Marie Brennan Author Interview

In all their Todd Lockwood glory

I was so incredibly excited when I was given the chance to read and review Marie Brennan’s Turning Darkness Into Light by Titan Books. I’m a huge fan of the Lady Trent series from both fantasy and throughly researched realism points. The world building is phenomenal, the characters are fantastic, and there are dragons! When there was an opportunity to be part of the blog tour and do a Q&A, I was absolutely on board.

Not only did I get to ask Marie about Lady Trent and Audrey, RPG campaigns, research, and smallpox scabs. I actually went to the release day signing event for Turning Darkness Into Light at Forbidden Planet and hear a short story letter exchange between Lady Isabella and Benjamin Talbot called From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (A Lady Trent Story) performed to perfection in character voice.

In full character, Marie Brennan reading From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review

Lady Trent was quite the pioneer. Between her parents and grandparents Audrey has a lot to live up to, although the expectation comes from outside the family. Aside from being strong, intelligent, independent women, how do the two compare?

They’re both headstrong, of course but Audrey is cockier. She grew up with the assumption that she could get away with things, and that if she got into trouble her family would bail her out — neither of which were true for Isabella. But at the same time, Audrey is in some ways less sure of herself, because she has this yardstick everybody else is holding her up to . . . and she holds herself up to it as well. Plus there’s an experience in her past that badly undercut her confidence, as much as she tries to pretend otherwise.

I am fascinated by world building and how different influences and viewpoints create such contrasting imagery. If Lady Trent and Audrey could study the dragons and historic civilisations of any world, where would they go?

Anywhere they could get to!

It’s a flip answer, but it’s also true; they’ve both got a rampaging case of intellectual curiosity. I suspect Isabella would be fascinated to go into Naomi Novik’s version of our history, because it’s so much like her own, but the dragons there are intelligent. (Even if she would undoubtedly find some diplomatic faux pas to commit with them.) For Audrey, because her interest is more on the archaeological and linguistic end of things, she would need a place with ancient legends and the like. She would be wildly out of place in Middle-Earth, but Tolkien’s attention to detail on such matters would make her as happy as a clam.

The Spotify playlists are fantastic scene setters. What music do you imagine Audrey would work to?

Time to turn darkness into light

I’m so delighted people are listening to those! And it makes me feel a little guilty that I didn’t put together a full soundtrack for this novel, the way I’ve done with most of my previous ones. In large part that was because I don’t have a very big reservoir of the appropriate music; what I listened to while writing this novel was in the vague direction of swing, big band, and jazz, but I only have a little of that kind of thing. I wanted music with a 1920s feel, though, to help break me out of the Victorian mold of the Memoirs. I can absolutely see Audrey turning on the wireless and bobbing her head along to some swing as she works out a particularly knotty bit of text.

New Worlds (a Patreon project with compilations for years one and two available) is an amazing project and unbelievable resource for writers. I am a huge research nerd and will fall merrily into any obscure rabbit hole. Previously you spoke about 1491 and the Incan Mummy Problem. What has been the weirdest discovery in your reading or research?

I have to pick just one? Let’s go with two, and I apologize that they’re both a little bit gross.

The first is that China was practicing a form of immunization against smallpox centuries before Europe was, by taking smallpox scabs, drying them out, grinding them to a powder, and then snorting them. Which doesn’t sound appetizing — but when the alternative is getting smallpox . . . I think I’d take the scabs.

The other has to do with the way Japan was almost completely closed to outsiders during the Tokugawa Era. Because of this, they had adapt to working with limited resources, which meant that most of the very limited arable land they have was devoted to farming, not livestock. But without livestock, they didn’t have animal manure to fertilize the fields; they had to use human waste instead (taking measures to minimize the risk of pathogens). So Tokugawa-period Japanese cities were quite sanitary, because urine and fecal matter were valuable resources; shopkeepers and the like owned the right to collect it in barrels, and when barges came into the cities loaded with crates of food, they went out again loaded with barrels of waste. Except that after a while the exchange rate broke down . . . because the waste was becoming more valuable per cubic foot than the food. In fact, it was so valuable that there started being a problem with people stealing it.

So there you go. Snorting scabs and stealing crap. The world is so, so full of weird things.

