lot of my fictional poisons are based loosely on real ones to help me along! I left a few clues in the names so keen eyed readers can probably spot some similarities.

DS: What do you think makes a perfect fantasy novel and why?

SH: Ha, there’s no right answer to that. What I might look for in a story might be entirely different from what you look for, or my neighbour looks for, or even a past version of myself looked for. For me it’s always about capturing that indefinable combination of characters and a world I want to spend time with, and a story that makes me feel things that linger past the closing of the book.

Well, that any anything Robin Hobb wrote.

DS: You write some unique viewpoints in City of Lies. Telling the story from the perspectives of individuals tasked with protecting their families. What challenges did these viewpoints present? What made them appeal to you?

SH: Fantasy is full of assassins and warriors and magicians and heroes, and I love these staples of our genre as much as anyone. But I’ve always been very interested in the characters working behind the scenes – the advisers and sidekicks and friends, the Sam Gamgees of the equation – and I also enjoy reading characters who play outside the usual gamut of professions and skillsets.

In particular, having two main characters who lack combat skills was something I wanted to explore because even though I love me a bit of cool fighting, I do think there’s a cultural over-reliance on violence as a solution in fiction. In fantasy so many problems are solved through violent conflicts. If your main characters’ best skills are ‘taking reeeeeally good tasting notes’ and ‘listening quietly’ then you can’t write the same story as if they were bad-ass ninjas. It forces you to think about different ways of telling a story.

DS: Awesome I love that answer. What kind of writer would you say you are and why?

SH: Oh, a disorganised and often reluctant one, I suppose. I love the feeling of having done the work, and I love the buzz of an idea coming together in my head (or, as often happens, solving a puzzle I left myself earlier, because Past Sam is something of a jerk) but how I feel about the actual process of writing is frequently more like something out of “The Unstrung Harp” (Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful!).

DS: What topics would you like to write about in future and why?

SH: I never plan by topic, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you until I start.

DS: Which author would you compare your writing style to? Which authors have influenced your writing career?

SH: Ha, I can’t be objective about that – I sound like me to me. You guys will have to make your own calls about who I’m like in style. In terms of influence, I’m sure I’ve taken it subconsciously from all over the place! In terms of what I wish I could do, as I said before, Robin Hobb’s books are everything to me, just… perfection. Everything you need to know about character and consequences, you can get from reading her work. When I was knuckling down and imagining an actual career in this field I also found the array of wonderful SFF writers from the 90s and 00s – people like Katharine Kerr, Kate Elliott, Melanie Rawn, Guy Gavriel Kay, Lynn Flewelling – and particularly the strong crowd coming out of Australia like Sara Douglass, Trudi Canavan, Glenda Larke, Garth Nix and Kate Forsyth, hugely influential. Strangely enough, considering I only ever wanted to write SFF, I also learned a lot about pacing, tension and unreliable narration from reading old Alastair McLean spy novels in my teens!

DS: City of Lies is book one of a planned trilogy is that correct? If so, what can we except in the next two books, and when are they scheduled for release?

SH: It will be a duology, and the sequel, Hollow Empire, is currently scheduled to come out in December 2020, if everything goes well. Knock on some wood for me, would you?

This interview was carried out over email. Thanks again to Sam for agreeing to take part. Thankyou forgiving me such thought-provoking answers.

city of Lies

Review of Tales from the Shadow Booth Volume 3 Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis-

Welcome to The Shadow Booth, the international journal of weird and eerie fiction.

Volume 3 is published as an ebook and a 200-page mass-market paperback.

Volume 3 contains stories by: Nick Adams, Judy Birkbeck, Raquel Castro, Armel Dagorn, Jill Hand, Richard V. Hirst, Verity Holloway, Tim Major, Annie Neugebauer, Robert Shearman, Gregory J. Wolos.

My Review

Tales from The Shadow Booth is a collection of short stories that I can’t wait to read every year. Volume 3 was no exception. Two hundred plus pages of eerie mind -bending tales that have a way of seeping underneath your skin, forcing you to consider every twist and fright long after you have turned the final page. As it says on the cover enter the Shadow Booth and you will never be the same again. I personally don’t think there could be a more accurate statement about how each volume changes you as a reader and a writer.

