Monday, June 11, 2018

Author Interview: Louise Ann Knight

Today's author interview is with debut fantasy author, Louise Ann Knight:


Louise lives in England and loves to read, garden and wander wild places. She writes fantasy, modern and children’s fiction. She is a freelance administration and event volunteer in her local community. After working in business administration, she trained as a meditation teacher. She is currently writing the next novel and producing a children's book for release.


'Sky Drum' is available from Amazon


"Peace. Chaos. Potential. Cosmos. It will take them all to restore the sky drum. Journeys and friendships collide, in this elemental tale of old promises and new hope. Sky Drum is the first in the series about two planets, two suns and the people that unite them."
You can find out more from Louise's website



~ ~ ~
  1. What was the initial inspiration for your current book/series?

A thunderstorm several years ago reminded me of recurring childhood dreams. I’ve always been fascinated in nature and the cosmos. I began thinking about people interacting and working with them directly. Nature provided the inspiration and the dreams a landscape. I began writing characters that connected them.

  1. What aspect of your genre is the most, a) satisfying and b) annoying?

I love creating names – for people, places and things. I enjoy writing about a race of people that have lived through differences and similarities in history (global equality being a difference, plant medicine being a similarity). Continuity is annoying though necessary. Sky Drum required a lot of threads to weave a story through multiple characters and across two worlds. Now that is done, going forward is simpler.

  1. Which of your characters is your personal favourite and why?

I enjoy writing all the characters, in different ways. Though the protagonists on each world are my favourites, because they go through the most change in the story. Ora is seeking a lost part of herself. She is willing to dismantle what she believes and thinks, to challenge all she knows. So that she can remember ways of being, that can help others. Illik gives himself in service to a purpose he cannot fully comprehend. He is prepared to be the person that is needed, even though he doubts himself. His trust in the land that shaped him and his love for others, gives him courage in the face of the unknown. And I think everyone can identify with those things, at one time or another.

  1. Do you love or loathe research? Do you plan it or look it up as you write?

I love research! I do some initially and inspiration is bound to come from the non-fiction reading I enjoy. Some research takes place as I write. For the fantasy series, as one example, I looked at the food and housing of tribes around the world and throughout history. I then created flora and fauna within the landscape that would enable people on the otherworld to create homes, depending on what climate the settles were based in.

  1. If you were to write in another genre, which would it be and why?

I like modern fiction because it is so broad and children’s fiction, because I love to nurture imagination.

  1. Describe your ideal writing paradise.

The seasons encourage me to experience writing in different ways. I love writing at a wooden table or in a chair, near a large window. A view of nature. Hills, meadows, beach or barrow. The light, the air, the wind through trees. Or sat on a log or blanket, in amongst it all. Candlelight on dark evenings, a blanket. I write onto a computer though first I draft on paper. I love the tactile experience of ink flowing onto a page. I re-use paper so there's a stack of leftover notebooks people passed me and sheets of printed paper. A jar of pens and pencils. Pukka teas or Lavazza coffee on the hob. Bliss!


~ ~ ~

Monday, May 14, 2018

Last Rites and Burial


When writing in any era, the end of a life can take on various meanings, depending on the beliefs of the deceased individual. There may be an exotic afterlife to consider or particular funerary rites to adhere to. Tossing history into the mix brings with it layers of archaic ritual, older cultural boundaries and long-extinct practices. Therefore, this can be a complicated yet fascinating aspect of writing historical fiction.
West Kennet Long Barrow
photo: E Moxon
In my ‘Wolf Spear Saga’ series I must consider many factors in relation to the death of my characters. For my Germanic characters, they descend from a warrior line. Kings and tribal leaders would have received the ultimate in ornate burials with plenty of grave goods. If he is an experienced horseman, he may even be buried with his ‘noble steed’. However, in times of danger when there is little time to linger for fear of return attack, they might resort to a funeral pyre. This may be inevitable after battle if they have several dead warriors and limited time. Cremation was for centuries an acceptable form of funerary rite, even when some turned to Christianity. Grave goods have been found in Christian burials, despite not being a religion that encourages the placing of sacred objects with the body or cremation urn.
photo: visualhunt.com
Religious beliefs come and go, evolving and overlapping throughout history. Forms of burial container exist in hundreds of designs that have beauty or function to carry the dead into whatever future they perceived lay before them. Some expected to be collected by fearless shield maidens who would deliver them to the feasting hall of a one-eyed war-god, in order to battle into eternity. Others would expect to meet other deceased relatives in a summer meadow, able to lead a fruitful, playful existence with their array of grave goods.
Snettisham Great Torc
photo: visualhunt.com
Deaths of religious figures, such as priests and priestesses also vary depending on cultural and religious differences. Evidence has been found of herbs in Coptic jars and headdresses or pillows made from the leaves of plants considered to have magical powers. Essences in bottles and flower garlands worn as funerary adornments can hint at the importance of incense or plant oils accompanying those who possessed the ability to see the future or read the messages from scented fires. Embalming is a particular ritual that was perfected by the Egyptians, though is not restricted to their ancestral history alone.
Stonehenge
photo: E Moxon
Finally, then there are the cultural rituals replete among warrior tribes and the elite among ancient peoples. The Welsh and Irish sagas abound with the ‘rites of passage of kings’, with several tales of fathers being brutally murdered by sons. This has a multitude of connotations, from disgruntled sons eager to remove fathers from thrones to the right of every warrior to die a noble death. To die ungracefully in one’s own bed would be a disgrace to many a brave king, but were a son to ‘send’ his father to a noble death via the sword, then the king’s reputation and warrior-status would remain intact. This act, a ‘rite of passage’ could send the king into his chosen afterlife.
Oseberg Ship Burial
photo: visalhunt.com
~ ~ ~
Do you consider the end of your characters' lives as much as their creation?
How much detail and thought do you employ when creating characters?
Has a character's death affected you when writing/reading it?
                                                                               


