The second of our New Kits On The Block is Jessica Rydill, and we liked her novel Winterbloom so much that we’ve taken the option to re-publish her entire Children of the Shaman series – that’s four (maybe five) books. One of our subs readers compared Winterbloom to Naomi Novik’s highly acclaimed Uprooted, and the themes are similar. But I’ll let Jessica speak for herself…
Jessica Rydill writes fantasy and collects Asian Ball Jointed Dolls, or BJD. At an average height of twenty inches tall, they take up a lot of room and can unnerve visitors. Many of the dolls are based on characters from her books.
Jessica’s novels are a cross-genre mash-up; they embrace fantasy with mediaeval warlords, and steampunk adventure with lightning-wielding shamans. Magic is used to solve daily problems, with unexpected results, and a myriad of underworlds and other dimensions are only a short step away.
Hello! Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m vintage (1959) and in slightly distressed condition. More shabby than chic. I read English at University and trained as a lawyer. Like the curate’s egg, this was good in parts. I ended up temping for London Boroughs as a Housing Lawyer, having also dabbled in Child Care Law, which was grim. When I’ve had money, I’ve gone travelling; latterly that tended to mean popping across to Europe. I’ve been obsessed with Richard III since 1973, then Eastern Europe, and France. Since 1982 I’ve been a devotee of WOMAD (World music festival) until it got too expensive. I’ve been a fan of Fantasy and Science Fiction almost since I could read. My sister read The Hobbit to me when I was recovering from measles.
Could you tell us a little bit about your book series – no spoilers please!
When I started to write seriously, I wanted to bring some element of reality to my fantasy world; it started evolving in about 1980, after a holiday volunteering in France, and has grown with me.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been obsessed with death, the afterlife and imaginary worlds. I have Catholic and Jewish ancestry and I wanted to use Jewish folklore, but also to include matriarchal religions where the Goddesses were – ambivalent. So the local version of Christianity – Doxa – has the Virgin Mary as God. And there are many other religions – the Wanderers are based on the Jews, and there’s the Double/Dual Goddess worshipped by the Women.
The other premise is that there’s been a Mini Ice Age, and people from Eastern Europe and Russia have ended up living in the South of France. Along the coast everything is steampunk and 19th century but as you travel north it becomes more mediaeval because those areas were cut off during The Great Cold.
The shamans have magical powers – shamanic powers, which include healing, telepathy and the ability to visit the underworld.
The story begins when a shaman – Yuda Vasilyevich – reclaims his teenage children. He abandoned them and ran away to the city, where he’s lived a somewhat unconventional life. He’s a Wanderer, but their mother was a Doxan. So the two children, Annat and Malchik, have to decide where they belong.
All the stories have the Vasilyevich family as their nucleus. And another family – the House of Ademar, who are mediaeval, and living under a curse. Many years ago, two young girls tried to cast a spell, and the consequences were disastrous. The main theme is what happens as the curse works itself out, taking out quite a lot of people in the process.
What are you most looking forward to about working with Kristell Ink?
It seems lively and fun, and I’m impressed by the energy of the team and the fact that you get to interact with the other authors. This is a huge change from old-fashioned publishing where you see the editor once every few years. And an indie author can feel rather like an amoeba in the primordial soup. You know there’s life out there somewhere…but where?
I’m also impressed by the production values of the books. And it’s friendly. Which is good after writing in isolation for so long.
What was it that drew you to SFF in the first place, and what made you want to become a writer?
I was doomed from the start. When I was a child my sister was already writing books, and she used to read her stories to me. She loved The Lord of the Rings (she was an early adopter) and C.S. Lewis. And our grandmother used to invent stories and games. So being a writer was the main thing I wanted to do. I read lots as a child and found the transition to the adult library a bit tricky. To begin with I used to read plays and historical novels, and I followed some advice in an essay by Ursula le Guin to read widely – not just SFF – if you wanted to write it. So my path through the thicket of SFF has been an odd one.
What is your favourite part of writing?
Everything? I suppose the imagining and creating. I love the actual writing but it’s also the hardest part because I often sit there and wince at what I’ve written. And when it’s all down in a first draft I go back and edit it to buggery. Because to me that’s the raw material and it needs a lot of work to make it readable.
Who are your favourite SFF writers, and can you share some of your favourite books and movies of the past few years?
David Gemmell, Robert Holdstock, Terry Pratchett, Jane Routley, Kari Sperring – Ursula le Guin of course! Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, Kristin Cashore; and the ghost stories of M.R. James, if those count. I tend to put references to his stories in my novels.
Fave books: my reading has gone a bit weird over the past few years, and I read much less than I used to. I don’t know if it’s down to internet use! Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore; I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett; Greek Fire by C.J. Sansom; Boneland by Alan Garner; The Other Wind by Ursula le Guin; and Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring.
Movies: This is tricky as I don’t watch movies the way I used to. Despicable Me; The Adventures of Tintin; Persepolis; The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick; Star Wars: The Force Awakens; and The Artist. I enjoyed the first part of The Hobbit trilogy, but didn’t watch the others.
To be honest, I tend to watch TV more.
Any links you’d like to share with us?
I’m co-host of an SFF Blog called The Speculative Fiction Showcase with my friend Cora Buhlert: http://indiespecfic.blogspot.co.uk/
My Twitter is @razumova
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/jessicarydill/