Interview with H. M. Long (DARK WATER DAUGHTER)
H. M. Long is a Canadian fantasy writer, author of HALL OF SMOKE, TEMPLE OF NO GOD, and BARROW OF WINTER, who loves history, hiking, and exploring the world. She lives in Ontario, but can often be spotted snooping about European museums or wandering the Alps with her husband.
Welcome to the Hive, Hannah! Huge congratulations on your release of Dark Water Daughter! Can you tell our readers a bit about it?
Hey, thank you so much for having me!
Dark Water Daughter is a swashbuckling nautical fantasy with weather witches, pirates, and a disgraced naval officer all racing to bring down a deathless pirate lord. It’s very atmospheric, with plenty of action and original lore and creatures!
You began writing Dark Water Daughter around twenty years ago, how does it feel to finally have your book baby out there in the wild?
It’s definitely surreal! This book has been a passion project for so long, its publication truly feels like arrival as an author.
Can you tell us a little of the evolution of your book? What significant changes has it gone through between drafts?
Dark Water Daughter started out as scribbles in a notebook when I was around eight years old, and eventually evolved into a full manuscript, which I tried to publish when I was fifteen. It was a historical fiction at this point, taking place around 1738 and following the daughter of infamous female pirate Anne Bonny (I was homeschooled, and fixated on the Golden Age of Piracy for a long time!)
After that failure, I shelved the project – then unshelved it, then shelved it, and so on until after I wrote Temple of No God, when I found myself desperately needing a passion project again. So I opened a blank document and started to write an epic fantasy book with nautical elements and a rough reference to that original historical fiction. That full fantasy transition (including the mages and ghistings) was the key I needed to finally unlock the story. The book essentially wrote itself, and quickly sold to my publisher.
Elements of the original are few and far between now, but some hold on – one of the POV character’s mother is called Anne, the historical setting remains around 1740 in terms of technology, clothing and art (though my publisher has chosen to present it as Jacobean) and the personalities of key characters are all original. I believe a dress that Mary wears to a key event has also carried through!
Let’s discuss your characters! Give us an insight into Mary and Samuel? Would you say that they both share similar traits or are they vastly opposite from one another?
I would say Mary and Sam do hold similarities traits, both in their desire to see their goals through, in their view of others, and their base concept of morality and conduct toward the broader world.
Mary is a bit of a back-woods type though, educated but having grown up in one place and never left. She’s also more pragmatic, willing to do what’s necessary to survive and care for those around her, even if she considers it objectively wrong. The ends justify the means.
Samuel is the opposite in that respect. He roots all his self-value in his honour and public perception, in right conduct and explicit justice. This, naturally, is his greatest struggle when he falls into disgrace.
And what about your more shady characters such as Benedict Rosser and Silvanus Lirr? What inspired their personalities?
Benedict is very much Samuel’s opposite, and as they’re identical twins, I very much enjoyed toying with the evil-twin trope. Benedict isn’t truly evil though, in my opinion – dancing around spoilers, there is a concrete reason for his condition, outside of his control. Lirr, meanwhile, was always careless of the lives of others, self-serving and willing to abuse others for his goals. By the time we meet him in Dark Water Daughter, that innate evil has fully bloomed. Still, he does believe himself to be doing something correct, something generous, within his own twisted mind.
I have to mention how incredible your completely original worldbuilding is, Hannah! There are fantastical elements embedded into every aspect of it and I loved that. What inspired the concept of the ancient ghistwold forests and ghistings?
I’m very much a forestry person! I live in the forest and spend my days surrounded by trees, so when that seeps out into my writing, I tend to embrace it. But the concept of the ghistwolds themselves took on a very concrete form after one visit to Wales. One morning, I was exploring a little old church and churchyard in Eryri [Snowdonia], which hosted some really gorgeous old yews. There was something wrong with the sky that morning, though the reason evades me now – the sky was orange and the sun was red, and it made the whole setting SO incredibly eerie. That feeling and those yews became the Ghistwold, and naturally, trees in such a place MUST be sentient. It then naturally followed that someone would try and take advantage of that, and the ghistings and ghisten figureheads came to be.
And can you tell us more about your magic system? Was it fun to create the lore of Stormsingers, Sooths and Magni’s? Or were there any aspects you found particularly tricky?
If I’m completely honest, I don’t intentionally construct magic systems or really worldbuild – most of these things I just uncover as I write, or an idea will click into place (like the ghistings). I then make it all make sense during edits. So I can’t say that I found any parts really tricky or even really consciously was aware that I was creating lore! These elements were simply there as I typed.
Oh that’s so interesting. So did you decide upon each character’s magical abilities early on or did that emerge later during writing their story arcs?
For everyone except Mary (I wanted her to have weather magic before I started writing) they appeared as I wrote. For instance, as I began to introduce Samuel, he kept fiddling with a coin in his pocket, and I had no idea why. But then he began to sense things – and suddenly it clicked into place. He has premonitions! Why? How? How is the coin involved? How does it affect stakes? How can I use this to further his story?
This is usually the way things work for me, and I find it the most satisfying and exciting way to write.
If you were a character in your own fictional world, what would you rather be, a Stormsinger, a Sooth or a Magni?
I’d like to be a very subtle Magni, I think, and I’d likely use my abilities to do little things like discourage small talk at social events. I’m a recluse in every world, haha.
How different did you find writing Dark Water Daughter compared to your other ongoing series The Four Pillars? Are there certain themes or characteristics that both of them share?
I think both of them lean into my love of atmosphere, forests and mist and winter. There’s always a mother with an axe somewhere, and themes of religion and morality always come up in my work. But Dark Water Daughter is has a much lighter side than The Four Pillars, the cast is more bantery and there are some more cozy elements – warm taverns and spiced wine and hot coffee, etc. Overall I consider Dark Water Daughter a touch less serious than The Four Pillars, though both of them deal with dark themes.
As it’s Women in SFF we’d love to know who are the most significant women in SFF who have shaped and influenced your work?
I really, really appreciate the work of women like Shannon Chakraborty, T Kingfisher, Adrienne Young, Katherine Arden and Rebecca Ross. I also was raised on Tamora Pierce, and her books hold such a place in my heart!
Who is a great woman in SFF who we should be reading? Any hidden gems?
T Kingfisher is big enough that I don’t think I can call her a hidden gem, but I 100% recommend her work, especially her fantasy romances! They strike the perfect note for me, funny and honest and a little unorthodox – knights who knit and giant bear ladies, yes please. As for a hidden gem, I don’t think Sara A Mueller and THE BONE ORCHARD get nearly as much love as they deserve. I adored Bone Orchard, and Mueller’s prose is beautiful.
Ok I have to ask this Hannah… Can you tell us a few teasers for your sequel to Dark Water Daughter? What lies in store for our Mary and Samuel?
Hmmm well, I can guarantee that Benedict (Samuel’s brother) will cause a great deal of trouble and put Samuel into a difficult position. Mary, while working to come into her full power as a Stormsinger, will make some difficult choices, and notorious highwayman Charles Grant will prove his worth in several forestry survival situations in a dangerous place. There will be disguises and shenanigans, spies and storms, and an ever-rising, very dangerous tide.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I hope my readers are immersed and find a little hideaway from the world in my books, and close them with a sense of satisfaction and a hunger to shape new adventures in their own lives.
Thank you so much for joining us for Women in SFF!
Thank you for having me!
Dark Water Daughter is out today from Titan Books! You can pick up your copy from Bookshop.org