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Deborah Brown on the Art and Craft of Fantasy Writing

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I’m pleased to introduce my lovely friend Deborah Brown, a talented writer from Scotland by way of South Africa. I’ve never written fantasy, so I thought it would be fun to learn more about the genre, as well as about Debs’ wonderful debut novel, “When Fate Dictates.”

Interview with Deborah Brown

First, could you please tell us about yourself? 

Deborah Brown, author of When Fate Dictates

Deborah Brown

I was born on the 24th of December 1970 in Natal, South Africa. In South Africa in the 1970 and 80’s children lead a simpler life than most do today. There was no television, few shops and the population was sparse and widely distributed leaving little opportunity for social interaction. This solitary existence provided the prefect breeding ground for the development of fertile imaginations and minds where other people’s stories were never enough.

Long summer days were embraced with all the passion and enthusiasm you would expect from a child who spent their days playing in the garden, digging for treasure, making tree houses and playing in a swimming pool. Evening entertainment was provided by reading, listening to the radio, playing cards or board games. Some nights we delighted in watching ferocious thunderstorms from the open sliding doors when the sky would explode with the sounds of thunder; sharp cracks of lightening would cut through the dense darkness of a sky, thick with clouds; then the rain would belt from the heavens, pounding the scorching veranda, evaporating almost immediately to leave a misty haze of steam gently hovering over the surface of the slab stones. Such were my early years where cares were few, time was endless and life was magical!

This upbringing created a romantic dreamer and a mind filled with tales of fantasy.

Today I live in an old farmhouse in the Scottish Borders and spend my spare time writing stories of fantasy for anyone who will read them.

And now your book. What do you think readers would find most interesting? Why?

I would like to think that readers of my book would find the history of the Scottish Highlands and York of interest. However, when writing the book I tried to find the middle ground between a history lesson and pure fantasy. What I didn’t want to do was to write a text book. I didn’t want the reader to close my book feeling as though they had just digested a multitude of facts. Instead, I hoped to use words to create a feeling whereby the reader could believe they had been to the places and times about which I was writing and ultimately through their visit know something about the places I had taken them to.

I was also acutely aware of the need to keep the story as grounded as I possibly could. Pure fantasy doesn’t work for me so I assume others have a similar problem. The story needs to be plausible and realistic and I would like to hope that my readers find the realistic aspects of my story of interest.

You’ve chosen to write in the fantasy genre. First, please tell us your sub-genre and explain what it means.

Highland fantasy is where I would personally place my book, however, it has been suggested to me that the book is an historical romance, a time-travel romance, a fantasy romance and an historical fantasy. Despite these suggestions, I still maintain the story is highland fantasy and my reason for saying this is simple. ‘Highland Magic’ is responsible for the entire story. Without a magical highland stag to grant Corran and Simon immortality or a magical highland crystal to transport the couple through time, there would be no story. Magic is at the very heart of everything that happens to my characters and magic is not fact, it is simply fantasy!

Why did you choose this genre? What interests you the most?

I don’t think I did make a conscious choice to write a Highland fantasy. The story came to life for me one day a year or so back when we visited the Scottish Highlands as a family. I stood in the small village of Glencoe knowing what had taken place in that village and my imagination just took over.

Although History is a factual subject you do have to have a good imagination to understand and feel it. The problem anyone interested in history has, is that by its very nature, history is about things that have happened. Unless there is a living or detailed record of an historical event it is almost impossible to create a totally factual picture. We take the recorded facts, add in our own personal bias, a dose of assumption, common sense and a bit (or a lot in my case) of imagination and suddenly we have our picture. Each one of us will create a slightly different picture and that is what makes writing anything historical such an exciting adventure.

In my case, I hated the fact that people had died so tragically during the massacre of Glencoe and I wondered what life had been like for those who had survived. Before I knew it I had the Highland fantasy! A young girl dying in the mountains having fled her home mysteriously saved from death by a Highland stag.

You’ve chosen to write in the fantasy genre. First, please tell us your sub-genre and explain what it means.

A lot of people, me included, read to indulge their own imaginations, or to escape the realities of life. Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes escapism and that is probably why fantasy spans such a diverse and broad spectrum of genres.

For a fantasy to work, the story needs to hold some degree of realism. The reader needs to be able to associate with it and see themselves in it. If, for example, a person has an interest in history it is likely that they will enjoy a fantasy story based around an historical event. As each individual’s ideas of realism will depend on their own personality the possibilities for fantasy writing are as endless as the diversity of human nature.

Do you think readers respond differently to fantasy than to other types of work? If so, what would you attribute this to?

Personally, I read a lot of different genres and I read each one for a different reason. I might read a book because it contains interesting facts or perspective on an issue, the author may have a sense of humour I can relate to. I might read a story because it has captured the heart of an issue I am passionate about, they may have a witty and intelligent style or I might just feel like reading a good story.

When it comes to fantasy however, I want a book that is going to take me somewhere nice.

I expect the impossible!

