We, the Renshaw team, decided to get hold of Jonathan for the latest news on his current works that we’ve all been dying to hear about. If you want to get in on the Q&A action, feel free to add your questions below and we will see if we can twist the answers out of him – provided you aren’t looking for spoilers, of course 🙂
The Wakening, book 2
Q: The question on everybody’s lips, Jonathan, is: When will book 2 be released? The correct answer is tomorrow, preferably before 7am. 8am is less ideal, but still acceptable.
A: [Resigned laughter] Honestly, if I could work a few thousand hours tonight to make the 7am deadline, I would. I’m cautious to give a release date until I’m very close to finished. What I can say is that the first book took around two years to write, if I include the beta stages, and the sequel is turning out to be a longer book. Self-publishing is a colossal job, as I discovered (and a very expensive one). Following the launch, I had to do what was really a team job. This year, I started the process of setting up the Renshaw team. After putting the team in place, it now spends its time putting me in my place – behind the computer, finishing books. I’m aiming to have book 2 out around the end of 2017 and will provide a definite release date when the final revisions are close to finished.
Q: Many independent authors release every few months. Why not you?
A: The first reason is length. Dawn of Wonder is 2-3 times as long as many indie books when comparing word count (not page count, because the number of words per page varies enormously from book to book). The longer books are usually the traditionally published ones, and the gap between instalments in a series is often in the region of three years.
The second reason is that, like most authors I’ve learned from, I need to do several rewrites in order to produce my best work. The first draft is really just capturing the idea. In the revisions, I work on getting the places, characters and relationships to seem more real, more textured – and that takes mountains worth of research and rumination. Creative word use is something else I prioritise, and it’s something with a high time cost.
A crucial part of the process that’s often disregarded is getting away from the book for a while and then coming back with a fresh perspective. Often what I encounter after a break (mostly spent writing something else) just doesn’t make me feel what it was meant to, and doesn’t allow me to immerse myself in the scenes. So I analyse and then let it simmer; I consider my own experiences in life, questioning them, comparing them to what I’ve written. Usually this gives me the insight I need to alter and recombine story elements until they begin to stir emotions and draw me into the events.
Many great authors have commented on the vast improvement imparted by several stages of rewriting. It often makes the difference between a story someone can read, and a story someone can be a part of.
Q: Is that the cover for the next book?
A: Nope, just a little glimpse at one of the places in the sequel. This one was already hinted at in the first book. I wonder if you can remember the passage I’m referring to.
Q: Let’s leave that for the readers. Can you tell us anything about the places, characters or mysteries?
A: Book 2, as you would know from book 1, is going to spend a lot of time on foreign waters and foreign soil. The places are quite different to those seen in the first book – colder, harsher, more hostile. We’ll be reunited with many of the important characters from the first book, now well-advanced in their skills and ready for the most intimidating challenge of their lives. The new characters were some of my favourite to write. I’m itching to introduce you to them. As to the mysteries … I’m for allowing them to remain just that. Mysteries need to be discovered, not explained.
Q: How will book 2 differ from book 1?
A: Where the first book had much to do with preparation, this is far more about putting skills to use. It’s time for the friends to learn if their training will keep them alive in a place that would very much prefer it if they were all quite dead. There’s still a good deal of the mischief that characterized the apprentices’ interactions, but where the first book was primarily a coming of age tale, this is much more an adventure.
Q: What kind of Aedan can we expect?
A: Aedan is more mature and has a far deeper sense of purpose. There are also some very interesting changes to him that have a strong bearing on things. Of these, I am going to stubbornly refuse to say more.
Q: Does he find you know who?!
A: [laughing] Didn’t you say something about no spoilers earlier?
Q: Okay, let’s move on to something entirely different then. Not so long ago you mentioned going to Israel for Krav Maga training and to find some writing inspiration. Do you have any more adventures/experiences planned to help with the writing of the second book?
A: I’ve been looking into crewing on a longship. I did a bit of sailing a few years ago and had some interesting experiences that involved oil tankers, sharks, and a skipper with a death wish. But all that sailing was done on more modern craft. I’d love to get a feel for what ocean life was like on traditional tall ships, especially the old square riggers, but right now I’m trying to put in as much writing as I can, so I haven’t booked anything. When I feel the need for a break approaching, a sea voyage is going to be at the top of the list of options.
The Wakening, book 3
Q: How much of the story do you already know?
