And welcome to the very first Tavern Chat on the blog. I was lucky enough to be joined for this inaugural chat by Trudie Skies, the author of the Sand Dancer series – a YA Fantasy published by Uproar Books, and of the upcoming book The Thirteenth Hour. This is the first book in a new series called The Cruel Gods and is due for release on October 13th 2021, and you can find preorder links below.
Rowena: Good evening!
Trudie: Hello Rowena!
Rowena: How are you this evening?
Trudie: I’m doing great, thank you! How was the sea?
Rowena: The sea was lovely, although my knees ache now. But, the dog had an amazing time which is the most important thing.
And thank you for agreeing to be the first guest for Tavern Chat (and technically I guess, a guinea pig?)
Trudie: Thank you for hosting me! I have always loved guinea pigs, which are like tiny Capybaras. I wonder if they enjoy the sea too, but I may be drifting off-topic, much like the sea!
Rowena: Guinea pigs are great and so are Capybaras – they always seem so chill. Drifting off-topic is always allowed and even encouraged. Also – on topic – congrats on reaching your preorder target (I saw your tweet just before I came on)
Trudie: Haha thank you, I can’t believe 10 people want to read about characters drinking tea. The sad truth is that the sea isn’t even part of my world, and yet we both live by the sea. There are some excellent sea-based books out in the world, however!
Rowena: I can!! Also, you have a kick-ass cover and that map (I’m still not over that map lol). But, that’s a scandal about the sea not being in there!
So, what made you decide to take the plunge into self-publishing with this one?
Trudie: Well, as you know from reading my YA series, I was/am previously published with a small press, Uproar Books. They’ve been great to me over the years and helped launch my debut which actually does have a sea in the sequels, you’ll be pleased to know. But even publishing with a small press can take a long time, and through the fun year of 2020, publishing seemed to just ground to a halt. I’m quite impatient and didn’t want to wait to publish just one book at a time, so I decided to just go ahead and begin working on the next projects I wanted to.
But also, I’ve always admired self-published and indie authors. There’s something about going indie which just sticks it to the man, you know? You’re in charge of your own books, your own stories, your own fate, which means of course you’re in charge if it all goes wrong too. And the indie publishing scene is a thriving one, full of authors who can write and publish to trad quality if not better. Indie authors are producing diverse and innovative stories when the trad publishing industry feels stagnant. So I wanted to be part of that!
Rowena: Those are all great reasons, and I definitely agree about indie authors producing more diverse and innovative stories.
How different are you finding the process this time? Is it what you expected? Or have there been surprises (pleasant or unpleasant?)
Trudie: I’m actually finding it a lot easier than I expected! Perhaps because I was already published with a small press so I had some idea of what I was getting into, and probably because I hang around with a lot of indie authors and listen to their successes and failures. I wouldn’t say I’m the most organised person ever, but I’ve managed to stay on top of all the fiddly things you need to do when self-publishing – checklists really help with that! But honestly, things have worked out so smoothly I feel really damn lucky haha! Especially with the book cover, I couldn’t have imagined that turning out as it did!
Rowena: Nothing wrong with a bit of luck! And the cover is stunning!
So, talking about your upcoming book, where did the idea for the Cruel Gods come from?
Trudie: Honestly, I was playing too much Skyrim! The bare-bones for The Cruel Gods world kind of existed from a story idea I had as a twelve year old. Back then, I had this idea for various elemental-based worlds and a character who could jump through portals to help keep the universe balanced or something. It was a bit cringe, and over the years I tried to turn it into a story of sorts, but eventually, I gave up on it because I couldn’t work it. I kinda felt like some older ideas are best left in the draw, you know? That authors always have better ideas as they develop their writing anyway.
But then I played far too much Skyrim in 2020 and I love to mod my games to death. I roleplay certain characters, and last year was Dunmer (dark elf) ones and Dwemer (steampunk dwarf) ones and those ideas just inspired me to come up with a steampunk-ish clockwork world with dark elves. And then somewhere in there I thought of elemental worlds as Daedric dimensions. The Daedric gods themselves are a massive inspiration – they’re chaotic and kind of mad, but many of them also take on humanoid forms just to mess with mortals.
