Idea to Book: The Hare and the Oak
Welcome to this week’s installment of “Idea to Book”, this time taking a look at The Hare and the Oak. It was a chance to take a look at three different strands I hadn’t spent much time wtih before. First, a deeper look at some of the implications of the Great War and the land magic. Second, what it’s like for someone who’s magical but not folded into Albion’s culture to figure it out. And third, a later in life romance (and what that means for Cyrus, in particular.)
As always, there are some mentions of things that are spoilers (though I’m not getting deeply into the plot details of the book).
Land magic and the implications of the war
One of the things I think about a lot – fairly obviously if you read more than a few of my books – is the way the Great War changed people. Specifically, and also repeatedly, how it changed their relationship to the land magic. Great Britain and Ireland weren’t touched by direct fighting the same way as continental Europe war. (Or as they would be in the Blitz and other bombing raids of the Second World War.) And yet, there were an awful lot of changes to the land as a result.
There were even more changes for the people who went and fought and came back. The sheer fact of being in the trenches would be destructive to many people’s land sense. That’s even before you get into issues like shell shock, trench collapses, or the sheer awful misery of trench warfare in general.
A variety of experiences
Geoffrey Carillon, in his various books, recovered his through a set of chance timing. It brought him back to Ytene at a key point in his own life after he’d been pulled out of the trenches for other war work. Some people, like Adam in Mistress of Birds recovered some of it, but a lot more slowly and uncertainly due to other parts of their War.
Right now, I’m editing Old As The Hills and Upon A Summer’s Day, books that focus on Gabe and Rathna. More than one person notes that Gabe is unusual for not having had that particular damage to his landsense to work around. His injury happened just before he could have enlisted.
Other ways that could go
But there are lots of people who are still struggling with that, and who like Lionel did not necessarily get some of the tools or magical approaches that might have helped bridge the gap. It’s possible, for example, that if Lionel’s father had lived a bit longer, Lionel might have recovered enough of the land sense without being responsible for managing all of the implications yet. Or maybe not.
A new view of Albion
One thing I wanted to do somewhere about this point in my writing, was have fun with a character who was coming into Albion’s culture – and especially its assumptions about that culture – as an adult. Nora’s not a point of view character, but her opinions about some of this nonsense are quite obvious on the page. She’s not afraid to question the things that seem foolish to her. But she’s also willing to listen to the fact there might be a reason for them.
Nora’s a teacher by profession, and she’s curious. But she also doesn’t have a lot of previous experience to match against, because her background is so different. This means there’s a lot of fun to be had with Cyrus and Mabyn trying things out. They have to figure out what she responds to, and whether she can learn what’s needed promptly enough.
A later in life romance (and Cyrus in particular)
Finally, I heard from more than a few readers that they really enjoyed seeing an older couple (in Seven Sisters). I wanted to spend a bit more time with a romance like that. Cyrus, of course, first got significant page time in Sailor’s Jewel, where he’s a significant secondary character. I wanted to contrast the death of his wife (very young, and in traumatic circumstances that led to a number of Cyrus’s later choices, including his challenge for the Council) with Mabyn’s.
Her marriage was a good one by the standards of the Great Families, but it was not at all happy. It was emotionally constraining at the very least. Quite arguably it was emotionally abusive and neglectful for significant periods of her marriage. Seeing how she was willing to look at things again, and how building some trust with Cyrus in other areas changed her view of him – and other parts of her world – was great fun.
I particularly love the way they balance each other, in terms of personality, magical interests, and background, without actually overlapping all that much except for both being on the Council. (Don’t worry, there’s more coming, as an extra, about Cyrus’s time as head of the Council starting in 1932.)
Do these intrigue? Check out The Hare and the Oak.
Idea to book: Fool’s Gold
Fool’s Gold has a slightly different origin than many of my story ideas. Kiya (my friend and editor) had been talking to a friend of theirs who loves a disaster elf. Kiya told me about that. And then promptly said I should do something more with Robin, I hadn’t done a villain redeemed book yet.
