GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ Sheep Interview: Helen Lowe + Giveaway | I Smell Sheep

Paranormal reviews of books, movies, comics with author interviews and giveaways we love urban fantasy, romance, science fiction, horror, fantasy, mysteries

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sheep Interview: Helen Lowe + Giveaway

Check out Helen's theme music

Today the Sheep got the chance to sit down and chat with author Helen Lowe. The Gathering of the Lost is the second book in her epic fantasy The Wall of Night. Helen also has a young adult retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the POV of the prince called Thornspell. She is also an accomplished poet. If you've yet to check this author out NOW is a wonderful time. Interview below and giveaway at the end. We hope you enjoy!

US cover
Sharon: Hello Helen and welcome to I Smell Sheep. We have moonpies and Cherry Kool-Aid *passes the silver tray*
Katie: Freshly mixed I might add!
Sharon: Yeah, we don’t want a repeat of *that interview, when everyone starting puking because the Kool-Aid was…er…nevermind.
Helen: I’m thrilled to be here with the ismellsheep team today! Love the moonpies and Cherry Kool-Aid (smiles widely: sampling cautiously.)

Sharon: Can you tell the Flock a little about your fantasy series, The Wall of Night?
Helen: The Wall of Night series (a quartet) is what I call epic or high fantasy. It’s a world of shadow and conflict where the alien Derai people are locked into aeons-old conflict with an ancient enemy, the Swarm of Dark (or Darkswarm.)—but have been divided by civil war with its legacy of prejudice, suspicion and fear. I wanted to explore that ‘fatal flaw’—so although the Derai vs Darkswarm conflict is still important and has its own twists and turns to play out, the focus of the story is as much on the Derai’s internal conflicts and their relationships with other societies. It’s also very much a story of alarms and battles, adventure and mystery, friendship and love, as well as what Robin Hobb has called “strange magic, dark treachery, and conflicting loyalties.”

The first book, “The Heir of Night”, centres on Malian, the Heir to the warrior House of Night, who discovers both the full bitterness of that legacy and realizes that she has to resolve it; and Kalan, a young man thrust into a hateful life who is fighting to break free. I won’t describe all the other central characters, only say that many of them resurface in “The Gathering of the Lost”. Several new and important characters are also introduced. The reader’s knowledge of both the wider world of Haarth and the central characters should deepen in this new book, although it’s still a story of tournaments and flights by night, plots and magic, duty and honor—as well as romance. The characters are five years older you see …

Sharon: Can someone pick up this book and start reading or do they need to begin with the first one Heir of Night?
Helen: My lead editor, Kate Nintzel of Harper Voyager, feels that it can be read on its own and it is realtively self contained as a story—but I do think it would be a lot easier to understand the characters’ relationships to each other, and the issues at stake in the world, if a reader has read The Heir of Night first.

Katie: How did you come up with the concept for this series?
Helen: I think it evolved over a long period. My earliest vision of a dark, wind-blasted environment began when I was a kid living in Singapore and had been reading the Norse myths, including the Twilight of the Gods. There are other influences I can point to, all centered around the evolution of the world and my fascination with epic. But this series really began developing when I decided that I wanted to write epic fantasy, yes, but get away from the tendency to simplify everything in terms of absolute “good” and “evil”—where all the characters need to do is sign up for one team or other. And then put on the correctly shaped or colored hat so everyone can identify them easily. Actual behavior, what the characters in fact do, did not seem to matter very much in some of the stories I was reading. So I wanted to approach the epic story from the angle of a ‘champion’ people, again yes, but also where there is a fundamental disconnect between how they see themselves and some of their collective—and also individual—behaviors. But the day I actually started writing was when I had the first ‘flash vision’ of Malian, fearlessly scaling the wall of the Old Keep despite the physical danger.
Katie: Where were you when this vision came?
Helen: I used to have a job that required me to drive a great deal, mainly through the isolated countryside that makes up much of New Zealand’s Otago and Southland provinces. The terrain is often mountainous as well, with sheer cliffs along deeply incised river beds, and I used to imagine what it would be like to climb fearlessly in an environment like that. (I know people who do and have lost some friends to mountain climbing as well.) During that time I was thinking a lot about the Wall of Night world and the Derai people as I drove. I can’t remember the specific place or time when that first vision of Malian came to me, but I do remember the sense of “a-ha!”—almost of recognition.

