Freya Robertson Talks Heartwood and the Elemental Wars (#interview)

Good morning, all. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to Freya Robertson, who has stopped by the ruins today to talk about her debut novel, Heartwood (Book #1 of the Elemental Wars), available next week from Angry Robot Books.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Freya. For those who haven't yet had a chance to read up on your upcoming release, Heartwood, please tell us a little about yourself.

A: Hi, and thank you so much for having me on your blog today! I’m Freya, I’m 44, married with a teenage son, and I’m passionate about F&SF, writing, gaming, and chocolate :-)

Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you landed your deal with Angry Robot?

A: The saying “it takes twenty years to become an overnight success” is very true in my case! I’ve been writing since I was fifteen, and I had some success over the years with short stories and won a dozen competitions, but it wasn’t until I turned forty that I got published in novel form. That was in the digital romance field, which I turned to because although F&SF is my first love, romance is such a popular genre that you don’t need an agent, and although I didn’t feel particularly passionately about it, I was desperate to get published and thought I’d give it a go.

Ironically, it turned out that I was quite good at it and it was hugely fun to write! I ended up publishing 23 titles and learned a lot about the craft of writing through my editors before finally landing the contract with Angry Robot. I’m sure having that backlist was a factor in AR’s decision to take me on because publishers love nothing more than prolific authors, and it shows it’s important for writers to be flexible and try new things when certain avenues aren’t working out. I was ecstatic when AR finally offered me a two-book contract. It was a dream come true, and I will be forever thankful to them for giving me this opportunity.

Q: Wow! 23 titles . . . I had no idea! In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

A: Synopses are by far the piece of writing from hell, LOL! I enjoy coming up with titles, so that’s not a problem. The publisher usually writes the cover blurb, so that’s not so much of an issue. I find the first half of the book the most difficult, and usually have a point around 30,000 words where I think this is terrible and nobody’s ever going to want to read it! You just have to press on, though, and by the halfway point I’m usually in the flow and the rest is just a joy.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when indulging your imagination. Have there been any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

A: I usually have an outline, however broad, so being completely taken by surprise doesn’t happen often for me. However, with Sunstone, the sequel to Heartwood, I decided over halfway through to give one of the characters a dog—the reason for this became blindingly clear, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it at the beginning! I finished the book, then in the second draft went back and slotted the dog into the first half. That was an interesting task!

Q: Clearly, your love of history and archaeology have influenced your writing, but are there any other unusual influences, from outside the genre, that you’ve drawn on for The Elemental Wars?

A: I’m not particularly religious myself, but religion fascinates me, and there is a lot about religion in Heartwood  I studied Templars and monasticism at university, and that definitely played a huge role in the creation of Heartwood’s holy knights. As a child I loved the hymn “When a Knight Won His Spurs” and it definitely had sparked off my interest in medieval history and especially knights, battles and castles. The first verse is:

When a knight won his spurs, in the stories of old,
He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold,
With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand,
For God and for valour he rode through the land.

The hymn goes on to explain how to use your faith and youth to challenge “the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed”. It’s a lovely hymn (and you can listen to the tune here if you don’t already know it.)

Q: I know you’re a gamer as well – how much has that influenced your creative process, or is it something that provides a break, an escape?

A: A bit of both, really! Fantasy is very much an escape from the real world for me, whether I’m reading, writing or gaming. There’s been a lot of discussion about the so-called “grimdark” fantasy and its popularity at the moment. I love dark F&SF movies and books from time to time, but in terms of writing and gaming, I prefer my fantasy to be heroic, and ultimately for good to triumph over evil. When I play D&D, I don’t want to die every five minutes or be horrifically injured. I like my characters to be challenged, but ultimately I want to play the hero and save the day, and I feel the same way about the fantasy I write. That’s not to say that my work doesn't have dark moments—characters get tortured, fall into despair, and some will die. But after a long night, the sun will always rise to obliterate the darkness, and that’s definitely the way I like to write.

Q: Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?

A: I remember reading that Jane Austen used to have to write in the living room amongst the noise from her family, and I've learned that if I want to wait for complete quiet, I’m never going to get anything done! I never used to be able to write listening to music, but nowadays I often put on my headphones because it drowns out the background noise. I like John Mayer and Jack Johnson, but have been known to turn up the Foo Fighters and bellow out to Everlong as I write!

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

A: I’ve had one reviewer say he couldn’t read the book because he knows I also write romance and it put him off! LOL! What a shame. Heartwood is full of adventure, of battles and swords and armour, of epic journeys across four lands and to the bottom of the ocean, of terrifying Darkwater Lords who stage a magnificent attack on the temple, and of a wonderful last stand that I’m so proud of I could burst. Yes, relationships will always be important in my work because they are in real life, but if you read Heartwood for the kissing, you’re going to be disappointed! But hey, each to their own. His loss!

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

A: I've finished Sunstone. the sequel, and it’s currently with my editor. I thought this was going to be hard to write, because I wanted it to follow naturally from Heartwood while being different too, but in the end it flowed really easily. With Heartwood I was still inventing the world; in Sunstone I relaxed into it, and I think the story is better for it. Hopefully it will make a great sequel. I’d love to write more epic fantasy. I love the scope, the high stakes and the adventure. I adore world building. However, I also love science fiction, and I’m working on a story that would be a kind of Firefly-meets-Alien, set in an alternative Victorian England. And after that, who knows?!


Firefly-meets-Alien, set in an alternative Victorian England . . . count me in! Thanks for stopping by, Freya.


About the Author

Freya is a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, as well as a dedicated gamer. She has a deep and abiding fascination for the history and archaeology of the middle ages and spent many hours as a teenager writing out notecards detailing the battles of the Wars of the Roses, or moping around museums looking at ancient skeletons, bits of rusted iron and broken pots.

She lives in the glorious country of New Zealand Aotearoa, where the countryside was made to inspire fantasy writers and filmmakers, and where they brew the best coffee in the world.


About the Book

Heartwood (Elemental Wars #1) by Freya Robertson
Angry Robot (October 29, 2013)

A dying tree, a desperate quest, a love story, a last stand.

Chonrad, Lord of Barle, comes to the fortified temple of Heartwood for the Congressus peace talks, which Heartwood’s holy knights have called in an attempt to stave off war in Anguis. But the Arbor, Heartwood’s holy tree, is failing, and because the land and its people are one, it is imperative the nations try to make peace.

After the Veriditas, or annual Greening Ceremony, the Congressus takes place. The talks do not go well and tempers are rising when an army of warriors emerges from the river. After a fierce battle, the Heartwood knights discover that the water warriors have stolen the Arbor’s heart. For the first time in history, its leaves begin to fall...

The knights divide into seven groups and begin an epic quest to retrieve the Arbor, and save the land.


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