Today I’d like to welcome one of my longest-standing online friends, Fran Jacobs, to the Blog Inquisition. Fran and I were both members of Fantasy Writers.org, back in the days before either of us had anything published, and we’ve shared the journey together. Fran lives in Swansea, and she’s an acclaimed author of Dark Fantasy, notable the “Ellennessia’s Curse” sequence. Recently she’s self-published two collections of short stories, “Rules of War” and “The Child-Eater’s Society. She agreed to answer a few questions, and here she is.
1. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Okay, I’m 36, a crazy cat lady in the making (I only have three, you need five to be truly considered a crazy cat lady) I have a Masters in Ancient History and currently live in Swansea, South Wales. I have also lived in London, Nottingham and Edinburgh.
2. You are the author of “The Shadow Seer” and “The Seer’s Tower”, both of which have been previously reviewed on this blog. Could you tell us a bit about the Ellennessia’s Curse series?
The Ellenessia’s Curse series is a character driven, supernatural-ish dark fantasy series, centering on one of the least characterised fantasy staples, a seer. The first book, the Shadow Seer, begins with the protagonist, Candale, Prince of Carnia, dying. He is saved by a stranger, Mayrila, a witch that his family already seem to know but mistrust. She reveals that she believes he was poisoned by a group called the Order, who fear that Candale is the prophesied seer of destruction, the Shadow Seer. Not long after his recovery Candale starts to have strange dreams, of a tortured child, who calls him the Seer, and a misty creature with glowing blue eyes.
The first book is about Candale coming to terms with this revelation and trying to find out more about it. The second, the Seer’s Tower, sees him sent on an errand by the rather demanding demonic mist, Ellenessia, where he learns more about her, himself and his coming role in her plans. It sounds better than I’ve described, I promise!
My latest book, “The Child-Eaters Society”, is a collection of eight short stories, two flash, based on Greek myths. I have a masters in Ancient History and my favourite part of my studies was the literature, particularly the tragedies. I always wanted to do something with that love, but I thought that a straight retelling of my favourite myths wouldn’t be very interesting, or very challenging, so I decided to set them in the modern world. The challenge was then finding ways to bring the core elements of those myths, the monsters and strange creatures and magic, into a world where those sorts of things just don’t happen. Though the stories are based on Greek myths, you don’t need any previous knowledge of them to enjoy them. But I do hope that, if people do enjoy them, they will then seek out the original and compare.
3. As I did with “The Art of Forgetting”, you had to split one super-long volume (“The Shadow Seer”) into two halves. Was that your decision, or the publishers? How did you feel about it, and did it take a lot of re-writing?
Initially, I sent it to the publisher in two halves, because I thought it was too long for print. She wanted it put back together for the ebook, and then agreed that it was too long for print, so it was split again. It wasn’t difficult to do as there was a fairly natural division, Candale’s arrival at the mage school of White Oaks.
4. How have you developed your characters? Do you have a favourite character?
To be honest, I don’t develop them, not consciously, at least. I write and see what comes out. Our experiences shape us, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t shape our characters, too. They have a past and they are shaped by that, just as we all are. It bothers me when a character doesn’t care about what they’re doing, or what’s being done to them. Some people and some characters are cold and don’t care, don’t feel pain or fear, because they’ve been so badly hurt. But, more often, characters seem to be written that way because the writer thinks it makes them seem heroic and brave. To me, it makes them unlikeable, unrealistic. Just as it is if a writer tries to show us how great their character is, by going on and on about that greatness. For instance, I like “The Name of the Wind”, by Patrick Rothfuss, but we are told rather often how brilliant and clever and powerful Kvothe, the protagonist is, and how beautiful and wild Denna, his love interest, is. And as a result, I don’t like her and I find Kvothe irritating, when he’s boasting. The rest of the time he’s fairly likeable, but the arrogance is a big negative and the cause of many negative reviews of the book on Goodreads. Of course, going the other way and having a character that is too weak, crying and whining too much, is also not very appealing, even though that might well be how most of us would behave if we were in that same situation. So I try to keep a balance. I let my characters feel pain and fear and lust and confusion, but try not to take it too far.
My favourite character, well, I have a soft spot for Candale, my hero. He’s been with me for almost a decade and a lot of him is based on me, clumsiness, being intelligent but also REALLY dumb a lot of the time, over thinking things, that sort of stuff. But I also rather like Willow, one of my twins, because she says what she thinks, no matter the situation or who she is talking to, and that makes her fun to write. And Teveriel, my bard. I fancy him more than a little, so I certainly rate him among my favourites.
5. You have included LGBT characters in your books. Personally I’ve had a mixture of positive and negative reactions to doing the same thing. What has been the reaction to your books, and do you think we’ll ever reach a stage where portraying LGBT characters is not an issue?
Well, in my book, the hero, Candale, hasn’t ‘come out’ yet. That his friend, Teveriel, is in love with him, is clear to everyone, but as nothing has happened, yet, no one seems to have a problem with it. I did get an email from a gay man, years back, about a short story of mine with gay characters. He didn’t think straight people should write gay characters. It was okay for gay writers to write straight, as it’s a ‘straight world,’ but not okay the other way around. So, you can face negative reactions from all sides, I just ignore it. I hope that we do get to a point where gay characters, and people, just aren’t an issue. Where people don’t feel the need to have to say, oh I’m in a same sex relationship, because, really, who cares? People are people first. What they do in private is up to them entirely. We applaud them for making the statement and yes, it is very brave, but it would be so much better if they didn’t feel the need to make it, if they just dated that person, publicly, just as they would if it was a straight relationship. We will get there, eventually. We’ve come a long way in a short space of time and I think we forget that. In the UK, women have had the vote for less than a century. Being gay was illegal 50 years ago. It’s getting there, it’s just bloody slow.
