31 May 2014

Guest post: S.F. Burgess talks about her inspiration for 'Eleanor'

"Most people's lives begin with their births; mine began with my death."

In the final moments of her life, the enigmatic Conlan drags Eleanor from her world and into his. Mydren - a vast, majestic land where myths have substance, magic is terrifyingly real and Eleanor is marked for death.

Reborn as an Avatar, the living incarnation of an ancient magic, Eleanor must think fast and act faster if she wishes to survive. This new life comes with a price; Conlan has a vital and dangerous mission to undertake.

Eleanor must learn to control her newfound abilities and cope with a host of dangers both mystical and natural, while helping her fellow Avatars to master their own talents, so they can get the connection between them working.

Can she make 'The Five' a force to be reckoned with? Will their deadly enemies destroy them? Can Eleanor overcome her own fears and find the courage she needs to reach Conlan and release him from his dark secrets?

My first day at school, as a confused, frightened four year old, I made a friend called Alex. Alex was fun and full of smiles and she seemed much more able to cope with what was happening than I was, older than her years somehow. As we moved through school Alex became a good friend, even when she left to go to sixth form at another school we kept in touch. When she died tragically, far too young, I was devastated, but Alex had made a lasting impression. She was a tiny girl, not quite five foot, but what she lacked in size she made up for with her joy of life, her intelligence, her determination and her loud voice. I’d always considered her larger than life.
While Alex was never quite as reckless or arrogant as Eleanor can be, she had become a voice in my head, telling me to keep going, reminding me that life could be over in a flash and that each moment should be seized. Not long after Alex died, I had a dream about her, as dreams often are, it was a little odd, but I woke up with one line in my head: 
“Most people’s lives begin with their birth, mine began with my death.” 

I wrote it in my notebook at the time, the date was the 24th Dec 2003. I also wrote down the dream, looking back at it now it’s strange, but essentially, those frantic, badly spelt scribbles that mark my desperate attempt to capture the emotion of my dream before it faded, are the first chapter of ‘Eleanor’ and the last chapter of the last book in the series. 

For the next few years this concept rattled around my head. I knew where I was starting, and I knew where I was ending, now I just had to fill in the middle. It took several years, but eventually I had a story arc that covered five books in total.

As I began to think about the story and research it, I wove aspects of my own life, my own beliefs into the story plan. I’m not religious, but I have spiritual tendencies, I believe that life has value and meaning in its own right. If I had to describe my own philosophy I guess ‘Wiccan- Buddhist’ might be a start. I also believe in the ‘noble virtues’, as I call them in the book: Compassion, Courage, Wisdom, Truth and Duty. Which I recently realised are very similar to the ‘Factions’ in Veronica Roth’s brilliant ‘Divergence’ trilogy: Amity, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor and Abnegation. Obviously this isn’t a coincidence, but a reflection of the human condition. With a few variants, these virtues have been traditional heroic ideals since Homer’s epic poetry. Just think, if everybody cultivated and lived by these virtues, violent conflict would be unlikely, the world would be an amazing place. While the different books in the series are told from different people’s point of view, the series is ultimately about Conlan, it’s his ‘mission’, his vision, that drives them and I wanted a main hero who would personify these virtues, who would live his life by them, but I didn’t want a flat, boring character.

I love fantasy books, I have learnt from giants like David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Trudi Canavan, Melanie Rawn, Robin Hobb and Glenda Larke to name but a favourite few and I knew, to be interesting and engaging my hero had to grow, had to learn, had to change. In ‘Eleanor’, Conlan is almost an anti-hero, he is abusive, intolerant, violent and brooding. Some of this comes from the horrific brutality he suffered as a child and his inability to deal with his emotions as a result, some of it comes from growing up in a society where brutality against women and those beneath you is perfectly acceptable and even expected in some circumstances, but most of it comes from never having been challenged to actually live the ‘noble virtues’, for Conlan, in the first instance they are ‘ideals’, something that he thinks about, not something he feels, not something he holds in his heart. The interaction he has with his Avatars will change this, they are going to force him to grow, especially Eleanor. Her arrival triggers Conlan’s transformation because she connects with him on an emotional level he has avoided. Occasionally she pushes him too far, too fast and suffers the consequences, but this also forces Conlan to grow, to assess and reassess himself and his beliefs, to become the better man.

There were a range of needs that drove the story line for ‘Eleanor’. I wanted to set the scene and establish the characters, but I also wanted it to be fun, exciting and interesting, so I chose to start with a traditional ‘hunt the magic objects’ quest. Much of the ‘action’ was created to enable the reader to understand the range and limitations of the Avatars abilities. I didn’t want to create situations where, whenever the Avatars get stuck, their magic suddenly gives them the solution, so there are hard rules to what they can achieve, but in the first book they needed to explore and learn what those rules were, but I have to admit, as I wrote the characters had quite a few surprises for me as they found their voices.

If you read the ‘story plan’ for ‘Eleanor’ you would recognise the basic things they do, but very little else would gel with the final book and this was due to the changes the characters made themselves. It was the characters talking to me, and each other, in my head, that created their reality, dictated their personalities and how they dealt with the challenges they faced. I did my best to be true to them.

So where did the inspiration for ‘Eleanor’ come from? 

It came from the short, vibrant life of a dear friend, my own beliefs and ideals, reading the amazing work of writers I admire and ultimately from the hearts and minds of those who live in Mydren and gave me the privilege of joining them in their world. 

Facebook | Goodreads | Website | Twitter
Sara Burgess lives in Manchester with her long-suffering husband, her beloved bear-dog Sweep and three cats: Frodo, Gandalf and Gimli. She has lived in Florida, Spain and France and has at different times in her life been a video shop assistant, bank clerk, school teacher, supermarket till worker, hotel receptionist, bookshop assistant, archaeologist, software trainer and she currently works as an Intranet Evangelist to pay for her first love: writing. In her infrequent spare time she enjoys the movies, opera, bike-riding, reading and hanging out at DaVinci’s with the ‘crew’.

Why not come and find out more about the world of Eleanor and Mydren over on Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment