TagChasing Legends

Idea to Book: The Magic of Four

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Welcome to our Idea to Book post for The Magic of Four, which just came out at the beginning of May. (This means that from now I’ll add a new Idea to Book post a few weeks after the book comes out. But you won’t have a long string of them.)

The Magic of Four is also the last book in the Land Mysteries series, which explores three themes during the Second World War. Those are a range of different kinds of relationships in our lives. It’s also about the land magic, and how Albion responds to the Second World War. You can see all three of those here, in various ways.

The Magic of Four has everything you might hope for in a school story. There are snippets of classes, finding friends, dealing with student problems. And of course, because it’s Schola, it’s got magical sports (pavo and a dash of bohort), secret societies, and all the implications of a magical school. 

As I’ve noted, I do have plans for three romances. Ursula Fortier (Leo’s older sister) will have hers in 1947, Edmund Carillon (Ros’s older brother) in 1948, and Claudio Warren (in his 40s, and close to both Leo and Avigail) in 1950. Those will let me tie up some loose threads on other ongoing questions about the land magic, living in post-war Albion, and the Council. 

School stories

I’ve been wanting to write a school story since before I published Eclipse. That’s the staffroom friends-to-lovers romance of Leo’s parents over the 1924-1925 school year. And nearly as soon as it came out, I heard from readers hoping wistfully for a school story at Schola at some point.

Hopping genres that way is a little tricky. But when I started thinking about the Land Mysteries series having a larger arc, it got easier. In a series that’s talking about a wide range of relationships in our lives, finishing with the next generation seemed like a really interesting angle on the end of the war. 

Growing up reading them

I grew up on school stories, long before they were widely available in the US. My father was English and my mother grew up in the UK. My father was a professor. Every year between the end of classes and Christmas, he’d spend a week in London and visiting friends. He’d come back with a selection of books – and I’d send him with specific ones I wanted. I read through all of the Enid Blyton Malory Towers and St. Clare’s books until they started falling apart. And many of the Chalet School books. They definitely imprinted the shape of a school story on my brain. 

(If you’re not familiar with the Chalet School series, they began in the 1920s, with a school set in the Austrian Tyrol. It was run by teachers and near a tuberculosis sanitarium. As the Second World War began, the books deal with the school – and various members – escaping through the Alps. They then established the school in new locations in the UK. There were dozens of books, and I’ve read about half at some point in my life.) 

And like many people, I can’t deny that Harry Potter is an influence on my brain. Besides the above exposure to British school story traditions, I was part of a seven-year fannish alternate universe project based in the Potterverse. (It ran from 2007 to 2015, before more recent events).

Contemplating the structure

One of the things that pointed out is how impossible the classroom schedules are when you think about seven years of students. Because of that, one of the first things I did when I decided to write the Albion books was to sit down and figure out the teaching schedules for Schola. And then figure out how many people needed to be teaching there to make the schedules work. Or what that meant for the overall size of the population. 

That project also meant I had a whole lot in my head about how a sensibly designed magical education might be structured. (I spent a decade working in an independent day school as a librarian. That was after two years in boarding school as a student. I have a lot of opinions here.)

One of the things I knew I wanted to integrate fully were the idea of House magics that weren’t just superficial flavours to the Houses. And the idea of magical secret societies where the rituals had significant and meaningful weight for most (if not all) members. 

Schola and her magic

Of course, Schola has her own magic. Leo gets introduced to a piece of it over the holidays in his first year. (The relevant scene is coming in July for folks on my Patreon. And for everyone in due course.) That bit of magic is one of many things his parents discovered during Chasing Legends. That takes place back in 1926 along with Pross and Ibis. 

Schola is ancient. The school was founded in its earliest form around 600CE, and in something closer to the form of a school before 1066. The current keep dates from 1100 or so. There’s so much history and magic there, much of it built up over time. And not all of it is terribly well documented. 

But of course, there are also the specific magics. There’s the salle, and all the protections. There are the baths under the school. Each house obviously also has bathing facilities, but for magical reasons, sometimes you want a ritual bath. Or it’s the best solution after a hard duel or long bohort match. 

There’s so much about Schola I haven’t had a chance to spend time with. We’ll see if I get there in any future books. And I’ve had a number of requests for the other schools, especially Alethorpe. I need a plot and characters to go with that, but I’m definitely looking for a way to explore there, too! 

Children of existing characters

One of the thing I had a lot of fun with in The Magic of Four is playing with the generations. All four main characters here are the children of people in previous romances. 

Leo’s the son of Thesan and Isembard (Eclipse is their romance.)

Ros is the daughter of Lizzie and Geoffrey (Goblin Fruit is their romance, Best Foot Forward explains the presence of Uncle Alexander.)

Jasper is the son of Rufus and Ferry (Outcrossing).

And Avigail is the daughter of Gabe and Rathna (Their romance is The Fossil Door. You can see a younger Avigail in Old As The Hills. Gabe’s parents appear in a number of places, including Pastiche, their romance) 

We get glimpses of their siblings in various ways, sometimes directly on the page. Artemis and Theo Lefton are the children of Kate and Giles Lefton (Wards of the Roses). There are mentions of the Wain cousins (the children of Seth, Dilly, and Golshan, Casting Nasturtiums), and so on.

I’ve found I really love playing with the generational implications. All four sets of parents here are in fact trying really hard to be good parents. Some of them had good parents (Thesan. Also Gabe, whose parents don’t always understand him, but worked to support him).

Some had distant parents (Isembard, Ferry). Some lost their parents too young (Rathna, Rufus). Some aren’t parenting the way they were raised (Lizzie and Geoffrey).

It makes for an interesting mix when they deliberately do something different. 

And a cameo

Finally, there’s a particular cameo in this book that I knew I was going to do as soon as I realised Jasper would be a main character. I was a fairly serious horseback rider in my teens, and Jasper’s Dot is based on my beloved Dorothy. 

This is Dot (and me) in about 1987. I was 12, and she was also about that age. I’d had her for under a year at that point.

A white girl wearing a sweatshirt and breeches with short dark hair leaning against a chestnut mare with three white legs, grazing on a bit of grass by an outdoor ring.

She was pretty much as described in the book in terms of appearance. Think of a draught horse scaled down to just at the top of pony height. (That’s 14.2 hands, or just under 57″ at the withers). She indeed had feet like platters, her tail was a glorious mix of every colour, and she was terribly smart. Also wonderfully smart, it depended on the day. My Dot was not quite the escape artist that Jasper’s is, but there were times it came close. 

(Dot’s terror of sheep-shaped objects was true in real life, though. I never did figure out why.) 

Pavo

Pavo, as a sport, is drawn in part from my experience doing Pony Club Games in my teens. Those games are played by teams, with different goals that require you to vault, weave through obstacles, move items from one place to another, and more. I was on one of the top Games teams in the country one year, which was quite an experience! (Not on Dot. Dot was way too round to vault on.) 

But she’d have adored pavo, the way the fictional Dot does. She hated anything that got rote or routine, she adored new puzzles. We did very well at trail classes. In these, you have to solve a series of tasks, and are judged on whether you do them, and then on speed. They involve things like opening gates from horseback, backing through a pattern, moving a rattling plastic bag full of leaves a few feet away. 

One of the things I loved about Dot was that she knew when something counted. Every time I did anything in that last pavo game chapter (writing, editing, whatever), I found myself crying. Every bit of that desire to do the thing, and to do it right was Dot to the core. 

Up for a 2024 reading challenge?

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It’s late December, which means it’s also the time when various sites post their reading challenges. If you’re doing one in 2024, here’s a guide to which of my books might fit particular categories. (If you’re doing a challenge not listed here, and other people can join in, send me a link and I’ll add it!) You might also want to check out my post about summer reading challenges from the summer of 2023.

The two challenges I’m pulling from for this post are the Book Riot’s Read Harder 2024 challenge and the 2024 PopSugar Reading Challenge. They have some overlapping categories, so I’m going to note which challenge applies, and the books I’ve written that might apply.

Copy of Best Foot Forward standing upright with leather bound books stacked behind it. The cover has a deep red background with map markings in a dull purple. Two men in silhouette stand, looking up at a point in the top left. An astrology chart with different symbols picked out takes up the left side of the image, with glowing stars curving up to the title.
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Welcome to 2022! More books ahead!

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The cover of Eclipse displayed on a tablet, resting on an evergreen surrounded by gold stars. The cover shows a silhouetted man and woman in academic robes on a cover that shades from twilight to the setting sun's orange. She is gesturing up at the sky, surrounded by stars, with a telescope inset in the top left.
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Hello, and welcome to 2022! I have aspirations and intentions of doing more regular blogging about my books and writing this year, so I thought it’d be great to start out with what I’m hoping to write and publish this year. 

(As always, my newsletter gets all the news first, including some additional details that won’t be on the blog. Also some extra scenes or short stories from time to time as I’m inspired to write them.) 

(2021 was an amazing year! The Fossil Door, Eclipse, Fool’s Gold, Sailor’s Jewel, Complementary, and Winter’s Charms all came out thanks to my being home a lot more. I’m expecting my writing speed to drop a bit in 2022, but I also have a lot of things I want to write, so I’ve got some ambitious goals.)

(Likely) coming out in 2022: 

I’m hoping to release 4 books and 2 novellas in 2022. Because of the way I draft and edit, three of the four novels already exist in draft (or will within a week or so, I’m finishing one of them right now.) My goal is to hit the months indicated, but it’s a changeable world out there, so dates may shift somewhat in the process. 

The Hare and the Oak: A later-in-life romance featuring Cyrus Smythe-Clive (seen in Sailor’s Jewel as Rhoe’s older brother, and briefly in Carry On and Eclipse). When Lord Baddock shows up at the Council Keep looking for help, Cyrus and Mabyn Teague (seen briefly at the end of Eclipse) need to figure out why the land magics are failing, find a lost heir, deal with Lord Baddock’s difficult mother, and decide how much they’re willing to trust each other. Out sometime in February 2022.

Point By Point: Lydia needs to make a name for herself as a journalist, but she needs an entry point into the right social circles to investigate a particular story. When Galen (last seen in In The Cards) agrees to help, they’re drawn into a world of horse racing and dangerous secret societies. Fortunately, with the help of the Dwellers in the Forge, including Martin (Galen’s best friend), they’re able to find a way through. (Alternately, ever wonder about the aftermath of Magician’s Hoard? This is also about what happened next.) Out in May 2022.  

Mistress of Birds: When Thalia’s great-aunt needs a rest cure, Thalia agrees to stay at her estate on the edge of Dartmoor to keep an eye on the place. (Thalia’s career as an author isn’t going very well, so getting room and board doesn’t exactly hurt.) Once there, she discovers a mysterious man in the apple orchard, and a series of odd and spooky events around the ancient house. Out in August 2022. Last book in the Mysterious Powers series. 

Also coming out in 2022 if all goes well are three things that I haven’t written yet… 

In the writing stack

When I wrote Eclipse, my editor Kiya left a note at one point saying “I now sort of want the buddy cop story in which Alexander and Carillon team up to utterly destroy a munitions smuggler.” Every single one of my early readers (all friends) left comments wondering how they could encourage that to happen. Since I can take a hint, I started thinking about how to make it work. 

Best Foot Forward is going to be the result. Here’s the trick: while it’s about friendship and chosen family, and caring about other people, it’s not actually a romance. (Alexander is both asexual and aromantic. He doesn’t have the terms for either,  though he’d grab them with both hands if he could.) Carillon, mind, is still very happily married to Lizzie (see Goblin Fruit and On The Bias), so there’s going to be some needful conversations and sorting out what to do about this man who is, in other ways, very much Carillon’s type.

