Helen Scheuerer is the founding editor of Writer’s Edit and the author of Heart of Mist, out now! Heart of Mist is the first book in The Oremere Chronicles, an epic fantasy series from new imprint, Talem Press. You can find Heart of Mist on Amazon and Goodreads.
First off, a big congratulations to Helen on her debut! Heart of Mist is a fantastic book (you can read my starred review here) and I had the honour of interviewing Helen about her writing. We discuss the nitty gritty of her strong female characters, her inspiration for Heart of Mist, and what it means to be a YA author.
Where did you find inspiration for strong female characters?
Before Heart of Mist, I had a contract with a small publisher for a literary fiction novel. I think that novel was very much shaped by my creative writing degree where we were reading a lot of “serious” literature. The common theme in this literature was it was written by men about men from men’s perspectives.
From that, I fell into a rabbit hole where I thought “serious” literature had to be about men and if it was from a women’s perspective, it would be perceived as “chick-lit” or it wouldn’t be taken seriously. Which is why this literary fiction novel had parallel perspectives of a young boy and a man.
It was during the structural edits of this book that I started reading YA fantasy again, books like Throne of Glass, The Winner’s Curse, and The Queen of the Tearling. What they all had in common was a main strong female protagonist who was kicking butt and being awesome. I loved reading these stories. I started asking myself, “Why aren’t I writing what I love reading?” I was sick of writing about men for men. I want to have fun while I was writing. I wanted to reach an audience I was invested in – young adult women. I wanted to be taken seriously, especially as a female author.
Who are your top 5 favourite female characters?
While these ladies are not all the stereotype of strong, they are all unique and brilliant in their own way. I believe that you shouldn’t want or have to strip away femininity in order to be ‘strong’. You can have both.
- Delilah Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic
- Laia from Ember in the Ashes
- Aelin Ashryver Galathynius/Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass
- Claire Fraser from Outlander
- Molly Weasley from Harry Potter
I’d like to do a comparison between Bleak and Henrietta. With consideration on the word ‘strong’, how did you craft these two very different women?
When it came to Henri and Bleak, I was wary of the female warrior trope being associated with masculinity, and I didn’t want to have a strong female character who was masculine. Bleak isn’t particularly feminine, but she’s not your typical idea of strong. One of her strengths is her battle with her alcohol addiction.
Initially, these characters came to me with certain traits and blurry faces. It was during the revisions of my first draft that they started to form into more wholesome characters. I created mood and character boards for them on Pinterest, and while I wrote one perspective, I’d have their board up on a second monitor. Their boards had physical attributes, as well as aesthetics to give me a feel of them.
I had this really strong feeling about Henri, like she was abrasive. She’s hard around the edges. In contrast, Bleak was murky. With my visual aids, it really helped in developing them. Her alcohol addiction is a big part of her, and it’s a huge thing for a young character to deal with. I had to consider the consequences and withdrawal symptoms, diving into research on alcoholism. It was really interesting, and I used a particular case to shape how Bleak handled her withdrawal.
I wanted them to be independent and not be seeking out the ‘other half’ to themselves. Each of them is a whole person, and while they’re both so different, they’re similar in their inner strengths.
What was your inspiration for the Valian?
When I was in year 12, we studied the Spartan society and one thing that always stood out to me was the fact that if a child wasn’t strong enough it got left out to die. The whole point of this was to try and weed out the weak, but what they didn’t realise was strength came in different ways.
Of course, the Amazons also inspired the Valian, so in essence, the Valian are a mash-up of the Amazons and the Spartans. It’s a society of women, run by women, with an attitude of ‘take no prisoners’. But I didn’t want to put it on a pedestal and say ‘this is a perfect society’.
Was the feminist tone throughout Heart of Mist intentional?
Heart of Mist was a reaction of mine to a lot of conversations I was having when I was writing it, particularly with my girlfriends about how being a woman affects your everyday life differently to men. When you think about the subtle misogynistic things that women face on a daily basis, it’s incredibly difficult. So I suppose rather than intentional, it was just something that came naturally to the book.
What’s your opinion on sex in YA?
I don’t believe in glossing over stuff for young adults. It’s a time when young adults have a lot of firsts, so to have a book aimed at young adults about young adults for the most part and not include any sex, romance or feelings doesn’t do anybody any justice. I’m very much all for including those aspects in my writing. If a character presents those kinds of feelings then I’ll happily write about it.
Why do you want to write YA?
All the books I’ve fallen head over heels for are in that genre. I also find the community to be so wonderful and great to be a part of. Everybody is supportive, everyone is talking and exploring. I’m 27 and I still love YA. Even though Heart of Mist is marketed as YA, everybody is welcome to enjoy the story.
Heart of Mist is the first book published from Talem Press, a fantasy imprint of Writer’s Edit. What’s really cool is Talem is latin for empower, which I think encompasses what I want a lot of our stories to be like. We want to be publishing works that empower young women. Give me more books about empowering young women. Reading about female experiences and talking about it with other people is what it’s about.