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Feb. 16, 2023

Lilly Inkwood and the Fantasy Spy Thriller

Lilly Inkwood and the Fantasy Spy Thriller

The best place to set a spy thriller.

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One of the things we love at Mythmakers is to meet new fantasy authors. Germany-based author, Lilly Inkwood, originally from Easter Europe and who writes in impeccable English, is about to launch the first of her fantasy trilogy with HarperCollins called ‘The Kingdom is a Golden Cage’ (coming out in the Summer). Hear how she takes inspiration from real history, as well as fairy tales, to produce a story which reads like a twisty spy thriller. You'll never look at Puss in Boots the same way again! Stick around for Lilly and Julia's top tips for fantasy writing.

0:00:04 Hello, and welcome to Mythmakers. Mythmakers is the pod class for fantasy fans and fantasy creatives brought to you by the Oxford Center for Fantasy. My name is Julia Golding I'm an author and director of the center. And one of the things we really love doing at the center is meeting new to us authors who are writing in the area of fantasy. And today, I am joined by Lily Inkwood, who has a novel called The kingdom is a golden cage which is coming out with HarperCollins in the summer. So good morning to Lily. Lily, tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are to be found. Hi, Julia, and thank you so much for having me on the podcast. I am absolutely thrilled to be here and talk to you about the first book in my upcoming fantasy series. 0:00:58 I have been writing for a few years I've started by writing historical fiction. I've always been fascinated by history. I read a lot of history even when I was a student. And I just loved reading that and four cakes and mix. And I think I needed quite a few years before you that my favorite books, favorite movies, favorite series were fantasy. And before I try to make a foray into the genre, so this is the kick them is a gold gauge. And as you said, it's coming out this year. And I'm very, very excited for the readers to meet my characters And this crazy world inspired a bit by medieval Europe, but with very, very bolder twist. I hope you'll agree with me. Yes. Now Lily is also a full time mom as many of us are who who take to writing. And so if you hear a few happy noises of there are a few children in the household. 0:02:00 So, Lily, where are you based? Where where's your home? I live in Germany, but I am an immigrant. So actually, English is foreign language to me, I write in English. I started writing English when I took that up a few years ago. But if you think that my accent is a bit funny. Well No. No. Not at all. I'm just I'm just actually reeling with astonishment. Actually, you're writing in English and there's been no translator in between us and this because you would not know everybody. And I've read the book and there's actually no feeling of it having been translated or you're brilliant or English is brilliant. Oh, wow. It just puts me to shame. I could I could not do that. I could not do that. 0:02:44 So before we talk about the process of your writing, can we have a little tiny plot summary what are you putting on the back of your book so people can locate it as a as a read? So Celine is a princess who is being pressed by her father to marry, but she didn't want to do that for years and years since her lover Hugo simply vanished off the face of the earth when he tried to claim his birthright, the duchy of Langley. The problem is when HUGO comes back five years later, he comes back in the shape of a cat. Well, Hugo has always been a shape shape, and the problem is he cannot switch back to his own shape. The one of a human. But he has a plan how he can inherit that, destroy the spells that are binding him, and get a grip on the statue, which which he thinks is is, at least. So, yeah, Within that, we we can see there are fairy tale elements, but I I first want to talk to you about the use of real history because What that summary doesn't give a sense of and it can't because it's a summary, is that this is actually it feels as though it's part of real politics. 0:04:01 And you said it was based on the politics of medieval Europe. How do you go about getting ideas from real history? Are you, you know, trained as historian or you just reader of historical works. How do you go about it? Oh, as a high schooler, as a student, I've read tons of history from ancient history, Rome, Greece, medieval history, historical books, and I've been very passionate about it. I actually think I should have studied that probably, but it wasn't considered as career choice by my parents that could earn me money in the long term. Remember, I come from Eastern Europe and I think it's really difficult there to make a living as a historian, as a writer. So I went on to study something else completely. 0:04:52 But the thing is, every time I start writing, everything I've ever read sort of seeps into what I'm writing. So I always have a very loose plan of what I'm about to write. For instance, I had a few clap twists in mind when I started writing that came with them is Golden cage and Iowa was at a point last year when I wanted something fun in this case, and I couldn't find it. So I thought, okay, I'm gonna write it. I'm gonna live in this world. I will live it what I'm about to write. And as the plot unfolded, as they put that into page, everything I've ever read, I think, stepped into that. And then course, I've started doing research when I thought, okay, I could make this a bit more realistic. 