Q&A: Exploring Voyage of the Damned with author, Frances White

Q&A: Exploring Voyage of the Damned with author, Frances White

1. Locked room murder mysteries are very popular but you don't see them in fantasy. What led to the idea of combining the two genres?


When I came to write Voyage of the Damned I was looking down the barrel of four failed manuscripts and seven years of querying and submission. This took a mental toll on me, and I discovered that being so consumed by what was selling, and what I SHOULD be writing that it was sapping all the fun out of writing for me.


This was a big no, so I decided to put all that noise aside and just focus on writing something which I would enjoy. So, Voyage of the Damned was primarily written for me to reclaim my love for writing.


Because of that I leant in hard to all the things I love which I maybe would have shied away from before, and this included combining my two favourite genres—fantasy and murder mystery. 


Previously I had never written a standalone fantasy, all my books had been the first of series’ and I longed for the sense of completeness and closure a standalone would give me. So a murder mystery felt perfect for that, as they’re often concluded across one book. I also really liked the idea of challenging myself by having it all take place over a short period of time in one location with a set cast. Challenges in writing really excite me, especially if I’ve not seen them done before!


Of course, I quickly discovered why—it was really really hard. It took a million drafts and just as many spreadsheets, but I’m so pleased I’ve done it. It really is a love letter to two genres I adore, and I think adding magic to classic murder mystery set ups opens it up to so many exciting twists and possibilities.


 
2. Ganymedes can definitely be classed as one of the most comedic protagonists in SFF - did writing those aspects of his personality come easily or did they require a lot of thought and care?


A bit of both! Dee’s voice came out very naturally, as soon as I decided he would be the main character his voice came loud and strong and that’s when I knew he was the right choice!


His sense of humour also came naturally as it’s very similar to mine, we share the same dry, sarcastic gallows humour. Sadly, even the puns.


However, I do think a lot of Dee’s humour comes as a result of the trauma he’s experienced. It is his way of dealing with it, he can either face all the horrible thoughts going on beneath or make jokes about it. He often chooses the latter!
Dee is someone who is constantly hiding who he is, distancing himself from people because he’s scared about them discovering his terrible secret. His humour is a form of masking, if he’s known as the class clown, the comedy relief, then nobody will be looking close enough to uncover what lies beneath.


This did require a lot of care. I was aware of the pitfalls of having a character who suffers from mental health issues also be constantly cracking jokes. I wanted to make sure that I was treating those issues seriously and not making light of them. But in my experience, it is not unusual for people fighting these hidden battles to be the life and soul of the party. I wanted to show with Dee that a person can be both.
 


3. Who is your favourite of the 12 Blessed?


This is like asking a mother to choose between her 12 children! I adore them all in different ways (yes, even Leofric!). Dee of course is very close to my heart as the main character, and someone who shares a lot of aspects with myself.


However, I’m also very fond of Nergüi and another character I won’t name for spoilers but hopefully those who have finished will guess—two characters who are quite complex, perhaps even a little morally grey, but I just love characters where you’re not entirely sure what move they’re going to make next!


Also of course I have to mention Grasshopper, I fear the repercussions if I exclude her. She was so much fun to write, and a little bundle of joy and energy (with sharp teeth).

 
4. How did you choose the animals, like spiders and elephants, and what their province provided?


Because we barely visit any of Concordia in the book, and are restricted mainly to the ship, I wanted to make sure that all the provinces were memorable in as many ways as I could. This included each having a colour associated with them (white for fish, green for dragon etc), an animal and also a form of trade. That way, even if the reader can’t remember all of these details, they would at least be able to associate one of these things with the characters to remember who is who!


All the animals are representative of their province in some way. For some this is in the characteristics of the province, for example Bear Province is known for being inhabited with a lot of wild, terrifying animals. For others it was more closely associated with the actual Blessed, for example a Spider for the character who is known for weaving devious webs, or a Tiger for Leofric, who growls orders and believes he is on top of the food chain.


I wanted to make sure the animals were memorable, but not too obvious. An owl may have made sense for the province obsessed with learning and libraries, but a tortoise felt much more unique and fitting for both the province and its heir. 
I must admit our hero’s animal, Fish, was because I needed an animal that was obviously lamer than the others but is still a very important animal, even if often forgotten about and taken for granted. (For the record, I love fish! They’re just not as cool as dragons…)


For the trades of the provinces, I wanted to put across that there is a divide of privilege in this empire, even if they pretend there is not. That’s why the ‘lower’ southern provinces’ trade is focussed on the essentials of life, meat, fish, crops, fuel etc. Whereas the uppers are concentrated on things like jewels and art. I think it sends a message about the opportunities afforded in these provinces compared to their lower counterparts.


 
5. Were there any stories that inspired the story behind the animals of the 12 provinces?


There are definitely influences from the Chinese zodiac, and also other creation myths. The mythology in my book concerns a flood, and flood stories are often found across lots of religions and cultures. As I wanted something that was both fantastical and new but not entirely unfamiliar, a flood myth seemed the obvious place to begin.


I’ve always loved the aspect of the Chinese Zodiac which concerns the order the animals finished their race in then impacting on the cycle of the zodiac, and that was something I wished to feed into Voyage of the Damned. If you read the myth, you will see that the order the animals offer to help directly corresponds with their ‘rank’ in this world. Now the question is, what came first? The myth defining where these provinces stood? Or was the myth made by these provinces to cement their standing? Or a combination of the two? Either way, this myth is so important to Concordia that it can’t be underestimated how their place in the story impacts these lower provinces, and subtly but meaningfully lets them know their ‘place’.
 


6. The book is quite neatly wrapped up by the end, the perfect standalone. Could you see the potential for any more stories within this world featuring either pre-existing characters or an entirely new cast?


Right now Voyage of the Damned exists as a standalone and I have no other plans for it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, a story doesn’t always need a sequel or more content, and sometimes forcing it when it doesn’t need it can actually impact negatively on the original story.


However, I do think there may be room for short stories concerning the characters I wasn’t able to explore as much as I wished in the book (due to their *ahem* premature deaths). We also don’t get to see much of Concordia as we’re confined to a ship for most of the book, so it would be cool to actually see and visit these places! I also love the idea of exploring the various Blessing ceremonies and what form they took for the different heirs.


So my answer is…there is possibility there! But probably depends more on how much time I have and how much demand is out there for them!


 
7. Which province would you want to be from and what would your Blessing be?


On a purely survival basis, and also because it’s very pretty, I would choose to be from Bunnerfly province. It has the most temperate weather, beautiful scenery, is in the middle (geographically) and as someone from the midlands that speaks to me! It also has flying bunnies with wings, which I would need to claim as a pet. And pink is my favourite colour!


The only issue is everyone there is a monk. I’m not sure I’d make a very good monk!
If I was choosing a Blessing like choosing a superpower (avoiding spoilers again!), it would be to be able to speak any language. I’m not fantastic at learning languages and I’d just love to be able to converse with anyone no matter where they’re from. It would make travel seem a lot less daunting! I actually subtly gave Dee a bit of this, maybe as a bit of wish fulfilment. He’s really good with languages!


 

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