Horse Power: a writer’s guide

It’s hard to avoid mentioning horses (or ponies, pack mules, etc.) if you write certain genres. These four-legged beauties are everywhere, leading the charge in a martial battle scene, galloping across the page in those sweeping epic fantasies, or slowing to a gentle walk to allow the romantic pair to gaze longingly into each other’s eyes.

So far, I’ve managed to get away with not writing about horses by setting my novels in the present day or the future. The truth is, I know very little about them, and I’m sure I would make endless mistakes if I had to include horses in my work. But other writers have no choice. If you write – for example – certain types of fantasy, or historical fiction, then you can’t really escape using horses for transportation, at the very least.

How, then, can you make sure you get your equine characters right? I asked fantasy author Kerry Buchanan, one of the owners of Fir Tree Farm Stables in Northern Ireland, to shed some light on the subject…


Photo credit: Fir Tree Farm Stables

Juliana: What horse-related mistake makes you cringe the most in fiction?

Kerry: I think the worst, and commonest, is when the writer has horses galloping all day, or even for days on end. Horses are not capable of keeping up a fast pace for a long time, and even trained endurance horses do the majority of the miles at walk/trot with only some cantering. They’re grazing animals, and need to eat frequently to keep healthy, as well as drinking too.

There are a few stories and films featuring a child and a wild or half-wild horse who inexplicably bond, with the horse allowing the child to ride it bareback, communicating (it seems) by some special telepathy. The Black Stallion film springs to mind, and maybe National Velvet. The reality is that the child would probably get nowhere near the horse in the first place, and if it was rash enough to climb aboard, would probably end up as a trampled patch of strawberry jam in the dirt.

I find it’s often the fine details that irritate me. Someone tries to be clever and Googles the parts of a horse’s tack/harness but doesn’t quite get it right. Perhaps a character hauls on the bridle (instead of the reins) to get the horse to turn or stop when they’re riding it. The same goes for descriptions of horses (green eyes? Seriously?). Sometimes I think the author’s only contact with equines has been through My Little Pony….

Juliana: Name a favorite book or movie that features horses accurately.

Kerry: It’s hard to fault Black Beauty. The story is romanticised, but the details were accurate for the era, and the characters of the horses are just beautiful. I still can’t read it without crying when the cart goes by with Ginger’s body in it. I particularly like the early section where Beauty first gets a bit in his mouth, and the way it feels, but how he is reassured by his trust in the man who trained him. Later in the book, another horse, Captain, describes how it felt to be a horse in battle in the Crimean War. The noise and confusion, plus the absolute trust in his rider, and the panic when he loses his rider, seem well-observed and, as with everything Anna Sewell wrote, beautifully done. It was a landmark book from the first day it was published, and continues to be one of the most respected fiction books featuring horses.

For a more modern example, the Green Rider books by Kristen Britain are really well written from the point of view of equine accuracy. Condor, the principal equine character, has quite a personality, and the books are well worth reading. When Karigan, the inexperienced new Green Rider of the title, tries to push her horse too hard, she has to learn that the poor animal needs recovery time, and the journey can end up being slower than it would have been had she paced him correctly from the beginning. I think a few directors of Westerns could learn something from this!

Juliana: You write a lot of mythology-inspired fiction. Are there any horse myths you particularly like?

Kerry: I love the story of Pegasus and have written a short story featuring the flying horse which will be coming out in an anthology in the near future. His birth was dramatic enough (son of Poseidon, sprung from the body of Medusa when she was killed by Perseus), but his exploits with Bellerophon kept me enthralled as a child, and still do now. Bellerophon captured Pegasus using a golden bridle (a gift from the goddess Athena), and then went on to ride the wonderful creature to victory over the dreaded monster, the Chimaera, which was terrorising the kingdom. Bellerophon and Pegasus had many adventures together, but in the end the heroic Greek over-faced himself by trying to ride Pegasus up to the top of Mount Olympus, home of the gods. Zeus unseated him and he fell, but Pegasus made it all the way and became a constellation of stars in the night sky.

