Writing YA Fantasy: Interview with Robert Beck

Printer T J Ink interviewed Robert Beck about The Solstice Blade as a case study. Read the transcript or see the original article here:

Fantasy novels are a hugely popular genre, but what does it take to actually write one? We interview Robert Beck about writing YA Fantasy and finally getting the book published. 

Writing YA Fantasy

Author, Robert Beck talks to us about writing YA Fantasy stories.

Tell us about The Solstice Blade, what is it about?

The Solstice Blade follows the adventures of three brothers: Travis, Evan and Liam. Forces from an alternate version of our world disrupt their lives by manipulating them into invoking an ancient ritual.

As a result, the town of Liskeard is subjected to a series of increasingly bizarre events as aspects of the Otherworld bleed through. If the brothers can’t reverse the effects of the ritual before the winter solstice, their lives will never be the same.

It’s often said that writing YA Fantasy is completely different from other types of fiction. Are you aware of writing for a specific audience and do you include any particular YA tropes?

I was very aware of the age group I was writing for. Initially I was cautious that the story shouldn’t be too frightening, although I did learn as I went on that teenagers do seem to like their subject matter a little darker than I had assumed. I didn’t deliberately include any particular tropes, but it is entirely possible that some genre specific themes crept in. Confession: I had to look up what a trope was!

Why did you decide to set the book in Liskeard, Cornwall, and what was it that you found were your main sources of inspiration?

The Solstice Blade was actually the last in a series of stories that I wrote for my children each Christmas as they were growing up in Liskeard. Each story would interact with the local environment in one way or another.

For example, one year a storm blew away the final three pages and we travelled to the south east of Cornwall to locate them in order to finish the story. We all know that a story must finish, otherwise who knows what might happen?

Another year, when my sons were much younger, pirates had sabotaged the North Pole’s “Sant-Nav” system, which releases Christmas scents in the upper atmosphere. They were polluting the air with Brussels sprout odour. We had to reseed the air currents over Cornwall with cinnamon and pine smells launched from fireworks to allow the reindeer to find their way.

So, my sons were my inspiration. As for Liskeard, well, the high levels of background magic here made it an obvious choice.

How long did it take you to write the novel and what did you do to stay motivated?

The original Christmas deadline meant that the basic story was ready in about four months. However, when I decided to convert it into a full novel, it probably took me another two years to embellish it and patch over the plot holes. Motivation was not really an issue as I enjoyed making up the story so much.

On your website you mention the juxtaposition of your day job as a software engineer and your passion for writing YA Fantasy. How do you find the balance between the two?

I have to travel to work on the train and I use the time to work on my stories. It’s the perfect antidote to a day of writing software code! Although, just occasionally, a piece of code can sometimes throw up an unexpected twist in a similar way to a novel.

Are you happy with the end book and how have you found the self-publishing process as a whole?

Writing YA Fantasy

The finished book

I am very happy with the end result. The entire process from conception to holding the printed paperback in my hands has been very enjoyable. I think I was fortunate to have chosen TJ INK for the printing. They could not have been more helpful, supportive, and professional. What could have been a daunting first foray into self-publishing was actually an absolute pleasure. I would definitely recommend this route for anyone who has a story to tell.

Many authors find the marketing and promotion of their book the biggest struggle. How do you tackle this and what advice can you give?

I’m still early to the process, but so far I have certainly found this to be the most difficult part. I don’t think that self-promotion comes easily to many people and there are so many aspects to it that professionals in the field probably train for a long time to master. These days, however, with tools like social media it’s easier than it ever has been to promote a book.

I do think that the inherently creative nature of a lot of writers will benefit them in approaching marketing from new and unexpected angles. My personal advice is to start early because it’s harder and more time consuming that you expect.

With so many forms of entertainment competing for readers’ attention, what, in your opinion, makes a good engaging story?

It’s hard to say what makes a good story, but I know one when I find it. If a formula for a great story could be identified then every book would be a bestseller! Personally, I love unexpected plot twists and a fantasy element that takes the reader away from their everyday life into somewhere wholly different. It’s even better when you write it, as you create those worlds yourself.

Writing YA Fantasy

Do you plan on writing any more books and what can we expect for the future?

I have a couple of ideas for new stories, a follow up to The Solstice Blade that’s also set in Liskeard, and another story for adults that I am quite excited about.

And finally… what would be your ‘desert island’ book?

Difficult to say because my tastes are quite eclectic and I try not to re-read books. So it would probably be something I hadn’t read before. I particularly like Ian McDonald’s novels. If he were to write something along the lines of his novels Brasyl or River of Gods that would be a good candidate.


Visit Robert’s website to find out more about The Solstice Blade.

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