Author Spotlight: Freya Marske (A MARVELLOUS LIGHT)
Freya Marske lives in Australia, where she is yet to be killed by any form of wildlife. She writes stories full of magic, blood, and as much kissing as she can get away with. Her hobbies include figure skating and discovering new art galleries, and she is on a quest to try all the gin in the world.
Her debut novel, the queer historical fantasy A MARVELLOUS LIGHT, was published by Tordotcom Publishing and Tor UK in 2021.
Her short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways, and several anthologies. She also co-hosted the Hugo Award nominated Be The Serpent podcast along with two other red-headed fantasy authors. In 2020 she was awarded the Australian National SF (Ditmar) Award for Best New Talent.
Welcome to the Hive, Freya. Thank you so much for joining our Women In SFF feature! Can you tell us about your books A Marvellous Light, and its sequel, A Restless Truth? What can readers expect?
A Marvellous Light is a queer historical fantasy featuring murder, magicians and manor house parties! And also: William Morris wallpaper, and conspiracies, and falling in love with your aggravating coworker. It’s about a young man called Robin who has a terrible first day at work when he discovers he’s been accidentally named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society—and about all the even worse days that follow after that.
A Restless Truth is also about murder and magic and sexy queer romance, but this time it’s set on an ocean liner and stars Robin’s sister Maud. She is a very different person to Robin—her book includes twice the amount of chaos, a lot of feelings about lies and identity and the theatre, and a handful of Titanic references sprinkled on top.
MORE MAUD! Can’t wait for this one!
What inspired your character Robin Blyth? Have any moments in his story arc been particularly tricky to write? Do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy crafting?
Interesting that you ask this question about Robin, because he is the opposite of my usual favourite kind of character to write. My comfort zone is introverted, intellectual schemers who read too much and need to be in control of everything. When I realised that one of A Marvellous Light’s two protagonists was going to be an extroverted, impulsive, sunshine-hearted jock, who only enjoyed those parts of school involving the rugby pitch and the rowing shed… I knew that crafting his perspective was going to be a challenge! The tricky part was allowing him to be himself even when that was going to make More Mess. It turned out well. Mess is where the plot comes from.
A Marvellous Light is set in Edwardian England and features a hidden underworld of magic. Was there anything in particular that drew you to this time period?
Short answer: I knew I wanted to set one of them on an ocean liner around the time of the Titanic.
Long answer: the Edwardian era is a funny little slice of time sandwiched between the end of the Victorian era, with its Industrial Revolution and the height of the British Empire, and the beginning of the huge social shifts of World War 1. The more I read about it and researched it, the more I realised that it’s a perfect thematic setting for a trilogy about questioning and disrupting the status quo of who holds and deserves power.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy/sci-fi influences? Was there anyone in particular who inspired your stories?
Looking back at my childhood, I was extremely influenced by Elizabeth Goudge, who wrote beautiful historical fantasy about magic woven through everyday life in England. Her stories always tied magic very specifically to place, and to people stuck repeating the mistakes of the past. And I read Joan Aiken’s bizarre and wonderful alternate-history books, the Dido Twite adventures, over and over and over again.
Since adulthood I’ve also admired and been very influenced by Diana Wynne Jones, Megan Whalen Turner, and Naomi Novik.
The two main influences on the Last Binding series in particular would have to be Connie Willis, with her brilliant Victorian time travel romp To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the supreme skill of adventure-mixed-with-romance that shines in everything that Lois McMaster Bujold has ever done.
And I’ll throw in some of my favourite female authors working in the romantic-fantasy space today: Zen Cho, T. Kingfisher, and Tasha Suri.
A Marvellous Light has been lauded for its queer rep. How important was it to you to represent LGBQTA+ plus in your work, or was it something that happened organically?
It was part of the outline of the series from the very beginning. I wanted to write a trilogy that was also a series of linked queer romances—and even though it’s set in a specific historical period and place, I wasn’t particularly interested in dragging out any kind of narrative about homophobic oppression or fear. I wanted my characters to have adventures and do magic and make mistakes and find one another, find family, find joy.
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! Both of yours are so elegant yet vibrant and fun. How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
Aren’t they incredible? The artist Will Staehle and the art department worked absolute wonders! They do ask me for any input or ideas I have for the covers, and I send them a very long email about all the specific visual motifs and strong images in each book, with a heap of attachments of items and designs. The very start of the 20th century had some great specific design aesthetics; book 1’s cover is all about paying homage to the Arts & Crafts movement, and book 2 is a little more Art Nouveau.
I think the covers manage to look both historical and screamingly modern, which is perfect.
Let’s talk about the writing process; do you have a process? Tell us a little something about how your story comes together.
I do have a process! It changes a little bit between books, but I’ve written enough novels now that I know more or less what works for me. I begin with nailing down the main scaffolding events of the book: how it opens, how it ends, what happens at the midpoint, and what the main crisis will be. Then I create an outline of scenes, trying to make sure there will be the right amount of Stuff happening in each planned quadrant of the book, and that each POV character has approximately the same amount of content.
And then I start writing! What happens in scenes might shift a bit during the drafting – scenes might be combined, or split in two – and as I go along I will fill the Notes section for each scene up with outlines, dot points, specific pieces of dialogue or description that come to me, or notes about callbacks or echoes I want to include. So the closer I get to the end of the book, the faster I go, because by that stage the notes are usually comprehensive.
We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying?
Editing is like jogging. Most of me despises it and would prefer to arrange my life so that I have to do as little of it as possible, and when I’m midway through it I frequently find myself wanting to gulp down water and curse all of my life choices. But there’s no denying it makes you/your book healthier and more resilient in the end. And emerging out the other end, I’m always glowing with a mixture of pride and relief.
Okay, that’s the structural edit. The line-level prose edit is more like wandering through a room full of knickknacks, lovingly dusting and polishing each one and making the room look more beautiful. And sometimes throwing something gleefully in the bin. I love that kind of editing.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
It will come as no surprise that I am completely devoid of battle instincts, and so I’m going to pick something with excellent shielding. Can I have a really, really huge dragon and build myself a fireproof shelter on its back? What about a giant battle tortoise?
Tell us about a book you love. Any hidden gems?
My underappreciated obsession this year is The Absolute Book, an absolutely wild literary fantasy novel by the New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox. I ended up describing it on Twitter as “if The Good Place, Tam Lin and The Da Vinci Code all had a baby, Hayao Miyazaki adapted it into an animated film, and then Diana Wynne Jones was hired to write the novelisation”. I never had any idea where it was going, I fell deeply in love with several of the characters, and came out the other side gasping with authorial envy.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m deep in the marshes of drafting the third book in the Last Binding trilogy at the moment; I can’t tell you the title or really much about it, except that I’ve been looking forward to writing this book’s romance since I first started planning the series, and some of the scenes are so self-indulgently delightful to me that they feel like melting chocolate over a flame.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I want my books to leave people feeling happy. Heart-warmed. Champagne-bubble giddy.
Mission very much accomplished!
Thank you so much for joining us today!