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Our first victim for 2017 is Belinda Mellor!

Kia ora,

Please welcome our latest victim guest, Belinda Mellor. On the metal plate suspended above that puddle by wires is a chocolate fish. Behave and the delicious pink marshmallow fish covered in chocolate won’t end up a goopy mess on the floor.

In the event of an earthquake/zombie plague/or random occupation – you’ll find emergency procedures taped to the bottom of your seat. Yes, just like a flotation device. You’ll also find a Glock 17 with a full magazine.
Remember you cannot reason with zombies and it’s a headshot every time.

Belinda Mellor
Belinda Mellor

Yes, thank you. I have a cup of tea and a square of Marmite flavoured chocolate.

1. What’s your favourite type of takeaway? (Yes, that means take-out in NZ speak)
Fish, if it’s light and fluffy, with chips if they are hand-cut and crispy. Otherwise Indian, but not too hot; I’m a woos. (Is that how you spell woos? It doesn’t look right.) Look, I used a semi-colon and I used it correctly. That makes me a proper writer.

2. Describe your current mental status.
Do you REALLY want to know? Let’s say ‘confused’ and leave it at that.

3. I know how I do what I do … but how do you do what you do?
No idea. It’s a mystery to me. I wait for my muse (apparently her name is Sylvia) and then hope for the best. She’s a bit casual in her time keeping. She’s never admitted it, but I suspect she has other people she inspires on a more professional basis and just fits me in when she has the time.

4. Could you tell us a little bit about your latest work?
Works – plural. I’m sort of torn between a third book in my Silvana series and a folklore-inspired YA story.
Silvana was supposed to be finished with the two books, The Greening and The Turning, until I had a sudden realisation of what happens next. The two form what I like to term a ‘fantasy biography’, so they have what I thought for years was a fixed ending. But, while the first book focuses on Fabiom, the second has his son, Lesandor, as the character with the most page-time (although the point of that is how the son’s actions impact the father, as much as telling Lesandor’s own story). However, although it wasn’t a deliberate intention, the books can be read somewhat allegorically, with specific humans representing all of humanity, and the Silvanii – the Tree Ladies – representing nature. In that way, the story doesn’t end with one man. So, like the previous instalments, Book 3 will be largely about a new generation – with Lesandor’s son, Jarin, taking centre stage, but Lesandor’s story continuing, as his father’s did in the previous book. It might be called Silvana – Restoration, but then again, it might not.

Then there’s The Daughters of Chalice Moon, which was started (cough cough) as a Millennium project. It’s the story of two sisters, Jade and Emerald Green, who think they are twins, but in fact one of them isn’t even human: she was supposed to be swapped at birth for the human girl, but the exchange went wrong. The other main character is a human boy, Jasper, who was successfully swapped and who was brought up in Faerie, who makes his way into the human realm when he discovers his true identity. His faerie counterpart is the antagonist. I’m toying with the idea of splitting it up into several shorter books, as it had become rather unwieldy, which was one of the reasons I shelved it (emigrating was another).

5. Do you have a favourite coffee or tea?
I always look for ethically produced foods where I can, but they have to taste good too. If I could get it easily (and I’d sold enough books to be able to afford it, given how many cups of tea I get through in a day) I would love to just drink oolong tea from what I believe is the one and only NZ tea-growing estate, Zealong, just outside Hamilton. Otherwise Scarborough Fair makes a decent black tea.