A: I have a rough plot-map in mind and few scenes imagined, but it’s only when I write the first draft that I put on the bramble-scarred boots and start clearing a path with the machete. The first draft for me is about exploring and discovering, so I try not to think too much into the details until I’m ready to set out. I have written a few chapters, but only because the ideas were spilling out and I had to do something with them. I’ll dive into the third book when book 2 is with the beta readers.
Q: You’ve spoken about the possibility of epic battles in this one. Are you planning on doing any hands-on research?
A: Oh yes. Oh absolutely yes! You get these medieval clubs in which combatants strap on traditional armour and engage in bouts with blunted weapons. The bouts range between polite tapping and enthusiastic pounding.
Q: I’m sure we’d all love to see this! Will you show us the video?
A: Depends on whether I manage to keep all my teeth or not.
Q: The one in which you lose your teeth would have great PR value.
Q: Will the series end at the third book or will there be more?
A: This remains to be seen … A fourth is possible, but not certain.
A Cloud in Her Eye
Q: Is it fantasy?
A: No. It’s a real-life story set in Ireland.
Q: Aren’t you a fantasy author? Why are you writing this?
A: I love the fantasy genre, but there are many other genres I enjoy. The books in which I found my love for writing were mostly classics. The Wakening series was actually inspired by classics that weren’t fantasy. I just thought a fantasy world would better suit the kind of tale I wanted to tell. I will always write fantasy, but there are other kinds of books I’ve been planning to write for years. This is one of them.
Q: And this is the book you’re writing for your English masters thesis?
Q: From the progress bars, it looks as if you have begun rewriting before finishing preceding stages. Why?
A: That’s to do with the structure of the course. It’s a different and not entirely comfortable approach for me, but I’m actually finding it a good one for this book. Developing the characters and the narrative flavour before completing the 1st draft is leading to better ideas for plot trajectory.
Q: Apart from the fact that it’s a different genre, how else will it differ from what we’ve seen of your writing?
A: Epic fantasy is a genre in which an overly casual tone spoils the feeling of vastness. There are acres of space for creativity, but also the need for some restraint. With A Cloud in Her Eye, I’m able to throw off the restraints and mess with words and ideas a lot more. It’s like ignoring the canvas and painting on the walls. It won’t be wild and crazy prose that reads like a confused dream, but there will be a some reaching into aspects of style that epic fantasy hasn’t really allowed me. It’s exactly what I needed. Growing means stretching, and this is giving me the room to stretch and develop as an author while being guided by my supervisor. Because it’s so different to the wakening, every time I work on it, it feels like having a holiday, one in which I’m learning as I rest.
Q: Can you give us a sample?
A: Sure. Here’s are two clips. They will probably still be rewritten a few times, but this should give an idea of the kind of book it will be.
I glance down at my grey tommies. My feet are numb. I wiggle my toes, trying to expel the curious buzzing memory trapped inside them. One of my toes is starting to poke through making me feel like a thirteen-year-old tomboy. I take a deep breath and let it out over Dublin Harbour. Not caring about how I look is so liberating. Not having to pretend I don’t care would be even better.
Propped against the rail of the open-air roof deck, I cast my eyes over the water, but it’s my nose that’s drawing my thoughts. How do harbours end up smelling more like the ocean than the ocean itself? I answer my own question as I pick out seaweed, spume, and a kind of slippery black moustache growing on anything regularly acquainted with the water. I also spy a few shiny objects on one of those concrete ramps running down from the wharf – the vapours of a hundred oceans are released by one dead fish.
I’m more thoughtful than I had expected to be on this holiday, and not without reason. I step back through recent memories to the way our parents hugged us at the airport. Long hugs, really long. My mother wiping her eyes. For a two-week holiday? Maybe I’m over-thinking and churning up worries from nothing. My sister finds only sunshine in this trip – metaphorically, that is, because the sky is a coffee spill.
I glance back and see Alina weaving her way over to me with slow, lazy strides, and realise why she chose those denim shorts for a day like this. I know what she’s about.
She takes a longer route than necessary, looping around a trendy young couple. The young man’s pleading brows and earnest tones make me wonder what he did. His girlfriend – all plats and beads and tie-dyed wraps – flinches as his attention darts to my sister.
Alina rolls her eyes and joins me at the rail. “Men are all the same,” she says with a shake of her head and a swish of auburn tresses. She half stands, half leans, with one foot pivoting on the toe, just enough movement to catch attention – the bobbing lure of an angler fish. We don’t need to turn around to know he’s still risking glances. For Alina, it’s another little victory, another epaulette to pin to her ego.
