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I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Megan Haskell today to talk with me about her award winning book, Sanyare: The Last Descendant.
Hello, Megan! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion! That is wonderful news! How did you discover indiebrag?
To be honest, I don’t remember! I know that’s kind of terrible to say, but I think I saw the name pop up a few different places back in January, and I looked into nominating SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT for the medallion. Unfortunately, at the time, indieBRAG wasn’t accepting new submissions, so I signed up for the email list to be notified when they reopened. As soon as they did, I submitted, and here we are!
Please tell me about your story, Sanyare: The Last Descendant.
SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT is a dark fantasy coming-of-age adventure about a woman raised by elves in a realm where humans are treated like slaves. After decades of hard work and intense training, Rie has finally earned a post in the High Court messenger service. Still scorned by the high elves who rely on her loyalty, Rie’s closest allies are the fierce carnivorous pixies who travel with her on every mission.
When she’s attacked on a routine delivery by assassins from the enemy Shadow Realm, Rie’s combat training keeps her alive…and frames her as a traitor. Knowing her king will execute her for even the appearance of treason, Rie is forced to forsake her oaths and flee into enemy lands to prove her innocence. With surprising help from a bastard prince and an ambitious blood sidhe, Rie searches for the truth behind the attack. The secrets she uncovers may threaten more than her honor or even her life…for war is looming in the nine faerie realms.
Who are you three top antagonists and please tell me a little about them.
First, there’s Othin, King of the High Court in the upper realm of the fae. He’s a high elf, the leader of what’s known as the glittering throng. It’s his edict that would have Rie executed for having contact with an individual from the enemy shadow realm. Her only choice is to flee her home and everything she knows to travel across enemy lines and find out who was behind the attack. If she can prove her innocence, she just might be able to convince the king to let her live.
The other antagonists…well, they’re a bit of a surprise. I don’t want to ruin anything, so I’ll just say that there is more at stake than just Rie’s life, and the players involved come from all walks of life.
How are your characters influenced by their setting?
In the universe of The Sanyare Chronicles, there are nine realms, each with a unique culture and climate. As Rie travels, she has to adapt to each region and try to blend with the people that live there.
The story begins on modern day earth, and Rie is wearing human clothing. She starts out walking down a beach in jeans and a tank, actually. She’s fairly comfortable in the human realm, because she’s traveled there several times and was trained to move unnoticed through the city.
But when she travels to the shadow realm, she is completely out of place. She doesn’t understand the culture, and doesn’t know how to interact with the people. In fact, throughout her training, the high court promoted an idea that the shadow realm was essentially evil. A huge part of her character development comes through learning about the city and its customs, and realigning her misperceptions to reality.
Describe the High Court.
The high court is all glittering gold, white marble, and reflective mirrors. The light in the realm is soft and shimmery, everything seems to glisten and shine. But it’s also cold and hard, with very little to comfort or cushion — no rugs on the floors, no tapestries on the walls, just stone and intricate gilded wood. King Othin doesn’t like anything to obscure the perfection of his court.
Will you please share an excerpt?
Absolutely! This scene comes from Chapter 1, so no spoilers here…
Two men stood on the beach, directly in her path. Still at least fifty yards away, they seemed out of place without the surfboards or exercise attire of the usual early morning crowd. Rie paused, assessing. The blond one crouched, taking something out of a bag in the sand. He flipped it once, a shard of light glinting into Rie’s eyes. The throbbing in her brain burst in white-hot light, leaving her blind to the real world as she entered a vision.
The blond man stands, facing her. He pulls his arm back, a knife whistles toward her. Blood streams from her belly, her shirt soaked in seconds, the sand absorbing the overflow. The sky is all she sees, expansive gray-blue dotted with thin wispy clouds. A small hand taps her face. Niinka’s wide black eyes float into view. Then darkness.
Rie gasped, coming out of the premonition. The blond man rose from his crouch, facing her. His arm pulled back.
Sending her thanks to the gods for the warning, Rie spun left as a knife passed through the air where she had stood. Dropping into a crouch, she scuttled behind a large rocky outcropping, just as another knife hit the sand at her feet. She picked it up, testing the weight as adrenaline surged and her heart rate sped. Fear twisted a knot of dread in her gut.
Curuthannor’s training kicked in. This might be her first life or death fight, but he had prepared her well. She took a cleansing breath, washed away the fear and replaced it with determination. The pixies let go of their hiding spots, chattering in the clicks and whistles of their native tongue. Rie ignored them, focusing instead on her surroundings, and her options. Stairs wound up the cliff to her left, heading toward the street above, but a hundred feet of open space stretched between her rock and the first step. No matter how fast she moved, she’d be an easy target. If she ran back toward the arch, she’d be similarly open to attack.
Rie grabbed a handful of sand with her left hand, while her right hand reached behind and traded the unfamiliar throwing knife for one of two eight-inch khukuri blades in the horizontal sheath at her lower back.
“What are they doing?” she asked Hiinto.
The little pixie crawled atop the rock, his translucent wings pulled back and naked skin camouflaged to match the color and texture of the sandstone. “They’ve split up, one on each side. They’re creeping along now, not sure what you’re doing, I think. What are you doing?”
