Today I’m interviewing A.F.E. Smith, author of Darkhaven and illustrious spymaster for the Alliance of Worldbuilders. After all, no one ever suspects the robin…
Stay tuned afterward, because I’ve got all the deets on a great Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post!
KK: To take a page from your book, tell us a bit about yourself – any illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing. 🙂
A.F.E: I’m a professional editor, a whenever-I-can writer and a mother of two young children. I’m also an occasional robin.
Illogical fears I have aplenty, including moths, spiders and other assorted invertebrates. Then there’s drowning … I hate the idea of drowning … and blood and heights and being buried alive. Oh, and mould. I hate mould. But other than all that, I would make a perfectly good fantasy hero.
Rather than a lightning-shaped scar on my forehead, I have a large orbicular birthmark on my knee. In other words, I have a great big freckle. Still, that’s got to mean I have a Destiny, right?
I would never wrestle a bear, or punch a shark. I am a vegetarian and therefore coexist peacefully with all living creatures, except those that have a tendency to crawl around on my walls.
KK: What about Darkhaven? What’s it all about?
A.F.E.: The short answer: shapeshifters and murder.
The slightly longer answer: a brother who didn’t inherit his family’s shapeshifting gift, and a sister who did, both trying to prove she didn’t kill their father. With swordfights, carriage chases, a bit of romance and a whole lot of overcoming impossible odds (because I like making my characters fall in love, but I also like making them suffer). All set in a unique city in the throes of industrial revolution.
KK: What inspired you to write this story?
A.F.E.: It came from a single, quite vivid scene that popped into my head – the one that’s still the opening scene of the book, in which Ayla flees Darkhaven at night. The entire plot grew out of that seed.
Having said that, inspiration came from a lot of other places as well. I guess writing is sort of the brain’s way of distilling all its experiences into a new and different form. (Shameless plug: I’ve actually written a whole article on the topic of inspiration for this blog tour, and it will appear tomorrow. So look out for it!)
KK: What was your favorite part about writing this book? Least favorite?
A.F.E.: I enjoy writing certain types of scenes more than others. My favourites are, in order from most to least: deadly peril, emotional trauma, unequal fights and romantic misunderstandings. I’m a terrible sadist when it comes to my characters. I like to make them suffer. On the other hand, I also enjoy writing quiet dialogue scenes where you really get to know the characters and watch them connect in new ways. Seeing a relationship grow – romantic or otherwise – is always satisfying.
The part I liked least? Not so much anything in the writing, but this part now, afterwards – when I’m worrying about what people will think of it. I don’t mind if they simply don’t like the story; tastes vary, opinions differ, that’s what makes life interesting. (I’ve already had one reviewer who hated Ayla and another who really loved her, which is great, because it means she’s real enough to provoke strong reactions in people.) But fantasy at the moment seems to have become a very politicised landscape, and for someone who’s very unpolitical, that can be kind of daunting. I would hate readers to perceive the book as containing negative portrayals of women, say – or men, for that matter. The point is, I just wrote the book as a book. It doesn’t have any hidden messages. (Except for the one you get if you read the last word of every chapter in reverse order … just kidding.)
KK: You’ve created a richly detailed world. What was your inspiration for the city of Arkannen?
A.F.E.: A writing friend of mine suggested that the inspiration for Arkannen must have come from where I live. My home town is famous in the UK for its many roundabouts. It’s possible this led me to create a city that consists of multiple concentric circles.
Far more likely, though, it came from Minas Tirith. I’m actually a little perturbed by this. I had a vague memory of being inspired by the visual presentation of Minas Tirith in the Return of the King movie. So when you asked me this question, I Googled Minas Tirith to confirm or deny that suspicion, and came across the following quotation from the book:
For the fashion of Minas Tirith was such that it was built on seven levels, each delved into the hill, and about each was set a wall, and in each was a gate.
Man, oh man. I don’t even remember that line from the book, but there it is. Which shows that (a) the movie did a damn good job of recreating the book and (b) I clearly steal from all kinds of places without even realising it.
Arkannen isn’t like Minas Tirith in any other respect, of course. But still.
KK: Tell us about the layout of Arkannen. What is the significance of the different gates?
A.F.E.: As we’ve established, Arkannen is a seven-ringed city, with each ring only being accessible through a single gate. The deeper you go into the city, the less likely you are to be admitted through the next gate – so the outer rings (first to third) are dedicated to trade and industry, and are mostly open to outsiders; the fourth ring is residential; and the inner rings have more specialist purposes (weapons and worship) and admit only those residents who have legitimate business there. Darkhaven itself is the tower at the heart of the seventh ring.
The gates are named after the five physical and two spiritual elements of Mirrorvalese alchemy, and progress from warm to cold as you climb up through the rings – so Birth, Flame, Wind, Wood, Steel, Ice, Death. It’s a fairly clear warning that the city becomes increasingly unfriendly to the casual visitor, the closer you get to the centre.
KK: Arkannen is in the midst of an industrial revolution. Did that require a lot of research to illustrate well?
