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  • Nikky Lee

10 Questions with Elise Carlson

Elise’s love of adventure began with a childhood diet of Narnia and teenage years spent reading Lord of the Rings and playing Final Fantasy. Fascinated with the ancient world, they majored in Archaeology and History at Monash University. Then it was time to travel (Europe, Egypt and Turkey). They now live and work as a teacher in Australia.

Elise’s love of fantasy and ancient history combine in their Young Adult Fantasy Ruarnon Trilogy, which blends the political structures of Old Kingdom Egypt with Greco-Roman warfare.

On Twitter, Elise enjoys talking to writers. You’ll find them tweeting about writing, books and life. On Facebook and Instagram they post their poetry, photography, and personal & writing updates. On TikTok they’re figuring it out and having fun.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?

I'm a primary school teacher whose lived, taught and travelled in Australia, New Zealand and England. Australia will always be my home, but I'd love to have one more living abroad experience, ideally in Europe (Spain would be nice) or Canada. I'm also an adventurous, free-spirited person who loves wandering through mountains and exploring ruins, which goes nicely with writing fantasy.

2. What drew you to that particular genre and/or age group?

I wrote children's stories as a child, YA as a teen, but haven't felt much desire to move on to adult fiction. I see in teens a tendency to feel things strongly and to pursue what they feel is right, unburdened by world-weariness. There's a naïveté, passion, optimism and hope in writing teen protagonists that I've always enjoyed. And their energy, passion and the way they express their emotions (with less of a filter then adults) is similar to my personality, so I find writing youthful characters comes naturally to me.

3. What inspired you to write in this genre?

My love of fantasy grew from an early age. I graduated from playing imaginary games as a child to taking writing fantasy seriously as a teen. I like exploring big ideas which require more author control over a setting than the real world allows. For example, my debut began with a real life wondering, if adults are so emotionally regulated, mature, intelligent, and are decent human beings, etc, why would any sane adult declare war? Then I went further, asking, what if someone didn’t want to declare war? What could make them do so? Fantasy was a great genre to explore that question, as I developed King Kyura’s character arc in Manipulator’s War.

Cover of Manipulator's War, book one of the Ruarnon Trilogy by Elise Carlson

With the challenges epic fantasy poses for characters, friendship and friends supporting each other in the face of adversity are major themes in my writing. The inspiration there is probably recreating the sort of friendships that helped me through a lot of grief as a child, and in my late teens. As an emotionally mature twelve year old, I was a total misfit at high school, but in fiction I could write a friendship group of misfits, and each of them could belong as much as I wished I belonged in real life, but never quite managed in that decade.

4. Tell us about your current work in progress.

My current work in progress, Secrets of the Sorcery War, asks: why (other than being a meglomaniac) would a sorcerer king send his armies to attack half the known world? And why would decent people support him in doing so? Again, I’m very much enjoying answering these questions through speculative writing.

Cover of Secrets of the Sorcery War, book two of the Ruarnon Trilogy by Elise Carlson

5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, pantser or somewhere in between?

My writing process usually begins with emotion, manifesting as orchestral music playing in my head, while shadowy characters act out emotionally intense scenes. For example, the first scene I pictured for Manipulator's War was Ruarnon standing on their balcony late one night, witnessing a chariot rushing down the road, with their abducted parents bound inside it. No-one seemed to have noticed, no-one was doing anything about it and shock and worry hit Ruarnon like a physical blow.

I used to write sketchy notes about scenes on paper (and lose them). Now I type them (and often digitally misplace them until after drafting). I draft with some idea of the main conflict, character's roles, and a brief idea of each character, but my drafting (and redrafting) process is very much discovery writing (pantsing/ chaos). Revisions are when I decide which threads of story stay, which get deleted, what needs fleshing out and rework the mess into a coherently structured novel. Then I hand it over to critical readers for further insights on what to prune and what still seems unclear or under developed. More edits, a second round of critical readers and more edits follow.

6. What research have you done for the trilogy? How has it influenced the story?

I love the freedom to create cultures and worlds, borrowing from my B.A. studying the history and archaeology of our world. In the Ruarnon Trilogy, Tarlahn clothing and furnishings have ancient Egyptian influences, while weapons and armour have Greco-Roman ones, battle tactics are influenced by Alexander the Great’s campaigns and the Zaldean Warrior’s Creed borrows from Celtic attitudes to war. My love of travel also influences my settings. Lava Island’s volcanism takes Santorini and New Zealand’s volcanic areas to imaginative extremes in Secrets of the Sorcery War, and the vast Australian outback was a likely influence on my vision of the war-torn wastelands in Lands Marked by Sorcerers.

7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?

There are two very personal scenes in the Ruarnon trilogy. One comes right near the (unpublished) end, where a key player is under enormous emotional, psychological and physical strain. The fate of a continent lies in their hands, they're exhausted, battling desperately against PTSD, insomnia and struggling to stay rational while confronting their greatest fears head on. The second is a character's experience of grief and personal loss, which though set in a fantasy world, places my rawest thoughts and feelings when I lost people I loved as a child onto that character, and paints a clear picture. My own insomnia and struggle to stay rational in the face of PTSD and exhaustion came after a time of great personal grief. I've found writing both scenes to be cathartic, and the personal insights I can inject into them make for (I certainly hope!) emotionally powerful reading.

8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?

Narnia was the initial inspiration for what became the Ruarnon Trilogy. I substitued four British siblings for four misfit Aussie teens and a male prince for a nonbinary heir, borrowing the basic story structure of battle followed by a grand voyage from Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But a great overall influence on my writing so far is the thread of mystery J.K Rowling wove into each of the Harry Potter books, specifically mysteries about the antagonist. I borrowed the idea of letting my characters (and readers) get to know Nartzeer from afar, better and better, before my characters final, grand confrontation with him. This idea had a strong influence throughout the Ruarnon trilogy, with first the mystery of who threatened Ruarnon’s home Tarlah, then the mystery of who King Nartzeer is, why he bred damars, and the true aim of his reign, which Ruarnon and friends solve while pursuing their own goals. Not knowing what motivates the enemy, or his true goals, was a very enjoyable plot line to experiment with.

9. What books are on your bedside table right now?

My bedside table and ereader currently hold:

YA fantasy titles: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas, A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos, Testament of the Stars by Alexandra Beaumont and The Rarkyn’s Familiar by Nikky Lee.

Historical titles: The Raven and the Dove by K. M. Butler and Empire’s Legacy by Marian Thorpe.

And of course, some indie author advice books by David Gaughran and Joanna Penn.

10. Last and most important, where can we find your books?

Manipulator's War, all stores:

Secrets of the Sorcery War, all stores:

Both books are on Goodreads and Bookbub!

Follow Elise on these platforms!


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