Which, to be fair, is exactly what Robin is made for.
Robin turns up in two earlier books. He appears briefly in Wards of the Roses, wanting to get more involved with the research that begins at the end of that book. Kate isn’t at all sure what she thinks of him, and Kate has good instincts.
Here’s how she describes him then:
Kate paused, then cleared her throat. “He did the thing where a man reaches to kiss your hand, a little click of his heels, the precise angle of the bow, and the – gleam in his eye. Not the sort who’d push you into a convenient dark corner for his own pleasure, but the sort who uses his charm to get what he wants.”
And of course, if you’ve read Seven Sisters, Robin has definitely been up to no good, and with some potentially dangerous results. He’s so bent on what he’s searching for that he doesn’t see anything else, or doesn’t think about the consequences.
The question with Fool’s Gold was how to write a story where he could be an engaging protagonist and have a romance that was satisfying. That meant he had to grow up a little and get more honest about what he wants. Leaning into Robin’s own skills of persuading people (and being a con artist himself at times) and what that meant when he was in a situation where he wanted to use them to help someone was lovely. Rolling around in Robin’s love of colour and art was even more.
Cousins and Fool’s Gold
Of course, the other thing that comes up here are the Cousins, the lines of families descended from the Seven Sisters, seven Fatae women who might or might not be deities, it’s hard to tell. As Vivian says in response to Cadmus’ question here, in Seven Sisters:
“That was a, do you call her a goddess?”
“I call her Grandmother Electra, so I don’t have to think about that, mostly, actually.” Then she continued. “You watching, it’s not, I said this, it’s not a dangerous thing. But it’s an intimate one.”
Fool’s Gold gave me a chance to spend a lot more time with the Cousins, and with them being there on the page. (Robin’s terrifying aunts, as well as Vivian and Robin himself.) I hope to dig into the Cousins a bit more in some future book, because their particular family traditions fascinate me.
It’s worth noting that there are more human-shaped Fatae in existence than just the Seven Sisters (you’ll be seeing some of them in Old As The Hills, out in May 2023).
The Cousins downline from the Seven Sisters have tended to intermarry with humans more, and to build up a larger communal culture centered on particular kinds of magic (including the areas around particular portals). They’re also generally more able to tolerate living in iron-rich spaces like modern cities, while other of the Fatae descendents tend to prefer more isolated homes.
Banking and the custos dragons
I was not sure, until I got into the chapter where Emrys first appears, if the custos dragons talk. Clearly, they do, and the problem is more often getting them to shut up so you can get a word in edge wise. However, I’d been doing a lot of thinking about what a magical currency actually does.
The Scali (and the other banking families present in Albion, the Bardi and the Grindlay) all have large networks of trade with other banking families. The Scali and Bardi are off-shoots of historical Italian banking families in Florence. In real-world history, the Scali went abruptly bankrupt in 1326, due to a combination of factors, including Edward III not paying his loans. The Bardi hung on for about another twenty years, but then had the same problem.
However, it made sense to me that some portion of the family might have hung onto the magical banking aspect, and slowly rebuilt the rest of the banking after the Pact.
A brief digression into the gold standard:
So what’s that magical aspect? Goblin Fruit mentions that the actual metal of the coins hold magic, especially those that have travelled widely. Every so often, coins need to come back and spend a cycle or so under a dragon, who tends them, syphons off the magical energy that might get disruptive, and smooths everything out.
This works out fine as long as we’re working with a gold-backed currency system, but that’s getting very shaky in the 1900s. (As Beatrice points out, Britain has been on and off the gold standard several times. I thought about trying to map out the timeline for that, and then decided that it was entirely too confusing to get into, and also Robin didn’t care about the details.) However, that magical effect and needing to cycle the coins through is still necessary in the magical community.
