This post talks about the ideas behind Outcrossing. (There are no major spoilers here, but I do talk about some general setting and plot inspirations.)
Talking about the idea for Outcrossing is a little odd, because it wasn’t the first book in the series I knew I wanted to write. (That was Goblin Fruit). Instead, I wanted to think of a book that would set the stage for Goblin Fruit (which has a fair amount of explicit magical worldbuilding) and serve as an entry to the world as a whole. What does that mean?
I wanted main characters who were not highly skilled at magic. I didn’t want to risk losing the reader in lots of complex magical theory early on, and one of the easiest ways to avoid that is to not have either of the main characters have much knowledge about it.
In this book, we have two different takes on that lack of skill. We have Rufus, magically quite powerful, but who has had only enough training to stop him being a danger to himself and others. Ferry, on the other hand, went to one of the best magical schools, and yet wasn’t allowed to take the courses that she might have been really good at. She did well in school academically, but it didn’t lead to a life she wanted to live.
I wanted a strong sense of place. Some of the books in this series take place more strongly in the magical community, but I wanted the first one to be in a village that would feel at least somewhat at home to anyone familiar with village life in Britain in the 1920s.
I wanted places I could suggest more complex magic and worldbuilding. There are mentions in this book of things I wanted to develop later on. The mention of a wand as a complex magical item that’s roughly equivalent to somewhere between a high-end computer and a car. The idea of the Silence (and that some places are Silence-warded) without doing extensive explanations that the characters would not go into. The mentions of ritual magic at the end of the book. The fact there’s a Guard who does some kind of law enforcement. I didn’t want to develop any of these things too far, but I wanted to lay the seeds for what kinds of stories might come up further into the series.
From there, the plot was driven by those choices. Smuggling is an age-old activity along the southern coast of England, and there are quite a few stories of harrowing events in the New Forest and the nearby harbours. And of course, if you have magical creatures whose feathers or flowers have special properties, some people will try and steal them.
Welcome to a series of posts about each book (find the others in the ‘ideas to books’ category.) Authors start writing from very different points.
I start my books with characters, usually. I want to get to know my characters, and figure out their stories, their connections. I want them to be in complex interconnected worlds, and I want to get a sense of what that means for them.
The Mysterious Charms books are what is sometimes called a loosely connected series. You can read them in any order, but they have related characters. (And, I should note that the publication order is not the chronological order of the series.) As I write, I think about which secondary characters I’d like to explore in future books. Because the books are tightly focused in terms of point of view and character goals on the main characters, we see only slices of the much larger world they live in. Each new book is a chance for me to explore a different slice of that world.
As I write this blog post, I’m recently finished book 6 in the series, On The Bias. It’s the story of Thomas Benton (Lord Geoffrey Carillon’s valet, seen briefly in earlier books), and Mistress Castalia Jones, a dressmaker. I’ve been describing this one to people as “Valet and dressmaker foil plots.” I’m in the process of learning more about both of them, and to focus on people who aren’t well-off, or from well-off families.
But how does that play out?
I start with a character or two (now that I’m well into the series, I have a list of about eight future possible books, usually starting from a secondary character in a previous book I want to know more about). I’ve got a particular interest in writing characters who are dealing with things that affect how they interact with the world, whether that’s the after-effects of the Great War, surviving tuberculosis, a stigmatised but also useful magical ability, or something else.
(Why? I’ve got my own host of chronic health complexities and I’ve also got friends with a wide range of chronic stuff. I want to write books where we aren’t sappy inspirations, but get to live our lives, do interesting things, and find love. Also, there were a lot of people dealing with these things in the 1920s, and I don’t want to leave it out of the story. That’s lazy worldbuilding and bad history.)
Then I figure out what they’re interested in, what kinds of puzzles they might want to solve or things they’re trying to do with their lives. Sometimes they want to keep advancing professionally (and do something more interesting than traffic duty), like Kate in Wards for the Roses. Sometimes they’re trying to figure out how to get a bit of freedom from their family (Ferry, in Outcrossing). Maybe they’re going along living their lives when an interesting puzzle drops in their lap. (Ibis, in Magician’s Hoard).
And from there it’s a matter of outlining the basics of what’s happening, sitting down to write regularly, and seeing how the story unfolds.
Curious about how I keep myself organised doing all the things I do? I did an interview with Kevin Sonney, at the great podcast Productivity Alchemy, and the episode came out today (May 16th, 2019).
On it, I answer the seven questions he asks all his guests (see below), and talk about various of my projects outside the Celia Lake books.
His wife, Ursula Vernon, usually is also on for a portion of each episode (though not this time, she was down wrangling livestock with a friend of theirs…) and the interview guests come from a wide range of backgrounds, including a bunch of creative types.
Feel free to get in touch if you’ve got a question about any of it, or the tools I use. I’m always glad to geek out about that kind of thing.
The seven questions Kevin uses are:
- Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do.
- How do you keep yourself organized?
- What systems and/or habits are valuable to you?
- How do you decide what to do first?
- What is the best advice or feedback you’ve been given?
- Do you celebrate your success, and if so, how?
- How to you deal with failure or when you miss a goal?
Don’t tell my other books, but this one might be my favourite so far.