Todd Lockwood’s artwork for both the memoirs and turning darkness into light is beautiful, it instantly calls to mind the lithographs displayed at the Natural History museum. Would you ever consider a Lady Trent Guide to Dragons?

I would love to do one! People should instead be asking my publishers whether they’d consider it. 🙂 Side note: absolutely make sure you do this. I want this and a film/tv series that starts with the older Lady Trent sat at a desk writing and then goes into the action in the style of Granny Wendy’s story in Hook.

Do you have any favourite folklore or mythology tales? And if you could, which one would you do a retelling of?

I’ve actually done retellings of quite a few, or at least stories that riff on the sources in some fashion. I wouldn’t necessarily say those are my favorites, because what sparks a story isn’t how much I love a folktale or song; it’s whether I can find some angle or gap that gives me a way to do something new with it. One I do love, though, is the Scottish border ballad “Tam Lin” — I’ve got a retelling of that one that I’m trying to sell right now, though it’s unfortunately quite long, which limits the number of markets that will even let me send it to them.

Perfectly positioned between the Fantasy and RPG sections

As an RPG player, what was the most memorable campaign you’ve played or the most fun to write?

Aw, man — the first half of that is asking me to play favorites among my GMs!
I’ve honestly had so many great experiences of different kinds that choosing between them is a bit like apples and oranges. Several of the most memorable have worked their way into my fiction in one fashion or another; my novelette “False Colours” is based (with permission) on the most ridiculously serendipitous sequence of events that has ever occurred for me in a game, while the Varekai novellas grew out of a character I played for about four years in a Changeling LARP, and the Onyx Court series has its roots in the historical context for the first tabletop campaign I ever ran. And that’s only scratching the surface.

Can you tell us what’s next for Audrey or what you are working on now?

Audrey’s done for now; Turning Darkness Into Light is a standalone novel that resolves her personal arc. But since I thought I was done with Lady Trent’s world in general after the Memoirs, and then accidentally tripped and wrote another novel, I won’t rule it out entirely!

As for current projects, I have a novella connected to the Legend of the Five Rings game called The Eternal Knot coming out this fall, probably in September. And last year my friend Alyc Helms and I wrote an epic fantasy novel together, which we have just sold to Orbit Books; that’s the first book of the Rook and Rose trilogy, and we’ll be publishing it next year under the joint pen name of M.A. Carrick.

From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (A Lady Trent Story) can be read at where it was first published, or as part of an ebook collection called Maps to Nowhere. Marie Brennan has also recently published a short for Uncanny magazine called On the Impurity of Dragons, written in the point of view of Lady Trent’s son

Be sure to check out my fellow tour guides blogs and see what they are up to.

The Spider Dance – Review and Author Interview with Nick Setchfield

Today is my turn to host The Spider Dance blog tour. Having read The War in the Dark, a gripping supernatural spy thriller, I could not wait to read The Spider Dance. I was lucky enough to not only be sent a review copy by Titan books, but to do an interview with Nick Setchfield.

How did you approach the fusing of so many genres to create The War in the Dark and consequently The Spider Dance?

Like the crazed scientist in The Island of Doctor Moreau, unleashing unholy hybrids upon the world… It’s a question of finding echoes and resonances between different genres. Espionage and sorcery seem to combine quite naturally but also have a wonderfully combustive quality when they come together. With The Spider Dance I was splicing the thriller genre with vampirism, which shaped the kind of vampires I had to create. Hopefully I’ve put a fresh spin on the myth of the undead.

James Bond meets Indiana Jones is one of the most recurring and incredible comparisons, how would you describe your books?

I think that’s pretty spot-on, to be honest. I’m a lifelong fan of Bond and Indy so it’s no surprise I bleed that love on the page. I’d describe the books as globe-trotting occult thrillers: visceral, romantic, a little murderous but with a vein of black humour.

Was it different writing Christopher Winter in The Spider Dance after the reveals to his backstory in The War in the Dark?

Absolutely – and it had to be. The character can’t be in stasis after what he discovered about himself in the first book. It’s his curiosity about that half-remembered past that essentially propels him through The Spider Dance. That and the chance to make some quick money by doing something very dangerous indeed…

The historical backdrops and different locations are incredible. What was it about this era that inspired you?

