Saturday, September 05, 2015

Interview with Rebecca Alexander

Please welcome Rebecca Alexander to The Qwillery. The Secrets of Blood and Bone was published on September 1st by Broadway Books and is the 2nd novel in the trilogy which started with The Secrets of Life and Death.

TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, The Secrets of Blood and Bone, was published on September 1st. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote The Secrets of Life and Death (2014) to now?

Rebecca:  I think I’m more confident with the fantasy now, not asking whether it’s too far-fetched. Real life, it turns out, is even more unlikely. How fantasy writing works for me is to weave it with as much truth as possible. What I’m writing about is psychopathy, a personality disorder that affects about one percent of us. Yes, I might be writing about fierce, dangerous people who might have preyed on humans in a wolfish way, both in the past and the present, but some people who climb to the top of the financial and power heaps, for example, can be like that.

TQIn a prior interview I asked you "what is the most challenging thing for you about writing?" You responded (in part) "Stopping and starting are tricky." Has that changed as you write more and more?

Rebecca:  Stopping and starting are still hard! I find I write in short bursts now, leaving time in between to think about plot. I walk by the sea and around the local river, talking and thinking about how I expect my character to react to a situation. In The Secrets of Blood and Bone, Jackdaw Hammond has taken teenaged Sadie away from southern Devon, where she might be recognised, and all the way up to the Lake District. There she tries to renovate a wrecked cottage, and having bought a similar house that was being reclaimed by a fierce, thorny garden, I spent time walking through bramble patches and wilderness trying to capture the pulsing life and greenness. Edward Kelley was in Venice, so I spent time reading and researching the history of Venice and finding new bits of plot. I accept now that there are writing days when the words flow and build up quickly, and reflection/research days when ideas are born.

TQWhat do you wish that you knew about book publishing when The Secrets of Life and Death came out that you know now?

Rebecca:  I’m still learning about publishing. Every writer wants people to buy their book and to like it. I feel under an obligation to my publishers because I’m grateful that they bought the books, so now I want to support them as much as I can. But, realistically, life as a writer and psychologist hasn’t taught me much about publishing other than to write the best book I can and trust the experts to do the publishing bit. My agent, Jane Willis of United Agents, is my guide and translator on occasion. It’s a friendly industry made up of many people who love books, that’s what has stayed with me.

TQTell us something about The Secrets of Blood and Bone that is not found in the book description.

Rebecca:  I found a new character in Count Franco Marinello, who finds Edward Kelley robbed and dishevelled on the doorstep of his palazzo in sixteenth century Venice. I think I fell in love a little with Marinello’s swashbuckling personality and even Kelley was drawn to him. But they are in danger from Elizabeth Báthory, free of the constraints of her castle. Kelley’s quest was to solve a puzzle about the Dannick family, a landed dynasty in the dark north of England where the Vikings once settled and Scottish marauding gangs frequently attacked. The present day Dannicks employed the woman who burned to death in Bee Cottage, the house Jack and Sadie are trying to restore…

TQWhich character in the The Secrets of Blood and Bone has surprised you the most? Who has been the hardest character to write and why?

Rebecca:  The character that has surprised me is a really hard question, they have all grown and changed. Felix has toughened up, as well as challenged his feelings for Jack. She has started to stretch her wings, in both relationship terms and magical skills. But Sadie, who is so frail and young, emerges as a power in herself. Her personality, her affinity with nature, her sheer cussedness have rounded her from a sick child into a determined young woman who will not be overcome easily.

Jack has been the hardest character to write. She is reclusive and she isn’t very self-aware. I found a way to understand her when I met a raven. Jack and I share a love of Corvids (members of the crow family) and I have raised and rescued a number of birds over the years. Handling a raven was really magical, so I had Jackdaw parallel some of my experiences, dealing with a rescued bird and trying to rehabilitate it. I think the bird calls to a wild, free part of Jack that she needs to express.

TQWhat appeals to you about writing Historical Fantasy and Urban Fantasy and combining the two in your novels?

Rebecca:  I love writing historical fantasy because it was a time when anything was possible, when magic, witchcraft and the devil were real to people. Dr John Dee and his contemporaries were doing research into the paranormal, studying the nature of the universe from a position of ‘anything could be true’ that we don’t have now. By contrast, urban fantasy can tackle contemporary issues like teenage behaviour, drug addiction, sexuality and exploitation in a fresh way. Sadie was a teenager that was going off the rails, Jack’s life has been curtailed by, essentially, a life threatening illness. Fantasy puts unique pressures on those situations. But I find the most helpful thing is that the science of sorcery in the sixteenth century gives justification for magic in our stark, scientific era. Behind that logic, human beings are filled with magical explanations for things like death, because we are brought up on a diet of fairy stories, myths, superstitions and spiritual beliefs, half understood and barely remembered. I think our taste for fantasy taps into that.

