Interview with Rhiannon Hart, author of Blood Song

Rhiannon Hart is an Australian debut author whose first novel, Blood Song, was recently released by Random House Australia. Blood Song is the first in the Lharmell trilogy and is aimed at a young adult audience. After I was lucky enough to read a review copy of this enjoyable novel, I sought to get to know a little more about this up-and-coming author. This is the result.

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Introducing Rhiannon Hart

Your debut novel Blood Song has just recently been released (September 1st, 2011) and has received an overwhelmingly positive reception. How does it feel? Did you expect the novel to be so popular?
It’s been amazing! I’ve been so thrilled about how Aussie bloggers have gotten behind Blood Song. I think, like most debut authors, I don’t mind if it doesn’t turn out to be amazingly popular. Just as long as it doesn’t bomb. Especially considering there are more books to come. There are two things debut authors are afraid of first and foremost: having their novel pulped, and not outselling their advance. If these don’t happen I’ll consider it a success!

For the benefit of those who haven’t yet read Blood Song, can you just give us a short overview of what it’s about?
It’s a fantasy novel about a princess who doesn’t know what she is, but suspects it’s something bad. She struggles against her nature while at the same time being drawn toward it in order to find out the truth. There’s a healthy dash of romance, and some humor too. And MONSTERS. And bows and arrows. Oh, and some pretty flouncy dresses. Basically all the things I love in one book.

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Cover art, release dates and what’s to come

So far, Blood Song has only been released in Australia. Due to its popularity though, I would be extremely surprised if it isn’t eventually released in other countries. Any plans for an international release?
I really want it to be picked up overseas, but these things take time. As soon as I have news, I will be shouting it from the highest pinnacle of the interwebs! Right now though, nada.

Blood Song is the first book in a trilogy. Can you give as any hints of what to expect in the next books?
Lots more adventure. By the end of book one, you’ll have a pretty good idea about what Zeraphina is. Rodden, however, is still an enigma. A very sexy, cranky enigma. Book two, Blood Storm, goes further into his past. You’ll see more of the world, too, as there’s quite a bit of travel. And more of Lharmell. I had a ball writing it. The release date is next August. Blood Queen I’m working on right now and it’ll be out winter/spring 2013 by the looks of things.

The cover art for Blood Song is quite striking. I’ve heard many authors don’t get much input into the cover design. Did you get any choice in yours? Does Zeraphina look similar to how you imagined her?
My publisher Zoe Walton asked me about my favorite fantasy covers and I put together a list for her. Fire by Kristen Cashore is among them. I know the ball-gown-in-the-forest look is getting pretty cliche, but Zeraphina does end up in a big silly dress in the middle of forest at one point. In fact, the cover perfectly captures the scene. I love the way she’s looking over her shoulder as if there’s something behind her. And she looks a lot like how I imagined her. I was really pleased that Leap and Griffin made it onto the cover too, as they’re such a big part of the book. My heart was pounding like crazy when I opened the email with the first mock up. Astred did a great job though. She also does Maria V. Snyder’s covers in Australia and some of the HarlequinTeen titles.

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A taste of Lharmell

The Lharmellins are quite different from the blood sucking creatures that feature prominently in much other fiction. Were they always this way? Did the idea evolve over time or did the Lharmellins appear in your mind fully formed?
They were always meant to be monstrous. I was irritated by how monsters in YA fiction were becoming these simpering, sexy, declawed creatures. Kissable zombies? Pfft. Monsters represent our dark side and the most important thing we can cling to in a world of fear and danger is our humanity. I wanted them as far from anything you’d want to kiss as I could make them. If they changed over time it was only to become more monstrous and creepy.

One of my favorite aspects of Blood Song was the strange, alien environment of Lharmell itself. Did anything in particular inspire you in the creation of Lharmell?
I have always found desolate landscapes fascinating. On a recent trip to Santorini, Greece, I took a boat out to the caldera, and the landscape reminded me a lot of Lharmell. Lharmell has a massive volcanic crater in the middle and there’s a lot of black volcanic stone. Lharmell didn’t have any direct inspiration, but I wanted to make it as inhospitable as possible. Volcanic craters are not only bleak, but potentially dangerous too.

Do you have a favorite character in your series? Were any particularly fun to write? Were any trickier than others?
I really like writing Renata, Zeraphina’s mother. She’s so single-minded—a lot like Zeraphina, really—and has some of my favorite lines. And it goes without saying that Rodden and Zeraphina were my absolute favorites. Writing the scenes between the two of them were so much fun. I’m working on the trickiest part of the whole series right now, actually. It’s the opening of book three, Blood Queen. This whole book is going to be a challenge, I think.