Thank you – they were fun to research and it’s always an interesting challenge to put the texture and atmosphere of a place on the page. I’ve always loved the 1960s. Such a vivid, propulsive, stylish decade but one with so many faultlines beneath that gleaming surface. It’s the perfect backdrop for a glamorous, fantastical spy story, which is doubtlessly why there was such a craze for espionage adventure back then.

When you write, do you plan the plot and work the setting around that or do you research the events and locations with that influencing and leading the story?

It’s not a terribly straightforward process, to be honest. In fact it can be a rather spooky one. At first the plot comes to me in flashes, like parts of a trailer, or glances at a mood board, and when those flashes begin to coalesce into something that feels solidly intriguing I begin to thread the story between those moments. Sometimes I get glimpses of a location, like there’s a compass inside me, spinning of its own volition. I knew I wanted to go to Naples in The Spider Dance. But only when I began to seriously research Naples did I realise quite how perfect it was for the story I wanted to tell. Uncannily perfect, given what’s beneath the city… It was as if my unconscious mind already knew, and had packed the passport without telling me.

If you could drop Christopher Winter into any other book, what would it be and how do you think he would cope there?

A Year in Provence, just to liven up the herbed cheeses and rural plumbing with brutal fist fights and vampire slaying.

If you could dream cast a Bondesque film franchise, who would you choose?

I interviewed James McAvoy a few years ago. He has charisma for miles – just something magnetic about his presence. On screen he can be vulnerable, funny, sweet or malevolent, whatever a moment demands. At the time he had close-cropped hair that was just growing back after an X-Men movie. In the middle of the interview I suddenly thought “My god, it’s Winter…” If we’re casting The War in the Dark then the brilliant Elizabeth Debicki would be a perfect Karina. As for The Spider Dance, we’d need to time-snatch Twiggy from the 1960s to play Libby Cracknell.

When you’re not writing, are there particular genres that you prefer? What are you currently reading?

All sorts, really. Lately I’ve found myself reading a lot of factual books about film and TV. Just finished The Man Who Invented The Daleks, Alwyn Turner’s biography of Terry Nation (another Cardiff boy, so I felt some connection with the imagination that left Wales behind for planet Skaro). It was a great insight into the life of a jobbing writer with a taste for populist escapism.

What one thing would you say to readers about The Spider Dance?

Never take your shadow for granted.

Thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions. I hope everyone enjoys The Spider Dance, and The War in The Dark, as much as I did!
Thank you, Tracey – really happy you enjoyed them, and thanks for spreading the word.

After the events of The War in The Dark and the reveal of Christopher’s past, he returns to London. An underworld exchange of a sacred heart turns bloody and uncovers a new breed of supernatural.

Between succubus shenanigans and the secret of the Shadowless, Christopher discovers that British Intelligence don’t like letting go of their man. The answers to his current problems can be unlocked by exploring his recently revealed past and embracing his true self.

As with The War in The Dark, The Spider Dance is a fast paced, action packed supernatural spy thriller. You dive straight into the action and it never lets up. Incredible action, stunning descriptions, intriguing characters, and international adventures.

I utterly adore they way Nick Setchfield writes and I could read about Christopher Winter forever – please.

Thank you to Titan and Nick Setchfield for letting me be a part of The Spider Dance blog tour, check out the other amazing hosts and what they are up to on their blogs.

Both The War in The Dark and The Spider Dance are available to buy now.

Rebecca Alexander Author Interview

Today I am interviewing Rebecca Alexander, author of A Baby’s Bones and the sequel, released today by Titan books, A Shroud of Leaves. A Shroud of Leaves is the second Sage Westfield book, a crime series where history meets mystery starring archaeologist Sage Westfield.

Would you mind telling us a bit about what inspired you to start writing?

I suppose, reading brilliant books inspired me to write! My first realisation that people worked to make up stories that were turned into books came very young, and from then on I imagined the writer telling me the story in their own words. I love books, I still read a book a day.

What is your favourite part of the process? Are you a planner and a researcher?

