Dead fingers curled around an ancient crypt and a love of Celtic mythology were the two inspirations behind CHERYSE DURRANT’s The Blood She Betrayed, the first book in her Heart Hunter series. Durrant grew up on an Australian cattle farm where she chatted to scrub faeries and an imaginary superhero. She wrote her first story on her aunt’s bedroom wall but it did not attract the literary acclaim she deserved. She has since worked a variety of jobs from barmaid and dental assistant to journalist and PR guru. The coffee/chocolate/strawberry addict has won and placed in a number of writing competitions and lives on the central Queensland coast where she teaches writing through Creative Dragons and is a huge WriteFest fan.
Cheryse loves chatting on Facebook, Twitter @CheryseDurrant, and her website.
1. Your debut novel, The Blood She Betrayed, was released last year by Clan Destine Press. Based on your experience, what advice do you have for others looking down the barrel of having their first book published?
Don’t sweat the small things – and every thing is a small thing. Enjoy the journey and celebrate each of those ‘first time’ moments (the first time you see your cover artwork, the first time you see it in print). Most of all, stay disciplined and keep writing. It’s harder to make time to write once the published author merry-go-round starts, so get creative and remember why this is important to you. After all, this writing gig nourishes our souls. That’s why we write (and attend conventions). Finally, keep a detailed daily diary. Not only is it awesome for tax purposes but it’s a great reminder of who you met when and that can be a great source of inspiration. It also shows that you are a professional author, living the dream.
2. The Blood She Betrayed was a finalist for the favourite Science Ficton, Fantasy or Futuristic Romance award at the Australian Romance Readers conference this year. How do you find it, having a book that belongs to at least two genre communities?
I feel very privileged that it’s found a home in both these genre communities because I belong to both communities. I love STORY, whether it comes gift-wrapped as fantasy, crime, horror – as long as the author transports me to another world where the characters are real and the storyline compelling. My fave reads often include romance or strong romantic elements because this explores an added dimension of character and ups the plot ante. It’ll disappoint some romance readers because it’s not romantic enough and it’ll disappoint some spec fic fans because there’s too much romance, but I’m not expecting a sci fi military lover to be picking up my book (unless he’s also got a hankering for quests, urban fantasy and teen female warriors). As a genre fan myself, I love being able to do things like pay homage to my fave books, TV and pop culture within my writing, for example, I always mention Dr Who in each of my Heart Hunters books. My publisher not only approved this but eagerly endorsed it. She did remove other references that she feared would jade too quickly in a dust-collecting novel.
What has been an interesting challenge for me as far as genres has been positioning The Blood She Betrayed within the young adult and the newly evolving new adult genre ranks. This novel’s a story about an Earth guy helping an other-world girl on a fantasy quest in Brisbane so it ticks the superficial boxes of urban fantasy, cross fantasy, action, mystery, romance, adventure. The main characters are both 17. My publisher positioned the novel as young adult (14+), along the lines of The Mortal Instruments series, and I have pre-teens (especially boys) who love it, but there’s some Dymocks stores in Melbourne that only stock my debut novel on adult shelves because it’s ‘too sexualised’. Meanwhile, there’s adult readers who’ll never read my book because ‘they don’t like young adult’ (because it’s typically too angsty). Maybe this is the same dilemma facing all authors – whatever cross (or sub) genre labels deliberately or inadvertently tagged to our book will ultimately attract certain readers and repel others, based on their own personal experiences with that genre.
On saying that, I love the fandom that comes from having spec fic and, especially, young adult fans. These are the readers who (quite unexpectedly) pay homage to my novel by sending me hand-drawn artwork of my characters or writing their own TBSB fan fic. There was even a miniature copy of The Blood She Betrayed featured in a State of Origin diorama that won a prize earlier this year. Who would have thought my novel would have anything to do with sport? Finally, some of my girlfriends organised The Blood She Betrayed T-shirts for their toddler and primary school aged children. The words scrawled across their chest, ‘Too young to read it, but excited enough to wear it’, were appropriately positioned above the cover image of TBSB. I love how some people who read my book pay homage by reinventing my story in ways I’d have never considered. It’s both humbling and flattering – and you wouldn’t find that as often in the socially accepted mainstream genres.
