Last week, Cheryl released her fourth novel, The Lioness and the Spellspinners and today she is on the blog again to answer questions about the book. It’s a slight departure from her other works as it’s set a fair bit into the past of when her other books take place, but no less delightful for that! I ask about upcoming projects, influences, and the process of writing a non-linearly presented story.
Welcome back, Cheryl! <3
Let me give you all the plot description first. It is delightful!
Forrest can’t fathom this prickly, knife-wielding girl who so unceremoniously turns up in his family’s barn one morning. His life has never been this exciting. Karina can’t make herself trust the strangely hospitable villagers on this island she’s now stuck on, and when they claim they can knit spells into their garments, that doesn’t help. She knows magic exists, but that’s just ridiculous.
And no one can understand why the chickens have suddenly started laying gilded eggs, or why the horse is talking in rhyming couplets.
When the inexplicable magic goes from mere bad poetry to actual threats, when dancing becomes dangerous and the wrong thought could cause disaster, the only answers are in the past Karina is fleeing—and the only way to survive is for the knife-wielder to trust the spellspinner.
LEO: The Lioness and the Spellspinners has one of the loveliest magic systems I’ve read about. How did you come up with it? Has any magic ever sprung from your own knitting?
CM: I’m so glad you enjoy the magic system, because if (slightly hazy) memory serves me correctly, you helped with the inspiration. Some time quite a ways back you said something about how knitting itself is a bit magical, that you can weave yarn together and it becomes something instead of just unraveling. That thought worked in my back brain…and around the same time I also spent a lot of time knitting (two different versions) of Tom Baker’s scarf from Doctor Who.
The funny thing about that scarf, besides being massively long and so a very extended project, is that it doesn’t follow a discernible pattern. There is a pattern, one you can find online, but it’s not regular or logical. Seven rows of this color, three rows of that one, and so on. It began to feel like there had to be some hidden meaning to how many rows of which color I was knitting.
One of the first things I wrote for this book was a few pages exploring the theory of magical knitting—which, for those that have not yet read the book, essentially consists of knitting certain colors in certain patterns for desired effects, like good luck or improved health. Though of course, it does matter who’s doing the knitting too.
As far as I know, I’ve never knit anything magical. But as Forrest says in the book, knitting magic tends to nudge at life rather than change it dramatically, so I may not have realized the magical effect I was having!
LEO: The book also features a non-linear plot that slowly meets up. Did you find it difficult to balance writing the two strands?
CM: Even though the book isn’t told in fully chronological order (with a mid-section that jumps backwards in time), I did write it in the order it’s read in. It wasn’t too hard to write each section, but I found it difficult to make each switch. The middle section is very different in some ways, and I had to do a mental shift starting it—and then another one when it ended and I went back to the original timeline progression.
On one of my review passes, I read the entire book in chronological order, to help me make sure that I did have everything straight. It helped, especially making sure the characters were appropriately affected by the flashback events, even before the reader knows what those events were.
LEO: Who’s your favourite character from the book?
CM: People always want to know my favorite character, and I always twitch and twist and try to deny having one! I have to admit giving a little extra edge to Karina this time. It’s not that I don’t love the other characters, but Karina revealed a lot more depth and complexity than I was expecting…and kind of stole the book a little more than I was expecting too! (But then, she does have a criminal past.)
The favorite character of my writing group seems to be sweet and adorable kid sister Rosie, while I freely admit that I pulled Dastan into this story mostly because I got so fond of him in The Storyteller and Her Sisters.
LEO: This story is set a while before the others in your Beyond the Tales series. How did that affect your writing and perception of the story? Did you find it difficult to keep things consistent between the books?
CM: The time shift made this book more isolated. There are connections to The Storyteller and Her Sisters, but the different time period meant that there weren’t as many connections possible to my other two books—most of the characters in them haven’t been born yet. Though the time shift didn’t stop a certain Good Fairy from horning into the story!
LEO: NaNoWriMo is coming up soon. Do you have any plans for what you’ll write next?
CM: My plans for NaNo are a little different this year than they have been before. I’ve been working for several years on a Phantom of the Opera re-imagining. I’ve been writing it in bits and pieces in between the other books, and it’s somehow grown enormous without completing the story. I think (I hope!) I’m within 50,000 words of finishing the draft, so that’s my NaNo goal this year. My primary goal is to finish a first draft—or to write at least 50,000 words if it turns out to be even longer than that!
Cheryl Mahoney can’t remember when she began her love affair with stories. She never goes anywhere (including the grocery store) without a book and a pen. Cheryl also writes a book review blog, Tales of the Marvelous, and is on Goodreads (MarvelousTales) and Twitter (@MarvelousTales). She has been previously published in The Ignatian, and has completed NaNoWriMo twice.
Thank you so much for visiting again, Cheryl!