Creative Insight: Rosalyn Kelly

Ros­alyn Kel­ly makes it all sound so easy. She’s not boast­ing, though: she’s just stat­ing facts. Facts that make it sound like her career as an author is des­tine for big things – with or with­out tra­di­tion­al backing.

In two years, this British-born author has gone from the high-pres­sure world of con­sumer mar­ket­ing to cre­at­ing a fan­ta­sy world for her own series of books. She’s fin­ished her first nov­el – the soon-to-be-released Melokai – as well as four short sto­ries, all set in the same medieval land, where women rule the roost. She’s han­dling all her own pub­lish­ing and pro­mo­tion. And she’s already hun­gry for much more.

Fringe Fre­quen­cy spoke to the PR maven-turned-author about her debut nov­el, her love of fan­ta­sy, the self-pub­lish­ing and how her back­ground and career skills have aid­ed in tak­ing her right through from inspi­ra­tion to fin­ished manuscript.

In your own words, what is your book about?
Melokai is the first instal­ment of the In the Heart of the Moun­tains tril­o­gy. It is an epic fan­ta­sy that cen­tres on the ruler, Melokai Ramya, of a moun­tain realm con­trolled by women called Peqkya. Ramya has had a suc­cess­ful reign, her coun­try is peace­ful, pros­per­ous and gen­er­al­ly on an even keel. She’s ruled longer than most Melokai’s and is expect­ing the ancient prophet­ess Sybilya to tell her that her time is up. But instead, Sybilya deliv­ers a prophe­cy which shakes Ramya to the core. Then a strange crea­ture arrives who dis­tracts Ramya from rule just when her full atten­tion is need­ed. Hos­tile rela­tions with Peqkya’s neigh­bours start kick­ing off, the low­ly male peons in Peqkya rebel and she dis­cov­ers the coun­try is not as wealthy as she thought. And not only that, but Sybilya is dying. The prophet­ess is the only known Peqkian with mag­ic and she holds the peo­ple together.

Melokai is a tale of betray­al, revenge, loy­al­ty, love and bru­tal­i­ty. Read­ers can expect deep world build­ing, intrigue, high stakes, unex­pect­ed twists, inter­est­ing and flawed char­ac­ters, unique beings, vivid lan­guage, epic bat­tles and a touch of magic.

Where did the idea come from?
My orig­i­nal idea for Melokai came when I was trekking in Nepal’s stun­ning Anna­pur­na Sanc­tu­ary to Anna­pur­na moun­tain base camp. I start­ed to day­dream about a coun­try sur­round­ed by moun­tains and ruled by women. The trek took 11 days up and down, hik­ing for sev­en hours on some days, so I spent a lot of time in my head and a sto­ry formed.

We’ve not read the book, but is the lead char­ac­ter a black woman? And if so, what made you choose to cen­tre the sto­ry on a black woman – par­tic­u­lar­ly as it’s still very rare for a medieval fan­ta­sy to fea­ture a black heroine?
Melokai cen­tres on a female war­rior called Ramya, ruler of the nation of Peqkya, and the Peqkians are black. From the moment I imag­ined my world, the sto­ry, and the lead char­ac­ter, she was black. I didn’t choose, as such, she just was! I can’t pic­ture her as any­thing else. My inspi­ra­tion for Ramya was ten­nis star Ser­e­na Williams – strong, pow­er­ful, deter­mined, focused, dis­ci­plined, beau­ti­ful and graceful.

How long have you been work­ing on it?
From Melokai sto­ry con­cept through to on sale has tak­en me one year, four months. It was an inten­sive time, with four dis­tinct stages: plan­ning, writ­ing, pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing, lend­ing up to its pub­li­ca­tion day in Octo­ber 2017.

Putting pen to paper after I had my orig­i­nal idea hap­pened pret­ty quick. After my trek in Nepal, I went to stay with a friend who lives in Mus­cat, Oman. She encour­aged me to start, so I pur­chased an A3 pad of plain paper and some felt tip pens (which was the way I used to plan cre­ative com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paigns in my pre­vi­ous job), plot­ted out the sto­ry and what would be in each book. When I returned home from Oman a few days lat­er, in June 2016, I bought myself a lap­top, hun­kered down, and start­ed writ­ing. So, it took a mat­ter of weeks from first idea to first paragraph.

I’m a plan­ner and I made copi­ous notes before I start­ed to write, and then also dur­ing the writ­ing process. I brain­stormed dif­fer­ent angles, themes, and sub­plots, draw­ing big spi­der dia­grams or jot­ting pages of ran­dom thoughts as well as doing lots of research.

I then wrote the first draft in four months, before it went to my beta read­er. I edit­ed based on her feed­back and sent the sec­ond draft to two dif­fer­ent beta read­ers. A third draft went to an edi­tor. After his feed­back, I edit­ed a fourth draft, which went to my mum to proof­read. After tweak­ing, I had the fin­ished man­u­script in July 2017 ready to go into pro­duc­tion. Alto­geth­er, the plan­ning and writ­ing phase took 12 months, with approx­i­mate­ly eight-and-a-half months of that time writ­ing and edit­ing. When the book was with my beta read­ers and edi­tor, I kept myself busy by writ­ing three novel­las and six short stories.

The pro­duc­tion peri­od took four months. This is when I for­mat­ted my Word doc­u­ment into an e‑book and a file for print­ing paper­backs, briefed a book design­er to cre­ate my cov­er as well as com­mis­sioned a fan­ta­sy world map. Once the file was ready, I then uploaded it onto var­i­ous online retail­ers to sell.

Then there was the mar­ket­ing, which I start­ed in Octo­ber 2016, a full year before my on-sale date, and ran con­cur­rent­ly with the writ­ing and production.

Hav­ing left your job in mar­ket­ing, how did you sup­port your­self for the two years you were work­ing on the novel?
When I had the idea for the In the Heart of the Moun­tains tril­o­gy and for the first book, I just had to get it down. I start­ed writ­ing and didn’t stop until I had a first draft. To be able to do that, and focus sole­ly on writ­ing, I moved back in with my par­ents and lived off my sav­ings as well as doing free­lance PR and copy­writ­ing work. I’ve essen­tial­ly put my career on hold to write and pub­lish a book, but I feel very sat­is­fied cre­ative­ly and am pleased I took the risk.

How long have you been a writer?
I’ve always been fond of read­ing, but nev­er wrote cre­ative­ly. My degree is in Eng­lish Lan­guage and Lit­er­a­ture, and I went into a career where I wrote, or edit­ed another’s writ­ing, almost every day for 10 years. In PR and mar­ket­ing, I was con­tin­u­al­ly pro­duc­ing press releas­es, social media con­tent, web­site copy, blog posts, fea­tures, brochures, newslet­ter copy, pre­sen­ta­tions, and so on. And although it wasn’t cre­ative writ­ing, I had to ensure the words were engag­ing, told a sto­ry and spoke to the tar­get read­er. It also meant I wasn’t scared of a blank page. I invari­ably had tight dead­lines to meet, and it taught me not to wait to be inspired or to only write when I was in the mood, I just got on with it whether I felt like it or not. And that has helped with my writ­ing career: I just get on with it! Melokai is the first fic­tion­al piece of writ­ing I have produced.

Tell us about the jour­ney from PR to author. How much did that influ­ence the book?
I worked pre­dom­i­nant­ly in con­sumer PR and gen­er­al­ly part of big inte­grat­ed cam­paigns which demand­ed cre­ativ­i­ty. In my last job, before switch­ing to writ­ing, I was a cre­ative strate­gist, where I was required to con­tin­u­al­ly use my imag­i­na­tion to gen­er­ate new and inter­est­ing ways to pro­mote var­i­ous clients and prod­ucts. This dai­ly flex­ing of my cre­ative mus­cle for work helped enor­mous­ly when I came to write fic­tion! I feel very lucky because I can always think of some­thing to write about and, so far, I haven’t expe­ri­enced writer’s block.

The pro­mo­tion of my book has tak­en a lot of time, but, thank­ful­ly, I enjoy social media, and mar­ket­ing comes nat­u­ral­ly to me after a decade of work­ing in the indus­try. I post to my social chan­nels almost every day and write reg­u­lar blogs. I taught myself about book adver­tis­ing, set up a web­site and estab­lished an email newslet­ter list, and gen­uine­ly have fun. I love inter­act­ing with peo­ple I’ve met online.

Where did your pas­sion for fan­ta­sy come from?
First­ly, I think from my child­hood. I was extreme­ly for­tu­nate to grow up with two sets of involved grand­par­ents who encour­aged imag­i­na­tive play and were great sto­ry­tellers. I spent most of my ear­ly years romp­ing around cas­tle ruins or state­ly homes, on the beach day­dream­ing or explor­ing the New For­est, and learn­ing about its his­to­ry and leg­ends. I also went to a school that is famous­ly haunt­ed. Our fam­i­ly hol­i­days involved cul­ture and his­to­ry, and I was always read­ing and escap­ing to my own made-up worlds.

I’m def­i­nite­ly influ­enced by oth­er fan­ta­sy books and films, as well as all kinds of fic­tion. One of my favourite “geeky” things is to read Nation­al Geo­graph­ic and New Sci­en­tist, as these mag­a­zines often spark ideas for fan­tas­ti­cal set­tings and the nat­ur­al world is full of end­less wonder.

I love the escape from real­i­ty that writ­ing about an imag­i­nary place brings. I find it very inspir­ing to cre­ate my own fan­ta­sy world, and all the rules and nuances in it, rather than be restrict­ed to real life. Also, there is a lot of rub­bish going on in our every­day lives that I often like to invert or re-imag­ine. I ask myself: what if it was all turned on its head?

How are you find­ing self-publishing?
I’m very hap­py self-pub­lish­ing, and that’s most­ly because I’m impa­tient. I had a feel­ing that I would self-pub­lish when I start­ed writ­ing Melokai. I did the usu­al thing and sent my man­u­script off to lit­er­ary agents and then got bored wait­ing for replies, so start­ed all the wheels in motion to self-pub­lish any­way. It took months to get respons­es and rather than send out a sec­ond round of emails to more agents, I decid­ed to go it alone. If I’d got a yes from an agent, it might be months or years to secure a pub­lish­er, then anoth­er year or so to see my book on the shelf, and I wasn’t pre­pared to wait that long.

Pos­i­tives for me include: speed, com­plete cre­ative con­trol over every aspect of the book, no reliance on oth­ers, and no inter­fer­ence from oth­ers – you are the mas­ter of your own destiny.

How­ev­er, there are neg­a­tives: a steep learn­ing curve at first, which can be over­whelm­ing, but on the pos­i­tive side, once learned it’s nev­er dif­fi­cult again. And some hold the opin­ion that self-pub­lish­ing is the poor rela­tion to tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing. I remind peo­ple that EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, Andy Weir’s The Mar­t­ian and Hugh Howey’s Wool all start­ed out as self-pub­lished books.

Who’s your favourite author? And what’s the favourite book?
I find this one very hard to answer, because I have so many favourites. I could list these out, but this answer would go on for­ev­er… I enjoy books for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. For exam­ple, ones that made me cry when I need­ed a good cry, ones that have mas­sive­ly enter­tained me, ones that have taught me some­thing new, ones that make me think about them for days after, ones that stoked my belief in love and so on. Hon­est­ly, I can’t pick one!

My favourite book so far in 2017 has been Pater­nus by Dyrk Ash­ton. It’s a unique blend of urban, con­tem­po­rary and myth­i­cal fan­ta­sy. I’ve been rec­om­mend­ing that quite a bit to peo­ple lately.

Final­ly, what’s next for you?
I’m cur­rent­ly in the plan­ning phase for book two of the In the Heart of the Moun­tains tril­o­gy. It will be called V and focus­es on the events that hap­pen imme­di­ate­ly after the close of Melokai. V must pick up the pieces of a bro­ken Peqkya and set­tle some scores with errant neigh­bours, all the while fig­ur­ing out how to deal with the new mag­ic in the world. Book three will see the prophe­cy spo­ken at the start of Melokai com­ing to fruition with some epic battles.

There are two short sto­ries (Peon­hood, Ruby’s Return) and a novel­la (The Fall of Vaasar) cur­rent­ly avail­able which are set in the same world as In the Heart of the Moun­tains. All are pre­quels. I’ll be releas­ing anoth­er novel­la, called The Sand Scut­tler, in 2018. Also planned is a sec­ond tril­o­gy set one thou­sand years before ITHOTM with Sybilya, the Stone Prophet­ess, as the main char­ac­ter. It will detail with the birth of Peqkya and female-dom­i­nat­ed rule. Plus, there are three more novel­las in the pipeline, all telling of var­i­ous impor­tant events in the world’s his­to­ry. I also have ideas for stand­alone nov­els and series set in new worlds. I’ve got some seri­ous writ­ing to do!

Melokai by Ros­alyn Kel­ly will be released on Octo­ber 11, 2017. You can pur­chase the book here, and keep up with the author’s projects on her offi­cial web­site.

Images: cour­tesy of Ros­alyn Kelly