Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Interview with Helen Lowe

Please welcome Helen Lowe to The Qwillery! Daughter of Blood, the third novel in The Wall of Night series, was published on January 26, 2016 by Harper Voyager.

The QwilleryWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Helen Lowe:  Thank you or having me here today, it’s a real pleasure.

Very shortly after I began reading independently as a kid (as opposed to being read to), I also began writing my own stories, poems and plays. I think my first “full length” poem (which was hugely derivate of William Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, aka “the Daffodils”) was completed at around age 8. As for ‘why’, I believe I wanted to emulate what I already loved by creating my own stories through poetry and prose.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

HL:  Definitely a hybrid. My stories and characters are always with me and I’m always thinking about them and their permutations, which is effectively “plotting”, albeit in my head. Although when the going gets tough I do story wrangle with pen and paper as well. But from the moment I start writing, whatever plan I’ve made regarding story and characters immediately begins to take life – and that means that sooner or later it’s going to flow into its own path. Also, especially when writing a series, the further I get from the start point, the “broader brush” the preliminary planning becomes. So I find I have to write and throw away more often to get the story right.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

HL:  Deadlines, for sure. I always know the overall story and the characters’ path, but because they do take on a life of their own as I write (which I think is a good thing, by the way, rather than storytelling as a series of look-alike cardboard cutouts), fitting that creative process into the time constraints imposed by commercial deadlines is a constant tension, if not downright agony at times. However, I also think some sort of deadline is important to keep me focused on moving the project forward, rather than giving into distractions—even if they are simply rising to other, real-life challenges. So although Joanne Harris says she won’t have a deadline for her writing (and that clearly works for her because she is very productive) I feel that having some sort of target is necessary, even if it not infrequently makes me feel “under pressure.” (I think I’ll have to go listen to the Queen/David Bowie song after writing that!)

TQHow does writing poetry influence (or not) your prose writing?

HL:  For me, poetry and prose are just two different faces assumed by the creative impulse (or more accurately, compulsion.) For example, I have written a poem called Penelope Dreaming, which is a riff on Penelope of Ithaca, whom we chiefly know via Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. I have also written a short story called Ithaca, which offers another interpretation of Penelope’s story. Yet like two countries with a common border, the creative boundary between the poem and the short story immediately adjoin, so journeying back and forth is simply a process of crossing over.
If your readers would like to read the poem and the story, they can do so by clicking on the titles:

Penelope Dreaming


TQDescribe Daughter of Blood in 140 characters or less.

HL:  All epic fantasy deals with heroes (or anti-heroes) and the fate of worlds, but for Daughter of Blood in particular:

“Intrigue, war, & friendship in the face of darkness as two heroes race against time to find a lost shield and solve a 400 year-old mystery”

TQTell us something about Daughter of Blood that is not found in the book description.

HL:  I believe I can promise readers a truly glorious cavalry charge in the face of overwhelming odds. How does that sound? Like much epic fantasy, Daughter of Blood is a big story, and when looking to pare it back I wondered if perhaps this charge (among other material) and the captain who leads it might perhaps be omitted from the book. But when I raised this possibility with my beta readers, they all replied (pretty much with one voice): “No! You can’t!” So I haven’t. The charge and the captain both remain in the story and I hope readers will enjoy both.

TQWhat appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

HL:  I have always loved fantastic stories in all their permutations of myth, legend, fairytale, and folklore, as well as enjoying their various tellings and retellings through different media: novels and short fiction, poetry and music, drama and film. And after all, magic and adventure, peril and mystery, bands of brothers – and sisters – with the fate of worlds in their hands: what’s not to like? Although I’m talking about epic fantasy in particular, I think the answer, with only very slight adjustment, holds true across much of the genre. The other, main reason that I write fantasy is because all my ideas for novels come to me in the guise of Fantasy and it’s hard to argue against that.

