Today I bring you a guest post from my cyber buddy, A.F.E. Smith, fellow member of the Guild of Writers Who go By Mysterious Initials, who is dropping in to say hello to you part of a blog tour to launch her first book. Darkhaven is out soon with Harper Voyager (Yeh, I know big few trad pubbed! She is my ritziest guest ever). In fact, it will be released in ebook format on 2nd July for £1.99 or $US3.99. As well as the blog tour there’s a giveaway and a scavinger hunt and a big launch event on Facebook today, Thursday 2nd July! Oh yes, it’s all go. More on that story … later.
But first, without more ado, let’s welcome A.F.E. Smith…
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” – Mark Twain
People often want to know where writers get their ideas from. The answer is, of course, that inspiration can come from anywhere. But given that most writers are also compulsive readers, I’d guess many of their ideas actually come from other books.
I’d better add at this point that I’m very definitely not talking about plagiarism. Taking an entire storyline, unique concept or specific wording from someone else’s work is stealing, not inspiration (though even here the line is blurred; think of fairytale retellings or modernisations of Austen, neither of which are forms of plagiarism). My point is that writers are sponges, absorbing everything they come across. And as a result, when they create a book, there are often echoes of other books to be found alongside the rest of the influences.
Take Darkhaven. As it happens, I can actually figure out the literary inspirations for some of its ideas. When I started writing it, I’d recently reread I Am David by Anne Holm and so I wanted to write something that also began with that atmospheric kind of escape (indeed, Ayla’s flight from her home is still the very first scene in the book). The structure of Arkannen, the city in which the novel is set, may well have drawn on both Tolkien’s Minas Tirith and the game from Albion’s Dream by Roger Norman. And the idea of the Nightshade family and their ability to change into different creatures owes more than a little to Stephen Donaldson’s short story Daughter of Regals.
It’s not that Darkhaven as a whole has anything significant in common with these works, or they with each other. I don’t think a reader would have identified any of these influences without me pointing them out. It’s simply that bits and pieces of other books have added their flavour, just as bits and pieces of the real world have (the British industrial revolution, Western and Chinese ‘elements’, a little bit of steampunk, a little bit of murder). Reading is, after all, as much of a genuine experience as anything that happens in the physical world – so it’s hardly surprising that the books I read combine with everything else in my head.
Of course, there are also plenty of ideas in Darkhaven that belong to me alone. I’m not aware of any other city, fictional or otherwise, where the streets are paved with stripes of different colours – like a life-size underground map – to help you find your way to the right place. And I’m pretty sure the actual plot holds a few surprises. But in reality, the only difference between those aspects and the ones I mentioned above is that it’s harder to trace back through the thought process to the seed of the idea. Because sometimes, that seed can be as simple as I don’t want to do it that way. Consciously seeking to be different puts more distance between yourself and the original, but it still leaves you with a debt to another book.
And in fact, there’s nothing wrong with that.
There are so many books in the world now that it’s impossible to be completely new. People have been around too long for that. We have entire websites dedicated to tropes. Our creative process is always going to be one of synthesis rather than wholesale creation: selecting and rejecting the experiences we’ve already had in an attempt to build something new. And that’s fine. Because old bits of glass arranged in a new configuration can become something different enough to be interesting. The key is to keep turning the kaleidoscope until you find it.
Wise and true words. Thank you very much A.F.E. Smith, it’s been an honour to have you with us. Now, I promised to give you some more information about Darkhaven, A.F.E. Smith, the blog tour and the facebook event so here is some more info.
Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.
A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.
What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.
Author social media links
The main points again:
A.F.E. Smith’s Rafflecopter giveaway
Where to find A.F.E. Smith’s Facebook Event on 2nd July