Welcome to Author Spotlight. On this page, we introduce you to authors that we consider particularly noteworthy. Although we will concentrate primarily on new authors, you will occasionally find an established author in the spotlight.
An Interview with Cecilia Dart-Thornton (August, 2001)
As we stated in our review of The Ill-Made Mute, Cecilia Dart-Thornton's work is some of the best that we have seen in a number of years. Her writing is every bit as good as any other major published author currently writing today. We believe she has a long, illustrious career ahead of her and are anxiously awaiting the publication of her next novel.
Ms. Thornton was gracious enough to grant us an interview. The mostly unedited text of this interview follows. This is quite a long interview, but we found Ms. Thornton fascinating and decided to let our readers enjoy the interview as much as we did. What the heck, web storage space is cheap! LOL
Future Fiction: You have a fairly whimsical biography on your web site, www.dartthornton.com. Would you tell us a little about your real background or do you prefer to remain mysterious?
Hmm. I would actually prefer to remain mysterious. At one point very early in my career, I hit on the idea of manufacturing an enigmatic persona for myself-as-author. This would be an excellent approach, thought I in my wisdom. Much the same way as rock stars (eg. Madonna) manufacture and re-shape their images, so would I. To moi, My Real Life does not seem interesting enough to splurge over the Internet, or even to discuss with anyone (except, possibly, my Mum). On the other hand, some arcane, esoteric, archaeological, ineffable, astrological type of Life might prove more of a reader-magnet. Besides, there’s nothing more interesting than something that’s hidden. That was how the biography on my website came about.
Anything you would like to share about your childhood, education, literary training, or life in general?
Well, yes. This IS real and does not conflict with the extraordinary life-story that doubtless everyone now fully believes. During my early childhood, before I learned to read, my Dad used to read to me every night. This was always an eagerly looked-forward-to highlight. My Mum used to bring home armfuls of library books every week. (How she ferried them across to such a remote island, I’ll never know.) Her literary taste was centered on Science Fiction and Fantasy/Fairy-Tales. I grew up in a (light) house full of books, surrounded by people who loved to read. Reading was my delight, my passion, my escape from some of the not-so-nice events that can intrude upon even the most arcane, esoteric, and ineffable life. Copious, eclectic reading was my literary training. My formal education includes a University degree in Sociology.
When did you become interested in writing, especially in S/F/Fantasy? Did you always know you wanted to write or was there some career-defining moment that steered you in this direction?
Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to write. My parents collected and retained some of my old stories. I still have one that I wrote at the age of 5 or 6, when I had only just learned how to painstakingly form letters. The story is fully illustrated, with pictures of people who have no bodies; i.e., their legs are attached directly to their heads. No, it was not a story about aliens. That’s the way people draw when they’re little kids!!
You know how when you’re a child, adults always ask you "what you want to be when you grow up"? I always instantly replied, "An author. And I want to illustrate my own books." (Haven’t got around to the illustration part yet.). Throughout my life I’ve written stories as a form of recreation. I possess boxes full of tales and poems scribbled throughout the years, over which I cringe when re-reading them. They were more ‘outpourings of spirit’ than anything that could claim to belong in the literary domain. But I was learning through doing. At least, I like to think I was. I always wanted to write fantasy and science fiction but the real fantasy clincher was when I read The Lord of the Rings at the age of nine. Like so many people, I was deeply influenced by Professor Tolkien’s tale. I loved it. I wanted to visit Middle-Earth, and that reinforced my desire to create my own "alternative world".
Is writing now a full-time occupation or do you still devote time to some other profession?
An Author is what I say I am when people ask. It is my sole profession (hooray!). I do, however, have a mysterious life to lead, which takes up an amazing amount of time. Being esoteric can be very time-consuming.
The The Ill-Made Mute was designed as the first book in The Bitterbynde Trilogy. Can you tell us anything about the next two books, The Lady of the Sorrows and The Battle of Evernight?
Warner Aspect’s jacket copy for The Lady of the Sorrows reads as follows:
‘Though her memory remains clouded by sorcery, Imrhien must take vital news directly to the King-Emperor of Caermelor. She hopes that there she may also find Thorn, the fearless ranger who has won her heart. ‘Since no commoner may approach the royal court, Imrhien must assume a new identity as Rohain, a noble visitor from the distant Sorrow Isles.
‘Her disguise helps her discover that the King and his rangers have departed to battle the Unseelie hordes which have suddenly declared war against mortals. While she awaits the king's return, Rohain is trapped in her masquerade, facing a court where treachery and deceit are as deadly as any eldritch peril.