I gaze out to sea, wishing I had an epaulette or two. I shake my head and a lifeless, sticky wad slaps across my neck. No silkiness for me, though that might have less to do with genetics than shampoo. I’m low maintenance.
“This is boring,” Alina says. “There’s nothing to see up here.”
“You mean apart from the ships and tugs and fishing boats and quays and dockyards all full of activity?”
She frowns at me. “All boring. And I don’t want to be last in the queue. Come on Rae, let’s go.”
“Alright,” I sigh as we move alongside dozens of other passengers migrating to the stairway.
Alina is three years older, and twenty pounds prettier. Okay, maybe twenty-five.
I never had the discipline to diet, so when I decided to lose weight I opted for the other approach – growling over the toilet bowl, finger pointed down my throat, summoning dinner to reappear and be condemned to the ceramic gullet. I was never going to keep that up for long. I tried eating healthy. I muscled my way through a few years of tastelessness. It was the brussel sprouts that finally defeated my resolution, and opened my mind to the fact that some things were just not meant to be eaten. Two years later I’m still trying to wash away that taste with sweet things.
They spy me out from three city blocks and call me by name. Especially the pastries. As we walk past the cafeteria I can hear éclairs and strudels lifting their sweet voices. “Rae!” they cry. “Don’t pass us by, don’t …”
“Rae!” my sister calls, tearing me away from the menu boards. We hurry down the stairway, shoes padding on the deep carpet. There are mirrors against the wall at the landing, so naturally I bump into Alina’s back.
“You are so vain,” I mumble, rubbing my nose and pushing her along. I’m not really sure where we’re meant to be going, but we’re part of a migrating herd. I wonder if the person at the front is sweating blood at the knowledge that everyone is following his lead. Reaching the first deck, we take our place near the tail of an impossibly long queue. I don’t particularly mind. It’s an opportunity do something I like – watch people, guess their stories, and the motives that drive them.
Behind me is a tall Indian woman who looks without seeing, her thoughts held captive by whatever is marching into her skull through the white earphone wires. A freckled boy behind her looks as if he’s holding a coin between his knees. His mother is telling him that they are not going to lose their place in the queue and he will just have to pinch. Watching the crisis is too stressful. I look away. There’s a man not far ahead of me, mid-fifties I’d guess, with dark stringy hair and an Italian ferocity to the lines of his nose and chin. He’s checking his watch for the third time in a single minute. I have a feeling that if the watch wasn’t made of gold he’d stamp on it. The brunette beside him with the subdued eyes looks decidedly stamped on. Shiny metal, it seems, gets more respect from this man than his wife. The way they stand together speaks of familiarity that has sunk into an easy disregard. A Guy-Fawkes marriage, I’ll bet. Short-lived explosive beginnings without any real plans for tomorrow.
I look around for their opposite and spot them at a distance. A silver-old pair, talking. She has to lean in towards his hearing aid at times, but does so without annoyance. That’s the barbeque marriage. Small, controlled flames, maintained, cooking up something to be shared.
No, I don’t have any experience with marriage or relationships, but from what I can see, experience isn’t always the best teacher. Sometimes the person with the commanding perspective on the battle is standing on the hill, not buried in the fray. I’ve become rather adept at my hilltop assessments – reading people from small clues.
Gold-watch in front of me turns to his wife and asks her something. She looks at him as if for the first time in her life and says, “No speak English.”
I shall ignore this.
I’m doing a masters in sociology. My head is full of entitivity paradigms, semiotic consistencies across variegated social constructs, political debiasing of hierarchical language forms, and one horrible fear – sharp as a squirt of lemon in the eye – that I shall reach the end of my days unkissed.
I’ve often wondered how a developed and disciplined mind can be persecuted by thoughts so infantile, jejune and … embarrassing. If I conceptualise it, I know that the longing for companionship is one of the most foundational needs of any communal being, that it is justifiable across a range of perspectives from evolutionary to spiritual. But it still makes me feel like a pimply teenager tripping over her stupid emotions, blushing when Handsome Henry looks her way, and falling to pieces when he turns aside. It makes me feel like a pawn, and that … that … I can’t stand!
