Excerpt, Chapter One
'You should have left me down there, Cygnus, killed me while you had the chance.' Naomi began to cough and rolled over to her side as she curled up and attempted to control it. There was another flicker of magic and a fine crystal glass filled with clear liquid was being offered to her.
'Poison.' she wheezed, trying to push it away.
'Water, in fact,' he said, offering it back again. 'If I wanted you dead, if she wanted you dead, do you really think we would drag you all the way up here just to poison you?'
Naomi only needed a moment to think about this before taking the water and sipping it between shuddering breaths. Of course they wouldn't kill her that way. Keeping her alive had pleased Adrienne, pleased her twisted mind to make Naomi suffer as long as possible. If they ever planned to have her put to death, she knew it wouldn't be anything so kind as poison. She had been living under the torture chamber for the last four years. She knew that there were far worse ways to meet the end, and Adrienne would save all of them for her.
'Incidentally, it's Lord Cygnus, thank you.' He continued to smile. 'Royal Chancellor, you know.'
'Royal.' Naomi snorted, keeping tight hold of the glass. 'She's no Queen.'
'Well, that much is true. There seem to be some laws of succession that are causing us all a bit of trauma, in fact, but it is on that point that we wanted to speak with you...'
There was the sudden, distant sound of fanfare echoing down the hallway outside and Naomi felt sick knowing who it was that approached. She was still too weak to move, but she hated to be laying prostrate at the feet of the woman who had ruined her life, the woman who had murdered all that Naomi loved and locked her away to rot into this feeble husk of who she used to be.
Fixing her red-rimmed and sore eyes on Cygnus, feeding her determination with her rage, she moved her arms beneath herself and pushed against the floor. It was hard going, her body protesting every movement, but she slowly heaved herself up to her knees. Cygnus just watched her, looking somehow pleased.
'Well, now. That's more like it. She'll be happy to see you've made the effort to kneel before her, I’m sure.'
Naomi ignored him, knowing full well he was trying to bait her. Taking a sip of the water to calm her rasping breath and give her hands something to do, she tried to relax. She had to conserve her strength, and that was more important than rising to the jibes of this evil thing. Her whole body was shaking violently, but she tried to quell it as best she could. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath as her teacher had taught her years ago. She would get through this. Breathe in. Breathe out.
'The trick is to keep breathing.'
The old adage Master Gerrard had repeated so often floated back to her, warming her as the sun had done before. It was simple advice. Simple, but powerful. She had never truly appreciated the strength behind the words until the night the traitors had taken her and buried her alive. Through it all, Naomi had kept breathing as he had told her, and she was going to keep doing so.
She barely heard the doors to the Great Hall bang open as Adrienne entered, wrapped up in her meditation as she was and twirling the fine crystal between her fingers back and forth. Her hearing sharpened as the doors closed once again, and she listened closely to the sounds of the guards being sent out, the near silent breath of Cygnus not far to her left, and then the swish of expensive satin skirts slowly approaching them both. She continued to twirl the glass.
'I fear this idea of yours has failed even before it began, My Lord,' said Adrienne, her voice causing Naomi's stomach to clench. 'Just look at her. She's hideous. And she stinks.'
Naomi didn't move, nor open her eyes as the woman stopped in front of her. She almost felt some small glimmer of satisfaction perforate her tightly-controlled rage as Adrienne fell back on such insults. It didn't concern her that she was hideous. She was alive, and the barb meant to demean her had distinctly missed its mark. She knew that she must smell revolting, but this didn't bother her either. In fact, she drew satisfaction from the fact that she was probably making them both feel ill.
'Perhaps, Highness, we should have her washed and fed before we continue this interview?' Cygnus wheedled.
'No, I think I like her better this way.' Naomi heard her turn to walk towards the throne and she grasped the stem of the glass tightly. 'She's certainly less troublesome, and I enjoy seeing her so... Cygnus!'
Adrienne shrieked in fear as Naomi broke the glass in her hand against the stone floor, and rallying all of her strength, launched herself at the woman. She knew her body exploded in pain, protesting the movement, but she didn't feel it. Splintered shard aimed directly at her adversary’s throat, Naomi was almost upon her. Before the split-second of her attack had been completed, her whole body was frozen mid-leap. She couldn't move. Cygnus had her suspended with his powerful magic and she hung in the air, only a hand-span from Adrienne's jugular. So close. So cussing close!
A bellow of fury tore itself from deep inside her and she fought against the magic that held her back. The broken glass had disappeared from her hand, but that didn't stop her from straining forward. Far too soon, her exhausted body won out over the fury of the near miss, and she began to pant and shake all over.
Adrienne looked pale and afraid, a sheen of sweat across her brow as she clutched her hands to her breast. It didn't take long for Cygnus to sweep over to her and pull her into an embrace, shushing and stroking in a way that gave Naomi pause.
'There, there, now.'
'It's all right. You're all right.'
'She tried to kill me!'
'I know, poppet.' Cygnus looked as though he might smile for a moment, but the impression was gone as soon as he saw Naomi watching him. He didn't look away from her as he answered. 'But I stopped her. She is completely at our mercy.'
Adrienne pushed away from him, face twisted in anger as she rounded on Naomi. 'I want her dead! Now! Right now, Cygnus.'
'Highness, you know I would counsel against such rash actions.'
'I don't care!' Adrienne stamped her foot petulantly and crossed her arms. 'She's useless. She won't cooperate. I don't know why you made me keep her alive this long. Let's just kill her. Please?'
There was something strange occurring here. Why was Adrienne asking permission? She was supposed to be in charge, not Cygnus. He was nothing but a low-ranking lord from a small fief in the North. Now to find out that it was on his recommendation that Adrienne kept her alive all these long years when she had wanted her dead didn't make sense. Cygnus certainly only made his way to royal Chancellor through being in Adrienne's good graces and his part during the civil war, if you could call it that. She was still the one in charge, wasn’t she?
Naomi's body was suddenly moved, so that she was shaken out of her attack position and hanging in the air. Her head hung limply forward, and her strength was waning fast. The adrenaline of her attempted vengeance had ebbed away, and she noticed the pain in her hand where the glass had shattered and cut in. Blood trickled between her fingers and dropped silently onto the floor.
'She is completely at our mercy,' Cygnus repeated with a sweep of his hand. 'The situation is a precarious one and I would caution that my plan is still the wisest option. After all she has suffered, that she can still move is to our advantage. Surely you wouldn't want to offer her up as a substitute if she just lay there?'
The laugh that escaped her cracked lips quickly turned into a coughing fit, but Naomi still couldn't keep her mouth from twisting in amusement. Both Adrienne and Cygnus looked back at her, and she shook her head minimally.
'A substitute? That's what this is about?'
'Be silent,' Cygnus snapped.
'What's the matter? Someone trying to kill you, Adrienne?' Another short, choking laugh. 'I beg your pardon. I mean, someone besides me.'
A big welcome to the fabulous Lorna George!
- What inspired you to write The Redwood Rebel?
A big love of fantasy, mostly. I was always obsessed by dragons and knights and princesses; you know, all the old, tropey stuff. I wear my literary trash badge with pride!
I used to work in a cinema, so there would be ebbs and flows of busy periods, and in between I would read or jot on the back of hot dog napkins. I remember on one of these shifts I stumbled across the poem “Not My Best Side” by U.A. Fanthorpe, and it made me laugh. It’s such a clever play on the old stories I loved, and before I knew what had happened, I’d started writing about a knight who had to save the dragon from the evil princess!
- Tell us a bit about your main character, Naomi.
Naomi is my knight in shining armour. Well. She’s not all that shining when all is said and done, but her flaws make her a lot of fun to write and, I hope, to read. I wanted to write a character who was real, you know? No one is perfect, and particularly with female characters, it’s too easy to fall into set architypes without much variance. Naomi isn’t a black and white character. She’s ruthless and narrow-minded, but she wants so much to do the right thing and redeem herself.
She’s had a difficult life, a tough life, and she’s lost a lot of people. Her faith in others is low, but she clings to her personal set of morals like a lifeline and if it’s in her power to help someone, no matter who, she will.
- Worldbuilding—where did you start; what inspired your fantasy world?
Honestly, Ilios just sort of grew up around Naomi as I worked. I didn’t sit and do any real world-building until the end of the third draft. Disgusting, isn’t it? Tolkien would be ashamed of me.
- What was your biggest challenge in completing the novel? Any things you wish you’d known when starting out?
Lack of faith in myself. It’s so hard to put in the hours you need to write a novel if you honestly think you’re a hack. Frankly, I still think I’m a hack, but I’ve yet to meet a single other writer who doesn’t feel that way about themselves. We’re all just waiting to be caught!
- What is your mission for this series (number of books, any nuggets about characters we will see in future books)? Are they all from Naomi’s perspective?
This series, The Redwood War, is a set of four books. They’re all going to follow Naomi on her quest to overthrow the evil Princess Adrienne and take back her homeland, but there will be a few other key characters too. I can’t give too much away just yet, though! I’m just finishing up the fourth draft of book two at the moment, and I’m excited for readers to meet Empress Ayeko of Tsumetai in particular.
- Plotter or Pantser—what’s your writing process like?
I suppose my previous answers have already hinted enough that it won’t be a surprise to hear I’m very much a pantser. I used to plot away with the best of them, with folders and folders of sketches and notes and goodness knows what else, but I found I’d spend so much time plotting that I never actually wrote anything!
- Do you find any real world events or people coming to life on your fantasy pages?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I find it impossible not to write about real life issues, especially in fantasy. Books were so important to me growing up, because I learnt so much about the person I wanted to be from the characters I admired. I want to pay that experience forward, which is why I’ve worked hard to make sure I have a large covering of representation in my work.
I cut my writing teeth on fanfiction (there’s that trash badge again) and as such I learnt early the freedom of writing whatever I wanted. I took my ideas and ran with them, with no one to stand over me and say I wasn’t allowed. I think we have fanfiction to thank for the new wave of more inclusive stories out there now, and for a whole generation of readers who not only expect it, but demand it. I can’t think of anything better, really.
There will always be people who find this sort of thing annoying, I suppose, but then again, there are people out in the world who don’t like dogs, so what can I tell you? Everyone is different. I just don’t think representation should be some niche thing that’s treated like an author is going the extra mile to include.
- What are your strategies for creating multifaceted characters?
I’ve worked in customer service since I was fourteen, so I think in that environment you see a huge variety of people. You see them at their very worst and their best too, and mostly you’re a sort of invisible nonentity to them. You can listen to conversations, notice speaking patterns and watch mannerisms… the whole glorious show of human interaction! I’ve enjoyed many years of people-watching, making up back stories for random strangers, and it’s helped my writing immeasurably.
- Did you have a message in mind for your readers while creating this story?
No. I know that isn’t the usual answer, and I think when people have read it they might question my response a little harder simply because of the reoccurring themes throughout, but I don’t want to force my opinions into my writing. Instead I’ve taken very different characters from varying backgrounds and allowed them to argue the points addressed. Art is there to make you think, and if I can encourage that in even one person, then I’ll be happy.
Perhaps the only message that could be taken from the story is to remember that everyone thinks they’re right.
- Why indie publish?
It affords me so much more artistic freedom, and I love that. I’ve worked my tail off on this story, and the thought of someone else coming in and changing things just to make it “sell” makes me cringe. Sure, I want to make money, and these people are professionals so I throw no shade on traditional publishing, but as I’ve already said, things are changing.
My main demographic is teenage girls and young women, and they want so much more than what’s currently being provided. They’re clever and opinionated and passionate, and I’m so proud of them for that. There are so few closed doors to us now, and there are girls making art and sharing ideas, and thanks to things like indie publishing we aren’t being shut out or excluded any more. That can only make the artistic experience better and more diverse, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
- Mentors who have inspired your writing. What are you reading now?
Wow, there are so many, I’m not sure how I’m going to whittle it down! I’m always a sucker for romance, so I have to say Jane Austen. The Bronte sisters, too –particularly Anne who wrote The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, because it’s just so wonderful. I wouldn’t have pursued writing seriously without Louisa May Alcott, and of course, Terry Pratchett let me know through all of his works that writing fantasy is just as legitimate and important as any other genre.
At the moment, I’m reading The Seelie Princess by Jill Turner, which is just beautiful! Who can say no to a good fairy story, let’s be honest?
- Future projects?
I’m just chugging along with The Redwood War series for now, because I’m afraid I’m a bit single-minded. I tend not to be able to concentrate on more than one project at a time, but I do have a few ideas floating about in the back of my mind. Nothing fixed yet, but there are veins just waiting to be mined!
- Favorite resources you recommend for writers?
Oh, without a doubt, if you’re a fantasy or scifi writer you should stop by The Dragon’s Rocketship, for sure. Fantastic group of people, always helpful and knowledgeable about the technicalities and pitfalls of publishing. I’ve made a lot of good friends though there, and learnt such a lot, too.
Red’s Randomness (Just for fun questions)
- All-time favorite book, movie or TV character and why.
Nanny Ogg, from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. She’s funny and utterly vulgar, and what’s not to love?
- Stranded on an island—which book character would you choose to be with you?
Hermione Granger, because she’s incredibly smart and interesting, and would more than likely know how to get us off of said island!
- Dog or cat person?
Dog person, without a doubt. It’s not that I don’t like cats, it’s just that I’m allergic. Plus, you know… Dogs!
- What’s your favorite season of the year?
Summer. I’m a raging heliophile.
- Favorite hobby?
I love cooking! It’s so much fun trying new recipes and making food look pretty, then eating it. It’s very therapeutic!
About the Author
Since she has become increasingly vulgar with age, she writes predominately New Adult stories, and despite what a lot of people seem to think, she seriously doubts she will ever grow out of fantasy.
She doesn't particularly want to.