‘Changes of fate occur, and for a brief while it seems Rohain's dream of happiness may be achieved. But her joy is short-lived. For attacks by nightmare monsters of the Wild Hunt, led by the unseelie Lord Huon, grow ever more frequent and brutal. And when evil forces lay siege to the royal sanctuary on a hidden mystic island, Rohain must accept a horrifying fact: She is the real target of the monstrous attacks; she is the one whom Huon hunts. And she has no idea why.
‘To protect those she loves, the Lady of the Sorrows must undertake a desperate quest to discover who she is and why an unhuman evil would destroy a world to find her. But the truth of Rohain's past will prove more incredible-and far more tragic-than any she could possibly have imagined.’
The Lady of the Sorrows has a little more romance laced through it than The Ill-Made Mute. In its pages, the reader finds out how Imrhien came to be abandoned, mute and amnesiac. Book 3, The Battle of Evernight is different again. In Book 3 the characters interact with LOTS more wights. In fact, one might subtitle it "Close Encounters of the Eldritch Kind."
Are publication dates set yet?
They are. The Lady of the Sorrows will be out in April 2002 and The Battle of Evernight in April 2003. In the United Kingdom, Pan Macmillan will be publishing each book about 4 months after the U.S. dates. However, if anything changes, or if I find out any news, I will post updates on my website, www.dartthornton.com. The covers of the British editions will be different from the U.S. covers, and all covers will be displayed on my website.
Will Imrhien still be the main character or will the focus change to someone else?
Imrhien remains the main character throughout the trilogy. I will subjoin, nonetheless (trying to assume an enigmatic air) that one character may have several different aspects, or even names.
What are your plans from here? Once the trilogy is done will you be returning to this world or do you have other topics you’d like to write about?
Ooh, I LOVE answering these questions! It’s so pleasing, talking about one’s self. Such an ego booster, rabbiting on about one’s plans and thoughts. And your questions are very pertinent! Having finished the three Bitterbynde books, I am currently writing a second trilogy. Why a trilogy, I have no idea. There’s probably some subconscious reason. Conceivably, I was more profoundly influenced by Lord of the Rings than I realized.
This second trilogy is set in a land very similar to Erith, although it is another world entirely. I do love my eldritch wights. It would be hard to stop writing about them. In what is euphemistically called my "filing system" there lurk a few unfinished tomes. One is a historical novel with overtones of fantasy. Another is a humorous science fiction/fantasy. Whether I will eventually return to them, I’m unsure (but the humorous piece cracks me up a lot).
Please tell us something about the authors or other individuals that have influenced or inspired you over the years.
Gladly. I have already mentioned Professor Tolkien, who changed my life. The other author who has been a Major Muse for me is Tanith Lee. The first Lee stories I ever read were Drinking Sapphire Wine and Don't Bite the Sun. These tales had me instantly enthralled, and when I went on to read her Birthgrave trilogy my Lee-addiction became incurable. Her use of language is unparalleled. The opening lines of Birthgrave took my breath away: "To wake, and not know where, or who you are, not even to know what you are – whether a thing with legs and arms, or a beast, or a brain in the hull of a great fish – that is a strange awakening." In hindsight I suspect, or rather I know that opening subconsciously and inadvertently influenced me when I was writing The Ill-Made Mute. Another favorite Lee book is her anthology Forests of the Night.
Other authors who have influenced and inspired me (in no particular order), include Nicholas Stuart Gray, George McDonald, Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, William Shakespeare, E. Nesbit, Eleanor Farjeon, Katharine Briggs, Ruth Tongue and Alan Garner.
It is necessary to include ‘artists’ in the category of ‘inspirations’. For me, visual images and literature are so closely related they can at times be almost indistinguishable. Perhaps this is a form of ‘synaesthesia’? No matter; the fact remains that words and pictures mingle together almost inextricably in my mind, along with music and, sometimes, three-dimensional shapes. Artists who have influenced my writing include Cicely Mary Barker, Arthur Rackham, John Waterhouse, Edward Burne-Jones, Maxfield Parrish, Brian Froud, Alan Lee, Paul Gregory and Michael Whelan. My website contains some links to their works.
And then there are the musicians – The Chieftains and Clannad in particular.
Each author seems to find a different aspect of writing to be challenging. For some it’s character development, for another plotting, for others it's research or self-discipline. What is the most difficult part of writing for you? Which is the easiest?
