Interview with Laraine Anne Barker

Published 2013-09-13.
Which of your characters is your favourite?
That's a question I'm often asked, which is why I chose to answer it first. I think it has to be one of the unicorns, Albishadewe or Silvranja, and possibly the latter. But that would mostly be because Silvranja of the Silver Forest was shortlisted for an important New Zealand prize, the Tom Fitzgibbon Memorial Award, in 1998, when a comedy (2MUCH4U) was the winner. Even in 1998 publishers of fiction for young readers preferred comedy to fantasy.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in Auckland (New Zealand) and I clearly remember thinking it an unsuitable place in which to set a story. This was probably partly because all the stories I read came from the other side of the world, which seemed so much more exciting. I think this opinion changed when I read Great Expectations (which you might remember starts off in a cemetery) and realised that the Grafton Cemetery, in central Auckland, could be every bit as spooky as Charles Dickens’s creation. The book I wrote then never saw the light of day (of course) as was the case with others that followed, but I went on to set both The Earthlight trilogy (The Obsidian Quest, Lord of Obsidian and The Third Age of Obsidian) right on my doorstep. The house belonging to Peter’s aunt and uncle, with whom Peter was staying, was the very house in which I lived in 1987 when this series was started. That was also the case in 1992 when I started the Mark Willoughby series. I started Earthlight partly because when I went searching for fantasy books for a fantasy-mad 11-year-old boy I found very little apart from Earthsea and The Dark Is Rising, yet the shelves of books for adults were awash in fantasy titles.

Unfortunately, when I tried to get both series published I came up against editors who insisted fantasy didn’t sell, and as the years passed and Harry Potter came out editors clearly thought I was copying Joanne Rowling, because Mark, “the One Marked by Willow”, gets his “mark” from his enemy, just as Harry Potter does. As I said earlier, the first Mark Willoughby book was started in 1992 and many years were to pass before I heard of Rowling (as Joanne Rowling, not J K Rowling). That was in September 1997, in an announcement that Scholastic's US imprint Arthur Levine had bought Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
When did you first start writing?
I think I was about 10. But I didn't submit my first novel to a publisher until about 21 and wish I had kept the kind rejection the editor sent. She suggested the book, intended for adults, could be rewritten as a children's title, and I later regretted not following this advice too.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I wanted my fans to be able to read my books (and preferably do so before I died). I also love that I have complete control over how the books look. With traditional publishing an author has no say in what art goes on the cover. Very often the artwork has nothing to do with the story and I clearly remember as a child being bitterly disappointed in a book cover that didn't show something that happened in the book.
What do your fans mean to you?
They mean the world to me, of course. Where would a writer be without fans? A bit lonely at the least. Writing isn't exactly a sociable way to earn a living. There is nothing more gratifying than receiving a message (or a letter) telling you how much someone has enjoyed your book.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I no longer have it, but I do remember it. It was a school project in which each member of the class had to write a chapter. The basic plot given to us (as I remember it) was a group of children take a boat without permission and land up getting shipwrecked on an uninhabited island. I remember it as being a very Enid Blyton type of story so I was probably reading a lot of her books at the time.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have an iPad, a third generation one. I chose this rather than a device devoted strictly to reading because it fulfils a lot of other needs, one of which is that, with the addition of a keyboard and stand, I can use it a bit like a laptop when I visit my sister, thus allowing her to have full control over her own machine. And I can read books published in every format, including Amazon's Kindle.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
First there's the enormous pleasure of knowing there are young people out there enjoying what I write. Then I love the surprising avenues down which my characters take me. More often than not, the story lands up only partly as originally planned. While it can be frustrating sometimes (throwing out several days' work isn't easy) it's mostly exciting.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Sometimes somebody recommends a title and sometimes I simply go looking. I nearly always download the free chapters and read them before deciding whether to buy. And I still have paper books that I haven't read yet. I have approximately 1,000 books, mostly paperbacks. Many authors have a lot more, but then they have a lot more room than I have. My shelves are all two-deep in books and there is no room for more shelves.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I'm not sure whether The Snow Queen was the first story I ever read but I do remember what a tremendous impact it had on me and how it led me to believe that children have far more imagination than adults do. The images I remember conjuring up don't appear in Andersen's text. I find it sad that for many children the images in their minds when they read Harry Potter have all been created for them by movie-makers, which is especially the case if they don't read the books. Adults, in other words, have manipulated their imaginations.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Quite simply, my books wouldn't be out there without Smashwords. I could almost certainly have got them published with Mundania Press, who have the Earthlight trilogy and two books for adults, but (like most similar publishers) they are swamped with submissions and going with them would mean a long wait before the books come out. I would also have no control over the cover illustrations.
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Latest books by This Author

