Author Interview: Ray Star talks about her debut EARTHLINGS
Ray Star is a Fantasy author from Essex with a passion for animal rights and eco-living. She can often be found writing, exploring nature and occasionally stargazing underneath a full moon with a tarot deck in one hand and a strong cuppa in the other.
Earthlings was conceived from a love for the environment and inspired by her father, whose passing was a catalyst in leading a greener lifestyle.
Ray’s dream is to one day open an animal sanctuary and wildlife reserve in memory of her father. Earthlings is Ray’s debut novel and the first book in the Earthlings trilogy.
#Earthlings | www.raystarbooks.com | @raystarbooks
Many thanks for joining us here at the Fantasy-Hive, and congratulations on the release of your debut novel Earthlings. Having read enjoyed and reviewed Earthlings, T.O.Munro has a few questions for you.
TO: There are a couple of key themes running through Earthlings – there is an eco-critical element in the world you have built and there is a magical element in the powers your protagonist Peridot discovers she has. Tell us about your inspiration for these elements.
RS: My inspiration came from a desire to raise awareness of the realities that many of our fellow Earthlings face, because of our human ways. I wanted to give a genuine insight to a multitude of scenarios but without alienating people, and the idea to write a story where readers could go on a journey and experience some of these roles themselves fell into place.
The magickal aspect was the one part of Earthlings that I genuinely debated over, wanting to keep the message poignant but, as a fantasy lover, magick flowed naturally into the tale as the story progressed, allowing me to make Earthlings more personal. Many of the rituals are traditions that I practise myself in my own day to day life as an eclectic witch.
Incorporating magick also gave the perfect explanation for the catalyst that created The Changing, the moment that animals were given sentience and found their voices, but I won’t say anymore than that, we hate spoilers!
TO: Earthlings is your debut and is the first in a planned trilogy. As a debut author can you share with us a little bit about your journey into publishing.
RS: My publishing journey has been a rollercoaster if I’m to be completely honest with you! I completed my first draft of Earthlings back in 2019 and as the months passed, I became impatient waiting for a yes from an agent or publisher, opting to self-publish in 2020.
Then, as luck would have it, two months after I’d self-published, a publisher reached out to me. I was overjoyed when I was offered a traditional publishing contract and signed with Chronos Publishing, with the re-release date set for Aug 2021.
Advice for any aspiring authors: self-publishing is a fantastic tool but only if you have the time to put into marketing your work, without efficient marketing, you may run the risk of your book going unnoticed. If you know your book is a page turner, resist the urge to panic-publish (like I did!) the right deal could come along when you least expect it.
TO: Most writers can place themselves on a continuum from the “plotster” end of planning every detail of the story and its scenes before even writing the first line to the “pantster” end of just making everything up as they go along and being as surprised by what happens as the reader. Where do you put yourself on that continuum?
RS: This is a fantastic question, and honestly, I have no plan of action when it comes to writing, I know where the story is heading, and the key moments that need to take place, but how we get to each of these moments, is as much a surprise to me, as it is to the reader. I am a working mother of two, and my writing time unfortunately isn’t as frequent as I’d like it to be, so when I do finally get a moment alone to sit down and write, I’m on the edge of my seat as the scenes unfold all leading to the big finale – which I am positively itching to write!
TO: The tensions between Peridot and her mother Val make for one of the most intriguing aspects of Earthlings, and I understand you have a planned prequel novel about Val’s story which I am guessing might explain some of her over-protective and manipulative behaviours. What experiences and inspirations did you draw on to write this rather fractious mother-daughter relationship?
RS: Peridot’s mother holds a very special place in my heart, she is a complicated character but rightly so, and by the end of the trilogy, all will become clear. Without letting any spoilers slip, she is waging an internal battle of her own that isn’t touched upon until book two (Dominion), and as infuriating as her over-protective actions may be, she is doing what most mums try their hardest to do; keep her child safe – no matter the consequences.
A personal insight into her character: Val’s name was derived from the Wiccan tradition of creating a craft name and broken down interprets to: Valla (born of) Eartha (the Earth).
TO: The book’s cast includes a number of talking animals. I was brought up on the Dr Doolittle books and Johnny Morris TV show “Animal Magic” which anthropomorphised animals with particular voices. How did you set out to give the animals in Earthlings distinctive voices and characters?
RS: Along with the message behind the Earthlings tale, I wanted all characters to be seen as equals. Whilst humans may not be the dominant species in the book, readers may struggle to picture animals as equals – even talking ones. I didn’t want to give any of the other species characteristics that could make them seen as less sentient than us. I tried to give the animals voices, that, like humans, would be based on their upbringing and surroundings.
Two of my favourite characters are based on my own canine companions, Phoenix and Freyja.
In real life, Phoenix is judged frequently due to his breed, and Freyja struggles with anxiety after being taken from a homeless person. I wanted to include their genuine back stories, to give their characters an authenticity that could perhaps resonate with others as well.
TO: Which aspect of Earthlings was most enjoyable to write? Did you ever come close to making yourself cry with any of the scenes you wrote?
RS: This is embarrassing but I cried my eyes out in four chapters! When the children experience fresh water for the first time, when a particular character passes, when Freyja tries to stop Peri’s memories being taken, and the end scene with Val.
My favourite chapters to write are Alan’s – he is one dastardly chicken! And Euan’s – he is possibly my favourite character within the book.
