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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Alex Thornbury talks about the inspiration behind her new fantasy novel, The Bridge To Magic.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Alex Thornbury about her life and career, what inspired her new book, The Bridge To Magic, and her creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I was raised in Cheshire, UK, but now live in Australia on some acreage by the sea with my family. As a modern-day alchemist by trade, I’m naturally drawn to fantastical worlds, governed by different rules from our own.
Outside of my immediate passion for writing, I love gardening, reading and collecting interesting rocks and gems. In fact, my favorite gift is an unusual and pretty polished stone or a fossil of some creature that lived 800 million years ago.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I cannot remember a time when I did not want to write a book. I remember being 7 years old and trying to write my own stories and poems. The wish only grew stronger in my teens.
When did you take a step to start writing?
As soon as I learned to read and write, I began putting stories down on paper and making decorated books from them. In my teens, I began to write novels and stories in earnest, across a range of genres — sci-fi, regency, fantasy, piracy and fantasy. It was then that I understood the complexity involved in writing a novel. I was besieged by writer’s block, lack of direction, and inability to finish any story I started. With regret, I realized that this was not a viable career path for me. I continued to write stories, however, if only for my own enjoyment.
Then, some 12 years ago, I found myself between jobs. Feeling unclogged from everyday work concerns, my long-forgotten stories suddenly poured into my mind. It was then that I sat down and wrote my first book. It flowed out of me as if the floodgates of my dreams had been ripped open. Unfortunately, the resultant manuscript was very much akin to the landscape left behind by the said flood. It needed a lot of work to repair it. Still, I never looked back.
Once my first draft was written, I decided to spend the rest of my life pursuing my long-held dream of being an author. Even now, after years of hard work, I am still obsessed with writing. It remains my driving passion in life.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My first book, The Sprite Catcher, which is also my literary baby, took 10 years of almost full-time writing to drive it to the edge of publication, and once there, I got cold feet before releasing it. I have slaved over it for so long, the feeling that it was not quite ready seemed to have become ingrained in me. The book is an epic fantasy, and a very difficult project for a novice writer who suffers from perfectionist syndrome. So, I decided to take a long break from it and wrote The Bridge to Magic as my debut. It took 2 weeks to write, 2 years to edit and 6 months more to market it for release.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
I am currently working on Book 2 of The Bridge to Magic series. Mentally, I have been working on the storyline of The Rogue Mage for two years whilst editing my debut novel. When it was time to write book 2, the first draft took a couple of weeks to put down. I’ve been editing it now for six months and will continue to edit it up to its release date, which I have set in stone as 5 December 2023.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Bridge To Magic?
I just wanted to get away from my epic fantasy manuscript and write a very different, much simpler story to the one I was battling. I have many unfinished, underdeveloped stories waiting for me to give them voice. This one jumped out at me from amongst them, fully formed and eager to be told. I loved its basic premise of being cornered by an approaching disaster, and the only escape is to take a large leap of faith and step into the unknown.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Bridge To Magic?
The biggest challenge for me was the art of world-building. There is a very fine line between orienting the reader and exposition. The richer and more complex the world, the harder it is to achieve this balance. This is primarily an issue in the first third of a book. My writing mentor would always shoot down boring exposition sections, whilst telling me that there is a prevalent lack of clarity in how my world works. So how am I to convey to the reader the workings of the world, whilst also not being able to explain it or talk about it? I would ask in frustration. It had to be woven subtly into the story, he would reply. This is a skill that is extremely hard to master in the fantasy genre.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
I do not have conscious awareness of anything specific inspiring me to create my protagonist. Elika emerged from the depths of my mind into the world on the verge of destruction and started telling me her story. I simply wrote it down. I guess she is an archetypal character, an orphan surviving on the streets of the city where humanity is likened to weakness. From the start, I could not envisage the story being told from any other point of view but hers. Perhaps I drew on some elements from Victorian-era London. I think Charles Dickens may have had some influence on how I saw the character and the city on the brink of disaster.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Though magic, its guardians and the Blight may be seen as the antagonists in the story, I would say that the main antagonist is fear of the unknown. This is a deeply ingrained fear in our psyche, and we battle it constantly, from the upper levels of politics, down to the personal level of our own lives.
