The Scribbler is pleased to do a series of guest appearances in conjunction with Creative Edge Publicity of Saskatchewan, Canada. (See below for more of Creative Edge)
This month, our featured guest is JM Landels.
The title above is taken from her website - http://jmlandels.stiffbunnies.com/ -followed by a unique notice:
“The Wicked Lady Writes Again”
If that’s not enough to make you curious, the beautifully illustrated novels will make you want to delve deeper to discover more about this multi-talented lady.
The Scribbler is most fortunate to have her participate in a 4Q Interview and share an excerpt from Allaigna’s Song: Overture
JM Landels, writer and illustrator of the Allaigna's Song trilogy and co-founder of Pulp Literature wears far too many hats. The strange mix of a degree in Mediaeval English Literature, a misspent youth fronting alternative punk bands Mad Seraphim and Stiff Bunnies, and a career as a childbirth educator and doula informs her work. These days, when she isn't writing, editing or drawing, she can be found heading up the Mounted Combat Program for Academie Duello in Vancouver BC where she swings swords and rides horses for fun and profit.
4Q: You’re obviously a busy lady and we appreciate you taking the time-out to talk about your work, writing and hobbies. How do you manage to do all you do?
JML: A combination of stubbornness and the ability to get by on very little sleep. I have a bad habit of turning my hobbies into careers, and thus have far more simultaneous careers than is sensible.
4Q: Tell us about Allaigna’s Song which looks like an interesting and compelling series.
JML: Allaigna’s Song is a series about the making of a hero. As a young girl, Allaigna discovers she has the ability to create magic from music when she accidently sings her baby brother to sleep … and nearly kills him. The three novels follow her journey from child to adult as family secrets, politics, and the hand of fate guided by her precognizant grandmother shape her. The stories of her mother, a princess who mysteriously disappeared en route to her wedding, and her grandmother, a travelling midwife who married a prince, are told in parallel, their stories circling and illuminating Allaigna’s. While the series is very much a high fantasy epic, filled with magic, sword fights, and action, it is, at its heart, a story about mothers and daughters.
4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.
JML: I had an incredibly fortunate childhood, though most people wouldn’t consider living with a single parent in a one-room cabin with no electricity or running water lucky. Even though I didn’t have television, or nearby friends to play with after school, I had a pony and freedom. Some of my fondest memories are of slipping a bridle on my pony, hopping on his bare back, and riding for hours up and down the wooded mountainsides and desert hills near Ashcroft BC. It was the sort of freedom few children have these days, and it taught me self-reliance and gave me the gift of being alone with my thoughts to daydream. To this day, the best view in the world for me is seen between the ears of a horse.
4Q: You are the managing director of PULP Literature. What can you tell us about this magazine?
JML: Back in 2013, my writing friends Mel Anastasiou, Susan Pieters, and I were sitting on Mel’s deck drinking beer, lamenting the lack of short fiction venues in the country. Thanks to the beer, we decided to start our own magazine. We ran a Kickstarter to fund the first issue, and when that was successful, we kept going. Our mandate was to anchor each issue with a well-known author writing outside their usual genre, and provide a venue for emerging writers to ride along. Twenty-six quarterly issues later, the magazine is still going strong, and we have expanded into publishing novels and writing guides. This year we’re also launching our writing mentorship program, Quit the Day Job, starting this summer.
4Q: You’re also an equestrian and teach mounted combat. It must be thrilling. Is it dangerous? What draws you to this pastime?
JML: I’ve always loved swordplay, even back to when my best friend and I used to fence each other with riding crops. I did some sport fencing in university, but found foil uninspiring. In 2008 I was researching 17th century rapiers for a novel (which I’ve only started writing recently: The Shepherdess, featuring a shepherdess-turned-spy in 17th century France) and came across Academie Duello, a school of swordplay right here in Vancouver. I was intrigued, and then promptly hooked. After being a student of historical swordplay for a couple of years, I decided to combine my two passions of horses and swords, and created the Mounted Combat program.
It is, in fact, much safer than many equestrian sports such as eventing or showjumping. We use nylon swords for the sake of the horses, and are very careful of each other and our mounts. Of course, a thousand-pound animal that has a mind of its own always adds a bit of unpredictability to a swordfight, but it’s the added challenge of riding while sparring that makes the art interesting.
*** Eventing (also known as three day eventing or horse trials) is an equestrian event where a single horse and rider combine and compete against other competitors across the three disciplines of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping.