It features Pross Gates (widowed bookseller who’s taken on some research projects, previously seen in Outcrossing) and Ibis Ward, Anglo-Egyptian researcher who’s using his skills to translate items in the Petrie Collection.
- The world’s most adorable hedgehog.
- A thoughtful discussion of the complexities of Kipling and empire-building
- A look at Schola (the most elite of the magical schools in the series)
- Kemetic religious practices, including my ‘I can’t believe I just inserted a bit of a hymn to Hetheru (Hathor) in a romance novel, I love my life’ achievement.
Many many thanks to Kiya, my editor, for not only for the usual amazing job taming my commas, wrangling my missing sentences, and telling me I need more ponies, but particularly for consulting on the Egyptology on this one. (Expertise on tap should be used and valued!)
If this sounds like your kind of thing (or that of someone else you know), a proper blurb and buy links are available here. Currently available at Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, and others are working their way through the system.
Also keep an eye out here and on my Twitter feed for some more posts in the coming days. I can’t resist sharing some awesome Egyptological images I’ve been stockpiling including adorable turquoise hedgehogs.
Welcome to 1924, when a mysterious, addictive, and quite possibly dangerous new magical drink is sweeping the house parties of Albion. You can read the blurb over here (along with links to purchase from your favourite sites).
I’ve loved Dorothy L. Sayers and her mystery novels for a long time. I was introduced to them by my father, and read the copies I inherited from him so often I’ve had to replace them (a couple of them twice…) Goblin Fruit grows out of that love in many ways.
Lord Geoffrey Carillon is not Wimsey – they differ in a number of specifics. But they both had a bad war, that shook their sense of self. Carillon spent several years on expeditions to wild and lonely places, before inheriting the estate from his older brother. There’s pressure on him to support and protect the people on his lands, marry, and do a dozen other things.
Lizzie Penhallow has had a bad few years. She worries about whether her sister will have a relapse of tuberculosis, about how to keep the chimeny on their family home from falling down. And about whether anyone will ever hire her for anything she’s good at, after her father and uncle disappeared on an expedition (along with all the money invested in them.) Like Harriet Vane in the Sayers novels, she’s dogged by scandal, but also very practical about using her skills and her intelligence to try and find a way out.
I’m mostly not a poetry person, but I’ve also been a big fan of Christina Rosetti’s poem Goblin Market for a long time, and been fascinated about the way the sisters interact. Lizzie and Laura here sometimes have a hard time. They don’t always trust each other, they get things wrong. I love having a chance to explore that (and don’t worry, Laura gets her own book down the road – In The Cards, book 5 in the series, tells a lot more of her story and what happens next for her.)
There’s so much more to tell, so there’ll be a few more blog posts coming your way, as well as some short stories for the mailing list.
Outcrossing is the first book in the Mysterious Charm series, and I am so delighted to be able to share it with you. You can buy it as an ebook from a wide range of online stores (more in progress, but that link will have all the available ones in one tidy place), and print on demand via Amazon will be available shortly. If your favourite isn’t up there, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
The official blurb is over here, but I want to take a moment to tell you why I love this book.
I wrote this series because of my idea for the second book (coming in February, Goblin Fruit). I wanted to explore the kind of parallel magical community we see in the Potterverse. (Like a lot of people, I have a very complex fannish history with Harry Potter). This is my own take on how that might work, the demographics, the education, the communities.
Outcrossing is a look at that world on a very small scale, the lives of people in and around a small magical village in the New Forest. There are ponies and runes and smugglers. There’s a folly – one of the ridiculous buildings on some grand estates used for summer parties and dalliances and an escape from the formal main house. It has magical creatures (fan art would be a lovely thing, if you’re inclined, and I’ll be glad to share it here and elsewhere), and seasonal traditions, and a bookstore you’ll see more of in later books. (Especially book 3, Magician’s Hoard, which features Prosperina Gates as a main character.)
And it’s got an introduction to my glorious ridiculous homage to Lord Peter Wimsey, Lord Carillon. You’ll see a lot more of him in Goblin Fruit.
This series is loosely connected, you see – you can read the books in any order, and each one has a happy ending with no cliffhangers. I really love a richly interconnected world, so there are characters who appear in multiple books, connections between places and magics and ideas. I hope you’ll enjoy exploring the worldbuilding with me. As more books come out, I’ll also have additional resources here on the website to help you find more about particular characters or places.
Please do let me know what you think and what parts of the world you’re curious about. I welcome notes through the contact form, or through any of the social media links.
I’m Celia Lake, librarian, author, and general geek. My first book, Outcrossing, will be coming out in late December 2018.
It’s set in a magical community in the British Isles in the 1920s. 1921, to be specific. Outcrossing is the first in a series of loosely linked romance novels. They’re standalone and can be read in any order (and yes, they have a happy-ever-after.) They also include a dash of mystery or puzzle-solving.
This website is still being constructed, but I do have a mailing list! I’ll send out an email when Outcrossing is out.
This blog will have amusing things I’ve come across in research (or think might be interesting to the sort of people who like the background that’s in the author’s note…). You can also check out my social media sites: GoodReads for some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed, Pinterest for visuals (since the 1920s have some great art and design!) and Twitter for, well, being Twitter and connecting with other authors and readers and book people.