Interview: fantasy author and podcaster Sarina Langer

Hello, hello!

Happy November. How’s NaNoWriMo going for you? Are you aiming for 50k, or a different, personal goal? I’m working on a couple of shorter projects, getting the audio book of The Fair Queen ready to go live, and preparing to edit The Solitary King next month!

Best of luck with your goal if you’re taking part, I always find November is my best month for word count, even though I’ve never hit 50k. I just enjoy the community and the accountability Nano brings.

This week, I’ve been hanging out with Sarina Langer, fellow Brit, author of Rise of the Sparrows and host of the brilliant podcast The Writing Sparrow.

Thanks so much for chatting with me Sarina! Can you tell us a little about yourself?

You say ‘a little’, but this could be a lot! XD

I live in the cloudy south of England with my partner (calling him my boyfriend makes me feel around 14 years old, which isn’t an age I wish to revisit!) and our daughter/cat. I always wanted a cat but was never allowed one when I was younger, so of course I jumped at the chance when I could. I did have pets growing up, though – my sister and I always had at least two guinea pigs in the house. I’d read fairy tales to mine. My SO insists they didn’t care, but I think they loved it.

I don’t read to my cat, but I often read with her. I have a sofa in my study and she seems to know when I sit down with a book, because she usually comes running. Besides reading, I love playing video games, and just like reading, I’ve played pretty much every genre. My favourite games include Dragon Age (this may be unpopular, but Inquisition is my favourite of the three), Mass Effect (probably unpopular again, but I love love love the ending – yes, it hurts and breaks me every time; no, there isn’t a perfect, feel-good way to win—that’s why I think it’s brilliant!), the Witcher, Pokémon, Stardew Valley, the latest Assassins Creed games (possibly unpopular again, but I haven’t played the earliest ones, so I can’t compare it *shrugs*), The Outer Worlds – a bit of everything. My go-to genre when I’m reading is and always will be epic fantasy, but with games, I just want a strong story that’ll scar me emotionally or at least make me feel something (relaxed and nostalgic count, stressed does not).

Some other things I enjoy include walking in nature, knitting, colouring with an audiobook or a podcast, yoga, and meditation.

I love that your favourite books and games destroy you emotionally, but you counter it with mindfulness, yoga and meditation. That’s a great balance! We should all aspire to that. When did you start writing and who encouraged you? 

The first things I remember writing were half-an-A4-page long stories for my Mum’s colleagues. She let me come to work with her during my primary school summer breaks, and I’d create little presents for everyone. I made complete annual calendars for everyone, too, but that got repetitive quickly. I had more fun with the stories, and her colleagues loved them in the middle of their workdays… or if they didn’t appreciate the interruptions, they never said as much. 

Your mum sounds wonderful, and her colleagues sound very patient! I bet they really enjoyed your short stories during their coffee breaks. Do you have a favourite genre or author?

While I read almost every genre, epic fantasy will always have a special place in my heart. I love the endless possibilities of new worlds whether I’m reading them or creating them. My favourite authors of all time are N. K. Jemisin, Laini Taylor, and Leigh Bardugo, and it’s always because of the worldbuilding. Don’t get me wrong, I need great characters and a strong plot as much as the next bookworm, but both of those need a world to happen in, don’t they?

Leigh Bardugo and Laini Taylor are two of my absolute insta-buys. I don’t even care what the book is about, I will buy and I will love it. Can you tell us about your first published book?

I published my debut novel Rise of the Sparrows in 2016. Back then I was just getting into reading again – it was Empress by Karen Miller that made me realise I wanted to be an author; I recommend you check it out if you haven’t read it – so the idea to write about a world where magic was outlawed was new to me. I’d only read books where magic was a normal part of everyday life, so it was an intriguing new concept to me. I made life as tough as possible for my main character Rachael, a homeless orphan with the magical talent for prophecy, and took it from there!

