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A blog about books and other things speculative

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Interview with Rebecca Alexander


Please welcome Rebecca Alexander to The Qwillery. The Secrets of Blood and Bone was published on September 1st by Broadway Books and is the 2nd novel in the trilogy which started with The Secrets of Life and Death.



Interview with Rebecca Alexander




TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, The Secrets of Blood and Bone, was published on September 1st. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote The Secrets of Life and Death (2014) to now?

Rebecca:  I think I’m more confident with the fantasy now, not asking whether it’s too far-fetched. Real life, it turns out, is even more unlikely. How fantasy writing works for me is to weave it with as much truth as possible. What I’m writing about is psychopathy, a personality disorder that affects about one percent of us. Yes, I might be writing about fierce, dangerous people who might have preyed on humans in a wolfish way, both in the past and the present, but some people who climb to the top of the financial and power heaps, for example, can be like that.



TQIn a prior interview I asked you "what is the most challenging thing for you about writing?" You responded (in part) "Stopping and starting are tricky." Has that changed as you write more and more?

Rebecca:  Stopping and starting are still hard! I find I write in short bursts now, leaving time in between to think about plot. I walk by the sea and around the local river, talking and thinking about how I expect my character to react to a situation. In The Secrets of Blood and Bone, Jackdaw Hammond has taken teenaged Sadie away from southern Devon, where she might be recognised, and all the way up to the Lake District. There she tries to renovate a wrecked cottage, and having bought a similar house that was being reclaimed by a fierce, thorny garden, I spent time walking through bramble patches and wilderness trying to capture the pulsing life and greenness. Edward Kelley was in Venice, so I spent time reading and researching the history of Venice and finding new bits of plot. I accept now that there are writing days when the words flow and build up quickly, and reflection/research days when ideas are born.



TQWhat do you wish that you knew about book publishing when The Secrets of Life and Death came out that you know now?

Rebecca:  I’m still learning about publishing. Every writer wants people to buy their book and to like it. I feel under an obligation to my publishers because I’m grateful that they bought the books, so now I want to support them as much as I can. But, realistically, life as a writer and psychologist hasn’t taught me much about publishing other than to write the best book I can and trust the experts to do the publishing bit. My agent, Jane Willis of United Agents, is my guide and translator on occasion. It’s a friendly industry made up of many people who love books, that’s what has stayed with me.



TQTell us something about The Secrets of Blood and Bone that is not found in the book description.

Rebecca:  I found a new character in Count Franco Marinello, who finds Edward Kelley robbed and dishevelled on the doorstep of his palazzo in sixteenth century Venice. I think I fell in love a little with Marinello’s swashbuckling personality and even Kelley was drawn to him. But they are in danger from Elizabeth Báthory, free of the constraints of her castle. Kelley’s quest was to solve a puzzle about the Dannick family, a landed dynasty in the dark north of England where the Vikings once settled and Scottish marauding gangs frequently attacked. The present day Dannicks employed the woman who burned to death in Bee Cottage, the house Jack and Sadie are trying to restore…



TQWhich character in the The Secrets of Blood and Bone has surprised you the most? Who has been the hardest character to write and why?

Rebecca:  The character that has surprised me is a really hard question, they have all grown and changed. Felix has toughened up, as well as challenged his feelings for Jack. She has started to stretch her wings, in both relationship terms and magical skills. But Sadie, who is so frail and young, emerges as a power in herself. Her personality, her affinity with nature, her sheer cussedness have rounded her from a sick child into a determined young woman who will not be overcome easily.

Jack has been the hardest character to write. She is reclusive and she isn’t very self-aware. I found a way to understand her when I met a raven. Jack and I share a love of Corvids (members of the crow family) and I have raised and rescued a number of birds over the years. Handling a raven was really magical, so I had Jackdaw parallel some of my experiences, dealing with a rescued bird and trying to rehabilitate it. I think the bird calls to a wild, free part of Jack that she needs to express.



TQWhat appeals to you about writing Historical Fantasy and Urban Fantasy and combining the two in your novels?