Always we find reasons not to do something, not to reach for a dream or seek a better life. It might be a dream of leaving your job and opening that coffee shop you always wanted, or a move to live by the sea. It takes tremendous courage and strength to leave everything behind: family, friends, security and the familiar. And we look at that insurmountable bridge across the wide chasm to a place we cannot clearly define, to an uncertain future we both long and dread, and we nurse the fear of losing our path back, of making everything worse. And how deep is that fear? In this story, the approaching horror born of magic that kills all in its path, the Blight, tests it.
What is the inciting incident of The Bridge To Magic?
Elika stabs the magical Bridge to the Deadlands, something no one has been able to do before, and thus discovers that magic, the enemy of mankind, is hiding inside her, and through her, it seeks to enact a will of its own.
What is the main conflict of The Bridge To Magic?
Destroy every echo of magic and you will stop the Blight, or so the priests say. Terren now stands alone in its path. Time is running out for mankind. When Elika discovers that she is harboring a powerful echo of magic, she feels like a traitor to mankind.
To save the last pocket of humanity, she must either destroy the magic within her or sacrifice herself by crossing the Bridge to the Deadlands. Except, she is terrified of the Bridge, and of the uncertain fate that awaits her there. She wants to live in her own familiar world, and she is certain the Bridge would never allow her to cross alive. But she also wants to save mankind and those she loves from a certain end. Slowly, she comes to realize that she cannot have both; she cannot stay and save them.
Did you plot The Bridge To Magic in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
When I start writing a story, I have a basic premise and an ending in my mind, and broadly how a character gets there. The rest, I write freely. Plotting in advance does not work for me. The story never comes out as I plotted it. The pre-planned chapters change and evolve as the story goes on. I find simply allowing the story to flow out naturally and unhindered by my expectations works best and avoids writer’s block. This approach means that I can write the first draft in a few weeks. Invariably, this also means that there are always major rewrites and corrections. I have to rewrite my second draft sentence by sentence, cut out and restructure the narrative, remove or insert new characters and countless other corrections.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Bridge To Magic need?
Fast forward to draft number nine after years of rewriting and my own editing. My first step in final editing is to use three different editing software to catch obvious issues. After that, I use at least three or four professional editors on each book. I have been working with my mentor for almost a decade now. He reviews my writing chapter by chapter and tells me how my storytelling, narrative structure and writing could be improved. He also does the first pass at line-by-line editing and correcting grammar, typos and clarity issues. Through him, my manuscript gets a complete makeover and comes out half-ready to be published.
I then send it to at least one other editor who reads it in one sitting and covers broader developmental and structural aspects. Again, the editor also picks up any grammatical issues and spelling errors. The third editor does copywriting and proofreading corrections. She will go over the manuscript once more after I implement her revisions and add further corrections in the second pass. Then it goes to the fourth editor for overall assessment and proofreading, where more minor corrections are made. After that, when I think it cannot be polished anymore, I give it to my hubby to read, who invariably finds stray typos and errors still lurking in the manuscript, and offers minor improvements to the flow of the text.
So, when an ARC reviewer gets back to me noting a few more typos and the helpful suggestion that the manuscript might need to be reviewed by a professional editor, a very loud, shrieking scream goes off inside my head, with some mental hair pulling and foot stamping.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Do not force it. Let it flow out of you and lead you on a journey, and do not get bogged down in fine details or sentence structure in the first draft. Just write it, then expand and edit it later. Once the bones of the story are laid out, you can edit it as much as you need, down to the finest detail.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Aside from Books 2 and 3 of The Bridge to Magic, I have plans to finally release my epic fantasy series The Sprite Catcher. Three books of this series are largely completed and waiting their turn to be edited.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely. I spent twelve years trying to perfect my craft and produce a book I would be happy to share with my friends, family and fantasy lovers out there. I suffer from perfectionism, which is not to say that what I write is perfect, far from it. Only that I end up endlessly editing it and overly criticizing everything I write, whether or not it’s deserving. To me, those long years of hard work, unfulfilled dreams and endless edits were made worthwhile when The Bridge to Magic won the 2022 Royal Dragonfly Honorary Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy. I feel like I have finally crossed my own bridge to magic, and my long-held dream has finally come true.
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