4Q: What’s next for JM Landels, the author?
JML: After the release of Allaigna’s Song: Aria this spring, I’m working to get the third book Allaigna’s Song: Chorale ready for release in late 2021. I’m also working on the Shepherdess series, which is being serialized in Pulp Literature at the moment. I’ve got loads of places for my little spy to explore, from Versailles to Chantilly, Paris to London, and Carcassonne to St Petersburg, so there are years of writing for me and adventure for her ahead of us.
4Q: When you are feeling the most creative, where would we find you? Your writing habits?
JML: I write most of my first drafts during weekly writing sessions with Mel and Sue, my fellow Pulp Lit founders. Second draft used to happen in the Starbucks near my dance studio, but since the Covid shutdown I’ve lost that venue. I try to squeeze it in here and there in between other work, but I’m getting behind on that front. Third draft and beyond happens in the wee hours between midnight and 3am, the time when the house is quiet and the phone doesn’t ring.
4Q: Favorite authors? Who inspires you the most?
JML: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Kate Atkinson, and Mary Gentle are all writers whose prose and creative imaginations I admire and aspire to. CS Lewis was probably my earliest inspiration, and I am still deeply fond of CJ Cherryh, Julian May, Ursula LeGuin, and Anne McCaffrey.
4Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
JML: I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to be blessed with a supportive spouse that tolerates my writing and career-collecting habit, and is an excellent fencing partner to boot. I couldn’t have achieved half of this whilst raising a family (who seem to have turned out fine) without him.
An Excerpt from Allaigna’s Song: Overture
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)
Allaigna’s Song: Overture
Brothers, Sisters, and Lullabies
Brothers, Sisters, and Lullabies
If you walk down the grand staircase of Castle Osthegn, you will see a family portrait. It is placed across the landing from the wide steps so that your eye is drawn helplessly into the picture as you descend. Such is the skill of the Leisanmira painter that you are almost convinced the little girl on the right will jump out of the frame and take off pell-mell into the courtyard. And you can tell that is what she wanted to be doing when the image was painted.
The little girl was me.
There are other, more formal, paintings of my family members, individual and grouped, spread throughout the fortress. But the one at the bottom of the stairs is the only one that tells me a story. In this painting I am shown in my favourite red tunic of soft flannel — the one my nurse turned into handkerchiefs when I grew too large for it — and loose-fitting trousers rolled to the calf above grubby bare feet. My mother’s arm is around me, her fingers creasing the cloth beneath my arm. It is a half-hearted grip, as if holding me still takes more effort than she can afford. Her eyes are tired and her skin pale. Wisps of curly blonde hair escape a hastily pinned coif, and the bodice of her dress is askew, barely containing blue-veined and swollen breasts.
The head of the family, Lord Osthegn, Allenis Andreg, Duke of Teillai and Warden of the Clearwater Plains, stands behind and to her right. A possessive arm rests on her shoulders; the other is proudly akimbo. He beams with joy, and this is the only portrait that paints him so. In truth, it is the happiest my three-and-a-half-year-old self ever saw him. The subject of his joy rests in Mother’s right arm, its bawling ruddy face showing a remarkable resemblance to the Duke already. I don’t know why the artist didn’t portray the baby content at the breast or with an idiosyncratic smile as most painters would, but I’m glad he didn’t. This is how I remember my brother Allenry when he arrived to interrupt my life, and I appreciate the painting’s candour.
I recall that day, or one of those days. After sitting for the painter, I ran outside into the bustling lower court, where chickens scratched in the warm sun of late spring, men-at-arms practised sword drills, and my nurse Angeley tended the herb garden. I didn’t want to talk to her right then, so I slipped between the tight-packed limbs of the hedge maze, following my own small, secret trails to the centre. I sat down in the yellowish gravel and buried my feet in sun-warmed chippings. I had a tight, lumpy feeling in my chest and warmth behind my eyes, but I didn’t want to cry. I was not going to cry over him.
There were footsteps on the gravel, trying not to be heard.
“Go away!” I threw a handful of pebbles at the place I knew she’d appear. “Leave me alone!”
My nurse bent down and examined the stones that had tumbled on the mossy verge of the path. She turned her head to look at me, her face crinkling into laugh lines.
“It’s the Huntress, Allaigna.” She held out a sun-browned hand to me. “Come and look.”
Curiosity overcame my resistance, as she knew it would, and I crawled over to see. Her fingers picked out the constellation of stones.