Sharon: The protagonists in your series are young. Would you consider this a Y.A.?
Helen: History is a major influence on my writing and in the context of a medieval style world, such as Haarth and the Wall of Night, thirteen and fourteen year olds (Malian and Kalan’s respective ages in “The Heir of Night”) would have been regarded as adult or near adult. (Shakespeare’s Juliet, for example, is fourteen; marriageable age at that time.) And like Elizabeth I of England, Malian has been trained from a very early age to rule. So I don’t think their age in and of itself necessarily makes the book YA, particularly as all the other central protagonists are adult. In this sense, “The Heir of Night” is not unlike the first book in George RR Martin’s “A Game of Thrones” where the pivotal characters, the Stark children, are all young—several of them far younger than Malian and Kalan in “Heir.”

Overall, I believe the decision to publish The Wall of Night series as adult fiction is the correct one, both for the reasons I’ve just discussed but also because the themes are dark and relatively complex—emotionally the story being told is an adult one. Having said that, I read adult books extensively when I was a teen and I do think the Wall of Night story will readily “cross over” between an adult and young adult readership. Although there is not only romance but also—gasp!—sex in “The Gathering of the Lost”, so that may change the perspective for some readers.

Katie: Were any parts of this latest story based on things that have happened in your life?
Helen: Not directly, no. The manuscript was completed and then revised within the context of the major Christchurch earthquakes between September 4, 2010 and June 13, 2011, but even by September 2010, two thirds of the story was already complete and directed how the remaining story would evolve. By the time the most devastating earthquake struck on February 22nd the manuscript had been completed: I was still undertaking substantial revision but within an established framework. So I think the effects arose more in terms of the environment of the work—trying to maintain the concentration and commitment that completing a book requires in the midst of so much destruction and trauma. Although that experience may very well flow through into future work, I feel it is too early to say to what extent that may occur.

In terms of any direct basis on other events in my life, not so much—or again, not directly. I am a great observer, both of my own behavior and that of others, so I will often draw on my observations of human nature and human reactions to inform characters in my stories, but this very rarely occurs in terms of specific incidents. There is one incident in “The Gathering of the Lost” though, that is drawn directly from an older friend’s stories of wartime experience in Nazi-occupied Holland. Her father used to hide beneath the ivy that grew over the roof of the family home when the German soldiers were rounding up men for the forced labor camps and industrial farms. And in one incident in “Gathering”, three characters hide beneath ivy on a stable roof to avoid their pursuers. So I guess you can say that my friend’s anecdote caught my imagination!
Sharon: What an amazing story about survival for your friend’s father.
Helen: Yes, and I still recall the ring of authenticity to the story as she related it. As a storyteller one’s ear becomes attuned to listening for those notes—and then striving to create the same sense of authenticity through one’s writing, i.e. ‘making it real.’
UK cover