Writing Rise of the Sparrows was a huge learning curve for me. I didn’t study writing, but I read every book on the craft I could get my hands on. It took years before I was really happy with it, and then I had to accept what every writer eventually needs to accept: perfection is an illusion and I need to let go already.

Since then, I’ve turned it into an audiobook, published the entire trilogy, added a prequel novella, and put together a box set with all four, but it definitely wasn’t an easy journey. I’ve published some other stuff, too, and I’d like to think I’ve improved with every book. 

A while back, I decided to make Rise of the Sparrows perma-free everywhere, so you can easily try my writing if I’m a new author to you. You can get it here: https://books2read.com/u/3yEEd6 

You’ve had such an exciting publishing career so far! I’m currently in the process of making my debut novel into an audio book, and it’s been the most fun experience hearing my words read back to me by a professional narrator. Being an indie author can feel like your dreams are coming true every single day! (And other days it can feel like your worst nightmare, but let’s just brush over that!) Where do you find inspiration for your characters or settings? 

Ah yes, that question every creative dreads XD

Inspiration is everywhere. I’ve taken notes while playing a video game, after an especially weird dream, and just while going for a walk or doing the laundry. Our minds are constantly working, and sometimes, two ideas come together while we’re doing other things. I have a notebook app for when inspiration strikes on the go, and I have a physical notebook on my desk where I collect all ideas, even if it’s just one sentence of a conversation.

Most of my books are epic fantasy, but real locations can still be fantastic inspiration. I got the idea for the prison entrance in Brightened Shadows when I went to Winchester with a few friends and we found a sealed, gated entrance to an old tunnel. Every now and again I’ll take pictures when the place fits a fictional one just right, but I’ll admit that I rarely come back to them. Most of them exist in my head.

I can imagine video games are an absolutely brilliant source of inspiration, the story telling in some of the is A+++! I’ve taken inspiration from some really random places, you never know where the final piece of the puzzle to make a plot or character work will come from. Some of mine have been podcasts on history or short Gothic fiction. Having a notebook handy at all times is an absolute must! Do you consider yourself a plotter, pantser or plantser? 

Plantser all the way! I love plotting and feel more secure when I have a plot—I don’t believe you can get stuck when you have a plot figured out, because you can always refer to your notes—but I give my characters free reign, too. I often compare it to going on a road trip: you want to know where you’re going so you know when to turn left or right, but if you see a prettier country road or your friend asks you to check out a location you didn’t know about, you can do that. You really can go as far off track as you want, because you can always come back to your planned route once you’re done exploring. If you realise as you’re travelling that your destination goal has changed, that’s fine too—sometimes, plans change. 

(I should say here that I’ve never been on a road trip)

This is how I approach my writing: I have everything figured out, but when my characters have better ideas, I’ll at least try it. It doesn’t always work out, but it often does. That space where I as the author fade into the background and my characters take over is where magic happens.

That’s a perfect analogy, and exactly how I write too. I love that you say you can go as far off track as you like because you can always come back to your planned route. It’s so true, and makes writing feel safe and productive even when you’re experimenting and exploring. So, what are you working on right now?

I may be working on a short story for a certain anthology 😉 [Lyndsey’s note: Once Upon a Name, the anthology we’re both featured in, coming April 2022!]

Apart from that, I’m editing my next trilogy, and I’m hoping to have all three published before July 2022. A lot can happen between now and then, but the first book (Blood Wisp) is with my editor now for line edits, and I’m editing the first sequel. ARCs will be with my reader group and mailing list before I know it! I hope this doesn’t jinx it, but it’s looking good right now *crosses fingers*

I’ve also recently finished the first draft of my 10th book. I can’t reveal the title just yet (my Patreon Sparrows know what I’m considering and like it, but I haven’t decided), but there’ll be ten books in this series. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little intimidated by that. I’ve never written such a long series, but the first book flew so fast and easily! If that’s any indication, all ten will be out before I’m 50 XD My mailing list Sparrows voted for this idea, so I hope they’ll like what I’m doing with it!

