Women in SFF Author Spotlight – MT Ceres (DAGGER PATH)
MT Ceres was born in 1966 and is a lifelong delver into the imaginative realms, as well as the author of Gaiadon Lore fantasy series.
She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and, experience in feature journalism, when she was the co-creator and editor of the E-zine, Yogahood.
She says, writing fantasy is the most exciting job I ever had.
Welcome to the Hive, MT Ceres. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Argh…there are so many. But, I’m on a reread of Robin Hobb and I have to say, The Mad Ship is sublime. It will always be one of my favourite reads.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Confession time. I don’t play, but if I did.
I’m a Sorceress and my weapon of choice is…I’d really like a Silver Warhammer. However, it will probably be a really unreliable Lightning Bolt.
I would be a sorceress much more akin to a female version of Rincewind (The Colour of Magic) as opposed to a female version of Pug (Magician).
Did I just hear everyone run the other way?
[Takes up a safe position a little further away…]
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I always do a rough plot first, but I don’t get too hung up on following anything too rigid. The story has to evolve, the characters have to breathe. There are structural techniques I use within each chapter, which I build my story around. I also have boxes of notebooks.
Mainly, I just tell the story. That’s my job, it’s what authors should do. Then, following this there are rewrites, revisions, and periods where I’ll leave the WIP to gestate.
When I’m at the laptop I write in silence, but sometimes when I’m out and about I have to write stuff down on pieces of paper or the back of receipts. Occasionally when I’m driving, I’ll shout at the kids, ‘Remember this, a neck squelches and tendons tear, if you pull someone’s head off.’ Or, ‘He can’t marry such and such, it’s his dead grandmother.’
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Robin Hobb, without a doubt.
However, I’m no spring chicken, and have been reading fantasy since I could read (The Tale of The Land of Green Ginger is an early memory). Early influences were Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K Le Guin, Julian May.
More recently, I discovered Lois Mcmaster Bujold, no excuse for arriving late to that party, Paladin of Souls is brilliant. When I was reading Magician by Feist, I came across Janny Wurts. Lately, Kristen Britain.
This year I will be looking at the late Tanith Lee, Wolfland and Hycanthia, and NK Jemisin.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I don’t really watch a lot of TV.
Although, I do need to engage with the shadow side of the human psyche for my work, but I prefer to do this by studying people in normal modern settings.
When I begin to work on character and story, I don’t watch fantasy film or TV, as I don’t want to download that into my work. I like to watch real people in real settings and take it from there. For example, some of The Demon Elite are based on current political leaders.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’ve almost completed Black Void which is Book Two of Gaiadon Lore. At its heart it is about insoluble separation and how that particular fate and subsequent destiny, shapes people’s lives. Dagger Path is the beginning of the exploration, to find out ‘who we are’. Black Void is the descent.
The nature of the Gaiadon Lore series is to plummet the Gaiadon Universe from a tenuous state of grace to a whisper of shade, a narrow band of festering disharmony, that exists on the planet Gaiadon. Following this things get progressively darker. Gaiadon is a melting pot of the forces that support evil or good, but in my work, I ask the reader to really think about what that is. The planetary conflict between different forces reflects a cosmological war between the Lords of the Light and Dark Flames.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Least helpful was, I went to an author book fayre to support local authors, where I got chatting to a male author about writing etc. I bought his book.
Then, he pointed at all the other books there and told me no one would buy my book and I should probably give up writing. It was a bizarre experience and happened early on in my writing/author journey.
I remember looking at his book on my bookshelf thinking it was going to be great and by definition I was terrible and should probably take his advice. It took me weeks to pick it up and read it. It went on to my DNF pile – almost immediately!
Most helpful advice: tell the story. It’s why people read books.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I make maps and sketch my characters, it’s my way of scratching at the block. Other times I allow myself not to write. If it’s not there, then I don’t force it.
However, I have to be aware that the reluctance to write, isn’t to do with the nature of the work.
For example, recently I found myself skirting around Black Void. For about six weeks I couldn’t find my way back in, because I knew I had to go in there and commit a full-scale massacre, but in a feminine and creative way – I know!
The massacre wasn’t about War, which takes everything, including land and lives, or Conquest which subjugates everybody, nullifying culture and traditions, but about the nature of sacrifice and honourable death in the face of the demonic forces, War and Conquest. In the Gaiadon Lore universe, War and Conquest are manifest in the form of Demon Elites, called Rubric Volsunga and Anuk, respectively.
My writing is influenced by what I see around me, in the world today. Gaiadon is an aspect of Earth in a higher dimension, which has been infested by demons who have crawled up the axis of reality, from Earth, and Hell below.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Great question. I wouldn’t mind doing a timeslip tour of all the ancient spiritual sites in the world, when they were new. For example, The Pyramids.
Then I could come back and say, ‘Yeah, it was a spaceship electro-fuelling station, after all. You would not believe the size of the plug I saw.’
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
My favourite ever female characters have to be Moraine Damodred, from The Wheel of Time by R Jordan and Malta Vestrit, Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb.
However, the seven Witch Queens of Gaiadon are incredibly colourful characters to write about. They are actually fallen goddess’ who have been given sanctuary on Gaiadon. From the politically savvy Marama Rawa who has been promised to, but thwarts the advances of the Demon, His Lord Insanity, to the hot headed Mordeana Never Dead who turned her husband into a zombie, as an act of love, and the shapeshifting Mo Moema, who is neutrois (Agender), to name but three.
Recently, I’ve enjoyed writing about Moema Cat shield maidens, and female assassin spies called Kanohi, but I think the character I’ve enjoyed writing about the most is Cassandra Novantae, who is first introduced in Dagger Path, Book One of Gaiadon Lore. She is roughly three Ages old (three thousand years) and has evolved considerably as a species because of the time she has spent in the Crystal Cathedral.
I really like strong female characters with interesting back stories. However, the early stories in Gaiadon Lore focus on the adventures of Mordeana Never Dead’s apprentice Isknot, Mo Moema’s psychic cat Atarangi Hiriwa and Marama Rawa’s lover, the Galanglas pirate Silas Al Seamist. I illustrate throughout my writing, that without the support of their female patrons the male, reluctant heroes, would not function well or survive in the Gaiadon universe. The name Gaiadon, is also about placing The Mother (Gaia) before The Father (Don). Cosmologically speaking, the planet itself was created by a female demi-urge Gaia and her Sky Lord (evolution engineer) His Lord Cernunnos.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell.
I don’t think it’s obscure but perhaps it’s not as appreciated now, as it once was. It was written in 1965 and is a children’s book, but similar to the Narnia stories, it is enjoyed by adults.
It’s about how a lonely man finds himself a dysfunctional family. His wife is a mermaid who he brings from the sea to live in his cottage with him. Then he brings home a lynx kitten and a bear cub. If I correctly recall the story, none of them speak the same language and there are behaviour issues, but eventually the kitten and cub, find and bring home a boy.
I think it’s a story of action and consequence, of all things happening for a purpose and at the right time. If it wasn’t for the care the couple had to give the kitten and cub, they would not have been able to care for the boy. It’s also about how it is possible for very different people to live together in harmony.
It’s really beautifully told and focuses on the telling of tales around the fire, the shared experiences we all have and, the power that oral traditions of storytelling have, to help us, understand the human condition.
My matriarchal cultural roots are Romany. Romanies are a people who historically have an oral tradition of keeping their social history and lore in the spoken word. This is then shared by storytelling. I think I appreciated the portrayal of storytelling at the hearth, as I’d experienced similar social rituals as a child.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
There is an old saying on Gaiadon which goes like this:
There is little more than a whisper of shade between The Light and The Dark. Yet, this is the place, where Gods and Demons come to die.
That’s fantastic, thank you so much for joining us today MT!