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Interview with Sarah Ash
Interview by Richard Bray

British author Sarah Ash is about to release the second book in her well-received “Tears of Artomon” series. “Prisoner of Ironsea Tower” will be released in the U.K. in May, and will be released August 3 in the United States under the title “Prisoner of the Iron Tower.”

Ash’s Web site can be found at


Fiction Factor: In the first book of the Tears of Artamon series, Lord of Snow and Shadows, you round out each character so there is no purely evil antagonist. How important has this been to the book’s success? Was this something you consciously considered while plotting the book? 

Sarah Ash: I’d find it difficult to write a purely evil antagonist, (or a perfect hero!) as I would always be wondering what made him or her act in that way – and that kind of wondering always leads to delving deeply into a character’s motivations and background. And once you’ve delved, it’s impossible not to develop a certain sympathy or understanding.

I’ve always been fascinated by history, and in writing The Tears of Artamon, one of the things I  wanted to explore was the situation where, in troubled times, one country’s heroic leader turns out to be another country’s tyrant. Eugene of Tielen started off as just such a ruthless tyrant – except that once I knew he was also the protective father of an ailing daughter,  he came to life for me – and, I hope, the readers.

I think many readers have also identified with the terrible dilemma of Gavril, the young artist who becomes the lord of snow and shadows, and that identification has been vital to the book’s success. But as to consciously considering this while plotting the book...well, here I should come clean and say that at heart I’m an instinctive writer. I ‘see’ scenes and listen to the characters. Other writers come at the same task much more methodically. Each to his/her own! 

FF: Lord of Snow and Shadows has a beautiful cover. How much input did you have in the cover art and how does that process usually work?

SA: The talented artist is Stephen Youll. I had no input in the cover art – except to make cries of appreciation when I saw the cover flats! In my experience, authors tend not to be involved in the commissioning process, which is handled by the editor and the art editor, although at the tweaking stage, we may be asked about the odd detail. It’s always fascinating to see what an artist makes of your world. The resulting picture may be quite different from the pictures you’ve been working with in your head, but another viewpoint is always welcome and stimulating. My UK cover artist is the Tolkien artist John Howe and he has produced a very different – but no less striking – series of images for the first two books. I can’t wait to see what both artists will conjure up for Book Three! [Editor’s Note: Youll’s artwork for the cover of Lord of Snow and Shadows has been nominated for the Chesley Award for the best color illustration for a hardback book. The award will be presented this September at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston, Mass.]

FF: The Tears of Artamon series is set in a world that seems to have a strong Russian/Eastern European influence. Did you conduct research on the region before writing the book? How important was this setting to separating your book from other fantasy works on the market?

SA: I grew up with a love for Russian and Eastern European folktales and legends which I came to through the wonderful music from that part of the world (Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’, Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Russian Easter Festival Overture’ and ‘Tsar Saltan’ etc. ) So I was already steeped in the atmosphere long before the idea for the series gelled. But once the story began to take shape, then I had much fun doing research. Not too much research, because these are not historical novels, but just enough to give a sense of authenticity to the five princedoms. For example, Tielen has a strong Swedish element, whereas Smarna was inspired by Georgia and the Black Sea resorts.

It’s true that many fantasy novels take place in a quasi-medieval setting and some critics complain that this can lead to a kind of sameness in the material. If the story is imaginative and compelling, then no matter what the setting, it will find readers. Nevertheless, a less familiar setting or a new approach to ‘old’ material can be very refreshing.

Lord of Snow and Shadows features multiple third-person viewpoints. How do you juggle so many different viewpoints effectively?

SA: It’s a matter of timing and balance, and for me, that’s an instinctive thing (I just have to trust my author’s sixth sense!). Sometimes, I try writing a scene from different points of view and choose the viewpoint that will advance the story in the most effective way. It’s a great way to get to know the characters, even if the material doesn’t go into the final draft.

You’ve written several stand-alone books, but this is your first published series. What are the biggest differences between writing a stand-alone book and a series? Is one more difficult than the other?

SA: The canvas, the cast and the theme have to be much bigger in a series. (Although I always set up possibilities for future expansion in each of my stand-alone novels, just in case I ever had the chance to return for a sequel... ) But the same amount of world-building has to go into a stand-alone novel as a series. So, in some ways, a series is easier as all the set-up that goes into the first book will (or should!) pay off in subsequent volumes.

Oftentimes the second book in a trilogy can be the most difficult to write because you have neither a true beginning nor a true conclusion. How did you overcome this in Prisoner of the Iron Tower?

SA: Originally Book One ended with Gavril’s arrest. But my wise editors persuaded me to postpone this until Book Two. They were (of course!) absolutely right, as this avoided ending Book One on a cliff-hanger and gave a much more complete feel to the conclusion of Book One. In “Prisoner of the Iron Tower”,  new characters are introduced and the story moves to new areas, both geographically and emotionally. By the end of Book Two, there is far less of a sense of closure than in the first book. Some issues have been resolved but these in themselves have provoked far more serious problems that will have to be dealt with in Book Three.

Your sister, Jessica Rydill, and your cousin, Vicki Howie, are both professional authors as well. What is it that has allowed all three of you to find success in this field?  

SA: Persistence. None of us had our work accepted on the first, fifth, or tenth attempt. But we kept trying! 

A love of story-telling, which was almost certainly engendered in us by our grandmother, Jessie Newman, who made up wonderful stories to amuse us when we were small.

And for Jessica and me, our parents, Eve and Louie, both of whom read to us from a very early age and communicated their fascination with words and the meaning of words. 

On your Web site, it is clear that music is a big part of your writing process. Tell us about some of the music you listen to as you write and what influence it has on your product.

SA: When I first started scribbling down stories as a child, I often wrote because music I’d been listening to had shown me pictures in my head.

Now I find that listening to music helps me to concentrate when I’m writing. (Shameful! says  the trained musician in me.) I use certain pieces to create the right atmosphere. In writing “Prisoner”, I used Sibelius’s ‘Kullervo’. It’s a magical work for singers and orchestra, based on Finnish legends, and, like so much of Sibelius’s work, it evokes a bleak northern landscape. I was also inspired by ‘Rondo of the  Waves’, a fascinating collection of Sibelius’s early works by Osmo Vanska, including some theatre pieces and even an emperor’s ‘Coronation March’; all are wonderfully romantic and dramatic, almost like film music. Which brings me to the Russian composer Sviridov and his colourful film music, especially ‘Snow Storm’, with its Troika ride and elegant waltz; perfect for Muscobar or Azhkendir. I also used David Arnold’s score for ‘The Musketeer’ which brilliantly captures that spirit of élan and excitement from the original story. I guess I’m still a romantic at heart!

Again, thank you for answering my questions. I understand how busy you are, and I appreciate the time you have taken for this interview.

SA: Thank you so much for asking me!

© Copyright 2004 Richard Bray. All rights reserved

Richard Bray is a 24-year-old journalist in the Houston, Texas area. He runs a 1,000-member online fantasy writer’s group at


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