“Which one is closer?”
“The one near the cliffs.”
“Fifty feet, coming closer.”
“Are you two hungry?”
Hiinto grinned, revealing a mouth full of sharp, serrated teeth, while Niinka rubbed her hands together. “Humans taste almost as good as the elves and greater fae,” she whispered.
“Wait until they are close. I will deal with the cliff-side man. You two take a bite out of the one on the ocean-side.”
“Yum.” Hiinto licked his lips.
What inspired you to write a dark fantasy adventure?
Honestly, it’s what I like to read. I’ve been reading fantasy fiction for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always been attracted to stories with high stakes, lots of action, and yes, quite a bit of blood and gore. So I wrote the story I wanted to read!
How did you come up with your title?
Sanyare is a job title, like queen or president or CEO. It means truthseeker in elvish, and the truthseeker is the mediator of the nine realms, a position of great power and respect. I loved the word, and I really wanted to use it in the book title, but I also knew that since most people (including me) don’t speak elvish, it wouldn’t mean anything out of context of the book.
So I started coming up with alternative book titles. I made this huge long list, and then I started asking people what they thought. At some point, someone suggested combining Sanyare with one of the other titles. It was an “ah-ha” moment. So now I have SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT, and the sequel will be titled SANYARE: THE HEIR APPARENT!
Who designed your book cover? I LOVE it!
Thank you!! Nicole at Cover Shot Creations designed my cover. I did a lot of research into the covers I liked and why, and then I found about five different designers that I thought could produce the kind of cover I wanted. Of them all, I felt like Nicole was the best fit, both for design aesthetic, and price.
How long did it take for you to write your story and where in your home do you like to write?
Including world-building, research, outlining, drafting, editing, and ultimately publishing, it took me two and a half years to produce SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT. The sequel is moving a little faster, and by the time I’m ready to publish, it should be about a year and a half. I’m hoping the third book moves even faster!
I’m a stay-at-home-mom, so writing time fits in during naps, after bedtime, or whenever the girls are otherwise occupied and contained, like snack time. So I have to be flexible in where and how I work. Right now I’m sitting at the kitchen island, typing into a portable Bluetooth keyboard connected to my iPad. But mostly, I work on a laptop wherever I can find space and be comfortable. The couch is often a good choice. Kitchen table is another.
Where can readers buy your book?
I actually just signed up for KDP Select, which means SANYARE: THE LAST DESCENDANT is only available in eBook on Amazon, but it’s a part of the Kindle Unlimited program, so you can read for free if you’re a subscriber! The print book is also available on Createspace and Barnes & Noble.
Legend has it, I was born with a book in my hands. When I was a kid, my mom would ground me from reading in order to get me to do my chores. To this day, I can readily ignore the real world in favor of the imaginary one lurking between the pages of my current addiction. My dad — also an avid reader — introduced me to Tolkien in my late elementary years, and I never looked back. I love escaping to worlds where magic and monsters are real, especially stories with kick-butt heroines and dangerously attractive heroes.
Despite my voracious book appetite, I didn’t start creative writing until I was working as a number cruncher in a big accounting firm. With an hour plus commute by train every day, and a demanding left-brain occupation, I needed a mobile creative outlet. A pen and paper are about as mobile as it gets! As the pages began to fill, I quickly moved onto a tiny laptop, and a writer was born. Now I get to create my own fantasies!
I currently live in Southern California with my wonderfully supportive husband, two daughters, and a ridiculously energetic dog.
I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly to Layered Pages! By day, G. J. is a teacher of (mostly) ICT and Computing in the South Wales valleys, where he lives with his long-suffering wife and 2.4 cats.
He has an eclectic selection of hobbies, from playing a number of musical instruments with varying degrees of competence to learning the art of contact juggling and teaching sword-based martial arts. Having gained his degree, he spent ten years working in industry, before deciding to change career and head into education.
With an interest in high fantasy, contemporary fantasy and science fiction from a young age, it comes as no surprise that his first work falls into the young adult contemporary fantasy genre.
How did you discover indieBRAG?
Before I answer that, I have to say that I count my lucky stars every day that I did!
I’ve been writing seriously since 2009, but I’ve only really discovered the indie writing community in the last twelve months. When I joined the Goodreads Kindle User Forum in early 2015, I had no idea how vast that community was, but one thing led to another and I soon noticed indieBRAG’s name on my screen time and again.
After looking at the quality of work submitted by other honorees at the time, I didn’t think that ‘Inquisitor’ would stand a chance of being accepted, so I put it out of my mind. Then, sometime during that summer, another writer friend brought indieBRAG up in conversation again and persuaded me to send my details. So I did. Then I forgot all about it again, so that I wouldn’t be too disappointed when my little book was rejected.
Well, I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone who’s received that confirmation from Geri how it feels! Now I visit the site every day just to marvel at the company I’m keeping and to check out the blog and read the interviews.
Please tell me about your book, Inquisitor; The Book of Jerrick – Part 1
‘Inquisitor’ is a contemporary fantasy novel for Young Adults that centres on an ongoing war between two ancient factions.