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Workshop Cafe


Today I ran a 'Writing Workshop' at a local cake café in my neighbourhood. It was a beautiful blend of creative camaraderie and idea sharing, with cake!

A gaggle of writers
It all began one day while talking to the owners and enjoying their baked wonders. Kiss Me Cupcakes are a most welcome addition to our local community, not least because of their gorgeous baked delights. They are enthusiastic about bringing people together in their delightful wood-panelled café for a variety of events, sharing creative endeavours and eating cake. Did I mention there is cake?

Writers' Fuel
While I run a bi-monthly writing group at my local community centre, I thought it would be fun to hold a workshop, especially for those who find it difficult to begin a project. It can take time and immense effort for people to overcome the initial hurdle of putting those first few words on a page. Using some fun activities and simple handouts my little gaggle of writers went home today with 50-100 words of a story, a basic plot arc and some idea of direction.

Heads down for the '50 words' round!
We decided we loved it so much, we'll be doing it again soon. A big thank you not only to the café, but also the attendees who were inspiring and enthusiastic! Thank you especially for the marvellous feedback.

Me in my Author's Nook


Monday, April 16, 2018

Tackling Diversity in Historical Fiction


Following on from 'Autism Awareness Week' I thought it apt to discuss a plot element in my forthcoming second ‘Wolf Spear Saga’. Some time ago I was involved in a discussion online about diversity in historical fiction. You can read the blog post I wrote about it here.



photo: visualhunt.com
Today, however, I want to focus on one factor from that discussion, which has become entwined in my second saga. When drafting book two, the conversation I had had with other authors about diversity lingered in my mind. I wanted to challenge many historical novels I had read in the past that ignored conditions that have modern names, but would have existed in the past nevertheless. I needed a strategy that would bring such a condition into my novel in a way that would be acceptable to modern readers, but also credible in a 5th Century setting. My portrayal of this character would have to be true to my genre and my contemporary audience.

“Invisible disabilities we experience today, such as elements of the autistic spectrum, would have no name in the 5th Century…”


In choosing to have a character on the Autistic spectrum, I knew I would be unable to label this condition with terms and phrases we use today and that those around the character would also lack this knowledge and vocabulary to describe him and his behaviour. I knew at the outset this would present me with some steep challenges and I was ever conscious of creating something too stereotypical and offensive. I knew other characters in the story would be governed by their spiritual beliefs and fear of things they could not explain or that seemed to be evil or magical. My character began as a complicated being with some undesirable and inherited personality traits, even before I decided he would be autistic. I had to consider these traits carefully and calculate how his autism would effect or enhance these parts of his personality.


“Public responses to these conditions would be ruled by culture and spirituality.”

I drew on experiences from my own life and enrolled the help of someone with daily, personal knowledge to also assist me. After some deep discussions with this individual I began embellishing my character and those around him who would be there to assist or abuse him, because of his outward behaviours and responses. I wanted to provide him with a very small circle who understood him and were there for him. I also wanted to explore those who were scared by him or deemed him dangerous and those who would exploit his behaviour for their own ends. Once I had completed my first draft, I had the specific scenes featuring the character proof-read to ensure the content was acceptable to a modern audience, but that it also contained authentic references and behaviours.
photo: visualhunt.com
 Here is a description by his older brother:
‘His brother was ruled by the Dark Mother. She held sway over the tides of his inner ocean, tossing him on wave after wave and drowning him in his own emotion. Their Queen had been his steer board; …adrift on an unrelenting, storm-ridden voyage, [he] heard no one else, for they were mere morsels of windswept words. Wulfsieg realised he would be wasting his breath. Like land-locked onlookers crying out from the shore through wind and rain, [his brother] would never hear him from his lonely one-man vessel.’


