Many writers spend their lives enchanted by the epic sagas seminal to the fantasy genre, escaping into the pages of Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Westeros and Narnia, but how many of us have the patience and vision to write something of that scope?
The long-running Cymrian Saga, about to reach its climax with its ninth instalment, is one of these such narratives, with interweaving plots across generations of characters in high-stakes political and cultural warfare set in a dangerous and magical world of secrets and powerful griffins.
Today’s special guest is the acclaimed author of the Cymrian Saga, but also the Drachengott series and a number of standalone fantasy works: KJ Taylor!
First published at a young age, KJ Taylor is the author
of numerous beloved fantasy novels, and her latest novel, The Cursed Guard, was released on Sunday,
In 2011 she won the Young Distinguished Alumni of the Year from the University of Canberra and the Critic’s Award. Her novel, The Dark Griffin, was shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards in 2009. She has a Bachelor Degree in Communication and a Masters of Information Study, and she currently works as an archivist.
The Cymrian Saga, a trilogy of trilogies starting with the Fallen Moon trilogy and followed by the three Risen Sun books, has continued with this third series, the Southern Star trilogy, which follows the tale of a common guardsman living in Cymria in the supposedly settled aftermath of the first six books.
The Last Guard, published by Black Phoenix in October 2017, introduced Red, a brave and loyal Southerner determined to prove himself, but his entire world is torn apart when King Caedmon invades the South. Helped by an alliance with the Emperor of Amoran – a huge and powerful country to the East of Cymria – Caedmon conquers the South and declares himself ruler of the entire continent. Red, having joined forces with a the fearsome griffin Kraego, rallies his fellow Southerners to fight back, but the second book, The Silent Guard, sees them enslaved in the lands of the Amorani Empire. Red is forced into the role of reluctant leader, bringing together a band of insurgents and their griffins who must go into battle once more.
The Cursed Guard continues the story. Once more, battle lines are drawn between North and South, testing old loyalties. Immortal, yet dead, unable to love, or be loved, Red searches for the strength within his hollow soul to end the war, once and for all.
KJ Taylor’s real first name is Katie, but not many people know what the J stands for. She collects movie soundtracks and keeps pet rats, and isn’t quite as angst-ridden as her books might suggest. With The Cursed Guard just around the corner, Ms Taylor answered some questions about her process, her experience and her upcoming release!
- You have an extensive academic history and are now working as an archivist. Did your formal education assist your writing practice and does your current rule as an archivist provide you with writing inspiration/information?
I signed my first publishing contract while I was still in high school, and I remember arrogantly telling my mother I didn’t “need” to go to university – I thought I was set for life! She told me I should go anyway because I needed the life experience, and I decided to go along with it. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, because it exposed me to new ideas, introduced me to a lot of new people, and helped give me a work ethic. It also made it possible to get a proper day job later on when I went back for my Master’s.Archiving is an interesting job in a lot of ways because it means spending a lot of time immersed in stories, surprisingly enough. The archive I run is essentially the home of the entire history of the organisation, and that means I’ve learned an awful lot of stories – human stories, about people who worked here, or were educated here, and stories about how the place was founded and changed over the years.
In a sense being an archivist means being a historian and sometimes a detective when someone asks me to ferret out some obscure piece of information. I love it! In fact, it was probably part of the inspiration for one of my characters (who will appear in The Cursed Guard for the first time!) who is obsessed with studying history, and particularly the really obscure parts people didn’t think to write down.
- What do you love about the Fantasy genre? Why do you continue to write within this genre specifically?
I like having the freedom to create my own setting, with its own history and cultures and so on, and I like exploring things that don’t or can’t exist in the real world and try to make them work in a way that makes sense. With that said I still like to keep my stories mostly grounded in reality – which is why the setting of this series is low magic – and have recently begun exploring other genres. I decided I needed the challenge as well. Plus it’s nice to write in the real world and not have to figure out how people do everyday stuff.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your latest novel and what readers can expect?
The Cursed Guard is, of course, the last of the Southern Star trilogy, and one of my favourite books in the entire series in large part because of the ending, which I found incredibly satisfying to write. I’ve waited a long time for people to read it because it finally resolves a lot of very important things.What can I say about it without spoiling too much?I can say that two characters who seem to be the most weak and insignificant players in all this will each make choices that will change everything. A single act of extraordinary courage will undo terrible mistakes from the past, and offer the chance for redemption to someone who seems so very far beyond it. Betrayal will be rewarded with betrayal. And our hero, Red, is probably going to endear himself to a lot of readers by telling a certain person to “kiss my arse” and then flipping them off for good measure.
- Can you share your writing routine with us? Are you a morning or night writer, paper or pen, plotter or pantser?
I used to write at night because I was so busy during the day that that was the only time I had, well, time for it. Of course, I was pretty young back then, and extremely hyperactive – these days I’ve slowed down. Turning thirty does that to you, it turns out. Nowadays since I don’t work full time I have three days a week set aside for writing and editing. I don’t write by hand except when I’m on holiday – anyone who has seen my appalling handwriting will understand why. My hand just can’t keep up with my brain. I don’t do plot outlines, but I have the shape of the general plot in my head before I get started and sometimes I know how it’s going to end. Sometimes not.
- Knowing what you now know, what advice would you give to aspiring writers regarding the writing process and the path to publication?
Don’t be fooled by the allure of fame. The time eventually comes in any creative’s life when they have to choose between maintaining their integrity or sacrificing their principles to get ahead, and when that time comes you have to stop and ask yourself why you started doing this in the first place. And if you do manage to win some measure of fame, be very aware that it can be taken away at any time, for reasons you have no control over. In the end, it’s better to write because it makes you happy. Become too fixated on the idea of being a glamorous bestseller, and you run the risk of both losing your integrity and turning into a very unpleasant person to be around.
- Final question, what does the J in K.J Taylor stand for?
Jill! After my maternal grandmother, who died just a few months before I was born. It’s one of my lifelong regrets that I never got to meet her because my parents say she was a lovely woman who adored books, and I think we’d have had a great relationship.
Purchase The Cursed Guard here.
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