Soren’s mother, the Queen, is dead. Her younger brother Zaki has framed Soren for the brutal murder to claim the legendary throne of the Dragon Kings for himself, but Zaki’s position is vulnerable. Before the fragile peace inevitably shatters, can Prince Soren reclaim the throne - and should he?
Thanks very much for asking me to talk about my debut novel, The Tainted Crown: The First Book of Caledan, a young adult fantasy that fans of The Inheritance Saga (Christopher Paolini) or the Pellinor series (Alison Croggon) would enjoy.
What is the book about?
This isn't an "off we go on an adventure" story, but a tale of personal growth for all the characters. They face some incredibly difficult challenges, and the book shows how they deal with that and who they become as these events affect them.
For example, the death of Soren's mother and disappearance of his sister are combined with the loss of his home and everything he has known. It was very hard to write his part in this book, as I wanted his emotional journey to be authentic. His struggle is key to the lives of his subjects - his choices shape them and he is very aware of this, so that also proves an extra burden on his shoulders.
Eve, the other main viewpoint, has to reconcile with who she discovers herself to be - a person very different from those around her. She has to learn to accept that, to understand it, and to be able to embrace what her life must and will become.
Where did The Tainted Crown come from?
I started writing this back in January 2011, though the idea was several years old. It wasn't until I went to see one of my favourite authors, Christopher Paolini, at a rare UK event that I became inspired to write it down in its entirety. Until then, I'd never really believed in myself or thought it to be possible.
Three years later and here I sit, with a fully formed book in my hands. It's an amazing feeling and a testament to the fact that really, truly anything is possible if you set your mind to it. Along the way, I've learned so much about writing and publishing - it's been a steep but joyful learning curve and I've loved every second of it. It's an addictive process too; I can't wait to publish my next book, the second in the series, which is a third of the way through it's first draft.
Why do you write?
Writing is a wonderful process, from the creation of ideas, to editing and honing that final draft. There isn't a part that I don't enjoy! Over and above that, however, is the compulsion. I write, because I can't not. I have an idea in my head that consumes me to the point I have to see it to fruition.
I live very much in the real world but there's always a part of my mind, whether I'm asleep or awake, that resides in Caledan with my characters, or in another world I'm creating that hasn't made it to paper yet. So partly, it's about seeing my ideas through - the good ones that I can't put down, that I hope others will also enjoy too.
Another part, which many authors also say, is about writing the books that you want to read. There are many wonderful authors in the world both living and not, who have shared great works with us. But for me, there's always other stories I want to read too, that I haven't come across - so instead, I write them. There's an infinite possible combinations of words to form stories - so there's always room for more books in the world!
Where do your ideas start?
Mostly with a character. Soren has been forming in my head since as far back as 2007, though he's had several incarnations before he reached the name, form, life and personality he has in the Caledan books. He's come a long way.
My writing is very character focused - on their lives, feelings, personal growth - as they call to me most strongly. Often, they march into my brain fully formed and forcibly take over a space, refusing to leave until I write about them. There's already a naive dwarf and a drama-queen dragon camping out there, having joined the queue for "future novels I need to write"!
Then, the stories form themselves. Often, I only have to sit back and watch or listen to the characters - they usually tell me what's happening! I feel it's really important to be true to your characters - not necessarily to act in their best interests (which reminds me of the chapter of The Hobbit titled "out of the frying pan and into the fire", as giving characters impossible seeming challenges makes for great writing!) - but write in a way that is authentic to who they are and their interactions with the world/those around them.
What makes you qualified to write?
Do you need a qualification to write? I strongly believe that you need nothing more than a wild imagination and a passionate desire and determination to do so. I am lucky to have parents who spoiled me with books growing up, which fuelled my imagination. I've loved to write since I was a little girl and that's helped to hone my skills. Good planning and editing are also vital!
It's important to remember that we should always be learning and improving our craft - never to be complacent and always strive to do better. But, no one needs a fancy qualification, or a writing degree to be a writer, just a love of writing and desire to improve their craft.
What are the challenges of writing a novel?
Being able to see it through from start to finish. It's such a large project - The Tainted Crown is 104,000 words and its sequel about the same - that you need to be absolutely committed to your project and for a sustained period of time.
For me, that process is having the idea in my head, translating that to a rough outline with a timeline that I then flesh out with detailed notes (for example, book 2 plot notes are 30,000 words!). Only then can I write the first draft. Then the second, maybe a third, then I'll start the finer rounds of edits. I think The Tainted Crown had about 6 rounds of edits? Something like that!
To write The Tainted Crown, it took about 2 years. To edit and publish, 1 year. I'm sure it will become faster with practice, but it is a big time commitment. Only sink your heart and soul into a project if it really is worth that time and effort to you.
Why indie publishing?
I'm a firm fan of independent publishing (also known as self publishing) and being an independent author, after heavy research into the publishing industry as it currently stands. Of course, each writer is and should be able to choose their own path, but for me, being independent is perfect. I originally assumed that the only way to become published was to query agents/publishing houses with a manuscript, but when I researched into the shocking contract terms, poor returns and shoddy end products for some authors taking such a route, and the alternatives available, I was determined to do it better by myself.
I like to have control over my own project from start to finish, and indie publishing allowed me to do this. It's a very empowering thing, knowing that every detail is something you've done yourself! For example, I lovingly formatted every single print page of my book and designed the cover, spending hours hand painting the image (which I would not advise you to do without the necessary skills and understanding of cover design - as I have worked in illustration for many years, I was confident to undertake this myself. Otherwise, I would have hired this process out).
I've used my own preferred editing, proofing and beta-reading services - as an indie author you can hire the same contractors as publishing houses do, to produce quality books (I definitely don't advocate publishing shoddy work just because you can!). I retain full control of all my rights - so that if I want to expand into other languages, worldwide territories, retailers and formats such as audio books, I can do so with no repercussions. The cherry on top of the cake is that I also get to reap the rewards for this - the sales of my book directly offset the costs of publishing that I've invested into the project.
Although it's a labour of love at the moment, it's a fantastic platform to build upon - essentially my own business - that I can grow over the many years to come in my writing career. If you're a writer looking to publish, I cannot recommend researching indie publishing highly enough.
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About the Author
Meg Cowley lives in Yorkshire, England with her partner and two cats. Meg is a trainee primary school teacher and previously worked in accountancy after leaving school. In addition to writing, she enjoys drawing and has completed both a variety of private commissions and her own design projects over the past decade, mainly digital fantasy/semi-realism paintings. In her spare time, when not writing, reading, drawing or fulfilling other duties, she enjoys recurve archery, hiking and cooking. Find out more about Meg at www.megcowley.co.uk, follow her on Twitter @Meg_Cowley and Facebook. To stay in touch, sign up to her newsletter.