I adore that cover – and I’m so sorry that today is another frustrating “just couldn’t fit in the reading” day, because what lies between the covers really looks rather good too. Stone Circle by Kate Murdoch was published by Fireship Press on 1st December, and is available in paperback, for kindle, and in all other e-book formats.
Is the ability to read minds a blessing or a curse?
When Antonius’s father dies, he must work to support his family. He finds employment as a servant in the Palazzo Ducal, home of Conte Valperga. Sixteenth-century Pesaro is a society governed by status and Antonius has limited opportunities.
When a competition is announced, Antonius seizes his chance. The winner will be apprenticed to the town seer. Antonius shares first place with his employer’s son.
The two men compete for their mentor’s approval. As their knowledge of magic and alchemy grows, so does the rivalry and animosity between them. When the love of a beautiful woman is at stake, Antonius must find a way to follow his heart and navigate his future.
I’m delighted to welcome author Kate Murdoch to Being Anne to tell us more…
Welcome, Kate! Would you like to introduce yourself?
I’m an artist turned writer. Stone Circle is my debut novel after fourteen years exhibiting as a painter. Although I enjoyed those years, I’m excited to be in a new phase, expressing myself in a different medium.
Before we even begin to talk about Stone Circle, I must ask you about that wonderful cover. There’s an exceptional clarity to the image of the town, and an aura of mystery around the image above it. Tell me where it came from, and what you wanted it to represent.
I’m also a former graphic designer, so I was quite opinionated about the cover and how I wanted it to look. The designer was very good at capturing the different elements I imagined, and we just played around with scale, colours, placement and fonts. The town represents Pesaro, the fishing village on the Adriatic coast depicted in the story. The eagle refers to the transformation that takes place, with the characters having the ability, through alchemy, of changing into birds and flying. The moon is important, because of the full moon rituals that occur. I wanted the cover to suggest the normal life of the town contrasting with the magical practices and rituals unfolding at night.
I understand the story is a historical fantasy – how much history, how much fantasy, and how difficult was it to get the balance right?
There is more history and the realities of daily life than fantasy. The magic happens within a strong framework of typical Renaissance life—the elements of fantasy are woven in. My aim was to show day-to-day life as realistically as possible, but also make it relatable to present day, through the emotions and close relationships of the characters. I was also interested in depicting alchemy as part of this normality. To explore it as integrated within the society — a means for people to predict outcomes and plan their lives. In terms of the balance, it was very instinctive and not difficult.
And the research for this one – how did you fix on 16th century Italy as your setting? And how did you go about the research?
Initially, I had a dream about an old man and two young men in a canoe on a tranquil stretch of water. I knew the man was imparting knowledge and that it was a long time ago. It was then a matter of finding the time period. I came across alchemy as a practice that was reaching its pinnacle during the Renaissance—a melding of philosophy, science, occultism and theology. It was an ‘aha’ moment—I knew it needed to be the focus of my story and that it was the ideal period.
In terms of research I had a wonderful book called Daily Life in Renaissance Italy which was useful for small details of the characters’ lives and information about the societal structure. Hermetic Alchemy: Science and Practice was invaluable for the background on alchemy and its basic principles. I also did a lot of internet research.
And I’m guessing that that the magic and mysticism was already something you were interested in?
Definitely. I’ve had a lifelong interest in the unseen and unknown. Over a period of twenty years, I’ve absorbed knowledge about Eastern philosophies and religions through reading and attending teachings. I lived for a year in Hong Kong and have travelled extensively through Asia, so this enhanced my interest. The religion I’ve studied the most is Tibetan Buddhism and I also practice Reiki healing.
How difficult was it to tackle a novel when your previous work was flash fiction and short stories? What were the particular challenges?
I wrote a novel before Stone Circle, a supernatural thriller. Despite interest from a publisher it never made it into the world, but I am thankful for it as a learning experience. Through redrafting and having it professionally assessed, I learnt a lot about the basics of crafting a novel and gained enough confidence to try again. I think as a writer you never have a moment of ‘I’ve nailed it, I know what I’m doing.’ It’s a constant feeling of trying to improve and learn, to challenge yourself. Although, you at least know, after a couple of novels, that it’s something you’re capable of.
Planning, writing, editing, getting ready for launch – what’s been your favourite part of the whole process? And the most difficult?
I love the research, both before I begin a story and as I write. It keeps the momentum going because the details you discover often spark ideas for the plot. The writing itself is also a joy—to be absorbed in the worlds I’m creating and spending time with my characters as I work out who they are. I often find that they direct the narrative, tell me what to do. The most difficult part is the extroversion required to promote my work.
And how about you, the writer. Had you always wanted to write novels? And when you decided to do so, did you simply sit at your keyboard and write?
I was a bookish child and always wrote stories growing up and into early adulthood. My first attempt at a novel was during my teens. I was inspired by a holocaust novel I’d read, and my mother faithfully typed up the handwritten pages. Yet, when I left school, I was fortunate to secure a place at art school and it seemed fated that painting would be my career. It was only much later, in my early 30’s that the desire to write returned when I had a dream about a specific character and attempted to bring him to life. Eight months later I had a manuscript and a drive to express myself in this form that has remained.
And how do you write? What’s a typical writing day?
I’m terrible in the mornings, so usually don’t get started until the middle of the day. I then write for at least an hour, or research if necessary. On days where procrastination seeps in, I have been known to write 500 words in the half hour before school pick up.
Your website is excellent – was it something you enjoyed putting together, or just a necessary piece of the toolkit?
Thank you. Yes, it was fun to work out the different categories required and create something that (I hope) is relatively simple and clean. Being a WordPress site, it’s quite easy to change and update as my career develops and new menus are needed.
And what writers do you particularly admire? if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
I’m inspired by writers from diverse perspectives and genres. M.L. Stedman, Hannah Kent, Doris Lessing, Kate Grenville, Haruki Murakami, Markus Zusak, Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson among others. I have also been influenced by the lyrical style and magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coelho.
And now I’d really like to know more about your next book… already in progress?
My next book, The Orange Grove, has been signed with US publisher, Regal House Publishing. It will be released in early 2019. It’s a dark and decadent novel about the intrigues and passions of a group of mistresses in 18th century France. I have started the editing process and am excited about sharing this novel with readers.
And maybe that will be my opportunity to catch up with your writing, Kate. Thank you so much for joining me, and I wish you every success with Stone Circle.
About the author
Kate Murdoch is the author of Stone Circle. She exhibited widely as a painter both in Australia and internationally and was a finalist in a number of prize shows before turning her hand to writing. In between writing historical fiction, she enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction. Her short-form fiction is regularly published in Australia, UK, US and Canada.
Stone Circle is a historical fantasy novel set in Renaissance Italy. It was released by Fireship Press December 1st 2017. Her novel, The Orange Grove, about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in 18th century France, will be published by Regal House Publishing in 2019.