Another horse myth I enjoy is the story of Bucephalus, the war horse of Alexander the Great. Famously, the young Alexander won the horse in a wager with his father. Alexander realised that the horse was terrified of its own shadow, so he simply turned Bucephalus around to face into the sun and successfully climbed aboard, but not before he’d done a deal with his Dad, Philip of Macedonia, to let him keep the horse if he could manage to ride it without being thrown off.

A version of this story is beautifully told in the book, I Am the Great Horse, by Katherine Roberts.

Juliana: Please share some tips for writers planning on including horses in their work.

Kerry: It’s much the same as any other type of research for fiction-writing, really. Don’t just rely on Google or similar to get your facts, as the interweb is not always the most reliable source. Even if you find a trustworthy article, it can be all about the interpretation.

I’d say to write the story any way you like, but then ask someone who really knows about horses and riding to read it for you, to help you clean up any gaffes. If the horse(s) are a key part of the story, it’s probably worth consulting with a knowledgeable horsey person during the writing phase, too. If you want to get it completely right, spend some time around horses, and maybe learn to ride one. You’ll soon get a feel for them, and you never know: maybe you’ll get addicted!

I’m always happy to help, and will read sections for people if asked. I can also lend out a really cute small pony for equine inspiration. She’s no trouble at all and will settle down happily in your home, watching TV with you. No? Okay. Maybe another time….

Juliana: If you could ride any fictional horse, which would you choose?

Kerry: It really has to be Shadowfax, the grey stallion ridden by Gandalf in both book and film of the Lord of the Rings. Even though I’m not usually a great fan of grey horses (you should try getting grass stains out of a grey coat), I’d definitely make an exception for Shadowfax. Of course, we’d have to get rid of Gandalf somewhere along the way, as the two of them seem to be bonded pretty tightly, but I’m sure that once Shadowfax met me, he’d quickly change allegiance.

Failing that, who could resist riding a flying horse? If Athena would only gift me with a magical golden bridle, I’m sure I could do the rest!

Check out Kerry’s website and Facebook page for updates on her writing, and follow her on Twitter @Cavetraveller.

Fir Tree Farm Stables is located in Ballynahinch, County Down, Northern Ireland. You can find more information at 

Have Book, Will Read #16

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With a brand new book of my own out, over the past few weeks my blog has been full of all sorts of Night Blade related things. But I’ve also done a fair bit of reading of other people’s work, too, so here are a few of my recent favorites…

Recent Reads: Mages, Monsters, and Magic.

The latest of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels, Bound, has been sitting on my shelf for a while now. To be honest, the previous novel, Burned, ended in such a dark place that I was a little wary of the direction Jacka appeared to be heading in. I needn’t have worried.

Beginning as expected with Alex back in the clutches of his old master, Richard Drakh, Bound surprised me by quickly veering away from the path I’d pictured, and landing my favorite diviner deep into mage politics. With Jacka’s usual masterful mix of action and intrigue, this eighth novel in the series will not disappoint Alex Verus fans.

Legend Has It is the fifth book in Elliott James’ Pax Arcana, another favorite of mine when it comes to urban fantasy. I’m always surprised by how seldom this series seems to come up in discussions about the genre; it’s very, very good, and the characters are fantastic. Bonus points for a variety of strong female protagonists, as well as a snarky yet respectful main character (yes, it can be done!).

In this latest installment of the mess that is John Charming’s life, the werewolf and former Knight Templar and his team must track down whoever is using a powerful magical book to make monsters from a role playing game come to life in New York City before the entire world is compromised. Good stuff.

I finally got my hands on the second book in Victoria Schwab’s Monsters of Verity, Our Dark Duet. Schwab isn’t afraid to go dark indeed in her YA duology, and readers who are looking for something sweet with a happy ending should look elsewhere. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed both this and the and the first book, This Savage Song. The worldbuilding is unique, the plot gripping, and the main characters a pleasure to follow in their journey.

In this second and last book, August Flynn has taken his brother’s place, leading his father’s task force against the darkness that threatens the city of Verity. And Kate Harker has embraced the ruthlessness she’d tried so hard to find in the first book in order to kill monsters elsewhere. Drawn back to Verity while chasing the ultimate demon, Kate joins forces with August as they both seek redemption in the hunt. A great conclusion to the story.