0:05:39 I've read a lot about town and city in the medieval ages, about the middle ages, also in Germany, about the emperor, Pedic Parparossa, maybe okay. This is the not what I can tell you about this. So you may notice the metaphor of the Falcon. Did you know that Barbara Rosa was a very passionate Feltner, and he actually wrote the manual in the middle ages about Feltnering. So that's exactly a really good example of how something about a real person and a real sort of thread in history can then be wonderfully productive for for fantasy. I think is it Margaret Atwood who says she never writes anything that's not happened somewhere. So there there is this this reliance that we all have as fantasy writers on real real things. So moving away from medieval Europe with its multitude of little nations and rivalries and armies and all the rest of it. And moving over and I wish, of course, we're really we're then used differently and play things like Game of Thrones. 0:06:53 Moving over to your take, which is to meld this with fairy tale. The first fairy fairy tale I noticed as I was reading it was puts in boots. Because it starts with one of the ways that pussy boots persuades the Parisian king to take his master with him is to leave him naked by the side of the road saying his clothes has been stolen. And that's more or less a version of that. More or less happens, doesn't it with Philippe? Yes, precisely. Cussing Woods was a very thank you for pointing that out of course was a very important source of inspiration for the kingdom as a golden cage because I love reading fairytale retellings. And I always wondered with Pussing goods, the folktale. You see this plot developed where the punch and his master tricked the king and the princess into faith into a castle, so to say, and into the princess's hands. And I always wondered, how did the princess feel about that? We never hear in the story how the princess felt about being tricked into marriage with a man whom she actually doesn't know. So basically, that's the kingdom as a golden age. It's from the seen from the perspective of the princess. How would she feel about it? About being tricked into it? And how would it be if the princess tried to do some tricking herself? So in addition to Pusen boots, were there any other of the sort of great well known fairy tales that you were using? More like tropes, I suppose, rather than very tall, whole plots. 0:08:42 I think big theme in fairy tales and myths is shift shifting. I think you can find it across all Europe in one shape of yeah. Or the other. Including in the Nordic mythology and Scandinavian mythology. Loki is Indian a shape shifter, maybe the most famous shape shifter of the model. Even freya has Falcon skin, which he uses. Two shape shift into Falcon and Visible. So I think people have always been fascinating detonated by shape shifting and how would it be to assume the skin of different animals. And I also find it particularly interesting how shape shifting is used as a trope in fairy tales across all Europe. And I mean, also Eastern European fairy tales. I've grown up in Eastern Europe, I've mention that. And of course, I'd grown up with those fairy tales, so the heroes there are from the shape shift to trick the villain into something. And I think that's basically what Loki also does when shape shifting. She gets into a lot of trouble. And then he has to solve the situation somehow in the advantage of the guard. So I was I think I wasn't thinking consciously about that when I wrote the Kingdom Isabelle cage, but I think that sept into the structure So while you're using sort of fairy tales structure of, you know, a kingdom with a king, you know, animals like a shape changing cat and things like that. 0:10:24 Actually, I really got into the book when I realized that what you were doing underneath all of those other layers is you were writing a spy thriller because that's the kind of plot it is. It has lots of twists, lots of people who have there are pairs of people with the genders who are trying to knock each other out and undermine each other. It's like one great big game with that board game diplomacy where different people are competing for the kingdom. Well, you were conscious that you were doing that. Have you got, like, spy thriller writers that you admire, that you were thinking of emulating, or is it something you just came upon by almost by exploration and mistake? 0:11:08 I do read fillers. I think I read about everything from literary to thriller and fantasy historical romance, but I wasn't thinking consciously about it I was just so into the story and I thought, okay, how can I make this even more surprising to the reader? And what would this character do now? And just by laying out the situation with the different Nordic parties, you get these situations of conflict that maybe I hadn't consciously planned but just sepped into the page, just port out into the page. And I think what I should mention that I'm a huge fan of Game of Thrones. And I think what I admire most in the song of Ice Empire series was exactly the use of history. I mean, you can completely see with George and Armar and how he uses the sources of European history and Asian history into creating these different faults and these worrying parties. And I didn't sit off constantly trying to emulate that, but I think that's what appeals to me as a reader also. So it would make sense that I would try maybe to write something like that. Yeah. So if if you're out there, I think, oh, I don't want to read a fairy tale. Actually, you're not really reading a fairy tale. You're reading a spy thriller that has a fairy tale world setting, which I think was was a really fun take on the retailing of a fair retail. 