I spent about nine months re-submitting to agents and other presses, but after several versions of the same rejection letter – basically they all said “Beautifully written, not commercial enough”, I chose to self-publish.
Marian Thorpe – 14 January 2016
The Back Flap
“But the world changes. In all the women’s villages of the Empire, this week or next, a soldier like myself will arrive to ask to live in the village, to take up a trade.” Casyn paused, for a breath, a heartbeat. “And to teach you and your daughters to fight.”
With those words, the lives of Lena, fisherwoman of Tirvan village, and her partner Maya change irrevocably. Torn apart by their responses to this request, Maya chooses exile; Lena chooses to stay to defend her village and the Empire, although the rules of the Partition Assembly many generations earlier had divided and circumscribed the lives of men and women. Appointed to leadership, Lena’s concepts of love and loyalty are challenged as she learns the skills of warfare, and, in the aftermath of battle, faces the consequences of her choices. Leaving Tirvan to search for Maya, Lena is drawn into the intrigues and politics of the Empire, forcing her to examine what she most truly believes in.
About the book
What is the book about?
That is actually a complex question, or at least an question with a complex answer. I had thought the book was a simple coming-of-age adventure story, set in a world analogous to Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire. Unlike in history, the message to recall troops never made it to this land, and over the years the society has evolved into one where all men are required to serve in the army, and women run the villages and inns and keep themselves and the army fed and provisioned. But a time comes when an external threat drives the Emperor to ask the women to learn to fight, to defend their land. The book focuses on the consequences of the choices that arise from that request for Lena, a young fisherwoman, and what she learns about herself and the meanings of love and loyalty. However! In hindsight, while the book is about all that, it’s also a reflection of one of my greatest interests – what is called ‘deep mapping’ in North America and usually ‘the spirit of place’ in the UK: an investigation of all the factors – cultural, geographic, ecological, historical – that work together to create the unique character of a country or a locale. At one level, I believe I wrote the story to give life to the spirit of the land that was creating itself in my mind.
When did you start writing the book?
About fifteen years ago.
How long did it take you to write it?
Over a decade. But I was working in a demanding job, and travelling extensively in that time, so when I seriously sat down to finish it, it took me about two years.
Where did you get the idea from?
I started with a very strong visual image of the village, Tirvan, where Lena lives, and a concept that it was a women’s village. I’d been immersed in British history since I was a child – my father was deeply interested in Stuart and Tudor history – and my interests had evolved towards the Roman and post-Roman period. So that provided the basis of the male society, and suggested where the initial conflict of the book would arise. The more personal conflicts that Lena faces are those, I think, of any young person suddenly thrust from a peaceful existence into war.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Writing battle scenes didn’t come naturally to me. Luckily my husband has a very analytical mind and also reads a lot of history, so he was able to help me lay out what would happen in the raid and subsequent battle in Empire’s Daughter.
What came easily?
The world-building. The physical/geographic world is mostly a modified Britain, and I know its geography and ecology well. The social structures were also fairly easy, and I never had any doubt about what Lena’s choice would be when faced with the choice to fight or to choose exile with her partner.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
All but one of my characters are fictitious. The exception is Turlo, one of the officers of the Empire, who is based almost entirely on my Celtic History professor from university, Ted Cowan. All I really did was translate his personality – or at least his public persona – into another time and place.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
The biggest influence undoubtedly was The Chronicles of Tornor, by Elizabeth A. Lynn. Both her spare, clear prose and her concepts of a world where women become the equals of men in war and politics, and are free to choose their sexual partners, had an enormous influence on how the world of Empire’s Daughter evolved. I would also cite Ursula LeGuin and Sheri Tepper as influences, both on themes and on world-building.
Do you have a target reader?
I had thought the book should be aimed a female young adult/new adult audience, but as it is read and reviewed, I’m discovering it’s appealing to a wider range of ages, although still primarily women.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
Give me coffee, a laptop, and a reasonably distraction-free environment and I can write just about anywhere, although I write mostly at either my university library or at home, and more recently at a writer’s group that meets once a week. But the actual process differs depending on what I’m doing. If I am writing a particularly ‘historical’ part of the book, I will start by reading or reviewing notes on the section of European history I’m bringing in to the story – for example, versions of the Justinian plague and the Viking incursions into northern Scotland both feature in my current work-in-progress. So I make sure I’m comfortable with the facts before I weave them into my story. Often I will read extensively on historical influences and interpretations; I believe strongly a writer has to believe in her or his world and understand it thoroughly to make it convincing to the reader. When I actually write – which is always on a laptop – I write for about two hours at a time. I may make a few notes about what happens next when I stop. And then I think about it – not focused thinking, more mulling it over in my mind – until the next writing session.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I outline the story arc, and then roughly divide that into chapters. I then think about what the minor conflicts will be in that chapter (in addition to action regarding the major one). But characters and actions occur that I hadn’t planned, so while I outline, what the finished book contains may be something very different from my original thoughts.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
Both. I always read over the last day’s work before I begin writing again. I’ll often do small edits then. I go back and read for continuity every few chapters, and then I’ll do a major edit once the first draft is complete.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
My usual choice is to write in silence, but occasionally I’ll listen to music, especially if my environment is noisy. Mozart, Shostakovich’s Jazz Suites, or Miles Davis are my favourites.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
Empire’s Daughter was originally accepted by a small indie press and it was professionally edited by them; they also created the cover art. Unfortunately they went out of business before they could publish Empire’s Daughter, but with great generosity gave me the cover art and the map, and delivered to me a ready-to-publish manuscript. I spent about nine months re-submitting to agents and other presses, but after several versions of the same rejection letter – basically they all said “Beautifully written, not commercial enough”, I chose to self-publish.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I’m winging it. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was winging it: now I’m focusing on reviews, author interviews, and social media exposure. Sales are decent, for a first indie book. I’ll do things differently with the second book in the series, though.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
- Read extensively in your genre and especially the classics in that genre – and those may have been published thirty years ago;
- Thoroughly understand your world and how it works; your belief in it and its internal coherence will be transmitted to the reader;
- Find a good editor, and listen to him/her;
- Proof-read that last version in minute detail before you hit that ‘publish’ button;
- Be realistic about your sales and recognition – you are extremely unlikely to become an international best-seller;
- Understand that promoting your book will take almost as much time and hard work as writing it.
Where did you grow up?
In the far south-west of Ontario, Canada, near Windsor.
Where do you live now?
Still mostly in south-western Ontario, but now in a tiny hamlet about 60 km (40 miles) west of Toronto. We also spend time in the UK every year.
What would you like readers to know about you?
Probably the greatest surprise for most is my age – I’m nearly 58. So what I’m really saying is you can begin your writing career at any age: I retired from my salaried work last year, and have created a satisfying second (actually third) career as an indie writer, reviewer and editor. I’m lucky in that I don’t depend on it to live: I have a decent pension, and therefore can work as an amateur in the true meaning of the word: someone who does something for the love of it.
What are you working on now?
Two – or maybe three – things: a non-fiction book called Reverse Migration: A Discourse on the Spirit of Place, which is a personal look at ‘deep mapping’ a small section of west Norfolk in the UK, the place my father’s family originated, and the place I return to for part of each year. I’ll be there for a couple of months this winter so I hope to get the first draft finished in that time. At the same time, I’m working on the sequel to Empire’s Daughter, entitled Empire’s Hostage, which is set a year or so after the end of the first book. There’s a novella between them, but it’s only at the concept stage right now.
End of Interview: