Saturday, May 04, 2013

More to Fantasy than Swords and Dragons… by Freda Warrington

Hello, I’m Freda Warrington and I’ve been writing since I was around five years old. As an only child I always loved reading and daydreaming, and somehow my habit of writing those daydreams down never went away. Now as my twentieth novel GRAIL OF THE SUMMER STARS is published (by Tor), it’s a nice time to reflect on the sort of things that inspire me to write.

After all, writing fiction is a weird occupation if you think about it. As if there isn’t enough going on in the real world, we have to make stuff up as well! However, since thousands if not millions of other people love writing too, I’m comforted to know that I’m not as odd as I’ve sometimes feared. The human imagination is like a Tardis, far bigger on the inside than the size of the skull that contains it. Quite an amazing thought.

I’ve written all sorts of fantasy, from sword n’ sorcery (A Blackbird in Silver Darkness) to epic (The Amber Citadel) to vampire gothic romance (A Taste of Blood Wine) to alternative history (The Court of the Midnight King (about Richard III)). Although I find similar themes cropping up throughout my work, I don’t like to rehash the same story so I’m always looking for fresh challenges.

Character, psychology and relationships are my central concerns, although it’s difficult to pin down where my protagonists come from. Sometimes a face will flash into my mind and the person is there, fully formed. At others, the character will build up slowly, and I often don’t discover who they really are until I’m well into writing about them! And of course, every story needs a setting. Landscape, mood and atmosphere are intensely important to me. Weather is wonderful for adding atmosphere, mirroring what’s going on inside your protagonist’s head or providing an uncomfortable counterpoint. I’ve used a few “dark and stormy nights” in my time, but you can do so much with rain, or a flat grey sky, a misty autumn day or the oppressive heat of summer… while a good downfall of snow can change the entire course of the plot!

The three books in my Aetherial Tales series – Elfland, Midsummer Night, and Grail of the Summer Stars – first took root while I was “between publishers” a few years ago, and free to write exactly what I wanted. First, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of beings who look human but aren’t – elves, demons, angels, vampires, demi-gods and suchlike. Aetherials are simply my version of such an other-race. Next, I wanted to set the stories in the present day, using the real-life evocative landscape of Charnwood Forest (in the UK) where I grew up. I had an idea of two households – one warm and loving, one cold and dysfunctional – and the conflicts and relationships that develop between the two families. And, as a backdrop, I wanted a sweeping story that takes my characters in and out of a fantastical Otherworld.

Each of the novels can be read as a stand-alone story, although it helps if you read all three, because there’s a background arc that finally comes to fruition in Grail. A (real) jewellery museum inspired the place where we first find the female lead, Stevie, puzzling over why an old friend has sent her a surreal painting and then gone missing. Soon she becomes entangled with feuding Aetherial brothers, Mist and Rufus, whom we first met in Midsummer Night. As their journey takes them through the village of Cloudcroft (where Elfland was set), through the terrifying Otherworld to the painted deserts of Nevada, I found a strong theme about family relationships developing. Albeit a rather deranged family, to put it mildly! Perhaps families interest me because my own is so small.

Some literary critics have heaped scorn on fantasy, assuming it’s all dragons and orcs, battles and big swords. But there can be far more to it than that. Fantasy may act as a powerful metaphor for all kinds of real life issues… For example, my first published novel, A Blackbird in Silver, was secretly about my fear of the Cold War and nuclear annihilation! There can be so much more to fantasy that quests and wars and wizards. There are always the universal themes of love, struggle, loss and sacrifice… And both reading fantasy, and writing it, can help us work through every one of our human concerns on a bigger canvass than mainstream fiction can provide.

Besides, losing yourself in your own dream world is just so much fun. Anything can happen!


Pat Cochran said...

Interesting cover, is it the surreal
painting you mention in describing
Grail? The series sounds great, I am
adding it to my TBR mountain.

Linda Henderson said...

That is a very interesting cover. I do read some fantasy so I'll have to check this book out.

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