A quick interview with C. E. Page: Epic Fantasy Novelist

So this is a bit exciting … I decided a while back to interview authors to showcase their latest work and so I could learn more about what’s happening in speculative fiction, celebrating with some amazing writers. So, every month I’ll be (hopefully) putting out a new interview. My first interview (again, so exciting!) is with Australian author C. E. Page. She’s just put out her debut novel, Deathborn, and kindly answered questions for readers.

Here’s the blurb for Deathborn:

Corruption is a disease with no cure that ends with a rapid descent into madness and violence. And until now it only targeted mages.

When an infected warden shows up challenging everything Margot thought she knew, she is thrown into the chase to find the impossible cure. But to understand this new revelation she needs someone who knows possession … She needs Nea, and lucky for Margot, her warden friend Garret has been tasked with tracking the rogue necromancer down.

Garret is used to dealing with deadly mages so this should be like any other job: find the mage and deliver her to the king. But from the moment he finds Nea he is dragged into a deadly game of dark secrets and brutal machinations. Now he must make a choice: deliver Nea as promised and place a weapon in the hands of a mad man or deny his king and change the lives of wardens and mages forever.

Now you know about the novel, without further ado, let the interview begin!

Deathborn is an epic fantasy, a genre a lot of readers love. What other fantasy books would you say Deathborn is comparable to? Are there authors or books you’ve been inspired by in writing your own trilogy?

Oh I always find this question a hard one, I am not sure why because I know other writers can easily rattle off a whole list of books that theirs compare to but my mind always goes completely blank. I guess it is similar in feel and theme to a more adult version of Maria V Snyder’s Healer Series or perhaps The Aware by Glenda Larke or maybe (if you tilt your head just right) Medalon by Jennifer Fallon.

Inspiration is much easier not just for this trilogy but for my writing in general; Juliet Marillier and Kate Forsyth, particularly her The Witches of Eileanan series, have both been big influences. But also authors like Jennifer Fallon, Garth Nix and Robin Hobb.

You like playing video games. Have any of the games you’ve played or even the way games work inspired your own story-telling? How?

Most certainly. Games can teach us a lot about story mechanics in the same way a good movie or tv series can; and likewise they are inspiring for many of the same reasons. The biggest inspiration I get from videos games comes in the form of character. I love characters that make you feel, whether you love them or hate them, as long as they make you feel something. Games like Red Dead Redemption, Horizon Zero Dawn and The Witcher Series present inspiring characters and not only in the form of their respective protagonists and antagonists, but the side characters are often well sculpted as well. In this regard video games are not only inspiring in that they make you want to craft characters that make people feel something, but they can also teach you a lot about character development. I often have long, nearly one sided, conversations with my partner dissecting the motives and development of some of my favourite (and not so favourite) game characters and those discussions certainly fire up my inspiration.

Where did you get the inspiration for Deathborn from? Did you do certain kinds of research to create the world and magic?

I’m a discovery writer so I don’t usually go in with a plan. In the case of Deathborn, I sat down to blank page one day and two hours later I had what is now the start of chapter five. I had no idea where the story came from, what truly inspired it, or where it was going but I know it was influenced by my love of magic systems and rich fantasy worlds and I had just finished reading The Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier. Juliet’s books always leave me inspired and chomping at the bit to get my own words down on paper. I didn’t do too much research for the actual worldbuilding and magic system, that just formed organically over time. I did however research writing fight scenes, for which Alan Baxter’s Write the Fight Right was a great little resource. And I also researched herbal medicine and lore, though a lot of the herbs used in the book are purely fictional they are based on herbs found in our world.

In the story, corruption is an important motif (both literally and metaphorically) – what made you want to write about this?

I wish I could say that the corruption motif was intentional from the beginning. It actually evolved over time and is most likely my subconscious processing of the current state of our world. That seething corruption that can cripple empires has always existed; it permeates history and yet we, as a society, do not seem to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. Once I was aware that the motif was there though I grabbed hold of it and teased it out to the surface. I wanted to highlight that a lot of times the corruption is there before you realise it; it is not always a switch that is flipped and suddenly it is there screaming in your face. It can build over time, sinister and scheming, waiting to make itself known only after it is too ingrained to be easily dealt with.

