Author interview part 1: Karen Brooks – celebrating the release of ‘Votive’

I’m thrilled to have as my guest today, the gracious, beautiful and talented Karen Brooks, author of many books including the series, The Curse of the Bond Riders, academic and social commentator.

Her new book in the series, Votive is just released in Australia through Random House.  Huge congratulations, Karen! 🙂

Karen Brooks, author

I was lucky to get hold of a copy before its release (thanks, Leonie Tyle!) and after having read Tallow (the first book, published through Woolshed Press) and enjoyed every word of it, I had high hopes for VotiveVotive is living up to my high hopes. You do need to read Tallow before you read Votive though – well worth it as the world where Tallow lives is complicated and fascinating and her quest, intricate.

About TallowIn a world of darkness, there is one who will bring light . . . On the edge of a mystical border called the Limen, close to a beautiful canal-laced city, a humble candlemaker rescues a child whom he raises as his apprentice. Years pass and the child’s unusual talents are revealed, the gentle art of candle-making slowly transforming into something far more sinister.

Lingering in the shadows, enemies watch and wait – a vengeful aristocrat, an exotic queen and the lethal creatures known only as the Morte Whisperers.  They hunger after the child’s ancient magic and will do anything to control it – betray, lie, manipulate. Even murder.

A story of intrigue, deadly magic and a love so deep it transcends life itself.

Q.  I asked Karen what sparked the first flash of inspiration that led to her trilogy?

Quite literally, I walked into a candle shop that a friend mentioned had just opened on the Sunshine Coast. I burn candles a great deal and really enjoy them, so it was lovely to have a convenient place to buy them. As I made my purchases, a pamphlet promoting the line was placed in the bag. In the car on the way home, I read through it. It was fairly basic, but it had a few lines about how, in ancient times, they used to infuse scents into the candles.

I turned to my husband and said, ‘I’ve just had a really good idea for a story….’

That was in 2006! I had other projects on the go at the time, but I did start writing and planning Tallow and the trilogy way back then.

Q.  Karen, several things struck me reading Tallow and now Votive – the first is how you’ve extracted knowledge of human nature (there must be a touch of Tallow in you :)) and poured this insight into your characters – because they are so real and so fascinating. Many writers struggle with characterisation. Tricky question, I know, but how do you do it?

Thank you. What a lovely thing to say! I am humbled by that. I’m not really sure how I do it except to say that the characters, especially Tallow, but also the Venetian nobles and Baroque, the Cardinale and the other major players, are very real to me. I have imaginary conversations between them as I write and often stop and put myself in their place and think how they would respond, not how I would… does that make sense?

I have also asked my husband a few times, ‘is that how a man would respond in that situation?’ Sometimes, he says, ‘yes, but what you also might like to think about is…’ Or, ‘no, not really; a man would do/say/feel….’ I then translate what he’s told me to fit the character. He has a background in psychiatry – over 25 years, so it’s very handy!

I also researched the period well and tried, to the best of my ability, to glean an understanding of the people in that place and time. They were quite different in so many ways. 

Q.  This trilogy is set in La Serenissima, an imaginary canalled city that could almost be Renaissance Venice. Your weaving of descriptions throughout the narrative is very sensual, Karen.
As I was reading, I felt like I was there in the flooded city with its riotous colour, rotting smells and murky backwater canals. I’m interested in the way you researched this trilogy. Did you spend time in Venice?

I wrote Tallow without ever having been to Venice or Europe. But, being an academic, I read everything I could get my hands on and even studied Italian with the most wonderful teacher, Lauren Charrington and basically, did the equivalent of three years in two; I am losing it fast though!

I can still read it quite well, but my speaking skills, which were quite good, are now rusty. I think it’s testimony to others who have written on Venice (and there are many), that they brought the city to life for me.

I read contemporary and historical accounts – from the Lonely Planet Guide, to Casanova’s memoirs and the dense and a bit dry History of Venice, by Julius Norwich. I think I devoured over 100 books about the place.  I am still reading them!

Oh, and I should add, that La Serenissima is what Venice used to be called. It means ‘the most serene (republic).

But, I did go to Venice before I wrote Votive– in fact, I spent a total, over 2 years, of four months in Europe (I taught a university in The Netherlands for two months, so lived there) and had two extended visits to Venice and Italy. They helped enormously and consolidated a great deal of what I’d read.