That is so exciting! And I love how involved your Patrons and subscribers have been in the process, what a fantastic reward for supporting your art! I wish I had the courage to plan a ten book series, I’m currently thinking about a five book series for after my current series in finished in 2023, which will be a prequel series set in the same world as The Fair Chronicles. But that’s as long as I dare go at this point! I can’t wait to find out more about it. What one piece of advice would you give aspiring authors? 

Learn, learn, learn. If you’ve never written a book before, this’ll be a steep learning curve, and it’ll likely be terrifying, but everything that’s worth doing is. Don’t dismiss any way of learning outright but try everything at least once, whether it’s listening to a podcast on writing, reading a ton of books on the craft, browsing blogs for the knowledge you want, asking on social media, etc. Try everything and see what works for you. Don’t forget that you learn best by doing. You can soak up all the theory you want, but you won’t really know what works for you unless you sit your butt down and start writing. Even then, your process will probably change with every book. This is normal too.

So, don’t be afraid of this process and its learning curve—embrace it. 

(And one quick, additional note, if I’m allowed: read. Authors should be readers, if you ask me. You learn an awful lot simply by enjoying a good book (or reading one you don’t enjoy all that much), and it’ll all stick somewhere in your mind. I genuinely believe that you do yourself a disservice if you want to write a book but don’t want to read.)

OK, I think you just became my mentor (and probably everyone’s who’s reading this and wants to write a book one day). You’re such a font of wisdom and knowledge, Sarina! Thank you so much for sharing your incredible insight with us, I’m definitely subscribing to The Writing Sparrow podcast.

Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Sarina, it’s been lovely getting to know better. Before I let you go, how can we find out more about you and your books?

My website is a great starting point. It has links to all of my books and social media pages, as well as my maps, book trailers… all that good stuff. From there, you can easily go wherever you’re happiest, be it Instagram, my monthly mailing list, or directly to my sales pages. The links to all of these are included here, too, just below this bit 🙂

Sarina’s Website:  https://sarinalanger.com 

Sign up to Sarina’s email list: https://www.subscribepage.com/sarinasbooks

Follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarinalangerwriter/

Like her Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/sarinalangerwriter
And join her Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sarinassparrows

Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarina_langer

And find Sarina on TikTokhttps://www.tiktok.com/@sarinalangerwriter

Subscribe to The Writing Sparrow podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1356037

My latest release is Brightened Shadows, but since that’s the second book in a duology, I recommend you start with the first one, Darkened Light: http://mybook.to/darkenedlight1

It’s a dark epic fantasy, and it’s separate to the Relics of Ar’Zac trilogy in every way, so it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read that. You can be a new reader to my books and start with Darkened Light.

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I had the best time getting to know Sarina and her books better, so I really hope you enjoyed that too! How gorgeous are her covers? I’m really looking forward to reading Darkened Light and Brightened Shadows, and the upcoming Blood Wisp!

Which one of Sarina’s books will you read first?

Lyndsey

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On the writer’s block

Happy New Year! It’s been a few months since my last post, what with NaNoWriMo and the festive break, but I’m back with my first post of 2019. Today I want to talk about that age-old thing, writer’s block.

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Whether you’ve been writing for years, or you’re new to the craft, you’ll almost certainly have heard of writer’s block. You’ve probably even suffered from it, to some extent. And if not, then you most likely will at some point in your writing career. (Sorry!)

Laini Taylor, author of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, and the Strange the Dreamer duology, just posted a great thread on Twitter about one dangerous misconception about writer’s block. Click below to read the full thread.

In the thread, Laini opens up about how challenging she finds the writing process, and how rarely the words just flow out of her without resistance. So, if you’re battling writer’s block or find writing really hard work, even though you love it, you’re not alone. Even the greats like Laini Taylor (I mean, have you read Strange the Dreamer? Perfection.) hit a wall with their writing at times.