While language used to describe this character is embedded in the 5th Century, as I wrote I became more aware that attitudes to Autism continue to challenge wider society; that there exists even today, those who misunderstand the struggles of being on the spectrum. I found myself writing provocative scenes, displaying others abusing the vulnerability of my autistic character and contrasting, deeply emotional scenes revealing the extreme fragility of my character, despite his roguish outward persona.
I hope my readers will find reading about him as interesting as I found it to create him on the page.
And I hope others will be encouraged to be diverse in their fiction.

Have you tackled a difficult subject in your writing?
How did you decide to include it in your writing?
What were some of the challenges you faced?


Saturday, February 3, 2018

New Beginnings...Hello 2018!

Imbolc Hare                 photo: visualhunt.com

Brighid gave the moon her fire,
Warmed the earth with a lunar pyre,
Freed from icy tombs underground,
Life fed roots and plants did abound.
E.Moxon 2018

The new year has crept in under a cloak of snow; for many a dangerously deep cloak. The Hag of winter has let us feel her icy talents only too well, wreaking chaos and causing us to remain indoors. She is cunning. This enforced hibernation is her plan, so we have sufficiently internalised our intentions for the year ahead - holed up like other mammals at this time of year, to pause and reflect on what it is we want from 2018.

As we emerge into the Celtic festival of Imbolc (ewe's milk), 'Breo sagit' the fiery arrow lights our way. In Pagan circles, the triple goddess is shedding her crone skin and becoming the white virgin maid once more, her birch staff and lantern guiding us from out of the dark wood of winter and into the path of spring. Her companion, the wolf, leads the hunt for nourishment as Brighid's lantern, illuminates the shadows.

Super Moon                                                        photo: visualhunt.com
The super blue blood moon crossing 31st January to 1st February, literally over Imbolc itself, would have been a potent omen in ancient times. They may not have named it as such, but it would have been a symbol of intense feminine lunar power. Rites and rituals were guided by the cycle of the moon and sun and rare spectacles bring with them a particular magic.

Imbolc is, like all Celtic festivals, tied to the cycles of the earth through the seasons. It is the time of first shoots, when we seen green buds forming on some plants and trees. Crows and magpies begin searching for nesting material so they can mate with their partners. It is the season for lambing, with many ewes lactating, hence the root of the festival's name. It can be a time to plant the first seeds now the frosts have ceased.

Spring Meadow                        photo: E. Moxon
In the modern world we can be so disconnected from nature, that we do not pause; we do not see the changing environment around us, except perhaps to moan about the weather on social media. If you take a moment and listen, look around you and observe, you will hear the earth. When she asks you to be still, rest. When she asks you to break into action, react. Move with her and she will reward you, as she does today for many farmers and gardeners.





Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Diversity in Historical Fiction



A while ago I became involved in an online discussion about diversity in historical fiction. It covered all aspects of inclusion, though mostly became centred on disability. While there are certain restraints put upon histfic writers by the very nature of history (what groups of people were where at given periods; what roles they possessed), there remains an element of freedom to include diversity.

Taking disability as one aspect of this, what comes to mind in modern life is someone who is physically aided by a wheelchair or crutches or perhaps has an artificial limb. Asking people to consider a more historical viewpoint can trigger stereotypical imagery of the wooden-legged pirate with eyepatch. Unless that is what you are striving for in your novel, there needs to be further consideration of the nature of the period in which you are writing and what disabilities will be prevalent.


In the times of the great plagues there would have been disease causing coughing and infections of the skin, or other ailments of putrefaction. In the dark ages of 5th Century sub-Roman Britain, where I set 'WULFSUNA', there are skirmishes and full-scale battles with hundreds of warriors. Being crushed in a shield wall, beneath horses' hooves and receiving spears, arrows or blades to the body would be common. Those who survived might walk/limp/crawl away with facial features or limbs missing/damaged.

These are physical disabilities. There are also the emotional disabilities, some as direct results of these same battle experiences mentioned above. Being 'battle drunk' is a documented Medieval condition, whereby men wander the battle field post-conflict as though drunk and unresponsive. We know today that this is a result of being thrust into the 'fight' mode of the body's natural 'fight or flight' response. Long hours spent in this heightened state literally poisons the body with high levels of cortisones and adrenalin, which take a long time to disperse. Add to that post-traumatic stress and you can imagine the vacant, trance-like euphoria of these wandering warrior-zombies. Not being aware of this modern science in the 5th Century, a familiar state is attributed and hence we have 'battle drunk'.


