Helen Lowe kindly stopped by today to chat about her new book, Daughter of Blood, and more!
What can fans of the Wall of Night series expect from Daughter of Blood (without spoilers, obviously!)?
A question I’ve fielded from several readers is whether Daughter of Blood (Book Three) will see the same five year time gap that occurred between events in The Heir of Night (Book One)and those in The Gathering of the Lost (Book Two). So I can definitely say that is not the case: events in Daughter of Blood follow on fairly directly from those at the conclusion of Book Two. At the end of The Gathering of the Lost, a return to the Wall of Night was also fairly clearly signaled for both Malian and Kalan (the two central characters) – and although few journeys are accomplished with a single step, readers can place some reliance on that narrative signal. I can also promise continuance of the previous books’ tradition of magic, adventure, and mystery, alarms, duels, and battles – but with a greater focus on political intrigue. Readers can also expect to see the return of characters from The Heir of Night, as well as the introduction of several new and important players, including the Daughter of Blood celebrated in the book’s title. And to all those readers who inquired somewhat anxiously about Raven: yes, he is in it. So, too, is a Tuckerization-derived character, Che’Ryl-g-Raham, who refused to be a bit part but carved out a distinct niche in the narrative.
What makes Malian and Kalan such compelling characters? Why do you think readers will root for them?
One thing I’m always mindful of when writing characters, no matter how small or large their part in the story, is keeping them real. For me, this is primarily about emotional authenticity and ensuring that events, particularly traumatic events, are rarely consequence free.
Malian’s aloneness is one important aspect of Daughter of Blood: she is exiled from the people she was trained to lead and has just made a world-changing alliance with a Darksworn House. At the same time, she is facing the reality that she is almost certainly overmatched by her enemies and whatever course she chooses will very likely result in her imminent death. Malian is no quitter, however; nor does she whine – and she definitely thinks outside the square. Those qualities give her appeal, even if – as another character comes to realise – she is “twisty … [and] … both dark and light.”
The same individual who considers Malian both dark and light, also concludes that Kalan is “always bright, like the sun.” Kalan is a more accessible character, with several other players remarking on his “kindness”, but I think his most attractive characteristic is the way he remains true to himself, even in the face of considerable adversity. Whereas Malian is very much a loner, Kalan is almost always in community and it is his relationships with others, as much as his response to events, that define him. He is a person with a gift for friendship, a gift that distinguishes his path through the story – as much if not more than his considerable magical power and ability with weapons.
What kind of research have you done for the series, and what is your writing process like?
I did plenty of research for this story, particularly into historical sieges and assaults, as well as related topics such as the kind of injuries those fighting in a medieval-era conflict might expect to sustain and how they might be treated – a case of “thank goodness for healing magic” in several instances. Not all research makes it into the story, but I believe it’s important to have the background “texture” in mind as I write, to give the storytelling credibility.
In terms of my writing process, this can cover a range of different matters, from plotting ahead vs a “write and throw away” approach: I tend to chart a course somewhere between either extreme even if the “plotting” is mainly in my head. With regards routine, I find having set hours and word counts helps to get into and retain a writing flow, and also that uninterrupted time is vital. I believe the most important thing re process though, is for each writer to work out a personal approach that works – because although others’ experience may offer insight, everyone needs to chart her or his own course.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Pretty much from as soon as I started reading independently, yes – the one followed the other like night and day.
What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?
A poem about crocuses that was hugely derivative of William Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud” (aka “the daffodils” poem), thus proving, I suspect, that imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery. I was around eight years old at that time. Shortly after that, though, I started writing plays that were more original, despite still riffing off fairytale and folklore origins. My brothers and our friends used to perform them for our parents, whom I recall as managing to preserve an attentive demeanour throughout and always applauding (as required) at the end.
Why fantasy? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
I have always loved fantastic stories, whether myth, legend, fairytale, or folklore. What, after all, is not to love in epic journeys, portents, prophecies and enchanted weapons, farm boys and gals with destinies, the disregarded younger brother or sister who wins through against the odds, lovable rogues and faithful animal companions, not to mention bands of brothers – and sisters – with the fate of worlds in their hands. More seriously, although I write short fiction in a range of genres, my ideas for novel-length works have only ever come to me in the guise of Fantasy. A case, clearly, of not arguing with the muses!
What authors have influenced you the most, in writing, and in life?
In terms of the authors and books that I have most loved and consequently longed to “do what they do, too”, I would cite CS Lewis’s Narnia novels and JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – almost “of course.” Frank Herbert’s Dune was also a major influence, though, as was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. And I still recall being “blown away” by CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (and later, The Left Hand of Darkness), and Patricia McKillip’s The Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy. The die was pretty much cast by that stage, in terms of influence, although there have been plenty of books that have continued the love affair since then: from Paolo Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker to Hilary St John Mandel’s Station Eleven; and Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone to to Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings.
Outside of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I have always loved historical writing, and consider authors such as Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Renault, Robert Graves, Geoffrey Trease, Gillian Bradshaw and Dorothy Dunnett formative – among very many others.
In terms of authors who have influenced me in life, however, rather than simply in literature … Although I may be bucking the current trend in saying so, as a young reader I took a great deal from CS Lewis in terms of religious tolerance and openness to others. Mary Renault was (is) a genius historical writer and as homosexuality plays a major part in many of her novels, this effectively factored it into my world view from a relatively young age. But possibly one of the most formative books I ever read was Runaway Slave: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Ann McGovern. Long before I encountered To Kill A Mockingbird; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; or Sacred Hunger, it spoke to my sense of natural justice and horror at the inhumanities human beings perpetuate against each other.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Possibly, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I read it first when I was about ten, I believe, so a great deal of it went well above my head. But I can still recall sitting on the floor, reading avidly and laughing out loud over the sheer absurdity of Mr Collins’ proposal to Lizzie. Despite still being a kid, I “got” it, just as I did the arrogance of Mr Darcy’s initial proposal. Since then I have reread the book many times and found something new to appreciate with each reading, while never forgetting the “delight” of my first encounter with this wonderful, two-hundred-year-old story.
What are you currently reading?
Right now, I’m reading a Dutch Children’s/YA classic, The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt, which was a gift from the Dutch translator for The Heir of Night, who visited recently.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall of Night series, working title The Chaos Gate, so that’s my major project. Beyond that, I have any number of stories waiting in the wings, but which one gets the writing nod may depend on how well The Wall of Night series does in the marketplace and whether there is sufficient demand from readers for more Helen Lowe novels.
As you may know, I also write poetry and have been very pleased, recently, to have three poems accepted for Leaving the Red Zone, an anthology being published on February 29 to mark the 5th anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake on February 22nd, 2011, that devastated my home city of Christchurch.
About Daughter of Blood:
Malian of Night and Kalan, her trusted ally, are returning to the Wall of Night—but already it may be too late. The Wall is dangerously weakened, the Nine Houses of the Derai fractured by rivalry and hate. And now, the Darkswarm is rising . . .
Among Grayharbor backstreets, an orphan boy falls foul of dark forces. On the Wall, a Daughter of Blood must be married off to the Earl of Night, a pawn in the web of her family’s ambition. On the Field of Blood, Kalan fights for a place in the bride’s honor guard, while Malian dodges deadly pursuers in a hunt against time for the fabled Shield of Heaven. But the Darkswarm is gaining strength, and time is running out—for Malian, for Kalan, and for all of Haarth . . .