Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tara's Honour by Bryn Colvin

Why you chose that particular setting?

I’d already written a couple of stories in this particular fantasy setting and as I had a few speculative ideas I wanted to play with, it seemed the obvious choice. I’d read a science article exploring the idea that caffeinated substances you imbibe may affect how you perceive reality. The other strand underpinning the story came from a role play game I ran about a decade ago. At one point one of the girls playing had her character return to her hometown to find she’d been accused of killing her father. Remembering the game, I thought it would make a good story. With those two plot elements in mind, I needed a fantasy setting and thought I might as well use the one I’d already developed – Estraguil, my magical forest.

What does the setting add to the story?

Firstly there’s the forested landscape, full of unfamiliar plants, animals and dangers. Then there’s the possibility of magic which works best in fantasy environments I think. Then there’s the laws. Estraguil is inspired heavily by the Forest of Dean, and I took a lot of ideas from Medieval Welsh culture to provide the details. One such aspect is the legal system where those accused of a crime are tried by their entire community. To be found innocent, a set number of people have to give their word that they believe you wouldn’t have committed the crime. The more serious the accusation, the more people have to speak for you. So while proving your innocence is effective, someone of good repute might get away with it because their community would believe they wouldn’t have done it. There’s also a different social structure, where polyamoury is perfectly normal, and people swear allegiance to each other in interesting ways – not a servant and master scenario, something more balanced.

Could you write the same story in a different setting?

Not exactly the same story, no. A Welsh Mediaeval setting would allow me to cover a lot of the same ground. Another fantasy setting would allow me the magical elements.

Why or why couldn't you use a different setting?

I’d lose the combination of effects in a different setting – the old Welsh laws, the polyamoury, the forest, the magic – its all part of the story and to lose any one element would reduce the whole significantly. I’d be back to the drawing boar for flora and fauna. Nothing else would work quite so well. Having been built up over a number of books, Estraguil is almost a character in its own right and the setting informs the other characters in a host of ways.

Did you use a real place as a basis for your setting?

Yes. My paternal grandparents lived in the Forest of Dean, in the UK, and it’s an area I know quite well. With hills, narrow valleys, the river Wye and a lot of forest, it’s a beautiful and quite an unusual place, and it gave me the starting point for creating Estraguil. Visiting Chepstow castle, I noticed one of the towers has stone figures around the top. Wondering about those figures set me off down the line of thought that led to the creation of Estraguil. The name is an old name for Chepstow, and I thought it sounded perfect.

Or, did you create the setting from scratch? Tell us some specific details about your setting. What would we see?

Estraguil is densely wooded, full of running water and wildlife. There are paths – most of them made by animals and going nowhere especially useful. The easiest way to travel is on the larger rivers, using a boat, but the giant otter-like creatures (emerys) may sink your boat if they try and play with you, the tidal mudflats are treacherous, and some of the trees on the riverbank aren’t trees at all, but stalking poldens – large wading birds who camouflage themselves amongst the trees as they hunt for prey. There are mountainous areas, and you may catch sight of the Maisrians with their crafted wings, soaring on the thermals. You might meet a wandering Strafian story teller, or a band of violent, shape-shifting Illyans. The forests are full of dangerous beast – giant, thick skinned and evil tempered gwibers that eat anything, krask hounds with their instinctive precognition, or the krask themselves, notoriously hard to kill and very fierce. The forest teems with life, much of which will try to eat careless travellers.
What sort of people are there?

There are twelve kith groups in Estraguil, and all have different cultures. There are three genders, although its not always immediately obvious which gender any person belongs to. Hair and eyes come in every imaginable colour, skin tends to be various shades of brown, but can also be any shade imaginable. Some individuals have feathers, scales, hooves, or even leaves partially covering them. These are perfectly natural variations. Extra fingers, forked tongues, and other animal characteristics help the denizens of Estraguil to survive in the forest.
If we were travelling to your setting, what should we bring with us?

For visitors, what do they need to know to visit your setting?

Bring only what you can carry on your back – there are no horses or other pack animals and travelling light is best. A knife, a blanket, a water bottle, perhaps a bow or a spear for hunting. Metal is highly valued, being scarce and largely confined to the mountains. If you don’t have hooves or the ability to fly, then a stout pair of boots will serve you well. Some of the kith groups are very territorial and aggressive, so good manners are essential, as is a willingness to fight if needs be. It’s safest to sleep in the trees, so a hammock will help. Mistrust anything you aren’t familiar with. Many of the plants and smaller creatures are dangerous to the unwary, especially the small lizards, which hunt in large packs.

Thank you for sharing details about your book setting. Now, what's the title of your book and where can we buy it?

Tara's Honour

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