Guest post: Laura Laakso – Building Worlds with Words

Delighted to welcome Laura Laakso to the blog today as her debut novel, Fallible Justice, publishes. More delighted than usual as although it’s always great to have first time novelists featured on the blog, this novel was discovered by publisher, Louise Walters, through the Retreat West First Chapter Competition. You can read all about that here.

But today is all about the wonderful world that Laura has created for Fallible Justice. I was completely gripped by this atmospheric novel and I wouldn’t usually be remotely interested in a novel that features magic. But after reading the first chapter in the competition, I knew that this was going to be a novel worth looking out for. So, over to Laura.

Building Worlds with Words

World-building is a little bit like Marmite; writers either love it or hate it. Those who love it can have the habit of going overboard with details. A friend of mine used to write detailed treatises on the economics and politics of a world in which he set his Dungeons & Dragons campaign. We, the players, were expected to read them, but I don’t think any of us did. Why? Because the information was only interesting to its creator.

The above, I think, sums up perfectly world-building in novels, particularly in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, where the setting is not given. Every author has to find that balance between revealing enough to give the reader’s imagination wings and boring them to tears with the municipal facilities of a city the characters briefly visit. This is something I’ve been mindful of in recent years, given that my debut novel, Fallible Justice, begins a paranormal crime series Wilde Investigations.

Unlike Marmite, I love world-building. I could spend all day imagining different races and settings without ever getting bored. In fact, I’ve done just that on many occasions. But when it comes to my current novel series, I view world-building as part of the overall puzzle rather than a separate element. It’s a thread woven through the story instead of the scenery in the background.

When I began planning Fallible Justice, the original idea dictated the setting for the story. The plot hinged on otherworldly beings called the Heralds of Justice, who were capable of looking into a person’s soul to determine guilt or innocence, but also on modern technology. It made sense to settle for London, given that it is a city I know well. I never sat down to figure out the world as such, all the details grew organically from the plot. When I needed a group who were the keepers of peace and summoned the Heralds, it made sense to call them Paladins of Justice. I needed a degree of separation between the magical beings and humans, so the City of London borough became Old London, where the magic users live. The ruling class became Mages and my main character’s apprentice a Bird Shaman whom all pigeons adore.

The term magical realism seems like a contradiction, but I was always clear on wanting distinct consequences for the use of magic. It was also never going to be a solution to everything. Magic can’t heal a genetic illness any more than it can remove terminal cancer. The dead can’t be brought back to life. As enchanting as magic may be, the setting is rooted in the real world and no amount of power can replace antibiotics, mobile phones or public transport. There must also always be a cost associated with magic, both in terms of casting it and its consequences; the greatest example of this is the fact that the penalty for murder committed with the use of magic is death. And pushing your power to its limits means risking not just your magic reserves but your life.

Once I began writing Fallible Justice, I used one rule to guide my world-building: if it’s not relevant to the scene, don’t put it in. Thus I explained what Shamans were when the reader first meets Karrion the Bird Shaman, but the fact that Shamans can take animal companions didn’t come up until my main character, Yannia, met one such animal. The first chapter begins with Yannia channelling her power. In that way, the reader gets to experience what Yannia can do long before I give a name to what she is. But in that first chapter, I also began setting down Yannia’s limitations. She may have magic, but that doesn’t make her omnipotent. In fact, I believe she’s so relatable as a character because she’s deeply flawed.

As much fun as world-building can be, it must all be in service of the story. The story needs the world to provide context for the events and the characters’ actions, but the world is only relevant within the framework of the story. Striking a balance between the two means transporting the reader to the pages of the book and allowing them to live the story for themselves.

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About the author: Laura is a Finn who has spent most of her adult life in England. She is currently living in Hertfordshire with a flatmate who knows too much and their three dogs. Books and storytelling have always been a big part of her life, be it in the form of writing fanfiction, running tabletop roleplaying games or, more recently, writing original fiction. When she is not writing, editing or plotting, she works as an accountant. With two degrees in archaeology, she possesses useful skills for disposing of or digging up bodies, and if her
internet search history is anything to go by, she is on several international watch lists. Her debut novel, Fallible Justice, will be published in November 2018 by Louise Walters Books and the sequel, Echo Murder, in June 2019. They are paranormal crime novels set in modern day London, but with magic, murder and general mayhem, and they begin the Wilde Investigations series.

