In November, at Manifold Press’s Queer Company event, I was delighted to meet new-to-me author Michelle Peart who was attending with her family. Michelle’s debut New Adult novel had just been released and it looks absolutely terrific.
I’m very glad to host her today so I can get to know here a bit better.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
When I was at school I was a shy kid who tried to disappear into the walls. But I was highly artistic with a vivid imagination and an avid reader. At that time, writing was something that was a means to an end and to write creatively just didn’t enter my head. Wind on many many years and I watched a TV programme that I didn’t like the ending of, so I re-wrote it and experienced great pleasure in doing so. That led to taking five writing courses over three years, two of the later courses were at an advanced level. I passed all with distinction. During the last course I began to write To the Left of Your North Star which grew from taking a long walk along the banks of a copper river.
Do you have to have a day job as well as being a writer?
In-between writing and family I work as a graphic designer with my most recent work being the new book covers for Manifold Press.
When you aren’t writing, is there any other creative activity you enjoy? Have you ever written about it?
I enjoy Amateur Dramatics, I mainly help to create the sets and paint the scenery. I’ve painted, amongst others, a Norwegian fiord, a Paris skyline, and desolate moorland. But I have done a wee bit of acting and have become a sassy American photographer, a turn-of-the-century housemaid, and just recently a rather convincing WPC. The group also provide you with the opportunity to write plays – unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to take them up on the offer.
What are you reading?
I’m currently reading a friend’s manuscript. It’s a thriller, which, as a fantasy reader and writer, is a genre I don’t normally read, but I’ve enjoyed dipping into a different world.
In that crucial inspiration stage of a new story which comes first? Plot, situation or character?
For me, it was a river! Then the characters came along, and following them, the plot.
Do your characters arrive fully fledged and ready to fly or do they develop as you work with them? Do you have a crisp mental picture of them or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?
Burn arrived fully fledged, I knew who he was, his flaws, his passion, how he spoke, how he felt, what he looked like. But Edward required a lot more work. Initially, because I knew Burn so well, he was going to be my POV character but then I realised that Edward would experience the most upheaval so he had to be my POV. I wrote a whole backstory for him, I even wrote down what he carried in his pockets, and then I trawled Google images until I found an image of a young man that I felt fitted Edward, I pinned the image onto the wall above my computer. He’s still there now, glowering at me.
Is there any genre you would love to write, ditto one you would avoid like a rattlesnake?
I have a keen interest in history so I would love to write an historical novel. But I’m a scared as it’s a huge undertaking to make sure you have all the details correct. I recently attended the fascinating panels at Manifold’s Queer Company event where various authors discussed writing historical fiction – thought-provoking stuff but scared me even further!
I wouldn’t write horror; I simply can’t get on board with gore and violence.
Put together your ideal team of men/women – drawing from all and any walks of life, fictional or non-fictional – who you would want to come to your rescue if menaced by muggers/alligators/fundamentalists?
It’s got to be DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. With Rip, Firestorm, Atom, White Canary, Steel, Hawkgirl, Heatwave, and Captain Cold behind me, all baddies would turn and run with their tails on fire… or frozen.
Villains are incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. The cruel sea. The serial killer. The society itself. Your hero’s inner demons. What sort of villains do you prize?
A villain who you can’t see – the best friend, the inner demon, the hidden in plain sight, the one you don’t expect, the shadowy ones.
What are you working on at the moment? Can you discuss it or do you prefer to keep it a secret until it’s finished.
At the moment I’m writing a New Adult Urban Fantasy called Brennar. The title protagonist is a young man with a painful secret that lives in the sewers below a city under siege. I’m also compiling a story for Manifold Press’ WW2 anthology, Call to Arms.
Could we please have an excerpt of something?
Here’s an excerpt from To The Left of Your North Star
The problem was, simply put, that I didn’t feel what my father felt. In fact, I didn’t give a fuck about the planet with its backwards and frankly sex-obsessed natives and total lack of creature comforts.
My father waved once in farewell. I ignored him, tilted my head back, and rolled my neck. My head hurt and the annoying native boy’s humming added to the symphony of pain.