I’m a big fan of Rick Riordan’s work, and I’d been looking forward to The Ship of the Dead, the last book in his Gods of Asgard trilogy. Magnus Chase is a great main character, and it’s refreshing to have a hero whose main skills are not fighting, but healing and just being a nice guy. Add in a Muslim Valkyrie with an enchanted hijab, a gender-fluid child of Loki, a fashion-loving dwarf, and a deaf elf for a wonderfully diverse series that is also laugh-out-loud hilarious thanks to the general craziness that is Norse mythology.

In The Ship of the Dead, Magnus and his team make that final desperate push to stop Loki from launching a boatful of undead warriors and kick-starting Ragnarok, leading to the end of the world. A fun read, and the perfect end to the saga! Oh, and bonus Percy Jackson cameo…

Now Reading: A little light magic…

I’m halfway through The Blood Mirror, by Brent Weeks, the fourth book in his Lightbringer series. It had been a while since I read the third book, so a big thanks to the author for including a series and book-by-book synopsis in the beginning of this one! I’m enjoying it so far, although the segments told from Kip’s point of view are definitely my favorites.

To Read: Knights and rogues.

I have two books set aside to read next. The first is Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath, which I’ve been curious about, even though I haven’t actually read anything in the Star Wars universe before. (I also put out a request for A New Dawn at my local library, because I love Kanan in Star Wars Rebels, and this is a prequel story for the TV show.)

I read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows over summer and absolutely loved it. So now I have the second book in the duology, Crooked Kingdom, lined up and waiting. I’ve heard great things about it, and am looking forward to checking it out for myself.

I hope you all have a good book or two set aside for the upcoming holidays… Happy reading!

Taboo Or Not To Taboo

A guest post by Jo Zebedee, author of Abendau’s Heir, Sunset Over Abendau, Abendau’s Legacy, Inish Carraig, and the brand new dark fantasy release, Waters and the Wild.


When I started my first book – which eventually became Abendau’s Heir – I had nothing more in mind than writing something that had been floating around my head for a number of decades. What I intended was to confront the concept of the ‘chosen’ one and challenge it. Which meant the poor main character had to go through an ordeal. That ordeal turned out to be a lengthy torture regime, including a rape.

Now, in genre novels rape is the great taboo. It is often used for weak plot reasons. It brings about accusations of gratuitousness quicker than practically any other trope. And, to add to the fun, torture isn’t that far behind it… And all in a debut novel….

I’ve often asked myself if I would have the guts to write something just as hard hitting as Abendau again. If I’d have known then what I know now (that many people would find the book too dark, that it might define me as the dark little bunny in the writing group), would I do it again?

On the face of it, Waters and the Wild, my latest book, is a million miles from Abendau. There is no torture. There is no rape. The darkness within it is subtler and less confrontational to the reader. But there are still themes within it which will challenge a reader and which were not the easiest to write about.

Firstly, the book has a main character dealing with the day-to-day reality of coping with a mental illness. Whether she is mentally ill or whether fairies really do speak to her is largely irrelevant – because, whichever it is, it causes compulsions in her, bring anxiety and fear, causes her confusion and disassociation. That Amy has had these thoughts, or has heard these voices, since she was a child, is redolent of our modern era – where teenage mental health problems are growing and our services (where I am, at least) are stretched and support is often patchy.

But the thing that Waters and the Wild does (which has been picked up in even the earliest reviews) is question what that does to a wider family. The repercussions of mental health difficulties – not just Amy’s – reverberate through the book. No one is unscathed by it – because we are not islands and when someone we love struggles, we can’t just close ourselves off from it.

Up to this point, I’m on safe ground, I feel. I researched. I got feedback from people who were more knowledgeable than me and acted on it. I researched some more. I drew on whatever personal knowledge I have, or have been privileged enough for people to share. As with Abendau, I’m confident the themes that have arisen have been dealt with carefully, with thoughtfulness and honesty.

That’s before the book is released, however. Once it goes out as a published book, I no longer own that book.

With Abendau, I hoped I’d be recognised for writing a thoughtful trilogy about a character’s journey. Mostly, though, I’m known as the lady who writes great torture. Those 3000 or so words in a sea of 250,000 are what define the trilogy. With Inish Carraig, my Belfast-based alien invasion novel, I’ve had to come to terms with people reacting to a reflected Belfast in the book. It’s not why I wrote it, but that’s okay. It’s what resonates with so many readers.

