Please welcome H.M. Long to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Hall of Smoke is published on January 19, 2021 by Titan Books.
Please join The Qwillery in wishing H.M. Long a very Happy Book Birthday!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
H.M.: Hello, thank you for having me!
The first proper story I recall writing was when I was about 11 or 12. No copies survive, but it was fantasy and around 60k, with lots of swords and pretty dresses.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
H.M.: I’ve always considered myself a pantser, but I’ve become more of a hybrid out of necessity. I’ll usually start out with a vague concept of character, world and goal, and then pants my way up to about 80% of the first draft, at which point I’ll plot the climax and restructure as needed.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
H.M.: Focus. I’m one of those writers who needs to be completely alone, without distractions or other responsibilities to tug at my concentration. Fortunately, my family is very respectful of this and I live in the middle of nowhere, so I’ve quiet aplenty.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
H.M.: Other than many incredible authors, travel has hugely influenced my writing. During the time I wrote Hall of Smoke, I honeymooned in Wales and I lived near the Alps in Germany. I visited Austria on Switzerland for weekend hikes and cozy nights in mountain cabins, and those ever-present mountains saturated Hall of Smoke.
TQ: Describe Hall of Smoke using only 5 words.
H.M.: Woman with axe questions gods.
TQ: Tell us something about Hall of Smoke that is not found in the book description.
H.M.: In reading Hall of Smoke, you’re going to meet the gods in the flesh, on the page. They’re living, breathing, active participants in the story.
TQ: What inspired you to write Hall of Smoke? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?
H.M.: I enjoyed series like Vikings and The Last Kingdom, but I wanted a primary female protagonist, complex, unyielding and fierce, and yet vulnerable. So I wrote one.
Fantasy itself appeals to me because of its freedoms. Though I strove to give the world and cultures of Hall of Smoke a real-world feel, my impulse is always to break out of the confines of the world we know – opening up the possibilities of an entirely new realm, with new beliefs and practices and, of course, magic.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Hall of Smoke?
H.M.: I didn’t do a lot of intentional research for Hall of Smoke, but the book was the product of a life-long love of history and many hours spend wandering through museums, visiting historical sites and devouring documentary series.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Hall of Smoke.
H.M.: The cover artist is the very talented Julia Lloyd, and it depicts Hessa, Hall of Smoke’s protagonist, holding an axe. Owls play a key role in the book – they’re the eyes and messengers of Eang, Goddess of War – so two owls are featured as well. One swoops down in the background, talons outstretched to grasp Hessa, while the other alights on her hand – bearing a message, and recognizing her as a priestess of Eang. The colours too, are symbolic, but I’ll leave that up to the reader to figure out!
TQ: In Hall of Smoke who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
H.M.: The easiest character was Ogam, son of Eang. He emerged fully formed onto the page, full of life and bravado and one of my favourite backstories of the whole HOS world. The hardest was the protagonist Hessa, balancing her grief and questions of faith with the necessity of constantly moving forward and facing the next battle.
TQ: Which question about Hall of Smoke do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
H.M.: Who made Hall of Smoke’s map?
The map in the front of Hall of Smoke was designed and drawn by Cheryl Bowman, my dear friend and alpha reader, a talented artist and constructor of languages. You can find her on Instagram @conorthography.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Hall of Smoke.
H.M.: Pg 191, “There was no use hiding now. I screamed, but the voice was not my own. It never was, not when the Fire possessed me like this. The Algatt crumpled and two more took her place, diving to intercept me with howls of desperate challenge – and dread.”
Pg. 369, “’Look, Eangi,’ he whispered, voice barely penetrating the silent storm in my skull. ‘Watch the gods battle. This is our privilege, you and I; priest and priestess.”
TQ: What's next?
H.M.: I’m currently working on two projects. One is a stand-alone sequel to Hall of Smoke, coming early 2022, and I can’t wait to share more about that soon! The other is my current work-in-progress, a swashbuckling adult fantasy with a dark folktale twist.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
H.M.: Thank you so much for having me!
Hall of Smoke
Titan Books, January 19, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
Epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war, for readers of Brian Staveley’s Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.
Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the
power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for
disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for
forgiveness alone on a mountainside.
While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi
priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the
traveller and atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved
ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from
the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path
Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.
Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at
every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her
journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High
Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess
weakens with every unheeded prayer.
Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New,
Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond
her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her
world. And they’re about to wake up.
H. M. Long is a Canadian fantasy writer, author of HALL OF SMOKE and TEMPLE OF NO GOD, who loves history, hiking, and exploring the world. She lives in Ontario, but can often be spotted snooping about European museums or wandering the Alps with her German husband.