Emily Lloyd-Jones writes a range of fantasy novels–both YA and Middle Grade–including one of my favorites The Bone Houses. When I heard that her latest YA was set in the same world, I was delighted. The Drowned Woods combines some of my favorite things–heists, spies, dogs, and a subtle romance–in all of the best ways to create a story worth obsessing over. I’m very excited to have Emily on the blog today answering some questions about her latest novel.
Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: I feel like my journey has been pretty typical for a lot of writers. I grew up with stories, became really invested in the Prydain Chronicles when I was a kid, never lost my fascination for Welsh legends, and then when I was older decided to pursue publication more seriously. I finished my first real story when I was sixteen. It was terrible, like most first attempts at anything. I wrote more things. I wrote a lot of things. And finally, I felt like I’d written something that I thought was decent—which turned into my debut novel. It was published almost ten years after I finished that first story.
Miss Print: What was the inspiration for The Drowned Woods? Did you always know you’d return to the world of your previous novel The Bone Houses?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: I always knew that The Bone Houses was a standalone book. Ryn and Ellis had their adventure—and it was done. And that was good! But I spent years fine-tuning that world, doing research, traveling to Wales, and even crawling around in an old copper mine. So I while I was fine letting go of the characters, I had a harder time letting go of the world.
It helped that when I was doing my research, one of the myths I ran was that of Cantre’r Gwaelod. It was the legend of a kingdom that once existed where Cardigan Bay is now—and the myth was having a bit of a resurgence as they discovered some fossilized trees beneath the surface of the water. I did my research, found many variations of the myth, and in several of them was reference to a maiden who was in charge of a magical well. That lady, Mererid, bore the blame for the kingdom sinking. So I decided that I would tell the story from her perspective.
Miss Print: One of the things I loved about The Drowned Woods is that you really capitalize on the power of a strong ensemble cast. While Mer remains the main protagonist of the story, we also learn more about other members of the crew she joins including Fane and Ifanna. How did you go about integrating all of these backstories into the plot? Were there any details you had to cut while editing?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: At its core, The Drowned Woods is structured as a heist story. And since heists function as ensemble pieces, it made sense to create a cast of characters with different strengths and roles. With a heist crew of six, this book could easily have been way too long—and I didn’t want to bog down the pacing, so I decided to focus only the backstories of the three core characters: Mer, Fane, and Ifanna. I did have backstories written up for every single character—Emrick, Gryf, and Renfrew all have histories—and writing those backstories helped inform their characters throughout the narrative. But I never included those details within the book because it would have made the plot far too unwieldy.
Miss Print: Working off the last question: Who was the hardest character to write? Who was the easiest?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: The easiest character was Ifanna! I have a deep love of snarky side characters, the ones who steal nearly every scene they’re in and then saunter off-page. But one thing I loved writing about her was that even though she is funny and light-hearted, at her core she is a leader. She’s carrying a lot of responsibility and the weight of many people’s lives—so she deals with that by pretending to take nothing seriously.
As for the hardest, Mer was occasionally stubborn at times! I love her character and her journey, but she also had a lot of history and backstory—so while her character came very easily to me, sometimes it was a struggle to balance her past with her present. It was a fun little writing challenge.
Miss Print: Being a spy novel and a heist novel, it’s not a spoiler to say that The Drowned Woods has quite a few twists and turns along the way as secrets are revealed and loyalties shift. How did you manage these plot elements–and how best to reveal them–while drafting?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: Well, I’m very much an outliner so I knew ahead of time which major plot twists were going to happen. However, as much as I detail the plot, I do tend to let the characters find themselves throughout the process of drafting. In particular, one character’s motivation for joining the heist (if you’ve read the book, you probably know who I’m talking about) was very heartbreaking and I didn’t figure out the details until I was actually in the scene. I like to let the characters develop organically as I work on the book, let their relationships grow, and see where it takes me.
Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would your characters be handling the pandemic?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: This is a great question. (It also feels particularly relevant, as I just put in my next bulk order of KN95s.) I feel like Fane would be that guy who is delivering groceries to all of his elderly and immune-compromised neighbors while Mer deals with the isolation by adopting many, many dogs. Ifanna would steal a shipment of toilet paper and create her own little black market. Emrick is a natural hermit, so he’d be off with his books and paying for all of his stuff to be delivered to him. Gryf would probably be the guy who went about his business as usual. And Renfrew would be hoping all of his enemies get sick.
Miss Print: Your books often feature amazing animal companions. Fans of The Bone Houses will always have a soft spot for the goat Ryn and Ellis meet on their journey. In The Drowned Woods readers are introduced to Trefor–a Corgi who travels with Fane and may or may not be a spy in his own right. What inspired you to include Trefor in this story? Did you draw on any real-life animals to make him authentic?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: I grew up very rural. We’re talking ‘our neighbors are a mile away and you can hear coyotes at night’ rural. So I spent a lot of time with farm animals. From chickens to sheep, to dogs, and rabbits—I’ve experienced them all. Each of them had very different personalities, wants, and needs. I think that influenced my desire to have animals in my books. They’re always fun!
With both of these books set in Welsh-inspired worlds, I wanted animal companions that would fit culturally. I admit, I did consider using a sheep in The Bone Houses, but… well, I’ll just say it. Sheep are not the smartest animals. And I didn’t think a zombie sheep would be intelligent enough to survive the story. Instead, I made her a goat. Goats are surprisingly intelligent, stubborn, and very loyal.
As for The Drowned Woods, I knew I needed an animal that was closer to the fairy folk and magic of Welsh legends. And in many of those stories, corgis are steeds and messengers for the folk. It just made sense that if Fane worked for them, he would have a corgi companion.
Miss Print: What does a typical writing day look like for you? Has this changed in light of the pandemic?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: One of the things I love most about being an author is that no day is truly typical. Some days I’m having phone calls with amazing people, other days I’ll be digging in my manuscript for hours only to change a single word. But usually my work days begin with coffee and playing with my two cats, then writing in the morning. I tend to do my best drafting in the mornings and evenings. Afternoons I reserve for administrative work like social media, running errands, and emails. My routine hasn’t changed much during the pandemic, except on my errands I always wear a mask.
Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re currently working on?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: I just finished up the last touches on my second middle grade book, Unspoken Magic! It’s a sequel to Unseen Magic, which came out in February. Both books also feature magical forests, although this one is a redwood forest in Northern California and it’s about a small town with strange happenings. (Vanishing teashops! Creepy deer shadows! Doors that don’t go where you want!) I love working in the middle grade world because I allow myself to be a little more whimsical.
Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
Emily Lloyd-Jones: Make friends with other authors. Be patient. Learn to love the process. Decide what parts of your life you want to keep private and what you want to share with readers. Celebrate the small victories. Save your receipts. Treat your work as a business because that’s what it is. And never devalue yourself.
Thank you to Emily for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Emily and her books on her website.
You can read my review of The Drowned Woods here on the blog.