“Here is her head, and shoulder. This grey-blue one is the tip of her sword and here” — she delineated an arc of pebbles — “is her bow.”
With a child’s obstinacy I replied, “She doesn’t have any feet.”
“Too true, Allaigna. Where do you think they are?”
I shrugged. “Over there?” I pointed to where I’d gathered the fistful of rocks.
Angeley nodded, her eyes clouding over as they did when she was deep in thought. I followed her gaze, wondering what she could see past the impenetrable green of the hedge.
“Mmm. I think you’re right, dear. Now tell me: what’s the matter?”
The storm came back over me and I hunched into myself. Angeley waited, her hand resting on my back. Even today, I can sometimes feel that warmth between my shoulder blades when I need resolve.
“I hate him,” I mumbled into my knees.
The lumpy feeling returned, and despite my best efforts, my eyes started watering.
“He ruined it!”
The tears began in earnest and Angeley lifted me into her arms, humming softly.
“I know, I know,” she murmured. “He’s taken over your Mama … for the time being. That’s what babies do, you know. Mama and Allenry need each other now. But you have me.”
I wasn’t mollified. “But you’ll be his nurse, too!”
She shook her head. “No, darling. I came to this house to help birth and raise you. Your mama and papa will have to find someone else to help with Allenry and their other children.”
Now I was appalled. “Other children?”
She laughed. “There will be more siblings for you, Allaigna. You may get that little sister after all. You might even grow to like Allenry.”
I frowned, emphatic. “Uh-uh.”
She kissed me on the head, silencing the protest. “Never say never, dear one. Whatever you may think of him, he’s of your blood, and you will need each other one day.”
Angeley was right. I did like Allenry on and off, as siblings do, and we even became allies when our sister Lauriana usurped Mama’s body and attention once more. Not to say there wasn’t fierce competition between us. He grew quickly, and it was clear he would have the bull-like physique of our father. By the time I was ten, and he six, he had the height and more than breadth of me, though I outstripped him for a while once more in adolescence. But I am getting ahead of myself.
During Allenry’s infanthood I grew farther away from my mother and closer to my nurse. She was of the Leisanmira race, and she gave me much of her knowledge of plants and animals, healing, and midwifery. But what I loved most was her singing. All my early life I could hear Angeley singing. No matter what she was doing — gardening, sewing, reading — there was a tune percolating from her throat. It was Angeley who sang my siblings and me to bed every night. Her lullabies were devastating in their effect, and it seemed at first I was never able to hear the end of one before my eyes fell shut and locked me in sleep.
Eventually though, whether it was because I was older or simply more stubborn than my brother and sisters, I learned to keep myself awake to the end of the song. This allowed me to leave my bed once the lanterns were extinguished, and perch on the window seat, reading by moonlight. It also let me learn her songs to the end.
On a morning not long after my seventh birthday, I gained my first inkling of what those songs could do. I was in the grange loft, playing with a litter of kittens whose half-wild mother I had wooed for many weeks. I held a black bundle of fur in my arms and hummed a lullaby as it purred and nestled in. From behind me, I heard clumsy fumbling on the loft ladder.
It was Allenry. I could tell by his noisy breath and careless movements. He wasn’t allowed into the hayloft, being too young to climb safely, but that didn’t stop him.
Irritated, I wished him away, and kept my back turned. I did not want him here, interrupting my time with the kitten. With ever-louder huffing and thumping, he pulled his tiny body up through the hole in the loft floor. I sang louder, ignoring him, drowning out his presence. Gradually his stuffy-nosed breathing slowed and deepened. I could hear him yawn. I reached the final chorus of my song and at last turned a glaring eye on him. He stood, eyes closed, stubby toddler body swaying with sleep.
I watched in fascinated horror as he collapsed backward and fell down the trapdoor.
The next few moments were a frantic blur, and I have no idea whether I climbed or jumped down after him. He lay wailing, his face no more than a wrinkled red apple with a giant hole in its middle. I clapped a hand over his mouth, terrified someone would hear, and wrestled with the decisions every child makes at the scene of a sibling accident: whether to stay and console, run for help, or hide and pretend not to have seen what happened.
The decision was made as Allenry’s nurse came running in, our two-year-old sister slung across her hip.
“What have ye done? Wicked girl!” She dumped Lauriana on the barn floor and rushed to Allenry.
Instead of answering, I ran.
Thank you, JM, for being our guest this week. Wishing you continued success with your writing and other endeavors.
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