Whilst I didn’t intend the corruption to be a motif, I did intend to play with the ideas of grey morality. In that everything is not always black and white, that our choices in any given moment can have consequences that we cannot fathom and that our intentions, no matter how noble, can betray us. The road to hell and all that. Both Nea and Garret (protagonist’s in Deathborn) have done morally questionable things in their past with the intention of helping the greater good, but that intention does not excuse them from the ramifications.

What other hobbies do you have outside of writing and how do they inform your writing practice/ideas?

I read of course and not just fantasy, I read a bit of everything, except horror. I also play a lot of video games and I quilt. I put so much of my creative brain into writing that quilting, whilst still a creative endeavour, allows my analytical brain to come out and play. It involves at lot of planning out colour combinations, different block layouts, and how that will all go together to make a quilt. I guess it is kind of like writing a book, you start with the bare bones then flesh it out and put it all together again and then you have a story. That might be how plotters work from the start, I wouldn’t now, the actual plotting for me comes after I already have the second or third draft.

Can you give some spoiler free clues as to where the series will go next?

We will get to see more of the physical world in the next book as events will take us to the neighbouring continent of Osmar. And we will get to explore the Between as well as learn more about lost forms of magic and the seeds that sprouted some of the legends of the world. We will also get a new point of view character and meet an actual god or two.

I haven’t announced it anywhere else yet but I can tell you the title for book two is Brightling.

There are three POV characters in Deathborn. Can you tell readers about these three characters and why you love them? Is one of them more like you than others? Why?

We’ll start with Margot, she was the hardest to write and still is, I always have to do more rewrites of her chapters than anyone else’s. She is compassionate and kind and not as sure of herself as she lets on but I like how that softness of character is tempered by the sometimes stern and no-nonsense attitude needed for her duties as a healer. She is very good at reading a room and knowing exactly what is needed and I admire that about her.

Nea on the other hand is mercurial of mood and has a habit of being reckless with her own safety in the effort to protect others. Her lip chewing, fidgeting and love of peppermint tea are all traits she got from me. She was the first character of the story to come to me and in fact the entire first draft was written in her point of view only. I didn’t add the Garret and Margot chapters until the second draft when the whole story got a massive overhaul. I like her bravery and selflessness, but I do agree with Garret that she could be a little less reckless at times.

Garret is my favourite to write, he’s hard at times too because there is so much going on beneath the surface with him. He’s steady, calculating and prefers to have a plan and Nea drives him mad half the time by ruining those careful plans. Like Margot, he wasn’t going to get a point of view originally. I actually wasn’t sure he was going to survive but I’m glad he did.

It is hard to say who is the most like me as they all inherited some of my traits. However Nea has the most of my mannerisms and general likes and dislikes.

There’s a focus on healing arts, tea and beautiful gardens in parts of the novel. Are these things that are important to you? Tell us more about that.

If you ask me the coffee vs tea question. I will always answer tea, herbal or black, sometimes with lemon and honey or milk but never with sugar. I like to think that everyone in the book has their own signature tea: Nea’s is peppermint and chamomile maybe with tiny bit of vanilla or liquorice for sweetness. Margot’s is something sweet and fruity like apple and berries, and Garret’s is spiced apple perhaps with a little chamomile thrown in for good measure.

The gardens are most likely a reflection of my love for nature. I grew up on one hundred aches of bushland and currently live on a modest acreage in rural suburbia. Gardens and the natural world have always been a big part of my life; I don’t do well in urban settings with little or no greenspaces and this is often reflected in my writing. The fact that Nea goes to the closest garden when she needs to calm herself and gather her thoughts is a good example of this.

As for the healing arts? They fascinate me; both science-based medicine and more wholistic or spiritual modalities that others might consider airy fairy. I think it all has a place and often healing is not just about the physical body, which is where mind mages and necromancers come in the world of Deathborn.

What’s your writing process? What was the hardest part of writing Deathborn? What was the easiest?

As I said before I’m a discovery writer. I don’t plot and plan my stories. I sit down and the words just come out and the story takes form organically. I don’t give any thought to story mechanics or structure until I am rewriting and even then only briefly. It usually starts with a character and from there I explore them and their place in their world. I am not aware of the actual plot or how everything fits together until I have been “living” the story for a while. But that is how storytelling has always been for me. It’s an almost intuitive practice, I’m more of a conduit for the words rather than a careful methodical planner who follows a formula. It is messy and organic and definitely not perfect, but I can’t do it any other way.

