This week, my author in the spotlight is urban fantasy and steampunk writer, Alys West. Her debut novel, Beltane, will be out on December 14th.
Beltane – Alys West
Finn McCloud is a druid, connected by magic to the earth. He’s made a big mistake; one he expects to pay for with his life.
Maeve Blackwell has plans for a new start, free of the façade she so carefully maintains. At Beltane, the Celtic festival of fire on 1st May, all her preparations will come to fruition.
Struggling artist, Zoe Rose is in Glastonbury to work on the illustrations for a book about King Arthur. But when she arrives at Anam Cara, the healing retreat run by Maeve, it’s not the haven she hoped for.
Maeve isn’t the warm-hearted, hippy she expected and Zoe can’t help feeling there’s something very odd about the place. Is it coincidence that the other guests become ill after Maeve’s given them healing? And why did the Green Man carved on a tree in the garden, which she’d felt inexplicably drawn to, mysteriously vanish during a thunderstorm?
As if that wasn’t enough, the weird dreams she’d had all her life are getting worse. Every night she dreams of a handsome stranger. Then, the day after the thunderstorm, she meets Finn. Realising he’s the man she’s dreamt of (not that she’s going to tell him that!) she’s forced to accept that her dreams are premonitions.
With Beltane fast approaching Finn knows that Maeve must be stopped. He’s torn between wanting to protect Zoe from the supernatural world and his desire to be with her. And the more time they spend together the harder it is to keep secrets from her.
When Zoe’s dreams reveal that at Beltane both their lives will be in terrible danger, it’s clear that only by trusting each other can they have any hope of defeating Maeve.
Beltane will be out on Monday 14th December and can be pre-ordered from Amazon.
And now for my interview with Alys:
I know you write in a number of different genres. Please could you tell us more about the genres and a little about the books you’ve written in them?
So far I write urban fantasy and steampunk. I didn’t really know what genre Beltane, my first novel, was when I started writing it. I just wrote the story that I wanted to tell and then tried to fit it within a genre when I started submitting. I think you can best describe it as a supernatural romantic thriller but as that’s not a recognised genre I’ve ended up calling it urban fantasy.
My second novel, The Dirigible King’s Daughter, is a steampunk romance. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of steampunk for a while. I live in York and a couple of years ago I went over to Whitby when the Goth Festival was on. I was intrigued by these people who clearly weren’t goths. They wore brown and had amazing contraptions which seemed to be formed almost entirely of brass cogs. Somewhat later I discovered that was steampunk and, the more I looked into it, the more interesting it became.
Steampunk is an alternative history and works on the theory that the world continued to be powered by steam and never became dependent on oil and electronic technology. Much steampunk is a version of a Victorian world but with more advanced steam technology like dirigibles (or airships). I’ve set my steampunk world in 1897 which meant I could have wonderful Victorian clothes and hats (I got way too fascinated by 1890’s fashion and wasted hours on Pinterest!) and massive amounts of fun with the dialogue.
Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?
I don’t seem to find it hard to come up with ideas for novels. Ideas for short stories are far more tricky. I definitely seem to need the bigger canvas of a novel. I’m currently doing an MA in Creative Writing at York St John University and one of the things that I’m hoping I’ll learn from that is how to write short stories.
Most of my ideas seem to come from places. Beltane is set in Glastonbury and the idea for the book came fully formed from the place. There’s nowhere else I can think of that has the same mix of history, myth and alternative culture as Glastonbury and, let’s be honest, if weird things are going to happen anywhere they’ll happen in Glastonbury!
The Dirigible King’s Daughter is set in Whitby and was probably directly inspired by the people I’d seen there for the Goth Festival. Because of them the idea of steampunk and Whitby got linked in my brain and, then it just kind of took off from there.
How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?
I don’t really write a first draft which I know is a bit odd. I’m constantly refining and polishing as I go along which means the process can be very slow compared with some of my writing friends. It took me three years to write Beltane, which included an awful lot of writing and rewriting along the way. However, I have speeded up considerably as I wrote The Dirigible King’s Daughter in about four months. I polished less that time and then did a second draft but I was pretty blessed with that book as it just seemed to tell itself.
