Monday, March 11, 2013

A World Frighteningly Like Our Own and a Message Woven into Rare Cloth: An interview with historical fantasy author Prue Batten

1) Please tell us about The Shifu Cloth.

If I might begin with the blurb:

In a world where Others play with mortal lives, in a hidden province that survives on the backs of abducted slaves, Isabella, one of those stolen folk, sends a message woven into rare cloth made of paper and silk, in the vain hope that her cousin will find it, decipher it and rescue her.

For cousin Nicholas, with whose life the Fates have been playing, only time will tell if he shall find her and whether what makes a curse does indeed break a curse.

The story had its genesis in a piece I read in an art magazine about the historic art of shifu. It’s an ancient Japanese skill where sheets of mulberry paper are marked and cut into strips. Shaken to separate the strands, they are then dampened, then flipped and rolled, separating and softening the fibres. The ends of each strip are joined to make a long filament that is then spindle spun. The resulting ‘yarn’ is woven on the weft with silk yarn on the warp to make the fine, very strong and unique fabric that is shifu. History tells us that the samurai used shifu cloth to send secret messages across war-torn country, the messages inscribed on the paper before it was woven into shifu and then made into garments.

Thus The Shifu Cloth was born.

2) Tell us about your main characters.

Isabella: a beautiful, capable mortal woman. Arrogant, self-obsessed, and kidnapped into slavery in the mysterious Han province of Eirie.
Nicholas: a dark young man filled with self-doubt and guilt brought on by Cousin Isabella’s kidnapping and by the fact that he is half-Other.
Poli: Nicholas’s plain-speaking mortal friend. The kind of companion ones needs at one’s back when fighting unknown enemies in a strange and unknown country.
Ming Xao: Imperial heir to the Han and an enigma.
Chi Nü: Celestial weaving maid in the Han. A gentle, kind but afflicted spirit.
Kitsune: Celestial Fox Spirit. Vengeful at her treatment by the Han emperors.
The Moonlady: Celestial Eirish spirit filled with wisdom.

3) Please tell us about the Others. What sort of storytelling goals were involved in their creation?

They needed to be totally credible, no matter who/what they were. It’s very easy to research the spirits from myth and legend, wonderful reading that filled, and continues to fill my hours. The hard part is investing them with a character that readers might care about. I wanted readers to hate and/or love those characters with intensity. ‘Others’ are the balance in my world, the balance in my stories. The goal for me was not shifting the scales too much one way or the other.

4) Please tell us about the world you created. It's not quite Earth, yet there are strong parallels at the same time. What were the influences on your world-building process?

What you say is true. In fact I remember a reviewer once saying the Eirish world was frighteningly similar to our own which is exactly what I wanted. Especially with emphasis on the ‘frightening’ side because almost all Others are dangerous, perhaps even life-threatening – especially the Færan.

Because the creation of Eirie was heavily influenced by the myth and legend of our own world, there was never a doubt that it would closely approximate our own in topography etc as well. I also loved the idea that in fact the Other world is accessed as easily as walking through a veil or through the ymp-tree orchard. And that there is never a doubt in the characters’ minds that immortals exist alongside them in almost everything they do. I never intended to introduce wars, politics or theology because I wanted it to be about the grass roots of Everyman. It could be you or me there, with a life-changing event rocketing out of daily life and hitting us square in the eyes, propelled by the Fates. Unlike many fantasies, politics and wars have no place in my plots.

5) This is the fourth book in the Chronicles of Eirie. Can a person enter the series at this point, or must they start from the beginning?

In actual fact, Books Three and Four are stand-alones and can be read without having read Books One and Two. But Books One and Two are a matched pair. Readers might be interested in the fact that A Thousand Glass Flowers (Book Four) won the silver medal for fantasy in the 2012 Readers’ Favorites Book Awards.

6) What inspired this series?

Each book is inspired by an inanimate object. Seventeenth century embroidery in Books One and Two. A Venetian paperweight in Book Three. A piece of Japanese fabric woven from paper and silk in Book Four. I began The Stumpwork Robe (Book One) with an idea that I would just write it and The Last Stitch. But the world that developed became something more, and the generations that I wrote about became very loud in their demand to be heard. So if anything propelled the journey further, it has been each successive generation needing to resolve the terrible events emerging in their lives.

7) Do you have any links to any excerpts you'd like to share?

8) Where can readers find out more about you and where can they purchase your book?

You can find out more about me on:

If I could just add – I am also a historical fiction writer. Along with historical fantasy, it’s my favourite genre to read. I wrote Book One of The Gisborne Saga a year ago and it was quite readily received. I’m currently writing the second book in the saga as we speak and am neck-deep in the twelfth century as I have a total fascination for the Middle Ages and the later timeframe of the Renaissance. In fact my graduate degree was in history and I feel content when I am surrounded by history texts. Interestingly much of the basic research has as much relevance in hist.fantasy as it does in hist.fict., so it’s a comfortable crossover.


Thanks, Prue


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for hosting me here. I always like being pinpointed on the genesis of titles. It makes one think. Cheers and best wishes.

J.A. Beard said...

You're welcome.