Do I have to read all your epic fantasy books from the beginning?
No, not at all. The first book of each of those four series is carefully written to make sure a newcomer to this world can enjoy it and understand it without having read any of what’s gone before. Though all my books do follow each other in the overall Einarinn timeline, so there is that added-value for fans who’ve read them, particularly when characters from one series are the obvious people to play a role in the next.
Are there going to be more books about Livak and the characters from the Tales of Einarinn?
At the moment I don’t have a novel-length story demanding to be told about Livak or Ryshad. I could cobble a plot together but I don’t want to do that. As a reader, I’ve been disappointed when writers continue with a series just for the sake of continuing. Though you can read some shorter adventures about these characters in A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, (click on the link to the left for the ebook). You will also see a few characters from the Tales getting caught up my subsequent series.
Why fantasy fiction?
I like it, it’s as much fun to write as it is to read. Also, when I started writing, it was something I felt confident about tackling with the resources I had to hand in terms of imagination and books of my own. I might have written crime or historical fiction but these needed the kind of research that was a total non-starter with two small boys in tow. These days, now that my sons have grown up, I am certainly exploring other genres. You may like to take a look at the ‘Philocles‘ mysteries set in classical Greece, if you enjoy historical crime fiction…
How do you set about writing a book?
Speaking purely for myself here, I start with a blank sheet of paper and sketch out the overall plot structure. I usually have the beginning, the end and a few bits of the middle when I begin. When I can see the gaps, I can find ways to fill them in and then I expand this diagram with character and sub-plot notes. Working from that, I draw up a detailed plan for each chapter, write it up, get opinions on it and then plan the next chapter, working in the new things that arise as the book develops.
Where do you get your names from?
I try to use real names in my epic fantasy novels , usually slightly modified, because they look plausible and are relatively easy to pronounce whereas the Scrabble-bag approach always ends up sounding artificial to me. I find them in the papers; foreign news and obituaries are especially useful as are international sporting events. I get others from things like National Geographic magazine and programmes like From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4. Archive material and historical reference books throw up a fair few and I have an ever expanding network of family, friends, family of friends and friends of family who pass back suggestions, along with curious facts that they’ve discovered that they think might interest me. I keep long lists and refer to them whenever I need a new name.
Names in my contemporary fantasy novels are trickier than you might imagine. I have to Google them all to make sure I’m not inadvertently going to cause offence to someone real. I use ‘extinct’ surnames for the worst villains.
Who gets to read what you’ve written first?
Different people read each completed story and they give me an invaluable perspective on the big picture, picking up continuity flaws or glitches in tone or pace. They’re all carefully chosen to be absolutely merciless. Every writer needs friends like these, who will send back scripts with notes in the margins like ‘attack of the killer plot device’ and ‘you weren’t awake when you wrote this, were you?’.
Are any of your characters drawn from real life?
They all are, in that I use everyday life as a constant reality check to make sure reactions and attitudes are believable. No single character is drawn from any one individual; I merge facets of different people I know and invent other aspects to create rounded characters.
Don’t you suffer from writer’s block?
No, I don’t have time. A lot of activities engage my time and energy, from teaching to promoting books and SF&F, writing reviews and all sorts of other things. Plus my husband works full time and long hours so my side of our personal deal is running the household so we can spend weekends and free time together. This means my writing time is tightly timetabled, so I can’t waste any of it. I plan everything in advance and make lots of notes for what I am about to write, thinking through plot and character questions while I’m doing things like the ironing, the cooking and the housework. The monitors on my desk often have Post-Its stuck to them, with some crucial note for the next time I’m at the keyboard.
Would you like to see a film or a TV series made of your books?
Naturally! Whether or not it’ll ever happen is a different question. There’s no question that fabulous fantasy films and series can be made with modern technology – but to get the best out of CGI and all the rest, you do need to invest money equivalent to the annual budget of a small country. Studios are only going to do that for books that have a substantial readership beyond the usual fantasy market. So, indulging in a little real-world fantasy here, when all the enthusiastic readers of the Tales have spread the word sufficiently to get the Hollywood suits sitting up and taking notice, I’d like to see the kind of casting that worked so well for Star Wars all those decades ago – unknowns taking the leads and the big stars for the cameos and supporting roles. My ideas on these vary, depending on what films and TV I’ve seen recently.
What do you read?
These days, for relaxation, mostly crime. I’m a great fan of Lindsey Davis, Val McDermid and Laurie R King, Ian Rankin, Cath Staincliffe, Michael Connolly, Robert Crais and Andrew Taylor to name but a few. I still love fantasy but my reading time is limited so I rarely start anything that might turn into an endless saga. I always keep my eyes open for new books by Kate Elliott, Robin Hobb, Scott Lynch, Naomi Novik and Kelley Armstrong. In between times, I read a lot of history, often social and cultural in focus, as well as biography and travel writing, by way of research. Light relief is reading the things I’m given to review, often not at all the kind of book I’d ordinarily pick up but one of the pluses of doing this is being constantly reminded to keep an open mind!
What TV do you watch?
A real mixture. I like good-hearted comedy like Parks & Recreation or Brooklyn 99. I’m a fan of undemanding crime shows like NCIS and The Rookie for relaxation viewing. We’re currently also enjoying Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, and for rather more melodramatic first responders, Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19. Intelligent serial dramas like How To Get Away With Murder will always get my attention, and previous favourites include Scandal, Justified, Deadwood, The Wire and the Battlestar Galactica reboot. On the current SF side, we’re enjoying Star Trek: Discovery, Lower Decks and Picard, while The Expanse has been simply outstanding viewing. As far as fantasy goes, we loved Good Omens, and Lucifer. I am a great fan of Supernatural, and I’m okay with the way it ended. As with Game of Thrones, different story telling choices were possible, but it wasn’t my story, so that’s not my call. I’m currently enjoying Riverdale – melodrama teetering right on the edge but never quite toppling into ridiculous, as it explores the stories we tell ourselves as we try to come to terms with our lives and our parents. I watch great many historical and factual programmes but I detest ‘reality TV’. I don’t ever get into soap operas; I just don’t have the time or the inclination.