Today. I'm pleased to welcome AL Butcher to the blog. Alexandra is the author of several fantasy novels as well as being a poet. 1) To start with, could you introduce yourself and tell us about your current project?
Hi, I’m Alexandra (A.L Butcher), British fantasy author and poet. My current project? Which one…. Let me see - I have a couple of Tales of Erana novellas I’m working on, a horror anthology, another poetry collection, and the next novel in my series.
2) Would you mind sharing an excerpt with us, or a favourite quote?
Shivering, Dii pulled her old wool cloak around her and looked at the sky, the stars now fading into the grey dawn. Mages could sense the weather, so Dii knew that more rain would follow this day; even now she could sense the pressure in the air. Hunger made her belly grumble, and as she looked at the thin tent, she knew it would not protect her from the late autumn weather much longer, or indeed the many other dangers which stalked the night. Dangers which were very real for one such as her; an elf, a woman and a mage, for as such, she was not free. Freedom in the land of Erana was rare. It could be bought and sold for some, although many did not have that luxury.
Pulling a very stale half loaf of bread from her cloak pocket, the elf toasted it and poured a little water from her water-skin into the metal pot to boil. Food was food after all. Luxury was another rare commodity. Tossing in a handful of dried leaves and herbs, she sweetened the tea with the few berries she had scavenged. The smell of the toast and herb tea revived the young elf’s spirits and suddenly the dawn did not seem so cold, or the future so uncertain. The small wooden box she carried contained a few herbs from her previous store, both for healing and refreshment, the land around providing much if a body knew where to look. Such plants could heal and fortify and often were of more value than coin, which one could not eat, nor would fight infection.
Dii was a skilled herbalist, surprising for one of her station, but she was clever and had an enquiring mind that searched until it found answers… She considered for a moment. The only good thing about her Keeper Joset's estate was Malana’s herb garden, which was by far the finest in the area and the most bountiful. Regretful for a moment, she thought about the woman she considered her mother, the only one she had ever known: a kind human woman, also a mage and a Kept, or slave, of Lord Joset Tremayne. Malana had taught her a little when she could, including the herb-lore, and loved her a good deal. Education was not the norm in Erana, especially for elves, but somehow it had suited her Keeper to allow her to learn, perhaps it increased her price. Sighing at that thought, Dii returned to her tasks.
Pulling the small purse from her cloak, she examined the meagre coins therein. Dii knew those few coins would not last long, and an elf with a bulging purse would certainly draw attention. She had spent the best part of the small amount she had been able to acquire on the tent and camping equipment, and that had drawn more notice than she had been comfortable with. Dii knew she had been overcharged, but also knew there was little she could do, she had handed over the coins and made her way swiftly from the stallholder’s sight.
Dii was well aware her Keeper was a nobleman, and thus rich and powerful. He was a man of influence, but she was also acutely aware of where a lot of that money had come from. So she had taken the few coins she had managed to hide unseen from her Keeper. Dii could have taken more; she knew she had more than earned it, but somehow felt wrong taking the gold of her Keeper, although after all he had forced her to do, she could not understand why she felt that way. Perhaps, she thought, it was simply self-preservation: half of her hoped he would not seek her, but were she a thief, he might be more inclined to do so. The young elf was many things, but a thief she was not. So Dii had left with a few meagre possessions and a small bag of coins. Everything else remained in her Keeper's house. More afraid of what lay within than without, she had risked her life to flee, both in physically doing so and to be out in these lands alone. So far she had been lucky not to have been spotted by anyone unfriendly to her kind, and she thanked the gods for that. Not knowing the trails and roads well, she had nothing to trust but her luck and her skills.
A Kept owned nothing by right, but Dii knew her favours paid well. Her lovers would sometimes give her coin or trinket if she had pleased them, or a grateful villager would pass on a few copper coins for the potions or herb-lore she distributed. Most of the common people had little healing knowledge beyond basic remedies passed generation to generation, and many communities did not have an apothecary. People often turned a blind eye to the local “wise folk,” although this was not always the case and many a mage had found themselves in the “hospitality of the Order of Witch-Hunters” due to a failure to heal someone, or from mere spite or fear. To be in possession of magic was illegal and, in many cases, meant imprisonment or even death.
3) What inspired you to write this story?