A book that feels real yet clearly is not. A story that captures enough reality to ground the book and make it believable, yet not enough to bring me crashing back into reality. I want a tale of intrigue, suspense, adventure, romance and magic that I can disappear into and hide from the world. Where I can connect with the characters yet know their problems are not mine, where I can touch their lives and dream about their worlds, but still feel safe in my own.

Why do we expect the impossible from a fantasy book and not from other stories? Well I think that is because fantasy is our sanity check. The place we take our minds when our own reality becomes too real. What qualifies escapism to one does not necessarily work for another. We don’t read fantasy because of its interesting facts or perspective, we don’t read it for the author’s intelligent, witty style or humour; we read the story to disappear down that tunnel and into a world of epic believable magic.

How is fantasy writing different from writing in other genres? What, if anything, do you find difficult?

I think fantasy writing is different from other styles of writing because a large part of the story is complete make-believe. The difficulty is in introducing just the right proportion of reality into the fantasy to make the story plausible. Perhaps that is just me, but when I read a fantasy story I have to be able to see how the fantasy could work in the real world. If I can’t see that, the fantasy ceases to exist for me and it just becomes silly. This was one thing I like about the Harry Potter books; the fantasy felt real.

I love the Diana Gabaldon stories and to me they are almost perfect fantasy, all but the complicated history lessons. I love history but I did feel disappointed when the story effectively stopped and I had to wade through copious pages of historical data before I could get back to what I really wanted and that was the story. To my mind this is the most difficult part of writing fantasy, striking the balance, creating the fantasy but keeping it grounded and real.

How, if at all, do characters differ from characters in other genres?

Again, the characters in fantasy stories are usually blessed with the ability to do things ‘normal’ people couldn’t do. The challenge is to create a character that can do these things in a way that is realistic to their historical time line. I don’t particularly like historical fantasy stories where the female characters are feminist divas. I need to believe in these people and it is hard enough to accept their paranormal worlds without throwing curveball characteristics into their personas. This is challenging because we write for a modern audience where woman do not expect to have to accept being beaten by their husbands or being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, cleaning, cooking and catering to their man’s every whim and need; but that was the historic reality for most women.

It might just be possible to get away with a strong feminist character in an historical romance but in a fantasy book where your characters are already straying quite a long way from reality I think it is important to try and keep your characters personalities are realistic as possible.

How do you generate ideas specifically for the fantasy elements in your work?

I don’t specifically look for ideas or inspiration, rather, inspiration tends to finds me, normally when I am least expecting it, for example, I got the inspiration for the Campbell crystal after helping my nine year old look for some information on growing crystals. The last thing on my mind at the time was my book. Without knowing it I stumbled across a trigger, a ‘real’ myth and, before I knew it, the myth became a part of my fantasy.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m working on the sequel to when ‘When Fate Dictates’.

About Deborah Brown

At its most basic level I am just a lady who likes to tell stories.

More importantly, though, I am a mother and wife and the most important job I have, or for that matter have ever had, is that of being a mother to my precious children. Aged between four and twenty, their upbringing and care remains my single greatest achievement, learning curve and challenge. The role of mother is one that has taught me patience, understanding, compassion, dedication, persistence and above all the diversity of human nature. I have learnt to draw on past experiences when faced with challenges but most importantly I have learnt to remember that each individual is just that, an individual.

Without my family there would be no stories. They have provided the support and courage which has given me the confidence to write this book and without them there really would be no me.

About When Fate Dictates

Dying on a mountain, Corran is mysteriously saved from death by a Highland Stag. Confused, alone and frightened, she makes her way back to the village of Glencoe, and comes face to face with one of her enemies, Simon Campbell, a Red Coat, deserter and traitor. With her family massacred and her village destroyed, Corran trusts the fugitive when he offers to help her escape the village. Plans to flee the country are brought to an abrupt end by Simon’s old enemy and fellow Red Coat, Angus. Pursued by Angus and seeking answers to the many questions in their life, Simon comes into the possession of a Campbell crystal which leads the couple through time and into modern day York where a final confrontation ends their conflict.


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"Censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates in the end the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion."
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Terri Giuliano Long

Terri Giuliano Long, a frequent guest blogger, with appearances on hundreds of blogs, is a contributing writer for IndieReader and Her Circle eZine. She lives with her family on the East Coast Her debut novel, In Leah’s Wake, winner of the Global eBook Award, Popular Fiction, and Indie Discovery Award, Literary Fiction, has sold over 130,000 copies worldwide.

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I'd love to hear your thoughts!

  1. Elizabeth Marshall

    Terri thank you so very much for inviting me to do this interview with you. I am deeply honoured and humbled to have been given this wonderful opportunity. x

    Thank you, my dear friend. x

    • My dear Elizabeth, The pleasure is entirely mine!! it's an honor to have you here, my dear friend!! Thank you so very, very much for taking the time to answer my questions! xox

  2. Cant wait to read 'When Fate Dictates.'
    I was interested to read your comments about Diana Gabaldon – previous to this I had thought I was the only one who committed the sin of skipping paragraphs to get back to the story.
    Grace x

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