Rebecca:  I love writing historical fantasy because it was a time when anything was possible, when magic, witchcraft and the devil were real to people. Dr John Dee and his contemporaries were doing research into the paranormal, studying the nature of the universe from a position of ‘anything could be true’ that we don’t have now. By contrast, urban fantasy can tackle contemporary issues like teenage behaviour, drug addiction, sexuality and exploitation in a fresh way. Sadie was a teenager that was going off the rails, Jack’s life has been curtailed by, essentially, a life threatening illness. Fantasy puts unique pressures on those situations. But I find the most helpful thing is that the science of sorcery in the sixteenth century gives justification for magic in our stark, scientific era. Behind that logic, human beings are filled with magical explanations for things like death, because we are brought up on a diet of fairy stories, myths, superstitions and spiritual beliefs, half understood and barely remembered. I think our taste for fantasy taps into that.



TQWhich question about The Secrets of Blood and Bone do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Rebecca:  I suppose: why did you write a garden as a character?

The answer is that I have had a few terrifying experiences with nature gone wild. Some years ago, I had to move house after my first husband died, leaving me with two small children and little money. The only house I could afford was embedded within a back yard that was solid trees, brambles and stinging nettles. The windows were plastered with leaves, so the house felt like it was underwater, and the old windows and door frames were being invaded by brambles. When we finally tamed it, we realised ivies and thorns had even forced their way into the brickwork. My daughter, then seven, solemnly announced that the garden was watching us through the cracked glass. Sadie makes the same observation. But their garden is connected to the much bigger wildernesses of the forests and hillsides of the Lake District, and drinks from the deep glacial lakes there. Like Jack’s house, ours was alive with lizards, frogs, birds and animals, which rustled and squeaked and occasionally emerged against the glass.



TQPlease give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Secrets of Blood and Bone.

Rebecca:

The pressure on my neck began to sting, to burn. ‘How might the blood of a sorcerer taste?’ (Kelley)

[Maisie] looked back at Jack, her voice shaking. ‘I have never seen anything more shocking in my life. My friend, killed and burning like a pile of rubbish. Killed.’ (Jack)

The bushes beside them gave way to an arc of wolves, placed so close to Jack she could bury her fingers in the coats of the lead animals. (Jack)

Maybe a dozen brambles as thick as Felix’s thumb had pierced the body, growing like spears through the abdomen, and threading between the ribs. (Felix)



TQWhat's next?

Rebecca:  I have finished book 3 (The Secrets of Time and Fate, out 2016 in the UK), taking the characters on, and completing the trilogy with the focus on exorcism. That was a great journey, and has led to new revelations. I am constantly wrong-footed when writing, with characters doing things I hadn’t expected, and Edward Kelley surprised me the most. I’m presently working on a contemporary psychological story with a ghostly edge, about twins separated by madness. That was also set in a book I have lived in (I’m starting to see a theme!) and since we are renovating an old fisherman’s cottage on the coast I’m wondering whether Jack and Felix might visit there too one day. I’m not quite ready to let them go.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.





The Secrets of Blood and Bone
Secrets / Jackdaw Hammond 2
Broadway Books, September 1, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 Pages

Interview with Rebecca Alexander
In the stunning follow up to The Secrets of Life and Death, Rebecca Alexander has created a gripping supernatural thriller that bridges time, legend and the power of blood.

Following her showdown with Elizabeth Bathory, Jackdaw Hammond is running from her past, hiding from her future, and hoping to contain her newfound thirst for blood. Buying an overgrown home in the middle of nowhere seems like the perfect place to escape…at least until she finds herself in the sights of a murderous family with a terrible secret and a penchant for dark magic. Meanwhile, her old ally Felix Guichard has gone to New Orleans to conduct his own investigation into the nature of blood magic, but is soon sucked into the intrigues of the city’s occult underworld. But Jack will need Felix more than she knows, for the battle for her soul is set to begin.