The Light Beyond the Storm started as an adventure I wrote for a game. The game broke up, for one reason or another, and so I adapted the story to another world I’d created for something else and decided to expand it to a novel. As the story grew, so did the world, and the companion series of Tales of Erana was born from the lore and more minor characters of that world. The later novels came out of events in the first book, although can be read as stand-alones.
Kitchen Imps came from some fun fantasy fiction I’d written for someone specific, and a few other short anthology pieces
4) Do you have any other projects on the sidelines?
As well as the projects I've already mentioned, I’m also slowly working on an RPG for the Light Beyond world, plus some other fantasy and historical fiction. Oh and trying to build a website, and start a newsletter.
5) What draws you to fantasy? Have you always been drawn to it?
Fantasy is very versatile, almost anything is possible and so the scope for adventuring to marvellous realms is huge. I love world building, mythology and history and in much of our fantasy they go hand in hand. I recall being taken to the theatre as a youngster to see C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and I was spellbound. That forged a love of fantasy, and of theatre which still remains to this day. I was always an imaginative child, making up stories and adventures in my head. I think fantasy and folklore are so rooted in our culture that it’s hard to avoid their influence.
More recently I’ve studied Greek and Roman mythology, culture and history and, of course, many mythic and fantastical elements permeated life then, and I think to an extent that is lost now.
6) Who/what is your writing inspiration?
Everywhere and everything! My poetry is largely political, or introspective. Thoughts on world events, the folly of humanity, the microcosm of my life, beautiful places and things I’ve seen and that sort of thing are usually the basis. Story-wise sparks appear as and when they will but often coming out of something else. My books are mythic and so a lot of lore and back story works its way into the short tales.
Kitchen Imps – one tale came from conversations about what happens to socks when the washing machine gets them, why Mondays are bad and things go wrong, and why sometimes strange things occur in the kitchen which we (as the human onlookers) only discover after the event.
7) What do you do if inspiration just won't come?
That happens a lot. Often I’ll write for ages then suddenly nada. I read, I play a game, I walk my dog, or watch a movie. I look over old unused work and see if that inspires anything. I try not to worry about it – as that’s a sure way to frighten off the muse. Usually the ideas fairy returns again – but she is fickle and sometimes brings new ideas, instead of finishing off old ones. Either the story comes – or it doesn’t.
8) Which part of the writing process is your favourite, and which part do you dread?
I like creating adventures, lore, people and worlds. Wandering in other places far more exciting and fantastical than my own little place here is such a joy:) I like the research too. Although I tend to get a bit distracted.
What part do I dread? Formatting!
I am not that keen on marketing either, if I’m honest. I don’t like pushy sales people so being one I find difficult. Not long ago I completed a foundation diploma in social media marketing – which has helped quite a bit as I found different strategies and ways of doing things and I’m a bit more confident with it now.
9) What is your number one distraction?
The internet:) I love it but it’s easy to spend far too much time looking at nonsense. Probably after that is my dog.
10) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Pantser – definitely. I’ve tried to plan, it never works out that way so now I don’t bother. I do have an overarching grand plot of the series and the stories find their way there. Sometimes with a bit of prodding and sometimes without.
11) Tea or coffee?
Tea. Earl or Lady Grey without milk please. Although I’ll settle for a nice cup of English breakfast tea with milk. I drink coffee for breakfast – lots of milk. I’m British – we’re genetically programmed to be tea drinkers.
12) What are the most important three things you've learned about writing, editing or publishing (or all of the above!) since you started your journey?
Write what you want to write and what you want to read.
Always read the TOS and FAQ. Really – it makes life so much easier.
Bad reviews happen. Deal with it.
13) What's your favourite quote on writing?
I have a few:
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Phillip Pulman
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” Virginia Woolfe
“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it.” – Lloyd Alexander
“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” Stephen King
14) What is the best piece of advice you've received?
Be yourself. Don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.
Treat others how you want to be treated (i.e. don’t behave like an asshat).
If you can’t be a good example, you’ll have to be a terrible warning.
Author Bio: A.L. Butcher is the British author of the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles fantasy series, and several short stories in the fantasy and fantasy romance genres. She is an avid reader and creator of worlds, a poet and a dreamer. When she is grounded in the real world she likes science, natural history, history and monkeys. Her work has been described as ‘dark and gritty’ and her poetry as evocative.