3. You’ve still got volumes in the Heart Hunters series to come. Have you got them all planned out, or are you winging it?
I’m a pantser and a big ideas girl. I start with an idea (and a picture or scene in my mind) and it’s soon pouring out into a long-winding series of complicated characters and plotlines. The Blood She Betrayed was different. My goal there was to pen a complete, stand-alone book because I kept on thinking in extended palettes, but was told that publishers were more interested in single-title books (even though once you’re published, they then want you to churn out more). I disciplined myself to write one story, one book only. Then, as soon as I wrote ‘the end’, the second two books tumbled out onto the page (as far as full synopses) within two days. Thwarted. Again. But it was meant to be because the Book 2/3 plotlines brought everything from the first book together. All the questions finally answered. All the quests and problems solved. I’m still ironing out minor plot problems, etc, as I write these next two books but the story is very strong and clear to me. The fourth book in the Heart Hunter series is totally different. This book’s main character is a minor character from Books 1 and 2, and I still don’t know if her story will span one or two or three books. I’m looking forward to being able to winging it again. I love a seat-of-my-pants journey. It’s delicious.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I haven’t read enough published books in the past few months to give this a decent answer BUT I am very excited about some of the many unpublished manuscripts that I’ve been reading. One of these is the debut novel of WriteFest volunteer and Benaraby gal Sue-Ellen Pashley. Her YA storyline took my breath away. It’s simple, complex and gut-wrenchingly beautiful. She didn’t need to rely on a complicated plot to make it compelling and it’s as Australian as the Nargun and the Stars. There is nothing more delicious than reading a friend’s emerging manuscript and knowing she’s nailed her story and nailed her voice. It’s an inspiration for everyone on that emerging writer/author journey. Just keep stepping towards your goal, one paver at a time. You can’t imagine where those pavers will lead you. I’m looking forward to reading more of Sue-Ellen’s manuscripts and I know she’ll find an agent/publisher very soon.
I’m also eagerly anticipating the publication of a score of books by new Clan Destine Presssiblings, including Jason Nahrung’s Blood and Dust and The Big Smoke. I’ve always been a huge fan of Nahrung’s work (:P) so it’s awesome to be part of the same stable now, even if our thoroughbreds run at different race meets.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
My imagination is fickle so I’ve always written across various genres and age groups. For me, it’s about writing the story that’s inside you right now (though I suspect that spec fic will always remain my first love).
I think the recent changes in the publishing industry mean authors have greater choices in how and what we want to write. Traditional publishers have, in the past, railroaded authors into specific and limiting genres and sub-genres, based on what’s most commercially successful for the publishing company. I have friends who stopped writing, full stop, because the publisher was only interested in them writing a certain series or genre. After years of complying, they became disillusioned and burnt out. Today’s publishing dynamics gives authors the chance to explore genres and media. A traditionally published author can also write books in a different genre and publish elsewhere or self-publish. We are coming into our own. We suddenly have more control, more choices and better negotiating rights. Of course, with that freedom comes a backlash but we’re aware enough to go down that path, if we’re authentic.
The changing dynamics also means that every person, the common man, can write that book inside them and share with a public audience, if they’re willing to make the time. The digital age has brought arts and culture full circle. Once upon a time, it was common for bards and musicians to play amongst a small group of people in a common pub or home. Story and song was as common as the air that every person breathed. The building of theatres, the printing of books, created an elitism that stole art from the common man and placed it on a pedestal. This digital age brings art back to the people, fulfilling the domino effect that the penny dreadfuls started. The only risk now is that our stories and voices will be lost in a sea of billions of voices. I’m not sure if this makes it good or bad.
For me, I have a lot of projects on the boil in the next five to ten years. There’s quite a few books and trilogies that I wrote as I was learning the writing craft and I’d now like to rewrite, including a gorgeous children’s fantasy series that is tempting me away from Heart Hunters. I fear also that I should be putting more time into pursuing new writing ideas but I’ve trained myself too well to stick to my work in progress. I think a little bit of time for a new story in my life could do me good. Above all, I just want to make more time to read because between full-time work, contracts on the side, helping run the family business and health issues, there hasn’t been a lot of time for reading this year and what nourishes the soul better than soaking up other people’s ideas and journeys?