- Tell us a little about yourself. How have your environment/life experiences shaped the way you write?
I’m Lucy, a fantasy writer and counsellor. I live with my husband in Essex, England and enjoy reading, video games, TV and film.
I remember loving fantasy from a young age. I grew up watching Disney films about princesses, castles, and faraway kingdoms, so perhaps that spurred my initial interest. I have three siblings and I’m sure we played fancy dress and made up stories from time to time. Mostly, though, I could be found delving into new, fantastical worlds through other mediums.
Playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time at age 10 blew me away. The Final Fantasy video games (especially VIII, IX and X) were also favourites of mine growing up. The Lord of the Rings films also arrived at the cinema when I was 12. I was absolutely hooked and saw The Fellowship of the Ring about 13 times (I’m not sure how I afforded that!). These have all undoubtedly influenced me and my writing style in one way or another.
I began writing properly (as in, actually believing I could do it) when I started counsellor training in my mid-twenties. This learning massively impacted my writing. I try to include an aspect of the counselling theory I know and aim to make characters rounded, troubled, flawed people—as we all are, in some way. It’s important to me that aspects such as mental health and societal issues are explored within my stories.
- What type of books did you read when you were young? Do you go back to any of them nowadays? Any early inspirations to write --- people, authors, books?
The most prominent series that stood out was The Song of the Lionness Quartet by Tamora Pierce which I found in the library at school when I was about 11. From there, I moved quickly onto adult fantasy books—though, looking back now, I certainly read some questionable ones that contain some highly problematic content (I won’t name names).
But a favourite of these adult series remains J.V. Jones’s Sword of Shadows series which, though unfinished, is something I still found incredibly enjoyable. I think those were the first books that made me appreciate multi-POV stories.
My favourite book from that age that I still regularly re-read is His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (technically a trilogy but I’m counting it as one…). Those books and authors all certainly inspired me to want to write my own stories—and I recall some rather cringeworthy attempts that are (thankfully) no longer in existence which were just blatant rip-offs…
- Tell us a little about your book and its plot. What was the most difficult part of writing it? What was the best/easiest part?
My debut novel is a YA fantasy called A Child’s Awakening, the first book in The Commune’s Curse trilogy. It’s a multi-POV story set in the Kingdom of Septima, where a ruthless cult called The Commune hunts children to test them for powers. We follow four characters: Evelyn and Raif, who are doing all they can to protect Raif’s young sister, Rose, as they flee from the Commune. The three meet Hector, a rebel fighting against the oppressive regime controlling Septima. He tries to shield them as they are pursued by Commander Sulemon, a loyal soldier whose hatred of the powers compels him to carry out orders of the Commune unquestioned.
Most difficult part… as someone who tends not to plan ahead (it gets boring and I have no patience for it), it was fathoming where on earth the plot was going as I wrote the book. It came together eventually but, at times, I’d be writing without a clue as to whether things were going to pan out at all! The story has certainly evolved since I first finished it back in 2018, having been through many edits and rewrites, most recently with thanks to my awesome editor at SFWP (Nicole) who’s given me fantastic feedback that’s helped to clarify key plot points/character motivations.
The easiest part was coming up with the characters, actually. They appeared in my mind fairly clearly as they were needed, which was nice. They’ve been filled out and tweaked since then, but were quite distinct from the outset.
- What’s your process for writing a book? Have you ever thrown a work aside or away? Are there must- includes, must-avoids?
So far, my process seems to be: get struck with idea, write about it until it becomes coherent enough to be called a story, then keep writing from there. Sometimes that idea will be a character (which is how The Commune’s Curse started—my D&D character, Evelyn, merging with an old short story I’d written about two siblings called Raif and Rose), a scene, a sentence.
I haven’t thrown a work aside—yet. I’m sure it’ll happen. I see a lot of frustration around this when it comes to the querying process and knowing when to “shelve” something. I haven’t got to that point with anything I’ve written yet. Admittedly, I was tempted with A Child’s Awakening (the first full novel I wrote and queried). It was rejected by a lot of agents. It took a lot rejection, perseverance and rewrites to get where I am but I’m really glad I kept going because it found its place with a great publisher, for which I count myself incredibly lucky.
Must includes… I would say the aspect of mental health/societal issues that I mentioned earlier. I feel those are important to explore in my stories.
- What else do you write? Are there things --- characters, situations, genres --- you won’t write?
I’m probably not that diverse or interesting, in that I love fantasy, so I write fantasy. I’m working on the current trilogy, of course, but I’ve also had the start of another book (possible series)—which I’ve dubbed my serial killer fantasy—patiently waiting for me to return for about a year now. I’m hoping to carry on working on that soon, although with a baby on the way that *might* be a tad optimistic. I’m also working on a project with a friend which is slowly ticking along too (another YA fantasy).
Saying that, I do like to read crime thrillers, psychological horror etc. I’m a fan of a good Stephen King, ghost story or well-written crime novel. I’m not sure if I would ever delve into those territories, but never say never.
In terms of what I wouldn’t write, I’d say probably contemporary romance. Absolutely nothing wrong with those books and I do like the odd one myself every now and again when the mood strikes; I just don’t think I’d be the right person to write one!
- How do you keep the creative process moving? What do you do to recharge?
I found while I was writing my books (the second in the series is also drafted), keeping a spreadsheet to note daily wordcount helped me feel accountable. Doesn’t sound very creative, putting it like that, but it pushed me to keep going even on days when the writing wasn’t flowing quite so easily.
It’s also important to notice when you need a break. Writing every day isn’t feasible for most people. To recharge, I like to do yoga, go for walks, or simply veg out in front of the TV with a good game or TV show. Or read—but that goes without saying, doesn’t it??
- What are you currently reading? When you choose a book, what do you look for? Best book ever? Worst?
I’m currently reading The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, which has been on my TBR list for a while. I’m really enjoying it so far; it’s well written and engaging, the characters are interesting and I find it hard to put down. Big ticks there.
I tend to be a bit of a mood reader so will be drawn to something depending on how I’m feeling (I never really know what it’ll be). I find that crime thrillers are good palate cleansers in between bigger fantasy books/series and I can read them quite quickly. I generally read fantasy books unless I need a break, favourite authors being Philip Pullman, Robin Hobb, George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Stephen Deas. I’ve been trying to diversify lately, though, and to read from indie as well as bigger name authors.
Best book ever – His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, naturally.
Worst book – I couldn’t possibly say… although anything that goes out of its way to be intentionally offensive (i.e. sexist, homophobic, racist) is always going to be bad to me, no matter the author’s writer abilities.
- How can we learn more about you, your book and its availability?
You can also follow me on Twitter (@lucyamclaren) and, if you particularly like dog photos, Instagram (lucy_a_mclaren).