Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Jacey Bedford?
I’m a writer, a reader, a singer and an organiser. I spent twenty years ‘on the road’ with a cappella trio, Artisan and then ‘retired’ to my desk. I now organise UK gigs for folk musicians from all over the world. I’ve always written, though the literary world will be grateful that the novel I started at the age of fifteen never got beyond Chapter Six. Like most writers I suffered from the ‘is this good enough?’ syndrome, but eventually got over that when my first story was published in a DAW anthology in 1998. Since then I’ve sold close to 50 short stories on both sides of the Atlantic, but I didn’t get my first book deal (DAW again) until 2013. I now have six books (that’s two trilogies) published and, I’m working on Book Number Seven.
How would you introduce the Rowankind series to a potential reader?
The Rowankind trilogy consists of Winterwood, Silverwolf and Rowankind – in that order. When Winterwood opens it’s 1800. Mad King George is on the British throne, and Bonaparte is hammering at the door. Magic is strictly controlled by the Mysterium, but despite severe penalties, not all magic users have registered. Integral to many genteel households is an uncomplaining army of rowankind bondservants, so commonplace that no one recalls where they came from. Ross Tremayne, widowed, cross-dressing privateer captain and unregistered witch, likes her life on the high seas, accompanied by a boatload of swashbuckling, barely-reformed pirates and the jealous ghost of her late husband, Will. When she pays a bitter deathbed visit to her long-estranged mother she inherits a half-brother she didn’t know about, and a magical winterwood box containing task she doesn’t want. Depending on who you believe it could right a terrible wrong or it could bring about the downfall of Britain. There’s a man – a deadly government agent – willing to use all his considerable powers to prevent Ross from opening the box. Enter Corwen. He’s handsome, sexy, clever and capable, and Ross really doesn’t like him; neither does Will’s ghost. Can he be trusted? Whose side is he on? Unable to chart a course to her future until she’s unravelled the mysteries of the past, Ross has to avoid the not altogether unwelcome attentions of a dashing but dangerous pirate; evade a ruthless government agent who fights magic with darker magic; and brave the hitherto hidden Fae. Only then can she open the magical winterwood box and solve the problem. Unfortunately success may prove fatal to both Ross and her new brother, and disastrous for the country. By doing the ‘right’ thing is Ross going to unleash a terrible evil? Is her enemy the real hero and Ross the villain? Should she open the box or let sleeping magic lie.
Silverwolf explores the repercussions of what happened in Winterwood, and throws more light onto Corwen, his family and the matter of magic in Britain. Rowankind rounds it off as Ross and Corwen try to make Britain safer for magic users despite the return of old enemies and old friends.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I don’t know where ideas come from. They just appear, and I grab them as they fly by. In this particular case the opening scene of Winterwood arrived in my head and I wrote it down to see what happened next. It was originally a standalone, but I had ideas for two more books to make it into a trilogy. Luckily, DAW gave me the opportunity to write them. For the Rowankind trilogy, I’ve taken a lot from actual history and added magic. It opens in 1800. Mad King George is on the British throne and Britain is at war with France. King George appears as a character in the third book, as does William Pitt the Younger, politician. My science fiction trilogy (space opera) started in a similar way. The first scene came to me and I wrote it down and kept on writing so see what would happen.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I used to read nothing but pony stories when I was a child, getting five books a week from the local public library. One day I’d run out of stories I hadn’t read, but I found an intriguing looking book called The Horse and His Boy, one of CS Lewis’s Narnia books. That was it for fantasy. When I was twelve years old I bought John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids from a school book club. That led me to science fiction. After that I read my way through the library’s collection of the distinctive Gollancz yellow-jacketed science fiction books.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I love it. Six books in and I’m still learning the ropes. I’m very lucky to have (Hugo-winning) Sheila Gilbert as my editor, and Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary as my agent.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
No, not really. I work from home and I have a very messy office. I use an archaeological filing system. The longer I’ve had something, the lower down the strata it is. When I got my first book deal I treated myself to a 23 inch monitor and a mechanical keyboard (Cherry) which has a very satisfying click. I write using Scrivener, which I recommend every writer tries. Give it a few days and read the manual because some bits of it are not intuitive, but once you’ve learned to use it, it’s wonderful, particularly when you get to the structural editing phase. I’m still only a three-finger typist so I fumble my way through a first draft with lots of typos. I’m not really a plotter, but not quite a complete pantser either. I usually write the first twenty thousand words or so to see where it’s going, then I plot it out – but not in very great detail. I know where I want it to end up but the bit in the middle is covered by, ‘stuff happens.’
