“Swords Without Misogyny” – an Interview with Penelope Wallace

Penelope Wallace’s fantasy novel We Do Not Kill Children was recently published, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book, her influences and the genre.  For those intrigued by her account of her writing, her website can be found here.

How would you describe your novel?

It’s a story about people waving swords around, swearing (and breaking) oaths of loyalty, and investigating a murder – so you can imagine how much fun it was to write. Alternatively, I like to think of it as a feminist blend of Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael books and George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire.

we-do-not-kill-children-cover

What prompted you to write it?

Many years ago, I wrote a story about a princess and a shoemaker in a continent called Ragaris, where the genders were equal. It was never published. Time passed. In 2012 I used an unnecessary diary to write daily snippets of whatever came to mind for a few weeks. Then I stopped, and time passed again. A year later, I picked up the diary, re-encountered the man called Dorac and the Place to Die, wrote a bit more – and couldn’t stop. When I’d got far enough that Dorac needed somewhere to live, I remembered Ragaris, and slotted him in.

Can you tell us a bit about the characters, and the world this novel creates?

A boy leaves home with nothing but a few seashells and his father’s curse. Twenty-seven years later, his swordsmanship, courage and loyalty have brought him a place in the King’s Thirty – King Arrion’s bodyguards, magistrates, investigators and drinking companions. Then he walks out of a room leaving three children hacked to death behind him. Or so the witnesses say. The subsequent trial strips him of home, friends and honour, and that’s where the story begins.

As for characters – the King’s Thirty of Marod is divided into five groups of six men and women, and the story concentrates on the Southern Six. Dorac (before his crime) is universally respected, but not universally loved.  Gemara is the scary leader with the withering tongue, Kremdar the hero with a kind heart, Kai “the goodlooking one the girls squeal about.”  Hassdan’s loyalty may be suspect, and Soumaki is competent and unexciting. At least that’s what the people of Stonehill think.

Then there’s Gormad: a ten-year-old boy who wants adventure, and thinks that Dorac can provide it. (Provided he’s actually innocent, of course, and since this is an adventure, Gormad thinks, he must be.) And the secretary Makkam, who needs to forgive all the Thirty, especially the men, for being alive when her sweetheart isn’t.

There are many more characters than that – people have told me that the list provided at the beginning is very necessary.

Which writers or books influenced you most?

I have copied Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni Chronicles by inserting Christianity into a fantasy setting without explanation or apology. In my dreams, I would like to think I’ve been influenced by the convincing world-building of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Robin Hobb, the evocative unfussy prose of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the light touch of Nancy Mitford, the character-revealing dialogue of Jane Austen and Antonia Forest, and by Charlotte M Yonge’s interest in the struggle to be good. But I suspect I’m kidding myself.

Is there a project behind your writing? Is there a particular mark you want to leave on the genre?

I want to create my own history, but I find battles confusing, and too much magic disempowering. My project is to write entertaining non-epic fantasy, creating a place where women are not marginalised, or oppressed – or have to use all the narrative energy of the story defeating their oppressors. I don’t want to preach, but I want my good people to be at least as interesting as the bad, and to be trying to live out Christianity in a flawed world. There are a few other conventions that I want to undermine, and I usually seem to fit in a murder or two. This project is called Swords without Misogyny.

Where is your writing likely to go next?

My publisher, Mightier than the Sword UK, has just accepted the next Tale of Ragaris, The Tenth Province of Jaryar, for publication later this year, and I’m working on the third. Since Ragaris has seven countries, and several centuries of history, I’m hoping not to run out of material for a while yet.