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  • 7: Seven Sisters,  Ideas to books

    Idea to Book: Seven Sisters

    Seven Sisters is simultaneously an outgrowth of some of the larger worldbuilding and my (somewhat odd) Classical education. It’s also about the density of history, the role of time, and the question of how much of other people we can begin to understand, anyway. Also a touch of sign language and magic.

    Cover of Seven Sisters set against a crescent moon, shrouded by purple fog and glowing light.

    The Fatae

    First and foremost, this was a chance to explore the Cousins, those who descended from the more human of the Fatae, in this case the seven Grandmothers. (There may be others out in the world, for the record, even in Britain.)

    The Grandmothers have a sizeable number of opinionated and very busy descendants, who refer to each other as Cousins. Some look entirely like other humans, others have features that are a little less so – particularly odd eye colours, sometimes hair. They work closely with a number of the non-human shaped Cousins, everything from the custos dragons (see Fool’s Gold for one) to the Belin (see Goblin Fruit), to the trees we see in this book.

    (There’s more about Robin in Fool’s Gold, as well, and his particular Aunts. And a bit of Vivian.)

    One of the things I wanted, as I wrote about the Cousins, was the sense that they are a large sprawling clan. They know of each other, but they may not know individuals very well. They have interconnections, they end up at the same rites and festivals every so often.

    But they also have their own individual preferences and priorities, and those may or may not overlap. There are customs, but a lot of room for personal choice. (All right, and quite possibly some disapproval for some choices.) 

    Classics

    When I started writing this book, I had a very hard time making Cadmus interesting. I kept trying different things, and none of them quite worked. Around about chapter 8, my editor, Kiya (who sees all my completely raw drafts as I finish chapters, since they’re also a long-time friend), nudged me and suggested I lean into the geekery of the Classics. 

    That was absolutely the right decision, and made Cadmus make much more sense – to himself, to me, and I believe to the reader. 

    I worry, sometimes, that I’m leaning too much into my geekery. But then I remember that if I’m finding it fun, that comes across. I can explain why it’s amusing or interesting, or give people who might not be familiar with that particular topic some ways to understand it. I love that part.

    In this case, Cadmus is drawing heavily on my own background. My father was trained as a Classicist (and read both ancient Greek and Latin easily), though he ended up as a professor in a different field. I didn’t learn Greek until after his death, but I’ve had a number of his translations to draw on. 

    Cadmus translating Herodotus, however, comes out of one of my Greek classes. It was a small class – just four of us – and I regularly studied with someone else in the class. We’d alternate looking up words in the lexicon, which made the process both more enjoyable and go a bit faster. 

    What Herodotus is writing about basically falls into one of two broad topics: 1) the customs of people who are not Greeks, and 2) fighting and battles. We quickly figured out that if it was a noun we didn’t know in the first category, it was probably about food or entertainment. If it was a verb we didn’t know in the second, we could translate it as “to attack” and work on it from there. 

    (There is a verb he uses in the battle of Thermopylae that can reasonably be translated as “to make pincushions out of one’s enemies with spears”. Attic Greek has a lot of variations on ‘to attack’.)

    Mostly, I just wanted to have fun with how ridiculous it can sometimes be. 

    The density of history

    This book brings out how you have so many overlapping points of view. You get a glimpse of it, with the range of residents at Thebes, people whose varied stories have brought them to this place at this time. Some because they’re academics, and it’s convenient to their work. Some because they need somewhere different to be, that isn’t reminding them constantly of who and what they’ve lost. Some for other reasons. (Hello, Robin.) 

    And then you’ve got the question of what that history means going forward – Fool’s Gold is partly an answer to sorting some of that out, one way it might go. It doesn’t mean forgiveness, necessarily. It doesn’t mean an apology mends everything, and the house is one big happy family again. For one thing, it didn’t start that way. But it does mean that you can look at where you’ve come from, and move forward.

    That’s where Cadmus is, too. After a deeply traumatic experience in Afghanistan, he has choices to make about what he does now. He and Farran have choices about Farran’s apprenticeship. And that’s the thing – they do have some choices. Not all the choices in the world. Not the choices to change the past. But they have options going forward, if they wish to take them.

    (As does Vivian. As does Robin. As does everyone else.) 

    Sign language

    Finally, Lena, the housekeeper at Thebes, is deaf (she wouldn’t identify as culturally Deaf) and uses sign language with both Cadmus and Farran, but also, it turns out, with Vivian, who learned it in slightly different circumstances.