Sharon: You address many issues about loyalty, friendship and sacrifice in your story. What do you want people to take away with them after reading this series?
Helen: Although I wanted to explore how conflicts within individuals and between people might play themselves out in an epic story like The Wall of Night series, I did not set out to write a ‘moral’ tale or to instruct in any way. To me, writing fiction must always, first and foremost, be about telling the story and telling it as well as I possibly can. I want the characters to feel like real people, even if they live in a fantastic world, and for what happens to them to matter to a reader. And I want the experience of the world to leave readers with a feeling of both richness and wonder. But most of all I want them to simply say: “That was a good story. I really enjoyed reading it.”
(Sharon: I’ve read Heir of Night and I just wanted to say it is a very good story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it)
Helen: Thank you, Sharon—I can assure you that’s the kind of feedback no author ever gets tired of hearing! The kind of story I enjoy reading—and this is probably why I love epic fantasy—is one that centers on storytelling where there is a lot at stake and what’s at stake matters. In those circumstances, protagonists frequently find themselves placed in situations that seem overwhelming and a great deal is demanded of them—perhaps even everything is demanded of them. Some people will rise to meet such circumstances, while others crumble beneath them and a fair few muddle along as best they can. Duty and sacrifice definitely play their part, and so too do friendship and loyalty—and may be the only thing, as human beings, that gets us through. But sometimes even friendship and loyalty fail. I believe the reason these themes come out in my writing is because I am trying to make the characters’ response to their circumstances ring true. And if readers take that sense of authenticity away from any of my writing, then I will feel that I am close to hitting the ‘bullseye’ of ‘what it’s all about” as an author.

Sharon: Have you deviated much from your original idea of how the story would play out?
Helen: Ah, this is a simple answer: no, not in terms of the essential arc. Some ideas have expanded, while others contracted, and occasionally I have to change focus or adopt a new “slant” on unfolding events, but the essence of the original story has always remained true—so far!

Katie: If you could have any power what would it be and why?

Helen: A superpower, you mean? Since I’ve become a writer I’ve rather envied Hermione Granger the power she acquired in “The Prisoner of Azkaban” to ‘turn time’ so that she could literally do two (or probably more, knowing Hermione) things at once. I know she used an artifact, a ‘time turner’, but presumably still needed power to do so.
Katie: And what would two things be you'd like to do at once? Hey! Sharon stop jabbing me that was an innocent question this time!
Helen: [Grins] Well aside from … But never mind that! As an author I would love to be able to both write the next book and do everything else a writer has to do at the same time—spend time with wonderful people like both of you and the Flock (waves), keep my blog and website up to date with interesting material, go to conventions and festivals, do my tax returns. (Actually, I would much rather not do that, but you know—have to!) Hmm, and I haven’t even gotten onto real life yet—I’m thinking this sounds like a job for three or four Helen’s, not just two: aka I’m a lot more like Hermione than I thought! [Looks around.] Now where is that time turner?
Sharon: There needs to be an app for that ;)

Sharon: Writing an epic fantasy like this one is an incredible undertaking when you consider the world building involved. What did you learn from the first book Heir of Night that you applied to writing the second one?
Helen: Both the story development and the world building felt like a natural progression from “Heir” to “Gathering.” In fact it’s probably fair to say that world building is a very natural process for me—once the first idea of a world comes, the rest tends to evolve organically from that point.

In terms of managing a series though, one thing I learned in “Heir” and applied to very good effect in “Gathering”, is that every time I introduce a new point-of-view character, the story expands. So to prevent the story ballooning out, I have learned to say a very firm “no” to even the most enticing character who whispers that, really, he or she should be in the story.

Sharon: lol, I guess that is where short stories come from
Helen: Or new book ideas …

Katie: If you could get one "do over" what would it be used on?
Helen: With two books to go in the series, I think I’d still like to have that one in my back pocket for a while yet.

Sharon: You live in Christchurch New Zealand, which was hit by a massive earthquake in Feb 2011. How are things for you and your city?
Helen: Thank you for asking, Sharon. We’ve had close to 10,000 earthquakes now since September 2010, with 4 distinct major events, and the geo-scientists say we still can’t assume that the worst is over. So in that sense we are still very much “in it.” Even if the earthquakes were definitely finished, two thirds of the city’s infrastructure was taken out in under 30 seconds on February 22nd —i.e. water, power, and sewerage, as well as major damage to roads and bridges. So I expect readers can well imagine what I mean by saying I live in a “broken city,” one that is going to take many years of fixing. That takes its toll, as does dealing with insurers and recovery agencies, and I think it would be fair to say that we’re all more than a little weary. But there are really only two choices: to leave, or to keep going and make the best of it.

