I am so excited to partner up today with Talem Press and The Writer’s Edit to share a guest post written by author Bonnie Wynne! Last week, I reviewed her debut novel, The Ninth Sorceress.
The Ninth Sorceress follows seventeen year old Gwyn. She’s being kept as a prisoner by her guardian and is working for a herbalist. So many people fear her and she’s unsure as to why. The Ninth Sorceress is a great fantasy novel full of magic, adventure and self-discovery!
The Inspiration Behind The Ninth Sorceress by Bonnie Wynne
This is a tricky question! Writing a book isn’t like having an apple drop on your head and discovering gravity. It’s more like running a medieval soup kitchen, where you just keep throwing bones and old vegetables and rat corpses into a big bubbling cauldron until you’ve got a stew.
Okay, weird analogy. But The Ninth Sorceress is a bit like that. I was about fifteen when the idea first started to emerge, but at that stage I didn’t have much more than a world map and a main character. The rest of it, I slowly added over time, piece by piece.
As with many stories, the scaffold is always the Hero’s Journey, with all those familiar stages: the call to adventure, the transition from the ordinary world into the world of the adventure, the descent into the innermost cave. Familiar stuff, but it worked for Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and basically every popular story! I appreciate the power of starting from a familiar place and putting your own twist on something.
But to get specific, if I had to break down my inspiration into a few categories, I’d say history, place and media.
History: In high school, I studied ancient history, modern history and Latin. I’ve always been interested in the past, and I kept that fire burning after I left school. As an example, one of the pillars of my magic system is the ability of certain characters to visit the world of the dead – the Lurk. It’s a gloomy, misty place, with five encircling rivers marking the borders to deeper and deeper levels. When I was fleshing out that idea, I drew on the mythology of the Greco-Roman underworld. Like the Lurk, it has five rivers, each with their own properties. I’ll be digging into it more as the series progresses.
History is also a big help when I’m coming up with the cultures and practices of the different countries in my world. I don’t really get to explore it in this book, but Crater Deep in the south draws on the history of the Mughal Empire, around the 1600s. I’ll be visiting that region in a later book, so all my research will pay off! On the other hand, Nederlund, which I do explore in The Ninth Sorceress, is based culturally on Puritan history: those practical, salt-of-the-earth values alongside the very real belief and fear of the supernatural. I did a lot of research on the witch trials and the surrounding moral panic. I was interested in how growing up immersed in that culture would make you feel about yourself if you suddenly discovered you have powers. Pretty bad, I think!
Place: I try to get away for at least six or eight weeks every year, and I’ve seen some amazing places!It’s no surprise that The Ninth Sorceress is very interested in landscapes and cultures and societies. The country of Asgerad was largely inspired by my visit to Iceland a few years ago. If you’ve been to The Great Geysir, you’ll recognise when it pops up in my book. To capture the sense of cold and isolation, I did a little ‘field research’ on that trip, by taking off my coat at the Gullfoss Falls and standing in the wind. It must have been about ten degrees below zero, so I didn’t last long, but I’ll never forget how the cold gets right into your bones. It’s always best to write from experience.
On the other hand, the aesthetic of neighbouring Nederlund was inspired by a couple of visits to Boston and New England. I used the very rich, warm tones of the landscape, full of pumpkins and gambrel roofs and windmills. A lot of fantasy is very European, drawing on that Tolkien tradition of green rolling hills, so it was fun to bring in something a bit New World.
Media: Like most writers, I read a lot. I also watch the telly, play video games and watch movies. If an idea captures my imagination, I always think how I could adapt and incorporate it into my own work. For instance, the opening chapter of The Ninth Sorceress, where Enoch visits the prisoner, was very much inspired by the scene in Silence of the Lambs where Clarice meets Hannibal Lecter for the first time. It’s such a great scene: two smart characters, one a little out of their depth, the other caged and presumably de-fanged, but still dangerous. I love the power struggle between them and the way one, then the other gets the upper hand. I try to capture that in my own opening scene, and I even include a little nod to Clarice Starling when the prisoner refers to Enoch as ‘little bird’. A fun
Easter egg for those who are looking!
Inspiration is such a tricky thing to pin down. Sometimes ideas just seem to come out of nowhere. I keep a notepad by my bed, and I remember one morning I woke up having just written ‘Bhutan’ during the night. I’m not sure exactly what I meant by that – but I did end up adapting the Tibetan prayer flags into my own High Country prayer kites. Ultimately, I think inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. The brain is a bit of a sponge that way. I try not to question it too much. So long as the ideas keep coming, I’ll keep writing them down. Luckily, I still have lots to say in future instalments, so stay tuned!
About The Ninth Sorceress
In the blackest dungeon of the Clockwork City, a prisoner lies bound in silver shackles. Who is she? And why are the wizards so afraid of her?
Seventeen-year-old Gwyn has no family and no past. Apprenticed to a half-mad herbalist, she travels the snow-blasted High Country, hawking potions in a peddler’s wagon. Her guardian hides her from the world like a dark secret, and she knows better than to push for answers.
But when she discovers she is hunted by the goddess Beheret, Gwyn is drawn into a deep and ancient tale: of chained gods and lost magic, of truths long buried and the rising of a war she never could have imagined.
Wizards and their magic-sniffing hounds pursue her – as does a stranger in a smiling mask, who calls her by an unfamiliar name…
But what really terrify her are the dangerous gifts she’s spent her life suppressing. Now, Gwyn must step out of the shadows and take charge of her destiny – even if the price is her own soul.
The Ninth Sorceress is the breathtaking first instalment of The Price of Magic, a sweeping fantasy saga full of rich storytelling and tangible magic.
About Bonnie Wynne
Bonnie Wynne is a writer of science fiction and fantasy. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Writing and Cultural Studies) at UTS in 2007, and studied law at the University of Sydney.
In 1998, her short story “The Rainforest Kids” was published in the “Fantasy and Beyond” Short Story Collection. She was a finalist in the Taronga Zoo Short Story Competition the same year, and in 2000 won the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Young Writers Competition with her dystopian tale of roving gangs.
She lives in Sydney with her cocker spaniel, Percival Hector (Canine Inspector).