What, then, for Waters and the Wild? I hope the dark mythology will stand out but, looking at early feedback, the character interactions in all their quirked and strained ways, are coming to the fore. The mental illness themes, too, are resonating. We’ll see where they all settle down and what the book’s identity becomes.

What I do know is that, for me, it’s only by writing challenging themes that a multi faceted book emerges. Which I suppose answers my question. Would I tackle hard themes again, knowing they might cause discomfort, and put some readers off?

Yes. Yes I would. Because I should be honest to the story, the characters and their theme. And I hope readers will find that I have been.


You can buy Waters and the Wild here.

Add Waters and the Wild on Goodreads.

Follow Jo on Twitter @jozebwrites, and check out her wonderful blog posts on writing and publishing at her website,

Rising Starr: Interview with Kim Briggs


Wintry ski slope kisses (Avalanche, February 2017), a sizzling dark romance (And Then He, October 2015), and an exciting YA trilogy that concludes later this year; the writer life has been busy for YA and NA author Kim Briggs. Kim joins me on the blog to chat about her latest YA release, Starr Lost, Book 2 in the Starr Fall Series. The series centers on Starr Bishop, and the secret organization that has decided the teen would make the ideal assassin. Starr Fall (Book 1) was released in November 2016 with Inkspell Publishing. Starr Lost is a brand new January release. And look for Starr Gone, Book 3, in June 2017.

Juliana: Hi Kim, and congratulations on Starr Lost. In the first book, Starr Fall, we meet Starr and the Organization trying to recruit her, and see her go into hiding with help from moody and sexy Christian Evergood. Where does the second book take us?

Kim: Starr Lost brings the action into the series.

On the run from the Organization, Starr and Christian find safety on the Qualla Boundary with their friends, Ben and Coda, but Starr needs answers. She owes her dear dead friends, Sami and Jody, that much. She forms a team of her own to fight the general and his recruits.

Di, a mutual friend and anti-everything is a no-brainer, plus her Taser will come in handy. Frank, Starr’s BFF, will put his life on the line for her. Ben and Coda, not to be outdone by Starr’s friends, also swear their allegiance. Christian’s the only hold out. He knows what the Organization is capable of. He has the beaten body to prove it, but when Starr wants something, she gets it.

Now that the team’s together, everything should be perfect. Trouble is Starr loves Christian but so does Di. And Frank, well, he’s never been very good at hiding his love for Starr. Will his four-year long crush on her threaten the safety of the team?

Life becomes tense on the Qualla Boundary, sparks fly, and the Organization is about to smash in their door.

Juliana: Where did the inspiration for the series come from?

Kim: The inspiration for Starr Fall came in the form of a dream. I’m always chased by bad guys while I sleep—I blame an overactive imagination combined with consuming one too many action and adventure movies. One night I woke up in a cold sweat. A secret organization wanted me as an assassin. Me? No one wants to read about me, but Starr Bishop? That’s a character readers can get behind. I added Christian, because who doesn’t need some kissing and a dreamy hero in their life?

Juliana: A full trilogy in under a year! Could you talk us through the logistics of such a tight release schedule? How did you handle the writing and editing process?

Kim: I am insane and I don’t sleep. Actually, I wrote the story of Starr Fall in all its vomit draft worthiness about six or seven years ago. I broke it up into three books, that’s actually grown to four now, and rewrote and revised Starr Fall several times before I finally got it right. While I had Starr Fall out on submission, I started working on Starr Lost, so I had a very rough draft to work with last year after Starr Fall went under contract. As for Starr Gone, I had the skeleton of the story and busted it out under my inner deadline that wanted it out as close to the other books as possible. (Read COMPLETELY INSANE.) I am a sucker for series, so I want all the books ASAP. When you’re the one writing the series, that proves challenging, but I don’t like to be kept waiting and I don’t want my readers to wait either. So, who needs sleep when there are such things as soy chai lattes and chocolate?

Juliana: Continuing on from the last question, did you start out with the trilogy fully planned out? How much of an outliner are you? Or did you have a loose idea that grew in the writing?