The night that Michael Ware is born, his uncle is murdered, leaving him a locked leather book that has been fought over for centuries. In the weeks following his uncle’s funeral, the opening of the thirtieth Braxton Academy is announced. To everyone’s astonishment, they say that they are going to offer scholarship places to any pupil able to pass the entrance examination. Unknown to the general public; the academy is a front for a society of powerful psychics known as the Inquisition, who are replenishing their ranks for their campaign against the nomadic sorcerers of the Elder Council. And Michael soon discovers that the truth depends on your point of view and that comfort and opulence come at a heavy price.
Set in and around an alternative, modern day London, ‘Inquisitor’ draws on inspiration from One Thousand and One Nights and Grimm’s Fairytales but isn’t a direct retelling of any of our old favourites. Instead, as a reader, you’ll be immersed totally familiar, yet with some fantastic differences and unexpected twists.
‘Inquisitor’ is a book that I hope readers of all ages can enjoy as a bedtime story or something to take your mind off a tedious train ride to work although it does have a good subtext for people who like to read between the lines. Each book in the series is a snapshot of the lives of the main characters as they live through an ongoing war.
Without giving too much away, the main theme of this first book is deceit. I’m not talking about little white lies; I’m talking about the whopping great lies that fester and, hopefully, readers will enjoy trying to decide who they’re rooting for before the end of this adventure. I want them to feel the indecision that Michael has to live with. Most of all, I want their loyalties to waver from one book to the next.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
I was looking for a title that summed up the mystery of the story in one word. Inquisitor – for me, it’s a word that has a lot of superstition surrounding it and an almost mythological quality that people still recognize (even if they only associate it with a famous Monty Python sketch that nobody expects).
It also conjures an image in the mind of what an inquisitor should look like. Think about it – what image comes to mind when someone says ‘Nurse’, or ‘Bishop’, or ‘Undertaker’? Given the plot, it might have seemed blatantly obvious to have chosen that particular word for the title, but I must have gone through a list of twenty others before I made the final selection.
Who designed your book cover?
I did. Those hands around that big ball of fire … they’re my hands, wedding band and all. Actually, the photograph was taken by my wife (don’t worry, she gets royalties). I’d been trying all day to get into the right pose during the 5 seconds the camera was counting down. 60 seconds in Bec’s hands and I had the perfect shot! Then it took a lot of hours of online tutorials and a great deal of patience with a well-known photo editing suite to get it looking the way I wanted it to.
Tell me about Michael Ware and how you developed his character.
When we meet Michael the most he has to worry about is how he’ll survive the move to his new school. He’s of that age when everything is full of wonder and the horrors of life aren’t something he should be thinking about, but often does.
Since I’ve been teaching, I’ve heard conversations that would raise a lot of eyebrows in many circles. Young adults aren’t just talking about football (both kinds), games and relationships. They’re talking about politics, pregnancy, marriage, education, economy and immigration. They might not entirely understand those issues, but they’re giving them some serious thought. One or two reviews have mentioned that Michael and his friends seem older than the age I’ve put them at, and it’s true to a certain extent. But I wanted to give them the credit that the people I teach often don’t receive.
I didn’t want ‘Inquisitor’ to be a rags-to-riches story, so I made the Wares a middle-class family. To be fair, most of the young people I teach now come from the same kinds of families, with a few exceptions up or down the ladder. I was also definite that I wanted Michael’s family to be alive and as loving as any other. I think it makes him more relatable, especially considering what he’s going to go through in the future. But above all, I wanted him to be the average person, even after his talents are discovered because I find overtly brave or sensitive characters unrealistic.
During his character development, I tried to give Michael an emotional range that would make him an accessible character for both male and female readers. In one scene, we see him break down on Tamara’s shoulder after a heated argument with his best friend. In another, he’s about to profess his love but is stopped before he can. A lot of adult readers will read that last passage in particular and feel that those emotions are too advanced for a twelve-year-old, but young adults are more open about their feelings now than they were when we were their age (with each other at any rate).
Unlike your average teenagers, however, Michael and his friends will have adulthood and responsibility thrust upon them, and their later development will depend on just how vindictive I’m feeling at the time.
Can you tell me a little about how your characters are influenced by their setting?
Certainly. Day to day, Michael, Tamara and their friends are surrounded by wealth and power but are treated very much as outcasts by the rest of the school. Even the staff of other houses at the school look down on Solaris, mainly because the Braxton Foundation pays for the education of all of Solaris’s members. Even Rupert, who comes from a very wealthy family, is bullied for being a Solaris student.
Michael’s personality changes quite dramatically from location to location in the book, but it also depends on the company he’s keeping at the time. At home, he’s as relaxed as you’d expect him to be. He even takes the book out to his best friend’s house in his backpack – something he wouldn’t dare do at school. He’s very secretive about what goes on at the academy, however, but mostly because he and Tamara have agreed that knowledge of the Inquisition could have dire consequences for their families. And you have to wonder whether it’s something they’ve been taught at school, or whether it’s a conclusion they’ve drawn on their own.
