I’m thrilled to be part of the Darkhaven blog tour, and on my stop today I’m interviewing author A.F.E. Smith! Please welcome A.F.E. Smith to Books, Bones & Buffy!
BB&B: Let’s start with something easy. Please give us a short synopsis of Darkhaven.
AFES: I describe Darkhaven as a fantasy murder mystery, though really the mystery is only part of the plot. The book is about a brother and sister, Myrren and Ayla, who are the last remaining descendants of a dynasty of shapeshifters. Myrren hasn’t inherited the family gift, whereas Ayla has it in an unusual form. When their father is murdered, all the evidence points to Ayla and she has to flee. The book follows the two siblings as they each try to find out who really killed their father, and it also follows some other characters who get tangled up with Myrren and Ayla in various ways.
One of the things I was most impressed with was how polished your story is, especially for a debut author. And believe me, I’ve read some very unpolished debuts, even from big publishers. How long have you been writing, and what was the journey to hooking up with HarperVoyager like?
Thank you! I’ve been writing since I was six, so although Darkhaven is my first published novel, it’s certainly not the first thing I ever wrote. I finished my first (bad) novel when I was sixteen, which is half my lifetime ago! But luckily I was always too self-critical to submit it anywhere. So I kept on writing, and about seven years ago I finally had something that I was willing to share – at which point I joined my first online writers’ group. I see that as being the start of my proper writing journey. But even then, the book I shared wasn’t Darkhaven. I didn’t start writing Darkhaven until 2010 and I submitted it to Voyager in 2012.
Looking back on it now, I would definitely recommend writing to explore before you even think about writing to publish. My journey has been quite slow, but because of all that time I spent writing and discarding to begin with, the last leg – the bit between starting to submit and being accepted – was surprisingly short.
I loved your idea of a city made up of “rings.” How did you come up with the idea for Arkannen?
Arkannen is a city that – according to in-world history – was designed and built whole, so it’s rather different from the cities I’m used to in real life (which grew over time from smaller settlements). I suppose, in a way, it’s the city I’d create if I had the chance, in that it’s very structured. Everything has a place, so you don’t get factories and houses and places of worship all jumbled up together; each type of building has a dedicated ring (or part of a ring) in which it can be found.
You know, I’m a mathematician and I love maps, and so it was probably inevitable that I’d design a city that consists of a perfect set of concentric circles. And, of course, the highly structured nature of it places a set of constraints on the characters when they’re moving around the city, so the plot and setting feed into each other in that respect.
I was so impressed by the characters in Darkhaven. Which ones were your favorite to write, and why?
Tomas Caraway, my failed bodyguard, definitely. If I’m allowed to have a favourite character, he’s mine. There’s something very satisfying about starting a character at rock bottom and letting him find his way back to a life worth living. Plus I like writing action, and he gets involved in plenty of it.
Also Naeve Sorrow, my kick-ass mercenary, because she has the kind of attitude I can only dream of. My only regret with her was that she didn’t get to show everything she was capable of within the space of this book … but she may get the chance to make up for that 🙂
Tomas and Naeve were two of my favorites as well! If you were a Changer, which form would you like to take, and why?
There are five ‘pure’ Changer forms: Firedrake, Phoenix, Hydra, Unicorn, Griffin. Of those, I’d probably pick the phoenix. I wouldn’t be able to resist being able to fly, and I’ve always liked phoenixes. Apart from anything else, they make a powerful symbol: the ability to be reborn from disaster.
But for those who aren’t obsessed with purity, there’s a whole range of other possible ‘hybrid’ creatures to choose from. Ayla’s form, the alicorn, is one, and now that I’ve seen it illustrated on the front cover of the book, I’ve sort of fallen in love with it.
Of course, Ayla’s father would heartily disapprove. He comes from a family with a long-held belief that ‘hybrid’ creatures are less powerful and less worthy of respect than the pure forms. But we know from our own history that a belief in preserving the purity of a particular bloodline doesn’t always have the best results.
So, are you going to write more in the Darkhaven universe? I haven’t seen anything definitive that says there will be a sequel, but the ending suggests it’s entirely possible!
Yes, there will be at least two more books 🙂
Book 2 is called Goldenfire. It’s with Voyager now – due out in January. And I’m writing Book 3. Both are like Darkhaven in that they are standalone stories, but they’re linked by some of the same characters.
Oh, how exciting! January will be here before you know it:-) What are you reading right now, and what was the last awesome book you read?
I’m currently reading Supervillains Anonymous by Lexie Dunne, which has just been released at the time of writing. I really enjoyed the first book, Superheroes Anonymous, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.
The book I’m recommending to everyone at the moment is After the Ruin by Harriet Goodchild, which came out earlier this year. It’s a complicated, poetic fantasy that deserves more attention!
Please tell us three things about you that can’t be found on your website.
OK, let’s see …
I used to be a reasonably good archer. So although I tend to paint myself as useless at all sports, I might actually be able to survive in a fantasy world if I had a bow and arrows.
I don’t drink coffee, tea or (currently) alcohol, nor do I have any particular feelings about cats. So as far as the internet is concerned, I can’t possibly be a writer.
My most treasured book is a copy of Reaper Man signed by Terry Pratchett. He signed it ‘To Alan’ before I corrected him. The funny thing about that is that I also have a children’s book by Frank Muir from ten years earlier, which the author also signed ‘To Alan’. I guess I just look like an Alan.
Thanks so much for joining me!
About the author:
A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.
What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.