Dan Coxon has done an incredible job with the editing compiling a delicious blend of stories that leap off the page. They are so vivid that you feel as though you are watching a collection of movies, with each new tale adding something extra to the mix. What I enjoyed most about this dark tome was that it stayed true to the previous volumes yet at the same time added a new branch to the tree of horror and supernatural. Venturing into landscapes that explore a wide range of cultures and shed light on stories that include love, lost, violence, and the entire spectrum of humanity.

As with all collections there were stories that I enjoyed more than others. However, what I will say is that this volume makes you take your time as you sample each offering delivering a buffet of visionary delights that rival the best in the genre.

Some of my favourite stories from the volume were:

The Cherry Cactus of Corsica by Verity Holloway

It’s a story I have reread numerous times.  It’s a story of concern, experiments, and blood. It hooked me from the first paragraph. It centres around a young teacher who notices some odd behaviour being exhibited by a troubled pupil. As he digs deeper and tries to understand what could be causing it, we are drawn into a world of poisonous plants, strange professors, and beings that genuinely send a shiver down your spine. Verity has been able to create a story that taps deep into readers fears. Tales that used to keep you awake as a child. Yet present the reader with a different idea on some of the oldest beings in the arena that is horror.

I adored how she delicately pulled back the veil between our world and theirs. Making you hold your breath as every character trait and flaw was exposed in a frenzy of delicious prose that made me yearn for more. I didn’t want the story to end. I think she could early turn it into a full novel. If you read one story from this collection read this one, it will change how you view the world.

I Have a Secret by Raquel Castro

This is a hauntingly beautiful story of a boy’s changing relationship with his sick mother and neglectful father. That develops into a compelling yet worrying picture of how all family dynamics change over time. Enabling this narrative to be told from the child’s perspective adds a greater sense of vulnerability and naivety. That adheres to the theme of the volume of showing how we as humans are sometimes not aware of the damaging impact our actions have upon young minds. The supernatural element which runs parallel to the main thread within the story, only heightens the interest as you struggle to protect this child from what is about to happen next.

The School Project by Richard V Hirst-

This story gives you as a reader what you look for when you enter the supernatural and weird genre. What I mean when I say that is it makes the ordinary day to day things take on a sinister twist. The story opens with the author setting the scene an isolated school in a village that has a murky past is about to undergo an inspection from an outsider.  What appears to be your ordinary secondary school soon turns into something much darker. The story reminded me of a mashup between the Manchurian Candidate and Van Helsing. The dark undertones ripple out well beyond the narrative and make you question the origins of your own school days.

Cousin Grace by Jill Hand-

This piece of horror sinks it teeth into you as soon as you run your fingers across the first sentence, causing a sensory explosion within your mind. What appears at first to be unsolved family trauma takes on many faces, forcing the reader to doubt every word that is being fed to them. It is an expert example of how to write an unreliable narrator and opens the collection beautifully.

This volume builds on the legacy of the previous two issues. Pushing the boundaries on what the horror and supernatural community thinks belongs in their field and tastes. It receives four stars and I encourage any readers and writers of creepy disturbing stories to pick it up.

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

Interview With Fantasy Author Shona Kinsella – A new female fantasy voice you should be reading. Interview carried by Dan Stubbings

Shona Kinsella is the author of Ashael Rising, Petra Macdonald and the Queen of the Fae. As well as monthly fantasy serial illustrated Joe Slucher. This interview was done over email. She is the first author I had the privilege of interviewing. I am honoured to have her on my blog introducing you all to her work. 

Ashael Rising Cover

DS: For readers who aren’t familiar with you as a writer or your works would you mind telling us a little about both please? As well as how we support your work?

SK: Hi, I’m Shona Kinsella and I’m a fantasy author. I have a few very different projects that you can read and support. I have a dark, Scottish fantasy novella out with Fox Spirit Books called Petra MacDonald and the Queen of the Fae. It doesn’t easily fit into a category of fantasy. It’s set on a small Scottish island in the modern day, but it involves travel to the realm of the Fae and uses a lot of Scottish folklore.

