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!
Images: courtesy of Rosalyn Kelly