Character development is easy. I never have to work on characters, because they’re already in existence in some other dimension tapped by my brain. Research is a pleasure and a delight. Plotting, however, can be hard. I’ll reword that – plotting is very hard. I begin with vague, hazy notions, more like feelings than ideas. Then I build around them, discarding and inventing, looking for threads, breaking threads, weaving threads. That takes a long time and a lot of staring vacantly into space slack-jawed, and probably dribbling idiotically. Sometimes while plotting (Plotting! Sounds devious.) I arrive at a point where rational thought and intuition want to diverge. My mind says, "It would be easy and logical to go from scenario A to scenario B this way" but my intuition complains, "That doesn’t FEEL right." Intuition always wins, so then I’m forced to use the exasperated mind to work out a new way that DOES feel right. If I didn’t accede to intuition, I’d stop writing. Inspiration depends on the story progressing intuitively.
It was rather refreshing to read a fantasy novel that had such unique and interesting characters and situations. Thanks for reminding us that there’s more to fantasy than elves, dwarves and goblins!
May the wind be at your back, and your praises sung in the mouths of poets forever.
Thank you. You have recognized one of the main thrusts of Bitterbynde. In writing this trilogy, I deliberately set out to beat a path of my own. Partially, this stemmed from reading a lot of very similar fantasy that seemed to try to reflect Tolkien but never quite managed it. Partially it evolved from my desire to ‘create’ a world that was truly different, not merely a caricature of Europe in the Dark Ages populated with 21st century characters dressed up in medieval costume. Professor Tolkien was inspired by Scandinavian mythology, a source of elves, dwarves and goblins. It is a marvelous, thrilling tradition, but only one of many folk traditions in the world.
I sense a very strong Celtic influence in this novel, can you tell us more about how you came up with your characters and scenarios?
Some of the main human characters are based on people I know. As for the immortal characters - before I started writing The Ill-Made Mute I had, for several years, been interested in the folklore of the British Isles. My reading in the area was extensive. Gradually I came to understand that the world I wanted to write about was rife with the supernatural denizens of British folklore. By British folklore, I mean the genuine, oral traditions of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The term "Celtic" refers, geographically, to Scotland, Ireland and Brittany. (Does it also refer to Wales, or is that ‘Cymric’?) I’m under the impression that strictly speaking, Celtic legend refers to such famous, tragic and bloody sagas as "Cuchulain", "The Red Hand of Ulster" and "The Cattle Raid of Cooley" (Tain Bo Cuailnge). The folklore in which I am immersed does not in any way touch upon those legends. Rather, it pivots around the everyday beliefs originating in ancient rural communities throughout the British Isles. England is not ‘Celtic’, but much wonderful folklore originates in English localities like Somerset, Cornwall and the Midlands. I suppose one might call these mingled and often overlapping lore-traditions "Anglo-Celtic." ("Gaelo-Anglian"? "Celti-Angloid"?) All the "wights" in The Bitterbynde Trilogy are drawn from the pages of authentic folk records.
Can you tell us a little bit about your writing style/routine? How much research, time and effort goes into writing one novel?
Erhm – ‘routine’? Wait till I look that up in the Pocket Oxford… No, I can’t find a definition. Oh wait, that’s for people who are organized.
It must have taken twelve years, on and off, to write the three volumes of The Bitterbynde. My writing was very sporadic, due to the unpredictable nature of my obscure life, which was in no way geared to allow time for such a frivolous and totally enjoyable pursuit as scribbling stuff about places that don’t exist in the so-called real world. The same things still happen now, but to a lesser extent.
My ideal routine is as follows:
Rise at eight, breakfast on Earl Grey tea, orange juice and chocolate croissant, stroll to mahogany desk overlooking ocean, write for two hours. Take break for fluffy cappuccino and something fattening brought in by handsome, suave Jeeves in immaculate butler’s livery. Write for another couple of hours. Take second break for run along beach or workout in gym, before Jeeves brings lunch. Take short nap under palm tree. Following afternoon tea, write for an hour or so then start getting ready fornight out …Sorry, I seem to be straying from the point. That would be my IDEAL routine, but it never happens. When, where and for how long I write is random, often depending on chance.
A tremendous amount of research and planning goes into each book. It is important to me that everything "works" in the world I’m creating. People must have credible livelihoods. Cities and villages must have a viable reason for their geographical locations. The weather and the seasons must follow the rules of the ‘real’ world. If any character is using a spinning wheel, for example, I have to go to the library and borrow a book about spinning wheels and how they work, before I will write such an apparatus into the tale.
The work does not cease with the research and initial drafts. Every word that ends up in the printed volume has in all likelihood been revised a minimum of five times. Some paragraphs have been revised hundreds of times.
