Can Ellen overcome abuse to take her rightful place as Si'Empra's leader? Ellen's barely 18. She runs away from her abusive half-brother with only the giant bird, the glasaur Rosa, as her safety. Together with a group of refugees, she's hunted in the mountains. She's lost in herself but she doesn't forget she's the king's daughter and and when her brother's henchmen threaten those she cares for, she challenges them with all the confidence of her birthright. It's the first step to control but she doesn't know if it's of herself or her destiny.
There are nuances in nature and our interactions with others that cannot be imagined. Once experienced, though, they provide a platform from which our imaginations can fly. I suspect that when creators do not give themselves time to absorb their place in their environment, the storyline becomes the noise of battle and special effects (which, in the end, is a relatively poor substitute for a storyline). In “Skyseeker’s Princess”, I shamelessly borrow from the experiences and observations with nature and with people that I've been privileged to be a part of. Though some might try to pigeonhole “Skyseeker’s Princess” as teens or YA fantasy fiction (because the marketing regime of books is genre driven!), it is not aimed as such. Skyseeker’s Princess is a story that is anchored in a beautiful earth environment and speaks to the issues that arise when people cease to appreciate the strong bonds that we have with nature and with oneanother.
In Australia, we get quite a bit of northern hemisphere news and social media, and my friends from the US tell me how cold it's getting and whether we're getting snow. This at the same time as they're being horrified at the fires we are experiencing. Today, I have closed up the house to try to keep cool while the temperature climbs to 130ºF outside (not winter!). Si'Empra, the Island I write about is cold almost all the time, with winters making life in the elements unbearable and summers experiencing periods of weather that most of us would associate with winter. The fun and challenging part of writing the Si'Empra series was imagining this form of climate and what sort of people and culture it would create.
It seems that societies are drawn to marking the passing of time in chopped up bits. Festivities (Xmas, New Year, Hanukka, Ramadan, Vesak). Recognising the importance of festivities, I considered what sort of festivities Si'Emprans might celebrate. I also took on board that festivities – as well as, marking an ending and/or a beginning (even if dressed as remembrance) – are also times when disruption or chaos occurs – when emotions run high, when insights occur – probably because people become hypersensitive to something they've lost or something they want to gain. Or maybe it's just an instinctual discomfort with chopping up something that is actually continuous: Time. In Skyseeker's Princess, I captured this peculiarity of humans by creating 'turning points' in created festivities. I describe two main Si'Empran festivities. In the book bubble, I've provided a sample of the one celebrated by Crystalmakers. Skyseeker's Princess, from which the excerpt is taken, will be available for .99c from the 15th of this month for a few days. Grab a copy and take a look at festivities through different eyes (as well as lots of other things, of course).
I set goals - but all sorts of other things creep in. Like when I clean the kitchen – it starts with cleaning one cupboard but in the cupboard I find a bowl that belongs in the pantry. When I put the bowl in the pantry I find that the shelf needs a wipe. When I start to wipe the shelf, I find a container with rice that's almost empty so I start a list of to-do-shopping and as I go down the list I wonder what I need to get to replenish items in the fridge. When I open the fridge I note there's food I meant to give the dogs. As I'm giving the dogs the food I note that their bedding needs ... and so on. At the end of the day I may have attained my original goal but ... it took soooo much longer. My authorship's like that too - wedged in among all sorts of other to do's. Ellen (the fictitional heroine) sorts her goals in a more orderly manner. In this extract she's not sidelined by lots of extraneous events; she keeps her eye on the ball.
Halloween is not a tradition in Australia. I am currently in Brazil where it is also not a tradition. Interestingly, though, it is known and retailers are busy trying to make money from it (as they do in Australia!). When did something that was meant to inspire trepidation become captured by capitalism? There are, of course, still things that haven't been caught by today's consumerist society - real terror, such as the event of an earthquake for people who live underground and have their world literally shaken – such as the Crystalmakers in this chapter.
One of the comments I get from readers of Skyseeker's Princess is that they need to do a double-take because the book transitions between the traditional Medieval setting of fantasy genre and a sophisticated contemporary setting. I'm not sure why this confuses people since a travel to any developing country will confront the traveller with extreme poverty with barely better than Medieval setting and mobile (cell) phones in the hands of those who can barely feed themselves - but then, maybe, genre readers don't want to be 'confronted' but to step cosily into the confined tropes of fantasy.
I chaired the first meeting of a committee last night and was intrigued by how seriously many people take life. When I asked a frivolous question: "What would you like to be in your next life?" and went on to say that I would like to be a willy wagtail (that's a small, perky bird), the response from many was not to follow this joking theme but things like: "I don't believe there's a next life" or "I want to be a human being". Since I spend a lot of time, in my writing, trying to live within my character's minds, listening to these responses peaked my curiosity: what would it be like to live in a mind that is so emphatic? This week's bubble is my dive into the mind of a character in my book who almost entirely lives in her imagination and tries to come to terms with what is happening in reality.
One of the best and most difficult parts of writing the sort of fiction I write is "knowing" the minds of the characters that people my books. As my fingers create the actions and thoughts of my characters, I often catch myself screwing up my face or smiling or laughing or wincing as if I am the character coming alive on the page before me. One of the characters I found both challenging to portray and yet totally understandable is the subject of the book bubble this week. Lian Isoldé creates her own reality so how that reality plays out only has to be rational for her. Ellen's interactions with her are on the basis of Lian Isoldé's terms; but since Ellen does not share Isoldé's rationality, I needed to tread carefully in the space between them.