Here is where the level of understanding and translation of a disability into a historic period creates confines for the histfic writer. Research is imperative. People of the 5th Century do not know what adrenalin is or post-traumatic stress. Invisible disabilities we experience today, such as elements of the autistic spectrum, would have no name in the 5th Century either. Public responses to these conditions would be ruled by culture and spirituality. This fascinated me and has led me to create a character within this period to see how they, and those around them, would respond to this condition being expressed. However, one thing to remember when writing in any period, is that your audience is contemporary with a modern outlook. This creates a requirement to balance the realism of the historic period, while being empathic to your readers and their (in many cases) extensive knowledge or experience of these conditions.

What are your thoughts on diversity in historical fiction?

Have you created characters with a disability?

What types of diversity would you like to see in historical fiction?



Writing as ‘E S Moxon’, Elaine's debut historical fiction adventure ‘WULFSUNA’ was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain, where the legendary Saga ensures a Seer and one named 'Wolf Spear' are destined to meet. You can find out more about Elaine’s novels on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook. Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

~ ~ ~

Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny.
A treacherous rival threatens their fate.
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them.

WULFSUNA






Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Building Believable Characters

When people talk of 'building' characters I'm always reminded of the Sci-Fi film 'West World' with Yul Brynner. However, this is effectively what we are doing even though it is in our minds and the minds of our readers. We want our characters to be real and three dimensional, as though we could see them walking down the street. Every writer has their own method for moulding and sculpting paper creations into living, breathing, 'real' beings our readers will believe. I thought I would share some of the things I have done, some of which you may already do, or don't do and might find useful.


I begin with visual basics - hair/eye colour, height and build - so that when I am writing down first draft scenes and dialogue I can at least add simple descriptions. I consider their role: are they a warrior, a Druid, a peasant or noble? All of these suggest their standard of living and perspectives on life, which add to their personalities. If they have relatives that will be mentioned in the same novel, I write a brief background description of each relative and what their relationship was like with this individual; this adds depth to their upbringing and familial interactions.


Cultural, spiritual and linguistic heritage are all aspects of someone's character that can define them. Although all my characters speak English in my novels, I model their language use as much as possible on their mother tongue. For instance, my Saxon characters use dialogue with their roots in Old English words of Germanic origin [i.e. amid, become, wend, shield]. The sounds of these words add a Saxon flavour to their speech. Likewise, I have Romano-British characters who would be speaking an early form of Welsh, the P-Celtic language. In modern Welsh there is a word for yes [ie] but you can say 'yes' in many forms depending on how you answer a question:
e.g.
Does she understand? [Ydy hi'n deal?] Yes (she does). Ydy.
Are you coming? [Ydych chi'n dod?] Yes (I am). Ydw.
Were you there? [Oeddech chi yno?] Yes (I was). Oeddwn.
When the character responds with these answers of 'Yes she does' or 'Yes I was' despite being written in English in the novel, these formulate a hint of the Welsh grammar structure that this character would utilise in speech. Another layer or flavour if you like, that adds to the realism of the character.


Culture also denotes what social etiquettes a character is likely to follow, while spirituality forms their beliefs in certain morals, type of deity worship and afterlife concepts. Insert political viewpoints in relation to the period in which you are writing and you have even more material to play with. For a Druidic character, I have examined the sacrificial and divination practices of the Order. Reading the future from the entrails of dead animals and humans gives a grim insight into the beliefs held by this spiritual group. Another method of divination called 'imbas forosna' is to divine by chewing on raw flesh and placing your hands on your cheeks as you fall asleep. The future is then supposedly revealed through dreams. This presents the possibility of including all the senses in descriptive writing, bringing your reader within the character using touch, smell, taste, sight and sound.


Another interesting tool I use is the inclusion of animal traits in certain characters. The obvious one (writing about a tribe called 'Wolf Sons') is aspects of wolf behaviour. These wild canines show dominance through posture, rather than using aggression and have immense stamina and strength. They follow a strict social status within their family groups. Bestowing these attributes onto a character is more of a subliminal connection, but one that still can seep through to the reader and hopefully create a more intimate relationship with the character.

How do you begin to build a character?

What tools do you use to define them?



Writing as ‘E S Moxon’, Elaine's debut historical fiction adventure ‘WULFSUNA’ was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain, where the legendary Saga ensures a Seer and one named 'Wolf Spear' are destined to meet. You can find out more about Elaine’s novels on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

~ ~ ~

Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny.
A treacherous rival threatens their fate.
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them.

WULFSUNA