I’m not a planner at all, I usually ramble my way into a story and rewrite once I have a beginning, a middle and an end. Having said that, I did do a fair amount of planning for A Shroud of Leaves, because I was quite new to writing crime and this was Sage’s first outing as a criminal investigator. It’s not the way I normally work so I found it time consuming at first. Research is definitely my favourite part of the process. I write a few chapters then follow up ideas and leads that have occurred to me, putting footnotes in as I go so I can use them in the second draft. I found so many lovely sources and bits of folklore and myth as I went. There’s a ghostly black hound legend in a village just outside the New Forest that I found and worked in to the story. I find writing is like reading a book in very slow motion, wondering what’s going to happen next.

Both the Jackdaw Hammond and Sage Westfield have themes of history and mystery, what draws you to them?

I have always liked history and old places. My father used to drag me around Roman and Medieval sites and I grew to love them (though not in the pouring rain). The 1580s are especially interesting in both England and the world beyond. Ideas were progressing fast, society was changing, people were more prosperous and better educated. The decade before the First World War was full of exciting archaeological discoveries but also a realisation that we should be conserving rather than just rifling tombs for treasure. Again, it was a time of prosperity and enlightenment.

How would you describe Sage Westfield?

Sage is independent to a fault, preferring to strike out on her own or follow a lead than wait for back up or rely on someone else. Her job as county archaeologist gave her responsibility over the whole island’s hidden history. Two new relationships with her baby son and her partner are eating into that freedom, and Sage is still adjusting. Growing up in a small community and looking different – Sage’s mother is from Kazakhstan – has made her less bothered about what other people think.

When you write the two timelines, do you write the historical one first? Or do you have your outline plot and go chapter by chapter?

I always write the contemporary strand first, slowly finding the story (loosely based on my plan, for A Shroud of Leaves). When I inevitably get stuck, I start the historical strand and it always flies onto the page. I sometimes wonder if I should write historical fiction, it comes easier! With A Baby’s Bones it was as if Vincent Garland, the estate steward, whispered the whole story in my ear. With A Shroud of Leaves, it felt like I was teasing the pages of Edwin’s journal apart, looking at the plans and sketches and photographs locked inside.

Is there any historical period or place you would love Sage to investigate? How do you choose which era to work with?

Places always spark story for me. I like to visit old buildings and sites all over the UK, and often stay in Tudor buildings or visit Victorian houses. We live in a cottage from the 1750s, I wonder who lived in the house and around the village. The last witch hanged in Britain came from the local area and Dartmoor is just an hour’s drive away. When you know a place really well questions bubble up. Why is that gravestone propped up against the wall, why are those attic windows bricked up, why is my dog walking path called ‘Slaughter Lane’ by the locals? Research will uncover things that find their way into the plot. I think the era comes from the place.

Are there more Sage Westfield books in the works? Could you tease us with any information?

I’m provisionally calling book 3 A Witch’s Skull and it’s already written in early draft. Sage needs find her way back to exploring the past, so decides to write a book about Viola Banstock, sixteenth century poetess. In 1581, recently married Viola travels to attend her older sister but the servants have fled amid rumours of plague, while her sister lies unconscious and abandoned. Two babies are in the care of a midwife who is under suspicion of witchcraft. Sage uncovers a tale of lies and villainy, and Viola’s efforts to save her sister’s baby from a threat that extends into the present day. Dartmoor is covered with Bronze Age sites but I’m much more interested in the medieval period, when it was almost uninhabitable and covered with violent gangs of beggars and robbers.

If you could put Sage into any book/film/tv show what would it be and why? How do you think she’d interact with the people there?

I think that’s the hardest question, I’ve wrestled with this! I suppose she would make an interesting appearance in something like Shetland, something a bit dark and windswept and grounded in the geography of the place. Ann Cleeves wrote the Shetland series and also writes ghost stories, and I think there is a creepy atmosphere in the crime books too. I do wonder how Sage would get on with Jimmy Perez, probably go off on her own and get into trouble.

What are you’re favourite genres and what are you currently reading?

I read very widely, alternating between crime and fantasy books, often set in the past. At the moment I’m reading a series by M J Carter set around 1840. The Strangler Vine takes place in India, and is the story of a young army officer teamed up with a reluctant investigator to find a missing poet. My bedside fantasy book is an old favourite, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which I read once a year, after Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I do sometimes have nightmares…

Thank you for taking time out to answer my questions, I hope that everyone enjoys A Shroud of Leaves (and A Baby’s Bones) as much as I did.

My pleasure!