Author Spotlight Interview: Jo de-Lancey
Today’s interview is with debut fantasy author Jo de-Lancey. She shared with us her journey to publication and the challenges she has overcome. It was a pleasure getting to know more about Jo’s writing style, and life outside of writing!
HG: How would you describe yourself to somebody who isn’t familiar with your writing yet?
JD: I write swashbuckling fantasy, littered with morally grey characters. With my books, I want to take my readers on an adventure to new and different lands, surrounded by characters they love (or hate) and feel for. I have strong female characters who don’t conform to the usual tropes, as well as male characters who I’m not afraid to show as kind and sensitive. I’m very character-driven and I have run the Myers-Briggs test on my main characters. My writing style is bold, vivid and sensory. Readers will be able to smell, touch and hear my world, and hopefully want to be a part of it.
HG: Sounds phenomenal! You recently published your first book, The Crystal Shore (The Tempered Soul Series Book 1). Tell us a bit about this story and what readers can expect.
JD: With The Crystal Shore, I’ve written the sort of book I’d like to read, in the hope that someone else will too. It’s a fantasy adventure, leaning towards the quest and heroic subgenres. My main character is a charlatan called Killian O’Shea, who goes on an adventure with a bunch of pirates to find a lost artefact – in the hopes that finding it will redeem him of his past mistakes. Amongst the action and adventure there’s a romantic ‘will they, won’t they’ sub-plot between Killian and Lily Rothbone, the pirate queen.
I’ve written in a very character-driven way, as I find it fascinating to explore people, so my readers can expect deep and complex characters. There’s also a fair amount of humour and quips from my characters – some more than others. I’m from the UK so you can probably have a good guess as to what the humour is like. I build the magical element of the story slowly, dropping in hints here and there as the plot progresses. I write in a very sensory way. I don’t go overboard with the descriptions, but I put in enough to fully immerse the reader in my world.
HG: That’s wonderful, thank you. What feeling do you hope readers are left with when they finish it?
JD: I hope my readers finish my book feeling like they’ve been on a fantastical adventure and made some new friends along the way. There’s a couple of reviews on my Goodreads page from readers that said my characters felt like old friends to them. Honestly, when I read that, I almost burst out crying, in a good way. I’d also love my readers to be eager for book 2!
HG: Oh, how excellent! Is Book 2 in the works? What can you tell us about that?
JD: Book 2 is in the works. I’m on my third draft now and it’s due with my editor next summer. I’m hoping to get this draft done by the end of autumn. I’ll keep very quiet about it story-wise, but I will say to people who’ve read the first, there’s a lot more of Raven in this one. A little disclaimer here, I started book 2 in 2011 and it was about 70% complete by early 2012, various bad things happened in my life then, so I shelved it. I dusted it off last November and finished off the last 30%. I like to be fully honest and open about how long it takes to write a book.
HG: I appreciate that. Thank you for sharing. You have incredible character sketches on your website. Did you have those done before or after you finished writing the book?
JD: Awww, thank you so much. My artist, Thea Magerand, is absolutely amazing, I’m so lucky I found her. She also did my front cover. I had those done after I finished the book, but while it was with my editor. I loved how they turned out. It was like Thea just picked the characters right out of my head. Seeing them fully drawn up in such a realistic way was a very emotional moment for me. Those drawings are in the front of the book too. I thought it’d be rather unique to have them in there, a slight twist on a map.
HG: That’s awesome! Along the same lines, if The Crystal Shore were ever turned into a movie or television show/series, who would you cast for each of the main characters?
JD: This is a fun one, and it’s something I often think about. So, my main character, Killian O’Shea would be played by Ben Barnes, though he’d have to wear some blue contact lenses. Captain Lily Rothbone would be Stephanie Beatriz, though like Ben she’d have to wear contact lenses too, green for her. Ren Thorncliffe would be difficult, as I’d need a time machine to go back and grab a young Tom Hiddleston. Nesta would be the beautiful and majestic Angela Bassett. I have a trio of pirate gunners who the reader will get to know rather well, so with them Tom Gainsborough would be John Boyega, Finn Todd would be Rhea Seehorn and Blake (there is a reason he doesn’t have a surname) would be Nicholas Hoult.
HG: So fun! Switching gears, could you tell us a bit about your publishing journey? How did you know you were ready to take on the “author” title?