Zeraphina is no ‘Mary Sue’. She’s a very strong willed character who has flaws and sometimes makes mistakes. I felt this made her feel much more ‘human’ than some of the other female protagonists I’ve encountered in young adult literature. What was your inspiration for her character? Did you always plan for her to be this way? How would you describe Zeraphina?
I wanted there to be tension between Zeraphina and her sister Lilith, for Zeraphina to pretend to act out of her sister’s best interest, but really be acting selfishly—but to make that selfishness relatable and understandable to the reader. I don’t remember that being a conscious decision, but when someone pointed out to me that’s what was happening, I made it one of the central character tensions throughout the series. Making her insatiably curious was a conscious decision though. I think she gets that from me! I tried to remember what I was like as a teenager, and I used to fly off the handle at the least provocation around my family and act selfishly, too. Few of us are saints, after all.

Your protagonist Zeraphina has a close bond with her animal companions, Griffin and Leap. What inspired you to include them in the story? Are you an animal lover yourself? Do you have any pets?
I was absolutely cat-starved when I wrote Blood Song! I have always been surrounded by cats but, since I left home, I haven’t felt responsible enough to own one or lived in an area that’s good for one. Right now I am auntie to a black Siamese cross, called Tivali. That was the name of Cleopatra’s favorite cat. The sun shines out of her bum, and she knows it. Leap was inspired by a cat my brother was cat-sitting, a Singapura. They have big green eyes and silver fur and they evolved in the sewers of Singapore. Now, a princess with a cat is a little bit soppy, right? Zeraphina’s got a soppy side, the part that wants cuddles, but she’s also terribly fierce, which is why I added Griffin, a golden eagle. Zeraphina’s very aware that she looks different from the rest of her family. Having Leap and Griffin with her to draw attention is like the equivalent of a shy teenager wearing loose clothing or hiding behind her hair. She’d feel naked without them.

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Good books and Lharmellin survival tips

Many readers love getting recommendations from their favorite authors. What are your favorite books? Have you read anything particularly good lately that you would like to recommend?
My favorite book this year has been Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson. I love books with a psychology or crime bent, and this one has both, and genres that twist and turn. It’s such a surprising read! Also, the love interest had me swooning all over the house like I haven’t done since high school. I’ve also loved All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield, a fantastic Aussie book that’s just come out. It’s got a crime angle too, of sorts. If anyone overseas wants to know what it’s like in a down-and-out Australian suburb in the height of summer, it’s the book to read.

Has a reader or interviewer asked you anything particularly weird yet? If so what was it? (If not, I can soon fix that).
Not yet! I’ve had a lot of really fun questions though.

I’m walking home from work one night and have the misfortune of running into a Llarmellin. What should I do the maximize my chance of survival?
A Lharmellin outside Lharmell! Well, you’re screwed, basically, and so is everyone else. They move incredibly fast and where there’s one, there’s going to be more. Prepare to be nommed. Now, if you’ve got some Lharmellin blood in you, they’ll probably crowd around and give you a few clicks hello—they’re very friendly that way—and then be on their way. If you’ve got some yelbar fashioned into something pointy, I’d advise you to use it. It’s pretty rare though, so I’d have to say… it’s been nice knowing you!

Say I’m at a party and I start talking to what appears to be a dashing young man who just happens to have taken the “hooded man” trend to heart. After a while I start to suspect he may be a Harming. How do I prove my theory and what should I do if I’m right?
Are the veins on his hands suspiciously puffy? Is he trying to slip something into your drink? If yes, you need to take your yelbar knife and tear him a new one. Anywhere will do. If you’re right, he’ll collapse in a smoking pile. If you’re wrong, well… you’ve just given some nice young man a nasty cut, and I doubt he’ll call you. Side note: if said young man is cranky, untalkative and has a permanent haunted look, he’ll probably break your heart or drive you round the bend. Stab him with your fork if you must, but leave the yelbar for the real bad guys.

Thanks so much for having me!

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Blood Song is now availiable in Australian bookstores and various online bookstores. Be sure to check it out!

About Michelle Goldsmith

Michelle Goldsmith
Michelle is an Australian university student, bookseller, voracious reader and fantasy geek. Although her major is in Behavioural Ecology she has a passion for literature of all kinds. When she isn’t reading or stalking wildlife she can be found lurking among the shelves at her workplace, telling bad jokes, unintentionally traumatising delivery men, small children and the elderly or drinking ridiculous amounts of coffee with various enablers. Some (aka. Stephan) speculate that Michelle never sleeps and possesses slight, and mostly useless magic powers that allow her to guess almost anything correctly. These rumors are yet to be scientifically confirmed. She also keeps a personal blog of book reviews (various genres), and other assorted ramblings (some of which are actually coherent).

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