My first guest blogger this week is Ali Isaac who writes fantasy for younger readers. I’m already a big fan of Irish legends, which some call myth, others history. In addition, Ali’s books are written from the heart. When one’s own child inspired the story, especially when the child in question has needed special care, the book can only be strong in emotion. Here is Ali Isaac to answer the questions in the Author Hot Seat.
J. What do you write? Can you describe to us your genre?
A. I have written two books to date, Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean, and Conor Kelly and The Fenian King. They form The Tir na Nog Trilogy, and are fiction based on Irish mythology. This makes it quite difficult to accurately categorise them into a genre; the nearest I can get is Contemporary Fantasy, as they have all the elements of fantasy and are set mostly in present day Ireland, although they frequently dip in and out of time zones, legendary events, and the magical realm of Tir na Nog. I suppose I would like to see them jostling the shelves with the likes of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Artemis Fowl.
I also write posts for my blog based on interesting nuggets of information I have unearthed during my research. Currently, I am working on a book based on my experiences raising a child with a rare syndrome. I keep putting this off, though; it’s very hard to write because it’s so personal, and still a bit too raw. I keep toying with writing it as a fictional novel, and then abandoning it, because it loses so much depth. Writing it as a memoir, however, is just that bit too painful at present.
J. What piece of writing are you most proud of?
A. This’ll make you laugh! My parents travelled a lot when I was a child. We lived for seven years in Kuwait in the Middle East, where I had to learn to read and write Arabic at school. Although I don’t remember what I wrote about, my teacher gave me a gold star for my first ever story written in Arabic, and sent me to show it to the headmistress, which was cool as it gave me an excuse to be out of class, which needless to say I made the most of. I can’t write in Arabic today, unfortunately.
More recently, my first serious venture into writing was an essay based on my feelings about my daughter’s syndrome, entitled “Ugly”. It is thanks to that small piece of writing and the reaction it received from family and friends, that I went on to write my books and start my blog.
J. Which authors have most influenced your writing, and whose writing do you most admire?
A. I think it’s probably fair to say that I have been influenced in some tiny way by all the books I have ever read. My first foray into fantasy as a young person was CS Lewis, quickly followed by Tolkien and David Eddings. In terms of mythology, no one can beat Rosemary Sutcliffe and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Also, some of Sutcliffe’s books are illustrated by the amazing Victor Ambrus, who most people will know from the hit tv show Time Team. I absolutely love his illustrations. Recently, I read Sharon Draper’s stunning Out Of My Mind, and RJ Palacio’s wonderful Wonder, both of which had a profound effect on the way I view disability.
J. It’s not easy for a new Indie author to get noticed. How do you deal with promotion?
A. Not very well, is the short answer! I have tried all the ‘tools’ offered by Amazon and Smashwords, but they haven’t brought me overnight success! I’m still experimenting at this stage; this is only my second book. I have also decided to concentrate on completing the trilogy before worrying too much about marketing and promotion. From what I can gather, and I have garnered this from hounding all the more successful independent authors, success comes from working hard at your writing, and having a whole bunch of books ‘out there’, so that readers can bounce from one to the other.
J. Reviews…are they the ‘Open Sesame’ to success?
A. I think we seriously underestimate our readers if we assume that. Potential buyers will most probably check out a few of both the positive and the negative reviews a book has collected, but there is far more involved in the buying process than that; a great cover, a gripping blurb, a quality ‘look inside’ with a hook that makes the reader want more, and an appropriate price point. I don’t think anyone necessarily takes the reviews too seriously these days, especially with all the changes Amazon are making just now to the reviewing process.
J. How do you feel about your writing now you are confident enough to publish? Have you any weak points? What do you enjoy writing most?
A. I’ll never forget the first time I held the first print copy of my first book, Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean. in my hands! It was such an amazing, proud moment! I can’t wait to see the first print copy of the new book, too! Weak points… yes, I have lots of them, of course; I’m only human, and still learning my craft. I guess I take too long to write my books. Smashwords claim its authors take on average nine months to produce each book. It took me three years to research, write, edit and format my first book, and two years for the second. I use adjectives, italics, speech tags, all considered big no-no’s these days, and I’m not very good with commas. But I hope I have created two great stories which my readers will either love so much they’ll forgive me my weaknesses, or else they’ll become so immersed in them, they won’t even notice the mistakes.
