Harriet, I’ve known you for some time through the writing site Authonomy, so I'm happy to see your books finally being published. What can you tell us about where you live? Anything about yourself you are willing to share?
Thank you, Ted. The same is true of you: it’s good to see your books out in the world.
Okay about me: I was born in Glasgow and live now in Edinburgh. They’re about forty miles apart. Lest that sound a narrow life, I’ll say I’ve lived in a few other places as well, including the United States and Australia, and spent twelve years in Oxford. Life in Oxford is rather like living in a fantasy novel: you’ll find seneschals in each, for instance, and quaffing from an aurochs horn.
Will you only write fantasy or do you plan to write in other genres as well?
I think, for fiction, I’ll stick with fantasy. I write stories to relax. In another life I write and edit non-fiction and that requires such a huge amount of careful fact-checking that I don’t want to have to do it for fiction too. With my kind of fantasy internal consistency is all that matters. If you get the small details plausible and consistent, readers will swallow any amount of impossibility.
You have a very poetic literary style. What were your major influences?
More I think than I can tell. The two I’m most aware of are both writers of historical fiction I read first as a teenager: Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Renault. Both write in marvelously realised worlds and their research never overwhelms the story. Both write of places with a sense of the numinous about them: the supernatural is always just offstage, so close you can – almost – reach and touch it. More recently, there’s Hilary Mantel, not because I can aim to emulate her, but because, when I read the beginning of Wolf Hall for the first time, I felt a visceral shock at just how good it was. I’d read her earlier books but Wolf Hall showed me a new perspective, a different way of writing. Straying from historical fiction to fantasy: Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe. I read them for their stories, but also for their genius at world building without tedious amounts of exposition.
All these people write beautiful prose. I’m a rereader as much as I’m a reader and, when rereading, it’s not the story that matters so much as the writing. With these authors, this is something to savour.
You mentioned a poetic style… Poetry and song are the most immediate influences upon After the Ruin; in particular, it’s the Child Ballads, traditional songs from Scotland and northern England collected by Francis Child in the late nineteenth century. I listen to huge amounts of folk music and these songs have imparted their mood and tone to the book. They tell of a world filled by melancholy and longing, and blur the lines between the real and the supernatural.
How has your publishing experience been so far?
Hadley Rille Books have been brilliant. They are a small press but they take the books they publish very seriously and have carved out a particular niche for themselves within SFF and historical fiction. They’ve a reach I’d not have managed for myself and I’m very glad to have thrown in my lot with them.
I was very fortunate how I found my way to Hadley Rille. I’d done the query-go-round, got requests, got some compliments, got I’m interested, got I need to think, got rejected, got dejected...
Then a good friend of mine – Jane Dougherty – approached an editor on my behalf, because by that point I was very dejected and no longer sending it anywhere. That editor, Terri-Lynne Defino, said, Sure, get her to send it to me. So I did, and she liked it and passed it up to Eric Reynolds, the publisher at Hadley Rille Books, and, soon after that, After the Ruin was on its way into the world. It’s been a long journey, for reasons none of us could have predicted. Eric has been inspiring throughout and Terri understood from the beginning what the book was about.
But, really, it’s all due to Jane. Thank you, Jane.
Did you always want to write, or was there a catalyst that made you suddenly decide to go for it?
I’ve always been a voracious reader who wrote a bit of fiction. For a long time, reading a lot and writing a bit was enough. I didn’t have any intention of writing stories for anyone else to read. Eventually, however, I started to react against academic prose and, about five years ago, I stepped my escapism up a gear and started taking my fiction more seriously.
Do you have a goal with publishing?
I did: it was Get a novel published. I need a new goal.
Do you have a particular target audience for your books? What books are out there whose readership might love yours?
I think readers who read at the intersection of fantasy and historical fiction. If you like Rosemary Sutcliff and Guy Gavriel Kay, maybe you’ll like my stories too. Beyond that, people who like folk songs, myths and fairy tales, as there’s quite a bit of these mixed into After the Ruin. If you want a taster, you can try starting with my short story collections Tales from the Later Lands and An End and a Beginning.
Tell us about After the Ruin.
It’s a meditation on how the present is shaped by the past. All the characters have experienced events that, in one way or another, ended the life they thought they’d live.
It’s a love story – or rather several love stories.
It’s a high fantasy of intrigue and manipulation set against landscapes reminiscent of the west of Scotland in a time of my own choosing: vaguely Viking Bronze Age mediaeval with touches of the Renaissance.
Here’s the blurb:
What is the price of a man's life? An apple? A sword? A kingdom?
There are many ways to leave a life in ruins. But ruined lives go on, and so, after the ruin, there is love, sweet as roses on a summer's evening. But love is such a little thing, no stronger than a candleflame at noontime. For, after the ruin, Averla, fire made flesh, is hiding in the light. She will use lover against lover, sister against brother, father against son, to build again her kingdom of everlasting flame. Love is not enough to set against her fierce desire. As well seek to turn back the tide with a wall of sand.
Is it part of a series?
It could be. By that I mean it stands alone, being complete in and of itself, but I have other stories set in the same world that are linked with it. Some are published – Hadley Rille Books have published two sets of my short stories as e-books – and some are not. I hope the ones that aren’t published yet will be. Maybe I should make that my next goal in publishing.
Thank you very much for having me here, Ted. It’s been great talking with you.
UK author page:
US author page:
Here’s the link to Barnes & Noble:
Here’s the link to Fishpond:
Here’s the link to Heroines of Fantasy, where I have a regular book review slot: