Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their Debut Journeys with us. This month, Helen Simmons steps out with author P. M. Freestone (Peta), whose debut Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom, is out on February 7th 2019.

The story is told from alternating points of view: Rakel, a poor girl with a talent for fragrances, and Ash, the life-sworn bodyguard to the crown prince. They have nothing in common until they both find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time – the night the prince is poisoned. Let’s begin our journey …

There’s nothing like a good walk to fuel creative ideas and give us inspiration in our writing. Peta, where are you taking us on our walk today? 

I love a good hike, so I’ve trekked a few trails. Possibly the most inspirational was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro via ‘the back way’ or ‘the wilderness route’. You start in rainforest full of chirruping birds and howling monkeys, crest ridge-after-ridge of deserted crags pocked with caves (where old lions have been rumoured to seek refuge), then scramble up almost lunar slopes of rock and snow and ice, before emerging above the clouds into the sun.

What about the landscape you have created in Shadowscent? What was your inspiration for the Empire of Aramtesh? 

My archaeology days provided some of the ingredients, but the Aramtesh Empire covers such varying landscapes – desert dunes to smuggler cities to sulphurous wastelands – that there was a lot more than that at play.

As for a starting point? Of all the senses, I’ve long been fascinated with smell. Neurologically, our sense of smell is linked to memory, and merely thinking of a scent you’ve previously experienced likely conjures up all kinds of associations. So, I thought, what better way to transport a reader than to build a fantasy setting around fragrance?

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one. Tell us about your inspiration for your novel. When and why did you start writing Shadowscent

Rakel’s been with me a long time. I first tried to write a snippet of her life as a short story back in 2011, when I was at the Clarion Writers Workshop in California. I failed. Miserably. It wasn’t destined to be a short story. And I didn’t have the writing chops at the time to achieve what I wanted (writing with smell as the predominant sense is hard).

Years later, Ash turned up in my brain. I was working full time and had just finished my PhD on top of that, so I was pretty exhausted, but neither of them would leave me alone once they joined forces (they’re both really stubborn!). I relented, and started drafting Shadowscent in 2016. And guess what, some of my Clarion classmates were kind enough to beta read the novel-length version all those years later!

Now we have got into our stride, can you tell us what you loved most about writing this book? 

With Shadowscent, I’ve revelled in writing a book for a younger me – seeking that sense of wonder that first drew me to fantasy, while making a promise to my teen self that one day I would find a place to belong. In Shadowscent, you’ll therefore find working-class characters with roles as important as royalty. The cast have diverse gender identities and orientations. Several struggle with anxiety. Some have, or acquire, disabilities. And it’s the nerds who play some of the biggest roles: Shadowscent’s heroes rely on ingenuity and intellectual curiosity as much as physical prowess.

We seem to be lost in the woods now, Peta. Can you describe your most difficult moments when you were writing Shadowscent, and how you got back onto the right path? 

Not going to lie, I almost gave up on writing altogether while I was in the early stages of drafting Shadowscent. I’d already written the first draft of two other YA books, didn’t let anyone read any more than a snippet of each, then promptly shoved both projects in the trunk. This meant I’d spent years getting up super early to write before work only to convince myself I didn’t have what it took to write a ‘good’ book. I was my own worst enemy!

It was only through others’ belief in me and the project (especially the Scottish Book Trust who gave me a New Writers Award in 2016, and the friends I subsequently made when I joined SCBWI) that I kept going. Looking back, I’m so grateful to each and every one of them – there’s good reason the acknowledgement section in Shadowscent takes up three pages.

As we reach the summit, can you tell us how it feels to be a first time author?

Like I’ve been swept away in a wonderful whirlwind!

It will be a year between Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom’s inclusion in the 2018 SCBWI Undiscovered Voices anthology and publication day. During that year, so many things I’d barely dared to dream before have come to pass. I signed with my number one choice agents. Worked with two amazing editors in the UK and USA on making the book the best possible version of itself. Found, to my delight, that Ash and Rakel’s adventures will be translated into multiple languages. Held the shiniest ARC I could have ever imagined. Received an invitation to my first festival appearance. And now I’m getting ready to celebrate Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom’s launch.

We’ve finished our walk now, so I think we deserve to celebrate with tea in a cosy inn. As we warm our feet by the blazing fire, tell me where you think your writing will take you in the future? 

In the short term, my major project is the sequel to Shadowscent: The Darkest Boom (currently titled Shadowscent 2! I’m so creative!), which is due to be published in several countries in 2020.

I’m also working on something else which is a secret between me and my agent. All I can say is that it’s YA, epic, and with an ensemble cast with whom I’ve fallen hopelessly in love.

Finally, I have really enjoyed walking and talking with you today. Can you give us one take away tip for yet-to-be-published writers? 

Don’t go it alone. Connect with other writers, no matter which career stage they’re at. While publishing is an industry fraught with uncertainty, the vast majority of the people in it are genuine and generous. Be part of the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Photo of P.M. Freestone
P.M. Freestone writes young adult fantasy and speculative fiction. She hails originally from Australia, has travelled the world and now calls Scotland her home. Peta loves video games, cooking up a storm and foraging for blackberries, rosehips and wild garlic! Her debut fantasy novel, Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom will be published by Scholastic in 2019. 

Follow Peta: 
Twitter: @PM_Freestone 

Helen Simmons
Helen Simmons is a writer of YA fiction, a full time drama teacher and a reader of anything and everything. When she is not putting on shows, reading or writing, Helen loves to walk in wild places, or hang out with her family and friends in London, France and Cornwall.

Follow Helen:
Twitter: @helensimmons100

Imogen Foxell is an illustrator with a particular interest in creating intricate imaginary worlds. She illustrates English literature revision cards for, and interesting words for Her website is Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Emily Ann Davison is a features editor for Words & Pictures.
Follow Emily:
Twitter: @emilyanndavison 
Instagram: emilyannwriter

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.