I am a hopeless dreamer who spends half her time in other worlds and the other half inside her own head… which is pretty much the same thing. I used to get told off at school for not listening except when we studied English or wrote poems/ stories. You know that loner you saw squandering their lunch break in the library reading Dragonlance? Yeah – that was me. Before then, I was training to be an actress and a dancer at theatre school and I worked a fair bit in the industry. I can’t imagine being an actress now, but that’s what might have happened had I not discovered how much I loved telling stories. Today I live in East Devon on the shores of the Jurassic Coast, dividing my time between writing and bookselling. And occasionally playing the piano.
Your debut novel, STARBORN, was recently published by Tor Books in the UK. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a planned series?
Starborn is the first book in a trilogy called Worldmaker, a traditional fantasy with the flavour of Eddings and Canavan. It’s the story of a young woman called Kyndra who discovers that she (and indeed the world as she knows it) might not be all they appear. After a disastrous coming of age ceremony, she finds herself fleeing her home in the company of two strangers, who take her halfway across the world to a hidden subterranean citadel – the home of the fabled Wielders, who can draw upon the energy of the sun and moon. It’s here she begins to uncover a truth long forgotten by everyone except a fanatical sect living in the depths of the citadel and their mysterious leader – a truth inextricably bound up with her own destiny.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
In general, mostly from other books, folk tales, snippets of RPG games or an anime series I’ve seen. I tend to pick out elements from a lot of places. I had the initial idea for Starborn when I was 17 and reading The Wheel of Time, so those familiar with the series may well find some similarities scattered throughout the book. I’ve recently done a skim-through re-read of WoT and am a tad surprised at how many Jordan-esque things have crept into my writing. The early books especially caught me up in visions of reincarnated heroes and sorcerers roaming a vast world, against which an epic coming-of-age story unfolds. I wanted to write a book like that, maybe not quite as ambitious, but a book to stir the imagination, to pluck a reader right out of their life and drop them into something other. And fantasy was such a comfort to me as a teenager. Starborn is a paean to all those adventures that helped me through some difficult years.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
Like many genre writers, through Tolkien. My dad read The Lord of the Rings to my sister and I when we were kids, as well as The Hobbit, The Day of the Triffids, The War of the Worlds, Hot House… We were too young to fully appreciate them, but I wonder whether they planted not only the roots of my love of writing, but also my love of genre fiction. The books that really stayed with me were Tolkien’s and for some reason I found myself irrevocably drawn to fantasy. I re-read The Lord of the Rings age 14, moved onto The Silmarillion and then began ransacking my local bookshop for more. And I’ve not stopped.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It’s a dream come true. From the age of 15, I couldn’t imagine myself doing any other job. Save for the self-discipline required, I hardly consider it a job at all – storytelling is who I am and I can’t be other than myself. I’ve worked hard to reach this point, but I don’t pretend I’m not extraordinarily lucky to be able to do what I love. From a new author’s perspective, I couldn’t be happier with my publisher and the effort they’ve put in to make the book the best it can be, from editing to design to marketing. I still work part time as a bookseller, which means I find myself at either end of the publishing process and it’s certainly affected the way I view the creation of a book as a physical, tradable object as well as an artwork.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
When it comes to plotting and structuring, I’m not a planner and (using a GRRM metaphor), prefer to plant some seeds, water them and let them grow into what they will. I like to give my characters breathing space to change and surprise me, and I can’t do that if I’ve decided the course of their story from up on high. I research as I go along as well. Insofar as actual working practice is concerned, I always write in the mornings, up until 1-ish. After that time, I’m not at my best so I’ll do something completely different, or edit.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
When I was 14, we were given a starting paragraph at school and told to turn it into a story over the Easter holidays. As it transpired, the teacher never asked for it, which was a shame because I’d spent the entire break writing it in pencil on 30 sheets of A4 – I still have them somewhere. After that, I ditched the first paragraph as it wasn’t mine and wondered how long I could make the story. It grew so long, I had to type it up and, on and off over the next two years, it became a whole novel, 126,000 words of elves, dwarves, wizards, dark lords… Not ground-breaking stuff, but I still have it and I do look back at it fondly – I realised while writing it that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Fantasy is in a really strong place. Adaptations of Tolkien and George R.R. Martin have pushed the genre into the mainstream and it’s picking up new devotees every day. Fantasy is finally beginning to shake off the more negative stereotypes that have plagued it since the ’70s and ’80s and it’s a great time to be a fantasy writer as well as a reader with so many excellent books to choose from. Recently I’ve written about the British female fantasy scene, highlighting some of the many women writing in the genre today and the themes they consider it important to address in their fiction. Just a few important names to watch out for – Rebecca Levene, Sarah Pinborough, Jen Williams, Genevieve Cogman, Samantha Shannon. There’s no point denying that SFF as a genre does have a patriarchal bias to discard – despite the fact that women have always written fantasy, they simply haven’t received the same attention as their male counterparts. That’s changing now with more women ditching their gender neutral initials in a literary environment that’s experiencing remarkable growth both in terms of variety and popularity.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just handed in Book 2 of the trilogy and while I’m awaiting edits, I’m concentrating on writing articles to help promote Starborn. Much the same as when I read a book, I don’t like to split my energies between several creative projects. This is an epic fantasy series, which requires juggling characterisation, worldbuilding, subplots, etc. and I’m trying to find the balance that will let me tell the best story I can. I have a few new ideas on the backburner though and occasionally add some notes to those when they occur to me.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Temeraire by Naomi Novik because I loved her new book Uprooted so much that a friend leant me her debut, which I’d never read. She’s a wonderful writer. I’ve also got a non-fiction on the go, which I dip into now and again called The Mighty Dead by Adam Nicolson. It’s an eloquent and fascinating exploration of Homer and why he matters.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Perhaps that my sister is a writer too, and that her debut novel came out exactly the same day as mine. She goes by the name Laura Madeleine and if you like Paris in 1909, forbidden love and pastries, you should check out The Confectioner’s Tale (Transworld).
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Hearing from readers who enjoyed Starborn, walking into bookshops and seeing Starborn on the shelves… this is a dream I’ve nursed for nearly 15 years and to be able to say I’ve achieved it… well, it’s beyond wonderful.
Author photo (top) credit: Lou Abercrombie
Here are the other stops on the Starborn blog tour: