Home is Where the Magic Happens by Laura E. Weymouth
Interview by Gillian St. Clair
Written by Juliet White
"There’s something that appeals to me about generating a world and a magic system in such a small span of words." - Laura E. Weymouth @lauraeweymouth #yaauthor #writerslife
Popular ideas in fantasy get recycled more regularly than hipsters grow beards. So, whenever a novel smashes that mold—then grinds it out underfoot—it’s super refreshing to read. In Laura E. Weymouth’s latest novel, A Treason of Thorns, the magic is contained in a building—specifically an English country house. This raises all kinds of intriguing questions, like: would you leave damp towels on the bathroom floor if your house could retaliate?
That dilemma is admittedly not at the forefront of Violet Sterling’s mind. She yearns to return to her childhood home of Burleigh House, even though protecting it cost her father his life and sent Violet into hiding. Forget HGTV makeovers, where the biggest problems are load-bearing walls and wallpaper so gross it should peel itself off in disgust. Rescuing a neglected house, now filled with dark magic, is a dangerous task. Almost as dangerous as going up against the king. But why take on one seemingly-impossible challenge, when you could embark upon two?
A Treason of Thorns is rooted in nature, yet Weymouth’s inspiration stems from a far more modern source. “People go, ‘Oh where do your book ideas come from?’” she said. “Mostly Twitter,” is the unexpected reply. “There’s a bot on Twitter that Tweets out magical realism, like stuff happening in an English country garden. I wrote a micro fiction about one of their Tweets, and one of my writing friends kept pestering me to write a book based on it.”
I wanted to write a book about one of these beautiful, old, English manor houses that have seen so much history. But what if the house itself has been witnessing the history and is alive? - Laura E. Weymouth @lauraeweymouth #yaauthor #writingprocess
“I also read an incredible article about Highgrove House, which is the Prince of Wales’s country home in England. It’s such a beautiful building and it looks like it has a personality. Between that, Downton Abbey, and the micro fiction I’d written, it all pieced together. I wanted to write a book about one of these beautiful, old, English manor houses that have seen so much history. But what if the house itself has been witnessing the history and is alive? Essentially, it’s a person in its own right that the same family has been tending to.”
“In the book, these houses’ magic has been constrained and bound by the royal family of England,” explained Weymouth. “That’s who their grudge is against because they’re not thrilled about that situation. The families that serve the houses act as caretakers and allow them to channel their magic. So, it’s a symbiotic, codependent relationship. The houses can’t exist without their caretakers, and their caretakers are very cognizant of that—it’s a big part of their job.”
A well-developed magic system is key to immersing readers in any fantasy novel, and Weymouth’s is unexpected. “I’ve always been interested in the concept of blood magic; it’s vital and constantly flowing. How would a house channel magic? I decided that the mortar would be infused with magic—it’s something that can leach into people. Once I came up with that, it provided its own set of rules. If you have mortar flowing through your blood, that could be damaging.”
“I wanted to play with the premise of home ownership: having magically endowed keys, people being put under house arrest. My agent was like, ‘Okay, at some point you do need to rein in the house puns!’ It was fun bringing in these things we associate with mundane objects and giving them a magical twist.”
"It’s about how we choose to live up to the expectations that others place upon us and how we choose to go in our own direction, and whether or not it’s possible to find a balance between those two things. It’s up to you, as an individual, to decide whether that vision of you is one that you agree with." - Laura E. Weymouth @lauraeweymouth #yaauthor
In terms of theme, A Treason of Thorns explores the idea of expectations. “It’s about how we choose to live up to the expectations that others place upon us and how we choose to go in our own direction, and whether or not it’s possible to find a balance between those two things. It’s up to you, as an individual, to decide whether that vision of you is one that you agree with,” observed Weymouth. “Crafting your vision of self and who you are as a person is what you do with your teens. I think that this book will resonate with a young adult readership because it does deal with that.”
