Lucy Hounsom is the author of Starborn, which has just been published. It's one of my favourite books so far this year, and I'm grateful to Lucy who gave up some time to talk to me about her debut:
Can you start off by telling us a little about Starborn?
It’s a traditional fantasy in the vein of Trudi Canavan and David Eddings with airships, a subterranean citadel, truths not quite buried and lots of magic. After a disastrous Inheritance Ceremony, seventeen year old Kyndra finds herself fleeing her home in the company of two strangers, who turn her life upside down.
I love the aspect of the Wielders using energy from the sun and moon, what was your inspiration for this? I’m not sure where the idea came from originally: it’s been around as long as the story has. I guess I liked the idea of drawing power from sources that are already present in the world, something of a natural order. I envision it as a way of life for the Wielders, an ability that defines them, rather than presenting it as a gift or curse as magic is often dubbed. The power inherent in the stars is different in that it exacts a price for its use, as all great power ought to.
Kyndra is a strong main character, but so are your supporting characters - which story was in your mind first? Kyndra's, the Wielders’, or the general outline?
A cross between the general outline and Kyndra’s character. This is going to sound strange, but I’m pleased to see that more than one reviewer has said they found it hard to connect with Kyndra. Without giving away spoilers, it means I’ve done my job right. From the outset, I wanted to create a character whose very humanity is in question. Certainly it makes Kyndra hard to empathise with, but then that is the point of the story and it’s a hit I have to take. The price of great power should not be cheap. I have tried to balance it out with perspectives from other characters. As for the general outline, the ending (and therefore the overall thrust) of Starborn has always been with me – I just had no idea how to reach it until I began writing.
Is Starborn the beginning of a trilogy, or a long series? Do you have the full journey already planned?
At the moment it’s a trilogy. I am entertaining the idea of a prequel, but I guess I have to wait to see how the series does. I don’t have the whole journey planned out – I’m a bit of a gardener; I plant the seeds and tend to invent as I go along.
Have you always enjoyed writing, and have you always written fantasy?
I’ve always written things – it used to be little poems and stories when I was younger. I wrote my first serious short story when I was fourteen as a school project and, to my later shame, it’s a huge rip-off of Alan Garner. That was about the time I started reading fantasy. I began with Tolkien and J K Rowling and moved onto Pratchett and Terry Brooks and David Eddings – the list is a long one. I’ve never written anything that doesn’t have an element of fantasy in it somewhere. For me, writing and fantasy are inextricably linked and I can’t imagine myself writing anything else.
How long did it take to write Starborn, and can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
The first draft took 13 months without working to deadline and then I redrafted it four times before I ended up finding an agent. I received my fair share of rejections, which do get you down when they begin to pile up. Luckily an intern discovered Starborn on the slush pile and brought it to my agent’s attention – thank you Danielle! I’d been approaching agencies for over a year and was beyond elated to find someone to champion my book. I worked with my agent for another month polishing the novel before it went out on submission. Luckily it wasn’t long before my editor at Tor offered for it and made my dreams come true. I can’t think of a better job than being paid to tell stories!
I understand you work as a bookseller, has this affected your publishing journey, do you feel it's given you a better insight?
I’ve written quite a bit about the relationship between writing and bookselling and how they complement each other. On seeing new books come into the store, you do get a feel for what’s popular and what’s selling. That’s the commercial side of writing. I’d never dream of telling an author to jump on the bandwagon, but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of trends if your aim is to be published. You also get a chance to chat to readers, to find out what they enjoy – they’re the people you write for and if they like a book, they might pass it on to friends. Every time I shelved books in the sci-fi and fantasy section, it spurred me on to finish my own novel – like a constant call to arms. Some skills you pick up as a bookseller serve a writer too like reviewing and handselling and spotting trends.
How does it feel to finally see your own book sitting alongside all the others you work with?
Frankly…amazing. It’s been quite the journey, ever since I decided I wanted to write fantasy for a living. That was nearly 15 years ago and though I’ve learned a lot about writing, there’s still a great deal I’ve yet to learn. It’s going to take a while before I’m used to seeing my book sitting up there alongside those authors who inspired me as a teenager, but the feeling of wonder and gratitude will never go away.
What about your own reading - do you read fantasy, or something completely different? What's your current read?
Oh I read fantasy, a lot of fantasy. That’ll never change. From time to time I dip into something different, but I always come back to fantasy – it’s like a magnet that’s part of me. Unusually, I have two current reads: Peter Newman’s The Vagrant, which was published the same day as Starborn, and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire, which a friend leant to me. They’re vastly different, but both excellent so far.
As a bookseller and writer, do you feel the need to spend a little bit of time away from books?
Books are so much a part of who I am that I rarely tire of them and spend far more time reading than I do watching TV. I take a break now and again to slay some undead in Skyrim. (Skyrim also goes some way to fulfilling a deep desire to ride a dragon and rain down fiery death upon my enemies).
What else do you like to do?
When I can’t write anymore, I play the piano. I started learning when I was 8, so I’ve played it most of my life and it exercises the brain in a wholly different way. I don’t have lessons anymore, but play for enjoyment instead. I’m currently learning an arrangement of Howl’s Moving Castle.