Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interview with Elspeth Cooper - February 28, 2012

Please welcome Elspeth Cooper to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Songs of the Earth (The Wild Hunt 1) is published today in the US. Happy Release Day to Elspeth.

TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Elspeth:  I don't know about interesting, but I seem to find writing easier in the afternoon and evening - a hangover from the days when I had a day job and I had to cram as much as possible into the evening, so I burned a lot of midnight oil. Since I've been writing full-time for over 18 months now you'd think I would have broken that habit by now but no, it appears to have stuck.

TQ:  Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?

Elspeth:  I will forever have an author crush on Guy Gavriel Kay, and Pat Rothfuss is coming up hard on the rails - I think he could write a shopping list and it would be interesting. Terry Pratchett, too, for his ability to mix astute social commentary with laugh-out-loud humour. Too many people dismiss his books as slapstick when he has some utterly profound things to say about people.

My influences are many and varied, but here's a few: Tad Williams for his richness, Melanie Rawn for the way she imbues her characters with a sense of humour, Robert Holdstock because he helped me understand where stories come from.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Elspeth:  Pantser, all the way! I usually have the beginning, the end and a few high points hit along the way, but that's the limit of my planning. I cannot rein myself in to think through all the courses of a story from soup to wafer-thin mint before I begin. If I get a story idea and start making notes for it, I last about a half a page before I throw the notes away and just start writing the damn thing. It's more fun that way.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Elspeth:  Maintaining my focus. Since I was diagnosed with MS I've noticed that my concentration starts to wander when I'm tired or stressed, and on really bad days I can stare at a page of manuscript for hours, knowing that there's something I have to do with it but unable to see it through the fog. That's *really* frustrating, if I let myself think back to how I used to be when 14-hour orgies of creativity, like the one in which I wrote the first draft of the finale of Songs, were common. I have to pace myself a bit better these days.

TQ:  Describe Songs of the Earth in 140 characters or less.

Elspeth:  Oh crikey, I hate questions like this. I couldn't write an elevator pitch if my life depended on it. "Prime organic British fantasy. GM free. Contains 100% of your Guideline Daily Amount of magic, adventure, religious bigotry and drama." There, 135 characters.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Songs of the Earth?

Elspeth:  I'd been playing around with ideas of organised religion vs. faith, and a Church with a dirty secret that was about to surface - the child abuse scandals were just coming to light in the UK at the time. But I couldn't seem to get any traction with it, the characters didn't want to gel and I had no real overarching story.

Then something happened in my personal life which shook me up quite badly: I broke up with my then-fiance and spent a horrible, dark week utterly unable to sleep because of all the ugly emotion bubbling up inside me. I felt like it was about to burst out of me like the monster in Alien.

I started writing as a form of therapy, burning up all this negative energy. I found myself writing about a young man alone in the dark wrestling with this hugely destructive force inside him that he couldn't control, and there was Gair in his cell in the opening scene of Songs of the Earth. Of course, once he was there, I had to find out where he'd come from, and where he was going when the guards came and dragged him away. I had to know What Happens Next.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Songs of the Earth?

Elspeth:  I research as things crop up, rather than planning it all out in advance. For Songs I looked into the history of the Inquisition, methods of torture, the background to the Pendle witch trials in Lancashire and so on. Most of it never got used, but just having it in my head added a bit of flavour. The book built slowly over a number of years, so I've probably forgotten most of the information I looked up!

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?

Elspeth:  Easiest to write was probably Aysha. She leapt onto the page fully-formed, like Athene from the brow of Zeus, *poof*. The way she looked, the attitude, everything. The hardest character, I think, was Gair. He's a closemouthed young man and didn't want to tell me much about himself; it took me a while to find what was making him tick.

I'm a very instinctive, organic sort of a writer, so I used to find myself running into walls where what I was writing didn't feel right, and I worked out it was because I was asking him to do something that didn't fit his character. Some writers are able to consciously build characters like they're made out of Lego; others, like me, do it subconsciously and find characters just show up in their heads as people - and like real people, they occasionally down tools, fold their arms and say "Nope."

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Songs of the Earth?

Elspeth:  It's hard to pick favourites. It's my first book, my baby. Um, playing chess with Darin; Ansel and Danilar reminiscing over the desert war; the farewell on the docks.

TQ:  What's next?

Elspeth:  Next is the second part of the trilogy, Trinity Moon. I'm slaving over the edits as we speak; it should be out in the UK in June 2012 (USA release dates TBC). The story gets a good bit darker as Gair tries to come to terms with the events of Songs. The action takes him south into the deserts of Gimrael and he finds himself sorely tested: physically, emotionally, magically, as his world teeters on the brink of irrevocable change.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Elspeth:  Thanks for having me - it's been a pleasure.

About Songs of the Earth

Songs of the Earth
The Wild Hunt 1
Tor Books (February 28, 2012)
Hardcover, 480 pages

The Book of Eador, Abjurations 12:14, is very clear: Suffer ye not the life of a witch. For a thousand years, the Church Knights have obeyed that commandment, sending to the stake anyone who can hear the songs of the earth. There are no exceptions, not even for one of their own.

Novice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can, beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City, that can mean only one thing: death by fire—until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames.

With the Church Knights and their witchfinder hot on his heels, Gair hasn’t time to learn how to use the power growing inside him, but if he doesn’t master it, that power will tear him apart. His only hope is the secretive Guardians of the Veil, though centuries of persecution have almost destroyed their Order, and the few Guardians left have troubles of their own.

For the Veil between worlds is weakening, and behind it, the Hidden Kingdom, ever-hungry for dominion over the daylight realm, is stirring. Though he is far from ready, Gair will find himself fighting for his own life, for everyone within the Order of the Veil, and for the woman he has come to love.

About Elspeth

Elspeth Cooper is a British fantasy writer, author of The Wild Hunt trilogy. Her love of fantasy took root at an early age: her parents read her Ivanhoe as a bedtime story, and it was all downhill from there. After increasingly poor health forced her to give up a 21-year career in IT she became a full time writer. She currently lives in Northumberland with her husband and cats in a house full of books.


Foreign editions


  1. "Prime organic British fantasy. GM free. Contains 100% of your Guideline Daily Amount of magic, adventure, religious bigotry and drama."

    This made me laugh!

  2. First let me say Happy Release Day! :)

    This book sounds amazing and I am in love with the cover. Thank you for taking the time for the interview and introducing me to Gair. I also can't wait to read about Aysha being as she was so ready to have her story told :)

  3. Hahaha, your elevator pitch was great!