Most of us indulge in our need for melodrama from time to time, especially when we’re caught up in the moment. Young people have a knack for seeing wonder around every corner, so I didn’t need to make the academy buildings as special as, say, another recently well-known school for gifted children. We also need to remember that they’re not gifted until they reach the academy. So, instead of the immediate wonder of … the other place, I gave them every luxury. Hopefully, it reinforces the sense of obligation that Solaris’s students feel towards the Inquisition. ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’, as they say.
In the Peer Court scene, we get the impression that duty and honour are highly prized at that academy. After all, it’s Michael’s sense of duty that lands him there in the first place, or perhaps it’s the other student’s attitudes towards Michael and his friends that encourage them to look out for each other so fiercely. In the end, though, the academy forces our best friends to grow up prematurely.
When I was editing Inquisitor, one of my biggest concerns was that chapter where Michael visits his sister’s high school. It wasn’t until I’d read the whole book back that I realised how important the chapter was to the rest of the story. We get a glimpse of what could have been – the normality (or perhaps the futility) that would have resulted from his time as a regular teen; even his father’s comments about having to stay late at the office or miss holidays with the family hint to it.
Now, you might think that all of these things have nothing in common. But they make the academy the mysterious, magical place that it is, without giving it paranormal paraphernalia. And ultimately, if we as readers feel that way about the academy, it’s no wonder Michael and his friends do too.
What is an example of Michael and Tamara’s education at the academy?
On the surface, Michael and Tamara’s timetable is like any other school timetable – Math, Science, English etc. But they also have lessons in Lore.
Lore mainly covers talent development. For example, in Inquisitor, Mr Steele (their Lore master) demonstrates his own particular talents – telepathy and telekinesis. But as each pupil’s abilities lie in any of three main disciplines, they are separated according to their strengths for physical training.
Michael and Tamara learn to use their telekinetic abilities in combat, for the most part, learning how to disarm, disable and ultimately dispatch their opponents with the minimum effort- a lot like a martial art. But it isn’t all about the fighting.
In one of my favourite passages of the book, Michael, Tamara and their friends learn about the history of the Inquisition and how their powers came to be. We also learn how Aladdin’s genie was imprisoned in the lamp and how the war began. Most of their information comes from updated versions of Grimm’s Modern Lore, which also helps us as readers to understand more about Michael and Tamara’s world and the magic that exists in it.
Who is Mr. Catchpole?
That’s the million-dollar question! All I can say is that he’s your usual villain. If anything, I would describe him as chaotically good – or willing to do whatever he thinks is right to achieve peace. His story unfolds throughout the series, and I hope that the more you learn about Catchpole, the more interesting he’ll become.
In fact, he is probably the character I find the most difficult to write. I often find his dialog and sometimes his actions getting away from me, and I have to rein him in again. On the days I struggle to get 500 words onto the page it’s usually because I’m writing Catchpole. It’s like a game of chess. I have to be thinking so far ahead of the story for him while keeping his back story in mind at the same time.
For now, Catchpole’s most important role is to be our anchor to the views of the Inquisition. Without him, I couldn’t tell their side of the story.
Where can readers buy your book?
If you’re downloading from the US, you can find it at:
Or from the UK at:
Alternatively, readers can follow the links from Inquisitor’s page at: indiebrag which goes a long way to supporting the BRAG community and all of the wonderful things they do for independent authors.
A message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to G.J. Reilly who is the author of, Inquisitor; The Book of Jerrick – Part 1, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Inquisitor; The Book of Jerrick – Part 1, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money
Wendy Percival was born in the UK and grew up in rural Worcestershire. After training as a primary school teacher she moved to South West England to take up her first teaching post and remained in teaching for 20 years.
An impulse buy of Writing Magazine prompting her to start writing seriously. She won the magazine’s 2002 Summer Ghost Story Competition and had a short story published before focusing on full length fiction.
The time honoured ‘box of old documents’ in the attic stirred her interest in genealogy. When she began researching her Shropshire roots she realised how little most of us know about our family history. This became the inspiration behind the first Esme Quentin novel, Blood-Tied.
Wendy continues to be intrigued by genealogy, its mysteries and family secrets and writes about this in her family history blog.
How did you discover indieBRAG?
I heard about indieBRAG when a fellow SilverWood author, Alison Morton, was awarded a BRAG Medallion for one of her alternative Nova Roma novels.
Tell me about your story, The Indelible Stain.
My ‘genealogy detective’, Esme Quentin, stumbles upon a dying woman at the foot of cliffs. While the police dismiss the death as accidental, Esme continues to be troubled by the woman’s final words and the origins of an old sepia photograph she was clutching. When the dead woman’s daughter comes to ask Esme to help with her own unanswered questions, the subsequent trail leads Esme back into the brutal history of convict transportation and a long forgotten mystery surrounding a local girl who was exiled to Australia for her crime in 1837.
It’s a story of how disturbing events in the past are capable of impacting on the present with devastating consequences.
Please tell me a little about the period and setting for your story.