Katie: What's something super famous in New Zealand? I know sheep are big but what else?
Helen: Hmm, super famous … Milford Sound and Mitre Peak, in remote Fiordland, are pretty much part of the national psyche. And the All Blacks, of course, the national rugby team.
Sharon: Absolutely stunning! The natural wonders are nice too;)

Sharon: If you could have theme music play every time you entered a room, what would it be?
Helen: Oh dear [feeling out of her depth], theme music … I am rather fond of Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers.”
Sharon: I could listen to anything from the Nutcracker forever. Good choice.
Helen: Thank you.

Sharon: What flower would you say is your favorite?
Helen: Ah [feeling on surer ground now]—if there ‘can be only one’ then I feel reasonably confident going with the iris.

Rapid Fire Round

Sharon: Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood?
Helen: Hansel and Gretel
Sharon: Cause of the gingerbread house, right? I love gingerbread…
Helen: Mmmm, gingerbread… But I suspect it could also be because Hansel and Gretel have more agency—they save themselves.

Katie: Chocolate covered fruit or chocolate covered pretzels?
Helen: Chocolate covered fruit
Sharon: *pulls yucky face*
Katie: Both are a win in my book.
[Helen high fives Katie.]

Sharon: Paisley or plaid?
Helen: Urgh, do I have to choose? Yes? In which case I’ll go with plaid just to stay in true with my Scottish heritage.
Katie: Oh if you were a male the things I could say here…ok now THAT was a good time to jab me. *winks*
Helen: [innocently] I thought we were talking about plaid, not kilts, Katie.
Sharon: With Katie, everything goes back to kilts...or the men in them <G>
Katie: So true.

Katie: Smart Nerd or Dumb jock?
Helen: Smart Nerd
Katie: Very good choice.
Helen: [smiles]

Sharon: Pepsi or Coke? (and you have to choose!)
Helen: Wine. (I truly really don’t drink either Coke or Pepsi & have never tasted the latter.)
Sharon: Well that explains why you can’t pick. If you had tasted Pepsi you would easily have answered so <G>
Katie: Says the Pepsi crazy person. It matters not cause she would LOVE Coke.
Helen: [rolls eyes] You two are on your own with this one…
Sharon: Maybe we should have two men in kilts come fight it out for mud...
Katie: I love how I've rubbed off on your Sharon!

Katie: Tiny Tim or Kid from Jerry Maguire?
Helen: Tiny Tim

Sharon: Rubies or emeralds?
Helen: Rubies

Katie: Big Axe or Big Sword?
Helen: Big sword
Sharon: But what if the woodsman (Chris Hemsworth) is attached to that axe?
Helen: Hmm, that could be cause for a rethink … But then again, there’s Aragorn (Viggo) with Anduril in The Lord of the Rings movies … Some days, choosing is just too difficult!

Sharon: Robots or cyborgs?
Helen: Cyborgs

Sharon: Basket of cookies or plate of fruit?
Helen: Plate of fruit

Katie: Thriller or Action?
Helen: Thriller

Sharon: Short cut or scenic route?
Helen: Scenic route

Katie: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us Helen, would you like to add anything before we wrap?
Helen: Thank you very much to you both for inviting me along to day; it’s been a huge amount of fun. And you know, I think we’ve covered a lot of ground—I really can’t think of anything more to add.

Big thanks to Helen for being brave enough to visit us and she has brought gifts...for you!
1 winner will get BOTH Wall of Night books- Heir of Night and The Gathering of the Lost
5 winners will get a Gathering cover flat + signed bookplate
This contest is INTERNATIONAL
To enter:
1. Leave a way to contact you
2. Do you have a favorite Fantasy book or hero/heroine?
*followers get double entries-you must mention how you follow
Contest ends April 16th at midnight

Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and interviewer. She has twice won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for achievement in SFF, for Thornspell(Knopf) in 2009 and The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night Book One) in 2011 and is currently the writer-in-residence at the University of Canterbury.

Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog on the 1st of every month on the Supernatural Underground and occasionally on SF Signal. You can also follow her on Twitter.
The Wall of Night books are only $4.99 for the kindle
Heir of Night-The Gathering of the Lost
Book Depository


  1. Woop first to post. Hi Helen still following you around :)
    My favourite fantasy books (can't choose one) are the Xanth series.

    I'm a follow on fb.

    ticklebear2 at yahoo dot com

    1. thanks! I loved Heir of Night and I now have a copy of The Gathering. Looking forward to reading it :)

  2. Great interview! :D Favorite Fantasy book? Mmmm......The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Thank you for this chance! :D

    GFC follower: Giada M.

    fabgiada (at) gmail (dot) com

    1. I've heard that Mists of Avalon was good. Probably need to add that to my list :) thanks for stopping by

  3. Love the interview!! Favortie Fantasy Book? That is a hard one.....The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien.

    Thanks for the opportunity to win!

    GFC - Joella

    1. The Hobbit is a classic! I saw the trailer for the movie recently. My precious!

  4. Hi Helen!! greetings from neighboring country (i'm from indonesia) :)

    hmm.. fantasy.. so far i love any cast from the LOTR, may it be the hobbit, or the LOTR trilogy.

    Thanks for the giveaway


    1. thanks for stopping by sienny!! much sheep love to you :)

  5. That was a good interview :)

    I'd love a chance to enter the giveaway, so my first answer is that I don't have one particular fantasy book I like, but a series. It would definitely be the Harry Potter series because I love magic.

    My second answer is I'm already following the blog by email :)


    1. great choice! That series is going to be around for the long haul. Thanks for commenting

  6. I saw this one twitter and rushed over at once :D
    I'd sure love to read book too. But ok fantasy, the book is easy, that's magician by Raymond E.Feist.

    Hero or heroine is more tricky..but I will go with Rand al´Thor

    booksforlife01 /at gmail) dot com

    1. you will love this one too! I don't normally read fantasy, but this one sucked me right in.

  7. What an awesome interview! I enjoyed it :)

    Count me in for the giveaway! My favorite fantasy book(s) is probably the Game of Thrones series. I love George R R Martin!!

    GFC follower: Ana

    1. I haven't read or seen Game of Thrones, but I have read the first issue of the graphic novel and loved it! I really need to read the books...another to add to the list ;)

  8. Okay, I think my favorite heroes are Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. They kicked ass and went through many obstacles to destroy that darn ring. lol
    I'm an email follower: Lmackesy @

    1. yes they did! I enjoyed the movie and the books. Read them all straight though :) glad you stopped by and took the time to comment

  9. Great Interview! I have a lot of favorites...right now my fave fantasy characters are Kaylin Neya from Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra as well as Daemon & Janelle from Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Saga.

    elziabeth @ bookattict . com
    GFC: BookAttict

    1. haven't heard of these! so many books...yadda yadda know the drill :) will check these out. Helen is a talented writer and you would enjoy her story.

  10. I love The Lord of the Rings. I have it on CD and listen to it in my car. Great interview. Your book sounds intense.
    debby236 at gmail dot com

    1. oh, I have only listened to two audio books before! I would really like to do it more often...thanks for visiting :)

  11. I follow through GFC and e-mail :D

    My most favourite fantasy book is Harry Potter! And Percy Jackson, and the Gone series! XD lol can't decide! But currently I'm obsessed with the Gone series!


    Aai Marsh @ Books With Marshmallows
    Smiles :D

    1. Haven't read the Gone series...will have to check it out. Harry is destined to be a classic.since you have books with marshmallows I will bring the chocolate and graham crackers and we will party!

