An interview with Jacey Bedford, author of Winterwood

jaceybedfordPlease welcome Jacey Bedford to the blog! Her new fantasy, Winterwood, just came out this month and she answered a few of my questions about the book, and more!
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Winterwood is a departure from your previous books. Will you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write it?

My previously published books, Empire of Dust and Crossways, are science fiction/space opera but it’s a quirk of the publishing industry that they came out first. Winterwood was actually the first book I sold to DAW, but it was part of a three book deal and the publishing schedule was such that there was a gap in the science fiction schedule before the fantasy one, so Empire ended up being published first.

The order of writing was Empire, Winterwood, and Crossways.

Winterwood almost wrote itself. I had the first scene very firmly in my mind – the deathbed scene, a bitter confrontation between Ross and her estranged mother. I wrote it to find out more about the characters and their situation. Ross hasn’t seen her mother for close to seven years since she eloped with Will Tremayne, but now her mother is dying. About halfway through the scene Ross’ mother asks (about Will): ‘Is he with you?’ Ross replies: ‘He’s always with me,’ and then follows it up with a thought in her internal narrative: That wasn’t a lie. Will showed up at the most unlikely times, sometimes as nothing more than a whisper on the wind. That was an Ah-ha! moment. I realised that Will was a ghost. Ross was already a young widow. That led me deeper into the story and gave me another character, Will’s ghost – a jealous spirit, not quite his former self, but Ross is clinging to him because he’s all she has left. That sets the scene nicely for when another man finally enters Ross’ life. But the romance is only part of it. Ross is landed with a half brother she didn’t know about and task she doesn’t want – an enormous task with huge consequences. There are a lot of choices to be made, and no easy way to tell which are the right ones. Ross has friends and enemies, some magical and some human, but sometimes it’s difficult to tell them apart. Even her friends might get her killed.

What makes Ross Tremayne a compelling character? Why do you think readers will root for her?

She’s conflicted. That’s always a good start. She ended up as the captain of her own privateer ship by accident. She ran away to sea because of her love for Will. Ross’ father promised her the Heart of Oak , a tops’l schooner with its own secret, would be her dowry when she married Will Tremayne, its captain, but when Ross father is lost at sea Ross’ mother decides to keep the Heart. Ross and Will take matters into their own hands. That starts the estrangement, though there were already problems between mother and daughter because of Ross’ magic, which freaked out her mother completely. (It turns out that there was a good reason, but we don’t find that out until later.) Ross is a witch, but she hasn’t registered with the Mysterium, the organization that controls magic. Not registering in her eighteenth year (the year she eloped) is a hanging offence, so she’s wanted twice over. Ross magic is tied to the forest, but she’s ended up on the sea, so there’s a nurture versus nature conflict going on, too. But all through this she deals with everything that arises, always trying to make the best decision she can given the immediate circumstances. Sure, she makes mistakes, but that’s part of life. Eventually the decision she has to make could have dire consequences for Britain, and for Ross herself and all those she loves.

What made you decide to set the book in 1800, and what kind of research did you do for the book?

When I first dreamed her up, Ross was a pirate rather than a privateer, but I wasn’t sure what period to set the book in. The golden age of piracy was really in the 1600s, but I wanted to set this slightly later, so I decided that 1800 was a good time to play with. It’s a fascinating period in history with the Napoleonic Wars about to kick off in earnest, Mad King George on the British throne, the industrial revolution, the question of abolition, and the Age of Enlightenment. Of course I added a few twists, like magic, the rowankind and Walsingham, the villain of the piece. I’m an amateur historian, not an academic one, but I read around the period; everything from fairly straightforward books on architecture, house plans, transport and daily life to politics and Wikipedia’s biographical articles on actual historical characters. Wikipedia is an excellent quick reference guide as long as you cross check facts and – where necessary – explore subjects in more depth. I have to say, though, that whoever is responsible for the articles on sailing ships did an excellent job.

One of my absolute delights when researching language of the era was finding Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Some of my characters are common sailors and since Ross lives amongst them in man’s clothing, she’s familiar with the slang of the day. Grose is amazing. You can download it from Project Gutenberg, for free. It gives you slang words for terms you didn’t even know you needed words for. For instance, a flying pasty is a sirreverence wrapped in paper and thrown over a neighbour’s wall. A sir reverence is human excrement, so a flying pasty is… yes, you guessed it. Was this so common that you needed a name for it? Mind boggling. (And, children, please do not try this at home without the supervision of a parent.)

The other great source of information was from contemporary maps and illustrations. There was a great map resource for Plymouth online which has since disappeared, but luckily I saved what I needed while it was there. Combined with contemporary illustrations I ended up with a lot of visual references. London was slightly easier than Plymouth, but you’ve still got to be careful because things change quickly and you have to make sure your map references are as close as possible to your date. I also have several pinterest boards [https://uk.pinterest.com/birdsedge/boards/] devoted to visual research, costume (male and female), ships, transport and everyday objects. Whenever I find something interesting I pin it for later consideration.

There are still a lot of Georgian buildings around in Britain, so it’s possible to see them first hand.

I’ve also done trips to places like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the various Georgian museums in Bath, just to see costume and artifacts first hand.

What is your writing process like?