The story is set in the present day, in a small village on the North Devon coast in South West England. Events take place over a 6 week period during August and early September.
Why did you chose a small village in North Devon as your setting?
It’s a place I know and love well, having lived in North Devon for 35 years. The village is steeped in history, which is always a pull for me, and its location is stunning. Dramatic cliffs with strange rock formations tower above small coves along the coast and waves come crashing in from the Atlantic – the perfect place where you might conveniently ‘help’ someone over the edge if you wanted to get rid of them!
What are a few of the historical aspects to your story?
The story has its roots in the brutal history of Britain’s penal policy of exiling its criminals. Having lost its usual ‘dumping ground’ following the American War of Independence, Australia became a penal colony in 1787. At this time a vast number of what we would now regard as petty crimes, were punishable by death, but amid mounting unease the law was changed to allow judges to commute the death sentence to transportation, generally for 7 years, 14 years or life. The conditions on the convict ships which transported the prisoners were dire and life was extremely hard when they reached land. But as Australia began to develop and grow as a country, its authorities demanded the end of transportation. By the time the final convict ship arrived in Perth in 1868, the number of British and Irish prisoners transported to Australian shores had reached in excess of 160,000.
What is some of the research that went into your story?
The convict ships I mention in the book were all real transport ships, the prisoners’ harrowing experiences on board are from true accounts and incidents concerning the Irish are genuine historical events. As many of Devon’s own criminals were transported to Australia, I also used material from local archives to give a sense of reality to the background story.
Tell me a little about your main protagonist, Esme Quentin.
Esme is an unconventional sleuth. She’s a mature woman whose journalist husband, for whom she was a researcher, was killed some years ago in dubious circumstances while on an investigation. Traumatised by the event, Esme turned away from the world of the investigative reporter and retreated into what she assumed to be a safe area of research – genealogy. An assumption which proves to be ill founded when she discovers digging deep into the past carries its own dangers.
But Esme is a tenacious character with an inherent need to get to the truth. Motivated by her concern for others, she has realised that by applying the same skills, resilience and methodology as she employs in her work as a genealogist, she is capable of exposing and solving the crimes she inadvertently stumbles upon, despite the risks.
Who is Vince Munroe?
Vince is a mortuary attendant and a bit of a wannabe. Once, early on in his career, he was on duty when a murder victim was brought into the morgue. He’s bored people rigid with his “claim to fame” story ever since. As a consequence no one has ever taken his observations seriously. Until now.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Until recent times, having convict ancestry in Australia was considered shameful, a ‘stain’ on one’s heritage. I’d been playing around with the words ‘stain’ and ‘tainted’ when I noticed an episode of a favourite TV crime series was called The Indelible Stain. It fitted perfectly.
Who designed your book cover?
The excellent design team at SilverWood Books designed my book cover, working on a rough brief from me about key aspects of the story. I love what they do!
Do you stick with just genre?
At the moment I’m happy sticking to the crime fiction/mystery genre. I like the structure it gives me and as a family historian (see below) I’m regularly inspired by uncovering of secrets from the past.
What book project are you working on now?
I’m currently working on my third Esme Quentin novel, which is inspired by clandestine activities during World War 2. That’s all I’m saying at the moment!
Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?
I write in an open plan area of our living room which is like a small study. Books line one wall and I can look out from my little corner across the room and see the garden through a pair of glazed doors.
My novel writing process involves scribbling heaps of written notes in notebooks and on bits of paper, as well as lots of reading, researching the era of history where the solution to the mystery will lie. I also write a detailed backstory of the secret from the past which will be revealed in the contemporary story of the book. I need to know what happened and how, in detail, in order to know the trail my protagonist, Esme Quentin, will undertake to uncover the truth.
Once I have a reasonably firm plan of where I’m going with the story, I start writing the first draft. But no matter how much I pre-plan it’s only when I start the actual writing process that new (better!) ideas occur to me so I always end up having to do lots of re-writing.
A first draft can come together fairly quickly and once I’m in the zone, I can be pretty prolific but I have to make time for my other writing commitments – my blogs, background reading (which I continue to do during the first draft), family history research, social media and, of course, ‘life’!
As I get closer to completing the final draft my days become intense and I’m an exhausted wreck by the time I get to the finishing line!
When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?
When I’m stuck on a scene, one way to clear the log-jam is to go off and do something which uses a completely different part of my brain such as gardening, walking or even ironing, allowing my subconscious to work on the problem. Another method I use is to sit down with a pencil and notepad and ‘discuss’ the issue by writing a conversation with myself. Often, before I’ve written down the burning question, the answer has popped into my head.
Is there a favorite food or beverage you like to enjoy while writing?
Eat? Drink? If I’m not careful I can do neither if I’m on a roll. Fortunately my husband drags me away from my desk at intervals and ensures I don’t die of thirst or hunger!
Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?
As well as family history research, mentioned above, my other interests include reading (of course) and gardening. Our garden is an English Country Cottage style where we grow vegetables as well as flowers. Also we have a small campervan (a very mini RV!) which we use to explore coast, countryside and historical locations right across the UK, though as there are plenty of beautiful places in south-west England where we live, often we don’t need to go far to find an inspiring location.