Writer’s block can manifest in a number of ways: you might struggle to find the right words, or it might feel more like performance anxiety – the fear of not being good enough may stop you before you’ve even started. It can hit you at any time in your writing career, whether you’re sending your first draft off to beta readers – finger hovering over Send, paralysed with fear – or you’re publishing your twentieth novel and worry it won’t be as well received as your previous works.

The important thing to remember is that it will pass. You will write again, you’ll find the words, become inspired and have moments of flow. But only if you KEEP WRITING! Push through the blockage, persevere and write even when it’s slow and painstaking. Even if you cut half (or more) of what you wrote while blocked during editing, it’s a necessary process that will help you break through the blockage, and ultimately become a better writer.

We won’t always feel inspired, sometimes writing will feel like pulling teeth, but the key is to keep at it, keep working on your story. Writing, like any job,
is hard work, and whether it’s your career, your side hustle, your passion or your hobby it won’t always be easy and fun. You’ll stumble sometimes, hit a wall and struggle to climb over it, but the only way you’ll finish your novel, type those two little all-important words, and ultimately publish your book, is if you don’t give up.

Laini shared a book on her Instagram called Around the Writer’s Block: Using brain science to solve writer’s resistance, which discusses all the various obstacles writers may face that could cause us to struggle with our writing. It focuses on the scientific reasons for writer’s block, and habit-building to help us make it a thing of the past. It worked for Laini, maybe it will work for you?

One of the methods that lots of writers champion is free writing, opening your notebook and filling a page or two each day with whatever comes to mind. You can use a prompt if it helps you to get the pen moving, but there’s absolutely no pressure for the words you write to turn into a story, or ever be seen by another human being. You don’t even have to read it back yourself if you don’t want to!

Whatever you find helps you to break through the block, just remember you’re not alone, there are probably a thousand other writers going through the exact same thing at the same time. Why not reach out to the writing community online for some friendly encouragement? Twitter and Instagram are great places to start, just use the hashtag #amwriting and you’re sure to get a fair few responses from your fellow wordsmiths! And don’t forget to share your tips for what helps you when you’re blocked, we all need a little advice sometimes so add your voice to the conversation, you never know who you might help.

Lyndsey

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Beautiful Books 2017

It’s October, and that means NaNoWriMo is almost upon us! It also means Beautiful People, the monthly meme hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In, becomes Beautiful Books, where we talk about our current projects or what we’re planning to write during November.

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What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

COCKLE SHELLS & SILVER BELLS is a YA contemporary fantasy inspired by The Secret Garden, with supernatural themes, LGBTQIA+ characters and a remote seaside setting on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s a combination of a few ideas I had scribbled in my notebook, some for a YA contemporary about a girl who moves to a quiet seaside town and falls for the girl who works at the local ice cream parlour, and some for a modern Bloody Mary story. I started piecing it together about six months ago when I thought I was finished with my other MS, THE FAIR QUEEN, and was outlining for Camp Nano in July.

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Describe what your novel is about!

My MC is an orphan who, on turning 18, inherits her family estate on the North Yorkshire coast. There, she comes across the charming but mysterious housekeeper and groundskeeper, a petite, mermaid-haired firecracker called Dillon, a sassy cat with a bizarre habit of turning up at opportune moments, and a friendly ghost with the key to her family’s secrets.

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What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!

I’m hoping to combine the atmospheric moodiness of classic novels by the Bronte sisters, like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and whimsical fantasy elements of books by Maggie Stiefvater. I was initially hoping to venture into YA contemporary, but my fantasy heart wouldn’t allow it, so I had to throw in a few magical bits and bobs!

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Introduce us to each of your characters!

Marie ‘Em’ Haigh – Em is 18 and an orphan, she grew up in Provence, France until the age of 10 when her parents were killed in a car accident and she moved to North Yorkshire to live with her great uncle Archie on his farm. She’s pretty isolated and self-reliant, having been home schooled on the farm. She writes gender bent Pride and Prejudice fan fiction on Tumblr and her friends are all either online or fictional. Until she meets Dillon…

Dillon Thackeray – Dillon is a petite, curvaceous lesbian with pastel coloured mermaid hair and an array of neon running gear. She works at the ice cream parlour during the holidays, and goes to university a couple of hours away during term time. She’s a confident and outspoken girl with big dreams and an even bigger heart.

