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Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!

This is a distinct honour and pleasure, in that I get to interview the fantastic sci-fi / fantasy author J.E. Hannaford!

J.E.’s published words include: “The Black Hinds Wake” Duology, consisting of “The Skin” and “The Pact”; “The Aulirean Gates” series, so far consisting of “Gates of Hope”; and short stories (“Darkwhale” and “New Hope” respectively) in the two anthologies “Skybreaker”, and “Through Shadows”.

P.L.: J.E., thanks so much for joining me for a Six Elementals Interviews chat!

A very special moment for me here, to be able to interview you! I admire your work very much!

Everything I’ve read by you so far is brilliant, yet for me “The Skin” and “Darkwhale” are two stories by you that I can’t stop thinking about!

There’s so many compelling themes to unpack with those works, one a novel, the other a short story. However, for me, the themes of the dire need for environmental preservation, the threat of global warming, and respect for the species that preserve our world, stand out. In particular, a focus on our oceans and other bodies of water, and the teeming marine life within them, figure prominently in these phenomenal stories.

Can you provide some insight please into why you chose to explore themes such as these in your works?

J.E.: Hi, P.L. It’s great to be here. I’ve always joked that I have sea water instead of blood, I grew up in a coastal region, with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and able to recognise the wildlife around their shores. As a child I remember rummaging in rockpools with my father and hunting for crabs, or more excitingly a fish if we got a good pool. As a teen I recall chasing silvery sand eels through clear water over golden sand on a summer day and the feel of  that sand between my toes.

After school, I went on to study marine biology at university, and then moved into teaching coastal ecology, before settling into classroom teaching of biology. I love the living world and the ever-in-motion aspect of the sea – the power and extremes the ocean shows with all its moods. 

Nature, and outdoors is my happy place. It’s something we take too much for granted, and the damage we’ve already done to our environment and our planet is heartbreaking. Living in an area where there was a major oil tanker incident, and seeing the direct impact of pollution on the coast around my home, really had an impact on me as a younger adult.

Fantasy is a genre that allows us to explore the ‘what if,’ with a bit of extra magical sparkle, and I know some readers find my take on how selfish we are, as a species, hard to read. Sadly, we don’t have magical creatures in our own reality to save us.

P.L.: Speaking of magical creatures, one thing that stood out to me in reading “The Skin”, was that – while’ I’m not as well read as I aspire to be – I’d rarely if ever read fantasy books featuring Selkies, like “The Skin” does. Can you tell me a bit about why you chose to write about Selkies? I found this an utterly fascinating element of the story, and Selkies to be wonderful creatures that aren’t typically found in the fantasy books I’ve read!

J.E.: At a Con panel a few years back Selkies were listed as being the most useless fantasy creature ever. Generally accepting their role as subdued wives until their skins were found, rarely by them, bearing children to their captors and then finally escaping doesn’t sing of heroism. Especially when many of them even lose their children, or at least one of them, in the end.

I’d already written a short story with one of the characters and Sirena in, and after that convention, it really started to gnaw at my mind, that I wanted to develop her – to write a selkie with agency and the willingness to fight the inevitability their species had accepted.

Researching their folklore led me to older tales where the finn folk and selkies blurred, where curses and even in some cases the suggestion of healers was in the texts. Instead of the sanitised, romanticised selkies of English and southern folklore, I chose to include the aspects of this older, more northern folklore in the versions you find in “The Black Hind’s Wake”. 

P.L.: That is fascinating! Can you speak a little bit about your writing journey please? How long have you been writing, what inspired you to write, and what made you elect to publish via self-publishing rather than seeking an agent and a book deal with a “Big Five” traditional house?

J.E.: I remember writing really long stories in primary school, and when I was about five, I wrote a story about vegetable people. I was a voracious reader, and in many ways still am. I’d read the cereal packet, I’d read the milk, or whatever was in front of me. But my passion for biology and other areas took over by the time I was ready to choose a career direction.

In the meantime, I kept reading and through university, I’d sit in Waterstones in Liverpool choosing my next book series. Then, a friend introduced me to online games, specifically Everquest and EQII, and I saw it as a chance to live out fantasy stories. That in turn led to a small collection of fan fiction, and eventually, to realising I could write my own stories to share. “Gates of Hope” was actually the first book I finished. But, it wasn’t ready to be shared back then. I was starting the second book in that series when the selkies took over!