    I had a chance to spend an afternoon with someone before a professional conference who is Deaf, and from New York state. We were down in Texas, and their conversation over lunch was the two of them sorting out regional signs and how to navigate that (just like every other language, ASL has regional accents, basically. And that’s before you get into things like how to sign specialised professional language or names.)

    I wanted to explore some of that, people who share a language, but who come to it from different places, who learned it for different specific reasons, and how quickly Lena gets a (quite accurate) read on Vivian. I also had a fun time figuring out what name signs Lena might use for different people. Name signs usually reflect something about the person’s name, but also about their personality or interests.

    If any of this intrigues, and you want a touch of magic, some dangerous roses, and a house with history down to its bones in your life, check out Seven Sisters

  • 6: On The Bias,  Ideas to books,  Mysterious Charm

    Idea to Book: On The Bias

    On The Bias came to pass from a couple of distinct ideas. I’d been deeply curious about Thomas Benton, valet to Lord Geoffrey Carillon, since my first books. But I also wanted to spend some time dwelling on the glorious fashions of the period. And then there are my three dangerous birds.

    Thomas Benton

    Of course, there’s a syllogism here: as Geoffrey Carillon is to Lord Peter Wimsey, so is Benton to Bunter. Only, of course, Benton and Carillon are very much their own people, whatever the starting inspiration.

    Thomas Benton is highly competent, but in a fairly specific way. As I mentioned back in a discussion of neurodiverse characters in my books, Benton is definitely somewhere on the autistic spectrum. For him, the structured expectations of service in a great country house were often reassuring, rather than restrictive. The great houses ran like clockwork, with clear delineations about who was doing which task (and in a well-run house, with clear instruction in what those tasks involved.) The social interactions were the same way: there were clearly identified things you might do on your afternoon off, who you spent your time with, and so on.

    (Obviously, there are a lot of people for whom these things were limiting, too restrictive or even abusive. But it’s also clear if you read historical sources that there were plenty of people for whom that structure was comfortable in varying ways, or at least a good fit at a particular point in their lives.)

    Benton came into the trenches in the Great War, and was assigned as Carillon’s soldier-servant. The trenches were absolute chaos, of course, but Benton devoted himself to learning the things that made them a little more bearable, including judicious applications of magic to dry socks, warm water, and take the damp out of bedding.

    It also brought him into close contact with Carillon, someone who he could look to for steady direction. When Carillon left the trenches for Intelligence work, he brought Benton with him – and into a long string of adventures and expeditions. When the world changed again, and they returned to Albion, Benton settled into managing his lordship’s household. (It would have been far more common to have a butler as well as a housekeeper, but until Carillon marries, the primary residence at Ytene does relatively little entertaining, and is quite small even by 1920s standards.)

    Anyway, On The Bias is the tale of how Benton’s life changes again, and what that means for him. (And for Carillon.)

    Clothing

    The 1920s are fascinating for clothing in a number of ways. Of course, styles change dramatically from the far more encompassing clothing of the Edwardian and many previous ages. Skin is bared, ankles and even knees in evidence. But it isn’t just the cut – it’s also about new and modern materials, about different colours available through the magic of new dyes, and so much else.

    I spent a lot of time looking at references to period clothing and other aspects of fashion.

    At this time, clothing was beginning to transition from clothing provided either by specialist creators (like Cassie) or by people in the home (a time-consuming process) to off the rack, commercially produced clothing. However, there’s still definitely a place for people like Cassie for bespoke and custom-designed clothing (such as is needed at the highest reaches of society.) And of course, magic adds a number of possible elements, in construction, materials, and design.

    Two resources I came back to a lot (for ease of finding images and using them as references) are VintageDancer and Glamour Daze – the latter links to some fascinating guides to cosmetics, hair, and other aspects.

    Three dangerous birds

    Every so often, I write a book and a theme emerges that I hadn’t expected. In this one, it’s three dangerous birds.

    We started with the rooster, because my editor had been chatting with a friend of theirs about a machine translation of a romance novel that, when translated back to English, translated a key phrase as “dangerous rooster”

    Which makes a person want to do something with that.

    So when I realised Benton needed to find some people doing some illegal things, a cockfight it was! (Benton is rightfully dubious about that.) This led to swan-taking (treasonous, though Benton is not particularly worried about that part), and then to Theodora, Carillon’s much loved eagle-owl.