Kim: I am a visual person, and many people will hate me for admitting this but the story arc for Starr Fall came to me fully formed. I’ve read so many series, and most of those series are fantasy, so the arcs of each book and the arc of the story came to me fairly easy. I just connected the dots (which sounds much easier than it is.) For my next series, I outlined and researched, and did all those things you’re supposed to do when writing a series, but often times, my characters take over and dictate where they want to go and what they want to do. They’re strong-minded pain-in-the-asses most of the time, but I’m okay with that.

Juliana: Besides Young Adult, you also write New Adult. Your NA novel And Then He goes down much darker paths. From your blurb: ‘Following a night of innocent flirting with a handsome stranger, Tiffani finds herself in the midst of a nightmare she can’t escape.’ Did you find it hard to transition between YA and NA? What were the main challenges in switching between target age groups?

Kim: Young Adult Fiction is my passion, my true love. Through Starr Fall’s storyline (and others in the works) I can create stories that readers devour. Young Adult fiction consumes me, but once in a while everyone needs a crush and New Adult fiction writing like And Then He and Avalanche feeds that need.

The biggest challenge I faced switching back and forth between young adult and new adult writing was whether I should keep my writer name or add a new pen name, but honestly, I already have my writer identity and my real life identity, and I don’t have time to create another identity. My time is also limited. I prefer to create new stories rather than creating new social media platforms.

Juliana: What’s next after the Starr Fall series? What are you working on at present?

Kim: I’m taking a break from Starr and her friends for a month or so (excluding edits for Starr Gone). I’ve been working on a young adult urban fantasy combining Celtic Mythology with werewolves. The Antigoddess by Kendare Blake meets Avril Lavigne, before she got pretty. (She was always pretty, but during her middle finger to the masses years.)

Juliana: Just for fun: if you were to be recruited by a secret organization, which of your skills or ‘super powers’ would they be after? (Mine would probably be my amazing ability to walk into furniture…because who wouldn’t want that on the team?)

Kim: Ha, I know, those sofas and chair jump right out at you. My superpower would probably be my stubbornness. I like to say that Starr wouldn’t shut up and made me keep coming back to her story until she got published, but my Ink Sister Alison Green Myers told everyone at Starr Fall’s book launch that I’m the one who’s stubborn and no one disagreed with her, so I guess my superpower is Stubbornness. I’ll take my cape in teal.

Juliana, thanks so much for having me!! I’m so glad we met at the NY SCBWI conference all those years ago. Has it been three years already? Wow! I also can’t wait for Heart Blade to come out so I can share the writer love with you!!


Find Kim at www.kimbriggswrite.comINK Sisters, and on Twitter as @KimBriggsWriteStarr Lost is available on AmazonKoboItunes, and B&N

Have Book, Will Read #13


It’s the end of October and the Fall TV season is in full swing. But no matter how many episodes are piling up on the DVR, I’ll always find time for books in between Agents of SHIELD and Star Wars Rebels. And, hey! Today the first snowflakes fell in my corner of the world. Which means an extra excuse for snuggles and stories.

Recent Reads: Witches, fairies, goddesses…and the cool gleam of blaster fire in the dead of the night.

Liberator is the debut novel by co-author powerhouse duo Nick Bailey and Darren Bullock. This exciting and fast-paced tale is set in a future where humans and evolved-humans are spread across a galaxy dominated by big corporations with private armies.

A rescue story about a disbanded paramilitary team who get back together to save one of their own, Liberator is an adrenaline-fuelled ride of the ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ variety.

I’ve seen rave reviews for Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch all over the place, so when I spotted it at my local library at the front desk of the teen section, I grabbed it immediately.

The is the story of Safiya and Iseult, a Truthwitch and Threadwitch who, despite their wish to be left alone to just live their lives, get dragged into an impending war between neighboring empires for control of the region. This nicely-crafted YA fantasy has everything I could wish for: magic, adventure, intrigue, treachery, and a breathless and dashing escape.

Although historical romance isn’t something I normally gravitate towards, I couldn’t help being drawn in by the premise of Jodi McIsaac’s Bury the Living, with its blend of Celtic mythology, time travel, and adventure.

When former IRA member turned peace worker Nora O’Reilly starts having dreams of a mysterious stranger asking for help, it leads her to Brigid of Kildare, who sends Nora back eighty years to the height of Ireland’s civil war. The romance aspect is subdued enough that this novel should appeal to anyone who likes a dash of fantasy in their historical fiction.

