Hey all! This post is a bit delayed because the site was down, but I’m happy to bring you our exclusive Lytherus interview with superstar author Catherine Fisher! She answers questions about both her Incarceron and Relic Masters series, and talks about writing life and other fun things.
1: In the Incarceron series, the prison is one of the most creative and terrifying things I’ve read in a long time. The way it evolves throughout the two books, and the insight into its thinking and actions, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced as a reader. How did this incredible idea come to you?
I like the idea of a sentient building. In Relic Master Carys meets the Palace of Theriss- a cool sardonic personality, very much the start of the Incarceron idea. I wanted to do more with that. So later, when I had the idea of the prison,-mostly from Pianesi’s engravings of Imaginary Prisons- I decided to give it a mind and also make it like a person, almost in fact a child, as it has whims and tempers and is completely irresponsible. Then, in Sapphique I had the idea that it would want to escape from itself- which was a fascinating concept. I mean, don’t we all? Isn’t that what writing is all about?
2: Talk to us a little about Finn. His internal struggle was sad and frustrating at times as he tried to figure out who he really was (and whether or not his dreams were just that, or memories), but he’s such a strong character with a good heart. I also love how he interacts with the prison as the series progresses. Take us through your journey of creating one of the driving forces of these books. Was he hard to get to know?
Finn is the touchstone for the reader. He had to be the way the reader experiences the prison. I wanted him strong but flawed, so he lies and even he isn’t sure what the truth is. He just has to survive. His only certainty is that he came from Outside, but even that might not be true. I never quite made up my mind whether he was Giles or not. He was easy to get to know in one way because we are with him in that terrible place, and discovering it just as he does. Once he is Outside, in Book two, I realized he would still be unhappy.
3: I really appreciated in Sapphique the different points of view, getting inside the heads of all the different main characters to see what their motivation and drive was, which worked well with the multiple plot lines running toward the finish line. Was it hard to balance so many irons in the fire?
Very difficult. Especially at the end of the two books. Everyone has to have a motive, an aim, relationships with everyone else. But I enjoy that too.
4: In the Relic Master series I love how you have both a complicated, mysterious magical world and also relatable characters who are both flawed and conflicted with various things at practically every turn. When you created this series, which came first, the chicken or the egg so to speak? Take us through the creation of such a complicated series. Was it hard to develop the other to be equal in importance with the first?
Relic Master was written a while ago, when I had given up work to be a writer. The first book was written very quickly; it was as if a lot of it was pent-up, and now I was free to write it. So it was great fun. The plan was for a trilogy, but it became four because the world of Anara was so interesting and full of potential.
As usual, the world just grew as I wrote about it. Obviously the books had to develop in intensity, so the Margrave was always there waiting in the shadows. I think the fourth book is the best, in fact.
5: If you were in the Relic Masters world and could have a relic of your own, what would it be and why?
A sort of everlasting fountain pen. Imagine having to write with quills for ever.
6: I’ve noticed with these series that the worlds are more than just one thing (both old and new, ancient and futuristic, outside word and inside world, etc.) How hard is it to blend these different elements into a seamless story in such an effortless-seeming way?
Just you wait till you read Obsidian Mirror!!
But yes, I like to pull in as many opposites and contrasts as possible, to keep the story vibrant and unguessable and to maintain the readers interest- intrigue even. Holding it all together is very difficult- I often get lost, or forget what is where. I keep notes, but mostly I just work my way through the story and then go back and change things.
7: Above anything else, what I love most about your books are the immense levels of creativity. Your stories are unlike anything I’ve ever read, and there are so many layers! When an idea hits you, is there a process you follow to develop it, to draw out the other creative elements?
I like lots of levels and things that echo. I tend to think in metaphors a lot. The process is difficult to explain as a lot of it goes on sub-consciously, but generally I just start- say with Finn in the ambush scene- and then find out who is doing what- invent a friend for him- Keiro- and the Maestra. As soon as characters come in they start acting the way they are, so the plot starts to move. But I don’t know the plot till things happen usually, or the end either.
I write from about 9 to 12 and then maybe an hour pm. I try to do 3 pages a day. Not always possible. I like to have music on, I just write with a pencil on odd bits of paper first till I have a chapter and then type it in, editing a lot. Then the next chapter, right through the book. Then edit everything from the start. I do lots of just staring out of the window, or prowling round the room, picking books up and looking at them. I waste a lot of time.
9: What books are currently on your reading shelf? What books have you read that have inspired these lovely worlds you’ve created?
I have hundreds, maybe thousands of books so I wouldn’t know where to start. Influences on my work- Alan Garner, William Hope Hodgeson, Lewis Carroll. RLStevenson, Tolkien, Le Guin, Robert Holdstock. And many more.
10: What are you working on at the moment?
The Obsidian Mirror comes out In October, the first of a projected set called the Chronoptika. I am working on book 2, as yet untitled, and have got to the end of chapter 5. It’s going to be a scary ride, this one, as anything could happen. I wanted to mix time travel and more folkloric themes, but it’s already getting bigger.
Thanks for the questions.