Idea to Book: Mistress of Birds


Welcome to our idea to book post for the last book in the Mysterious Powers series, Mistress of Birds. The idea for this book grew out of three things: a desire to try my hand at something more in the gothic vein, being fascinated by Dartmoor, and of course, apples. (With a bonus note about titles, for fun.) 

Cover of Mistress of Birds with pinecones and fall berries. The cover has a man and a woman in silhouette on a deep purple background, with an apple in the corner. The man holds a walking stick as tall as he is.

The title

The title actually showed up very early for this one. I can’t start writing a book until I have a title – what would I call the file? But most of them, I come up with the title somewhere between a week before I start and maybe a month at the outside. (I usually outline the next book two weeks before I start it.) Titles are one of the things where it works better if I let things sit in my brain and then come up with them without putting a lot of time pressure on them.

In this case, I was lying on the couch, innocently reading a book about folklore related to birds for a non-writing project, and then the title came and landed on my head. One of my house rules is that I don’t turn down words that want to be written, and I certainly don’t turn down titles, so I promptly made a new file, wrote it down, added a few notes, and tucked it away until I was ready to outline the book properly. 

A gothic

Gothic romances have some specific points they need to hit. A remote location, an unusual enviroment, things going on that don’t quite add up are an excellent start. 

In this case, I started with a piece of that bird lore, that cuckoos were held to be the coming of spring in England, and that they left in the fall (they’re migratory there). And of course, being me, one of my first thoughts when I read that was “What happens if someone tried to hold back time by keeping a cuckoo? Or something very like a cuckoo.” 

(Look, sometimes the inside of my head had some rather expansive ideas.) 

It fit very nicely with some of the Fatae lore already in my books. It had a gloriously eerie quality. And most importantly, it seemed like the kind of thing that could have a subtle, long-lasting effect without being entirely obviously noticeable to anyone outside the direct range of the effect. 

And of course, by gothic standards, the eerie being really needed to be in the attic. Or at least the top floor of the house. 


Obviously, for a gothic, I needed a nice remote location to put people in. I’ve been intrigued by Dartmoor for a long time. Certainly since I read the Mary Russell book The Moor by Laurie R. King which features Sabine Baring-Gould (also mentioned in Mistress of Birds, or rather one of his many books is). It’s a place with a range of interesting history, a lot of remote spots (even those relatively close to villages), and some fascinating legends. Those range from the ones about hares and witches to the “Hairy Hands of Dartmoor” (more an urban legend, except for not being urban at all…).

Getting to spend a bit of time just off the moor, and then a little slice on top of it was a delight. I deeply enjoyed getting to look at photographs, maps, and historical information. And maybe sometime I’ll get to make a trip there. 


Finally, there are the apples. There are so very many kinds of apples. Fortunately for me, there are also people who delight in making databases of apple varieties, so I was able to search to find varieties found in Devon, with various harvest dates, and with different kinds of uses. Eating apples are different than cider apples, of course. 

(Figuring out the harvest dates was particularly tricky. I had an idea of the time effect and what it did, but I wanted the apples in Adam’s uncle’s orchard to ripen, just noticeably more slowly than usual, extending the spring-summer-fall and condensing the winter season. So first I had to figure out the usual harvest dates, and then how that would extend.)

All of this came together into Mistress of Birds, along with the ways that the trauma of the Great War continues to have an impact and a dash of village life. If this sounds like your sort of thing, check out Mistress of Birds.

By Celia

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