Interview: Belinda Harrison, Author of 'Princess of Thermopylae'
Princess of Thermopylae, Belinda Harrison’s debut novel, released earlier this year and she was kind enough to answer some questions from Teralyn about her life, her novel, writing in general, and more!
Tell us a little about you as a person!
Well, 3 to 6-year-olds find me hilarious—apparently that’s the level of my sense of humour, but on a good day I can hang out with adults and make them spit coffee or wine or beer out their noses as well! I can also be fairly insular and focused when I’m writing or editing, and I get cranky when I’m interrupted with the constant call of ‘Mumma I’m… insert appropriate need here’ or ‘hey babe have you seen…’ by the OTHER two important people in my life—my 11 year old daughter and my fiancé (we’ve been together 20 years in January and are celebrating by getting hitched, because now we can do it in Australia! Yay!)
What made you want to become a writer?
Well, seeing my grade 2 teacher cry when Charlotte died in Charlotte’s Web (oh, probably should mention that’s a spoiler alert!) made me go, wow, if books can make adults cry like they make me cry, then I want to do that and make people feel things when they read my work. That’s such a powerful thing to be able to do.
Is writing your full-time career? And if not, is it something you’re striving for?
I wish it was, but sadly not yet… I hope one day I can write full-time, but if that ever happens, the house may fall into ruin and the clothes might not get washed and I might just eat pizza shapes or massive bowls of pasta for every meal because they’re fast and easy and I don’t have to move far from my computer…
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
I can disappear into other worlds and be in the lives of other people for a while. But I really love it when I’m editing and I get so drawn into what I’m reading, that I forget to be picky and just enjoy the story. It’s also pretty cool when a reader writes an awesome review or emails you to tell you how much they loved the book—I know that I’ve achieved what I set out to do—share something I love with someone else and have it touch them or entertain them as I wanted.
Do you always have a set plot when you start a new project or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
I normally have a scene that I just see in my mind, and the rest of the idea for the project is formed around that—whether or not it stays the same or not by the end of the process is an entirely different matter though. I do plot loosely about what I think is going to happen, but exactly HOW it’s going to happen, I let that come as I’m writing and then step back at the end and find the holes (and then fix them!).
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Don’t give up on your dreams, or yourself. You’ll have fear, but just keep writing, no matter how good or bad it is, just write, and read, and share your work so you learn how to improve.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger writing self?
Be patient. Keep believing that you CAN do this, you will be a published author one day and all the fear and the what-ifs that scare you and hold you back right now, won’t be in your way. They won’t be completely gone, but they won’t be the first things you think of. I promise you that.
Princess of Thermopylae sounds intriguing. What can you tell us about this book?
Well, it’s set in 510BC in Greece – in Trachis, in the region of Thermopylae. The main character is a kick-arse warrior named Skylar who saves the life of the Princess of Thermopylae—Alexis—and almost gets herself killed in the process. But she survives and as she’s recovering at the palace, she spends time with, and falls in love with, Alexis. Now, Alexis is supposed to marry another fellow but Alexis’s father isn’t keen on that happening, so he and Skylar have to come up with a plan to get Alexis out of that, without bringing out-and-out war down on Trachis.
So, there’s that going on, but in the background we also get a few more ‘fantastical’ elements with a God and a Ker —but I won’t go too much into that as it’s not huge in this story, but further in the series. Now, spoiler alert—this is a romance so you know the girls will get together in the end, but Skylar does have to fight for Alexis, so we get to see that side of her as well as her gentler, more cheeky side. Oh, and there’s some sex in there—it’s not censored, but it’s not full-on erotica either… well I don’t think it is anyway!
There has been an increase in LGBTQ themed books in the Young Adult genre. What made you decide to explore this theme in Princess of Thermopylae?
It’s the story I wanted to write for the characters I had in my head, and being a lesbian myself, and having been a young person (20) falling in love with another woman and having to fight (not literally) for her and prove that I could be enough for her was something that appealed to me. I wanted to write a story I would read, set in a time period and place that I adore with characters who I really like.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
There’s SO MUCH still in store for Skylar and Alexis. There are 5 more books in the series, all of which are written, and being polished as we speak ready for publication. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that Alexis has a big request for Skylar in book 2 which will see them travelling out of Trachis and meeting 4 different gods. Skylar will meet some of her estranged family, and learn a few more secrets (and go through a few changes) in book 3. There will be new life and some death in books 3 and 4 (sorry in advance!).
The true fantasy elements will emerge in books 3-6, there’ll be more death (again, sorry!), a sacred amulet, The Chosen One will be found, there’ll be true love and some time spent meeting heroes at the Battle of Thermopylae and there’ll be some more new life and some death! And there’s lots more in between.
What is the key theme and/or message in the book?
I guess I didn’t really set out to have a key theme/message, but when I consider that now, I guess it’s just about being yourself. Don’t be afraid to be who you are or love who you fall in love with, regardless of what’s happened before. Give yourself the chance to be happy, and fight for that chance with everything you’ve got. And surround yourself with people who will support you in that.
What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
I want them to feel like they’ve been well entertained, to feel like the time and money they spent on emerging themselves in the story was well worth it. That they’ve got enjoyment out of my book. I want them to have Skylar and Alexis (or any of the characters) running around in their heads after they’ve finished and wondering how they’d act/react to certain situations, or how cool it would be to meet them if they lived back in that time—how would meeting them change how they saw themselves—would they be more accepting of themselves because they see how fiercely Skylar loves Alexis and would protect her no matter what.
Do you write listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied this current book?
I do more so these days, not when I first started writing. The main songs that stick out for this book are “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles (the line ‘something always brings me back to you’ in particular) when Skylar is trying to keep Alexis safe by keeping away from her. And Taylor Swift’s “The Story of Us” which inspired the scene at the banquet in town when Skylar and Alexis aren’t speaking (for those who have read the book already). There are a few others that I was listening to at the time, but those two resonate most.
Lastly, do you have any book recommendations for us?
I love Radclyffe for the mind-blowing tension she can create in a story and I hope I’ve done even half as good of a job in this first book. I’m still finding more authors in the lesfic genre to really get into but I’ve read some of TR Lynch, TB Markinson & Mary D Brooks and I’ve really enjoyed them so far. I wish I could think of more right now, but just because I have to think of them, I can’t! I do read other non-lesfic and that is a much wider net to cast but Patricia Cornwell, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Sarah J Maas, JK Rowling, Candice Fox… the list goes on! Basically, if it sounds interesting, I’ll give it a go!
*This interview is also featured on The Nerd Daily!