There are very few books on the market based on Irish mythology. We have such a wealth of the stuff here in Ireland, but we don’t shout about it. In fact, we don’t do anything with it. Let’s face it, most Irish people don’t even know much about Irish mythology! My books take in many of our most ancient and wondrous archaeological sites, some famous, some rather less well known, but all the richer for that. My stories place you right there amongst the crumbling, lichened stones beside the legendary characters associated with them. Not only that, but in Conor Kelly I have created the ultimate in flawed heroes. He’s in a wheelchair; his mind is as sharp and active as yours and mine, but his body is about as responsive as a lump of wood. But perhaps his greatest handicap of all is not his mysterious syndrome, but his crippling self-doubt. The odds are really stacked against him, but through it all, I think he shows us that anyone can be a hero.
Ali has sent the blurbs of her two Conor Kelly books which I’m glad to post here. If you were wondering about the storyline, now’s the opportunity to find out.
Conor Kelly is not your average hero. Trapped inside a body he can’t control, Conor’s mind is as active and alert as that of any teenage boy. On the outside, however, he’s about as interactive as a lump of wood.
Then he meets Annalee. She claims to be a Sidhe Princess, some kind of fairy royalty, apparently. She offers to take him into the magical realm, where her people wield the power to help him.
But is she just some child-snatching lunatic psychopath, or can she be trusted? On the other hand, what’s he got to lose?
He soon discovers that Tir na Nog is not the benign, dreamy land of legend. Nor are its inhabitants, the Sidhe, the benevolent fairy folk of Irish mythology. To accept their help has a cost, but for someone who doesn’t value his life, death is a risk worth taking.
With the blood of Lugh, God of Lightning, tingling in his veins, the boy in the wheelchair must dig deep, if he is to unlock the inherited powers dormant within him. Only he can defy disgraced Sidhe-King, Bres, who seeks to avenge himself on his brethren, and subject all mankind to his tyranny.
In the race to recover the legendary lost talismans of power, the Four Treasures of Eirean, before Bres gets his hands on them and becomes invincible, Conor begins to wonder just whose side Annalee is on, as her chequered past comes to light.
There are other obstacles, too; Ruairi, the Chieftain’s son, and worse, his own crippling self-doubt. Not that anything’s going to stop him. For the first time in his life, Conor finds he is not restricted by his physical limitations. Still, it’s not going to be easy.
Nothing worth fighting for ever is.
Book One of The Tir na Nog Trilogy begins an epic fantasy adventure which takes us back in time to the shadowy past of Ireland’s long lost legend, where fairy kings and Gods walk amongst mortals, and where feats of magic, swordsmanship and courage were customary.
It’s happened again. Somehow, Sidhe-Princess Annalee has embroiled Conor in another hopeless quest on behalf of her people, Ireland’s fairy folk, the Sidhe. Last time, he very nearly got himself killed. This time, things look even worse.
For a start, Annalee can’t help him. She’s been imprisoned, accused of murdering her own father. The people of the magical realm are at war amongst themselves, whilst Tir na Nog crumbles into the sea and disaster strikes.
The sacred sisterhood of the Morrigan has arisen, wreaking havoc and destruction which threatens not only the future of the magical realm, but the world of mortals too. The Morrigan must be stopped, but how? The heroes of old are all long gone.
Conor Kelly is just a boy in a wheelchair, but with the help of feisty side-kick Ciara, his drop-out cousin, Conor sets out in search of the mysterious Fenian King, prophecied of old to awake from his slumber beneath the green hills of Ireland, and ride to the aid of his people in their hour of greatest need.
Along the way, Conor unearths a personal secret which undermines all he has believed about his own identity, throwing him deep into confusion. Floundering in the darkness of uncertainty and fear, the mortal boy must dig deep if he is to overcome his demons and save his friends.
However, the search for the Fenian King is anything but easy. Known by the name of Fionn mac Cumhall, his exploits as leader of legendary war-band, the Fianna, are still told with awe today.
So just where do you start your search for Ireland’s greatest hero? Well, first you google it, of course. Then you ask the cat…
Book Two of The Tir na Nog Trilogy continues this epic fantasy adventure which takes us back in time to the shadowy past of Ireland’s long lost legend, where fairy kings and Gods walk amongst mortals, and where feats of magic, swordsmanship and courage were customary.
Thanks for taking a turn in the hot seat, Ali, and I wish you the best of luck with your books. Compliments on the covers; they’re lovely. I should add that Ali has made a couple of pretty good book trailers that you will find on her blog.