"This is a photo I took in Venice. I adore it. To me, it’s always expressed the atmosphere of Tallow’s world."

Q.  What other things did you delve into?

Candle-making. I taught myself to make candles and have the burn scars to prove it. It’s not nearly as fun or easy as you would think – not to do it well. And I don’t. 🙂 I also read a great deal about Medieval Britain, France and even taught myself to use a new computer program in which I am now writing Illumination – Scrivener. It’s tailored for writers and is fantastic.

Q.  As well as it being a thrilling adventure, a love story, a quest for young Tallow and sublime writing, the story cleverly connects to politics, corruption and the cruel fanaticism of a papal religion that openly draws parallels with the Holy Roman Catholic church.
Did anyone criticize you over this aspect, Karen? Like the churches did against UK author, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials)

Not yet… I wonder if they might though. The Church in this period (and all others, really), was a mighty and corrupt machine. It wielded power and control. It hated relinquishing it and saw all other forms of faith and spiritual beliefs, never mind learning (outside what it taught), as a threat to its dominance.

In many ways, the Church as an institution (not as a body of people with strong faith and personal beliefs) is the ultimate villain and you just have to read a little bit of history to understand this. Pullman did it so well.

Thank you, Karen. 🙂 It’s been fascinating talking to you about your books and your writing – we’ll pick up the conversation again tomorrow. Now, I’m off to extract myself from the real world – need to get back to La Serenissima to see how dear Tallow is faring in Votive.

My pleasure, Sheryl! Thank you for asking me 🙂

 So ends PART ONE of my conversation with Karen Brooks. PART TWO will conclude tomorrow with MORE about how Karen planned the trilogy and her answers to questions like: 

  • What would be the best piece of advice you would give new and developing writers?
  • What do you wish you’d known before you started writing the trilogy, The Curse of the Bond Riders
  • What are you writing at the moment?

VOTIVE – Random House
ISBN: 9781864719437
Format: Paperback
Published: 1st June 2011
Age Range:  13 +  Years Old

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8 thoughts on “Author interview part 1: Karen Brooks – celebrating the release of ‘Votive’

  1. Thanks everyone! Angela, I’d forgotten I did that – I now have four of those journals, and a computer full of stuff. Karen, I think writing Tallow and the series was an excuse to finally study the language that I’ve always loved… :))) Dee, thanks as well. Yes, Sheryl’s questions were wonderful and made me really reflect on my approaches to writing and this series.

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  2. Hi Karen and Sheryl.

    Karen, I remember you shared your A4 notebook for Tallow around the room last year at the Gold Coast Literati Festival. It showed very clearly the depth of research and detail you explore when working on a novel. I’ve tried to emulate this, but have always ended up with bits and pieces all over the place. Congratulations on Votive. I can’t wait to immerse myself in the world you have created. Angela

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  3. Thanks Sheryl for asking Karen such in depth interview questions. Couldn’t believe Karen studied Italian in such detail. I loved reading Tallow, set in a Venice-like city and I know I’ll love Votive too. Can’t wait to read it.

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  4. OMG! Doug, I remember! You were so calm and steady about it – but so droll as well. But yes, I laughed. We both did. I tell that story to a few people. Not only were you so rational about the whole thing but, after surviving the right off of your car and still coming, you gave an amazing presentation – Dogs in Space??? All about creating the animation from your story. You turned a near catastrophe into another wonderful tale. Such a raconteur (sp?) – the consummate professional. The audience loved you – so did I!

    @The Interns Palace – you did a lovely review and so ‘got’ Tallow. I really, really appreciated it! Thank you. 🙂

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  5. Good interview, Sheryl. I’m glad that other writers share their work with their partners and ask, ‘Did I get this right?’ I think Jackson Pollock used to ask his wife Lee Krasner, ‘Is this a painting yet?’
    Karen and I were on a Multi-literacies panel at Victoria University once. She’s bound to remember it, because ten minutes before the session, a truck ran into my car as I was driving along Flinders Street. You could actually see the crash site from the University. I walked in dazed and announced to Karen that I’d just been in a car accident, and that if you looked out of the window you could see bits of my car outside Flinders Street Station. Then I burst out laughing. I’m pleased to say that Karen did too. I’d just been in a car accident. No one was hurt. It could have been a much worse result. Laughing seemed appropriate.

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