Academia empowers me, enables me to stand over emotion, stand aloof from the touch of longing. Mostly. There was that time when my austere self-command got all chewed up in lawnmower blades. I’d never thought Ben Erikson had even noticed me, but apparently I was wrong. While celebrating his culture-studies pass, he saw my name at the top of the exam results and gave me a hug. For the rest of that day the surprise grew to wonder, and then to hope. By the next morning, I was slightly queasy – too little sleep, too much emotion. I was in my own little heaven.
I could push him in front of a train. Or shove him down those interminable black iron stairs outside the upper lecture rooms.
Because two days later he asked Melanie Britton out.
I draw myself back once again from that awful nightmare. The skies today may not be sunny, but this is the beginning of something new. New is always good. It brings hope. If hope brings disappointment, there’s always sugar.
“What do you think she’s going to be like?” I ask.
“Huh?” Alina replies, frowning slightly. I’m distracting my sister from her performance.
“Aunt Trudy. What do think she’s going to be like?”
“How would I know? Last time I saw her I was seven.”
Twelve. I don’t say it aloud. She steps a little farther out, giving me more space than is necessary, providing a better view for the benefit of those behind. She spins her head, glances back. When she turns to me, the smirk hasn’t quite been wiped off.
It’s a game to her, but I worry for my sister. We don’t know the ropes here and I want to tell her to be more reserved, more cautious.
“I’m sorry. What did you say?” she asks.
“Nothing,” I mumble. “Just trying to picture her.” But I’m doing more than that.
I didn’t want to probe the matter when it first emerged as a pulsing question mark in my thoughts, didn’t want to find something wrong with this perfect holiday and endanger it. I would have ignored a high-court subpoena in order to get on that plane. But there’s a little niggle, a pebble in my shoe.
Aunt Trudy was never a popular name in our house, and after that time my father woke us all with his yelling over the phone, we were actually forbidden to mention her for a time.
But this fact seemed to vanish from existence when my mother proposed this Irish holiday a few weeks back. I ignored this contradiction and jumped at the plan like a starving animal. I’ve always wanted to explore the Irish side of my ancestry and I began planning immediately – travel blogs, maps, guides, encyclopaedias … Alina didn’t exactly oppose it, but she made us feel that she was doing us the favour when finally consenting to go along. Since we left, she’s grown more enthusiastic (though she tries not to let on) and I’ve grown … I’m not sure what, but I can’t seem to shake that pebble out.
“Surely you also noticed,” I say, “Mum and Dad sending us to Aunt Trudy like this doesn’t exactly add up to a full dozen?”
“Nothing about our parents ever adds up as far as I’m concerned.”
“Why? We’re on holiday. And you need to stop thinking things to death. I warned you that all that reading was going to fill your mind with weird ideas.”
“Well at least I fill it.” The words are out before I can catch them. They were funny in my thoughts. They sound unkind in my ears.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.” I looked away, annoyed, mostly with myself. Then a tall, athletic-looking deckhand jogs past, flashing a smile at me – no, just to the right of me. Now I’m annoyed at him.
Eventually the queue squeezes its way out through the doors, over the gangplank – a portable bridge, really – and into the baggage claim hall where I find my little blue satchel. Then I have to help Alina with her oversized case made of expensive-looking leather – probably belonging to an endangered species – and weighing half a mammoth. If it didn’t have wheels, one of these simpering lads would offer to carry it for her, even if it meant throwing away his own bags and sacrificing the cartilage in his knees.
We join another queue at the coach stop. Morton’s double-decker bus, green as a lettuce, whooshes around the bend, comes in too fast, and somehow manages to stop at the precise mark. If the driver is trying to impress us, he has succeeded. We have a deep impression of boyish idiocy. People begin squeezing in, oversized bags getting jammed in the door or the narrow passage between the stairs and the overfull baggage rack. Alina’s is one of these, but, of course, three or four pairs of strong hands come to the rescue. A pretty girl in distress is something that cannot be born.
We zoom down the road, and within seconds, the ships and quays are replaced by warehouses and then office blocks as we race into the centre of Dublin and lurch to a stop near the Liffey, a river that looks to be made of Guinness stout. Or could it be that Guinness is made from Liffey water? The problem doesn’t hold my attention long. I tasted Guinness once – that was enough – and I’ve no plans to taste Liffey.
We are carried along by the torrent of people spilling out, their eyes darting up the line of city busses docking and departing along O’Connel Street.
I did my homework. I know the street names here. We need to catch the bus that takes us to Glasnevin. Someone said it wasn’t the best area, but it looked pretty on Google earth. Lots of green. Nice park nearby. How bad can it be?
“Been thinking about work,” Alina says. This is a big move for her with last night’s argument still roaring in our memories. I don’t want to shut her down again, so I work my cup into the saucer that’s now gravelly with spilled sugar grains. I want her to see I’m listening. It’s as close to an apology as I’m prepared to go. She carries on, not making eye contact, watching the cross-currents of people outside our window. “Gonna try for a modelling agency, but it could mean moving far off.” She glances at me and away again. She’s testing the idea, waiting for the reaction. But then her meaning sinks in. The game dissolves and my words explode from me.
“What? No, Alina! You can’t. Would I leave you after what’s happened?”
She bites her lip, then begins chewing on that ropey clump of hair pulled from behind her ear – she never does this in public. Not since the time she got lost as a five year old in a museum and we found her tucked into a corner, shivering, chewing.
“Alina?” I say, suddenly aware that something else is happening here. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I …” she looks at me, eyes wide. A shadow moves within those dark pools. Alina is not timid; she’s as fearless as she is careless, but that shadow causes every hair along my arms and neck to stand to attention.
“Alina, is something frightening you? Is it that boy with the chains?”
She jolts, knocking her cup over and spilling dark coffee all over the table and onto the floor, but hardly notices. “What do you mean?” Her voice is too loud. “Have you spoken to him?” She’s not quite shrieking, but people have turned to look. The elderly couple alongside us are not being discrete about it. I think they like this channel. Their attention is held by Alina’s shaking hands. Even I’m looking. This is not my sister.
“No,” I say, drawing the word out to let her know I’m still asking the questions here, “I’ve never even greeted him, but who is he?”
She hovers a moment longer before glancing away again. “Nobody. Just stay away from him.” Then her manner changes as suddenly as the weather has been doing all week. She turns back, takes my hands, and looks at me with those intent eyes. I don’t think she’s ever done this before. “Promise me, Rae … Promise me you’ll keep away from him.”
“Sure,” I say trying to hide my discomfort. It feels like I’m losing control of her, of the situation. “That’s not going to be difficult. But please tell me who –”
She raises a palm, silencing me. “Let’s go,” she says.
At the counter, Alina insists on paying. I stand to the side. I don’t think I’m supposed to hear as she asks a few questions about the nearest Backpacker’s. My face drops with my heart. She’s not just wondering about possibilities; she’s making plans. I don’t understand. Why would she need to ask about a Backpacker’s if she wanted to be a travelling model? Was the modelling thing just a front just to see how I would react to the idea of her leaving? But why would she want to leave? All the opportunities are here. I had thought we were bound to a common post, but I see that she can slip the cord anytime she chooses.
At the bus stop, she turns to me. “Rae … If … if anything …” That’s as far as she gets. This time I ask, I prod, I try to drag her into the harbour of our confidences, but her anchor is down and nothing I can do will lure her towards me.
The buss arrives and its doors hiss open. We find seats on the lower level and after a few more attempts, I fall silent under the crushing weight of all I want to say and haven’t any idea how to voice.
We arrive home.
It doesn’t take long. Trudy’s questions are put in a tone that could not have been better calculated to set off the bomb. It’s not just Alina. I was right about Trudy’s hidden temper. By the time the two of them are done with their shouting, the grey walls are running with the shameful things that have been said.
Alina packs her bags in a few minutes. She ignores our aunt, but hugs me at the door and tells me not to follow. It’s a long hug, too long. I remember the airport, my parents. I don’t want to let go. She lets me hold on for a while longer and then steps away, gently.
She walks up the path and stops at the road. She turns around, looks into my eyes, and her face softens. It’s a little smile, but it’s warm and it’s all heart. It’s a smile I always wanted to see but now I don’t want to know any of the things that smile is saying. I’ve never been lost for words, but they fail me completely. After two weeks of emotional exhaustion, I have no reserves left and I stare, a mute spectator. I step forward but Alina shakes her head. My aunt grips my arm at the same time. I stop and watch as Alina walks away, pulling that mammoth I so hated and that now seems to me like family. They move past the graveyard and down the dank alley until the bend hides them.
I try again to follow but my aunt holds me back, more firmly this time. I should fight her and rush out, but I let myself be pulled back. As she closes the door, I have a sickening feeling that I will never see my sister again.