Thursday, May 07, 2015

Interview with Susan Murray, author of The Waterborne Blade - May 7, 2015

Please welcome Susan Murray to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Waterborne Blade was published by Angry Robot Books on May 5th in North America and in digital format and is published today in print format in the UK.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Susan:  Thank you! I’m not sure exactly when I started writing, although I remember scribbling pony stories at home when I was eight or so. I’ve been writing with publication as an unacknowledged goal for the past twenty years, but only started submitting work in 2010, when I’d almost finished my Open University degree.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Susan:  Pantser. Definitely pantser. I keep trying to outline, as it seems to be the sensible, grown-up thing to do, but new elements tend to crop up while I’m drafting and they’re invariably better than whatever I’d originally planned. I find brainstorming possibilities useful in the early stages, using mind maps to keep track of ideas, but I only plan scenes in the loosest terms, and not too far ahead.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Susan:  Finishing work. Or, more precisely, keeping the self-doubt in check long enough to create that first draft. Once that’s on the page the overall shape of the story becomes apparent and revision becomes meaningful. I used to tinker with early chapters of things so much the later chapters simply never got written – it’s been a hard habit to break.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Susan:  John Wyndham has to be one of the earliest influences. Philip K Dick, Michael G. Coney. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen. Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy has long been a favourite. Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Trudi Canavan, Kristen Britain, Kelley Armstrong, Mary Gentle, George R. R. Martin, Raymond E. Feist, Mervyn Peake. These are all writers whose work has stuck with me for one reason or another.

TQ:  Describe The Waterborne Blade in 140 characters or less.

Susan:  A pampered queen’s life is thrown into chaos by civil war as she struggles to deal with dark powers she cannot control.

TQ:  Tell us something about The Waterborne Blade that is not in the book description.

Susan:  The freemerchants have an important role to play in the story: they are itinerant traders who do not have the right to own land in the peninsular kingdoms. Rumoured to have the second sight, they have an uncanny knack for finding out what’s going on and knowing all the latest gossip.

TQ:  What inspired you to write The Waterborne Blade? What appealed to you about writing in Epic Fantasy?

SusanThe Waterborne Blade stemmed from a short writing exercise drafted as part of one of my Open University courses – something to do with rhetoric and weather. That gave me the character Alwenna, on a boat, crossing a choppy stretch of water. Once the course was finished I wanted to find out what had brought her to that point, and what happened next. Epic fantasy lets the writer work on a broad canvas. The stakes are high and characters’ actions – however slight – can have huge implications, particularly with fantastical elements at play.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Waterborne Blade?

Susan:  Without giving away any spoilers, here’s a random selection from the research folder for the project: articles about Ouroboros, Jörmungandr, the caduceus, a picture of a narrow track leading off between trees, a snippet from a Shakespeare play, cookware and bakeware, merchants, pedlars, yin and yang, the endless knot, swords, Petra, troglodyte dwellings… Not all of these lines of thought made the final cut. My husband’s historical fencing group helped block out a fight scene – necessary to portray the scene from the point of view of someone who was proficient with a sword.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Susan:  The easiest character was without a doubt the freemerchant, Marten. He muscled his way in on the action in a scene that was meant to feature someone else entirely. See earlier comments about outlining! The hardest was probably Alwenna – I envisaged her as a very self-controlled person at the outset who’s learned a lot about doing her duty but rather less about life. Portraying that character faithfully has proved quite a challenge.

TQ:  Which question about The Waterborne Blade do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Susan:  What, anything? Is it true one of the settings is inspired by a certain, less than epic video game? Erm, yes. It really is. But no, I’m not saying which one.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Waterborne Blade.

Susan:  That’s a difficult one. How about a typical piece of Weaver dialogue, when Alwenna asks him if he’s seen many men die:

“Yes, my lady. I told you – I’m a soldier.”
His indifference was almost as irksome as his silence. “How many, Weaver? Do you even know?”
“I don’t, my lady. Counting’s for clerics. If you’re ready, we’ll ride on.”

TQ:  What's next?

Susan:  The sequel, Waterborne Exile, is with my editor now, awaiting his verdict. I have a third book in mind to complete the trilogy, while there’s a new and shiny idea demanding attention at all the most inconvenient times. I would also like to write some more short fiction this year.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Susan:  Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.

The Waterborne Blade
Waterborne 1
Angry Robot Books, May 5, 2015
   (North America Print and eBook)
   May 7, 2015 (UK Print)
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 512 pages
Cover: Paul Young at Artist Partners

The citadel has long been the stronghold of Highkell. All that is about to change because the traitor, Vasic, is marching on the capital. Against her better judgement, Queen Alwenna allows herself to be spirited away by one of the Crown’s most trusted servants, safe from the clutches of the throne’s would-be usurper.

Fleeing across country, she quickly comes to learn that her pampered existence has ill-equipped her for survival away from the comforts of the court. Alwenna must toughen up, and fast, if she is even to make it to a place of safety. But she has an even loftier aim – for after dreaming of her husband’s impending death, Alwenna knows she must turn around and head back to Highkell to save the land she loves, and the husband who adores her, or die in the attempt.

But Vasic the traitor is waiting. And this was all just as he planned.

File Under: Fantasy

About Susan

Susan Murray is a graduate of the Open University, and describes herself as a “serial house renovator”.

She was recently longlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize.

Susan can be found online at her blog, and @pulpthorn on Twitter.


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