6. Walk us through a typical day. (Do you make sure you’re wearing your lucky underpants before you sit down to write, perhaps you prefer commando? While we’re discussing your underpants, boxers, briefs, or budgie smugglers. Inquiring minds want to know. Yes, that includes my Admins… we don’t piss off the Admins.)
No lucky underpants. I just have to be really comfortable, and warm, but not too warm.
Nothing gets done before I’ve had at least one cup of tea, of course. I seem to have collected lots of animals so there is the morning feed to do before I can really settle to anything else. Fish, budgies, dogs, my daughter’s bearded dragon if she’s away. That’s the ‘house’ animals (the budgies have an aviary on the deck). Then the chickens and goats. Another cup of tea. If I have an editing job on I try to do some of that before my own writing, otherwise I might get carried away and not get any done at all. Some time in the day I like to take the dogs to the river, or for a gallop around the paddocks. I’m not very organised and my days are not structured. We have a veggie garden and that needs a fair bit of time, and I always seem to have things to sort or try to organise, rarely with any degree of success; I must try to declutter one of these days. I like to cook, so mid-afternoon I might start on dinner if I’m feeling creative food-wise, or else I might catch up with one of my neighbours for a coffee. Before I know it, it’s time to see to the animals again! We eat any time from 6.00 to 9.00 (my husband is very understanding). We might go out in the evening once or twice a week – he plays music sometimes, and we like to go to the theatre or to support anything that his students are involved in (he’s a teacher), but not too often as we live in the middle of nowhere. When do I write? Good question. Anytime, really. I used to be a ‘7.00 am – 9.00 am’ writer, but that was many years ago, before I had my daughter. Before that, when I was at university, I did my creative writing late at night. Now? I don’t even know when my best time is. Perhaps I need to find it again.

7. Tell us about your main character. (How did you first meet? Would you like to hang out with him/her? What delights you the most about writing him/her? You get the idea …)
Fabiom, deep sigh. I’ve known him for so many years now. He can still reduce me to tears, and often does. Fabiom came into my life long before I was married or became a mother, but oddly, our parenting journeys have far more parallels than seems reasonable. I originally met him in a daydream. One of my favourite mental explorations was always around a human meeting and falling in love or developing a deep friendship with a nature spirit. I never analysed it back then, but I guess it was my way of exploring humanity’s relationship with the natural world. That, coupled with my love of mythology, was the basis of his story. He is the archetypal ‘warrior poet’ – he is, actually, a poet, as well as a first-rate archer. But, more than that, he is just a lovely human being – he has to be in order to win the love of a Silvana: they are very picky! In his original incarnation he was a bit too good to be true, but by the time the book was finished, he wasn’t quite so perfect or so obviously bound to succeed at whatever he turned his hand to. In fact, he became slightly unpredictable, which is what I really like about him. He is utterly honourable but sometimes acts before he thinks – which is wonderful for me, though a bit disconcerting for some of the characters he shares the books with. I have sketched out a few short stories where he appears as a secondary character, but the possibility of spending a little more time with him and getting to know him even better is rather wonderful. Like me, he had a very complex relationship with his mother, which was quite fun to explore, too.

8. Who are your favourite writers?
I’m still reading all of these authors:
The first writer who really inspired me was CS Lewis, I would have been 7. Then I was introduced to Tolkien (I was 9 and I won a copy of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil as a school prize). At 11, at secondary school (this was in England), we read Gerald Durrell’s Bafut Beagles in English class. At 13 a friend insisted I read Ursula le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea as I was insisting she read Lord of the Rings. At 17 or 18 I stumbled across Terry Pratchett, though it would be many years before I fully appreciated his genius. At uni – where I was studying Theology and Religious Studies – I lapped up every fantasy book I could lay my hands on from a small bookshop in Bristol that specialised in the genre, and there I discovered many new authors: Katherine Kurtz was my favourite, with Anne McCaffrey a close second. In my late 20s I read a review of In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin and soon owned everything he had ever written.

The NZ Book Discussion scheme gave me Colin Cotterell – who writes genteel crime novels set in Asia: something I would never have picked up on my own, but I’m very glad I did.

In the last few years I have also discovered some wonderful new authors via the internet and writing sites, Brett Adams and Ashley Capes (both Australian) among them.

And let’s never forget Homer (the Greek one, not Simpson). The Iliad and The Odyssey are long-time favourite reads.