0:12:39 Another thing I noticed is I was reading it that you have a repeated trope or no. Not a joke. A repeated structural point where you say, you've changed point of view and you say, here's my story. This is how it happens. So sometimes they're flash back and and sometimes they are descriptions of what's in the mind of an an auto you know, I would say the main character was Celine, who's the princess in the story, but there are other main characters including Maggley who's I suppose she I suppose she'd say she's in the wicked stepmother role if there is such a thing. You know, she she sort of you're not quite sure if she's good or if she's bad or or what she is, which and and as a shape changer, that stands to reason. But we get quite a few moments where we switch to her point of view. What were you trying to achieve with that? I mean, I know what what the effect on the reader is, but what was your aim as you set out with that structural idea? Thank you so much for this question, I've been raring to answer it because I did have a plan. 0:13:49 I think history is always subjective. And even the way we remember things that might have happened to us even ten or fifteen years ago that's always distorted. And if you sometimes ask the two different persons about the same event. They might recount different versions of the same event. Or from their perspective, event played out differently. And I think you can see that a lot in the way legends are are built around certain personalities even nowadays through social media. I think that's also an element of gas it because some events may be changed into something completely different when you try to see the best or the worst in a person. 0:14:38 And I think what I've been most consciously doing that was when I told the story of how the duchy of Langley was created and the people at its heart who two generations before the events in the kingdom is a golden cage, have actually set up the duchies. So you hear different stories about the first duke and the duchess and you don't know which to believe but I think that's also very valid for the ways religions were born. I think I've read some quite a while ago that many of the gods and goddess figures in ancient mythology were born from real people, real rulers could grow into legends. So I think that's what I'm trying to show in this fantasy world how real people grew into those legends, and I hope you'll have the opportunity later in the series to go back from the stories that have been woven around these personalities back to the real people and see what happened there, what really happened there, what changed the course of the history in this kingdom. So and I think one one of the things about doing that is, of course, you you end up with split sympathies. So you may think, oh, I'm on, you know, team Celine or team Philippe or whatever it is. But then you'll see Magalie looking at Celine thinking, oh, that annoying princess, you know, why does she do what I tell her. So you get You don't settle as firmly as you might otherwise do as a supporter of one particular version of this this history. 0:16:12 So I want to also, there's two big themes in the novel which we haven't touched on. I'll only briefly touched on. One is shape changing and the other is the issue of freedom. So let's take shape changing first. You mentioned that Loki does this. I mean, it's all over Greek myths, isn't it? It definitely trans transform me into a bush and all that all that stuff. 0:16:38 In your magic of shape changing in your world, when somebody changes into a shape like an animal or another person. Is it purely a skin that they put on so that when they are being a lion, that they are letting out the ferocity that says, or do they actually sort of become that creature? So it is a difference there, I think. They're always themselves but with a different skin. So in order to answer that question, I'd have to tell you a bit about the rules of this world, which is that there are gifts that majors exhibit in the Red Kingdom. And there are spells, but spells are forbidden. They are arcane knowledge, only known to very few people, which is mostly the Joanne of the Magic School, the Golden Potillion. So when a shape shifter uses their gift to change into a creature, then they would still be themselves thinking and acting as themselves. But when they have changed into a shape and they are bound by spells to keep that shape, unable to change back into their old point command form, then do the changes at mental level come in. And then they began feeling, acting, thinking more like the animal they have changed themselves into before being found into that shape. So so it's a process of transformation by having the physical experience of being something else. 0:18:21 So a car no. Not mentioning any names, but say a character is transformed into a mouse. They aren't a mouse to start with, but the longer they're a mouse, the more mouse like they would come. Yeah. Because there's a danger trapping somebody in a shape like that. Definitely. Yeah. 0:18:40 So that goes into the second theme, which is Oh, and I should just say it's very important for anyone who's writing a fantasy to work out the rules of your magic. It's like one of the first things you can you should think about. Is their magic? And what what are the rules? Is it infinite magic, limited magic, you know? Anyway, so going to the theme about caging and uncaging. 