And of course, if there are dragons, they have to have some people to hang out with. George is named George for multiple reasons. I keep wanting to name minor characters George, you see. (I tried to do it with four different people in Outcrossing, and Kiya pointed out quite reasonably that this was confusing. Even if it was an incredibly common name for a couple of hundred years for men.) However, I promised that if I called this one George, I’d stop trying to do it elsewhere. That’s worked quite well! And given the legends of St. George, naming the dragon-tender for him just amused me too much.
George is, as noted, also functionally a Cousin, though not descended from the Seven Sisters.
Does this intrigue? Check out Fool’s Gold. (Though as always, you might want to read Seven Sisters, first to get the full arc of Robin.)
Nocturnal Quarry is in flight
Which is to say, if you wanted some more Alexander in your life, here it is! (This novella is an enjoyable read on its own, but will make much more sense in context if you’ve already read Best Foot Forward.)
In 1938, Alexander is sent off to American to tend to some diplomatic matters on behalf of the Council. While there, he hopes to tidy up some loose ends – figuring out what’s happened with Geoffrey’s long-term nemesis, see what information he can get from American magical connections, that sort of thing. America has plans for him, in the form of several unexpected meetings.
Want a copy of your own?
(Kobo and Barnes and Noble Nook are still in the process – I’ll send a note to my newsletter and update here when those two stores are available.)
Oh, and if you’re curious about the art Alexander looks at while at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there’s a post here for you!
Idea to Book: Eclipse
I love all my books – and all my point of view characters – but Thesan and Eclipse are particularly near and dear my heart. (I love Isembard too, mind you.) This staffroom romance at a magical school has a special place in the series, too.
Education and the foundations of Eclipse
I grew up in the US, but with British parents. Every year, my father would go off to spend a week or so in England – for research, to see shows in the West End (he was a theatre professor), and to see friends. He’d come back with his suitcase half full of books, many of them for me.
There’s a whole glorious literature of children’s school stories in British children’s lit. The ones I grew up on were mostly Enid Blyton’s St. Clare’s and Malory Towers books, and the Chalet School books (there are many, and the first half or so are set in a school in the Austrian Tyrol, but run on a British girls school model, before it moves due to the Second World War.)
But there are many many other books of that type and certainly many references to the boarding school experience. The houses, the rivalries between them (even when you’re put in them in purely pragmatic ways), and the many things that students get up to when they’re not right under a teacher’s nose (and sometimes when they are) were all part of the tapestry for me.
My own education and work
A little later in my life, I spent the last two years of high school at a private boarding school (in the US sense). There were a lot of things I loved about it, like many of my classes, the music, the various events and performances on campus. And there were many things I found incredibly challenging, both in terms of an immense and intellectual demanding workload and on a social level. We had massive amounts of homework (5 to 6 hours a night), everyone felt like they were under a lot of pressure to excel. And the social dynamics could be hellish if things weren’t going your way.
And then I spent a decade working in a private day school in Minnesota. Much less of the strong identification based on which dorm you lived in, but it gave me a look at that environment from a teacher – or in my case, librarian’s – point of view. I got to sit in on a lot of conversations about how you balance a range of classes, both in any given year and across a given student’s time in the school. I heard a lot about which kids seemed to have it all, but were really struggling, and which were blooming with a bit of support. More on this in a minute.
From 2007 to 2015 (before the more recent revelations), I was part of a long running Harry Potter alternate universe project, startign very much as a dystopia and moving toward a more hopeful end. It played out in online journals with (for the last three years of the project), the same 12 people writing and plotting across about 90 characters. It taught me a tremendous amount about how to write across a span of time and a wide range of characters, and it also posed a number of questions around worldbuilding.
Among other things, how on earth the Hogwarts class schedules work with the stated number of teachers without manipulating time.
Starting with some basics of time and space
There’s a reason that when I started thinking about this writing idea I had, the first two things I did was to figure out some baselines for demographics (how many people total in Albion, then broken down by ages and education). And then I did a class schedule for Schola. Which admittedly works somewhat more on a “do a bunch of work on your own and your teacher gives feedback” model than US (or modern UK) systems, but is functional.