I also write an epic fantasy serial which is illustrated by the very talented artist Joe Slucher. Each month we release a chapter and an accompanying illustration. It tells the story of a young woman who sells her soul to a god in exchange for him saving her people but there’s a lot more to the bargain than she expected and the people around her are less than grateful for her help. You can check that out and support it at www.patreon.com/Miranyasoath

And finally (for the moment) my main work is an epic fantasy trilogy called The Vessel of KalaDene. The first novel, Ashael Rising, was published by Unbound in 2017. It’s about a stone age medicine woman who has to protect her people from soul-sucking invaders from another world. It’s about hope, and our relationships with each other and with the land we live in. It’s about doing the right thing, whatever the cost. You can buy that from Unbound or from most bookshops. The second in the series, Ashael Falling, is crowdfunding now and you can read an excerpt and pledge your support at http://www.unbound.com/books/ashael-falling

DS: Tell us about your writing process? Are you a plotter or are you a discovery writer?

SK: I am a discovery writer all the way. When I sat down to write Ashael Rising, I had one character and an image in my head and the entire trilogy rolled out from that. That’s often how it works for me, I start with a character and then I figure out what sort of world made that person and what sort of story fits them. The closest I’ve ever come to an outline is a page of bullet-points covering the main beats I want to hit with the story.

 

Petra e-cover

DS: What made you decide to go with Unbound? What freedoms has this allowed and what are some of the drawbacks?

SK: Unbound was set up by three guys who had worked in various aspects of publishing, and who felt that the industry was becoming more closed, harder for new voices to break into, harder to get published if you were trying to write something outside of the norm. They’re a publishing company and of course they want to make money, but first and foremost they want to publish books that they love. And they believe that readers should get a say in what books are made available.

I went to Unbound because I really respected their ethos. Crowdfunding with them serves two purposes – it removes a lot of the financial risk from them, allowing them to publish things which they believe are important, but which might not be a commercial success and it lets the author find their audience before the book is published. It lets reader and author connect in a way that’s really unusual and in some cases, it lets the reader play a part in the actual shaping of the book. I love that connection and think it’s really valuable to have.

Being published by Unbound let me keep a lot of creative freedom that I may not have had with a bigger publisher.

There aren’t many drawbacks, in my experience. Crowdfunding is hard but is very rewarding. I think for me the main drawback is that, as a smaller press, there’s really not much of a marketing budget, meaning that I have to do all of that myself and it’s not something I’m very good at. I do think it’s a valuable skill for me to learn though and I believe it will serve me well in the long run.

DS: What do you think makes a perfect fantasy novel and why?

SK: Characters. They don’t have to be perfect or even likeable, necessarily, but they do have to be engaging and well-rounded. I think that sometimes fantasy authors get so caught up in building a world that they forget what readers really care about is people. I want to read about interesting characters doing interesting things and no matter how brilliant the world building is, if I can’t connect with the characters, I’m not likely to enjoy the book.

DS: The world in which Ashael Rising happens is extremely vivid. Where did the idea for the world come from and can we except to see more in later novels?

SK: About eleven years ago, I had a dream in which I was a warrior fairy, warring against evil magicians and all these years later, I can still remember the final image from the dream. That image was the seed of Ashael Rising. Now, there are no warrior fairies in the book and almost nothing actually bears any resemblance to the dream but that was the start. So, I had that image and Ashael when I started writing the book. I have an interest in Palaeolithic human life and I’ve read a fair amount about that time period so that’s why Ashael’s people are stone age hunter gatherers.

You can definitely expect to see more of the world – and its peoples – throughout the second and third books as Ashael’s story expands to include the rest of KalaDene. I also have some vague ideas of maybe a later stand-alone book set on KalaDene many generations later.

DS: Your book moves away from the traditional fantasy hooks of parents and loved ones dying which is something I adored about this world. What made you decide that you wanted strong and caring guardian characters for Ashael?

SK: Technically, Ashael is an orphan so I guess it kind of falls into that trope, but she does have a mother-figure in Bhearra, and she has close ties to her friends and community. I wanted to tell a story about our connections to people and places and how those connections shape us. I think that in modern life, many people feel disconnected, unrooted, and I wanted to look at a life that offered something different from that narrative. Ashael may be the chosen one, but she can’t do anything to save her people alone. All of her strength comes from knowing who she is, understanding her place in the world and being lifted up by her relationships.

