Towards the end of June I was lucky enough to be part of an Instagram tour for a fantastic new fantasy novel, Shadow of Fire by Aussie indie author Kate Schumacher. I thought the book looked good before I read it (you know me- I’m not going to pick something up if I don’t think it looks good) but I was honestly blown away by how much I loved it. Kate is busily working on book 2, Heart of Flame (which I absolutely can’t wait for) and kindly took some time out to chat with me about her books and writing. Check it out below.
Hi Kate! First I just wanted to say a big thanks for joining me on Bookish Bron today, and congrats on the release of your debut fantasy novel, SHADOW OF FIRE!
Thank you so much and thanks for having me on the blog.
I’m always curious to know which part of a book has first inspired an author to start writing – in the case of Shadow of Fire, did the idea for the setting and story came to you first, or was there a character who came to you that you then went on to build the story and world around?
Shadow of Fire actually has a long history. The story first started around twenty years ago, when I was reading fantasy avidly, and then, I stopped reading and writing fantasy in favour of contemporary fiction. After joining bookstagram and rediscovering fantasy, I dusted off the manuscript and set to rewriting it, but if I think back on where it began, it was plot and character that came first, and then the setting followed. It was always a pre-industrial pseudo-medieval type setting and a lot of the characters from the original manuscript remained but ended up being drastically changed. Going into the rewriting process was interesting as it was such a long time between drafts – I’d actually written a lot more than I thought I had but most of that original manuscript was scrapped and as I wrote the new version, the story and the characters really took hold in a way that they hadn’t before. I already had the basic outline of the world of Aileryan, but at that stage, it didn’t have a name. As I unfolded the separate cultures and geographical features of each country, the characters came to be really shaped by that.
Did you have scenes or elements of the book that were your favourite, or were the hardest to write?
The scenes between Laeli and Thalion were actually the easiest to write – those two characters really took over and if I had given them free reign, probably would have taken over the whole book! Character wise, Jarlath and Mahelivar were actually two of the hardest nuts to crack and readers will see a lot more of who they truly are and what they are struggling with – the things that shape them – in the second book. I absolutely love writing landscape and geographical features – it’s enjoying to find new ways to describe elements of the landscape through each character’s eyes. It might sound strange, but Ash was always a hard character to get inside – she is young and frightened and inexperienced with her magic and having to delve into what made her tick was difficult at times because she was sometimes very passive, and I know that comes through in how her character is represented in Shadow of Fire, but in Heart of Flame, readers will definitely see a different Ash, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how people react to her character.
One of the things I loved about Shadow of Fire is how rich and detailed the world building is, and the depth of info about the types of magic and the different communities in the story. Is this something you thought about a lot in advance, or create as you need it for the story? And how do you keep track of everything?
I always wanted to write about elemental magic, so I had to do some serious research and really think about the how and the what around my magic system – what would it look like? How did it work? And then there is the difference between the fae witches and the human mages, and how magic looks and feels for both of those groups. I love the world building aspect of writing fantasy and I actually don’t start seriously plotting or writing the story until I have gone through the world building process. I always start with geography – I draw a map, look at landforms and climate zones, types of vegetation, access to water. Geography is one of the subjects I teach, and geography is the key thing that truly shapes people and culture and mythology – a land that is harsh and barren and covered in snow is going to house a very different sort of people to one that is lush and green and arable. So once the geography has come to life, I allow it to guide me in the next steps – the people that live there, their daily lives, their culture, religion, that sort of thing. So, I put a lot of effort and time into world building – some of those details don’t end up in the story itself but they are there for me, and act as my guidebook to my world. How do I keep track of it? I honestly don’t know. I have a thousand digital files and then notebooks and more notebooks on my world. I kind of write an encyclopaedia and it becomes my bible.
I also really loved the focus in the book on the Wheel of the Year, and celebrations that honour the seasons. Can you tell us a bit about where you drew the inspiration for this, and whether it was something that you felt was important to set your characters’ lives around?
For many years I was a practicing pagan, so the Wheel of the Year was an easy thing for me to incorporate, but it still required delving into my books on paganism and wicca and the druids and the mythology of the Celts. As this was a pre-industrial society, the lives of the people in my world had to be ruled by the seasons and by what each season represented for them and their daily life, so yes, it was important that the Wheel was not just symbolic, but also fixed in the reality of my characters and their lives. It is no coincidence that the story begins on Mabon and leads into the festival of Samhain, because these are the beginning of the darker months of the year, ruled over by the Cailleach (of Scottish myth) – it is a time of waiting, of pause, and, in paganism, a time of female power, which was important in the development of Ash’s character in particular. Heart of Flame takes place between Samhain and the winter solstice, that turning point in the Wheel of the Year. The Winter Solstice is the end of winter, of the cold and dark, where we see the return of light and warmth and the sun to the earth. The fae honour the Mother of All, the Goddess of the Earth who, in myth, is both light and darkness, death and rebirth. I have always loved the idea that life is cyclical, and that everything that begins must end, and that no matter what we (people) do, that Wheel will continue to turn.