I’m going to start writing this one in February, and it’s looking like it’s going to be a grand set of adventures across the Contintent in 1935. (Probably mostly Germany and Switzerland, but I reserve the right to change my mind later if I have a better idea.) It should be out in November 2022. 

I’ve been saying I didn’t want to get into the Second World War, but having had this idea, it feels wrong to just do one book in the time period. I have now laid out the bones of two more books (to make a trilogy). Chances are decent there will eventually be some surrounding novellas, too. 

The second book doesn’t have a title yet, but it’s going to deal with Gabe and Rathna (from The Fossil Door) in 1940 and focus largely around their relationships with their apprentices and communities. Why? For a lot of the book, they’re going to be in different places. (Yay for magical journals and direct speedy communication? Makes a long-distance relationship so much easier.)

Also, it will be full of land magic, the Magical Battle of Britain from Albion’s perspective, and a bit more portal magic applied in service of getting people to safety. I plan to start writing this one in August 2022 and it will be out in May of 2023 if all goes well.

The third book? Well, for the moment, let’s just say that sitting down to work out the next generation (i.e. who of my extant characters had kids in the late 20s and 30s, and what’s going on with their families) led to an idea that is also decidedly not a romance.

It is, however, set at Schola. (I’ll be sharing more with my mailing list about this, first, so check in there if you want more details.) I don’t plan to start writing this one until February of 2023. 

Mysterious Arts

Now that I’ve finished a second series of 1920s books, I need to start a new one, right? I’ve got all these secret societies attached to Schola, and only one of them has gotten any serious time on the page (the Dwellers at the Forge, in both In the Cards and the forthcoming Point By Point.) 

I haven’t actually sketched out the details of this series yet in more than very broad strokes, but they’ll 

a) Take place during the 1920s (or maybe the Great War) 

b) Each book will have at least one main character who’s a member of one of the seven secret societies. 

c) Each will focus on some sort of art (or craft) – I’m thinking about things like music and dance and theatre, but also considering things like bookbinding, perfume making, illusion performances, jewellery making, or dyecrafting. If you have something you’d love me to think about, drop me a note via the contact form or email. 

Once I figure out the sequence, my plan is to write one in May 2022, and one in November, with them coming out in 2023. (I normally write over a 3 month period, and then it sits for a bit before I edit. This is why I can be fairly predictable about release dates, if you’d been wondering that…)

Novellas

I’ve been chewing on a prequel novella about Carillon inheriting the title for a while, and in December finally figured out how to structure it properly. It will be a freebie for signing up for my mailing list (you’re always able to immediately unsubscribe if you’d rather…) and I’ll announce it here and on social media when it’s available. I expect it to have a lot of Carillon and Benton, and also spend some time with how Carillon, Richard and Alysoun Edgarton, Giles Lefton, and Hippolyta FitzRanulf connect to each other. This one’s set in 1921. 

Time and energy allowing, I’m also hoping to do a prequel novella for the Mysterious Powers series, focusing on how Roland Gospatrick’s parents (seen in Carry On) decided to marry each other, and how that started. 

I’m aiming for the Carillon novella to be out sometime over the summer, and the Gospatrick one sometime after that.

Finally

I have somehow written a lot of books! I know it can be confusing to figure out who’s in which book, or the complete timeline, or where things are located.

Help is on the way, however. I spent my vacation time over the holidays working on a solution. It needs some more hours to get everything sorted the way I want, but I’m expecting to be able to share the core of it starting in January or maybe February. Keep an eye on my newsletter for more (including a sneak peek) and let me know if there’s a topic you’d particularly like me to cover.

(Or for that matter, if there’s something you’d like me to blog about. I’m aiming for every fortnight, aka every two weeks, and I’m going to start with some “Idea to book” posts.)

New and exciting!

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