“Wave goodbye, Ed-ward.” Burn’s voice rang with merriment as he rammed his push pole into the sandy bank and heaved the Copper Queen into the twisting flow of the river. The raft jolted. I tumbled off the barrel, sprawled at Burn’s feet and looked up into his stupid grinning face. He flashed his eyebrows and laughed. I so wanted to punch him, but I couldn’t get off this hellhole of a planet without him.
I stood and my legs felt like pistons on the twisting deck. I looked back towards the Fire Glade. The sun was creeping up behind the Mountain of Bones, throwing long bronze reflections across the river’s surface. For a second, I forgot about the annoying boy and saw the beauty my father had talked about my whole childhood. A tiny stab of regret prompted me to wave goodbye but he’d already turned towards the crannog. He entered the dwelling and never gave the river, or me, a second glance. Maybe the famous explorer Herb Kemp was glad to be free of his problem, the embarrassing son. I was no chip off the old block.
Burn steered towards the calmer waters at the edge of the river. My guide appeared to be around my age, perhaps younger. He had a wild look to him with large eyes, cheekbones sprayed with freckles and hair the colour of the river. Long limbed and scruffily dressed, like badly pegged washing, with a bow strung across his narrow frame and an intricate pendant swinging from his neck. I assumed that all the furs in the tent must be the result of his hunting skills.
Burn winked as I caught his eye.
I curled my fists – fighting was always my go-to reaction. Everyone in the Fire Glade appeared to be bedding everyone else. If the bloody native thought he could try it on with me, then he had another think coming. I don’t do, and never will do, boys.
A look crossed Burn’s face as he showed me his open palms. “Lighten up, Ed.”
“It’s Ed-ward.” I sagged and gestured across the horizon. “What do you do on Abaytor? Why is it called that anyway?”
“Abaytor means second in our language, so that was the word your father chose. We call it Heras.”
Typical. Earthlings conquer and rename, whether it’s a tiny island in the middle of the ocean or a whole bloody planet.
Burn jabbed the pole into a shallow reed bed and shoved in the opposite direction. “I look after the bees. The ones your father and his companions have come to study.”
“A beekeeper?” I gave Burn a pitying look. He clearly didn’t aim high up the career ladder. I, on the other hand, was after the job of my father’s best friend – chief executive officer of the Westcoast Bank.
“Well, I suppose. They are rare gold-tipped bees only found in the Mountain of Bones. Their honey has healing qualities not found anywhere else on Abaytor or – ”
Zoning out, I stared at my wet feet. I missed my friends; they’d agree with me that my situation was pants and I had every right to complain. And my bloody mobile wouldn’t work; this God-forsaken planet hadn’t invented the radio yet, never mind the telephone.
“What do you do, Ed, when you are not accompanying your father on his trips?”
I ignored him.
Good God, the boy was persistent. “I don’t do anything and I don’t make a habit of accompanying him.”
“What is it like having a famous father? I understand he is well known on your planet.”
Fighting an urge to push Burn overboard, I said, “It’s just peachy,” before muttering, “My father’s not paying you to ask questions, just to take me to the Landing Plains.”
“Your father is not paying me at all.”
“You’re doing this for free? You’re mad.” Never do anything for nothing, is what my father taught me. Oh, and never let your left hand know what your right is doing. I still don’t know what that means.
“Having now made your acquaintance, I think I probably am mad.” Burn smiled and rammed the pole into a nearby bank.
To the Left of Your North Star
The self-assured Edward has accompanied his father, famous explorer Herb Kemp, to Abaytor. Herb is on a mission to save Earth’s bee population, but Edward couldn’t care less and just wants the comforts of home. Burn, an off-kilter Abaytorian with a desire for change, is charged with escorting Edward down the Copper River to Herb’s spaceship. As they travel through perilous lands on a makeshift raft, they are in a constant battle with the river, themselves and each other. Edward’s problems with his father are laid bare as they are hunted, starved, almost drowned, and confronted by difficult choices. But, among the striking landscapes and colourful people of Abaytor, Edward slowly learns about trust, self-acceptance and love.
I am a writer, a designer, and lover of the fantastical. During the past two years, I have completed four writing courses, two at an advanced level, and passed all with Distinction. To the Left of Your North Star will be my debut novel.