9. Who inspires you to do better? (Be as corny as you’d like… just go for it! Mmmm chocolate fish.)
Other than my terminally unreliable muse, you mean? Currently I’m not very impressed with either my productivity or with how I am using (or rather not using) my full potential. Perhaps if I give this question some serious thought I might actually be inspired to do better. That would be good. Can I come back to this in, say, six months’ time?

10. Do you ever put pants on your dog, cat, or budgie?
Budgies, no. That would be silly.
Sadly, the cat died a few months ago. And she wouldn’t have approved.
One of my dogs is a Samoyed who has enough spare fur to make me extra-warm (or even extra, warm) clothing, so no, not her either. However, the newest member of the family is a greyhound, so of course I do. She has pyjamas, and they have Elmo on them.

(Totally understandable, I also have a greyhound and Romeo adores his jammies. I may be addicted to making him fleecy jammies – Cat. :))

Silvana: The Greening by Belinda Mellor

11. Describe your perfect day.
A balanced one: Some time spent writing; some time spent with my husband and my daughter; some time spent being creative in the house or garden; a little bit of personal development; learning something new; a walk somewhere beautiful; good food and a glass of wine with friends….

Otherwise, a really productive writing day – one of those days with ‘Ah-ha!’ moments regarding plot or character development.

12. Who is your favourite fictitious villain? Or are you all about the hero? Who do you love to hate?
I like anti-heroes, but favourite villain? I’m struggling with that one.

Okay, I sort of cheated and Googled ‘best literary villains’. That wasn’t much help, so I looked up ‘sympathetic villains’. They suggested Severus Snape in Harry Potter but I don’t think he’s really a villain. And Moby Dick certainly doesn’t count! So, having found no inspiration on-line, I’m going to go for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s demon Crowley in Good Omens. I think it’s stretching it to call him the villain, to be honest, but he’s the best I can come up with – and a brilliant character from a brilliant book.

13. Do you have any quirks?

I don’t eat chocolate fish… in fact I try not to eat fructose, except in fresh fruit (and Marmite flavoured chocolate). I’ve been on a bit of an anti-sugar crusade for several years (long before it became fashionable) – but Marmite trumps all (this is UK Marmite, by the way. NZ Marmite has sugar in, and tastes totally different, but I won’t be rude about it. I could be, but I won’t be). I also eat lots of saturated fat. I am tired of being lied to by the food industry.

14. All-time favourite movie and why?
Ooh. Tricky.
Jesus of Montreal – best subtitled film.
History of Violence – best storyline (though not my usual style)
Toy Story (all of them. But #3 if I had to choose) – best animation (and I am a huge animation fan, so that’s saying something).
Oooh! I don’t know. These are hard questions!!! (Yes, I do know what they say about multiple exclamation marks.)
But, I’m going to say Lord of the Rings, because I could watch it more times than any other film and still enjoy it. The reason – because I’ll never forget the heartbreak of listening to Pippin sing as Faramir and his men rode into hopeless battle; nor the shiver I felt when I first saw the lighting of the beacons. I would like to be hypnotised to forget that, and then watch it again as if for the first time.

15. Do you enjoy the editing process?
I don’t hate it. Sometimes it’s hard. But I get a real thrill when I have a sudden inspiration of how to make the work better than it was.

16. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
Here works for me. New Zealand is country #3. I’m English by birth, Irish by blood. We came to New Zealand from Ireland for a year, possibly two – that was ten years ago. There are lots of places I’d still like to explore, but I think I’m home now.

17. Favourite Pizza topping?
I’m quite adventurous when it comes to pizza toppings, so long as the base is thin and crispy and, preferably, hand-made. Lots of cheese, lots of herbs, and then a little bit of this and that and that (anchovies are fine)… We have a wonderful pizzaria in Nelson, besides the cinema. Anything there is okay by me.

18. What were you before you became a writer?
A very small child. As for what other things I’ve done besides being a writer, well, I was a secondary school teacher, but I didn’t enjoy that very much. I’ve had lots of other jobs, but I’ve not actually ‘been’ anything. Happily, I’ve had several jobs that were writing-based.