Character dynamics in Eclipse
Thesan in particular is very much a result of that project, as was my wanting to play with the dynamics that come out in Isembard and Alexander. Most of all, I found myself wanting to spend more time looking at what it meant to set up a magical school that made pedagogical sense to me, that made sense in terms of historical development of the teaching of magic, and that had biases and preferences, but on a more complex level.
The implications of the houses and subjects
Alchemy and Ritual magic are the two most respected magical specialities (along with the various magics that go into duelling, for those that like that sort of thing). But almost no class exists in a void: you need Time and Place (the advanced astronomy class focusing on locational and chronological magics) to manage some kinds of advanced ritual preparation and planning, for example, or certain alchemical potions and mixtures.
Similarly, I have a lot of thoughts about what it means to have houses that are based on magic, and what the different house magics might affect. We’ve seen some of these discussed briefly, but there will be more coming in the 1946-1947 school story that’s the last book in the Land Mysteries series, where our protagonists are in four different houses (Bear, Fox, Horse, and Salmon), and we’ll get to see more of the different implications of the house magics.
In general terms, Fox, obviously, is the socially preferred house, but the others all have their proponents and for good reasons.
Astronomy and magic
This brings us more or less tidly to astronomy. For many many centuries, astronomy – the observation and analysis of the movement of stars and planets – was closely woven with astrology, which ranged from calendrical systems around which rituals were based to magical implications, to divinatory. If all you know of astrology is personality focused, there’s a lot more forms of astrology out there!
In Albion, what Thesan teaches is on the more scientific end of the scale, in the sense of “Can we reproduce this effect?” Various alignments of the stars (as seen from our particular spot in the universe, as she points out), have some impact on different kinds of magic. Using these techniques to time a ritual, expose materia to particular conditions, or make relationships between time and space can all be powerful tools.
Astronomy is also one of the four pillars of the quadrivium, a set of sciences that drive the world and help us make sense of it. I couldn’t use this in the book, but there’s a modern description of them that talks about them as pure numbers (arithmetic), numbers in space (geometry), numbers in time (music), and numbers in time and space (astronomy).
Every student at Schola takes Trivium (the arts of rhetoric, composition, and generally being able to use your words well), and then can take one to all four of the Quadrivium classes. All first years also have a class session every day where the Quadrivium teachers teach the basics of their particular fields (emphasis on what you need to know for other magical skills), so everyone gets at least some broad exposure.
And as Thesan points out, astronomy has a lot of other implications for how you look at the world, about seeing what’s there by what you can’t see and how it affects things.
The complexities of being a teacher
Finally, but by no means least, I really wanted to write about the complexities of being a teacher, and trying to be a good one. Like I said above, I worked at an independent high school for twelve years. The last eighteen months or so, I was the teacher librarian, and so had a homeroom, advising duties, and so on as well as being a librarian.
More than you can see: Eclipse’s large cast
The thing I’d already known – but I learned even faster – was that there’s always dozens of things going on in a school that you only know about tangentially. No matter how good a teacher you are, you cannot keep up with the individual private lives of even a couple of dozen students, never mind several hundred. (The school I worked at was about 400 in grades 9-12, so larger class size than Schola, but not that many more students.)
There were some kids I got to know really well, and still miss (and sometimes wonder about) and those conversations were pretty wide ranging. What they were up to in the arts, in sports, in their classes, what they were considering for college. There are a bunch where I had very specific kinds of conversations with them – they’d check in on the daily trivia question in the library, for example. Or where I knew they liked these books a lot. But I often didn’t know a lot about their classes, their sports. Sometimes I’d pick up bits and pieces sitting with other teachers at lunch time.
But there were also plenty of kids where I maybe knew their name and that was about it. For whatever reason, we hadn’t connected on something specific, they weren’t the ones who hung out in the library whenever possible, they had other places to be.
What that means as a teacher
Sometimes the kids I knew needed a lot more time and attention – the chaos of a friend breakup meant they needed somewhere quiet to figure out what to do next. Or they were stressed, and needed somewhere to hang out that wasn’t associated with grades directly. Or where I’d look the other way if they listened to music with headphones on.
