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Friday, 23 May 2014

Good News for Bad Bishop!

Take two authors, two different genres,  one publishing company and a Spring afternoon in York. The result? My meeting with fellow Safkhet author Irene Soldatos, whose novel Bad Bishop is part of the Safkhet Fantasy imprint.

  I've never been quite sure what to expect from a fantasy novel. Yet, at 600- plus words Bad Bishop is beautifully crafted and shows an imagination and depth of knowledge that is a huge credit to the author. Irene was born in Greece and for many years lived between there and England, becoming comfortably bi-lingual as she progressed. She reads  very widely, both fiction and non-fiction, science as well as history. But she hasn’t been able to avoid the family history bug. There are three professional full-time historians in her family, so it isn’t surprising that she’s a bit of a history buff herself.
 This has led to two published works to date: a speculative fantasy comic novella, Innocent in the Afterlife, and a full-length historical fantasy novel, Bad Bishop. In the works, and in a completely different field, is a commissioned performance piece.

Bad Bishop
In a world where history is a memory, the greatest danger comes from what has been forgotten...
Thanks for joining me on my blog today, Irene. How long have you been writing?

Oh, very long. Bits and bobs since I was a teenager, but I never managed to actually finish anything. I only started writing more seriously while I was writing up my PhD, and that as an effort to keep sane! It took a long time, but I managed to finish that. It would be unrecognisable now, but it was a very early version of what later became Bad Bishop.

What made you choose the genre?

I don’t know how other authors work, but I don’t “choose genres”. I decide what story I want to write and what I want that story to say, and write it. This story turned out to be a historical fantasy because I wanted to talk about history, about the enormous differences, cultural, social, ideological, technological differences between the people of one historical period and those of another, but also the very many similarities. What I wanted was to bring together and juxtapose people from different historical periods and explore what would happen in this case. Of course, in order to do this, a fantastical or sci-fi element was necessary. It would have been possible, I suppose, to use some sort of time travel to achieve this, but I didn’t like that idea, because it would mean that the people using it would have missed the slow process of history, and how cultural, ideological, and scientific changes happen over time. In short, they would have missed all the interesting bits.

How much research did you have to do before starting the novel?

I don’t even have words to explain how much research was necessary. Not only before starting, but during the entire writing process. And this was because I don’t focus on a single historical period in a single place, as most historical novels do, but I have characters from deep antiquity to the middle ages, and places all over Europe and the Middle East to deal with. It was impossible to know in advance all the things that I would need to know, in order to write. In fact, I was double-checking bits of research up until a week before a handed in the final draft to the publisher. The main reason it took so many years to write was the research involved. It’s the details, the small details that make things feel real, and in a book that combines fantasy with reality it is even more important to pepper the story with details and to get all those details right, because it is these that anchor the readers in reality and help them suspend disbelief and accept the fantastical elements as just as real as everything else.

So how long did it take you to write?

On and off, 8 years. I suppose the focused bit of writing and researching of the story in this form was 6 years.

At 600 pages it’s a very ambitious project – did you ever consider writing Bad Bishop as two connecting novels?

Yes. Repeatedly, when I realised how long it would turn out. I even had editors and beta readers try to work out after the fact how it might be possible to split into two. But unfortunately it wouldn’t work. It’s all one story. One unit. And it’s best read in one go without long gaps in between. It’s not an easy read. It does require the reader to keep in mind quite a bit of information in order to follow what’s going on. But I’m very happy to say that those who have read it thus far have all said it was worth the effort in the end! :-)

Can you give us a brief idea of the plot?

Well, I have mentioned the important bits above. But in terms of plot, it’s a political murder mystery set in the 12th century. Only the people involved, though very much people in every sense, are not ordinary human beings.

What are you writing now?

I’m writing a sequel for Bad Bishop, and also a comic fantasy short story. I’ve finished a commissioned performance piece, and there may, possibly, be a play in the works for the future.

Irene SoldatosThanks for joining me, Irene. I've learned a lot!



Francie...The Scented Cottage Studio said...

I so admire you writers ! The perseverance, research and then the ability to turn an idea into a finely created work, so much goes into the craft.

Guernsey Girl said...

I have to admit that I really admire Irene, too, for her perseverance. Like your own craft, you have to really want something to make it happen. Thanks for your comment - lovely to hear from you :)

IreneSoldatos said...

Thank you both, so much, for the interest and the incredibly kind words! And thank you, Marilyn, for having me on your blog! Perseverance, as in all things worth doing, in necessary. But most of all, having a story one wants to tell more than anything is the most important thing. :)

Guernsey Girl said...

Great to have you here, Irene. Long may we want to tell stories....