JD: Well, let’s start off by saying my publishing journey was very long. I came up with Killian, my main character around 2002/03. He lived in my head for a few years, having various adventures, but nothing concrete. In 2008 I started my first draft of The Crystal Shore. I finished that around 2010 and did the thing that I think most writers do straight away, I started querying agents. Obviously, I had a lot of knock-backs as it just wasn’t ready. I kept sending anyway, and as I drifted into 2011 I started work on book 2. At the start of 2012, I lost my big brother, he was one of the very few people who believed in me, so that was devastating for me. I found it very difficult to keep going after that.
As the years ticked on, I left book 2 to gather dust and I started two other projects. My heart was still with The Crystal Shore, but my head wasn’t. Every now and then I’d get it out again, tweak it, maybe send it to one agent, get rejected and put it away for months. Then hate it, realise I actually love it, get it out again and repeat the above process. As 2020 rolled around I felt very stuck, I didn’t know what to do with it, or where to go. So, I decided to hire a professional editor. My intention then was to get edited, then try agents again. The editor I picked had a waitlist of a year, so I had a lot of time to think before the edit came around.
One night, I was drinking mojitos and listening to Wonderful Life by Black. I looked him up, as I hadn’t heard the song in years and in doing so, I discovered that he recorded and released that song himself. It just made me think that maybe I could do the same thing as him, I’d got an editor after all. Did I really want to pin all Killian’s hopes on an agent? The next day I found and hired Thea, my artist and after that it snowballed. I found a web designer, a copy editor and someone to format my book.
I knew I was ready when I absolutely thought ‘there’s nothing more I can do with this book.’ It took a very long time to get there too. I thought I was ready in 2010, but I certainly wasn’t. I needed to fall from the top of that mountain, and crawl back up until I truly reached the point of enlightenment.
HG: That’s a really beautiful journey. Thank you for sharing it with us. What have been the challenges you’ve faced in your publishing career?
JD: Dealing with rejection, realising that I wasn’t that good in 2010 and that my book needed a lot more love, care and attention. These two things combined can easily stop someone writing, and there were times that I did. There were months on end, maybe even a year or two where I didn’t write. There were times when I thought my life would be infinitely easier if I deleted my manuscript and forgot about it. Thankfully, I didn’t do that. I suffer from anxiety and depression, so the rejections, the realisations, losing my brother and suffering from chronic mental health issues, made everything seem like a struggle. I’ve had a voice in my head for years telling me I’m not ‘good enough’ and a lot of the time I listen to it. But, deep down, there’s a part of me that’s so incredibly stubborn. That part never wants to give up, and she grabs onto dreams like a bloodhound. I’m lucky that part of me exists, or my book may still be languishing on my laptop now, or worse, deleted.
HG: Is there anything you’d do differently? Advice to aspiring authors?
JD: I haven’t quite worked out what I’d do differently yet, as I only released in July this year. But I’d try and stress less, which is a big one for me. I stress myself into migraines and end up in bed for days.
My advice is to write what you want to read. Your heart will truly be in it, and your readers will be able to tell. I know some people write to a specific audience, and that may work for them, but it doesn’t work for me. I tried it once, with one of my other projects and it didn’t feel right to me.
Don’t rush. Writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. Be the tortoise, not the hare. I am so glad that an agent didn’t pick up my book in 2010, I’d be mortified if it was out there in that form now.
Have one person who will be truthful with you about your book, someone who will point out the flaws to you. I’m lucky that my boyfriend is on hand to do that for me. He is incredibly honest. He’s even made me cry with his feedback before – that was back in the ‘my book is perfect’ days of 2010. His feedback for book 2 didn’t make me cry, as I’m a lot tougher now. I still have plenty to change, but it seems my writing has improved over the last 12 years, thankfully!
If you decide to go independent a good editor is the most important thing. Research your editor, find out what other books they’ve edited, check their credentials, and reach out for a sample edit. I know editors are expensive but saving up for one is the best treat you can give your book and it’ll thank you for it.
HG: Great advice! Tell us a little bit about your actual writing process. Do you write at home? Do you set a word count goal?
