Jessica Rydill has been a full time writer since 2001 when her first book Children of the Shaman, was picked up by Orbit. In a previous life she was solicitor specialising in housing disrepair. (Her knowledge of mould and rising damp is extensive!) She self published the digital version of the entire series, with Malarat appearing in kindle format in early 2014. The next volume Winterbloom is expected hot off the press very soon!
Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
My name is Jessica Rydill and I am a fantasy writer. I was born and grew up in Bath, a city with an odd name, famous for its Roman Baths and Georgian Terraces. My writing is a blend of steampunk and fantasy with gay and bisexual characters. The steam-based technology is incidental to the story, though I did research how to drive a steam train when planning my first book, Children of the Shaman. Since Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous Box Tunnel isn’t that far from here, it is also a good place for learning about Victorian railway workings.
How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I was first inspired by my Grandmother, who used to make up stories and imaginary worlds, and then by my sister, the writer Sarah Ash. I grew up surrounded by imagination and invention, and our parents loved reading and poetry and encouraged us to read. I started writing in my teens, when I became obsessed with King Richard III. I still have some of the stories I wrote back then. I started out writing plays rather than novels, and even produced one of my plays at school. It was an all-girl school which was problematic as nearly all the characters were men. My favourite scene was Henry VII talking to his pet monkey.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing, and does it come in useful for your stories?
I go for walks and visit National Trust properties. The Wiltshire estate at Stourhead, features in Children of the Shaman. The Temple of Apollo appears as the Rotunda in the domain of the Goddess. I climbed up to the Temple of Apollo for the first time last year, as before I had only seen it in the distance. It was a bit eerie to see it, complete with stone statues! But none of them came to life.
What is at the root of your current book/story?
It’s called Winterbloom. It follows on from my last book, Malarat, which I self-published in 2013. I return to the shaman world, but there are new characters, and the action moves to this world, in the 1920s. Parts of it are set in Norfolk (or an alternate version) and some of the characters are based on historical figures. It’s got a lot of alchemy in it together with stuff about the Rosicrucians, roses, and a weird alternative version of British history. I introduced this in Malarat, where Colonel James Carnwallis not only believes that the English (or Anglit) are the true Lost Tribes of Israel (or Zyon) but sets out to occupy the heavenly Zyon as well. I mentioned his obsession with roses, and in this book we get to find out what all that was about. My books contain references to other works, and the rose thing was inspired by Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. That and his book Foucault’s Pendulum have had a huge influence on me, together with the ghost stories of M.R. James. I’m also a great fan of the Fortean Times and love such crypto-historical topics as the Mystery of Rennes le Chateau, which featured in The Da Vinci Code.
Ebooks or Traditional?
Both! I love physical books but eBooks are nifty if like me you are a book hoarder. As a writer, eBooks have offered me an opportunity to be available, and after my trad publishing contract ended in 2005, I thought that would never happen again. I am broadly optimistic, but cautious. I think that, paradoxically, there are more opportunities in publishing than at any time in the past. Although the ‘Big Five’ have become monolithic, the vibrancy of small publishers such as Alchemy Press or NewCon Press is a good sign.
Is there any genre or style of writing you haven’t tried yet but would like to?
I would like to write paranormal fiction with ghosts and time travel. Or historical fiction. I’d love to write a book about Richard III, but there are many, very good novels out there about him, both historical and fantasy-based, such as Freda Warrington’s The Court of the Midnight King. I have a cherished collection of Fantasy and Alternate History books dealing with Richard III. Except A Song of Ice and Fire, which I haven’t tackled yet.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most tricky?
Structure and plot. I’m a ‘pantser’ and if not curbed I tend to produce plots of Byzantine complexity. You could call them Kitchen Sink dramas because I tend to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, unless stopped by force majeure.
Who has been your favourite character from your book/series and why?
Yuda. He’s so self-assured. I’d love to be that confident. Also he has kick-ass magical powers.
If you could kill off any character from any other book, who would you choose and how would they die?
I remember when I read Great Expectations by Dickens, I would have liked to kill Estella. Though that would have ruined the plot. I did try to read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever once and found the eponymous hero intensely annoying. I would probably use the traditional method, as seen in The Wizard of Oz and Witches Abroad: a small farmhouse falling out of the sky.
Who would star in the film? Embarrassingly, I spent a lot of time making up a cast list.
Peter Capaldi (Yuda), Chiwetej Ejiofor (Govorin), Sean Bean (Sarl), Cate Blanchett (Casildis), Eddie Redmayne (Malchik) and Aiysha Hart (Annat). I’d also like to get Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Martin Freeman into it somehow. I have a Sherlock fangirl problem. One reason Winterbloom has taken so long to write is that it started out as a Sherlock fanfic.
What are you up to next?
Finishing off Winterbloom is taking up all my time right now, but and after that who knows. The story continues!
Find Malarat in eBook format on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Kobo, Page Foundry and Scribd.
Malarat by Jessica Rydill.
A demon conjured from ancient lore. A priest who hides a shameful secret. A madman who is also a god. The mediaeval Duc de Malarat wants to reunite the divided Kingdom of Lefranu and rule through a puppet king. But first he must subdue the free cities of the South, with their steam engines and magic.
When they send an alliance of shamans against him, they learn that he has a secret weapon – the Spider – wielded by a band of fanatical warrior monks.
Pure iron can cripple and kill any shaman; soon the powerful Yuda Vasilyevich, Huldis Sorel, his wise and beautiful apprentice, his fiery daughter Annat and their allies find themselves facing the worst danger they have ever known.
Everything they love, their lives and their world are at stake; not everyone will survive the struggle that follows, and the dead will decide its outcome.