Author photo by Nicole Hilton
Q: So, your books are set in Regency England, right?
A: Well, no, not quite. While the worldbuilding does owe a great deal to Regency England, there are some pretty crucial differences (aside from the existence of magic!), of which I will mention five. First, the very different borders of Europe, including the Kingdom of Britain, which — unlike the real England of the Napoleonic Wars period — includes bits of real!France, but does not include real!Scotland or any part of real!Ireland. (Remember when Henry V of England conquered all those bits of France, but then died of dysentery, leaving his very young son on the throne? In the world of MQ, he had a talented healer handy and therefore lived a long and healthy life, during which he consolidated his hold on those Continental territories.) Second, this kingdom has a king, not a Prince Regent. Third, the real Regency England was a very largely Christian country with an established church, whereas religion in the Kingdom of Britain in MQ is a messy patchwork of Roman and Celtic cultic traditions that developed over the centuries since the retreat of the Roman Empire; for the purposes of our story, one of the main effects of this difference is that divorce is a pretty ordinary and acceptable event rather than a social disaster. Fourth, the real Regency England was profoundly shaped by the long and taxing Napoleonic Wars and by its burgeoning overseas Empire, neither of which exists in the world of MQ. Finally, three words: reliable birth control.
Q: Do you really speak all those languages?
A: Alas, no! Of the languages used in MQ, I speak only English (obviously) and French (Français). But in the world of MQ, educated people — and some of the characters are seriously over-educated — learn a bunch of languages as a matter of course; a variety of languages (including Cornish [Kernowek], Breton [Brezhoneg], and Welsh [Cymric]) are spoken in the Kingdom of Britain alongside the normative English and French, and the educated person also needs Latin, Greek, and Old Cymric to read sources (and for spells, if you’re a mage). This taken-for-granted multilingualism is one of the characteristics of the world, and the characters’ choices about what language to use when tell you something about them (for example, it’s not coincidental that the Breizhek-born Professor insists his Breizhek servants speak to him in Français). So I wanted to put enough of those languages into the book to at least give the reader a taste. The Brezhoneg (Breton) and Cymric (Welsh) bits were constructed with the help of phrasebooks from the library and online sources. For the Latin bits, I had the help of a crack team of Latinistas — Kristen and John Chew, Patricia Larash, and Michael Appleby — who not only checked and corrected my made-up Latin but also made creative and sometimes hilarious suggestions for improvement.
Q: Where do you get your earrings?
A: Thank you for asking! I get them from various sources, but primarily from the wonderful Elise Matthesen, who as well as being an inspirational human being is also an amazing jewellery artist. Check her out on Twitter: @LionessElise!
Q: What do you like to read?
A: All sorts of stuff! My favourite genres are fantasy, SF, and mystery, but I’m also (in case you hadn’t guessed) a huge fan of Jane Austen. I like books that mix genres a bit: I like romances that aren’t just about the love story (e.g., Mary Stewart), SF that focuses more on the social than on the technical (e.g., Lois McMaster Bujold), mysteries that are psychological more than procedural (e.g., Ruth Rendell, Ian Rankin), and fantasy that thinks outside the high-mediaeval box (e.g., Kate Elliott, Nalo Hopkinson, Seanan McGuire). A not-necessarily-comprehensive list of some of my most memorable reads over the past few years: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion-verse books and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (the latest Vorkosigan book); Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker Trilogy; Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series; Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent novels; Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk WWI trilogy; Jim C. Hines’s Libriomancer books; and Jo Walton’s Among Others and My Real Children. I read a lot of YA, particularly SFF YA. And I have a long-standing soft spot for Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn mysteries and the non–Brother Cadfael mystery novels of Ellis Peters.
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: I’m a writer! I get ideas everywhere! Seriously, though, it varies a lot. I know writers whose minds are constantly burgeoning with stories that want to be told; mine gets crowded with people and settings and, sometimes, really great first lines, but stories I have to work for. So my ideas for characters, worldbuilding, language, and so on come from all over the place (or, sometimes, from nowhere at all that I can identify), whereas my ideas for what those characters are actually going to do in that world are generally the result of sitting down with my notebook and a pen and brainstorming. Sometimes, though, those ideas also happen serendipitously. Often a comment or question from an early reader will send me off in a different direction, to the vast betterment of the story. A technique my editor suggested is to think through the events of the story from the antagonists’ POV: what motivates them? what are they doing this stuff for? how do they expect it’s going to work? (Bad guys work better when they don’t think of themselves as bad guys. Fictional evildoers whose main motivation is “Hey, let’s do some evil!” can be a lot of fun in parody but are unsatisfying elsewhere.) So … tl;dr answer … YOU JUST NEVER KNOW!
Q: What do you like to watch on TV?
A: At the moment, my very favourite things are Sherlock, Orphan Black, and The Bletchley Circle. And, of course, Doctor Who, which I’ve been watching more or less obsessively since I first saw Tom Baker offer someone a jelly baby on the Spokane, WA, PBS affiliate sometime in the mid-1980s.
Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?
A: Well, like a lot of writers I know, I have a day job; so, mainly that. I also have a husband and a 12-year-old daughter, and every so often we like to hang out ;^). Two nights a week I go to rehearsals for two different choirs; I’ve been singing in choirs for more than 30 years, and have learned by experiment that I am a lot happier when choral singing is part of my life. And of course I read, watch TV, bake cookies, eat chocolate, fall into the black hole of the Internet, and so on, just like everybody else. So how do I find time to write? Well, mostly, to be honest, by neglecting the housework.
Q: Tea or coffee?
A: I sometimes drink coffee, but I’m seriously dependent on tea! A typical day in the office might involve up to 1 cup of coffee but generally runs to 2 pots of tea. My current favourites are the Cream of Earl Grey (black) and Silk Dragon Jasmine (green) from David’s Tea, but the standard tea of my formative years was Twinings Earl Grey (in the yellow and gold tin), so that’s my default. Very hot, not too strong, nothing in it. Yum.
Q: Do you have any regrets from your misspent youth?
A: I wish I’d done more piano and clarinet practice, and that I’d blown off my maths homework less frequently (although I don’t think I could realistically have achieved both of those things except by actually not sleeping ever). I wish I’d been nicer to other people – particularly my mom – when I was an angsty teenager. And I wish my little brother and I could somehow have captured on video the time one of our cats leaped off the back of the sofa, landed in the basket of potato chips on the coffee table, and sailed across the room to land dramatically on the carpet in front of the TV, because we would totally have won the grand prize on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Q: Do you really have a plush skull on your desk?
A: I absolutely do! And you can get your very own here.