19. What is the most random thing you have ever done?
I agreed to marry my now-husband twenty-four hours after he came for a visit. I had known him for twenty years but I had only seen him once, and then quite briefly, in the eleven years before we got engaged. Is that random enough? Otherwise, dog-sledding midwinter in Lapland under the Northern Lights…
Oh no. I’ve just dredged up a memory that I suspect I have tried to suppress – I once dressed up in an all-encompassing milk-carton outfit and walked around the streets of Wexford (in Ireland) in a promotional thingy – that was in the days when I was part of an arts theatre company. I couldn’t see a thing and kept tripping up and down the pavements onto the road.

20. If you’re not working, what are you most likely doing?
Either messing around with animals or trying to organise ‘stuff’. I have an excess amount of stuff and it badly needs organising, but it’s not being very cooperative.

Silvana: The Turning by Belinda Mellor

21. Who is your ultimate character?
Faramir in Lord of the Rings (another ‘warrior poet’ type).

22. Whiskey or Bourbon? Red or white wine? Tequila? Beer?
Guinness (my Irish heritage); Red wine (made in New Zealand, of course); Cocktails – not overly sweet (that could be my English upbringing, I guess).

23. What’s in your pockets? (Or handbag, whatever you carry your stuff in. Are you apocalypse prepared?)
Not prepared for anything, I’m afraid. Lots of stuff, almost none of it useful. Except for a teabag. I always carry at least one…

24. Laptop, PC, Mac, tablet?
Mac, always and forever. In any form. The more the merrier.

25. Ebook or tree book?
Tree book. Preferably a book about trees.

26. Favorite apocalyptic scenario?
If it happened in real life? A very sudden, unexpected and instant destruction of everything while I’m asleep would be my choice.

That would make a lousy book though, wouldn’t it? … and they all died, but no one saw it coming. The End.
In the case of zombies, I’d be in trouble. I actually have a longbow, but I’m a lousy shot. I bought my husband a crossbow, but that’s too heavy for me to pull – I guess I’d have to bash them over the head with it.

27. Where do you do most of your writing?
If I know what I’m going to write – that is, if I’ve ‘lived’ the story fully enough in my head – I’ll type it at my desktop Mac, in a little alcove in the living room. If I’m ‘making it up as I go’ then I’ll use a good quality biro and an A4 wide-lined pad and I could be anywhere – except at my desk. Sitting on the bed with the dogs works quite well if it’s colder, or outside on the deck in good weather.

28. What’s the hardest thing for you when it comes to being an author? (For me it’s marketing but for others, it’s the actual writing …)
Marketing – absolutely! I’ve identified my ‘ideal’ reader, at least for Silvana (this is based on feedback, and it’s not what I would have expected): she (yes, she) is slightly older, possibly even older than that, well educated and most likely with an artistic side. She is not a habitual fantasy reader, in fact she very likely doesn’t read any at all, normally. So, she is someone who probably wouldn’t pick up my books unless prompted by a friend and then she’ll be very surprised how much she enjoys them. She also spends minimal time on the internet so doesn’t leave book reviews (but is quite likely to send me a lovely, handwritten note). If anyone has any idea how to reach that demographic I’d be delighted if they’d share that information with me. I was thinking of having tee-shirts printed with the words: ‘I didn’t expect to like this book, but I loved it … when is the next one coming out?’ But I realised it would be pointless as these are not the sort of people who wear tee-shirts with slogans on them – bother! Another marketing idea down the drain.

You made it!! Damn, you rock. Now would you like to try for the chocolate fish? Mind the puddles … but hurry. Power surges are common in the dungeon; you don’t want to have one hand on the metal plate containing that delicious chocolate fish and a foot in a puddle…

That laughter you hear is coming from The Knight, he probably won’t flip that switch he has his hand on. Probably …
Too late! He did flip the switch. My spell check changed randomly to Italian. I couldn’t work out why it was telling me that every. single. word. was ‘not in the dictionary’.

You can find out more about Belinda in the following places …


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