6. What is your favourite part of writing? Which parts do you find easy? Is there any particular aspect of writing that you struggle with, and how have you overcome it? *coughprocrastinationcough!*
Damn procrastination! Damn Facebook! I play way too many games on there. I like writing when it’s easy, when everything flows and you know where it’s going and it feels right. I suffer a lot from ‘niggles’ that annoying feeling that tells you something is wrong, but won’t tell you why. Book 3 has been a pain to get going. I’ve written three books worth of stuff that I’ve then had to remove for being wrong. Getting the setting right is hard, finding the right ending can also be hard, and solving the drag in the middle is hard too. But, when you know where it’s going and it’s fitting together, then it’s really easy. Dramatic bits are easy, but fights are not. Travelling scenes in particular are really hard, as are mundane conversations, the chit chat that everyone has, that builds character. It can be hard deciding what they should say, and making sure they haven’t already said it!
7. What made you want to be a writer? What were your favourite books growing up? What drew you to writing Dark Fantasy in particular?
I’ve always written, and read. At school, I scared younger kids with a ghost story I created, and was told that I wasn’t allowed to tell stories anymore. At high school I didn’t really have any friends, so I took books to read during breaks, or would write stories. I would ride home on the bus, after school, with stories burning in my mind, waiting to be written. I spent most of my time on my bed, writing things, reading things, and cuddling the cat. It’s all I needed. Not much has changed!
As a child my favourite books were the Worst Witch and the Little Vampire and scary stories, many of which still haunt me now, a kid having his broken leg eaten by bugs, beneath the cast, a theme park where a serial killer lurks, killing off children that resembled those that were nasty to her when she was a child at school. I always remember the start, a kid looking for his friend, finding his lifeless body on the ghost train as a prop . . .
I got into fantasy when I was about fourteen, “The Dragon Bone Chair” by Tad Williams, after that, I was hooked.
As for what drew me to Dark Fantasy, I’m not sure. It wasn’t something I planned to write, but I love creepy things, always have. I was scared of horror films, as a kid (weird now as that’s nearly all I watch) But my mother and I have always liked to visit graveyards and have done since I was a kid. One of my art projects for school were a range of grave stones. And I’ve always loved Halloween, ghosts and faeries and the macabre, so I guess writing ‘dark’ fantasy was just natural. And, as I said, I’ve been doing it since I was a child, when I got in trouble for being too scary.
8. Can you share some of your favourite books and movies of the last few years?
Despicable Me. I love that film, the first more than the second. It’s just crazy and the minions are beyond brilliant. I also love the Loved Ones, an Australian horror. Described as comic horror on Wiki, but I’m not sure about that! The only real comic aspects is the side story of the protagonist’s friend and his night out with a goth girl from school. But among the drinking and the headbanging, it’s rather sad, as the girl is damaged by the disappearance of her brother. Xavier Samuel plays the protagonist and he is amazing in this film, (as well as very hot,) because for most of it he can’t speak, and all his feelings are conveyed through his facial expressions. It’s a very tense film, with a satisfying ending.
I also love Thir13en Ghosts, which is certainly more comic than the Loved Ones. Matthew Lilliard is brilliant in this and I find the ghosts really fascinating. I loved the special extra on the DVD that gives you the background story to them. I know it’s not real, but I still find it interesting.
Those are the two films I watch most often, several times a year, but I also love Braindead, one of the best zombie films ever, the Re-animator series, the Return of the Living Dead. Anything with zombies, really. And childhood classics, the Goonies, Neverending Story, Labyrinth and the Princess Bride.
For semi recent books I love Carol Berg and Patrick Rothfuss, as they’re both first person point of view, (the latter for the most part) with strong characters and vivid worlds. But I also turn back to “Alice in Wonderland”, time and again and Ellen Kushner’s “Swordspoint”. A simple plot, but elegant prose and detailed characterisation. Alec is a bit of a crush for me, too. I also love David Gemmell, as a comfort read, I guess. You know what you’re going to get when you open any of his books, strong characters, a troubled hero who rises above it, and a sensitive type who usually ends up dying! The most recent book that I’ve enjoyed is Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series. I love her characters, especially Lord Poppy and the Gargoyle, and how very British the whole thing is. And Angela Carter’s “Shadow Dance”. So very 60s, and again, a simple plot, but so elegantly written. I think that’s what matters to me, simple plots, with the detail and characterisation to drive it on. I get bored with complicated plots and so many characters that you can’t keep track.
9. What are your plans for your next book?
Currently I’m working on the third and final book in Ellenessia’s Curse series, the Children of the Shadow. It’s been a nightmare to get started, to be honest, finding the right setting. The whole thing is planned, mentally, but getting up and going has been hard.
After that I’m doing the Forest of Ghosts, a novel based on an idea I had as a child which I have managed to turn into something more adult (that is, something that actually makes sense. As a kid you write what you want regardless of how it actually reads. Who cares if there is a pink flying pony, when you’re a child? 🙂 ) The Forest of Ghosts will combine two things that I love, cats and zombies. Although these won’t be the zombies of modern horror, they’re a little more like the Ancient Greek concept, conscious souls in a dead body. Well, we shall see!
10. Where can we stalk you on the internet?
www.franjacobs.com is my main home, my website, with all my book info and stuff
I’m also on twitter @Fran__Jacobs (two underscores)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fran-Jacobs/20371511691 (that’s my author page)
You can buy Fran’s books from the following links, as well as picking up a FREE short story, “Medyna’s Choice”, from Smashwords – how good is that?