I’d been looking forward to the release of Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Call, and devoured it in one afternoon as soon as it landed on my doorstep. It certainly lived up to all my expectations! This dark fantasy tells the story of Nessa, a teen living in a post-fairy-apocalyptic nightmare where the Sidhe wage war on the children of Ireland.

In Peadar’s dark world, Irish teens can be ‘Called’ at any moment and taken to the Grey Land to play games of torment and torture. Few survive, and those who do return alive are often changed in horrific ways. The Call treads a delicate line between fantasy and horror, without ever becoming too heavy despite the tension and terror. It’s an amazing book, and will definitely go down as one of my top reads in 2016. I liked it so much I badgered the author for an interview, which you can read over on SFF World.

Now Reading: Sequels, sequels, everywhere.

I’m almost done with Fran Wilde’s Cloudbound, the sequel to her awesome Updraft. I loved the first book, with its incredible above-the-clouds civilization and people soaring between living bone towers on artificial wings of silk. In the second book, Fran switches from Kirit’s point-of-view to Nat’s, giving the story a different slant and focus as it dives beneath the cloud layer that forms the boundaries of the first book.

One of this week’s new releases is Abendau’s Legacy, by Jo Zebedee. I shouldn’t even be touching this one, as I have a physical and virtual to-read pile that’s getting ridiculous. But I couldn’t help peeking inside, and the third and concluding title in the Inheritance Trilogy looks as though it will be as good as, or better, than volumes one and two. And that says a lot! You can see my review of the first book here.

To Read: Time to get my epic on.

I’ve been in the mood for some good old-fashioned epic fantasy for a while, so it’s a good thing I have two books all lined up and ready. The first one’s been sitting on my kindle, waiting for the right frame of mind. It’s Exile by Martin Owton, book 1 of the Nandor Tales. With book 2 on the horizon, I think it’s about time I finally dove into this beauty. The other book on is a relatively new release: The High King’s Vengeance, sequel to Steven Poore’s lovely The Heir to the North, which was one of my surprise faves last year.

I just looked out of my window and the snow is still falling steadily. But with so many great titles to look forward to, I say, “Bring it on.” I have blankets, I have tea, I have a warm dog at my feet. What else can a book lover want from life?


Spotlight on Mythology in Fantasy with Snorri Kristjansson and Kerry Buchanan

Mythology and religion have always provided a rich well of ideas for writers to draw upon, inspiring a vast range of novels, from Dante Alighieri’s classic The Divine Comedy to Suzanne Collins’ best selling hit The Hunger Games. Some works touch lightly upon the source material, such as Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, inspired by Central Asia and the Mongolian steppe. Others, such as Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, are more faithful to the world they borrow from.

Fantasy as a genre is steeped in lore and legend, offering pages liberally sprinkled with deities and divinities, magic and prophecy, and epic battles between good and evil. And although J.R.R. Tolkien’s Norse-inspired Lord of the Rings set the tone for fantasy for many years, there is inspiration to be found in a variety of places. Jay Kristoff’s Lotus War trilogy borrows from Japanese culture and heritage. Cindy Pon’s YA work, such as her most recent novel Serpentine, delves into Chinese mythology. Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon tips its hat to Middle Eastern lore. And Rick Riordan, best known for his Greek Mythology-based Percy Jackson novels, turned to the Egyptian gods for his Kane Chronicles trilogy.

I’ve invited two guests, whose work dives deep into mythology, to help dig a little into why fantasy is so intrinsically linked to legend and lore.

Icelandic writer and teacher Snorri Kristjansson is the author of The Valhalla Saga, with the fabulously named Swords of Good Men and Blood Will Follow. The third in the trilogy, Path of Gods, came out in July in the UK and arrives January 5th in the USA. Set in Viking Norway, in Kristjansson’s exciting prose the Norse gods are very much alive and determined to sway the fate of mankind.

English-born Kerry Buchanan is lucky enough to live on a horse farm in Northern Ireland, where the sweeping views alone are an inspiration. Often drawing upon the mythology of her adopted country in her writing, Kerry has a number of published short stories and is busily editing a novel that jumps head first into Celtic lore.

