The Shadow's Heir
From writing fanfiction as a teenager in Canberra to appearing last year on a panel with George R R Martin in San Diego, K J Taylor has established herself as a leading voice in epic fantasy in just a few short years.
The Shadow's Heir is a new and deliciously dark first novel in a gripping new series following on from the international success of her Fallen Moon trilogy. Expect more danger, higher stakes, and an ending that Taylor's Australian editor called 'heartbreaking' and her American editor called 'perfect'.
This is complex, intelligent fantasy at its best from a talented young Australian voice.
Born in Canberra in 1986, Katie J Taylor attended Radford College, where she wrote her first novel, The Land Of Bad Fantasy, which was published in 2006. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Communications and a Graduate Certificate in Editing.
Harper Collins Australia
Author: K J Taylor
Interview with K J Taylor
Question: Can you share your inspiration behind the The Shadow's Heir and this new series?
K J Taylor: As you know, The Shadow's Heir and its sequels aren't stand-alone books, but follow on from the three previous instalments, so while the books have been grouped into trilogies I think of them as a continuing series. So The Shadow's Heir is, basically, not just a new story - it's also "what happened next".
I enjoy writing fantasy stories, but I'm always wary of being too obvious. The series originally began with the premise "what if I told a fairly traditional fantasy story - but told it from the villain's point of view?" The villain is, after all, often more interesting than the hero and sometimes more sympathetic as well!
Now, when it came time to tell the story of what happened after the villain's rise to power, I had a new, fairly traditional setup to work with: an orphan whose father's identity is unknown sets out to find her destiny. It's not that different from the first Star Wars movie. And so, starting from this rather tired premise, I set out to do the opposite of what usually happens. There is no rebel alliance in this story, and underneath his ruthlessness the villain is a rather sad, lonely man who's trying to avoid taking over the world. And I deliberately set out to give the protagonist the opposite personality to what you would expect, but more on that later.
And, of course, there are griffins which choose humans as partners, but they're not psychic, there's no magical bonding, and in many ways the griffin is the one in charge of the situation. Some readers have said they want a griffin, but I don't - if you ask me, they're more trouble than they're worth!
Question: You wrote fanfiction as a teenager; what originally made you put pen to paper and begin writing?
K J Taylor: Basically, I wanted to escape from reality. Like all authors I enjoyed reading and, like most people who spend enough time reading stories, I eventually started to wish I was in charge of them. When you get right down to it, this kind of storytelling is all wish fulfilment: it gives you a sense of control that you may not have in your real life. And, of course, you can write about whatever the hell you want, which is wonderful.
Question: What was the best thing about creating the character of Laela Redguard?
K J Taylor: As I said before, I intentionally set out to make Laela the opposite of what the reader might expect. The world of fiction has seen plenty of orphaned protagonists of mysterious parentage, and plenty of half breeds as well. I knew I was in danger of writing a boring stereotype, so I took major steps to avoid it. Therefore I wrote her to be unimaginative, rude, pig-headed rather than brave, and gave her a foul mouth instead of special powers. Laela doesn't have any powers or, indeed, any special abilities at all. Personally, I think she's in some ways an improvement over the last protagonist because she's more of an "everyman" character. She also isn't particularly angst-ridden, even though she has plenty of troubles. If things aren't going the way she wants them to, she damn well sets out to change that.
I enjoy writing from Laela's point of view, and I think my favourite thing about her is the way she talks, so I'd pick that as the best thing about creating her. She has something in common with me, which is tactlessness.
She also gets some lines which I found very entertaining to write - in a future instalment, faced with a murderous enemy, she tells them to "shove it where the sun don't shine"! I admit I smiled when I wrote that.
Question: How much of your inspiration for characters and scenery comes from your own life?
K J Taylor: They tell every aspiring writer to "write what you know", but the thing you don't always realise is that you tend to do that without even realising it. Characters you think you had nothing in common with turn out to have traits you didn't even know you had. You find your own personal opinions popping up as recurring themes, even though you didn't mean to put them there, and characters turn out to have things in common with people you know. For instance, I eventually noticed that just about all of my female characters are strong willed and outspoken, just like my mother. I didn't even mean to do it; it just turned out that way, because that's the female role model I grew up with.
But, of course, you can do it intentionally as well. I deliberately based Cymria's landscape on Australia, and many of the plants and animals are real ones I saw as a kid on bushwalks with my parents. I've occasionally deliberately based a character on someone real, and once even asked a friend's permission before inserting a character inspired by him. The character in question turned out to be a very fun one to write, but, then, he's a fun guy!
Question: What advice do you have for other young aspiring writers?
K J Taylor: Well, there are the usual clichés, I suppose: read a lot, write a lot, expect a lot of knockbacks. But everyone says that when asked this particular question.
I think I myself will instead offer this piece of advice, which I consider to be far more valuable: no matter what happens, no matter how painful it gets, no matter how convinced you become that you're never going to make it, never forget that you're doing this because you love it. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, or whether you get any recognition at all - first and foremost, you're doing this for you. Anything else is a bonus. And if it stops making you happy and doesn't give your life meaning any more, then quit. Without that, it's worthless.
Question: Can you talk us through your writing process?
K J Taylor: The first step is always coming up with the idea. Once I've done that I get all excited and want to start right away, but I force myself to wait and let the idea mature before I start putting it into words.
After that the actual writing is pretty straightforward. I used to have certain habits and rituals around writing, and would only do it at what I considered to be "the right time". Now, though, I can do it whenever I want. Since I write using a laptop, though, I do prefer to take it somewhere that doesn't have wireless internet, which is a real distraction when I'm trying to work. If I'm in a comfortable spot with no distractions or calls on my time, I can write for over seven hours at a stretch with nothing but the odd bathroom break. I make pretty rapid progress with a setup like that - during my last writing session, I churned out over twenty pages in about five hours. I don't do second drafts, but I do start most writing sessions by reading over what I've done so far and fixing up anything that needs it.
I don't show it to my agent until it's finished, but I'll sometimes show bits of it to friends and ask for their opinions. I'm pretty good at keeping myself motivated, but the odd encouraging remark always helps.
Interview by Brooke Hunter