Hello, this is L.M. David and today I am interviewing Erica Dakin, author of The Ritual. Let me start by saying my resident vampyre has been making a nuisance of himself. I am in the process of finishing the third in the trilogy of the Hunter Legacy and he got ahold of the printout. Preston was not happy to learn I confined him to a room resembling a bank vault for the first six chapters and left a nasty note telling me to revise the story. I refused. He then nailed every door in this place shut. I revised the story. Now he will be confined to that vault for nine chapters. This morning, I found the room furniture nailed to the ceiling.
Memo to me: buy a nail remover gizmo.
Okay, let’s get started. Welcome to my little broom closet office, Erica. Hope you don’t mind sitting on floor mats.
Q. Tell me a bit about yourself.
A. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, and have been an avid reader ever since my sister taught me to read at age four. This expanded into a love for language in general, and the English language in particular. Through TV series such as Robin of Sherwood, and Blackadder, I also gained an interest in everything British. And when I was lucky enough to meet, and fall in love with a lovely British man, I uprooted and moved to England. I have been living there since 1999 and have never regretted the move.
In my everyday life I work in the Human Resources department of a Government agency. And in my spare time, I enjoy roleplaying (both tabletop and live action), walking out in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside and, of course, reading and writing.
Q. What is the world in your book, The Ritual, like?
A. My world consists of one vast country, Arlennis. There may be other countries beyond its borders, but Arlennis is surrounded on all sides by vast natural barriers, so its inhabitants do not know of any other countries. Arlennian society is more or less feudal, with an aristocracy of elves and a commoner workforce of humans. The two races can interbreed, which happens quite frequently, and the resulting children form a third race, the half-elves. At the time of The Ritual, the elvish King Sovander has been on the throne for about 160 years, and when he first ascended the throne he decreed that all half-elves were impure abominations in the eyes of the Gods and would from then on be considered outcasts. Half-elf children are taken from their mothers and raised in orphanages, from which they are either sold as slaves or kicked out at age seventeen to fend for themselves. As they are not allowed to have proper jobs, this means they end up being thieves or beggars most of the time.
Q. There is a character named Chiarin in The Ritual. Tell me a little about her.
A. Chiarin is the main character and the book is written from her point of view. She is a half-elf thief who has been trying to keep herself and her identical twin sister out of trouble ever since they escaped the orphanage at age thirteen. Chiarin’s sister Shaniel is a sorceress, which is a very rare talent that manifests itself at the onset of puberty. When it happened to Shaniel, Chiarin realised that she would be snapped up as a valuable slave within days, and they would be separated forever, so they escaped instead. Chiarin is in essence a pessimist who has encountered little else but disdain and hostility in her life, so she is wary of strangers and fiercely protective of Shaniel. She also has a lightning temper and an innate sense of pride that she has so far managed to keep both of them alive without having to resort to prostitution.
Q. You described Zashter as a thief. What more can you tell me about this character?
A. Zashter is in many ways Chiarin’s male counterpart. He is another half-elf outcast, but he is an absolute master thief and burglar, since he learnt from the very best. When Chiarin first meets him he is arrogant, sarcastic and extremely secretive, but once she gets to know him better she discovers that he is also very generous, and that his stand-offish character belies a core of unwavering loyalty.
Q. The Ritual has elements of romance involving the characters Zashter and Chiarin. What is the attraction between them?
A. Initially the attraction is purely at a gut level. Chiarin literally bumps into Zashter and drowns in his eyes, and she cannot even explain herself why she is so attracted to him. It infuriates her no end, and for a good part of the book she tries to fight it as much as she can. However, the attraction is mutual, and once they get to know each other better they cannot escape it.
Q. Is creating fantasy worlds, and creatures, difficult?
A. It depends on how far you want to take it. My world is pretty simple in its setup in that it’s basically a reflection of a kind of medieval Earth but with elves and half-elves thrown in. Most animals are the same as you would find on Earth, but there are a few magical creatures such as dragons, wind sprites and stone elementals. With those you can do pretty much anything you like, as long as you have a set of rules that you apply consistently.
Q. Which character in The Ritual is your favorite and why?
A. I think it has to be Zashter, because he is my male protagonist, and I always fall a little in love with my male leads. Sure, he can be a complete arse, but nobody’s perfect, right?
Q. What was your favorite moment when writing The Ritual?
A. There is a section in the book where my characters have to steal something from a place called the Monastery of Balance. This is an extremely remote place, built on a massive granite pillar and accessible only by a precarious rope-and-plank bridge. The theft should be a simple in and out, but things don’t go entirely as planned. I won’t give away anything else, but the section is three very tense chapters that I know have held people on the edge of their seat. It was a lot of fun to write, though it was a pain to try and make sure I’d closed up all the possible plot holes.
Q. Who was your least favorite character?
A. The book has villains, of course, but I wouldn’t say I had any characters I disliked for any other reason than their inherent function in the story as antagonists. However, as antagonists go I think the elf Siander is the worst. He’s a coward, a bully and a vindictive bastard.
Q. What is your current work in progress?
A. The Ritual is the first book in a trilogy and I am currently finishing off the sequel, The Conspiracy. The books are complete stories in their own right, but book two follows on from book one. I’m working on the final edit and will hopefully be able to publish it in May. After that I will be working on book three, which is at this point in time little more than a basic plot in my head.
Q. If your book were being made into a movie, who would play the lead characters?
A. I cannot think of a single famous actor or actress who I think would be just right. I am very much in favour for the approach that was taken for the Lord of the Rings films, and the Game of Thrones series, where they’ve mostly cast unknown actors who were right for the role. Both these two productions were very well cast, so that would work for me. That said, Jake Gyllenhaal made a good fantasy prince in Prince of Persia, so I could live with him for Zashter!
Q. What is your typical day like?
A. I wake up far too early to go to work (never been a morning person). I do my day job while often working out scenes and plotlines in my head. When I come home I cook dinner (I love cooking), then sit down at the computer and start writing. If I’m not writing I might play a computer game. I go to bed around eleven and will spend up to an hour reading whatever book I’m reading at the moment. Rinse and repeat – pretty boring really. If I could give up the day job I would, but unfortunately I need food on the table!
Q. What inspired you to become a writer?
A. Reading books. The one truth I’m 100% sure of is that you cannot be a good writer if you do not read a lot – reading exposes you to different worlds, different experiences, different mindsets, and it’s an amazing experience. My own writing simply stems from that – I am compelled to write, and have been since I was a teenager.
Q. What advice to you have for writers struggling to get their first book from the thought process and out into the world for publishing?
A. Don’t do everything on your own. You need other people to point out the flaws in your work, the plot holes and spelling mistakes. You can read your own book fifty times and you will still miss something that a pair of fresh eyes will spot immediately. Make sure that your final product is as good as you can possibly make it, so find yourself some beta-readers who are not afraid to be honest with you, and make sure that it is properly proof-read and edited. On the other hand, don’t endlessly tinker with your book. At some point you need to be able to let it go and put it out there. There will always be things you spot where you think you could have done it different, but it will never be perfect.
L.M. David: Thank you, Erica, for stopping by. And I’m off to Home Depot, again.
Erica Dakin was born in the Netherlands and lived there until age 25, when she moved to England to live with her then boyfriend, who has been her husband since 2006. She has always been a linguist at heart, and while she only speaks two languages fluently (Dutch and English), she knows a little about a lot of other languages and will always be passionate about language in general and how to use it.
Her sister taught her how to read at age four because she showed interest, and since then reading has been one of her main hobbies. She loves curling up with a good book, and always feels a sense of loss when it finishes and she has to resurface from the world that she had been so absorbed in.
Erica works in the Human Resources department of a Government agency, but dreams of being a bestselling author someday. Her home life is spent with her husband and four cats (which might possibly put her in the crazy cat lady category, but the simple truth is that she cannot look at two kittens and only choose one).
There have been many writers who have given her many hours of enjoyment through their imagination, and she can think of no greater compliment than other people telling her that she did the same for them.