    The coming prequel

    This summer, I’ll be sharing (for everyone on my mailing list) a prequel novella of Carillon inheriting, which is alternating between Carillon and Benton as the point of view character. It takes place in the first half of 1922, and includes a bit more of Theodora, as well as a glimpse of the mystery of Temple Carillon’s death. Keep an eye out here, there, or on my Twitter or Facebook for more about that when it’s out.

    (There’s more about that in Best Foot Forward, which takes place in 1935, and will be out in November 2022.)

    If any of these things intrigue you, check out On The Bias.

  • 5: In The Cards,  Ideas to books

    Ideas to book: In The Cards

    Copy of In The Cards displayed in a silver picture frame, with a deep purple high heel shoioe and orchids framing the image. The cover has a woman turning away from a man in silhouette, in shades of vivid pinks and purples.

    In The Cards takes place largely over the course of a week on a remote island off the coast of Cornwall. It has references to a number of aspects of the 1920s, everything from the after-effects of the War (both in terms of injury and in terms of love and consequences) to Tarot, chronic illness to the way we build networks in our lives.

    Locked room murder mysteries

    I love a locked-room murder mystery, and they’re certainly a staple of the mystery genre (and of Golden Age mysteries, in particular.)

    Unsurprisingly, they’re also rather tricky to write! My editor and I went back and forth on how to make the plot of In The Cards come out right, and how to layer in the available clues in a useful way. 

    The other trick for this book is having three point of view characters, all of whom knew they didn’t do it. (And who can confirm that to each other fairly early on after the murder.) This is rather different than many mystery novels, where you’re only dealing with a single point of view, and often that of a detective, amateur or otherwise.

    Tarot

    As you may or may not know, Tarot has a long and complicated history, some of which we’re not entirely sure of. What we do know is that by the 16th century, various decks were circulating around Europe. Some were used for playing card games (notably tarrochi, which is played in the book, and was still reasonably common in Europe in the period.) 

    The decks usually involve four suits (like a modern playing card deck), with four court cards in each suite (traditionally something like page, knight, queen, and king) as part of the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana are an additional 22 cards with more esoteric leanings, depicting archetypal concepts like the Lovers, Death, the Tower, or the Star. 

    Notably, most decks up until the introduction of Rider-Waite-Smith (Pamela Coleman Smith was the actual artist) did not include images for the pip cards (the ace to 10 in the four suits).

    When I started looking at historical Tarot decks, none of them quite had the symbology I wanted . Especially for Albion, where Christianity is present but not as central in the magical community as it is in the historical community. Again, one of these days, there will be a book more about that, I’m sure. 

    I therefore created the Howard Tarot (yes, the same Howards as Katherine Howard: it’s historically a huge family, who were on basically every possible side of ever difference in British history for hundreds of years. That’s very useful for my purposes.) 

    I’ve described some cards, and have ideas for a number of others, and I’m sure the deck will show up somewhere else eventually. (If you happen to be or know an artist who might be interested in a commission of a few cards, I would love to talk. Get in touch through the contact form, please!)

    You’ll notice a few changes in labels in the Howard deck – for example, the court cards are Child, Apprentice, Lady, and Lord, and there are a few differences in the Major Arcana, as well. (Notably, “The Devil” in most decks is “Umbra”.

    Tuberculosis

    One other key in this book is the experience Laura has with tuberculosis. Here’s the thing: statistically speaking, tuberculosis should be looming all over every work in the 19th and pre-antibiotics 20th century, as well as before that. (And to be fair, if you read vampire fiction, there it is.)

    There are times in this period when it was the cause of 1 in 10 deaths, enver mind the number of lives permanently altered by it. Many people did survive, but only after extended periods away from family and loved ones (and a very strict regimen of treatment, mostly involving fresh air, not moving at all, and sometimes painful surgeries.)

    Laura talks at several points in the book about what this did to her instincts, about needing to please people in order to not have unpleasant experiences while she was isolated. (Something many people with chronic health issues and disabilities still experience today.)

    If you’d like to read more of the history, Spitting Blood: The History of Tuberculosis by Helen Bynum is a great starting place, with a solid overview both of the medical aspects and of social responses and implications. There’s also a brand new history (out on February 1, 2022) Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History by Vidya Krishnan that I’ve just requested from my library.

    Views of relationships

    One of the things I was thinking of in this book is the different forms of relationship. (If you want a polyamorous romance from me, check out Casting Nastutiums, collected in Winter’s Charms, In The Cards is not that.)

