(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Nat was written by Nat Andrews.)
Kelly sat in the coffee shop with her laptop at a small table where she had a good view of the door and anyone who would come in or leave. This afternoon was quiet thankfully, not a lot of people or noise, and Kelly took the opportunity to work on her novel. It was a crisp day, so Kelly enjoyed a bit of hot chocolate with whipped cream on tip, but her eyes occasionally went to the door, waiting.
Finally the door chimed as a woman entered, and Kelly smiled, rising to her feet. “Nat Andrews? I’m Kelly Blanchard.” She offered her hand to shake. “Thanks for meeting me. If you want to get something to drink, go right ahead. I trust you are well today?”
“It’s great to meet you!” Nat answered, offering her hand. “I’ll just grab some coffee. Can I get you anything…?” She smiled at the hot chocolate with whipped cream. “…Anything else?”
Kelly laughed but shook her head. “I’m fine, thanks! I’ll be here once you get your coffee.” And she sat down, closing her laptop and putting it back in her bag.
Once Nat returned with her steaming hot drink, Kelly smiled at her, “So tell me a bit about yourself, who you are, where you come from, what you do in real life other than write of course.”
Nat sat, now nursing her own drink—a double espresso with whipped cream. “Hmm, gosh. Well, I’m Nat. I’m from London in the UK. In real life, I halve my time between editing books and – and this may sound weird—organising funerals.”
“Oh, I bet that’s interesting though. Organizing funerals…is that kinda like what an event planner does or something?” Kelly furrowed her brows, quite curious about this.
“Sort of,” Nat said, sipping her espresso. “It’s effectively the role of a priest except I’m not affiliated with any religion and, instead of using a holy book, I write the funeral from scratch. It’s another excuse to spend my days writing, really. Only this time I’m writing about real people. It sounds somewhat morbid, but once you get over the whole ‘funeral’ thing, it’s fascinating work and you are always meeting people and hearing their stories.”
“And has any of the people and stories you’ve heard influenced your writing at all?” Kelly cocked her head to a side as she sat back in her chair.
Nat considered that. “Well, it’s often occurred to me that it would be a wonderful resource for building characters, but no. First off, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable incorporating my clients’ details like that. Secondly, the series I’m writing is set in Edo-period Japan and there’s not all that much overlap in terms of life experiences between nineteenth century samurai and my clients!”
Kelly had to laugh at this observation. “True, but like you said, character building or so.” Then she seized something Nat had mentioned. “So you write historical fiction? What drew you to that genre?”
“Good question,” Nat admitted. She’d often wondered the same herself. “I always thought I was going to write fantasy. That’s what I always wanted to write: gods and magic and heroes. For a long time, I still considered my first book to be fantasy until my editor pointed out that there was no fantasy element in it!! In the end, the story that flowed out was very character-driven and intimate, focussed on only four major characters. There wasn’t any room for fantasy, so it was what it was. Maybe historical fiction chose me!”
“I can see the similarities with fantasy and historical fiction since I write both, but historical fiction can be so tricky with all the amount of research required…though research can be the fun part!” Kelly grinned at Nat. “Okay, so backing up a little, when did you start writing? What inspired you to start taking writing seriously?”
“I always smile when people ask that question. I know some writers are different, but I’ve always written. It’s been like breathing. I’ve always had characters in my head who would beg me to write them down.” She grinned back. “So well before I could write I was already dictating stories to my poor parents. I could write from the age of five and just jumped straight into the idea that I would produce novels. I don’t think I ever got further than about twenty pages until I was into my late teens.”
Kelly smiled when she heard Nat had been a writer at heart since her youth. Her last sentence though caught Kelly’s attention, and she lifted her brows as she leaned forward, setting her forearm on the table. “What happened in your late teens that helped push you last twenty pages?”
Nat frowned. “I’m not sure. I guess the older I’ve got the more focussed I become. I’ve always been quite obsessive in my interests.” She smiled again. “I am the quintessential geek. Once I went to university, I started studying Ancient Egypt and I just wanted to know everything about it. I wrote a novel – completed but unpublished set in about 1200BC. That was the first project I really stuck with. I started at 18 and completed it at 26!”
“Wow! That’s impressive!” Kelly smiled widely. “So history has always been an interest of yours as well?”
“Yes. Not British history though. Other cultures. Egypt and Japan are my big two.” She smiled again, a little embarrassed. “I haven’t a clue about the history of my own country, but I can tell you what the weather was like in spring of 1860 in Kyoto.”