It is a strange thing that writers are often very nervous to read their own writings out loud to people. So many writers have told me this that I became relieved that I'm not the only one whose voice dissolves into a nervous shake when it needs to articulate the words I have crafted. I used this anomaly in the scene chosen for this week's bubble when Müther forces Ellen to read some of her work. Ellen, usually so sure of herself, tries to parry Müther's challenge by reciting a work she's rehearsed before but then must recite a work that is more bizarre and causes her a great deal of discomfort.
I love reading fantasy but, too often, I find the stories 'dark'. In real life, there are often spots of 'light', even in dark times - and, especially, when considering long periods of time. I like to colour my stories, showing that lives are varied, dipping in and out of 'colours'. I do this by placing characters in settings that are inherently beautiful and linking the character with the beauty – interactions that are both observations and reactions to those observations - such as this bubble.
Humans are social animals. Very few people choose to be alone … for many people, being alone translates ultimately into ‘loneliness’. Personally, I’m not fond of large gatherings: there’s an energy that makes me nervous about large gatherings. It is, however, this very energy that attracts so many of my friends and relatives – and I completely understand its attraction and the need for ‘gathering’ and its vital place in binding and re-invigorating society. It is through scenes of ‘gathering’ that I provide context for much that happens on Si’Empra. This week’s book bubble is an excerpt that introduces one of those gatherings on Si'Empra.
In this excerpt from Skyseeker Princess, Elthán decides to send Thimon and the other survivors of the hunt to the cave. Thimon was rightly concerned about this decision but Elthán felt she had no choice, since the risk of not doing so was hypothermia and the loss of already stressed livestock. She then decided that, given the dire state of supplies for Crystalmakers, she had no option but to order the dead goats be butchered for their meat. No matter which decision Elthán took, she was faced with unpalatable consequences. Not to react to the immediate problem spelled certain disaster. To solve the immediate problem spelled a possible future disaster. There's a saying "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush" and that's what guided her decisions. Elthán might have been able to predict the savage murder of Crystalmakers, but she would never have predicted that her actions set the stage for drawing Ellen more firmly into the lives of Crystalmakers.
Ellen thrills at a challenge. The problem is that the thrill sometimes overrides caution. Confronting the Guild Masters is just one of such incidents. She's had a lifetime of digging herself out of trouble though. With guile, charm and a deep knowledge of who she is and her context, she is generally able to steer her way through trouble... Generally, but not always!
(“...Enchanting… It was difficult to put the book down.” — Patrick Gilbert-Roberts, author of The Intervention). Horror and consequences dog Ellen's every choice when she sets out to help her friends. Ellen's tasks for the summer start off very clear to her but she didn't figure on the earthquake or her brother's insanity or her own fragile self-control. Nor had she expected the Cryptals to take such a firm hold of her destiny. Though she struggles to free herself from their desires, she is helpless and they shove her into a final battle against her brother. A sorry challenge that seals her from freedom.
I am not alone in reflecting that the current tragedy unfolding around the globe is a reminder of the fragility of human control over the environment. Years of 'stability' have made many so called 'world leaders' (governments and business) arrogant would-be masters. It only takes a microscopic 'beast' to remind us that we humans are entirely beholden to nature - and we ignore that fact to our peril. I've just completed the third book in the "Songs of Si'Empra" series. Flipping through each of the books, I note again how strong this theme of "symbiosis" (the firm bond between humans and the ecosystem) is throughout the series. More than anything, it is this threat to all that is unique about Si'Empra that motivates Ellen to act as she does.
I'm a slow reader. I can skim – and do when I just want to get information – but when I read for pleasure, I'm slow. I sound out the words in my head as if I'm reading out loud. I know I'm getting bored with the book when I stop 'mind-reading out loud'. When I read a description that I think is well done and I want to 'see' it more clearly, I read it over a few times. When I write, I love the parts where I get to be descriptive - like in this week's book bubble. Editors sometimes advise me to take out my descriptions because they 'detract' or don't 'push' the story along but I love reading them in stories because they put me into the character's moment. So, I like the readers of my stories to 'enjoy' the moment too.
Imagine facing a winter so ferocious you will be confined for six months indoors without light or warmth. Much of the world's population are currently facing 'isolation' from COVID-19 and it reminded me of scenes in Cryptal's Champion. How do people face isolation? Is it easier for people who have grown up knowing it will happen year after year, or do circumstances change and it is always a struggle? In the Si'Empra series, the populations have adjusted but then something happens to hurtle them back to the times when all their careful planning for winter doesn't count and only ingenuity and sheer determination will get them through the cold, the dark and the long, long months.
The idea of 'consequences' fascinates me and underpins the whole of the Si'Empra series. There are consequences to each of Ellen's decisions: when she does nothing she precipitates outcomes that impact her and Si'Empra; when she acts, she also must face the consequences of her actions. In this snippet, Ellen is faced with yet another problem – indirectly of her making but unforeseen by her, as are so many of the consequences to her decisions. Her biggest character flaw is her impetuousness - yet it is also the one that enables her to take the actions that cause her to do what must be done
Without exception, when people talk to me about my books, they mention Rosa. She was such a fun character to develop and is an amalgam of my observations of the animals I have been privileged to know and interact with. I wanted to build in the special relationship I've had with so many of my pets, the unquestioning friendship they've provided, the distress they feel and the way they argue a command. Rosa is so integral to my stories that the question readers often ask is not about "what happens to such and such human character?" but "what happens to Rosa?"
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