Sunday, April 14, 2024

Kaaren Sutcliffe - The IAN Interview

 Kaaren Sutcliffe

I was hooked on fantasy from first year high school when my English teacher read The Hobbit to the class.  She had a large crystal ball on a necklace, which glinted as it moved with her breaths … just magic.  When I was on maternity leave, I found the time and brain space to begin my own fantasy novel, with a strong thread of romance. Eight novels later, I still love this genre and my latest series manages to combine my writing with my new sport of dragon boating. More magic. I live on the stunning south coast of Australia, where inspiration is easy to come by.

IAN: Tell us about your latest book.

Kaaren Sutcliffe: Eminent Mage, book 3 of The Mage & the Bird Caller was released at the end of 2023. This series has been so much fun to write. It features a handsome spy, Mage Everand, who is sent on a secret mission by his Mages’ Guild to find out who is sabotaging the inaugural gathering of the four surrounding river provinces. He has seven days to unravel the threat. His mission goes awry from the outset: he is translocated into the river, nearly run over by a dragon boat and spotted by the entirely desirable woman standing up steering the boat! So much for being undercover.

The simple mission gathers in complexity, and the boatwoman, Lamiya, who has her own mysterious bird calling abilities, is everywhere he turns. Realising he needs her, he relies on her evolving mystical abilities as they face increasing threats from a rogue half-mage, an incensed ancient river dragon, and a growing awareness that all is not right at the Mages’ Guild. By book 3 Everand has lost his heart to Lamiya and his destiny has been diverted. The ancient red dragon, Akachi, reveals the entire history of the Guild has been a lie, and is a force the provinces and mages must reckon with. The Mage and the Bird Caller, working together. must find a way forward.

IAN: Is Eminent Mage published in print, eBook or both?

Kaaren Sutcliffe: The three books are all available in print and e-book versions. I hope to release an e-book trilogy set soon.  

Amazon, AmazonUK, AmazonAU, Smashwords, ESentral, and at Barnes&Noble.

IAN: Do you have a specific writing style?

Kaaren Sutcliffe: My preferred writing style is closely-held, deep third-person perspective for the two or three key characters. I aim to write a chapter in a viewpoint before changing, and love the way this can show differences between how a character sees themselves and how others see them. I try to keep my writing active, engaging, highly visual and the plot moving along. When I write, I see the characters moving and speaking and I am transported there, living and feeling what they do. I’ve been told by readers that my books would make excellent movies. I also like to keep an underlying sense of humour and have the lead characters stuff up on occasion. This offsets and enhances the truly poignant moments. I like those too.

IAN: What do you hope your readers come away with after reading Eminent Mage?

Kaaren Sutcliffe: Mainly, I hope readers enjoy the roller-coaster ride and have been barracking for the protagonists. My characters tend to insist on adding layers and themes to my stories, so by the end there are many thoughts readers can take away. These include the concepts surrounding integrity and self-worth, betrayal and forgiveness, how far would you go for love, how far will you go to do what is right, the value and strength in working together, loyalty, camaraderie … forgiving oneself and the link between our spirit and our bodies. And, I say with a smile, if readers are a little impressed by the sport of dragon boating that would be good too.

IAN: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Kaaren Sutcliffe: There are a few, but the standout one has to be Dragons Abreast Australia. As a survivor of breast cancer, and hence a pink paddler, I am overwhelmed by the support from DAA for me as a paddler and an author. At the Pink Paddle Power regatta in Melbourne, December 2022, I was immediately adopted by the DA Canberra team to paddle, and invited by DAA to be one of two keynote speakers at the Ball that night with the opportunity to sell my books. I think I’m affectionately known as ‘the dragon-nerd author-paddler’.  The welcoming, supportive vibes at DAA events is amazing. As a way of saying thank you, I donate $5 from each book sold directly by me to DAA on an ongoing basis. Paddles up!  My own local club, Nature Coast, has also been supportive and paddlers unfortunate enough to sit next to me are occasionally subjected to my literary adventures while we are out training.

IAN: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Kaaren Sutcliffe: I’m lucky in that my lead characters tend to present already well-formed and chatty about what they want to do. The character/s that I always struggle with are my antagonists. I like to think this is because I am a nice person … but it always takes me longer to shade and nuance my villain and to work out what their real motivations are. In some ways this is useful as when the villains are nuanced and 3-D it makes their actions and hence the outcome less predictable, which does wonders for the dramatic tension. In Eminent Mage, I specifically gave the rogue half-mage Malach the task of wreaking chaos. He was a total wild card, exceeding even my expectations! I had trouble turning him off, and when the story was finished and the book was being prepared for publication it encountered all these bizarre glitches — the editor suggested it was Malach still causing havoc.

IAN: Did you learn anything from writing Eminent Mage and what was it?

Kaaren Sutcliffe: I learned many things, but the key one was that it is a good plan to have at least started your book three before you send your book one to publication. Akachi, the red dragon, dropped a total game-changer on me early in book three, which meant I had to go back and tweak book one to set it up properly. But it was fabulous because the realisation made sense of all these threads I’d subconsciously planted, and it was a matter of drawing them together and refining them. A second major thing I learned was that if I’m struggling with a scene and it just isn’t flowing, I might not have chosen the best character viewpoint. There is one chapter that completely stalled me in Everand’s viewpoint, and as soon as I scrapped that and started again in Malach’s viewpoint the whole thing flowed.

IAN: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Kaaren Sutcliffe: Trust your characters, fall in love with them, let them breathe and help you. And learn to enjoy the process of rewriting.  To quote William Zinsser in On Writing Well, “It’s in the rewriting that the game is won or lost”.  Take your time with the polishing phase, ask if each scene is optimised, whether it is in the right character’s point of view, whether you can save a few words, say anything crisper or more evocatively? I was repeatedly amazed by how I could shave a few thousand words off each time I polished the books. Related to this, use a good editor and proofreader. I chose mine carefully, and the feedback gives me confidence that a book is ready, and I enjoy improving my writing from the things they pick up.  There’s always something that can be worked on.

IAN: Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand-alone?

Kaaren Sutcliffe: I have two standalone books planned for 2024.

The work in progress (halfway already!) is a contemporary romance set on the south coast of Australia. Hayley, only 34, is a very young breast cancer survivor who goes to the coast to recuperate and rediscover herself. Her body and self-esteem have taken a beating. She accidentally discovers the local dragon boat club, and the handsome, muscled Chinese sweep and coach persuades her to give paddling a try. Justin, 35, looks like an Oriental warrior, and Hayley is soon smitten. Can she overcome her self-doubts to be with him? Justin is impressed by Hayley’s resilience and determination, and she is sooo pretty, but can he get past his policy of never dating in the boat? Let alone persuade his Chinese parents to accept that he loves an Australian girl. Scenes from this book have done really well in Romance Writers Australia short story competitions. The beginning is published in the 2023 Sweet Treats anthology, and the first intimate scene will be published in the 2024 Spicy Bites anthology.

The other book is a sequel to the Mage and the Bird Caller series, set in the fourth province of Riversea. Lamiya’s dedicated and handsome lead pacer, Lazuli, gets to have his own mission when the battered body of a sea serpent washes up on the beach in southern Riversea. Who killed the sea serpent and is the island of Ossilis under threat? Lazuli is sent to work with the people of Riversea to find out. While there, he comes across the exotic paddler and exceptionally talented artist, Charonia. Working title Trail of Bubbles.

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