Kelly chuckled. “Hey, that’s fair. As long as you’re knowledgable about some point in history, I think that’s good. So, what story of yours would you like to discuss? I’m sure you have plenty! Tell me what it’s about, where and when it is, and so forth. Tell me everything!…well, except spoilers of course.” With another grin, Kelly sat back in her chair to listen and observe Nat.
Nat’s expression took on a slightly startled-bunny look as she considered how to introduce her book. Funny, but you could work on a book for years and still draw a blank when asked to explain the plot. “Well, it’s the second of a series called ‘Elegy of the Sword.’ I say series, but the two stories are completely standalone. The only thing they have in common is one of the supporting characters of the first book is the lead in the second. His name is Takashi and he’s a ronin – a masterless samurai – and the book charts his story from having been born into a privileged, high-ranking household to where he is now: an assassin who kills for money.”
“Interesting. Now other than the time and location, is there any tie-ins with real historical events or people? Or are these characters mainly fictional in a historical setting?” Kelly lifted her brows. She knew how difficult it was to write in this genre, and she really admired Nat for tackling it.
“Yes,” said Nat slowly, and decided to take a long sip of espresso before answering. “I have thrown in some historical characters, but I am having to prod and poke the story a bit to ensure it is still passably ‘historic.’I’ve used members of the Shinsengumi, which was a militia in Kyoto at the time of the Japanese revolution. They are there. As is a chap called Hanpeita Takechi who was a leader of some of the rebels.”
“I don’t know anything about Japanese history, so you’ll have to educate me, but what have you learned the most writing about the Japanese culture and such?” Kelly tilted her head to a side, curious.
“Arg, so much!” Nat laughed. “I watch loads of Japanese historical dramas, which helps me to get a better feel for the rhythms of speech and for gestures that might be unique to the culture. But it’s made me realise that there is a different ‘tempo’ to Japanese stories, and a tendency to underplay drama.” Nat frowned, aware that she was now trying to explain a cultural difference that probably required a degree in anthropology to do it justice. “Um, like, if there is a massive tension between two characters, in a Japanese show, it will often not be mentioned at all. It will be in the silences. In the west, if you have tension between two characters, it is often milked. It’s an excuse to have a really dramatic scene where the characters air all their problems. Neither is ‘right.’ They are just different. I try to put both in my novel, but the Japanese way is just a good reminder for me that, even if two characters do have issues with one another, it’s not always effective to play into that. Sometimes it’s more effective to leave the tension in the background.”
“That is very intriguing. I’ve never thought about that before!” Kelly lifted her gaze to contemplate it a bit further, but then she noticed the clock across the way and frowned, looking back at Nat. “Our time is almost up, but Nat, what inspired you to write this story?”
“Sometimes stories just come to me,” Nat admitted, finishing off her coffee. “The best ones anyway. Takashi was one character who had been under-explored in the first book, but he was one of the most interesting characters. He seems really rough and brutal, but he’s got quite a profound and poetic nature.” Nat laughed. “I just learnt that about him in the first book! He told me!” She shook her head. “Me and my imaginary friends! But yeah, he developed into a character who deserved more of a story, so he got one – he got a whole book to himself.”
“That’s awesome! I love it when characters do that.” Kelly grinned widely. “Now, what’s one thing you would like your readers to remember and take from your book after they read it?”
“I should mention,” Nat said timidly, “the book is called ‘The Land of Cold Embers.’ I just realised – I’d only mentioned the series title. It’s ‘The Land of Cold Embers,’ which is book two of ‘Elegy of the Sword.’Anyway,” she continued, brightening. “I hope that the readers like the characters and find them real. They are very real to me and half the time I’m writing because I feel I owe it to them to get their stories told. So if the readers find them uninteresting, I’ve betrayed my own characters…” She looked a bit worried at that. “So yeah, I want other people to fall in love with them and care about them.”
“And I’m sure they will,” Kelly reassured Nat with a warm smile. “It sounds like a fantastic story, and from what little you’ve described of the characters to me, they sound very intriguing. I personally can’t wait for the character interview!” When Kelly rose to her feet and sighed. “Our time is up, but I can walk you out.” She grabbed her computer bag and smiled at Nat. “It really was great chatting with you.”
“You too. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me,” Nat agreed.
“Of course! Keep me posted on your work!” Kelly smiled. They went out of the coffee shop then went their separate ways. Kelly still had a smile on her face as she walked away. That was quite an enlightening conversation. She looked forward to meeting whichever character of Nat’s she was to meet.
Nat Andrews’ book The Thief of Red Mountain’ is available on Amazon. Her other book ‘The Land of Cold Embers’ is due to be release later this year. Be sure to follow her on social media for more updates!