The Marek series is about the eponymous city-state whose magic flows through a contract with a being known as the cityangel. From an attempted coup to a demon on the run to a civil war, there is no shortage of intense set pieces, tender character moments, big magic, and other epic fantasy delights.
I’m thrilled to host Juliet Kemp on the blog to celebrate the paperback release of The Rising Flood. They talk about putting the series together, the inspiration behind the world, and what they’re working on next.
Buy Link: Elsewhen Press
Crafting the Story of Marek
What came first: the world, the intrigue, the magic, or something else entirely?
The messengers came first! Initially they were on bikes—I think I had a kind of mixed levels of tech world faintly in mind—but that didn’t fit after all once I started working outwards from the initial idea. The very first scene I wrote was what became Jonas (who is in Marek to try to get information about his own perhaps-not-magic) encountering Beckett (Marek’s cityangel, although at that point that’s not exactly true, which is why they’re wandering the streets and running into Jonas), although it’s changed a lot since that first draft; but that meeting was the image that kicked everything off. Then as I wrote that scene, I was thinking through who Beckett was and why they were in trouble; who Jonas was; and what the city they were in looked like. It all spiralled out from there.
Are the countries inspired by anywhere in particular? How did you go about setting up the political tensions?
I had Venice and other Italian mediaeval/Renaissance cities in mind when I was first creating Marek. Other than that, I wanted Marek to be an important trading port, and I created its origin story and its relationship with Teren early on. After that I sketched a map of the Oval Sea and the countries around it, and started thinking about how trade and transport might work. And how things might go wrong, or people might seek to gain more power or money, and what mistakes they might make in the process.
I have an academic background in politics and political history, and I’m very interested in how people make polity-scale (city, country, political grouping) decisions and how they interact with one another during that process. And how people can make what seem like objectively terrible decisions and not even realise what they’re doing.
Where did the idea for the cityangel come from?
That first scene with Jonas and Beckett arrived from nowhere, as far as I can remember. I had an image this strange supernatural being who had somehow lost or mislaid its supernatural nature, and a messenger in the dark. I like cities a lot, and they have personalities—why shouldn’t they also have guardians?
Do you have any favorite scenes or moments?
In the current book—the third but not yet the last—I really enjoyed writing Marcia (Heir of one of Marek’s ruling trading Houses) defending her semi-illicit relationship with her sorcerer ex-girlfriend Reb, and her challenging the Houses to engage with Marek’s magic. But the moment just after that when Marcia’s nemesis Daril totally undercuts her was also a lot of fun.
In book two, I really like the scenes where Cato (Marcia’s trans brother—disowned, though not by her, due to his being a sorcerer) and Tait (renegade Teren sorcerer hiding in Marek) get together.
Putting Together a Series
Is there anything you know having finished the third book, The Rising Flood, that you wish you had known while writing The Deep And Shining Dark?
I think (hope!) I’ve got better at putting a book together, but I’m not sure there’s anything specific I could pass on to my former self; there’s some things you can only learn through practice. I sincerely hope that in another five years I’ll look back and think the same about 2021-me, because I would like to keep getting better.
Did your writing process change between books? How did you approach writing them: as one contiguous story or as three separate volumes?
When I wrote the first one I didn’t initially envisage it as part of a series, though I could see that there was scope for writing a further book or books. By the time Elsewhen picked it up I had a rough draft of a second book (because I was having fun writing the world) and at that point I knew I’d want to write at least one and probably two more after that, because I could see threads I wanted to take further. The plan now is for book 4 to bring things to a conclusion. Having said that, throughout the writing process I’ve also been making notes of things to pick up in the next book, so while they weren’t written as a single story, the longer story was arising from what I was writing.
My writing process is slightly haphazard. The first book went through a lot of drafts as I worked out what I was doing with it. For books 2 and 3, I had an initial outline from which I wrote a first draft which tended to stray, sometimes quite significantly, from the outline, and then once I had that first draft I re-outlined from there, abandoned some bits, included some others, rearranged everything so it fit together, and then wrote a full second draft. Draft three is for tidying things up and fixing the remaining obvious holes introduced during draft two; then I get feedback from beta readers and do a final draft + line edit.
What are you currently working on? Is there anything you’d like to plug?
I’m working on Marek #4, which is currently in the middle of the second draft and thus a total mess. I keep telling myself that it will come together in the end…it’s challenging knowing that I want to wrap everything up in a satisfactory way! I also have a novella coming out next year from Twelfth Planet Press, so I’m waiting on edit notes for that.
This month, as well as The Rising Flood coming out in paperback, I’m putting out a festive novella, A Starbound Solstice, on Dec 15th (currently available for pre-order!). It’s fairly short, very sweet, with a queer-found-family-in-space vibe and a touch of romance. I’m hoping it’ll be a nice treat for the end of a challenging year.
What books are you reading right now?
I’ve been rereading Bujold’s Vorkogisan Saga books, which are comfort reading for me. I recently enjoyed The Quiet by Sylvie Greenhart, which is a sweet novella about magic and family. I’ve also just started The Grace Of Kings by Ken Liu.
Are there any releases you’re particularly excited for?
Merc Wolfmoor has a short story collection, Friends For Robots, out in late Dec that I’m looking forward to reading. I’m also looking forward to reading Far From The Light Of Heaven by Tade Thompson (which is out already but I haven’t read it yet!).
Juliet Kemp is a queer, non-binary, writer (pronouns they/them). They live in London by the river, with their partners, kid, and dog. The first book of their fantasy series, The Deep And Shining Dark was on the Locus 2018 Recommended Reads list; the second came out in 2020. Their short fiction has appeared in venues including Cast of Wonders and Translunar Travelers Lounge, and their story “Somewhere Else, Nowhere Else” was short-listed for the WSPA Small Press Award 2020.
When not writing or child-wrangling, Juliet knits, indulges their fountain pen habit, and tries to fit an ever-increasing number of plants into a microscopic back garden. They can be found on Twitter as @julietk.