Her only salvation may lie with the secrets of 16th century master occultist Edward Kelley, and a dangerous mission he undertook in Venice to confront the Inquisition, the darkest deeds of his own past, and the fearsome power of Elizabeth Bathory.




Previously

The Secrets of Life and Death
Secrets / Jackdaw Hammond 1
Broadway Books, October 7, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Rebecca Alexander
In modern day England, Professor Felix Guichard is called in to identify occult symbols found on the corpse of a young girl. His investigation brings him in contact with a mysterious woman, Jackdaw Hammond, who guards a monumental secret--She's Dead. Or she would be, were it not for magic which has artificially extended her life. But someone else knows her secret. Someone very old and very powerful, who won't rest until they've taken the magic that keeps her alive....

In Krakow in 1585, Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Alchemist and Occultist, and his assistant Edward Kelley have been summoned by the King of Poland to save the life of his niece, the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory. But they soon realize that the only thing worse than the Countess' malady, is the magic that might be able to save her...

As Jackdaw and Felix race to uncover the truth about the person hunting her, it becomes clear that the answers they seek can only be found in the ancient diary of John Dee's assistant, Edward Kelley. Together they must solve a mystery centuries in the making, or die trying.





About Rebecca

Interview with Rebecca Alexander
Courtesy of the Author
Rebecca Alexander is the author of The Secrets of Life and Death. She has worked in psychology and education, and has an MA in creative writing. She lives with her husband on the coast of England.












Website  ~  Twitter @RebAlexander1



Interview with Rebecca Alexander, author of The Secrets of Life and Death - October 13, 2014


Please welcome Rebecca Alexander to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Secrets of Life and Death was published on October 7th by Broadway Books.



Interview with Rebecca Alexander, author of The Secrets of Life and Death - October 13, 2014




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

Rebecca:  I can’t remember not writing but after my children came along I stopped writing fiction. I came back to it about seven years ago as the kids grew up, and found a whole new enthusiasm for fiction, both reading and writing.



TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Rebecca:  I’m a pantser! I so wish I was a plotter, it makes so much sense to plan a book out. I often feel like my characters are taking me out for an adventure. They surprise me all the time. I was recently writing about an archaeologist excavating a well and one of my characters fell in and died. I was so upset I cried. Edward Kelley basically told me his story, I wrote it down. I sometimes worry that I have an Elizabethan man talking inside my head…



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

Rebecca:  Stopping and starting are tricky. I find it hard to stop when I’m on a roll, but if the story doesn’t come easily it’s hard to get back to it. I often get stuck right in the middle of a book and after a few frustrated days, I skip on to write the ending. That seems to help.



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

Rebecca:  I grew up with authors like Bram Stoker and Barbara Michaels, Dennis Wheatley and Edgar Allen Poe. I loved books with plenty of suspense, and a supernatural edge, even a bit of horror. The one book that drew me back into fantasy was The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I wish I’d written that. I love contemporary fantasy too, especially Kelley Armstrong, but I also like female crime writers like Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Gardner, who write fantastic suspense.



TQ:  Describe The Secrets of Life and Death in 140 characters or less.

Rebecca:  Edward Kelley, sorcerer in Transylvania. Jackdaw Hammond, modern revenant – a soul held from heaven by sorcery. When their worlds collide...



TQ:  Tell us something about The Secrets of Life and Death that is not in the book description.

Rebecca:  Jack lives in a fifteenth century cottage, very like one I once stayed in. The cottage’s secret past provides a creepy place to imprison a dying child for magical reasons. The house I stayed in had a ‘priest hole’, a hideaway concealed space for Catholic priests to be hidden in during Tudor Protestant revivals. This one had been used for séances, and had a spooky atmosphere and was covered with scrawled messages. The cottage is in the Devon countryside and the centre of a centuries old rookery. I think the castle in Transylvania and the cottage in England help set the mood for the book.



TQ:  What inspired you to write The Secrets of Life and Death? The novel is a genre blender. How would you describe the novel's genres/sub-genres?