    But it is about how we have friends and relationships and connections to other people in a variety of ways. And about how some people can be wonderful friends to us, but not good as a romantic (or sexual) partner. Don’t worry, we’re getting more time with Galen (and some time with Laura and Martin) in the upcoming Point By Point, out in May 2022. We’re also getting some more time with Julius there too.

    If any of this sounds intriguing, check out In The Cards.

  • 4: Wards of the Roses,  Ideas to books,  Mysterious Charm

    Idea to book: Wards of the Roses

    Wards of the Roses remains my favourite title so far, given that I get to pun on the era, and on the walls of impenetrable roses around the manor house that’s central to the book. 

    I wanted to do several things with this book: write about the experience of blindness in the 1920s, talk about the creation of the Pact, and gesture at some of the forms of ritual magic in play both historically and during the time of the books.

    Cover of Wards of the Roses displayed on tablet resting on illuminated page (a few letters visible in dark red ink) with scattered roses around it.

    Blindness in the 1920s

    I have plans to do a post entirely about this, so I’m going to save the details for that. However, the 1920s were a particularly interesting time in the history of blindness.

    Part of this is directly because of World War I. Damage from the new gas attacks, as well as injuries from bullets, shrapnel, and explosion, as well as better medical care that meant people did not die from initial injuries led to improvements in blindness rehabilitation. 

    People had previously been using four or five different methods of reading (embossed text, braille, Moon Type, among others). By 1919, the United States had standardised on a single form of braille (as the UK had a few years before that.) 

    Two things we associate with modern blindness – the long cane and guide dogs – both come directly out of the the 1920s and 1930s, thanks to various rehabilitation efforts. Both a lot more independent travel – the cane by giving a lot more information about what’s around you, and guide dogs because they can help make independent decisions about what’s going on that might be a risk.

    (I’m quite sure Giles takes to a long cane with glee, and he has a guide dog by the mid-30s.)

    So Giles is, at the time of the book, on the cusp of a number of these advances, but there are still a wide variety of tools in play, and learning to master them (or at least figure out which ones you wanted to use) was a key part of blindness rehabilitation work. For the record, St Dunstan’s was a real place, now Blind Veterans UK, and The Refuge was a magical equivalent, housing a small number of people at a time.

    The one exception to the historical tools is magic duplicating later technology – Giles uses small charmed tokens to orient himself in rooms he uses often (like his home). Modern tech can do something similar, but this is something sympathetic magic would make pretty easy.

    The Pact

    Obviously, the Pact is a major part of the history of Albion. The Pact is the agreement Richard III made in 1484 with the Fatae that created some protections, and transferred responsibilities for certain magical rites from the King (or his chosen representative) to the Council. 

    This book only touches on some of the implications of that, but I wanted to write about the fact that not everyone thought this was a good idea. Change in the fundamental structures of your magical life is hard! 

    (For more about the Fatae, check out Seven Sisters, Fool’s Gold, and The Hare and The Oak.)

    Ritual magic

    I also wanted a glimpse at the more ritual-focused forms of magic, the kind of thing that involves arcane drawings on the ground in specially prepared chalk. A staple of the grimoire traditions of magic from the 15th and 16th centuries, there are lots of different forms. They often involve a number of calculations, picking a particular date, hour, even minute, and so on.

    One of my basic principles in how magic works in Albion is that there are lots of ways to do magic, but not all of them are mutually compatible. And not all of them will work the way you hope they will, especially when you’re working toward the limits of their capacity. That’s before you get into whether the individual doing the magic is skilled, knowledgeable, or competent enough to do the thing they want to do (or sensible in their choices!)

    Intrigued? Get your own copy of Wards of the Roses. You can find a bit more of Kate and Giles together in Country Manners, found in the Winter’s Charms novella collection, over the Christmas of 1921 between their engagement and marriage.

  • 3: Magician's Hoard,  Ideas to books,  Mysterious Charm

    Ideas to book: Magician’s Hoard

    Welcome to the next in this series of posts about ideas behind my books. Today, we’re talking about Magician’s Hoard, which takes place in 1926, featuring Pross and Ibis.

    Cover of Magician's Hoard displayed on a tablet between a pale leather satchel and some decorative golden grass in a vase.

    Egyptology offers so many opportunities.