Despite her affinity for the YA market, Weymouth is currently at work on an adult novel. She’s one of those who mourned the untimely death of the “new adult” category, when it was laid to rest in a publishing graveyard. “I wish there was a new adult category,” she said. “I know there’s a big and quite important conversation going on in YA at the moment about how we serve the younger end of the spectrum, but my books do tend to skew towards upper YA. And my adult books would just take up from that and be for the younger adult spectrum—characters that are nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two...”
“Particularly for women readers, we’re always on a journey of figuring out who we are, how we fit in the world, and trying to redefine our place. And it’s not something that stops in your teen years so, with the adult work that I eventually hope to do, I plan to take the themes that resonate so strongly with adult readers of YA and bring them more into the adult category.”
“I think the fact that there is such a big gap in the market for younger teens but that adult readers are gravitating strongly to YA shows that there’s something wrong with the way that we’re marketing books, and the way that they’re being written and targeted towards different audiences. I don’t necessarily know what the fix is, but I just want to write books that will serve people well.”
Weymouth guards her privacy, but she realized that another way she could serve her readers was by sharing the mental health struggles she experienced as a teen, which was a strong theme in The Light Between Worlds. “You’re caught in it. There’s no perspective,” she explained. “Thankfully, as an adult, I have a little more perspective and hopefully was able to portray to readers some of the things that are more helpful and some that are ultimately destructive.”
Like many writers before her, Weymouth finds comfort in nature. “I’ve always wanted to live near the woods. They’re so atmospheric. Now I’m lucky to live at the edge of a forest. They have that primal, cocoon-like appeal to them. For the most part, any threat in the forest is going to be natural and organic. Maybe there’s a bear in the woods, and where I live that’s not a big deal. It’s not, I might turn around this corner and get mugged, or I can’t walk down this dark alleyway. You know what to expect in the woods, more so than you do in a human environment.”
"I have to write this book. If somebody else writes it before me, I’m going to be furious, because they’re not going to do it the way that I would want to do it." - Laura E. Weymouth @lauraeweymouth #yaauthorinterview #writerslife
This cherished landscape directly inspired the Woodlands in The Light Between Worlds. Weymouth’s debut novel was born from a combination of Twitter and Narnia! “I saw on MSWL someone had been Tweeting that they wanted to acquire a book inspired by Susan Pevensie after the Narnia series had ended,” she explained. “I love C.S. Lewis’s work; I’ve been a huge fan of his ever since I was a child and so it was in the back of my mind. A few months later, I saw the same person Tweet again that they were looking for a book like that. I thought to myself, ‘I have to write this book. If somebody else writes it before me, I’m going to be furious, because they’re not going to do it the way that I would want to do it.’”
“I was honestly petrified, the entire time I was drafting the book, that someone else would do it before me. And I drafted and revised it in three to four months, over the course of the summer. I spent a lot of long nights; I drank a ton of coffee, like Philippa does in the novel.”
“Along the way, it obviously became its own thing and it wasn’t just inspired by Susan Pevensie after Narnia. It was about what would happen to young people if they went through one of these adventures that are so popular in children’s fiction, and which would actually be quite debilitating to come back from because you can’t talk to anybody about it. It’s not [as if] you can go to therapy and say, ‘I went to the Woodlands. I was there for six years. Trust me, it actually happened!’ So, you have these three young people who are the only ones that can relate to what’s happened to them and they’re stuck in this giant secret that has profoundly impacted who they are and how they view the world.”
Weymouth’s path to publication may not have involved clambering through magical wardrobes, but her love of fiction began at a young age. “I’ve been an avid reader since I was tiny. My mom would sit and read me chapter books when I was two, three years old, so I’ve always loved stories and storytelling,” said Weymouth. “I started writing at a pretty young age, too and kept at it. Even as a teen, I wrote all the time, without any thought of pursuing publication because it didn’t seem like something possible.”
“In 10th grade, I had a substitute teacher, whose name was Mr. Stapley, and he was supplying in my English class for about a month. He handed back an assignment and told me, looking me straight in the eyes, ‘If you’re not published someday, I missed the mark.’ And that was the first time anyone ever implied that was something I could do.”