Rebecca:  I started out writing a psychological thriller. I worked as a psychologist and wanted to explore the strange beliefs of deluded, untreated people with psychosis. My character would kidnap a child in the complete belief she was saving her life with sixteenth century sorcery. As the book developed, I started to believe it too, making it fantasy. But rather than explain all the fascinating research into John Dee and Edward Kelley I had done, I found it very easy to write their adventures alongside the contemporary, so a historical strand crept in. Then Jack found herself being drawn to Felix, and an unexpected emotional entanglement crept in. That’s what I mean by not plotted, I never meant to draw in so many genre elements.



TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Secrets of Life and Death?

Rebecca:  I read everything of Dee’s and Kelley’s I could find, and dozens of books about Dee. He was a fascinating man who was born in the reign of Henry VIII and died in the reign of James I eighty-two years later, having seen some of the most turbulent years in English history. I also spoke to some modern occultists, fascinating people who still research (and use?) some of the magical ideas Dee talked about. Finding out that Dee and Kelley had met Istvan Báthory, king of Poland and Transylvania, and uncle of Elizabeth Báthory. She was a sadistic serial murderer and discovering the connection was a gift to a writer. Elizabeth would have been about 25, and not yet started on her murderous path, and still a sympathetic character.



TQ:  In The Secrets of Life and Death who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Rebecca:  Jackdaw Hammond was the hardest. She is secretive, and had a very limited experience of the ‘real world’ and men. Finding herself in a friendship that might be a relationship makes her awkward, which was hard to find at first. Edward Kelley was the easiest, despite all the research. He was a trickster, who even manipulated the genius Dee. He was charming and glib but had come up from very humble beginnings, with only his charm and wits to keep him safe. I found him good company and have enjoyed following him through the sequels.



TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Secrets of Life and Death.

Rebecca:

The dark little room was like a prison cell. Stone walls glistened with damp and a lantern glowed from a rusty hook. Tales of kidnap, rape and murder crept into her mind.



TQ:  What's next?

Rebecca:  The sequel comes out in the UK in October, and the final book in the trilogy is in its editing underwear at the moment. I’m also writing a separate series about a younger Edward Kelley and a modern day independent, female archaeologist, who uncovers some of Kelley’s past while solving the riddle of a body in a well (A Baby’s Bones).



TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.





The Secrets of Life and Death
Broadway Books, October 7, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
(US Debut)

Interview with Rebecca Alexander, author of The Secrets of Life and Death - October 13, 2014
In modern day England, Professor Felix Guichard is called in to identify occult symbols found on the corpse of a young girl. His investigation brings him in contact with a mysterious woman, Jackdaw Hammond, who guards a monumental secret--She's Dead. Or she would be, were it not for magic which has artificially extended her life. But someone else knows her secret. Someone very old and very powerful, who won't rest until they've taken the magic that keeps her alive....

In Krakow in 1585, Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Alchemist and Occultist, and his assistant Edward Kelley have been summoned by the King of Poland to save the life of his niece, the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory. But they soon realize that the only thing worse than the Countess' malady, is the magic that might be able to save her...

As Jackdaw and Felix race to uncover the truth about the person hunting her, it becomes clear that the answers they seek can only be found in the ancient diary of John Dee's assistant, Edward Kelley. Together they must solve a mystery centuries in the making, or die trying.





About Rebecca

Interview with Rebecca Alexander, author of The Secrets of Life and Death - October 13, 2014
Rebecca Alexander is an urban fantasy, historical and crime writer, and recovering psychologist. She has brought up seven children, the youngest five in a haunted house in Devon surrounded by rooks and jackdaws. The birds and the children find their way into her novels. Her first book, The Secrets of Life and Death, will be published October 2014 by Broadway Books. It weaves the historical adventures of Edward Kelley, associate of the necromancer and sorcerer John Dee, with the fight to save a teenager’s life in the present day.






Website  ~  Twitter @RebAlexander1



Interview with Rebecca AlexanderInterview with Rebecca Alexander, author of The Secrets of Life and Death - October 13, 2014

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