    And the 1920s are a tremendously rich period in the history of the field. (I’m pretty sure we’ll be revisiting sometime later in my writing). In 1926, when William Matthew Flinders Petrie was actively excavating and sending materials back to what would become the Petrie Collection at University College London. 

    In 2015, I visited London, and was able to go to a lecture at the Petrie Collection (on the Egyptology behind the Doctor Who episode, Pyramids of Mars, which had its 40th anniversary that week.) It’s an amazing collection, with all sorts of little treasures and unusual items. Exactly the sort of thing Ibis could usefully apply himself to. 

    Who would do this?

    I knew I wanted to do a book centering on Pross Gates, who appears in Outcrossing as a secondary character. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and independent – not looking for love, but rather stuck in a rut. The more I wrote about Ibis, and his goals and priorities, the more fascinated I was about how they fit together. 

    Ibis and his religion.

    Here’s another bit of worldbuilding. One of my goals for the series is to write a cultural sense of religion that was not purely Christian (or religions of the Book, for that matter…)  Many of the characters in my books have family practices related to deities associated with places, family lines, or particular professions.

    Ibis, though, Ibis is very clearly a devotee of Hetheru (also known as Hathor) and Djeuty (also known as Thoth). You can see the little pieces of this through the descriptions of his office, his rooms – and his invocations while making love.

    (I should note that Christianity also exists among the magical community – just that it’s one option among many, not the religion of a significant majority. More coming about that in the future.)

    Of course, I also have an advantage here – besides my own lifelong interest in Egyptology, my most excellent editor, Kiya Nicoll, has done far more and has also written about it. (The Traveller’s Guide to the Duat, a guidebook to the spirit world of ancient Egypt. Comes with poetry of a variety of flavours and great good humour.)

    Contemporary politics

    I admit I’m also delighted about working a discussion about the complexities of Rudyard Kipling into a romance novel, and the character’s various reactions the ongoing colonialism (present in the 1920s in both Egypt and India.) There are a lot of things about Kipling that hold the memory, but his politics could be exceedingly awful.

    The challenges of growing up in that environment (and how it affected Pross, who has not had the direct nearby support of her parents since she was 10) and Ibis (whose family other than his youngest sister are in Egypt, and who also had to deal with being visibly not like many of his peers in school) were something I wanted to bring out. 

    Magic

    And of course, I wanted to gesture at some other common magical ideas, the ranges of what magic can do, and spend a little time at Schola, one of the five focused schools of magic in Albion. (We’ll be seeing more of it in a future book.) 

    Hedgehogs

    Finally, without getting into spoiler territory, who doesn’t love a hedgehog? Most usefully for my purposes, besides being appropriate to the application, they are classic animals of both the British Isles and of Egypt.

    You can check out a few adorable ancient hedgehog artworks as well as a few other reference images in my Pinterest board for Magician’s Hoard.

    Let me know if you’ve got more questions about my ideas or how they make their way into books! And of course, you can get your copy of Magician’s Hoard if this intrigues.

  • 2. The Fossil Door,  3. Eclipse,  6: On The Bias,  7: Seven Sisters,  Complementary

    Neurodiversity and recent history

    If you’ve read more than a couple of my books, chances are that you’ve noticed a number of them have characters who are what we’d now describe as neurodiverse.

    Neurodiversity is a term that encompasses a lot of conditions or experiences of how people think and interact with the world. They can include a wide range of things we have some names for, and plenty of things we don’t.

    Some you’ve probably heard of include autism, ADHD or ADD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dyspraxia  Tourette’s Syndrome and some mental health conditions. Some estimates suggest that 30-40% of people fall into at least one of these categories (there can be overlaps, which make statistics harder…) 

    There’s also a huge range of experiences and ways this shows up for people. Each and every person has a unique brain and set of life experiences. All sorts of factors like family support or expectations, educational support, professional support and guidance (if testing and/or medication is part of the picture) make a difference in what it means for an individual.

    We also know that while the term ‘neurodiversity’ is quite modern (it was coined in the late 1990s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer), that neurodiverse folks have been part of the world since, well, there were people.

    For example, John Donvan and Caren Zucker wrote In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, a history of autism. As part of their research they discovered records from the mid-1800s that pretty clearly describe what we’d call autism today, and they talk about some earlier examples where there are less thorough notes.

    One theory about why we see more people with these diagnoses or identifications these days is that modern society is a great deal more complex. Most people are asked – as part of ordinary daily life – to deal with a huge range of different situations and stimuli and expectations.