TO: In some ways Earthlings is not so much “Animal Farm” as “Animal Country” but while Orwell went for the pigs as prime villains, you settled on chickens – why chickens? (Was it because they are apparently the closest living relative to Tyrannosaurus Rex?)
RS: I wanted Earthlings to be as authentic as possible, so I asked myself, if animals found their voices and took over the planet, who would be in charge?
Now, you’re probably thinking incredulously “chickens? Really?”
But, in the world we live in now, it is the most likely outcome.
War is waged on numbers, and with carnivores and large herbivores having been massacred nearly to extinction by our own kind, the number of wild animals that remain in the wild, are heart-achingly low. Whilst in comparison, the numbers of animals farmed for animal agriculture, are alarmingly high – farmed animals vastly outnumber all other species on our planet combined.
At present, there are more chickens on the planet than any other mammal, followed by pigs, cows and the other animals bred primarily for food by our species. It made sense for farmed animals to rule as realistically, if The Changing did take place, they would have the numbers.
TO: The commitment to the environment comes through very strongly in so many ways. Within the story is Peri’s vegan diet based on your own – did you want to showcase the range and variety of meat free/dairy free eating?
RS: This was another aspect other than magick that I debated including in Earthlings. I’ve been Vegan for 4 years now and would recommend it to anyone for a multitude of reasons, but I didn’t want to alienate people, and the dreaded V word has a spectacular knack for doing precisely that.
Rather than labelling any characters as Vegan or Plant based, I opted to incorporate earth-grown-food into the narrative instead, from homemade apple pie, to fresh soup and crusty bread rolls… simple dishes that anyone can easily grow the ingredients for and make at home. No air miles, a minimal carbon footprint and no animals harmed in the making. The perfect type of food!
TO: No book is context free – authors influenced by their own lives have intentions in the stories they tell and the messages they wish to convey – even if readers pick up different nuances. What do you hope will be readers’ biggest takeaway from your book?
That we are all earthlings. From the tiny ant to the human or elephant, we each have a right to live freely on this pretty little planet that we are blessed to call home.
TO: Books are not the only ways that authors and their stories reach people. Adeline Johns-Putra talked at Liverpool University about a transtextual approach to the Anthropocene where author actions and promotions go beyond simply what they write. For example, Kim Stanley Robinson for example, not only writes cli-fi but advocates for climate action on several stages. Tell us about some of the ways that you (and your readers) could support the environmental message behind Earthlings?
RS: I’ve made it my mission to be a carbon-neutral author and am trying to spread the word and encourage others to do the same, especially fellow cli-fi authors. If we feel passionate enough to write books with an eco-friendly message, we need to live by that message ourselves.
As such, Earthlings is printed on recycled paper where possible, the only exception being Amazon who do not offer sustainable printing. To compensate for any Amazon sales, I’m planting 1 tree per book sale via Ecologi (for all book sales and future projects) and I recently launched a petition via Change, calling on Amazon to make the transition to sustainable printing on recycled PCW (post consumer waste) paper, you can view the campaign via: change.org/read_green
If you have a moment and are able to sign and share with the hashtag #ReadGreen I would be forever grateful.
TO: It is significant that Peri grew up without her father and – as is clear in your acknowledgments you valued your own father who sadly passed away in 2017. His influence shows through in your choice of Peri’s name for example, how else have you built your father or his values into the story?
RS: The Earthlings tale is built around a ring my dad gave me before he passed away, a plain silver band, with a large square peridot embedded on the top. Dad asked me to wear it always before he died and I swore that I would, it’s twinkling up at me as I answer these interview questions.
The depths to the stone are endless, and I tried to reflect that as best I could in the story.
My dad wasn’t particularly eco, and, until he passed, if I’m being completely honest, neither was I. Losing Dad changed my life in ways I could never have fathomed possible, if anyone reading this has experienced grief, perhaps that will resonate with you. It made me re-evaluate everything, from my relationships and career to my lifestyle choices.
I took a long hard look at myself and wasn’t happy with what I saw.
If I died suddenly, like dad did, I would be disappointed with what I had achieved, and I needed to change that. I decided to stop being a hypocrite and try to be the change that I want so desperately to see in the world. My Earthlings journey started from there, and I’m appreciative of every step I’ve taken since.
It’s not been easy, far from it, I’ve cut people from my life, closed my business, started a family, gone vegan, am attempting to live as close to zero-waste as I can, then, last but not least, I wrote Earthlings, with the intention of inspiring peaceful, positive change for our planet.
If we want the world to be better, we as individuals need to be better first, the rest will follow.
It has to.
At the very least, even if the Earthlings message is lost on some, their purchase will have planted a tree in the Peridot forest, which can be viewed on my website: www.raystarbooks.com
TO: Are there any questions you are glad we didn’t ask and how would you have answered them?
What my favourite book is – it’s an impossible question to answer!
TO: And finally – as a Hive staple question – what beast, magical (or otherwise) would you ride into battle on?
RS: I’d hitch a ride on my trusty besom and fly out front, leading us into battle with magick tingling at my fingertips.
TO: Thank you very much for joining us at the Hive and good luck with the Earthlings launch and the rest of the trilogy.
RS: It’s been an absolute pleasure, thank you for having me.
Earthlings by Ray Star is out now by Chronos Publishing, £8.99