Juliana: Welcome Snorri and Kerry. First of all, the obvious question: why mythology? What draws you to write about these myths and legends?

Snorri: Because Norse mythology is cheerfully insane. When the wind howls outside your hut and all you have for heating is your flock of sheep, you’re going to need some good stories to keep you warm. In addition, while at times entertainingly insidious it is also heavy on the skull-cracking, which is relevant to my interests.

Kerry: Firstly, thank you for inviting us to contribute, Juliana. You’ve asked some great questions, too.

Mythology has always fascinated me. My Irish grandparents told me stories when I was very young, which became twisted up in my memory: The Morrigan and Cú Chulainn and the Tuatha dé Danaan.

On my father’s side, I grew up with tales of ancient Greek mythology and the tales of Homer, but my first introduction to British myths and legends was when I bought an old copy of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur from a charity shop, age around ten or so. I was lost from then on. Pretty much everything I write has threads of myth and legend running through it. And dragons. Usually dragons feature somewhere. 

Juliana: Religious myths – whether borrowed, such as in your own work, or created from scratch – are a staple in fantasy. What do all these gods and goddesses bring to the literary table? Why do you think mythology is so central to the genre?

Snorri: (I am fully aware that all of this is grossly simplified and worthy of many more words, but here goes) One of the attractions of involving higher powers might be that we get a step back-view on morality – we struggle to see our own actions in context (and by extension our own privilege and god-like status, if you will), but if we take a deity and either bring them down into our world or smash them into other deities, cause and effect get highlighted. Also, Gods often bring with them simplified morality and easy way of doing good-vs-evil on a grand scale. 

Kerry: I think the attraction of them is their power, and the way they interact with mortals. A human can be wandering along, minding their own business, when an irate or amorous god or goddess descends and turns their life upside down. They can never seem to keep themselves from meddling!

The French philosopher, Voltaire, once said that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Perhaps we need to have a power stronger than us to stay sane, but powerful entities appear in many branches of fiction, not just SFF. Remember Lord Frith, the Black Rabbit and El Ahrairah in Watership Down?

The late, great Sir Terry Pratchett had an interesting view of gods and goddesses in his Discworld novels. They would watch from Dunmanifestin (Discworld equivalent of Mt Olympus) as humans lived or died on the roll of a dice in the gods’ great game. Wonderful names, too, from Offler, the crocodile god to Annoia, goddess of things that get stuck in drawers.

Religious beings in fiction bring an element of unpredictability to a story. With enormous power and superhuman gifts, they can be a powerful force for good or evil. If the main character can’t beat them with strength or skill, he has to outwit them, and that makes for exciting plot twists. 

Juliana: What are the easy pitfalls writers can run into when using mythology in their work, the most common mistakes? 

Kerry: Many of these mythologies are well known folk tales, close to people’s hearts. If a story deviates from the ‘known’ facts, or portrays a character in an unfamiliar light, those who love them can be quite upset. Not only that, but there can be dozens of variations on a particular mythology, and many stories, even those from different countries, have parallels with each other, or characters in common. The names may vary, but their characteristics often don’t.

It’s can also be hard to resist the temptation to make your mythological characters invincible, or foolproof, but the best characters are flawed. Perfection wins few friends, both in real life and in fiction, so I think it’s important to write in vulnerability or weakness. No one should be perfectly likeable — or perfectly hateable either for that matter. 

Snorri: For me, it’s stakes. How do you reconcile the fact that deities can do anything? How do you then make a human’s actions mean something? There are all kinds of mess you can get into. How does the religious space alien interact with the world? Is there a lot of smiting, or are we doing the Greek pawns-in-a-game thing, with Gods and Goddesses picking favourites? Like in general storytelling, you have to preserve clarity, know what you’re doing and know why. In fact, there is a process for avoiding pitfalls, and it is fairly simple.

1) Read Robert Jackson Bennett’s ‘City of Stairs’.
2) Cry angry tears at how good it is, and how you’ll never get that good.
2b) Wipe your tears away. They make it hard to see the screen/notebook/vellum.
3) Have a cup of tea.
4) Start again, and do your thing. But mind the stakes.

