Lee Murray's Speculative Fiction Show - Sharon Manssen
Welcome to Lee Murray’s New Zealand Speculative Fiction Show, an interview series featuring star acts from NZ’s science fiction, fantasy and horror community, including news, insights, and sneak-peeks of their latest performances.
Today’s guest is Tauranga fantasy author Sharon Manssen, who joins us on the online release of her epic YA quest, Medar, the first book in her Realm Trilogy which is published by Ark House Press. Welcome Sharon!
Let’s take a look at what Medar is about:
A mysterious tablet. An ancient prophesy. A quest to find Tyrelia.
Freya is half blind, poor, and lives in land-locked Medar: an unlikely heroine. So when she finds a mysterious tablet telling her about a beautiful land beyond the Wall free from the evil Master, she doesn't think anybody will believe her.
The same day, her family learns they have been selected to live in the Golden City, ruled over by the Master. But instead of entering the City with her family, Freya finds herself condemned to death by the Guards. At the last minute, Freya is rescued by an invisible Watcher.
What follows is an incredible journey, pursued by Guards, that takes Freya to the very edge of the only world she has ever known. Will she unlock the clues hidden in the tablet? The key to the long lost path to Tyrelia - and freedom ‒ is in her hands.
Everyone loves a fantasy quest, don’t they? What, in your view, is the appeal of this genre?
I think it’s the ability to take you out of your everyday life with all its problems and sometimes boring routine. You get to escape into a whole different world and not only that, go on an exciting and dangerous adventure!
Why YA? What made you decide to write for this audience?
I have always had a thing for ‘tweenagers’ – I think because my life changed completely when I was eleven/twelve, so I can clearly remember what it was like to be that age. I’ve been a leader with Scouts, Iconz for Girls and youth groups, and that age-group has always been my favourite. I don’t recall thinking about what age group I was going to write for. It was a given.
Does your background as an engineer affect your approach to writing? Are you methodical and systematic, or do you write with wild abandon? Can you describe your process?
I’m afraid it does. I love order and even though my world is fantasy, it still has to work within the laws of physics. I have mapped out all the timelines in excel and figured out the distances (using scale rulers) and speeds of travel, depending on whether they’re walking or galloping on horseback. Prior to writing Medar I had only ever written technical documents. It’s been quite freeing not to have to write an abstract and conclusion!
Does your story pass the Bechdel Test?
Yes, it does. For me, it was a no-brainer that my lead character would be a girl. It was equally important that she not fit the stereotype of being beautiful and popular. A key theme of my book is that what you can achieve in life has nothing to do with what you look like on the outside: it’s all about who you are on the inside. What you achieve in life depends so much on self-belief. A lot of my readers have told me that they could really identify with Freya, and I hope that, once they’ve walked in her shoes, they’ll believe a bit more in themselves.
What are young readers saying about Medar?
“The book Medar is a capturing book, it has elements of a fantasy and mystery. Once I started reading it I could not put it down with the end setting up nicely for a possible sequel (I hope).” – E Kershaw, age 15
“From the first pages meeting Freya, the unlikely half-blind heroine to the surprising conclusion, I was transported to the land of Medar. As Freya’s family and friends struggle for liberation, the pages of the book just turn by themselves. I know it was written as a teen novel, but so far my daughter hasn’t stood a chance to read it because Mom was busy with it. Is Freya the next Harry Potter? All I can say is I can’t wait for the sequel! ”– Sonja de Klerk
This is a trilogy, so there’s a sequel coming, right? Can you give us a sneak preview?
Yep. Here’s the blurb for the next book, Tyrelia: Freya may be half-blind and only fourteen years old. But she's also the fulfilment of a thousand-year-old prophesy. Aided by the invisible Watchers, she's unlocked the clues in a magical tablet and found the long-lost path to Tyrelia. However, she's the only one who can pass through the Wall. As she ventures all alone into Tyrelia, her tablet starts revealing new messages telling her to seek the hermit. Meanwhile, her family remains trapped in the Golden City and Watcher Rube attempts a dangerous mission to learn how to escape. But the temptations of the Golden City are many and alluring. And the hermit has other plans for Freya. Will Freya and the Watchers discover the key to freeing her family before it's too late?
What about a little test? Please use the following words in a paragraph: horsemen, stone, foreboding.
She frowned, focussing on the stone glowing on her palm. A green haze shifted and swirled around it, intensifying in some areas and non-existent in others. They formed into a shape. A galloping horseman! He whipped the horse, over and over. Its eyes rolled wildly, froth escaping its mouth. Foreboding stabbed through her. Who was he? Was he coming for her?
If you were to escape to the other side of a magical Wall, what would you hope to find there?
Something better than what I know. Something special and magical.
You’re on a quest, but you’re travelling light so you can only fit five favourite books in your saddle bags. Which books will you choose and why?
For starters, I’d have an e-book reader, so I wouldn’t be limited to five books! But as a backup, in case my battery went flat, I’d take Lord of the Rings (the whole trilogy in one book), Cross Stitch (Outlander) and some Harry Potters. I just love stories that are epic, where good triumphs over evil, but not before being tested to your limits. Such satisfying reads.
Who is responsible for the cool cover art? How much input did you have?
My publisher rejected my first suggestion outright. We played around with a few themes, but needed to use existing images. Nothing that they came up with matched what was in my head, so in the end I found the image for the ‘tablet’ (it’s actually a block of ice!) and added the numbers in word. Then the publishers came up with the font and colour wash.
Were there any interesting snippets that you discovered while researching the book?
I didn’t know that horses slept standing up! And the whole wrestling stuff – that was completely new to me and took quite a bit of research. I hope I got it right!
What’s more important: character or plot?
Both equally important.
Narnia or Middlearth?
Middlearth! I’m a huge Tolkein fan.
Tomato sauce – yes or no?
Thanks for stopping by Sharon, and congratulations on the ebook release of Medar.