TQWhich question about The Secrets of Blood and Bone do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Rebecca:  I suppose: why did you write a garden as a character?

The answer is that I have had a few terrifying experiences with nature gone wild. Some years ago, I had to move house after my first husband died, leaving me with two small children and little money. The only house I could afford was embedded within a back yard that was solid trees, brambles and stinging nettles. The windows were plastered with leaves, so the house felt like it was underwater, and the old windows and door frames were being invaded by brambles. When we finally tamed it, we realised ivies and thorns had even forced their way into the brickwork. My daughter, then seven, solemnly announced that the garden was watching us through the cracked glass. Sadie makes the same observation. But their garden is connected to the much bigger wildernesses of the forests and hillsides of the Lake District, and drinks from the deep glacial lakes there. Like Jack’s house, ours was alive with lizards, frogs, birds and animals, which rustled and squeaked and occasionally emerged against the glass.

TQPlease give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Secrets of Blood and Bone.


The pressure on my neck began to sting, to burn. ‘How might the blood of a sorcerer taste?’ (Kelley)

[Maisie] looked back at Jack, her voice shaking. ‘I have never seen anything more shocking in my life. My friend, killed and burning like a pile of rubbish. Killed.’ (Jack)

The bushes beside them gave way to an arc of wolves, placed so close to Jack she could bury her fingers in the coats of the lead animals. (Jack)

Maybe a dozen brambles as thick as Felix’s thumb had pierced the body, growing like spears through the abdomen, and threading between the ribs. (Felix)

TQWhat's next?

Rebecca:  I have finished book 3 (The Secrets of Time and Fate, out 2016 in the UK), taking the characters on, and completing the trilogy with the focus on exorcism. That was a great journey, and has led to new revelations. I am constantly wrong-footed when writing, with characters doing things I hadn’t expected, and Edward Kelley surprised me the most. I’m presently working on a contemporary psychological story with a ghostly edge, about twins separated by madness. That was also set in a book I have lived in (I’m starting to see a theme!) and since we are renovating an old fisherman’s cottage on the coast I’m wondering whether Jack and Felix might visit there too one day. I’m not quite ready to let them go.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Secrets of Blood and Bone
Secrets / Jackdaw Hammond 2
Broadway Books, September 1, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 Pages

In the stunning follow up to The Secrets of Life and Death, Rebecca Alexander has created a gripping supernatural thriller that bridges time, legend and the power of blood.

Following her showdown with Elizabeth Bathory, Jackdaw Hammond is running from her past, hiding from her future, and hoping to contain her newfound thirst for blood. Buying an overgrown home in the middle of nowhere seems like the perfect place to escape…at least until she finds herself in the sights of a murderous family with a terrible secret and a penchant for dark magic. Meanwhile, her old ally Felix Guichard has gone to New Orleans to conduct his own investigation into the nature of blood magic, but is soon sucked into the intrigues of the city’s occult underworld. But Jack will need Felix more than she knows, for the battle for her soul is set to begin.

Her only salvation may lie with the secrets of 16th century master occultist Edward Kelley, and a dangerous mission he undertook in Venice to confront the Inquisition, the darkest deeds of his own past, and the fearsome power of Elizabeth Bathory.


The Secrets of Life and Death
Secrets / Jackdaw Hammond 1
Broadway Books, October 7, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

In modern day England, Professor Felix Guichard is called in to identify occult symbols found on the corpse of a young girl. His investigation brings him in contact with a mysterious woman, Jackdaw Hammond, who guards a monumental secret--She's Dead. Or she would be, were it not for magic which has artificially extended her life. But someone else knows her secret. Someone very old and very powerful, who won't rest until they've taken the magic that keeps her alive....

In Krakow in 1585, Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Alchemist and Occultist, and his assistant Edward Kelley have been summoned by the King of Poland to save the life of his niece, the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory. But they soon realize that the only thing worse than the Countess' malady, is the magic that might be able to save her...

As Jackdaw and Felix race to uncover the truth about the person hunting her, it becomes clear that the answers they seek can only be found in the ancient diary of John Dee's assistant, Edward Kelley. Together they must solve a mystery centuries in the making, or die trying.

About Rebecca

Courtesy of the Author
Rebecca Alexander is the author of The Secrets of Life and Death. She has worked in psychology and education, and has an MA in creative writing. She lives with her husband on the coast of England.

Website  ~  Twitter @RebAlexander1


Post a Comment