Today I’d like to introduce my fellow CIR author, Suzannah Rowntree.
Suzannah lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, reading academic histories of the Crusades and writing historical fantasy fiction that blends folklore and myth with historical fact.
Sounds like I need to come visit you for inspiration, given my books are SET in rural Australia 🙂
So, we’re going to learn a bit more about Suzannah’s books, but first, three questions to help our readers get to know you. First, what was the inspiration for your latest book?
My latest book, A Wind from the Wilderness, is a historical fantasy epic set during the First Crusade, the first in a projected nine-book series which will cover the whole 200-year history of the medieval Crusader states. I got the inspiration for this series seven years ago now, when I read Ronald Welch’s classic young adult adventure novel, Knight Crusader which is set during the battle of Hattin and the Third Crusade – think the same time period and many of the same characters as the Ridley Scott film Kingdom of Heaven.
Wow, a nine-book series is epic, that’s for sure! Next question, what makes you happiest as an author?
Absolutely the best part is hearing back from my readers and knowing that I thrilled or touched or inspired them! After all, at the end of the day it’s not just about telling the stories in my head—it’s about communicating them to the readers. Whenever someone gets in touch to tell me that my book made them laugh or cry or think more deeply about something in their lives, it’s the best feeling in the world.
You’re certainly spot on there. Reader feedback is the best feeling! Now, one last question. What three things would you say are the most important for an aspiring author to keep in mind as they begin their writing journey?
- Remember that writing is a craft, and a lot of it can be learned. Inspiration and brilliance is a vital part of storytelling, but it’s something you’ve already got, and don’t need to learn. Other things, though, the basics of plotting and characterisation and theme, or the nuts and bolts of crafting prose, are things that you won’t necessarily be born with. And trust me: it’s much quicker to learn these things from a book than to painstakingly figure them out as you try to write. Which books? I would highly recommend reading Story by Robert McKee, The Anatomy of Story by John Truby, and Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V Swain.
- Read a lot. Read the kind of books you want to write. Read books on topics that you might have to write about—it’s amazing how much depth this will add to your work, as well as sparking off tons of new inspiration. Read classics, because they’ve stood the test of time and will not just help you learn the rules, but also how to bend them. Read books from genres that you’d never write in—sometimes tropes from a totally different genre can help you freshen a tired formula (Marvel does this all the time with their superhero movies—think of how Winter Soldier borrows from espionage thrillers, while Spider-man: Homecoming is part teen comedy). Basically, read: it’s fuel in your tank.
- Criticism can be vital to your success. Look for honest critics who’ll push you to improve, but have the confidence to say, “No, in this case I know what’s better for the story.” Try to steer clear of people who only have positive things to say about your writing; but also don’t trust anyone who doesn’t understand your vision or isn’t excited about what you’re trying to achieve. Above all, remember that there’s a difference between you and your work. Your work is open to criticism; you are not. A bad critic will take your work as an opportunity to criticise you. Steer clear of them, and try not to be the author who takes critcism of the work as a personal attack!
Words of wisdom for any of you aspiring authors! Now, let’s hear a bit about your books, Suzannah.
All my stories have something in common: a vivid setting in real-world history, and a fantastical twist often inspired by existing myth and folklore! Inside that structure, I get pretty creative. My debut novel, Pendragon’s Heir, is a retelling of King Arthur for everyone who wished the legends had a more hopeful ending. My series of novella-length fairytale retellings is a wild ride through some rather uncommon settings and genres. I did Beauty and the Beast in the style of a Bollywood musical (The Rakshasa’s Bride), Sleeping Beauty as a Chinese martial arts epic (Ten Thousand Thorns), and a bunch of others that roamed from Jazz Age New Zealand to medieval Byzantium! My latest series, for which A Wind from the Wilderness is the first instalment, draws on crusader history as well as the religions of the Middle East – let’s just say I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible.
I don’t write Christian fiction, but everything I write is deeply influenced by my Christian faith, and one of the results of this is wanting to keep things fairly clean. At the same time, I know there’s real darkness in this world, and although I keep really explicit violence, language, and sexual content offscreen, I write stories that can sometimes be dark or include mature themes or frightening villains. I enjoy reading mature books, but I don’t always enjoy the “adult content” – so I do it like JRR Tolkien did it, and keep things clean and grown up at the same time!
And where can we find these awesome books?