T: What’s your elevator pitch for Darkhaven?
A.F.E: When the shapeshifter overlord of Darkhaven is murdered, suspicion falls on his daughter Ayla. Now a hunted fugitive, Ayla needs to find the real culprit before she is captured and locked up forever.
T: That sounds intriguing. What were your main inspirations when writing Darkhaven?
Usually I just say that the opening scene came to me first, and the rest of the book developed from there. But if I’m completely honest, I always find this question impossible to answer truthfully. Inspiration is such a tricksy beast. Sometimes there’s one really obvious source of inspiration for a book or story, but I think far more often it’s a jumble of different things. I’m inspired by odd little events that happen in real life, and paintings, and music, and other books, and places, and half-remembered childhood emotions, and so on ad infinitum; and all that stuff swirls around in my head and makes a new pattern, and that becomes a book.
With Darkhaven I can pinpoint a few inspirations, but none of them obviously have a great deal in common with the finished book, and I’m sure there are far more inspirations that I haven’t identified. A lot of inspiration is subconscious. Things lodge in my brain, and shift shape, and emerge in a new form, and then months or years afterwards I’ll stumble across the original source and think So that’s where I got that from!
You can probably see why I tend to stick to the short answer 🙂
T: How did you come up with such beautiful names for your characters, like Ayla Nightshade?
A.F.E: I’m glad you find them beautiful! I wanted the Nightshade family’s names to sound rather old-fashioned and otherworldly compared to the rest of the character names in the book, as befits a ruling family of shapeshifters. So I gave them all names with Y sounds: Ayla, Myrren, Florentyn. The Nightshade part works because it conveys the impression of something dark and a little bit dangerous, but I also picked it because the nightshades are such a fascinating group of plants. People tend to think of deadly nightshade, but actually the nightshade family also includes things like tomatoes and potatoes, and also tobacco. So these plants can be incredibly toxic or incredibly beneficial, or sometimes both. And that seemed like a good metaphor for my Nightshades 🙂
T: Interesting! I love learning the hidden meanings behind these things. What kind of heroine is Ayla? Do you think she is a good role-model?
A.F.E: Ayla is determined, outspoken and incredibly loyal to those who deserve it. She can also be proud and judgemental. A lot of her more negative traits stem from the barriers she put up after her mother died.
I don’t know if she’s a good role model. I’m not even sure if good role models make good characters. Good characters – and by good I mean interesting – are flawed enough that they sometimes behave badly. But I think Ayla is a good role model in some ways, at least. She never gives up, even in her darkest hour, and her loyalty to her half-brother Myrren is unshakeable. She also learns to admit when she’s wrong, which is kind of a big deal for her. So she may be flawed, but at least she’s willing to change. Maybe that’s the best you can hope for from anyone.
T: That’s a great point. It seems that the relationship between Ayla and her half-brother is an important part of the novel. Do you feel that sibling relationships are under-represented in fiction and did you draw on any personal experience?
A.F.E: Well, I have three half-siblings, so I suppose that’s a reasonable amount of personal experience to draw on. I wouldn’t say that sibling relationships are under-represented, as such, but in fantasy novels particularly I think there’s a tendency to present them as destructive rather than supportive. Certainly in a situation like Myrren and Ayla’s, where one is disinherited in favour of the other, the default would be resentment. Younger siblings in a royal family often turn out to be schemers who want the crown for themselves. But the reality is that sibling relationships can be some of the most strong and loving relationships there are, and that’s what I wanted for Myrren and Ayla.
T: I’ve noticed that trend too. Why did you decide to tell the story from different points of view?
A.F.E: There are probably several answers to that.
One is that it’s just how I tend to write. I read a lot of epic fantasy, and that often interweaves multiple viewpoints. There’s no reason why the same approach can’t be taken to a shorter standalone novel. What’s interesting about multiple-viewpoint narratives is that you get to experience both the interior and the exterior of each character: how they see themselves versus how others see them.
But also, I think with a novel that’s partly a murder mystery, you can go one of two ways. Either you can present the events from a single perspective – the investigator’s, most likely – so that the reader discovers everything alongside the narrator. Or you can present a range of different and conflicting viewpoints, and have them spiral in to the point where all the threads come together and the mystery is resolved. Since this isn’t a typical crime novel with a single detective, but a plot in which various people are trying to uncover the truth with different preferred outcomes in mind, the second option works much better than the first.
T: Yes, the latter option does sound a lot more exciting. Does romance feature in the novel and if so, to what extent?
I would describe romance as a significant subplot of Darkhaven. It’s not the main thread of the story, but it is important. Again, this is just how I tend to write. The thing about humans is that we are capable of being concerned at one and the same time with very important, weighty matters – like saving the world, to take a typical fantasy example, or (in this case) trying to ensure that justice is done – and our own fragile hearts. In fact, maybe it’s when we’re dealing with those weighty matters that we’re most likely to fall in love. Heightened emotions in one area of life make for heightened emotions in another. So when I write fantasy, I tend to find that my characters fall in love as naturally as breathing.
Looking at it the other way around, love is a very powerful motivator – and not just romantic love, either. Our feelings for our partners, siblings, children, friends have a huge effect on what we say and do. So perhaps the outcomes of important, weighty matters depend more on our fragile hearts than we’d care to think.
T: Good point. Who is your favourite character in Darkhaven and why?
A.F.E: I love most of my characters, for different reasons, but my favourite is probably Tomas Caraway – my failed bodyguard. His story is one of redemption, of overcoming the odds, and I think it’s easy to get behind a story like that.
T: Which kind of books do you prefer to read?
A.F.E: I’ll read pretty much anything, but my favourites are fantasy (adult, YA and children’s), crime/thrillers and romance. Which probably explains why Darkhaven ended up as a fantasy murder mystery with a romantic subplot 🙂
T: If you could shapeshift into any creature, which form would you choose and why?
A.F.E: Something that could fly. Ayla’s form, the alicorn, is pretty amazing: beautiful to look at, yet virtually indestructible. But if we’re talking real-world creatures, I’d pick an eagle or some other bird of prey. Maybe an osprey. Their mastery of the air is truly impressive.
T: Good choice. I’d have to be some kind of big cat, like a tiger or panther. Is there a sequel to Darkhaven? Are you planning any other projects?
A.F.E: Darkhaven can be read as a standalone novel, but it will have at least two sequels, both of which are due out next year. The first is called Goldenfire.
I have a couple of other projects currently on the back burner, which I’ll turn to once I’ve delivered the third Darkhaven book to the publisher. One is a slightly untraditional epic series and the other is a YA contemporary fantasy. So plenty to keep me busy!
T: Sounds exciting! Thanks for answering all my questions in such detail. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about Darkhaven and am looking forward to reading it.
Did you enjoy the interview? Does Darkhaven sound like something you’d like to read? Let me know in the comments.