0:19:06 Almost everybody in your book seems to want to cage people. Either literally cage them or put them in a position that traps them. So caged by the nature of their role in life. And there's one person who sort of moves against that who doesn't want to be caged. I don't think he's a plot spoiler to say that because Felipe is always like this from the beginning. He's more living outside that. But I would say, it's evidence that even even he ends up. I mean, there are some things which I think where everybody ends up going along with this idea that everyone has to be trapped engaged. 0:19:51 So is this how you see that world based on the sort of medieval kingdom world that actually Nobody can really be free, and who would be free in in that world? Yes. I do think in the medieval times, there were a huge amount of rules by which people lived and very little social mobility from a certain level. So if someone was born a farmer, they would most likely die a farmer. They just didn't have the possibility to move upwards into the world. And I think that was even more caging, as you've said, than nowadays. And I think it was particularly true for women. There were very few that could move outside of the rules that were prescribed to them. And I think And what I would like the reader to do when reading the kingdom is a golden gauge, is thinking that Celine and Magalee in their mentality, they are products of that age. 0:20:52 I wish they would look at these characters not through the eyes of someone of a woman who lives nowadays who has access to education who can who is allowed to work. I think I would like Selene and Nagali to be looked at as products of that society because society and how we grow up shapes the way we see the world. And I think we can still see that in Celine because she does not want power for herself. She isn't the realm breaker that would upturn the laws because it is hard to break out of a certain mindset that we grow up with. And even Magalei's mindset, we have to remember she is in her forties, now she's much more experienced. She has lived through very difficult times, and that is also a product of her experience. But we are often set up to live by the rules we grow up with. And I I really hope that the reader feels that when it comes to Celine and how she sees the world and her own goals. Yes. And I think that Celine is definitely the one who, for me, goes on the biggest journey. Up to maturity that working out. Well, if I get this power, what do I do with it? It's really the the question that she's grappling all the way along Okay. So I hope that we've done justice to your book. 0:22:20 I noticed that you have mentioned at the end that you're hoping to carry on and expand this world into a trilogy. Will he be staying with the same characters or Have you planned it? Or is it just an idea in your head at the moment? Where are you on that? No. That is a journey. 0:22:40 I have written two and a half books already, so the case is just the first one. And I I I think that's very helpful because I've I wrote my first quartet, which is for children, the companion's quartet. I wrote I wrote that all before the first one was published, which meant I was able to go back and put in the first one, things that I only thought of when I was writing, the last one. So it looks as though it, you know, it ties it all together nicely. So it's no no bad thing to have it all in the bottom drawer. It's it's the best because it it helped me come to grips with the world building and isn't it so cool when you have written, made much of the books that are supposed to come after the first one. And then you can just layer it all in the first one. And I think the reader can really see that. 0:23:29 And drop some maybe tongue in cheek kids to something that would come out later, which maybe don't make much sense now. Like, mention of Mermaid's Lake when Celine travels with her father towards Landy. You might want to think about that or when Celine is in the library, and she comes across a book about her grandparents, practically, and someone has written on the edge of So, yeah. Yeah. You can put this little hint and be a little smart about it and think you'll see later what I mean. Yeah. Yeah. It's one that's great fun. It's part of the fun of writing, isn't it? 0:24:14 So we always have a a set in the podcast where we say, where in all the fantasy worlds is the best place for something. And because I've been describing your book, Lily, as like a fairy tale spy thriller. I thought it'd be fun to ask where in all the fantasy world is the best place to set a spy thriller outside, obviously, our own worlds. If you were going to, you know, have another go at those. But in a completely different zone, but where would you go? I think the format works very well with the Game of Thrones. I I think that doesn't come as a surprise, a huge surprise. No. That doesn't come as a surprise. Yeah. Yes. That's the perfect setting of back stabbing and spies and people minding their own business when cleaning to do something else entirely. And I think it's also written as a spy trailer from certain points of view. So I've said I'm a huge fan of George R. Martin, what she's created. 