Please welcome Susan Murray to the blog! Her debut novel, The Waterborne Blade (from Angry Robot), is out today and she kindly answered a few questions about the new book, and more!
Susan, congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a little about The Waterborne Blade and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you! The Waterborne Blade centres on an exiled queen who’s been uprooted from her privileged world and her struggles to adapt to this situation while coming to terms with growing telepathic powers. The initial spark for the story came from a short writing exercise during a creative writing module taken as part of my Open University degree. A group of us – all OU students – decided to produce a short story anthology based on the them of ‘escape’ and I started developing the character from the exercise with that in mind. By the time the ‘short’ story reached 11,000 words I was pretty sure it had the potential to be a novel, so when the anthology failed to get off the ground I tested out that theory.
What do you think makes Alwenna a compelling heroine?
For me, as a writer, it was the fact Alwenna was entirely new to me yet I couldn’t let go of her story. Most of my fiction up to that point had involved characters who’d lurked in my imagination for years, adapting and growing along with my writing skills. It became fascinating picking away at this new character, throwing her into impossible situations to find out what made her tick, and if she had the strength to do what she believed was right against impossible odds. Waiting to hear my beta readers’ verdicts on The Waterborne Blade was actually more nerve-wracking than submitting the story for publication! Exposing the character and her world to the light of day for the very first time felt like a huge step. The relief – and sheer buzz – when they responded positively was overwhelming. I’ve done my best to bring Alwenna to life on the page and now, as a writer, I need to step back and let readers explore the story for themselves. I hope they enjoy it.
What supporting characters were your favorite to write?
Marten the freemerchant, without a doubt. He muscled his way into the narrative even though he was never meant to be there at all. He’s brash and over-confident, talks too much and is absolutely driven to get a better deal for his people. He has few scruples about using others when it comes to securing his family’s future. Characters like Marten are the reason I can’t commit to detailed outlining: I find the most convincing, dynamic story elements emerge organically while drafting, so I tend to plan a bit then write a bit, keeping the broad story arc in mind.
Why fantasy? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
Fantasy lets us explore the impossible. As writers we can set events on a vast canvas, but zoom in on a single moment if we choose. Fantasy perils can be big and loud and many-fanged, consequences of an individual’s actions can be massive, but for me there’s an over-riding sense, particularly in pre-industrial settings, that an individual can make a difference. Science fiction can also operate on a vast scale, with mega-corporations and galactic empires, but the individual tends to be subsumed by these organisations. Ripley in Alien is truly heroic, but in the end she has to trust in the same corporation that set her up to rescue her. In Wyndham’s The Chrysalids the outsider protagonists escape to a technologically-advanced society where they can belong, whereas in Tolkien’s work Bilbo and Frodo go off on their adventures, achieve great things, but never quite fit in at home afterwards. Heroic deeds come at a high cost and that makes fertile ground for fiction, whatever the genre.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Always. As a child I would write excruciatingly predictable pony stories, inspired by Elyne Mitchell and Marguerite Henry. Later there were space cowboys and Regency romances before I settled on fantasy. When my daughters were established at school I decided to revisit the Open University degree I’d started when our eldest was a baby. I’d planned to study history or classical studies, but they introduced two new creative writing courses and I couldn’t resist signing up for them. Several months spent workshopping exercises online with other writers taught me so much about the craft, through active application of techniques rather than simply reading about them. Those courses gave me the impetus to start submitting short stories for publication and to competitions, although writing took a back seat while I completed my degree. After that I took a 6-week course in self-editing with The Writers’ Workshop to refresh my skills, then applied them to the rough draft of The Waterborne Blade. It’s perfectly possible to produce work of publishable quality without investing in courses, but taking these courses saved me years of wandering in the wilderness waiting for the penny to drop.
What are a few of your favorite authors?
John Wyndham, of course – swiped from my mother’s collection of those orange Penguin editions. I still have all her dog-eared copies of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, discovered when my mother pounced on re-issued editions in the 70s. Later on my own teenaged daughter devoured them, then in turn introduced me to Tamora Pierce’s work as she brought them home from the library. Other favourites include Robin Hobb, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Trudi Canavan, Kristen Britain, Kelley Armstrong, Mary Gentle, Michael G. Coney, George R. R. Martin, Mervyn Peake.
What are you currently reading?
Son of the Morning, by Mark Alder. Epic scale, fantastical angels and characters with a convincingly medieval mindset. Also The Anatomy of Story, by John Truby.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the finishing stages of the sequel, Waterborne Exile, at present. That’s scheduled for release from Angry Robot Books later this year. I have plans for a third book to complete the trilogy, and there’s a new and shiny idea demanding attention – another short story that insists it needs more room. I’d like to write some more short stories this year, too, preferably ones that stay short!
About The Waterborne Blade:
The citadel has long been the stronghold of Highkell. All that is about to change because the traitor, Vasic, is marching on the capital. Against her better judgement, Queen Alwenna allows herself to be spirited away by one of the Crown’s most trusted servants, safe from the clutches of the throne’s would-be usurper.
Fleeing across country, she quickly comes to learn that her pampered existence has ill-equipped her for survival away from the comforts of the court. Alwenna must toughen up, and fast, if she is even to make it to a place of safety. But she has an even loftier aim – for after dreaming of her husband’s impending death, Alwenna knows she must turn around and head back to Highkell to save the land she loves, and the husband who adores her, or die in the attempt.
But Vasic the traitor is waiting. And this was all just as he planned.