“I actually wrote poetry before I wrote fiction both as a preteen and a teen. Often, if I’m in the middle of working and I need a few moments of downtime, I enjoy listening to spoken word poetry. It’s beautiful and such an inventive art form. There are incredible poets doing amazing things with that medium. It’s definitely a passion of mine, more so from the consumption aspect than from the writing aspect, though I do occasionally write it—I don’t think it’s my strength necessarily. It’s just something I love.”
“I put writing aside for a while when I got married and had kids. When my oldest daughter was six months old, I realized that I wanted to be able to show my children—particularly since I have girls—that it’s possible as a woman to both prioritize your family and pursue your own creative goals. That’s why I took it up again and started writing seriously and querying and pursuing publication.”
Becoming an author is obviously exciting, but not always in the ways you might imagine. “I was thrilled to get to go to New Orleans last summer to talk to the American Booksellers Association. Another thing I loved was being involved with selecting narrators for the audiobook of The Light Between Worlds,” Weymouth admitted. “Harper sent me a shortlist of people they thought would fit for each of the girls’ voices and then I got to listen to samples and choose from between them. It was like being a casting director for my own book.”
Weymouth was psyched to have her work released in an audio format.
“I come into it with the view that you’re very much, as an author, in a contract with your readers. I’ve written the text and provided half of it, and then you bring the other half. With The Light Between Worlds, I left the ending open to interpretation because I want people to bring their own reading to it. We all have our own interpretation of characters. I really love what narrators Fiona Hardingham and Moira Quirk did with Philippa and Evelyn’s voices.”
“We sold The Light Between Worlds as a standalone. And my publisher bought a second standalone from me without any actual pages, which was kind of a leap of faith—thanks Harper! I’m working on an option book for them which is also a YA fantasy standalone. I’ve had an amazing experience with Harper. They’ve been supportive of everything I want to do and I have a fair amount of creative freedom.”
“Right now, I like standalones because I have a six and a four-year-old, so my attention span is limited. I appreciate the artistry and the craft that goes into creating a fantasy that is self-contained. There’s something that appeals to me about generating a world and a magic system in such a small span of words. I don’t get through it and then, a year later, I’m confused about what’s going on because I don’t remember what I read because my children suck my brain cells out! I like to read standalones and I like to write them. But I would enjoy writing a series eventually, so we’ll see how that goes.”
When they’re not demolishing brain cells, Weymouth’s kids are big supporters of her writing. “My oldest, who’s six, can read now and she’s the most enthusiastic fan of my work, which is really funny. She has to have her own copy of every single edition of the book that comes out and if she finds out that I have a version of it that she doesn’t have a copy of on her nightstand, she gets very annoyed and has to take one.”
Given the lush cover art for both novels, who can blame the kid? “We had a bit of a journey with the cover for The Light Between Worlds, where we started out with one and, just before arcs were printed, they decided to scrap it and go in a completely different direction,” revealed Weymouth. “So the arcs didn’t even have a cover. Then Harper came up with the one that we currently have, which is gorgeous. For A Treason of Thorns, I figured they’d want it to be similar in layout to The Light Between Worlds, but I gasped when I saw it for the first time because I love it so much.”
See the covers for yourself at Weymouth’s website, where you can also pick up copies of her books. A Treason of Thorns is available from September 10, 2019.
What was the first book you remember reading? Let us know in the comments!
"For A Treason of Thorns, I figured they’d want it to be similar in layout to The Light Between Worlds, but I gasped when I saw it for the first time because I love it so much." - Laura E. Weymouth @lauraeweymouth #atreasonofthorns #yaauthor
This article was originally printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Curiositales. If you would like to receive a free digital copy of the magazine, sign up for our newsletter at the top of this page! Then, confirm your email address (be sure to check your spam folder). Once you click the link in your welcome email, you'll get regular news from Curiositales, including notifications when the latest magazine is published. You can unsubscribe whenever you like. Or, you can read it for free here.
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