    These include plenty of different noises (traffic, sirens, background music in every store ….), bright lights, dealing both with people who are well-known and a lot of total strangers (especially in the kind of work often open to people who are either still in school or are figuring out what they want to do with their lives.)

    Modern life often expects us to reach a certain level of skill with a huge range of things, rather than being focused on a small number. Just think about all the skills someone needs to be competent in for a high school diploma – not just the subjects themselves, but technology skills, a certain amount of social skill (all those group projects…), and often many other non-academic expectations like community service.

    It’s a big difference to the historical past. Even fifty years ago, many (though certainly not all) people might live much or all of their life in their home area or around people they’d mostly known from childhood. Even people who travelled or emigrated often did it in a context where they knew people with them, or where a situation was entirely new and challenging for everyone. Or it had some sort of structure to the expectations. In those cases, working through the situation could be more transparent and shared by everyone.

    In addition, some people have an easier time than others of interacting in neurotypical society (or seeming to work with those expectations, anyway). Others have a much harder time. For people where the effort of doing so isn’t obvious, others may not realise what’s going on inside their head. They may only talk about it with a few close friends or family members. They might not talk about it much with anyone at all.

    In my books

    At this point, I’ve published five books that have neurodiverse characters. Three of them probably wouldn’t define themselves as being notably different from other people, but those experiences and how their minds work definitely shapes their interactions with the world and their stories.

    On The Bias features Thomas Benton, who went into service in a great country house at age twelve. It’s clear from his comments several times in the book that he found the structure and clear expectations very reassuring. A country house ran rather like clockwork: each person had their set of duties and knew the expected standards they had to meet. Even the social interactions were laid out pretty clearly – who you socialised with below stairs, what you did on your afternoon off, what the next step in advancement would involve.

    Benton eventually became a valet, and then was thrown into the chaos of the trenches of World War I. He did his best to become very competent at what he could control (he is, for example, extremely good at charms to heat up water – a comfort in the trenches.) Once he came into the sphere of Lord Geoffrey Carillon, there was someone he could look to (in a socially expected and structured way) for what he should be doing, and how to do it. At the same time, his attention to detail and a certain determined focus on his work meant he was a superb valet for an adventuring younger nobleman. He trusted Carillon would explain what was needed on the adventuring side, and then he set about making it happen.

    Cadmus Michaels, in Seven Sisters is in somewhat of the same position. While he has his strong interests and his preferences for how things are done, he happened to be born into a life where those things fit with what was expected of him. Mostly. A man of his class and education is permitted a bit of eccentricity, after all. If the money is there, being a somewhat reclusive classicist is an entirely acceptable mould for a man. Even his time in the Colonial Service was largely expected, and a place where the needed skills and social expectations were well-known.

    Gabe Edgarton in The Fossil Door is the exception in my list above. He – and his family – are quite clear his mind isn’t like most people’s. While Gabe doesn’t have a term like ADHD to work with, he knows he skitters around between ideas, that he’ll make startling choices. And he definitely should not be left entirely alone with his impulses without some moderating influence.

    He was lucky enough to have parents who didn’t entirely understand how he thought, but who made sure he had the support to figure it out for himself. He didn’t go to tutoring school (common for people of his class and privilege). Instead various of the adults in his life made sure he got additional resources for learning. He bounces around too much from topic to topic to make friends easily, but in among people who also love the endless puzzle, he does fine. Better than fine.

    Thesan Wain in Eclipse is possibly the character where it’s least obvious. When reading her point of view chapters, it becomes obvious that sometimes the world is too fast and too bright and too complicated for her to sort out right in the moment. Stars, her beloved field, are very far away and don’t generally move quickly at all. The others in her field tend to appreciate steady reliable work and a certain obsessive focus on detail.

    However, if you were to ask her about it, I think she’d blink a lot. From inside her head, many of the things she struggles with are about issues of class, expectations she doesn’t fully understand (often related to class and social niceties), and the eternal question of dealing with widely varying students. That these things also are partly about neurodiversity, well… that’s why sorting this out gets complicated.

    The last published work so far is Complementary, a novella about Elizabeth Mason, which makes it clear that she (like Gabe) is somewhere in this set of experiences. She is, perhaps, slightly less likely to fling herself out a window as a resolution to a problem. (Though compared to Gabe that’s not a high bar to get over.) But she is a tad impulsive, a very non-linear thinker and problem-solver, but capable of intensive focus. She’s also very used to working with people who tolerate or even admire her admittedly many quirks and preferences.