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?
I’ve always wanted to write, but in the early days I didn’t think I’d ever get published, so I wrote the stories I wanted to read. I hadn’t a clue how to go about finding a publisher. I mentioned my first attempt at writing a novel when I was fifteen. That’s probably better forgotten. Some time in the 1990s I realised that there was a slim chance this writing thing might work, and when I sold my first short story that was validation. (The Jewel of Locaria to DAW’s anthology Warrior Princesses edited by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and Martin Greenberg.) After that I started to get much more serious about not only writing but submitting. By the time I sold my first novel I had seven if them on the hard drive. I had a lot of help along the way. In the early days I learned a lot from the usenet groups “misc.writing” and “red.arts.sf.composition”. Then I discovered Milford. It’s for published writers only, but I’d literally only sold one story when I went for the first time. I’ve been back so many times that eventually they gave me a job to do, so now I’m the secretary. Lot’s of massively successful writers have passed through Milford from George R.R. Martin and Anne McCaffrey to Neil Gaiman.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
It seems to me that science fiction and fantasy is becoming strongert. You only need to look at the biggest grossing movies of the last few years to realise that it’s incredibly popular. Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar, Harry Potter, Marvel movies, Arrival, The Martian etc. Book-wise, there’s just so much out there that I can’t possibly answer that question of where I fit into it all. I manage to read about sixty books a year, tops, so I probably don’t even have an overall picture. I am very happy to be published by DAW, however. I think my work fits in very well with the kind of books they publish.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on another historical fantasy book, this time set in an analogue of the Baltic States in the 1600s. It’s a one-off, not the beginning of another trilogy. Called The Amber Crown it’s got politics and a twisty plot. It’s told from three separate points of view, Valdas, the failed bodyguard of the recently assassinated king who is searching for the culprit; Mirza, a Romani healer and witch tasked with helping him by the spirit of the murdered king; and Lind, the assassin. I really loved writing Lind. He’s got more hangups than a hallway full of coat hooks.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’ve always got a fiction book on the go. I’ve just started Daughters of Forgotten Light by Sean Grigsby. I haven’t read more than the first chapter, yet, but I enjoyed his Smoke Eaters a lot. I recently finished Dark Light, the second Elizabeth Cage book by Jodi Taylor, author of the very fine Chronicles of St Mary’s. I blog all my reading (and movies) at my Dreamwidth blog, which is my personal blog. I blog about writing on my author blog on WordPress, called Tales from the Typeface — Writing and Other Vices.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Oh that’s easy. Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold would be the book I grabbed as I ran screaming out of a burning building. I love all of her work, both fantasy and science fiction, but Curse of Chalion stands out above them all. She’s invented a wonderful hero in Cazaril. Perhaps one of his most endearing qualities is that he doesn’t see himself as anything special. When the book opens he’s a broken and forgotten man, returning to his home country after some years as a galley slave. Caz gradually rebuilds himself as he rebuilds the lives and kindles hope of those around him by being steadfast, intelligent, honest and doing what he has to do, despite great personal risk. It’s quite simply a complete and satisfying read. Aaaand… now I’m going to have to go and read it yet again.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
As part of Artisan I’ve made 14 CDs and a DVD and played to audiences of 12,000 at the Vancouver Folk Festival and to three people and the landlord’s dog in a pub in Kent in the middle of a snow storm. And my claim to fame is singing live on BBC Radio 4’s Loose Ends, accompanied by the Doctor (Who?) playing spoons. (Thank you Sylvester McCoy!)
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Writing the next book. Attending Worldcon in Dublin (and in New Zealand the year after). Spending time with my family. Keeping up with friends. Attending Milford. Not necessarily in that order. When I was touring with Artisan we did thirty-one tours to the USA and Canada in a period of ten years, plus thousands of miles up and down Britain’s motorways, so now I really enjoy being at home where it’s quiet. (Just me, hubby and the dog.) I love a job you can do in your pyjamas.
Thank you for inviting me to the Civilian Reader blog.
Jacey Bedford’s Rowankind is published by DAW Books.