TQIn The Wall of Night series who has been the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

HL:  The answer to this particular question can shift about a lot, because the characters tend to be easy or difficult depending on the circumstances of the story. So it’s not only a different answer for each of the three books to date, but may even vary within different parts of the same book. However, if I focus on Daughter of Blood and the series’ two main characters, Malian and Kalan, Kalan was definitely the easier of the two to write this time, possibly because his path through the story was more straightforward. After events at the end of the second book, The Gathering of the Lost, Malian’s original course has taken an unexpected fork (for her as the character, not me as the author) and both her situation and her response to it has grown more complex – which correspondingly required thought and care in writing.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Wall of Night series?

HL:  I think any story that involves people and societies is going to involve social issues of some kind. In my original one-sentence summary of THE WALL OF NIGHT series, I said that it was fundamentally concerned a society that sees itself as the champion of good, but is divided by prejudice, suspicion, and fear. That underlying theme assumes different permutations in each of the books: for example, the Derai’s xenophobia and enforced caste system in The Heir of Night, and rebuilding a society that has been riven by civil war in The Gathering of the Lost. Both these themes inform Daughter of Blood as well. Nonetheless, I still use the word “inform” advisedly, because the WALL series is primarily about epic storytelling and the characters’ journeys, both physical and emotional, within that context – at which point I must now refer readers back to my answer to the question on why writing fantasy appeals to me.☺

TQWhich question about Daughter of Blood or The Wall of Night series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

HL:  I’m really not sure that I have an answer to this question. As the author, I do my best to do the story justice by telling it as well as I possibly can – but I know every reader’s response to a book will be different, depending on the experiences and world view she or he brings to the story. I also know that what a reader gets out of the story may vary from what I envisage when writing it. So in that sense there could be as many questions as there are readers – and some of their answers may surprise me, too. For example, I was surprised when my Voyager editor told me that The Gathering of the Lost is a book about friendship, for that was not what I intended when writing it. But I realised as soon as she said it that it was true! So if I wished for anything, beyond that readers may enjoy the story, it would be for more insightful observations of that kind.

TQWhat's next?

HL:  That question at least is very easy: the next literary quest-journey has to be completing The Chaos Gate, the fourth and final novel in THE WALL OF NIGHT series. After that, there are a number of other stories already gathered in the wings but it will be up to fate and the muses as to which gets written: so may they both be kind!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

HL:  Thank you again for hosting me here today; it’s been fun.

Daughter of Blood
The Wall of Night 3
Harper Voyager, January 26, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 768 pages

A Gemmell Award-Winning Series

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 . . .


The Heir of Night
The Wall of Night 1
Harper Voyager, September 28, 2010
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

“A richly told tale of strange magic, dark treachery, and conflicting loyalties, set in a well realized world.”
—Robin Hobb, author of Dragon Keeper

An award-winning poet and acclaimed author of Young Adult fiction, Helen Lowe now brings us The Heir of Night—the first book in her four-volume Wall of Night series, a brilliant new epic fantasy saga of war, prophecy, betrayal, history, and destiny. A thrilling excursion into a  richly imagined realm of strife and sacrifice, where the fate of a dangerously divided world rests in the hands of one young ;woman, The Heir of Night is a fantasy classic in the making, sure to stand alongside the much beloved works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin McKinley, and Guy Gavriel Kay.

The Gathering of the Lost
The Wall of Night 2
Harper Voyager,  March 27, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 672 pages

“Strange magic, dark treachery and conflicting loyalties, set in a well realized world.”
—Robin Hobb, author of Dragon Haven

“[Lowe] reinvigorates the epic fantasy with appealing characters and a richly detailed world.”
Library Journal

Sure to become an epic fantasy classic, Helen Lowe’s magnificent Wall of Night series is big, ambitious, and gorgeously drawn—a story of bravery, treachery, and cataclysm in a richly imagined world. The Gathering of the Lost is the second of four books set in a fantastic imperiled realm garrisoned by nine great Houses and protected from the terrible Darkswarm by the towering mountain range that gives the series its name. Supremely literate, brilliantly imagined and executed fantasy in the vein of Brandon Sanderson, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Barbara Hambly, The Gathering of the Lost is populated by a grand cast of unforgettable characters, some still holding to the beleaguered Wall, others scattered in their quest for the fabled Heir of Night, who vanished from their midst five years earlier.

About Helen

Photo by John McCombe
Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three), is published on January 26, 2016. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.


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