What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
I think that depends on the book. I’ve really struggled with various bits of different books. I got in a terrible state about writing the end of Beltane and procrastinated for weeks about it scared that I’d ruin it with a naff ending. The Dirigible King’s Daughter had a tricky beginning when I got in a muddle with flashbacks and how to tell the back story. Lughnasa, which is the follow up to Beltane, had a really sticky middle. It got so sticky that I put it down and wrote The Dirigible King’s Daughter instead just to have something else to think about for a while. I need to get back to Lughnasa and find my way out of the sticky middle and I’m hoping to have time to do that during the Christmas holidays.
What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
I think I just love writing and telling stories. I know that when I’m doing it I’m happier and more alive than when I don’t so I guess I’ll just have to keep writing and hoping that someone wants to read the stories that I tell.
Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?
I’m pretty sure there isn’t a recurring theme but, as I didn’t know that Beltane had a theme until I went to Julie Cohen’s workshop at the 2013 RNA Conference about 3 months after I’d finished writing the book, I may be wrong about that! The theme of Beltane is trust and abuse of trust. I figured that out during Julie’s workshop. The Dirigible King’s Daughter is about loss and grief and how people handle that.
Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, can you tell us anything about it?
I am about three quarters of the way through a first draft of Lughnasa. As I’ve mentioned it’s the follow up to Beltane and includes some of the same characters. Winston, who is a supporting character in Beltane takes centre stage in Lughnasa. Finn and Zoe are back too but there’s some lovely new characters too. I’m particularly fond of Jenna, who’s had a very hard time after her Mum was murdered six years ago and finds herself torn between her attraction to Winston and her old love, Hal. It’s set in Orkney, which is somewhere that I fell hopelessly in love with when I first visited in 2010 and am very keen to return to next year.
I see that you’ve started publishing one of your books to Wattpad. Can you tell us what made you choose that platform in particular?
I’d heard lots of good things about Wattpad and I knew it was very popular for fantasy. I thought it might be a good idea to try out The Dirigible King’s Daughter on there and see how it worked. I’m putting up a chapter a week and, after a very slow start, it’s steadily starting to build up and get some regular readers. Once I’d started with it I rapidly realised that I didn’t have the time to invest in doing all the things that people say you need to do to build a readership on Wattpad and that the book would have to stand or fall on its own. So after changing my profile picture to a steampunk avatar (I am about 25 years older than most of the people on Wattpad!) I just left it to do its own thing. But I am having fun with it. You should have heard me cheer when I finally got over 100 views and when I got a comment on a chapter from someone I didn’t know, it honestly made my week! I’d say it’s a really great way of testing out a book and seeing what works and what maybe needs a bit more work. I’m intending to publish The Dirigible King’s Daughter on Amazon next year.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog. It’s been an absolute pleasure and I hope I’ve not waffled on too much with the answers to your really interesting questions.
I’ve been obsessed with books and writing since I was a child. My first attempt to write a novel was when I was eight which taught me that it was actually really hard work and took a long, long time! After working in a book shop in my twenties I got back into writing, turning out very average poetry and one song but mostly I just read an awful lot. From reading fantasy authors like Guy Gavriel Kay together with mystery and romance I figured out the kind of books I wanted to write. And as a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I knew that they would have magic in them.
Joining the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers’ Scheme helped me to develop my writing and I got through to the first round of the Wow Factor competition run by Cornerstones Literary Consultancy in 2013. Through the New Writers’ Scheme I met a fabulous group of aspiring novelists who formed The Write Romantics, which has become a popular site for writers and readers. I’ve just started a MA in Creative Writing at York St John University which I’ll be doing part-time for the next two years.
I live in York and work at the University of York. When I’m not writing or blogging I can be found listening to folk music, getting involved in yarnbombing, doing yoga and drinking far too much tea.
Find Alys at:
You can read The Dirigible King’s Daughter on Wattpad.
You can also check out her steampunk board on Pinterest at Alys West Writes.