(I still have the librarian death glare that can shut up people being too noisy at twenty feet or better, but I also believe strongly that if you’re in a library minding your own business, you should get to listen to music on headphones if you want to. Or read what you want to, even if it’s not what you ‘should’ be reading.)
And sometimes I knew something was up with them, but I wasn’t the right person to help (or to help more than tracking down someone they knew and trusted a lot more).
Thesan and Isembard
Thesan and Isembard are right there in that mess during Eclipse. There are some students both of them know fairly well, and more where one or the other knows them, but not both. There are also just plain a lot of students! Thesan has some advantage, because she’s one of the only teachers (the other three Quadrivium teachers are the others) who actually teaches everyone in an academic course, however briefly.
We have more to come of Schola in 1946-1947. That’s the school story, and one of the student protagonists and point of view characters in that is Leo, Thesan and Isembard’s son and younger child, who has lived his whole life at Schola. I’m very much looking forward to sharing more of that in due course! It’ll be out in May of 2024.
Curious? Eclipse has all this, and quite a lot more! If you want more about Schola (and Thesan and Isembard), Chasing Legends (found in Winter’s Charms) takes place on their first anniversary. There’s also an extra, With All Due Speed, available via my newsletter, that covers their engagement and wedding. Later on, they appear in Best Foot Forward, and there’s more of both of them to come in the Land Mysteries series.
Bound for Perdition is here!
Get your copy of Bound For Perdition now!
In 1917, Lynet has done what seemed impossible. A skilled bookbinder, she’s worked to create magical journals that can readily communicate with each other.
When she returns from leave for the death of her father, she’s given a new challenge – make them faster and cheaper. She and Ellis, the papermaker on the project, struggle to figure out how to move forward. When Reggie is assigned to help them, Lynet isn’t sure what to do with him – or make of him. Recently invalided out of the front, he’s like all the Schola men downstairs who ignore or insult her. But he’s also willing to fetch the tea, take instruction from her, and share some good ideas.
Reggie isn’t sure how much help he can be, but he’s soon swept up by the project’s potential and fascinated by Lynet’s skills and knowledge. When problem after problem crops up for the project, he’s willing to do what it takes to protect the work and keep moving forward.
- Lynet, a bookbinder
- Reggie, figuring out who he is now
- Magical research and development
- Dealing with recent grief
- A house party or two
- Magical journals and their implications
And for those of you who’ve read other books of Albion, a look at Temple Carillon and his wife Delphina, in 1917.
Idea to Book: The Fossil Door
Welcome to our Idea to Book post for The Fossil Door! I’ve been spending a lot more time with Gabe and Rathna recently, thanks to writing Old As The Hills and Upon A Summer’s Day (coming out in May and June 2023), and getting to spend time with both of them at two different points in their lives has been fantastic.
The Fossil Door has so much that I love – an amazing location, portal magic, and of course the way Gabe and Rathna get to know and trust each other.
Do you get my newsletter?
And if so, did you get a newsletter email from me today (Friday, January 27th, 2023)?
If you didn’t, sign up for my newsletter here. (Again!) Read on for a bit of an explanation. And if you’re not on the newsletter, check out more below on why you might want to be.
I’ve been working on moving to a newer version of my mailing list software. As part of that, I decided not to move people who hadn’t interacted with the list in any way for at least 9 months.
(I sent out two reminders in hopes that people who do read but don’t click things would notice, and I’ve moved everyone who clicked on the link to stay on the list.)
The problem with any kind of cleanup like this is that the “did you interact?” mechanisms are all sometimes inaccurate. If you got caught in this, I’m sorry! Signing up again will mean you’re all set.
If you’d rather not get the introductory emails talking about my books, just reply to any of the intro emails welcoming you to the list, and I’ll move you out of that series. However, if you don’t have a copy of both Ancient Trust or Outcrossing, you might want to stick around.