The hardest part of writing Deathborn was teasing out the actual story. Because of the organically evolving nature of my drafting process a lot of the early draft was very ambiguous. I knew Nea was different to other mages and that Evard wanted her for more than what had happened in the lead up to her disappearance. But I didn’t know exactly why until about mid-way through the first draft. Once that piece clicked into place, however, everything else pulled together and I could follow the threads linking it all.

The easiest was Garret, once I decided he needed a point of view. Getting inside his head might have been hard but his chapters always flowed so easily and they still do. He is just such a pleasure to write, though the new point of view in book two might be giving him a run for his money.

Could you share your favourite passage from Deathborn for readers?

I would love to unfortunately my favourites scenes are all a bit spoiler heavy. Here’s one I like though:

Sometime in the middle of the night, Nea was woken by someone calling her name. She rose slowly and listened but there was nothing stirring in the darkness. Sliding from the bed, she pulled Emma’s shawl around her shoulders and moved to the door. She leant out into the hallway and listened again. Nothing.

There was a gentle pool of light coming from under Garret’s door but no sounds, and certainly no one in sight. With a shiver, Nea turned to go back to bed but heard it again: a sing-song whisper and the subtle tug of magic at the back of her mind.

She tiptoed down the hall, following the thin string of channelled source, the rush of her own blood in her ears drowning out everything else like she had her head underwater.

When she reached the hall that led to the south wing, she stopped. She drew a slow breath as she watched the shadows, waiting. Then she heard it: the tiniest whispered “Nea … ” and a soft whimper like that of a child. She lifted her foot to step forward, but something closed around her arm and dragged her backwards.

“What are you doing?” Garret put himself between her and the dark hallway. His hair was standing on end, like he’d been running his fingers through it, and his shirt was rumpled, as though he had pulled it on in a hurry.

“I couldn’t sleep.” She tried to edge around him, but he put his arm out to block her path.

“Emil assured me he had warned you about the south wing.” He glanced over his shoulder at the pooling darkness.

“He did, bu—”

“But what? You thought you’d go poking around in there regardless?” He took a step, closing the space between them and forcing Nea backwards.

Nea lifted her hands in defeat. “I heard something, saw something. What’s down there?”

A muscle in Garret’s neck twitched as his jaw tensed. “Nothing of consequence.”

“Really? Because—”

“Neeee-aa.” A sing-song voice drifted from the darkness and Garret turned, pulling Nea behind him and out of sight.

“You’re no fun, Garret. Let the little mage come and play. She smells ever so sweet.”

“Back to your room, Nea.” He took another step backwards, pushing Nea farther away from the wing.

As they moved, she caught sight of the waifish shape of a girl pacing the end of the hallway. Where her bare toes met the wooden floor, a line of rune marks shone in the moonlight. The magic signature was one she knew all too well; it was her father’s. She lifted her gaze and met the ice-blue eyes of the girl. Amelia. A darting pink tongue chased a wicked smile over pallid lips before they drew back to show sharp, impossibly white teeth. The neckline of her nightgown was askew, revealing one very pale shoulder and a small flower-shaped purple birthmark marring the flesh just below the corner of her collarbone. She lifted her hand and curled one finger in Nea’s direction, causing the lank ribbons of her black hair to move over that exposed shoulder like snakes.

Nea felt the hooks of magic digging into her mind and some deep part of her called out in caution. But it was too late. The sticky fingers of Amelia’s keen were past her defences. She twisted around Garret, ducking under his arm and lashing out with her magic when he made another grab for her. He froze as she pressed down against his soul, pinning him in place.

Amelia’s wicked smile widened, the sleeves of her filthy nightgown fluttering as she beckoned Nea forward in earnest.

Thanks so much for the interview today!

You can buy Deathborn from all the usual places by following this universal book link: https://books2read.com/deathborn

C. E. Page has been dreaming up stories of faraway places and strange magics for as long as she can remember. She lives on the east coast of Australia with her partner, Evan, two balls of pure energy in the shape of young boys, and a honey badger masquerading as a dog.

An avid reader and gamer, she loves devouring a good story in whatever form it takes.

You can find her on: Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50368106-deathborn Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/cepageauthor and at her Website: http://www.cepageauthor.com