I do quite a bit of browsing round blogs, and recently I found an interesting interview between two authors. Samantha Holt of samanthaholtauthor.blogspot.co.uk was interviewing Kim Rendfield of kimrendfield.com (for anyone who wants to go and look at their blogs) about her historical romance The Cross and the Dragon, set in 8thC Francia.
The interview was on 18th March, and I hope she won't mind, but I found one of her questions so interesting that I'd like to answer it here.
"Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?"
When I wanted to start writing again, after a long gap where I hadn't had the time or the energy, I started thinking about one of the characters I'd created in my teenage years. Mal Petroc had a few "beginner's flaws" - anyone familiar with Diana Wynne Jones' Tough Guide to Fantasyland will know the one about magic users and fire ("Magelight or magefire is so common among MAGIC USERS that it is probably what an APPRENTICE Wizard learns to do on his first day.") And he was a Harper - but he had a backstory I thought I could do something with.
So I started to think about what he would be doing if he was now middle aged. At the time, I was trying to get a small business off the ground selling secondhand SF books in Hay-on-Wye, so I thought I might like to see him doing that. It was, after all, something I knew quite a lot about.
So how could I get him from the fantasy land where he grew up to Hay? That was relatively easy - I've always thought that Hay has this feeling of being slightly skew to real life, as if you're almost on the edge of a fantasy world already (I think it's the combined influence of all those books - all those stories - crammed into a small space), and Portals are common in fantasy literature, so obviously he came through a Portal.
But, why would he leave his own world? That was more difficult. At first I thought it would be because of a book, probably a magical book, but as I thought more about the sort of magic used in Ytir, I realised that they haven't got a lot of use for magical books - their magic is an innate talent, and they don't use spells.
So, not a book (a pity, because a magical book hidden in the depths of Richard Booth's famously chaotic bookshop would have been quite fun). It had to be a person - and they had come to Hay because they were on the run from - well, some sort of Dark Lord or something.
That was how it started, and that's why Mal has a bookshop in the middle of Hay, and drinks in the Rose and Crown. By that time he'd become more of an individual character and less of a stereotype - and a single dad, as the person he came through the Portal with was a little girl....