I originally wrote “Gates of Hope” ‘for’ my dad, as a thank you for introducing me to fantasy. But I wrote “The Skin” for me. Finishing the duology gave me the skills to go back and rewrite “Gates”.

I told him once that “The Skin” was a little darker because I wrote it for me, without worrying about him reading it, and he laughed and told me to bring it on, to go for the conflict and whatever the story needed in my writing and not worry about what I thought he or anyone else I knew would think. 

P.L.: That’s so awesome that you wrote the story for your dad as a ‘thank you.’ Who (which authors) would you consider to be your writing influences?

J.E.:  For “Black Hind’s Wake”, It would have to be Trevor Norton, whose books on the pioneers of marine biology have a flow, and a feel to them that I love. He spoke as he wrote and so reading them has a very conversational tone, you feel as though you are really there with him. 

Mary Gentle, particularly “Ash, Secret History”, for her split timeline story inspiration and for writing a book that I immediately wanted to go back and re-read to pick up things I realised I’d have missed. That feeling, was one I wanted to capture. Every time a reader messages at a certain point of the book telling me that they have to do that, it brings real joy to my day!

Janny Wurts for being the first author I read who twisted the established tropes, and I loved it.

Graham Austin-King was the first Indie author whose books I fell in love with.

Mark Lawrence, particularly the “Book of the Ancestor” and the “Book of the Ice”. I could probably go on all day about other authors who have influenced me in one way or another some more consciously than others.

P.L.: Those are some fabulous options you mention. Can you tell us a bit please, if possible, about what projects you are currently working on? What can we expect to see coming out from J.E. Hannaford in the future?

J.E.: Of course, I’m currently about halfway through “Gates of Regret”, the second book in the Epic Fantasy series, “Aulirean Gates”, with a planned release at the end of this year. It has a different tone and feel to the “Black Hind’s Wake” books, with a lot of worlds to build. In “Gates of Regret” I’m currently enjoying the freedom to work through the rather sticky situations some of the characters are in. It’s taking a slightly darker turn, but that was always planned and I’m loving writing more of the dragons.

There is also a co-authored project in the planning for this year, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for more details on that closer to the end of 2023! It’s going to be such great fun to write, and I’m really excited about it. 

P.L.: I’m excited for you too, and for your readers, including me! The covers for “The Black Hind’s Wake” are among the very BEST fantasy covers I’ve EVER seen! Wow! I’m not alone, as so many people I know in the Writing Community rave about your covers, and you were shortlisted for Best Cover in the recent Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off! Can you please tell us a bit about your cover art, and how you came up with the phenomenal concepts for your gorgeous covers in this series?

J.E.: Thank you so much. I have to say I love them too. Like most authors I’m sure, I spent a lot of time studying cover art groups and websites looking for ideas and concepts. I knew that the book was a little out on a limb as a futuristic folklore fantasy, especially because it’s not a retelling, so there was a certain freedom in choosing a style without pre-defined genre boundaries or trends.

I’d seen a few scenes inside an animal or person and the ones I liked the most were by one particular cover designer. Cor is a very central theme in “The Skin”, and so he had to be the main feature creature. I wanted a cover style that I could return to, and was distinctive for this series. I sketched out what I wanted and approached the designer with a labelled drawing. He agreed to take it on and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. I wanted the cover to represent what’s in the book, including the time period. The fishing vessel was added by Paul Trif and its perfect to let you know it’s not historical. The suggestion of something large and fantastical with the tail in the water below the selkie was deliberate as well.  

In Book two, “The Pact”, the key – I hesitate to say animal, as he really wouldn’t approve – creature,  Lord Flame, had to be who the cover was built around. The two main images inside him are photographs I took at locations actually included in “The Pact”. Again, I sent through a sketch and Paul did an incredible job. I have a colour theme for a possible future “Black Hind” book, but that won’t happen until after the “Aulirean Gates” trilogy is finished.

P.L.: J.E., I have truly enjoyed our chat and I really appreciate you joining me on Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much! ( amazon author page)

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