So from there I merged these inspirations with my old idea as a kid, and it somehow translated into the story I have now.
Rowena: That’s amazing! I always love hearing about how an author’s ideas are formed and where different inspirations come from. I know the feeling of leaving some ideas in the drawer too. I also need to play Skyrim properly at some point, I’ve only ever dipped my toes in there.
Was it very different writing an adult fantasy after doing a YA series for your debut?
Trudie: Skyrim is the best game ever, so good they re-release it every year! The Thirteenth Hour is my first attempt at writing adult fantasy, but I think this is what I’ve always wanted to write. When I first wrote Sand Dancer I wasn’t sure if that was going to be adult or YA, but at the time I read a lot of YA so it became that. I could definitely see it as an adult book if I ever re-wrote it. The Thirteenth Hour was also my first book trying out multi-POV characters and also writing in first person. I wasn’t sure if I’d be any good at it, but the writing came out so easily and so smooth it almost felt like cheating, and this book has been the easiest and most fun to write as a result! I think I’ll be writing more in this style for the near future.
Rowena: Haha, I saw the recent reactions to the latest Skyrim news.
It’s great that you’ve found what you’ve wanted to write, and that you’re having fun with it! Is the Cruel Gods going to be a trilogy? Or a longer series?
Trudie: Books are meant to be fun to write, right? 😀
Trudie: I intend for The Cruel Gods to be a trilogy, or at least that’s how the story seems to be going in my head, but I love the world and the twelve races so much, I reckon I’ll be writing a lot of side stories and others set in this world with other characters. I’m already planning a prequel!
Rowena: From what I’ve read so far, I can’t wait to see what else you’re going to do in this world. Are you a plotter then? Or a pantser?
Trudie: I’m a bit of both! I think the term is plantser? I do write outlines and sometimes chapter outlines, but mostly I have an idea of where I’m going but let the story deviate if it decides to go somewhere else instead.
Rowena: Yeah, I think that’s the term.
So, what has been your favourite part of writing the Thirteenth Hour? I know you said you’ve had fun with how smooth it’s been, but what about the characters and worldbuilding etc?
Trudie: I’m completely in love with the world and characters, I haven’t had this much fun in years! I kinda went a bit mad with it, because is it really a good idea to make 12 worlds and races and gods that readers have to remember? Possibly not haha. But I’ve had a riot with them, and I’m trying not to pick a favourite because they have to be treated equally you know! But everyone who has read the book so far love the Mesmer, and they are the most precious.
I wrote this series to be the most almost opposite to Sand Dancer, and for the main character of Kayl to be opposite my YA protagonist of Mina. A lot of people didn’t like Mina because she was basically a brat, but hey, that’s teenagers for you. But with Kayl, I tried to make her more playful, feminine, taller, and not a warrior or fighter type. I’ve had a lot of fun with her, but more surprising for me has been Quen. I can’t really remember where Quen’s character came from, but I love writing his scenes and getting into his head. He’s a lot of fun. And my favourite scenes are the ones where Kayl and Quen just chat or argue in some cases!
Rowena: For what it’s worth I enjoyed Mina as a protagonist although I can certainly see where the ‘brat’ comes through. Also, I love that ‘taller’ is a thing for Kayl (I’m short, so appreciate that feeling). It’s always funny with characters how they creep up and surprise you, even though you’re supposedly the ones writing them. Also – just from the quotes you’ve shared (let alone what I’ve read), Quen just makes me think British – not sure if that was intentional or not? Or maybe it’s just the tea.
Trudie: Quen is very much a British gentleman! Actually, I tried to base the world on Edwardian aesthetics, so there’s a lot of British flavour scattered around, and not just the tea. The spelling and grammar are all US, but I deliberately kept a lot of the Britishisms and some British phrases just because beta readers really liked them and felt it added to the charm of the world. So I kept in things like bourbon biscuits instead of changing them to cookies. I’m hopeful that won’t get me in trouble hah.
Rowena: I’ve certainly been enjoying it! It’s nice to see those bits in there (also I may have to pester you about those aesthetics at some point). Bourbon biscuits just sound so much classier than cookies!
Trudie: I did toy with the idea of including a guide to British biscuits in the book but that may have been too much!