A.F.E.: Certainly some. I didn’t want the book to be medieval-style fantasy – not that I don’t enjoy that, but my other series is more traditional in that respect and I wanted a change. Industrial revolution is always a fascinating period in a country’s history because it shakes up the existing world order and creates new social structures. So although I don’t go into much detail in this book about the effects of that shake-up on the inhabitants of Arkannen, it’s sort of represented in the struggle between old-world alchemy (shapeshifters) and new-world technology (guns): how the old has to adapt to the new or be destroyed. But that conflict will be developed further in later books.
In terms of research, I made sure I was being accurate with the kinds of technological advances that tend to take place during an industrial revolution. It’s actually a really rich setting for fantasy because of that juxtaposition between old and new. So Arkannen has factories and foundries, glass and gas lamps, but also horses and oxen, cobblestones and military fortifications. Most warriors still use swords, but the odd pistol is beginning to creep in here and there. And since it’s a fantasy world, I felt within my rights to reshape history a little bit – after all, no two revolutions are exactly the same. I wanted a steampunkish flavour, so there’s a fair bit of steam-driven transport: balloons and airships, trams and bicycles.
KK: Arkannen has a fascinating religion. How did the idea for a religion with no deity come about?
A.F.E.: It came from a throwaway comment I read somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t remember where, or who made it. Maybe it was someone on Authonomy 🙂
Anyway, this person said they’d like to see a fantasy in which there were no gods. But the thing about humans is that they’re naturally drawn to look for meaning in the world. Most societies throughout history have developed some form of religion. So Mirrorvalese religion is what I imagine you’d get if people revered the forces of nature directly instead of assuming an all-powerful agency behind them.
KK: Will Darkhaven have a sequel?
A.F.E.: Yes. Although Darkhaven is a standalone work, it will have at least two sequels. Book 2 (tentatively titled Goldenfire) is currently with the publisher and is due to be released in January. I’m working on Book 3 and that will be available next July.
I would like there to be seven books in total, but that depends a great deal on how the first few do.
KK: And now, to take another page from your book: Which book has had the greatest impact on your life?
A.F.E.: I’m going to cheat and answer that several times for different stages of my life.
When I was a child, it was definitely The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien). I started reading it well before I was ready for it, because my mother (thankfully) didn’t believe in restricting me to the children’s section of her bookcase. Somewhere there’s a very earnest essay I wrote when I was seven, explaining why LotR was my favourite book ever. (I was also asked to draw a picture of it, which amuses me, because the edition we had at home was just three volumes in rather dull grey covers. So I dutifully drew three grey rectangles.) I’ve loved fantasy ever since, and there was a time in the distant past when I read LotR at least once a year (which may explain how I internalised the structure of Minas Tirith without realising it).
As a teen it was the Wheel of Time series (Robert Jordan). I was given the first book for Christmas and spent the afternoon reading it. Six more books were already available, so I bought each one as soon as I’d saved enough. I loved those books. They got me to start taking the idea of writing my own stuff seriously. Yet I’ve never read the end of the series. By the time the final books came out, I simply couldn’t find the space in my life to reread all the rest and finish the story properly.
In my early twenties it was Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books. I’d lost myself a bit in those days. I’d started a proper, full-time, adult job and it was a bit of a shock to the system. I couldn’t remember why I loved reading fantasy or why I wanted to write it. But then I picked up Kushiel’s Dart and I was blown away. Political intrigue, sex and violence, all wrapped up in an intricate plot with fabulous worldbuilding.
And finally, in the last few years it was the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. They were some of the very first books I read on my Kindle. By that time I had a baby and was finding it very difficult to make time to read, but having a light, portable reading device changed all that! Since then I’ve read almost entirely ebooks, with only the occasional foray into paperback. It’s great to be able to read at night or during feeds without disturbing the baby (now a different baby, of course!).
KK: Finally, if you could recommend one book, what would it be and why?
A.F.E.: The book I’m currently recommending to everyone is After the Ruin by Harriet Goodchild (published earlier this year). It’s a gorgeous, complicated, poetic fantasy. You’ve read it yourself, Kay, so you know what I’m talking about 🙂
KK: Indeed. It’s a wonderful book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Thank you so much for answering my many questions, and I can’t wait for Goldenfire to arrive!
About the Author
A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.
What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.
About the Book
Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.
And now, onto the rest of the fun!
The aforementioned giveaway includes a host of great prizes. There’s an e-book copy of Darkhaven, a signed paperback of Felinity, a set of five bookmarks, a notebook and keyring, some chocolate, AND a £10/$15 gift card! It’s a king’s ransom in prizes, and they could be yours if you enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!
You can earn entries in several ways:
1. Join the release party.
2. Sign up to A.F.E. Smith’s mailing list
3. Leave a blog post comment
4. Add Darkhaven on Goodreads
5. Tweet about the giveaway
6. Follow @afesmith on Twitter
7. Visit A.F.E. Smith on Facebook
8. Complete the scavenger hunt
A scavenger hunt, you say? Why, yes! To join in the scavenger hunt, all you have to do is visit at least one of the stops on the tour each day and collect the letters (see the A up above). At the end of the tour, you should have five words. Type ’em into the Rafflecopter for five entries!
See? Toldja it’d be fun. 😀
Don’t forget to stop back tomorrow for a fun surprise!
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