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Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Juliet Kemp about The Rising Flood and what inspired it.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I live in London with my partners, kid, and dog, and I write both SF and fantasy. I’m the author of the Marek Series (fantasy, three books out so far and the fourth and final one in the series coming this year) and two SF novellas (A Glimmer of Silver and A Starbound Solstice), and I’ve had short stories published in various places including Analog, Cossmass Infinities, and Cast of Wonders.
I’m queer (bi) and non-binary (they/them pronouns), and it’s important to me to show queer lives in my work.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was still in primary school, in the 80s! I wrote a lot of bits of books at that age, and even finished a couple of whole ones in my early teens (a very episodic collection of adventures of an anthromorphosised rat anti-hero, and a kid space adventure that in retrospect was something of a rip-off of a Nicholas Fisk book). Then, with GCSEs and A Levels and music and then university taking up my time, I stopped writing for a fair while.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I started writing a contemporary novel back in about 2006, longhand in the mornings before work. Looking back, a lot of what I was doing with it was processing a bunch of stuff that had been happening to me, and I never finished it. But after that I was writing regularly, and my first short story was published online in 2008.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
The honest answer is that I’m not quite sure! I can’t exactly remember when it was that I had the first image that became The Deep And Shining Dark, but I think I was actively working on it by 2014 or so. I have a full draft from December 2015, and revision notes and further drafts from 2016 and 2017. It was accepted by Elsewhen Press in early 2018.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
I started The Rising Flood in 2019, it was accepted in spring 2021, and it came out in late 2021. (I was hoping to have it finished by the end of 2020, but the whole pandemic thing made that more of a challenge. I know some writers coped by putting their heads down and writing more; like many others, I found it hard to concentrate for a while.)
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Rising Flood?
I was keen to find out what was going to happen next with the political tension between Marek, the semi-independent port city my series is set in, and Teren, its notional overlords. I also wanted to write more about what Teren has been doing with magic and demons (spoiler: it’s not good). And I thought it would be great to explore what was happening in other parts of the city and introduce some political radicals doing a bit of pot-stirring.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Rising Flood?
The biggest challenge was that covid happened just as I was getting stuck into my second draft, and I really couldn’t concentrate at all for a while there. In an internal-to-the-book sense, the problem I always have is that I can totally write my characters into a whole lot of complicated trouble, but then I have to write them out of it again, and that’s the tricky part. I have several POV characters and I need to wind all of their storylines together, which is tricky too. I think I managed it!
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
I have several POV characters but Marcia, the young Heir to one of the ruling Houses, is the main protagonist. I can’t quite remember what inspired her! I began the first book, in my first draft, with the discovery that Marek’s cityangel, the spirit who facilitates magic in the city, had suddenly been thrust into the human plane.
When my other characters were investigating this, and the disappearance of the sorcerer Cato, Marcia turned up on his doorstep and announced that she was Cato’s sister; and was dismayed to recognise Marek’s other sorcerer, Reb, with whom she had a history. I’m something of a discovery writer, so I ran with it and kept writing to find out what else the characters were going to tell me.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
I’ve had several! The antagonist of The Rising Flood is Selene, representative of Teren in Marek. I wanted to write a sharp operator whose political interests are almost diametrically opposed to Marcia’s, and who has far fewer moral scruples in pursuing her aims. (Marcia is prepared to bend the odd scruple too; she is a politician, after all.)
What is the inciting incident of The Rising Flood?
There’s several intertwining plot strands in The Rising Flood, but the emotional plot is kicked off in the first chapter, when Reb discovers that Marcia – now her girlfriend – has been lying to her by omission for months, and the two of them split up. The main political strand begins when the craft Guilds propose censoring some radical political pamphlets that are being published, and Marcia has to decide how she’s going to react.
What is the main conflict of The Rising Flood?
Selene, representative in Marek of Teren, Marek’s notional overlords, tries to re-assert direct control over Marek (after failing with the softly-softly approach in the previous book, Shadow And Storm). This is not popular.
Did you plot The Rising Flood in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
Six of one and half a dozen of the other. I plotted it, then I wrote it, and during the writing went off in a few unexpected directions, and then I plotted it again on that basis and sat down to do the next draft. I find that while I’m getting a first draft out, I find out a whole bunch of things I didn’t know before about the story. Sometimes they’re wrong and I cut them out again. Sometimes they’re great and I replot the book accordingly.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Rising Flood need?
My first drafts are very messy. My process is to get a first draft out, in the process of which I find out a lot more about the story . I then do some retroactive (re-)plotting, with a big sheet of paper and a bunch of Post-It notes, working out what scenes I have, where they need to move to, and what’s still missing. That’s for the second draft, which moves me significantly closer to what will be the finished book.
In the third draft I fix up all the problems that I’ve introduced during the second draft (and anything where I put a “XXX FIX THIS” note to Future Me…thanks, Past Me, great job). At that stage I ask people to beta read it for me (for The Rising Flood, that was my friends maia and Laura, and my partner doop) and give me feedback, then I do another round of edits, and a full line edit, before sending it to the publisher.
After that, Sophia (the fantastic editor who works with Elsewhen) has another go over it, and picks up any gaping plot holes as well as the copy edit bits), and then it’s all done bar the proof-reading.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Go for it. Read lots, write as much as you want to, and whilst it’s useful to read about other people’s processes, it’s fine for yours to be your own and for you to experiment to find out what it is.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m currently working on Marek IV (as yet title-less), which will conclude the series. I’m at the third draft stage right now, and it should be out by the end of 2022. After that I have plans for a book – set in a completely different world – about what happens after the heroes defeat the Evil Lord, and how those who are left have to try to put the world back together again.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely! I’m really pleased with all three Marek books so far, and I’m hoping that number four will be a suitable end to the series.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
https://books2read.com/DeepShiningDark : The Deep And Shining Dark, book 1 of the Marek Series
https://books2read.com/ShadowAndStorm: Shadow And Storm, book 2 of the Marek Series
https://books2read.com/TheRisingFlood : The Rising Flood, book 3 of the Marek Series
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