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Charlotte McConaghy on writing fantasy

On August 13, 2013

Charlotte grew up with her nose in a book and her head in the clouds. At fourteen, her English teacher told her that the short story she'd submitted was wildly romantic but somewhat clichéd, so she decided to prove him wrong – and write a novel. Thus began her foray into epic fantasy, with sweeping romances and heroic adventures, and as much juicy drama as she could possibly squeeze in.

Her first novel, Arrival, was published at age seventeen, followed by Descent when she was twenty, launching The Strangers of Paragor series, which is adventure fantasy for teenagers.

Charlotte has a degree in screenwriting from the Australian Film, Television & Radio School in Sydney, and is currently studying a Masters in Screenwriting, which allows her to explore different aspects of her writing and indulge in her passion for film and television. Avery is her first adult fantasy novel and the first book in a new series called The Chronicles of Kaya.

 Where did you find your inspiration for writing Avery?

I woke up having had the most incredibly vivid dream, which has turned out to be the prologue of the book. It was so sad I woke up sobbing, and immediately switched on my computer to type it all out. From there, the story flowed really easily.

What were some of the challenges in writing a fantasy romance novel?

Well, for me, this is what most comes naturally. I struggle when I turn my hand to writing in the real world – I always feel a bit suffocated by it. Fantasy has always been an avenue of adventure and escape for me, a place I can plunge head first into.  And the romance is non-negotiable. I would never in a million years write a story without an epic romance. To me, the two genres go amazingly well together – the stakes and scale of a fantasy world lend themselves to the kind of characters that work beautifully in sweeping, tragic love stories.

World building is an important component of fantasy novels. How did you go about constructing the fantasy world in Avery?

I tend to set a lot of my fantasy in worlds that are based on Medieval England, because something in me really responds to the classical sense of romance of that era – the horses and swords and dragons are all so wonderfully old school, and I don’t think they’re the kinds of things we’ll ever get sick of – so that’s where I started. I then added elements I found intriguing, like the soul magic of the warders, and the blood feud between the countries. The bond of the Kayans came from my dream, and really helped define the kind of people they would be.

When I designed the country of Pirenti, I based it strongly on Norse Viking mythology, and that’s how the princes Ambrose and Thorne took shape.

My rule with world building is that if you start in a real, historical place and go from there, you have a good grounding in reality to really help the readers visualize the world, and that way even when you add elements of magic and myth, it’s still believable, and helps to serve the story and the characters.

What are some of the ways writing fantasy for adults is different or similar from writing fantasy for teenagers?

That’s a very interesting question. Mainly because, in my honest opinion, it doesn’t differ very much at all. I initially thought it would, but no matter what I’ve set out to write, whether it be for teens or adults, I don’t think about it when I’m writing – I simply write what I want to read, and often that happens to be a genre and style that crosses between teens and adults.

If you age down your writing for teens, they’ll know. They’re SMART. They read more than adults do, and they know their stuff. I certainly wouldn’t be trying to lighten up any of the themes of a story either, as teenagers handle heavy stuff every day, and they crave relationships that are complex.

In the end, we all just want a good story with great characters.

Romance writing, on the other hand, is a tad different. I don’t know if I’d be putting any saucy sex scenes in books for younger teens, but I think that’s probably the only real difference.

Who are the writers you read, admire or are influential to your writing?

My favourite author is probably Laini Taylor (‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’) – she writes so beautifully it takes my breath away, and I love how she draws consistently on fairytales.

I grew up reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s fantasy books, and he really shaped my love of the genre – I definitely only started writing because of his books.

Melina Marchetta has shown me that you can try your hand to writing in different styles – publishing both contemporary fiction and epic fantasies – and have the same level of character authenticity.

One of my favourite books ever is ‘The Last Werewolf’ by Glen Duncan – this is a must read for adults who like beautiful, smart prose, unsentimental romance and a touch of the supernatural.


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