DS: Mythology and religion are deeply rooted within the world. The winged ones being a favourite of mine. How much of your mythology was influenced by world mythology, and how much research did you carry out?

SK: I have always had an interest in myth and folklore and I’ve been reading versions of it for as long as I can remember so I didn’t have to carry out a great deal of research since it’s all kind of seeped into my brain over the years. So, I would say that most of KalaDene’s mythology and religion is influenced by our world but in a more subconscious way.

It was important to me that the religion be deeply rooted. I think in many fantasy books the religion that’s worked out as part of the world building is what I think of as the orthodoxy – what the church or temple, or authorities of the world have ordained. I wanted to write about the orthopraxy – the religion that people live with, the daily rituals and mutterings to the gods and the way it actually touches their lives.

DS: Ashael Rising is book one of a planned trilogy, is that correct? Without giving to much away book one ended on abit of a cliff hanger. So, what can we except in book two? No spoilers please?

SK: Yes, Ashael Rising is book one of a planned trilogy. I plan to start writing book three in April and will hopefully have it finished by the end of the year. Ashael Falling, which is book two, sees Ashael settle into her new role and begin to come up with a plan to end the threat of the Zanthar on a more permanent basis. There’s a lot of travel in book two, opening up some more of KalaDene and getting to know some of the non-human peoples a bit more. Ashael faces a lot of hard times and book two is a bit darker than the first book. We also see a bit more of Zan and learn more about the culture of the Zanthar and the stakes for them.

DS: Which authors would you compare your writing style to? Which authors have influenced your writing career?

SK: Oh, that’s really tough to answer. It always feels arrogant for me to ever compare myself to other authors. My editor compared me to Raymond E Feist and Trudy Canavan in my editorial report for book one and that was a huge compliment. I feel that I’ve been influenced by Raymond E Feist as one of the earliest adult fantasy authors I read and one of my favourites over the years. Janny Wurts and LE Modesitt Jr have also influenced me. Probably many others in a less conscious way. I always look to Stephen King for how to write brilliant characters and Terry Pratchett for writing with multiple layers and George RR Martin for politics and political maneuvering.

DS: There has been an increase in female fantasy writers, and female protagonists’ novels produced in the last year. Some have been well received, and others have faced in my opinion unwarranted criticism. What do you feel has caused this increase and what more could be done to make women’s voices heard?

SK: I’m not sure if there’s been an increase in the novels published or if it’s been more of an increase in visibility. I think that there has been a huge amount of effort made by women in publishing to raise and support other female voices.

What more could be done? I don’t think that’s an easy question and I think it’s probably something that needs to be addressed at multiple levels. I think publishers need to look at their list and make sure that they’re including diverse voices – in every way, not just more female voices. We also need to hear more LGBTQ+ voices, more PoC voices, more non-western voices. But those books don’t just have to be published, they have to be marketed in such a way that the public will notice them.

I think booksellers have to look at where and how books are placed in the shops. I think readers need to push themselves to read outside their comfort zones (and I include myself as a reader in this). I think that men need to raise women’s voices and recommend books by diverse authors and about diverse protagonists. And I think we all need to be a bit less lazy when we make recommendations to others. I think we can generally assume that authors like Brandon Sanderson and George RR Martin have many ways of finding readers – we should be looking to recommend authors that get less press instead of falling back on the same five names over and over again.

DS: Inclusion and representation is a much-discussed topic at the moment in the arts. Do you as a writer feel pressurised to write diverse characters or do you see it as an opportunity to improve your understanding of a culture?

SK: I don’t feel pressurised at all to write diverse characters, but it is something I challenge myself to do. I believe that we, as a species, learn empathy by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and I want to do that as much as possible in my writing. I believe that everyone should get an opportunity to see themselves in stories, and not just as a side character.

It’s not so much that I see it as an opportunity to better understand a culture since, so far, I haven’t written anything based on a real-world culture. It’s more that I see including a variety of diverse characters in my work as an opportunity to improve my writing. I don’t want to find myself telling the same stories over and over again, which is what would happen if I didn’t write about diverse characters.

Thanks to Shona for doing the interview. It was a pleasure to have you on my blog. Why not check her out on Twitter: https://twitter.com/shona_kinsella and buy her books they are awesome.