What impact has the Internet had on your career?
The Internet has been a crucial element in my writing career. For a start, it provides a valuable research tool. Secondly, I can find the out-of-print folklore books I want by searching the vast stocks of online bookstores. Third, it allowed me to join an Online Writer’s Workshop. The one I joined was run by Del Rey. Being a member of this workshop ultimately led to Warner Aspect’s publication of The Ill-Made Mute. Fourth, without e-mail I would be up half the night talking on the phone to people on the other side of the world. Or else I’d be paying a fortune for fax paper, or carrier pigeons, whatever. Fifth, without the Internet I’d be writing all these answers just for the fun of it and not because of some discerning, perceptive, very attractive people with superb taste in reading material.
Do you have any advice for fledgling authors?
My advice to fledgling authors is the same as the advice I’ve so often heard from writers – but it is GREAT advice. Find your voice and follow it. I used to think, "What do they mean by ‘voice’?" And I still find the term hard to define (duh!). It’s to do with writing about subjects that fascinate you, and writing in a way that feels right to you. It’s to do with NOT writing what you think you "ought to", or what you believe "the public will like" or "editors will like", or what is "the current trend". It’s about believing in yourself, if you’ll excuse the crass cliché. (Nostalgic violins begin.)
The other advice would be, ‘read the best’. Read the cream of writing. As you read, the good stuff somehow seeps into the cranium by means of a strange form of osmosis. On second thoughts, you can read rubbish if you want. I often do. But try to balance the garbage with the treasure; try to allow the good stuff to be the only thing that seeps in.
Once they have a story written, how should they go about getting it published?
Step 1: (Optional).
Go to a writer’s workshop of some description. It may be a real world one, or it may be online, such as www.iPublish.com which caters to writers of several genres, or www.onlinewritingworkshops.com which focuses more on Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. These workshops are designed for writers to exchange views on each other’s work. You will be criticized. Brace yourself. But don’t take criticism to heart; don’t let it destroy you. You will also receive praise and good advice. The trick is sorting out the bad advice from the good. Go with your instinct. Don’t simply believe everyone else is right. Workshops are a good way to polish your story.
Many publishers will not look at manuscripts from unpublished authors unless they are submitted by literary agents. Therefore, find a reputable literary agent and send them a query letter. http://www.sfwa.org/beware/agents.html provides warnings about certain unscrupulous operators in the field. The Association of Author’s Representatives http://www.publishersweekly.com/aar/ can be helpful, as can the publication "The Literary Marketplace" at http://www.bowker.com/bowkerweb/catalog2001/prod00093.htm. If your reputable agent responds positively, send him/her your neatly and beautifully typed manuscript formatted according to a set of professional guidelines (e.g. from "The Literary Marketplace").
Keep writing while you’re waiting for your agent to get a sale. If nothing seems to be happening, be patient. If nothing still seems to be happening, pester your agent (slightly).
Never give up. If all else fails, you can always self-publish.
How long did it take you to find a publisher for The Ill-Made Mute?
Several years ago I put together an anthology of short stories and sent it to a publisher. It was rejected (rightfully), and the agony of that rejection stopped me from sending anything else to anyone until I had crafted something that was really the best I could do at the time. I fully understand what it’s like to have your manuscript rejected. It’s a little death; a death of the soul. Fortunately it’s temporary, but it hurts. That is more typical of trying to get published than what actually happened to me.
You ask how long it took me to find a publisher for The Ill-Made Mute. Answer; about a week! Wait - maybe I speak with forked tongue. I’d have to check my files. It was not long, though; two weeks max. As soon as my agent took me on as a client, she sent the manuscript to Warner Books, and as I recall it wasn’t too long before they bought the trilogy. Before that I had been too reticent to show the manuscript to a publisher. The closest I got to doing that was posting part of Chapter 1 on the Del Rey Online Workshop. So, if you count that as starting to look for a publisher, it took me three months.
It was a huge buzz to be taken on by the first publisher to see the full manuscript, and when Warner Aspect said they wanted to publish the trilogy in hardcover the buzz just zoomed out of control. My feet left the ground. I was actually levitating for days, which saved a lot of wear and tear on the carpet. (On top of all that it turned out that I was being gifted with the Editor From Heaven, who understood exactly what I was on about and whose gentle suggestions put the polish on the polish of the manuscript.)
So miracles do happen, and they can happen to any budding writer.
Authors Previously In The Spotlight
Search Amazon.com for that special book
Copyright © 1999-2001 Futurefiction.com. All rights reserved worldwide.