Clemence – Em names Clemence ironically (it means mild and merciful). This cat couldn’t be any saltier, but ultimately she helps Em find some pretty crucial information and leads her to various important items throughout the story. She’s sort of like Em’s spirit guide, but with added sass. Plus I just really like the name Clemence, like Clemence Poesy.

Billy and Maggie Partridge – the Haigh family’s resident housekeeper and groundskeeper. They come with the house, but there might be something more to them…

Ghost boy – I haven’t decided on a name for my spook yet, but he represents Colin, the boy with vitamin D deficiency in The Secret Garden. I haven’t fully outlined his role in the story, but I’m thinking something along the lines of a twin brother to Em’s father who died in childhood and was never spoken of again because it was too painful for the family… Any suggestions on this front would be gratefully received!

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How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

I’m a proud plotter, so I have a document full of notes, character bios, summaries of the chapters/acts etc. I do quite a bit of research before I start drafting, I choose names that mean something, either by googling baby name meanings until I find what I’m looking for, or naming characters after famous/fictional people who they share something in common with. Then, especially for Nano so I can keep track of where I am up to, I create a spreadsheet with thirty or more scenes or important events that I need for the story. I find that outlining quite rigorously helps me to keep writing even when I don’t feel motivated, and if I want to skip ahead to a juicier scene when I’m not in the mood, I can come back to where I was later.

Also, lots of tea or coffee and snacks, and breaks to walk the dogs and give me a chance to think through plot holes! Getting some fresh air and walking in nature does wonders for writer’s block.

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What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

All the spooky scenes where the ghost is messing with Em, before she actually discovers him. I’m hoping to give it a real Woman in Black vibe up until the point she meets the ghost and realises he’s just a young boy with no intention of hurting her, and he didn’t mean to scare her, he’s just been alone for so long. You’re really going to feel for this ghost, guys!

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List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

A beautiful, imposing manor house on a cliff’s edge, overlooking the North Sea.

A cutesy, vintage ice cream parlour full of cold treats and warm hearts.

A secret beach filled with cockle shells that feels like the edge of the world, but is actually where Em’s life really starts…

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What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

Em is looking for two pretty conflicting things at the beginning of the book. She wants independence and to stand on her own two feet, she feels like she’s got a lot to prove after her parents’ deaths when she was just a little girl. She wants to make them, and her uncle Archie, proud. But she also wants to learn as much as she can about her family and feel closer to them, hence why she decides to move into Haigh Manor, leaving the farm. Unfortunately, most of her family are dead, and Archie is a pretty reticent old man with secrets of his own (he’s Em’s grandmother’s brother). Plus, Em’s social skills aren’t exactly up to scratch, she struggles with social anxiety and moving from one remote house to another does nothing to change that.

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How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

She opens up a lot, thanks to Dillon, and learns to accept her quirks for what they are. She finds a new passion, makes some great friends, and discovers more about her family history than she could ever have imagined. At the end, she’s a more mature, confident and content person. Plus she might fall in love…

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What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?

The overall theme is hopefully going to be self-acceptance, Em is going to go through a pretty huge journey of self-discovery and growth that should give readers the feeling that she’s found herself in some ways. There’ll still be a way to go before she’s completely happy and comfortable in her own skin, but by the end of the book it should be clear that she’s headed in the right direction.

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That was so much fun! I hadn’t thought this much about CS&SB in months, and digging deep into the story and my characters has really given me a boost for Nano next month. I’m looking forward to reading more about all your WIPs, let me know in the comments if you’re taking part in Nano, and add me as a buddy, my username is lyndleloo!

Lyndsey

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Beautiful Books 2017 Lyndsey's Book Blog