A Message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Wendy Percival who is the author of, The Indelible Stain, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Indelible Stain, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
When a frightened young outlaw joins a gang of violent criminals their names – against a backdrop of death, dishonour, brotherhood, and love – will become legend. ENGLAND 1321 AD After viciously assaulting a corrupt but powerful clergyman Robin Hood flees the only home he has ever known in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Becoming a member of a notorious band of outlaws, Hood and his new companions – including John Little and Will Scaflock – hide out in the great forests of Barnsdale, fighting for their very existence as the law hunts them down like animals. When they are betrayed, and their harsh lives become even more unbearable, the band of friends seeks bloody vengeance. Meanwhile, the country is in turmoil, as many of the powerful lords strive to undermine King Edward II’s rule until, inevitably, rebellion becomes a reality and the increasingly deadly yeoman outlaw from Wakefield finds his fate bound up with that of a Hospitaller Knight… “Wolf’s Head” brings the brutality, injustice and intensity of life in medieval England vividly to life, and marks the beginning of a thrilling new historical fiction series in the style of Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow.
Stephanie: Hello, Steven! I am delighted to be chatting with you again about your book, Wolf’s Head and I would also like to say congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion. First, I would like to ask you how you discovered indieBRAG?
Steven:I think it was actually you that suggested I put the book forward. I hadn’t really thought of anything like that – literary award type things – until that point. I still don’t really, because I’m so busy, but I’m really proud to have my B.R.A.G. Medallion. Hopefully the sequel, The Wolf and the Raven is good enough to win the award too – it’s getting even better reviews than Wolf’s Head so that’s a good start! I don’t know if indieBRAG looks at novellas too – I hope so, as my brand new one, Knight of the Cross, is due to be released on September 19th!
Stephanie: That’s right, Steven! How could I forget that?! Lol. And I’m so glad you submitted your book!
Please tell you audience a little about your story and what sets it apart from other Robin Hood stories.
Steven: I’ve set my series in the 14th century which is, as far as I know, unheard of when it comes to Robin Hood. When I began to research the legend though I found plenty of evidence to suggest the REAL Robin probably lived in that time period, rather than earlier, as everyone else suggests. It was good to realise I had a new angle to explore because it’s a legend that’s been written about a lot over the years.
Other than that, I’ve written it in a modern style. The action might be medieval but my readers aren’t so I use language people can identify with. It’s an old legend, and a familiar kind of story, but I’d like to think I’ve brought enough new elements to the table to make it fresh and interesting.
Stephanie: What were some of the political & religious unrest going on in England in 1321 besides the Lords strive to undermine the King- that your characters were up against?
Steven: I don’t think there was much religious unrest, other than the fact some of the clergy were obscenely wealthy and often corrupt. If you were a downtrodden yeoman, or an outlaw, it must have rankled to see some fat rich priest going around in expensive clothes while your family was starving. There had actually been a famine in England just a few years before 1321 and the Scots were raiding the northern towns so much of the political unrest stemmed from that. The common people were unhappy with the King so, if you add all that together, Robin Hood and his mates had plenty of reason to be angry.
Stephanie: How did Robin meet Sir Richard-at-Lee and Stephen?
Steven: I stuck to the original, well-known legend for the most part. Sir Richard is passing through the forest and the outlaws stop him, to rob him basically although it doesn’t end up like that. I thought it would be a nice twist to make him a Hospitaller Knight and Stephen, his grumpy sergeant-at-arms followed on from that. They’re a couple of great characters and they bring a nice new dynamic to the outlaw group. You can find out more about them in the new novella Knight of the Cross which follows Sir Richard as he goes up against ancient evil in Rhodes…
Stephanie: What are the weapons or weapon they use in fights?
Steven: The usual favourites: longsword, daggers and, of course, the longbow. These are hard men though and they’re comfortable using whatever’s at hand to win!
Stephanie: Does Robin have a love interest in your story?
Steven: Again, when I researched the legend I found there was a man called Robert Hood who lived in Yorkshire and was married to a girl called Matilda. I didn’t want to just repeat everything that had been done before so I was happy to use Matilda rather than ‘Maid Marian’. Robin’s had a thing for her for years and she’s actually the reason our young hero is outlawed as you’ll see when you read the book..!
Stephanie: What is some of the promoting you have done for this book and any advice you can give to beginner writers on promoting would be great!
Steven: I tried to find book bloggers who would review my book, hoping some of them would like it and get the word out there. Thankfully, I managed to get a few to review it – it’s harder than you might think because these people have LOADS of books to get through and it’s hard for them find the time to fit in another from some unknown indie writer. But all you can do is try, so send emails out to whoever you can find and just hope they’ll a) take a look and b) enjoy your work. Other than that, I’ve been lucky enough to be interviewed for local and national newspapers and Amazon took me down to London to be part of their stand at the big Book Fair this year which was truly the experience of a lifetime. It was amazing!
Once your book is out there I recommend trying some ads to let people know it’s available. If no one knows it’s out there, no one can buy it! Try places like Bookbub, Goodreads and Facebook – they’ve all worked to some extent for me.