0:25:18 There, of course, I've been reading much more romantically lady. Interesting trivia. I did not know that such a thing as romantic exists before I'd actually written the kingdom as a golden cage. I was always fascinated by fantasy and I thought Yeah. I'd be terrible at writing fantasy because it would be too soft and too inclining towards romance because that's what I to weed. And this was, like, the biggest secret of my life, like, hunter white, battles better or -- Mhmm. -- grittier fantasy. 0:25:50 And then I wrote this book because the impulse to do it was just too strong. I sent it to my editor and why I was waiting for Charlotte to see what she says about it. I came across Serajay Mas and Stephanie Garbor and Jennifer Arment proud And it was a huge revelation. It was like, I have all my tribe. These are my people. These people write what I love to read. Yeah. So it's been a journey for me too as a reader also. Yeah. So that gives away we share the same editor, Charlotte, Harp Collins. Who have potentially the coolest building. Have you visited them ever? Try and try and put a go go to London because they're right by the river. Right by London Bridge. And from their offices, you can see all my favorite parts of London, the tower of London, the old city, the globe. It's just fantastic. They're right by the shard at the tallest building in London. 0:26:50 And in answer to my own question, I think I would quite like to have a go at writing a spy thriller in the world of Indiana Jones because if you remember Indiana Jones has magic. Some of those. And it they sometimes Virgin is in a spy thriller, but I'd just love to write a sort of just before the war, second world war, somewhere exotic spy thriller about some key artifacts. That'd be great fun. Not something I've ever done, but that's what I'd like to do. And and you get a bit of fedora wearing and, you know, the bullwhip cracking action and chases across deserts. Yeah. No. No. That would be a good place for a spy thriller. Okay. 0:27:32 And what about a fan a tip. Have you got a tip either of something you might want to recommend to read or a place that you something you've watched or a place you go for inspiration to share with people listening? Well, since we touched upon that a few minutes ago, I think that the best tip would be even if you don't know what's gonna happen to the your first fantasy book, even if you're unsure if your publisher will if your editor will want to publish that or not. If the emphasis there, keep writing. Because the more you write in that world, the more you write your search into that world, and it would make the first book better. It would make the world building better. 0:28:16 And even by going further along the series with the plot, then you can see where your characters need to be in the first one or maybe you have a bit a few secondary characters that are loose ends, and then you definitely see a purpose for them while you have written another book on or another two books in that series. I think that helps enormously with one building and everything So for instance, when I first brought the kingdom is a golden cage, I had no idea who Hugo's mother is. She was Hugo's mother. And I definitely know after the second of school, Hugo's mother is and you are going to love this, she is so wicked. So you have to write to discover your own plot in that case. So I think my tip yeah. 0:29:02 My tip would be for people writing their fantasy novel out there. Is rather than sitting down and thinking, I am writing a fantasy novel. Actually, go dig down a bit further and say, am I writing a fantasy detective story, a fantasy wall epic, a fantasy, love story of, you know, find what other genre you're actually writing in because you'll probably find a lot of your plot moves, your characters to your twists from understanding what other genre you're working in rather than, oh, it's some vague fantasy quest type thing, dig down a bit further, and you'll find it a much more enriching experience. So Lily, thank you so much. For joining us today and wish you all the best of the publication of your book and look forward to seeing it on Kindle presumably first and then on the shelves or however it's coming out these days. 0:29:53 So the book we've been talking about is by Lilly Inc. The kingdom is a golden cage. Thank you very much. Thank you, Julia, for having me this has been a blast and thank you for your questions. They were absolutely amazing in every detail that you understood my book and this has been a wonderful experience. Thank you so so much for helping me. Thank you. Thanks for listening to mythmaker's podcast brought to you by the Oxford Center for Fantasy. Visit Oxford Center for Fantasy dot org to join in the fun. Find out about our online courses. In person stays in Oxford plus visit our shop for great gifts. Tell a friend and subscribe wherever you find your favorite podcasts worldwide.