You can keep up with Laura on the following social media pages:

      

And on her website: https://lauralaaksobooks.com/ and her author page on Goodreads.

The book is available in paperback and ebook from the following:

Louise Walters Books   Amazon UK   Amazon.com

 

 

First Chapter Comp leads to publishing deal

I’m very happy indeed to be posting this blog interview today sharing the story of how Louise Walters came to discover her first author, Laura Laakso, for her new indie press, which you can read all about here, by reading entries for the Retreat West First Chapter Competition.

Louise Walters

Thanks for coming, Louise and Laura.

Louise, I’m delighted to have you back on the blog with news of your first acquisition for your new indie press and doubly delighted that Laura came to your attention through your reading of competition entries for Retreat West. Can you tell us what got you excited about Laura’s entry when you read her first chapter for the competition?

It was the opening paragraph which drew me in, but I have to confess to not being 100% sure about it at first. I remember asking myself, and you Amanda – is this brilliant writing or is it… not brilliant?! I remember you said you thought it was great and we should put it through to the long list. I’m so glad we did!

Laura, how did you feel when Louise approached you to read your full MS after being a runner-up in the 2017 First Chapter competition?

I heard about Louise’s new imprint and the fact she was seeing submissions on a Retreat West newsletter. I sent her my first novel because it was the only one that fitted her submission guidelines. When I got an email back saying she’d like to see Fallible Justice instead, I had to read it about four times to make sure it said what I thought it said. Even after I sent off the full manuscript, I kept telling myself that she wouldn’t be interested once she realised just how much of a crime and fantasy novel I had written. But she loved Fallible Justice and here we are! I’m incredibly honour

Laura Laakso

ed that she not only remembered my name from the competition but thought highly enough of my entry to want to read the rest of the novel.

Louise, you’ve described Laura’s writing as literary paranormal detective fiction. What made you choose such a niche genre for your first title?

I went with my gut, to be honest. Laura approached me with a submission for my imprint with another of her novels. I turned that one down, but remembered her from the competition, and I asked to see the whole MS for Fallible Justice. I read it through quickly. But it’s so outside of my usual genres of choice (I hardly ever read fantasy) and I wasn’t sure if it was right for me, both as a reader and a publisher. I knew I was fascinated by the writing and the story and the characters. So I read it again. After the second reading I knew it was for me. Laura’s writing is lyrical and genuinely stunning, and that is what made me decide to offer to publish it. It kind of goes against my submission guidelines on my website (I more or less rule out fantasy!), and that’s ironic. But I do make it clear in my guidelines that I’m looking for character-led fiction, and that’s what Laura has written. And when a story grabs you, it grabs you, and genre doesn’t come into it.

Laura, this is the first in a series so can you give us an insight into what readers can expect when your debut comes out next autumn? And how many books in the series have you written so far?

The Wilde Investigations series will bring magic and wildness to modern day London. In Fallible Justice, Yannia and Karrion are faced with an impossible case and they must go against the prejudice of their entire community to uncover the truth. Against the backdrop of a magical crime, the book explores themes of hope, courage and the honest consequences of one’s choices. In writing the book, one thing that was important for me was making the characters believable. They may be able to cast spells, speak to animals or borrow aspects of nature, but they are all very human.

Louise, any tips for other authors considering submitting to you?

Write the story you want to read. Don’t worry about genre. Write from the heart and write well. Fully realise your characters, know them inside out. And edit thoroughly.

Laura, any words of encouragement for other writers still trying to get a publisher?

The best advice I’ve had is to get your work out there. Take part in competitions, send stories to anthologies, write widely and send your writing out to everywhere you can. You’ll get plenty of rejections along the way but the successes will also begin to accumulate. If I was still storing all my novels in my digital desk drawer, I wouldn’t be here telling you about my exiting book deal! Reading widely is crucial, both in terms of fiction and good writing guides. The latter worked less well with me because my puppy didn’t think much to my dream of becoming an author and shredded the writing guide I’d bought. At least she waited until after I’d read it.

Congratulations Louise and Laura on your exciting new literary adventure together. I look forward to reading the full story soon.