Shadow of Fire it the first book in The Fires of Aileryan series, and I know you’ve been busily working on book two, Heart of Flame. Has the experience of writing the sequel been very different to working on your debut novel? And can you tell us anything about what to expect?
I actually had Heart of Flame fully planned before I finished Shadow of Fire, and started working on it straight away. That meant that I could make sure I left enough bread crumbs in SoF for major events in HoF, that hopefully the reader will pick up on. It also meant I knew where each of my characters were headed – I knew in advance where their journey’s ended, so I knew where I had to lead them through SoF. So it hasn’t been overly different, more like a continuation of the story that begins in SoF. What can you expect? A solidifying of a lot of the themes – loyalty, sacrifice, the importance of family, self-belief, power and ambition, the menace of corruption and overcoming challenges. You can expect a lot of action and a lot of character development. Hopefully some surprises, because although I’ve left clues, I’ve tried not to make them obvious.
Do you have a preferred writing routine, or any tips for other writers who are trying to fit their writing in around their day jobs?
I have two kids and a job, and I’ve learnt to write in those in-between moments, in whatever snatches of time I can find. I don’t write in chronological order. What I mean by that is I roughly plan my story, and then I write the scenes as I feel like it, focusing on what comes to me first. It means I have a bit of a puzzle to put together but I write chapter outlines. Often, I’ll write descriptions of landscapes or places, and sometimes really rough conversations between characters, which will spiral into something much more and before I know it, I have a chapter written. The only advice I can give is to just write what you want, when you can, if you have a busy schedule. I don’t focus on word counts and I don’t rush myself. I do try to write each day, and sometimes it is just going over something I’ve already written and doing a bit of editing, or it might be some more planning or just moments between characters that have come to me and I like. These may or may not make the final cut, but it means I am writing something. And lastly, no one has to see it. I write for me first and others second, so I’m not worried that it’s not ‘perfect’.
Lastly, I’d love to know what you are currently reading, or whether there is something you have read recently and loved that you would like to recommend to us?
I have just finished When Stars Become Shadows by Emmie Hamilton and I loved it! It’s a dark adult fantasy with some pretty heavy themes, which Emmie handles beautifully. I’ve just started reading The Fabric of Chaos, the third book in Helen Scheuerer’s Curse of the Cyren Queen, and, I not long ago finished Songs of the Wicked, by C.A Farran, which is a dark reimagining of The Little Mermaid and is absolutely amazing and I am eagerly awaiting the second book in that series. I’m trying to focus my reading on indie authors at the moment.
Thank you so much!
I’m so grateful to Kate for taking the time to answer these questions for me – I do always love getting a peek behind the scenes of a writers process and inspiration.
Scroll down to check out the synopsis for Shadow of Fire – I really can’t recommend it enough for fellow fantasy lovers.
You can keep up with the latest from Kate on her website or Instagram page.
Click here for Shadow of Fire on Goodreads, and here to add Heart of Flame to you Goodreads tbr (you can see the synopsis there too!).
Let me know in the comments if this is one you’re planning to pick up – or maybe you have already, and are also busting for the sequel? Let me know about that too!
Shadow of Fire by Kate Schumacher
Control over the elements is a gift from the Gods, but since the creation of the Rift, fire magic has been outlawed in Merawuld. The Rift is a source of mystery, fear, and, for some, a tempting source of power.
Ash is a fire caster who has spent years hiding her magic, but when her explosive powers reveal themselves she is imprisoned by the Mage Council. Ash’s powers are coveted by the High Mage, who seeks to use her as a pawn against not only his enemies, but his allies as well.
With the Bone Mother’s winter fast approaching, the fae Princess vows to fight against the corrupting influence of power, forming an alliance whose success rests on a human man’s desire for peace; a man who must decide if he will play the game he’s inherited or begin one of his own.
But in Aileryan, the Gods have their own plans. As the Mother of All turns the wheel of the year, the land is brought to the edge of war. Loyalty and courage will be sorely tested as paths intertwine and Fate plays her hand.
If Ash can’t learn to control her magic, the scheming of gods and mortals could spell doom for them all.