Last week, we announced the acquisition of Felgrim, the debut YA fantasy novel from E.M. Duffield-Fuller. In this interview we catch up with E.M. Duffield-Fuller to discuss her upcoming novel, her writing process, and the fictional worlds that have inspired her own.
What made you want to write a book?
E.M. DF: I like building fantasy worlds, especially ones with their own folk-traditions and superstitions, and then roaming around in them. Writing books feels like the best way to do that.
What inspired you to write Felgrim?
E.M. DF: As with all books, I suspect, there were a lot of different inspirations for Felgrim.
A lot of the world-building in Felgrim was inspired by traditional British folklore, which is something that has always really interested me. I like the abundance of quaintly named traditions, like Hobby Horse Day or Ringing the Devil’s Knell, that make up a wider tapestry of country-life. I think that inspired a lot of my world-building.
There are also some religious/spiritual inspirations in the novel that echo through the themes. The fracturing of the undead rebellion was linked to things I was reading about the reformation, for instance, and the religious persecutions and unrest that followed that. One of the minor themes of Felgrim is about motherhood, and how society impacts it — which perhaps is a strange theme for a YA novel — and which I suspect was inspired by my own birthing experiences and maternity leave.
What’s your writing process like? Do you plan everything out in meticulous detail or do you leave things open to develop as you write?
E.M. DF: Half the fun of writing stories is finding out what happens next, so I don’t usually plan it out too much in advance. I tend to let it go where it wants to during the first draft, and then leave it to rest for a while.
Then I re-draft it, to try and foreshadow the ending from the start and make sure all the timings and subplots fit and the characters have appropriate arcs after I have gained a little time and objectivity from it.
What distinguishes your book from other fantasy books?
E.M. DF: I try to foreground women’s relationships to each other, and provide a variety of well-rounded female characters (who interact and befriend other well-rounded female characters!)
For instance, although Marla, the protagonist, is the typical “tom-boy”, athletic type of girl, it isn’t presented as the better option than more traditionally feminine roles. She is balanced out by the female characters like Bissy (bossy but nurturing) Polita (feminine, with political rather than physical prowess) and Iridia (shrewd, politically savvy and able to adapt to different situations).
It is also important to me that women have female friends (so Marla has Kierra, Bissy has Shona and Polita has Gabelle). I know that is a very little touch, but I think it is important that we show female friendships rather than placing women in competition with each other all the time.
Which authors most inspired your own writing? And are there any novels that you looked to when you were beginning to shape your own world?
E.M. DF: My favourite fantasy author at the moment is V.E. Schwab. I only discovered her a couple of years ago, but I have devoured everything she’s written since the first book of hers I happened across in the Oxfam Bookshop. I especially loved her A darker shade of magic series. I hope that her depth of world-building is something that is reflected in the shaping of my own worlds too.
I think I was also influenced by Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris, and the way that court politics is balanced with action there. Also, I found Sanderson’s Mistborn series very inspiring in the way that it presented a fractured team — being able to be on the same side, but with very different perspectives (e.g. Elend as the noble wanted to change the system from within, and Kelsier, who wants to uproot the system entirely and kill all of the ruling class).
Although I read it quite a few years ago now, I think Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series probably subconsciously influenced my design of a very competent and arrogant female assassin character.
And lastly, describe your book in one sentence.
E.M. DF: A dark fantasy YA novel with demons, assassins, an army of the undead and emotional entanglements galore.