Juliana: When writing fiction based on existing mythologies it must be hard to walk the line between remaining faithful to the source material while making it your own story. Could you share some tips for successfully navigating these waters? 

Snorri: Find the blind spots. Even the most exacting of mythologies have vast, gaping holes in ’em. Find a space where no-one has talked about what happened, and work with that. I think what makes already established deities work in stories is when there is enough to hang your hat on, but also something extra. Joanne Harris’ Gospel of Loki does this very well, and I’ll even forgive the Marvel Loki for existing.

Alternately, just go for it. Write what you want. Just make sure you buy at least one of Kristjansson’s Smite-Free Amulets first. For safety, you know.

Kerry: For my part, I play fast and loose with small details, but I try where possible to keep to the spirit of characters from myths I love. Perhaps that makes me the last person to be advising other writers, because in a sense I’ve chosen the easy route, but many of these stories are based on ages-old oral tradition, so I tell myself the details must surely have shifted over the centuries. Like Chinese whispers.

I would love to learn more of the Norse mythology Snorri writes about. I have only the sketchiest knowledge, which is a defect I intend to remedy as soon as I can. I’ll probably start with Snorri’s books, which have been on my To Be Read list for some time. 

Juliana: What are some of the mythology-based works that inspire you as a reader? How about as a writer? (Movies also count!) 

Kerry: Who could not cite Tolkien? The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are books I still re-read pretty much every year. His world-building is incredible, right down to the languages and writing. Impossible not to admire and be inspired by him. Some of the Peter Jackson movies irritated me, especially the Hobbit trilogy, but he certainly did a spectacular job with Lord of the Rings.

One of my main inspirations was and still is the talented Mary Stewart whose Merlin Trilogy is another series I read countless times as I was growing up. Her portrayal of Merlin has undoubtedly influenced the way I’ve written my own characters, and she was an amazing writer across several genres. Sadly, she died last year.

I also loved the slightly off the wall interpretation of Arthurian myth by T. H. White. The Once and Future King was another major inspiration for the Merlin-type character in my current novel, The Blacksmith’s Apprentice. 

Snorri: Peter Madsen and Hans Rancke-Madsen’s Norse Mythology comics from the 80’s influenced me hugely as a child. These days, the aforementioned RJB counts, as does Terry Pratchett. Eventually, all stories about Gods are stories about ourselves, and Small Gods taught me plenty about religion and faith. There’s bits and bobs from here and there, but those are big’uns. 

Juliana: And last of all, since we’re at the year’s end, which are some of your favorite books you read in 2015? Any theme, any genre! 

Snorri: I devoured – no, inhaled Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, cursing under my breath at how a Brit could somehow be so Norse. That being said, a frequent theme in his interviews is the crushing of his enemies’ skulls, so perhaps I should not have been surprised. Highly recommended reading. 

Kerry: A series of books I discovered in 2015 are the time-travelling novels, The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor. She and her main character, Max, both break a lot of rules, but I find her books are un-put-downable.

My other favourites are Goblin Moon and Hobgoblin Night by Teresa Egerton. As I read them, I wondered why it had taken me so long to discover her. Her gentle humour and wonderful characters made both books an absolute pleasure to read.

Another new book I read this year is Inish Carraig, by Jo Zebedee. Nothing gentle about this one – it is a science fiction story set in near-future Belfast and follows the lives of a policeman, Inspector Carter, and two teenage boys, John and Taz, as they try to survive in post-invasion Northern Ireland. Two alien races have settled in the country, and the humans are caught in the middle, with painful and dangerous results. I think I read this novel in one white-knuckled sitting…. 

Juliana: Thank you both so much for joining me here, I’ve enjoyed your answers tremendously. Hopefully there will be no divine smiting of my blog after treading the dangerous waters of skull-cracking, passionate Norse and Celtic deities. I think I’ll take a dozen of Snorri’s amulets, though, just to be on the safe side…

Check out Snorri Kristjansson’s website for news, book information and blog: You can also find Snorri on Facebook and on Twitter, as @SnorriKristjans.

For more information on Kerry Buchanan’s work, go to Kerry is also on Twitter as @Cavetraveller.


Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out November’s Spotlight on SFF Editing with Teresa Edgerton and Richard Shealy. Next up in January: Spotlight on SFF Gatherings.