The YA/Adult novel, The Unhewn Stone, deals with one of my favourite historic heroes, William Tell and today its author, Wendy Laharnar, stops by to answer some questions about her writing process for this, and other works.
1. Writing is a solitary pursuit. Why do you spend so much time writing when you could be pursuing group activities and mixing with people?
Well, I don’t spend enough time writing, really. For me there is nothing better than to spend a day with a group of writers, so I tend to gravitate towards people who like to write and talk about writing, even if I have to travel to find them. Recently, my husband and I drove 900 kms for me to present a workshop on Researching and Writing Historical Fiction. The interaction at my workshop, and in the others I attended, was wonderful. The results of the writing exercises blew me away. There were so many fabulous writers and several came away with new story ideas already well developed.
Talking face to face, or on the phone, or in emails usually concerns writing – mine and theirs. I love to share ideas and discover new techniques, that is, new to me. Most of all, I love brainstorming scenarios or character traits; that’s when the magic happens.
2. What promises do you make to your readers?
Good stories immediately set goals and raise questions which, in themselves, promise a thoroughly enjoyable read. As the author, I endeavour to leave no loose ends and bring my stories to a satisfying and unexpected conclusion. In the process my aim is to provide my readers with ‘a bumpy ride’ which will entertain, enlighten and create food for thought.
3. What makes The Unhewn Stone different from other YA Historical novels?
The Unhewn Stone is multi layered. A modern teenager’s search for identity takes him back to the time of his ancestors in 1307 AD. The adventure challenges his (and my) concept of friendship, mercy, honour, faith, courage, pride and humility. This is underpinned by a deeper philosophy: is there really any difference between alchemy, religion, science, myth and magic? The more Stefan discovered about himself and his identity, the more I leant about me and I came to the conclusion that Stefan and I now think very much alike.
Also, as well as giving senior students the opportunity to experience life in the Middle Ages from the perspective of a modern tourist, the story explores the idea that there is a thin line between the freedom fighter of old and the terrorist of today. So, I’ve taken liberties with Friedrich Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell by approaching the legend from the opposite side. Tell is not the hero in The Unhewn Stone. Stefan Gessler the conjuror, my modern time traveller, is.
Stefan wants to stop the legend before it happens because Wilhelm Tell killed his ancestor, the tyrant governor who made Tell shoot the apple off his son’s head, and Stefan’s family bears the stigma of the tyrant’s name.
My research of the medieval era and the alchemy aspects for the story took many years and I stayed at the Swiss locations, twice, in summer and winter, to research the setting. Since I have reinvented this legend, I hope the lovely Swiss friends I made while in Bürglen, central Switzerland, won’t be disappointed with it. I don’t think they will be. But…Stefan is an unhewn stone; this is his story.
4. Do you have a favourite writing tip for other authors?
Oh yeah! Two particular tips I’ve picked up help me to focus:
I try to grab readers right from the start, allowing them into the Now of the story to participate in the experience. If I let the readers slip to the sidelines and expect them to listen they could disengage from the story and skim, or worse, fall asleep and drop my book. It’s better to Show rather than Tell.
In my writers’ group, I like to have the members bombard me with questions about the main character’s actions and motives – protagonist or antagonist. They put me on the spot and I have to come up with believable answers, quickly. I find myself defending the character, or exaggerating, or even making up lies to make him more interesting. My answers lead to more tricky questions. It is amazing how much I learn about the character and how this often moves the story forward in a more exciting and tantalizing direction.
Wendy Laharnar lives by the sea on the east coast of Australia with her husband and mini schnauzer. She is a published author with MuseItUp Publishing and writes historical fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy, for all age groups. Although, being a kid at heart, her work tends towards young adults. She is happiest when the writing flows quickly but also finds pleasure in reading, travel and handcraft.