Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Gillian St. Kevern – I realised I wanted to be an author when as a teenager, I found myself getting annoyed that the characters in the books I read weren’t doing what I wanted them to do. Now that I’m a writer, they still don’t.
I write in a variety of genres, ranging from short and silly contemporary romances to urban fantasy and mystery. In my non-writing life, I currently live in my native New Zealand, where I enjoy babysitting my niece and trying to keep up with my ever increasing to be read pile.
Thanks so much, Gillian, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Gillian St. Kevern: Character-led. My stories usually start with a character and their problem, and while most of my stories have a paranormal element, I don’t think about genre or market until much further along in the plotting process. This means that my stories tend to cross genre and not sit in any easily defined category. For example, Deep Magic is technically an urban fantasy as it has mythological elements but takes place in a contemporary setting. However, it’s not urban in anyway, but set in rural North Wales. Urban fantasy is also fast-paced and full of action, while Deep Magic is slow and dream-like. There’s no real category for that!
Likewise, my gothic Read by Candlelight series are historical Victorian paranormal mysteries with all the tropes of gothic classics—unreliable narrators, isolated locations, spooky situations and relatives that may or may not be trustworthy. My paranormal romance series, Thorns and Fangs, developed a super twisty plot, and my quirky Christmas romance, The Ugliest Sweater, is proof that you can combine erotica and humour.
All these series have one other thing in common besides their disparate mix of genres and character-propelled story lines. They feature found-family and an extended cast of friends that recur and grow over subsequent books.
JSC: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
GSK: Ate an entire spoonful (and not a teaspoon, either) of marmite. I cannot recommend the experience.
JSC: What is your writing Kryptonite?
GSK: I don’t really have a writing Kryptonite. Early on when I decided I wanted to write my own stories, I decided that I wasn’t going to write sex, fight scenes or character death because none of those were things I wanted to do. Once I put those limits on myself, I got totally blocked. I struggled to write anything for two years until I finally decided enough. I wrote a story that had all three of those things play a major part in it—and my writing energy and enjoyment came rushing back. I’ve learned that whenever I say ‘I’m never going to do that,’ I am inevitably going to end up having to do it.
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
GSK: At first, I try to push through it. Sometimes writer’s block feels a lot like self-doubt, and if it’s just the usual self-doubt, then getting words down makes it go away. However, if it persists after a few days, then I know it’s a block. At this point, I stop trying to write and do something creative in a different way—baking, art, editing, blog posts, etc. The usual reason I am blocked is that there is something off with my story, and I have to work out what it is before I can keep on going.
JSC: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
GSK: I use a pseudonym because when my first books were published, I was teaching English in Japan to junior high school students. I didn’t want my students reading something they weren’t prepared for.
I chose St. Kevern as my surname because it was my grandma’s name. Her father died where she was four, and when she married, the surname became extinct. I wanted to bring it back from the dead.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
GSK: I would love to be one of those authors who are able to ignore their reviews, but honestly, from the moment a book goes live to the moment I get that first positive review, I am a nervous wreck. Once I know that someone who isn’t me gets what I’m going for with a book, I am much less hung up on what people think about it, and better able to focus on the next book.
Focusing on the next book and immersing myself in writing is also the best cure I’ve found for a bad review.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
GSK: While there are a few (but still not as many as there should be) books about mermen or selkies out there, I’m the only person I know of writing of the morgenau, the sirens of Welsh folklore. I think this is a real shame—I would love to see more morgenau and other overlooked creatures from folklore.
JSC: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
GSK: Yes. Or at least, I’m a full-time writer, but my income is not a full-time income. So I supplement my royalties with a variety of side-gigs: ghost-writing, dog-walking, house-sitting, babysitting, editing… Pre-pandemic, I even did crowd control at a mall!
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
GSK: A reader in North Wales said that Deep Magic was the gay fairy-tale he wished he’d had growing up. That really hit home because I had to figure out being gay for myself too, and didn’t meet other gay adults until a few years ago. In many ways the stories I write are the stories I needed growing up but didn’t have.
JSC: What are you working on now?
GSK: Sorcerer’s Heart, the fifth and final book in the Deep Magic series.
And now for Gillian’s new book: Deep Magic:
Where does magic end and love begin?Oliver Evans spent his youth spinning one tall tale after another until it got him over his head in trouble. Now he has returned to his grandmother’s cottage in Aberdaron, determined to put his past behind him and settle down. But the misty Llŷn Peninsula hides dangerous secrets and Olly is torn between the Longing, a powerful force driving him away from the only home he has ever known, and the growing conviction that the prince of his childhood make-believe is real and in need of Olly’s help.
There is more truth in Olly’s stories than he realises. If he is to have any chance of righting past wrongs and rescuing his prince, Olly must navigate the truth in his old stories and discover the magic right in front of him. But Olly has a powerful enemy on the Llŷn, an ancient king who would like to end Olly’s story-telling permanently.Deep Magic is a mythological fantasy novel featuring gay romance, friends to lovers, and a slow burn relationship.
And that’s the story of how I ended up sitting in a tub in my grandmother’s kitchen, knees up around my chin, hoping that the rest of Nan’s cronies would wait until I was done scrubbing my back before visiting.
Luck was with me. Either the Aberdaron village grapevine had taken the night off, or Mrs Griffith had gone easy on me and held off sharing the news of my arrival. The screech that had me leaping out of the tub, scattering water across the kitchen floor wasn’t that of an outraged pensioner, but the kettle reaching the boil.
“Hot! Hot! Hot!”
The emptied kettle did not make much of an impact on my bathwater. I refilled it and set it to boil. “Nan chose to do this?”
Maybe she’d got religious in her old age. Making things harder than they needed to be was a common tenet, right? Discomfort brought you closer to God, which also explained the size of the tub. If I wedged myself back as far as I could fit, I could get both feet in the tub, but my arms hung over the side. Still, that last jug of water had raised the temperature of my bath to ‘tolerable’, and I settled back with a sigh.
My eyes shut on their own accord. All at once, my long journey had caught up to me. The sound of the kettle mixed with the rise and fall of the waves. Lulled by their even rhythm, I let myself drift.
“But though they sang their hardest, and used all their most cunning songs, the wrath of King Gurcant was too powerful. One by one, their voices failed, but still the waves came. On and on until the entire land was taken under the sea.” The voice came directly into my ear, so close it tickled my skin. “And the morgenau grieved, that they might no longer live upon the land, and the city was lost to men, and none dared challenge the King beneath the Cliffs who rules all within the Deep and on and on, until the city and the morgenau and even the King were all forgotten.”
Much like the waves, the voice had a hypnotic quality to it that filled me with lazy satisfaction. The sun was warm on my skin, but the arms draped around my shoulders were pleasantly cool. High overhead gulls rode the headwinds. There was not a cloud in the sky, nothing to break this endless contentment. “I’d like to hear you sing.”
The arms tightened around me. “You would like to be driven mad! If a man were to hear our song without the cliffs to carry it, it would break him.”
“A knight is no ordinary man—”
“But he is yet a man! Do not ask me this. You must not, even in jest.” His fingers were uncomfortably tight. “You understand? Promise me that you will not ask me again.”
“All right, all right! I get it.” I swatted at him. “Get off, you big lump.”
“Say that you promise.” His hold did not budge.
Cold fingers closed around my throat, pulling me down. My nose and mouth filled with water. I choked, throwing out my arms in panic. My foot connected with the side of the tub, bringing me back to reality. I sat up, coughing hard. It took a moment for my mind to understand the kitchen chair, my towel hanging over it, or the kettle, hissing and spitting on the bench.
I took a deep breath before levering myself up out of the bath. “A dream. That’s all it was. A dream.” A combination of my vivid imagination and the cooling bathwater. “Get a grip, Olly.” I turned the kettle off, leaving the tub for the morning. Wrapping myself in the towel, I made my way upstairs to the bedroom that had always been mine. Best cure for an over-wrought mind was sleep, and if my first night back in Aberdaron had been any indication, I was well in need of some shut-eye.
But as I pulled the blankets over me, it wasn’t the waves I heard, but the fading ripples of that voice.
God, that voice.
I’d always had a soft spot for arrogance. The voice checked that box, and more besides, boxes I didn’t know I had. It got me intimately, but as I settled back, I found myself puzzled. If the voice was so familiar, why couldn’t I place it?