JD: I do write at home, I have my desk all set up with various neon lights, crystals, a figure of Rogue from X-Men who I love, and a salt lamp. I’ve created a relaxing tropical vibe to write in. I have pictures of my characters hanging above my desk too, to urge me to write. To make it as chilled out as possible, I always write to music. At the moment I’m listening to the channel called Calmed by Nature on YouTube. They create videos of calming jazz music, often set in cafes with ambience. Listening to it helps to transport me away.
I have a full-time day job, so I have to fit my writing around that. I tend to do 3-4 evenings a week with 1-3 hour sessions, depending on how tired I am, and then a few hours on a Sunday. That can be anything from 1-6 hours. I try not to beat myself up if I miss a day, as that’s the slippery slope to burnout. I did fully burnout in July, a week before my book release in fact, as I was doing too much. It got to the point where my body wouldn’t let me get out of bed, it was not a good time. I don’t set a word count goal; I just do what I can while I’m in the writing zone.
HG: What inspires your writing? Do your books require a lot of research before writing?
JD: I have several inspirations. Places is the first one. As a child I used to go down to a little town in Cornwall called Looe, every summer to see my grandparents. This town has greatly inspired Killian’s town of Brackmouth. I’ve infused Brackmouth with the boisterous seagulls and the salty smells of Looe. I’ve even added a bit where my characters run around the backstreets, these are based on the street where my great, great auntie Lily used to live. Looe even has an island off the coast, which is where Captain Rothbone and her crew live in my book.
My second one is quite strange, video games. I played a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Megadrive/Genesis growing up. Some of those levels are so amazing and inspiring. You blast through crumbling ruins, race through underwater cities, and navigate crystal-lined caves. These images have been with me all my life. They really inspired my world building. The old Final Fantasy games are also a great source of inspiration for me. Back when I was a teenager and playing Final Fantasy 8 for the first time, it made me wish I could read a book, which felt like the game. That’s sort of what I’ve done with The Crystal Shore and The Tempered Soul Series as a whole. I have my ragtag party of (mostly) morally grey characters, going on adventures around an expansive world.
Life in general has inspired me too. It’s disappointments, devastations and uplifting moments – as it’s not all doom and gloom. When I was 20, I told an old man in the care home where I worked that I wanted to write a book. He told me I couldn’t, as I was too young and hadn’t experienced anything yet. At the time I thought ‘what do you know?’ But now I’ve realised that he was right. I couldn’t have created the story I have done, especially the whole overarching plot (it’s going to be 4 books) without the experiences, both good and bad, that I’ve had in my life over the years.
HG: Amazing. So, what do you enjoy doing when not writing?
JD: I like to do a lot of hiking. I live rather close to the countryside, so it’s very easy for me to wander through fields and forests. I play video games, I like RPGs like Zelda – Breath of the Wild was so good, though it’s hard to find the time to have a big gaming session these days, so a lot of the time I just have a quick blast of Sonic or Tekken. I absolutely love b-movies. A perfect evening in for me is watching a low-budget action film with a cocktail or a glass of red wine. I have a shelf in my lounge dedicated to my favourite b-movies, I’m a bit of a collector.
HG: Super cool! What was your last 5-star read?
JD: Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa. Even though I’m a fantasy writer, I read any genre. I’m often drawn to Japanese ‘slice-of-life’ books, and this one is so perfect. It makes you happy, sad and hungry.
HG: If you could ask your author idol one question, what would it be?
JD: I don’t really have an author idol as such, I have a lot of books that I admire though. To the authors of those I’d ask, ‘How do you deal with impostor syndrome?’
HG: Good question. For fun, before we wrap up, let’s do a fast five! First one…coffee or tea?
JD: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.
HG: Bonfire or fireplace?
JD: Fireplace, preferably with a mulled wine.
HG: Tropical beach or rustic mountains?
JD: I love both of these, but if I had to pick, I’d say rustic mountains as you can have plenty of adventures there.
HG: Are you a morning bird or night owl?
JD: Night owl, I’m writing this at 1:35 A.M.
HG: eBook or paperback?
JD: I prefer paperbacks, but I do like the ease of an eBook.
HG: For readers that want to find out more about your stories and keep up with you, where should they go to connect or learn more?
I have a website and I have a mailing list on there, which you can sign up to. You get a free piece of bonus art featuring a scene from The Crystal Shore, just for signing up. I also have an Instagram account which is @jo.r.delancey.
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