Stephanie: What are some of the positive things readers have said about your book?
Some of them have said my version of the Robin Hood legend is now the one they’ll always think is the “real” one, so that’s been fantastic. It’s always great when people say they enjoy your writing style or what you’ve done with the characters but I think the best is when people say I’ve inspired them to really get into writing their own stuff. I’m a working class man who’s managed to sell a few books and it proves that anyone can do it, as long as you’re able to tell a good tale!
Steven: Who long did it take you to write your story and how many drafts did it take to get to where you wanted it to be?
Steven: Wolf’s Head took about two to three years, including all the research I had to do around the Robin Hood legend and the whole medieval setting. I’m able to work a bit faster now – The Wolf and the Raven only took about a year – because I have the foundation down. In terms of drafts, I’m quite lucky in that I don’t really need to do major redrafts. Wolf’s Head was done in two major drafts – it originally had a fantasy element with a magical old wise-woman and much less of the historical stuff, but my editor suggested I change that so I revised it accordingly. I haven’t had to do a really major redraft of any of my three books so far though, thankfully.
Stephanie: How do you find time to write?
Steven: It can be hard, particularly just now when we have an 11 month old baby boy crawling around the place! I’m lucky that I get a couple of evenings free to myself when my wife takes the kids out and I do most of my writing then, while fitting in things like this and other promotional stuff whenever I get a spare minute.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Steven: All three of my books are available exclusively from Amazon – either for Kindle, or as paperbacks or, in the case of Wolf’s Head, as an audiobook. Amazon have been very good to me and, while some people might not like how they work or whatever, I don’t have a bad word to say about them, far from it. So I’m happy to continue to put my work out there in partnership with Amazon for as long as I can. Publishers and agents didn’t give me an opportunity to get Wolf’s Head out there, Amazon did, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
Steven A. McKay was born in 1977, near Glasgow in Scotland. He lives in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children.
His second book, The Wolf and the Raven was released on April 7th, at the London Book Fair where he was part of the Amazon stand. His début novel, Wolf’s Head, was also released the same day as an audiobook.
Wolf’s Head is a Kindle top 20 best-seller and The Wolf and the Raven was the “War” chart number 1.
He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Steven McKay, who is the author of, Wolf’s Head, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Wolf’s Head, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
Stephanie: Hello, Melanie! I am so delighted to chat today with you about your book, Follies Past, which has been awarded the prestigious B.R.A.G. Medallion. First, I would like to ask you how you discovered indieBRAG and what would you like to say about this company?
Melanie: I have so much to say about this subject that I am sure would test the bounds of this interview. Quality control is the missing link in the self-publishing world, and IndieBRAG is really stepping up to fill that void. They are providing precisely the service that I, as an independent author, need in order to get the attention of readers, booksellers, media, even agents and potential publishers. I can only imagine that they will grow in notoriety and importance in the publishing world as self-publishing becomes larger and it becomes even more important for readers to be able to identify the really good books from among the myriads.
Stephanie: I am completely thrilled about your book. I love anything Jane Austen and when I read your book description, I knew that I need to read this story as soon as I can. Please tell your audience a little about this book and what sets it apart from the other.
Melanie: Follies Past is a book I wanted to read, but hadn’t been written, so I wrote it. It is a story entirely grounded in Pride and Prejudice, and designed after the style of Jane Austen’s novels in general. The essentials of the story are taken from the letter that Darcy gives to Lizzy, setting out his history with Mr. Wickham. I used every bit of information that Austen gave us, about the characters, the facts, the circumstances, etc. and I applied my linguistics training to imitate the language that she wrote in, which is quite different from our own in terms of vocabulary, structure and style. My intention was just to give Austen fans more of what they love, to allow them to linger a bit longer with her characters, her world, as she wrote it. I have also fleshed out the story with characters of my own invention, so that the plot would hang on something that resembled a Jane Austen style love story. And there are a few surprises with respect to some minor P&P characters, which I hope readers will enjoy.
Stephanie: I am so delighted you decided to write a story of Georgiana and Wickham. I have to admit Georgiana is one of my favorite Austen characters and I’ve always wanted to read more about her. Please tell me a little about what her relationship with her best friend Clare is like. How do they complement each other and what is their favorite past times together?
Melanie: The story is about Georgiana, but it is Clare who is the heroine. Georgiana is very shy, very unsure of herself though she has a very tender heart. It is suggested in P&P that she comes off as a snob, but in fact is just reserved. This makes it difficult for her at school. She is rich, to be sure, but she doesn’t make friends easily. Clare is not rich. She is an admiral’s daughter and has no dowry. She has a high moral character and is very caring. She and Georgiana are drawn to each other because they both feel they don’t fit in. Clare takes care of Georgiana in a way, and Georgiana, with her sweet sincerity, gives Clare permission to go easy on herself. I imagine Georgiana showing Clare how pretty she is by doing her hair for her and lending her jewels, and Clare making Georgiana sing in public, and not taking ‘no’ for an answer. They encourage each other, and they really do admire each other and think that the other is everything they wish they could be.