About my newsletter
I send out a newsletter on most Fridays (I sometimes skip one if I don’t have anything at all to share). I talk about any news and upcoming events – things I’m doing, books coming out soon, etc. Today I talked about the mailing list update, and about a story that my editor, Kiya Nicoll, has in an anthology that just came out.
I share things I’ve posted other places. This week, that’s the blog post about Carry On, and a public post on Patreon about how I’m tracking what I’m reading this year.
Finally, I wrap up with a bit about what I’ve been writing that week, along with three or so links to interesting things I’ve come across in my research. (A number of my newsletter readers think this is the best part, and look forward to it.)
The newsletter is the place to get access to my extras of various kinds. When you sign up, you also get Ancient Trust, a prequel novella featuring Geoffrey Carillon and Thomas Benton, when Carillon returns to Albion after the death of his brother in 1922. It overlaps with Outcrossing.
Idea to Book: Carry On
The next book in our Ideas to Books series is Carry On, set in 1915, almost entirely in the Temple of Healing in Trellech.
When I started thinking about the Mysterious Powers series as a way to look at what was going on with the various institutions of Albion during and in the aftermath of the Great War, I knew I needed to be a little more consistent about planning out my timeline. (Unlike the Mysterious Charm books, which bounce around the 1920s out of sequence.)
Idea to Book: Forged in Combat
Time for another in the ongoing Idea to Book series. This time, we’re starting with the prequel to the Mysterious Powers series, Forged in Combat.
(Yes, even though it’s my most recent release as I write this.)
Forged in Combat is the romance of Arthur and Melusina Gospatrick, the parents of Roland Gospatrick, hero of Carry On (the first book in the series.)
Come join the conversation!
Starting today, we’ve got two great new places to chat, and for me to share more about my writing and Albion. I have the best readers, so I hope you’ll join me in one or more of these places, depending on your own preferences.
(Extra thanks to everyone who responded to my survey in November 2022 for helping me figure out which options made the most sense to try out!)
And a huge round of appreciation to Kiya, who has helped me get the Discord set up. (Kiya wears many hats – often literally – as well as being my editor, first reader, and other half of my brain.)
Discord offers a text-based chat server (you can share images and links, too). It’s a low-key way to hang out and connect without other people and have slower conversations without a social media algorithm deciding what you see.
All sorts of topics are fair game! I’m glad to chat about books – mine and most all others – but also historical amusements, food and crafts, interesting astronomy, and whatever else seems interesting.
Our server is called Albion’s Delights. It’s a private server just to keep it more manageable, so you’ll need an invite link. You can get one from any email newsletter I’ve sent since the start of 2023, or by becoming a Patron on Patreon. (And if either of those are a problem, drop me a note.)
Curious? I’ve got a guide with more information about our Discord and how to get started. It’s also got a copy of the rules if you’d like to check that out before joining us.
A few readers (thank you!) have asked for more ways they can support my writing. I also was looking for a place where we could have more space for actual conversation, and where I could share some posts about things that don’t quite fit into the authorial blog here. (A number of people are interested in more about my writing process and tools, for example.)
Starting out, there will be two public (free) posts a month. If you become a Patron at any level, you’ll also get early access to another post every month. This will either be a chunk from an upcoming extra or to a deeper dive into a research topic. Both of these will be available for everyone via my newsletter or blog later on.
Learn more about Patreon and how I’m planning to use it.
I’ll be linking to public posts (and letting people know what I shared for Patrons) in my newsletter too.
I’ve updated my contact page to have all the info about where I am these days online. Here are the big three:
My newsletter is the best way to get all my news first! It’s also where you can get extras about different characters, amusing research tidbits, and other fun details.
I’ll be making weekly blog posts here, focusing on the world and people of Albion, as well as talking more about specific books. I love getting questions from readers, so if there’s something you’re curious about, get in touch and ask!
I’m eyeing the state of Twitter very cautiously right now, and am mostly active on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org. I also just set up a new Instagram (@celialakebooks) account, which will likely mostly be book announcements. (But also the occasional photo as I go about my life. Right now, swans!)