Rowena: Haha, that would have been brilliant but maybe a little too much… but oh god, I can just imagine.
So, moving back in time (got to stick with the clock imagery), when did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Were you inspired by anyone or a particular book?
Trudie: I wanted to be an author when I was a kid – either that or a game designer. But back then, being a writer didn’t seem like a valid career path, or at least not to me. I came from a working class background so doing things like going to uni wasn’t an option. Instead, I ended up studying game design. But while working on games, I realised I preferred writing tasks and projects instead of design ones, and that’s when I kinda remembered I wanted to write, and when I slowly got back into it.
But as a teen, Tamora Pierce was my favourite author and certainly inspired Sand Dancer. I used to hide in the school library and steal her books!
Rowena: I absolutely adore Tamora Pierce – and I reread her books quite regularly. Game Design is an interesting career choice though, do you think that although it meant coming to writing via a roundabout route it’s shaped your process at all?
Trudie: That’s a great question! One I hadn’t really thought about, but I think it did have some influence. Game stories aren’t much different from book stories. Sure, the context is quite different and the means of delivery is, but with games, you need to edit and get your ideas straight to the point, and that definitely translates when writing and editing a story. I certainly have been inspired by video games in my writing, and game writing, in general, is much better now than it used to be.
Rowena: That’s interesting, and I have to agree about game writing. The games I played as a child are so different to the ones coming out now (and less heartbreaking – looking at you RDR2). Talking of games, I know you’ve not played much D&D – but I want to hear a little more about your low intelligence wizard!
Trudie: Oh god! Back in Uni when I studied game design, playing D&D was part of the modules for learning about ludology. I can’t remember much about it, but my character was a bumbling stupid wizard who couldn’t magic to save his life. But to get into the role, I wore a glorious thick beard, which for some reason, got me noticed by professors who wondered what the hell I was doing. But it’s important to get in character!
(I still need to play RDR2! It’s installed on my computer, I just never have time!)
Rowena: I am so jealous that you got to play D&D as part of a module! (Admittedly it would be hard to justify for physical geography lol), and he sounds amazing! I love characters that aren’t quite what you would expect. Also, there are far worse reasons to be noticed by the professors than wearing a beard!
(You do need to play it! I did not expect to love it as much as I do, and honestly, I could spend hours just meandering around).
So, getting back to the writing (although games are such a fun topic!!), obviously you have the Thirteenth Hour coming out next month, but what does the future hold for you? Are there any other ideas that you’re tossing around?
Trudie: Oh yes, so many ideas and this is why I haven’t started RDR2 yet! For the next year at least, I’ll be working on the sequels to The Thirteenth Hour, and then also more books in the Sand Dancer series, but I intend to keep writing adult fantasy. I’ve had loads of thoughts for my next one already! But adult fantasy is where I hope to settle for a long time.
Rowena: Yeah, there need to be more hours in the day. And that’s exciting, and I can’t wait to see what else you come up with!
And for one final question, since this is a ‘Tavern chat’ and we have D&D in the future to make it even more appropriate. What would be your beverage of choice in a Tavern?
Trudie: Ooh, an appropriate question to end! Since we’re in a tavern, you can’t beat a classic mead. I did actually try one in the real world a few years ago due to my Skyrim obsession. But what’s good with a mead? A shepherds pie too?
Rowena: Oh, that’s a good question. I have had mead before, but it was at uni… and I don’t think food was involved. But, shepherds pie strikes me as a good (and very British) choice!
Rowena: And that I believe is a wrap! Thank you so much for joining me in the Tavern (which sounds so much more exciting than ‘google doc’) and for chatting about writing, games and Britishisms with me!
Trudie: Thank you for having me! I look forward to hearing more about your projects as well!
Rowena: Thank you!
Trudie Skies has been living inside fantasy worlds ever since she discovered that reality doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Through the magic of books, she wishes to share these worlds of hope and heroes with other weary souls. Living in North East England, Trudie spends most of her free time daydreaming about clouds, devouring whatever fantasy books or video games she can get her hands on, and chasing after her troublesome dogs, who would like to reassure you they are very good boys.
Her debut YA fantasy series, Sand Dancer, was published through Uproar Books. Trudie is now writing adult gaslamp fantasy with her new series, The Cruel Gods.