Stephanie: Please tell me about Lord Ashwell. His weaknesses and strengths and what is an example of his part in the story?
Melanie: Lord Ashwell is Georgiana’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s elder brother and heir to an Earldom. He is refined and charming and sickly and he may or may not be a rogue of the worst kind. It is very easy to fall in love with him, but the reader does not know whether to heed the scandalous stories about his past. He lives very near to where Georgiana lives in London, and they meet quite often. He is instrumental to several points in the plot, but it would be giving away too much to tell you what they are!
Stephanie: I’ve always considered Caroline a bit devious. What is one of the ways she tries to get in Darcy good graces to marry her? Though I must say he probably has never given thought to marry her. Or am I wrong? And in what you have told me about her in the questionnaire I sent you-without giving the main conflict away, do we see her in a false light? Is she really different then she comes across? I think many people will be surprised about her in your book and that is one of the things I look forward to reading about in your story.
Melanie: Caroline is quite awful. Let us make no mistake. I do not pretend otherwise in my book. The first part of the book does really focus on her story though, and for reasons I cannot explain, that propels the rest of the story in a way. I will say that she experiences real love for the first time in my book, and that this softens her a little, as it does with so many people. Her ambition makes her detestable, and when she is distracted and buoyed by her mutual affection for another, she becomes much more likeable. I noticed when I was studying P&P for character descriptions, that Caroline and Lizzy are often described in the same terms. Both are witty, light in their form, confident and playful. When you take away Caroline’s mean-spiritedness, she is surprisingly like our favourite Miss Bennett. Of course, this is only fleeting, and all the more tragic for being so. We see the possibility of her character, which is lost forever by the time P&P opens.
Stephanie: I see that Mrs. Young is in Follies Past. Does she have the same characteristic traits in this story as we all know her to have?
Melanie: She is in cahoots with Mr. Wickham, and in fact is the one behind the scheme to marry him off to Georgiana. She is perhaps the most evil character in the story, but she is also a victim of her circumstances. She reminds me a bit of Becky Sharp, from Vanity Fair. She is intelligent and driven, but as a woman, she is limited in her means of advancement and she does what she must to reach her own aims.
Stephanie: Will you write other stories like this?
Melanie: I hope to. I plan to write a prequel to Sense and Sensibility next. It is all planned in my head. I just have to find the time to sit down and type it out, which is no small task in my life. I work full time and have 2 small boys, so my time with my word processor is limited.
Stephanie: How long did it take to write, Follies Past and what was your process?
Melanie: I worked the whole thing out in my head before I started. I travel a lot for work, so driving is my thinking time, and I figure out how the plot is all going to fit together. It took me just under 2 years to get a final draft.
Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?
Melanie: Alberta artist Angela Rout did the art work. We discussed the design together, and came up with the concept. It is a paper cutting, which is an old art form. I liked that it was both graphic and traditional. I didn’t want something that looked like a romance novel, or the usual floral imagery. I wanted it to stand out from other Fan Fiction.
Stephanie: What advice would you give to a beginner writer?
Melanie: Listen to criticism. It is hard to take, but you have to swallow it. You have to assess objectively whether there is anything you really should change. Sometimes people are wrong, but often they have identified something that could improve your writing, and you should genuinely try and figure out what it is, even if the way they have articulated it doesn’t resonate with you.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Melanie: eBooks can be downloaded on Amazon. The Paperback is also available from CreateSpace. I would also love it if people would check out and share my book trailers on YouTube. They were a lot of fun to watch and have some great eye candy in the form of Mr. Wickham. My channel is called Follies Past, and the link is on youtube.
Stephanie: Thank you, Melanie! It was a pleasure chatting with you. Please visit with me again soon!
Melanie Kerr studied linguistics, English and theatre at the University of British Columbia and law at the University of Alberta. She is a regular attendee at meetings of her local chapter of JASNA, and has numerous times arranged for large groups of Canadians to join her in attending the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England. Kerr is a reckless lover of clotted cream, a staunch defender of the semi-colon and a fierce opponent of unpleasant music. She wooed her current and only husband with false promises of skill at word games and eternally good hair. She lives in Edmonton, where she raises her two sons, sews her own Regency costumes, organizes Regency costume events, blogs on all things old and English, endeavours to take over the world and occasionally practices law. Follies Past is her first novel.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Melanie Kerr, who is the author of, Follies Past, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Follies Past, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
In this memoir, the author explores questions of race, adoption, and identity, not as the professor of cultural studies she became, but as the Black child of German settlers in Guatemala. Her journey into the mystery that shrouded her early years begins in the US when she realized it was not just her foreign accent that alienated her from Blacks. Under layers of privilege (private schools, international travel, the life of a fashion model and actress in Europe) she discovered that her most important story is one of disinheritance. The author’s determination to find out who her parents really were and why she was taken from them, tests the love of her White husband and their son, and returns her to Guatemala to find a family that kept her memory alive as legend. In the end, she learns truths about the women who were her mothers, and the disrespect committed long ago against a birthmother and her child in the name of love.