I’m a burst writer. I can do between five and ten thousand words a day when I get the opportunity to write undisturbed, but I can’t keep that pace up. Eventually I have to go and have a little lie down in a darkened room. Since I run my own business (as a music booking agent for folk performers touring the UK) I tend to get disturbed by things that are urgent and I have to break off a and deal with them. I’m halfway between a pantser and a plotter. I tend to write the first few chapters by the seat of my pants, just writing to see where it takes me. At that point I usually have an ending – an ultimate destination – in mind. Then after twenty or thirty thousand words I take stock and jot down a few salient plot points on the back of an envelope. I rarely write a massively detailed plan though. On the few occasions I’ve tried that I’ve ended up deviating and then rewriting extensively.

You’ve been writing since you were 6! What’s one of the first things you remember writing?

I used to come home from school at lunchtime and write little stories for my mum before going back for the afternoon. I do remember being given an essay to write for homework when I was about twelve. It was a story about a shipwreck. The teacher was expecting two pages. I wrote twenty. I guess I’ve always been a novelist at heart rather than a short story writer. My first novel – begun at the age of 15 – was a dystopia (though I didn’t know that word, then) about a bunch of teenage musicians who were being persecuted because they were shirking regular day jobs. The characters were selected from my favourite pop groups of the day (with their names changed). The world should be very glad that I never finished it.

What authors have inspired you the most, in writing, and in life?

When I was a teenager I read my way through the Gollancz science fiction catalogue because they were easy to pick out on the library shelves, having that distinctive yellow jacket. Early influences include Ursula LeGuin, especially the original Earthsea trilogy. I also read an enormous amount of Andre Norton books, particularly her Witch World novels. Now my favourite author is Lois McMaster Bujold. I love both her fantasy and science fiction. I’ve never read a book of hers that wasn’t totally absorbing.

What do you like to see in a good story? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?

I like great characters and complex relationships. I prefer to travel into the future or sufficiently far into the past rather than read something contemporary. I’m not much interested in reading about the present day or even the near future. I read to escape. Exceptions to that (too broad) generalization include Peter O’Donnell’s early Modesty Blaise books because Modesty and Willie Garvin have such an excellent relationship at the heart of everything they do.

I don’t often put books down before the end, but if I don’t find a character to follow or sympathize with I tend to lose interest. Characters don’t have to be ‘good’ for me to like and follow them. I loved Joe Abercrombie’s characters in the First Law trilogy. They were a pretty flawed bunch from Ninefingers the berserker to Glokta, the torturer, but they were fascinating. On the other hand I did drop The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant like a hot potato. Forty pages of the first book were enough. All five books went in the trash can. It’s the only time I’ve ever thrown books away instead of passing them on.

If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Write and keep on writing. Join a good critique group or get some good crit partners who will critique positively and intelligently. They mustn’t shred negatively, but they mustn’t spare your feelings either. If the critique is harsh but fair, learn from it. Keep trying to improve. When you think your work is good enough send it out. Learn from feedback. Keep sending it out. The difference between a published writer and an unpublished one is often, simply, that one gave up too soon.

In your bio, it says you’ve traveled extensively. Where would you like to go that you haven’t yet been?

When I was singing as part of the vocal harmony trio, Artisan [http://www.artisan-harmony.com] our many tours took us all over the UK, and we had over thirty tours to America and Canada, plus trips to Australia (via Hong Kong) and parts of Europe, but I never managed to see the Grand Canyon, so that’s still on my bucket list. I’d also love to visit historic sites in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, mainly because I have a book on the back burner with a Baltic slant.

What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’m currently writing Silverwolf, the sequel to Winterwood. This concentrates on the aftermath of Ross’ final decision in Winterwood. It’s due out late 2016 or early 2017. After that I’m contracted to write a third Psi-Tech novel (working title, Nimbus) to follow on from Empire of Dust and Crossways. After that I’d like to write a third Rowankind novel. I already have ideas and there will be a few loose ends at the conclusion of Silverwolf, though, don’t worry, I never leave books on cliffhangers.
And more writing. I’m loving it.

Keep up with Jacey: Website | Twitter


About Winterwood:
It’s 1800. Mad King George is on the British throne, and Bonaparte is hammering at the door. Magic is strictly controlled by the Mysterium, but despite severe penalties, not all magic users have registered.

Ross Tremayne, widowed, cross-dressing privateer captain and unregistered witch, likes her life on the high seas, accompanied by a boatload of swashbuckling pirates and the possessive ghost of her late husband, Will. When she pays a bitter deathbed visit to her long-estranged mother she inherits a half brother she didn’t know about and a task she doesn’t want: open the magical winterwood box and right an ancient wrong—if she can.

Enter Corwen. He’s handsome, sexy, clever, and capable, and Ross doesn’t really like him; neither does Will’s ghost. Can he be trusted? Whose side is he on?

Unable to chart a course to her future until she’s unraveled the mysteries of the past, she has to evade a ruthless government agent who fights magic with darker magic, torture, and murder; and brave the hitherto hidden Fae. Only then can she hope to open the magical winterwood box and right her ancestor’s wrongdoing. Unfortunately, success may prove fatal to both Ross and her new brother, and desastrous for the country. By righting a wrong, is Ross going to unleash a terrible evil? Is her enemy the real hero and Ross the villain?

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