  12. I follow with GFC: Jennifer Bielman autumnflower6(at)aol(dot)com

    Fav fantasy character would be Kate Daniels from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. Though that's urban fantasy.

    1. hey Urban fantasy is my most favorite genre and Kate Daniels is one of my favorite heroines :) great choice! thanks for stopping by

  13. Very cool interview, I've heard of "The Heir of Night" book at a con last year, and Im' kinda kicking myself in the butt for not picking it up (think I have to really go grab it now)

    As for Fave fantasy hero...I'd go with either Huma from "The Ledgend of Huma" from Richard Knaak or Malystryx from the Dragonlance series (you can't miss her she is the huge red dragon

  14. Fantasy heroes...well, I loved Frodo from the lord of the rings. and Kat (Jeaniene Frost's books but that's urban fantasy.) . I'm also very fond of Harry Potter, I know, the kid in me is still pretty alive!

    GFC follower reading mind

    aliasgirl at libero dot it

  15. Just dropped by to check in with Sharon & Katie, and also say hi to the Flock--nice to see both new and familiar faces here. I love your list of fantasy heroes--and am also glad that you're enjoying the interview. I think Sharon and Katie did a great job pulling it all together & I'd like to raise my glass to them both right now.:)

  16. My favourite Fantasy heroine would be Yelena Zaltana from Maria V. Snyder's Study series. I really admire her resilience and strength.

    +1 I'm a follower - Aik

    aikychien at yahoo dot com

  17. I follow on GFC: disincentive

    I don't have my favourite one, as I find good ones in almost every book I read! :)

  18. Favourite - so many! Hmm...
    Alanna of Trebond is one.

    Don't enter me as my copy of Gathering just arrived!
    Off to read it!

  19. I have been following Miss Lowe's blog tour by going to her blog and using the links to get to other sites. Does this qualify ?

    As for favourite fantasy books? This is a hard one. There are so many that I have really liked but for different reasons.

    The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley
    Changer by Jane Lindskold

    Favourite YA book - Thornspell by Helen Lowe

    contact minn (dot) young at gmail (dot) com

  20. Good interview.

    Thank you for providing the audio-visual to Waltz of the Flowers.

  21. Uhh I don't really have any; all the past years I've read YA mainly along with historical romance and mystery/crimes... I'm only just starting to broaden my skies to include paranormals and fantasy... (at) hotmail (dot) com

  22. Oh I'm also a follower (+1)
    I follow via GFC as Maryam Sayyar

  23. I like Harry Potter.

    I follow via email.

    Thanks for the giveaway.


  24. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us the wonderful interview. I loved Heir of Night book one, which I recall reading some time ago and am looking forward to revising it and reading book two :) Some of my favorite fantasy novels include the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind, which I love to revisit from time to time, I am also working through George RR Martin's series, as well as Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. There is something about high fantasy that screams out to be continued and the story can never be told with just one book :)
    I am a sheeply stalker, I mean follower and can be found lurking on GFC, Facebook, Twitter, and email (occasionally jumping out from hallways or from the broom closet snitching the moonpies).

  25. this is tough.. i dont really read a lot of fantasy ( except kid series.. harry potter, magic thief).. i do like a lot of UF though....

    i follow

    alainala AT hotmail DOT ca

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. Great interview and thanks for the chance at a great giveaway! My favorite fantasy is Harry Potter :)

    I follow on GFC: Julie Holmes

  28. contest is closed! Winners:
    the 2 books: Blodeuedd
    cover flats: Sienny, Lauren MacKesy, Aai Marsh,Disincentive, Book Attict

    thanks for commenting guys!! Sheep love to all :)

  29. Thank you again to Sharon & Katie for inviting me onto ismellsheep and to all of the flock for participating. Congratulations, too, to all the winners--I look forward to getting the giveaways out to you!

    1. Thanks to YOU Helen for taking time out of your busy day to have some fun with us. :) You're part of the sheep lady!!! baaaaa. xo