    In Casting Nasturtiums, a novella due out in December 2021, Golshan Soltani also has what we’d call ADHD, and before that novella begins, has funnelled it into a mix of duelling, Materia training, and running a music hall with its endless challenges. When injuries during the Great War change what’s practical for him, he has to rearrange a whole lot of expectations about how to handle the bees in his head.

    Why does this matter?

    As with much of my other writing, I want to write books where people like me, like my friends and loved ones, get to have romance and love. Where they get to have adventures and come safely home. (And have a home that is safe to come to…)

    That’s as true when we’re talking about how someone’s mind works as their body.

    I owe many things to my editor, Kiya Nicoll (an author in their own right), who is also a long-time friend. But I especially owe them a lot of thanks for helping me figure out how to best show the neurodiversity of my characters on the page. And also for nudging me to write this post in part to highlight Thesan, in particular, as a model of neurodiversity that often goes unremarked.

  • 2: Goblin Fruit,  3: Magician's Hoard,  7: Seven Sisters

    Threading characters through books

    One of the things I love most about writing about Albion is being able to weave people through different books.

    Sometimes this is in a big way. All the books in the Mysterious Charm series deal with people who are friends or allies or co-conspirators (as the case may be) with Lord Geoffrey Carillon.

    But sometimes it’s more subtle.

    Take Farran Michaels, for example. He first appears (if you read the series by number, which isn’t chronologically in time) in the first chapter of Goblin Fruit as one of the young men apprenticed to the auction house. He turns up later in Magician’s Hoard as a representative of the auction house (he’s now a more senior apprentice).

    But how did he get there? And what’s with his particular gift for materia and objects? That’s where Seven Sisters comes in. While it’s his uncle who’s the hero of that book, Farran’s present for much of the action.

    I love being able to tuck those little touches in. Albion is a sizeable community, but it’s not huge. With only a few more academically focused magical schools, people who went to those schools tend to know each other. Others interact in significant but small professional communities.

    And, as an author, it’s a lot more fun to do a passing mention of a character I’ve already gotten to know in passing, rather than Random Standin#42.

    Readers new to the series with that book should be able to follow everything, but people who’ve read and remember other books in the series should get a little bit of extra amusement, seeing a story from a different side.

    It’s also a fun way for me to introduce characters who will be relevant in later books I’m already planning to write. You’ll be seeing more of a couple of guests from Carillon’s dinner party in On The Bias down the road, for example.

    There is of course, one place right now where that’s a little trickier: Goblin Fruit and On The Bias. It’s very hard to disentangle Carillon (Lord, investigator, and Pavo breeder) from Benton, his valet. However, I also enjoyed the chance to see a bit more of Benton’s very real skills and talent, and to learn more about why Benton has chosen that role and service for some very good reasons.

  • 1: Outcrossing,  Albion

    Magical creatures

    As you’ve noticed if you’ve read Outcrossing, there are magical creatures in my books, as well as the ones we all know about. There are, broadly speaking, three categories.

    Animals we know and love

    These include your average ordinary wildlife – badgers, hedgehogs, ponies (Well, most of them. There are some magical ones, too.) Birds, snakes, lizards, all sorts of other beasties.

    A magical variant

    Sometimes there are magical variants of a given type. For example, the nightjar is an actual bird (with a very unusual sort of sound – you can hear an American cousin clearly starting at about 1:10 on this recording.)

    This piece in the Guardian about nightjars (and other fauna of the New Forest) delighted me, and describes them as “somewhere between a kestrel and a crocodile in appearance”.

    Twilight nightjars, however, are magical.

    They sound like the non-magical variety, and have the same shape. And nightjars do live in the New Forest. But where the non-magical species are usually brown or buff, the Twilight Nightjar is more like the darker varieties of a Victoria Crowned Pigeon, with a good splash of iridescence. Their feathers and eggs are used in various magical potions and workings.

    Entirely magical

    And of course, we have varieties of magical creatures who either live in Silence-warded spaces (so, fully magical), or like many creatures in our own world are not often seen.

    These include wandermists (a cat-sized winged dragon that appears to be largely made out of mist), or the ginsies, which are poisonous to about half the people with magic (via an extreme allergic reaction, not that Carillon and Rufus would put it that way.)

    Perhaps my favourite are the mirabiles, who live in the deepest parts of the forest, and are rarely seen, but look like dancing lights that sway and twist together. They’re decidedly animals, not Fatae, but they must be where some tales of faeries in the woods come from.

    (One of these days, I would love to have illustrations of these. If you’re an artist this intrigues, glad to talk commissions with you and see if we can come to a mutually cheerful agreement.)

  • 4: Wards of the Roses,  Albion

    Behind the scenes: Who knows who?

    One of my early readers, reading Pastiche, asked me “Did Giles and Richard know each other before the War?”

    (Giles being Major Giles Lefton, hero of Wards of the Roses, and Richard being Lord Richard Edgarton, who appears in Wards of the Roses and On The Bias, and who gets the story of his own romance coming up in Pastiche.)

    A copy of Wards of the Roses on a desk with a dip pen, blotting paper, and a jar of ink.

    They’re both upper class, well-educated, competently magical men in a relatively small community, so yes, they’ve been moving in similar circles for a good while.

    They are, however, a generation apart in age.

    Albion is not a massive community. Sparing you my spreadsheet of demographics for the moment, the community is roughly 250,000 people in the 1920s. There are about 200 families who hold a title (usually Lord of the Land [1]) and probably another 300 or so who are upper class and possibly of the minor aristocracy (cadet branches of the titled family lines, and so on.)

    (Those aren’t the only positions of power, of course. The Mysterious Power series will be getting more into some of that.)

    Their families: Richard, obviously, has a title, and comes from one of the noble families. Giles doesn’t, but comes from the minor aristocracy. His family have multiple properties. He’s well off enough personally that money is not an issue for him. They were both in Fox House at Schola, so they share at least one club, and probably more than that one.

    They certainly have run into each other at various social events (such as the Temple of Healing garden parties, a major source of fundraising for the Temple). An amicable but distant sort of acquaintanceship.

    When did they meet? I suspect they didn’t know each other terribly well until Richard – or someone else Richard knows in the Guard – needed Giles and his mathematical brain for a spot of code-breaking. At that point, of course, these two intelligent, practical men would find common cause pretty quickly. It’s a relief when you find someone competent who can do the thing you need to solve the problem at hand without fussing.

    I am quite sure that was before Giles became blind, however. Richard is, at times, still figuring out how to handle some of that smoothly, in a way that wouldn’t be as true if they’d only met after that point.

    I’d guess they met sometime in 1913 or 1914, in the buildup to the War, but I haven’t pinned that down yet.

    [1] Yes, women can have the equivalent position, though most families inherit via male primogeniture if that’s an option. I do plan to talk about this in more detail sometime!

  • 7: Seven Sisters,  Books,  Mysterious Charm

    Seven Sisters is out now

    An ereader with the cover of Seven Sisters displayed on it rests on a bed of green leaves and pale blue flowers. The cover has a silhouetted couple in 1920s dress and suit on a purple and blue background, surrounded by vines.

    It’s an odd time to be talking about something as lighthearted as a romance book, but I write in large part because having hope the world can change is such a powerful thing.

    Seven Sisters is the story of Vivian, an investigator with secrets of her own, and Cadmus, keeper of his family country home turned boarding house. Cadmus would much rather be spending his time on his translation projects, but a serious of mysterious and dangerous events has him worried. For himself, for his nephew, and for all his residents.

    When Vivian arrives to investigate, things start accelerating, until Vivian and Cadmus must confront their assumptions and past histories to avoid danger to everyone in the household.

    This book is also of interest if you’ve wanted to learn more about the Fatae (the fae of Albion, or at least some of them…).

    Learn more on the book page, including an excerpt, or you can buy it directly from the links below.

    And other online stores are in the works – find them all here as they’re available. (If your favourite isn’t there, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.)

    Making the world a little better

    I’ll be donating a third of my income from release week (plus some additional money from my own day to day budget) split between the following two causes.

    We Love Lake Street  for rebuilding after the immense destruction there. (As I mentioned last newsletter, that’s near my old neighbourhood where I still have a number of friends, and many of the business are owned by immigrants and people of colour.)

    The NAACP Empowerment Program, which supports training, education, and advocacy as a voice for communities of colour. 

    There are so many other amazing organisations who could use time and money. If you’re able to, I hope you’ll find a way to contribute to the important work going on to make the world better for everyone. 

    I hope the world treats you gently, and that you have time for good reading, whatever it is you choose.