The Birth of Flame the Tame and Flare the Fearless, Dragons of Lazaronia
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 4,580. Language: English. Published: June 11, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
(4.50 from 2 reviews)
The story of how the young future King Lazarone III and his distant cousin Esmeralda find and hatch what appear to be the last eggs from the last two dragons of Lazaronia. A short-story prequel to the Mark Willoughby series.
Rahti of Lazaronia
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 12. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 50,940. Language: English. Published: June 11, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
A dream tells Rahti he was abandoned at birth at Olwen House and he goes off to find out why the owners didn’t adopt him, setting in motion a complex spell woven by his mother. But she didn’t bargain on his freeing his father Fallanein from his place of banishment. Fallanein promises Rahti help, for which Rahti must do two things. The first is hard enough. But he can’t possibly do the second …
Iggie, "Small Sorcerer"
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 11. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 39,420. Language: English. Published: May 31, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
Iggie, illegitimate son of Lazaronia's two vilest sorcerers, believes his father Ignarius, twin to the late Lazarone III, should have been king. Determined to prove his claim to be the true heir to the throne, Iggie creates a rift to release his stepfather, the fallen god Fallanein, from the place of eternal cold where he has been banished. But in doing so Iggie drowns Lazaronia in snow and ice.
Albishadewe, "Great White One"
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 10. Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 76,520. Language: English. Published: May 30, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
Albishadewe’s parents are murdered and he takes refuge in a pony pack while seeking other unicorns. When an itch tells him his horn is growing and he returns to the Silver Forest, he is confronted by a young woman. He knows he should flee. But Dahrya can see him when sorcerers’ eyes see only shadows. Who is she? Unravelling the mystery of Dahrya’s identity brings more grief than he can bear.
Silvranja of the Silver Forest
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 9. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 36,760. Language: English. Published: May 30, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
Silvranja’s mother, seeking the legendary Albishadewe to replace Silvranja's father (murdered by the evil driving unicorns to extinction) is also killed, leaving her foal alone. Silvranja soon discovers hers isn't the only threatened species. To restore the balance of nature she must help the unicorns' enemies--humans. In doing so she learns what it’s like to be human and nearly loses her life.
The Unicorns of Lazaronia (Book 7)
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 8. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 35,250. Language: English. Published: May 26, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
Mark and Esmé are about to face their final battle against the forces of evil swamping Lazaronia. Esmé needs to consult The Voice of Judgement. To do so she must command the power of the Tower of Kaleidoscopic Light. But the tower turns her power against her. And the Voice of Judgement refuses to admit her, because for someone still living to enter its presence is strictly forbidden.
The Sorceresses of Lazaronia (Book 6)
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 7. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 35,060. Language: English. Published: May 26, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
This time Mark's return to Lazaronia is instigated by his enemies, the sorceress Mirabell and the Fallen God. Left to die in Lazaronia’s desert, Mark learns Esmé is aware of his plight. But she is nearly half a world away—with not enough time to stop the fearsome vulcarrions known as the Angels of Death from tearing him to pieces. But making a meal of Mark isn't the Angels of Deaths' main intent.
Albishadewe: Quest for the Unicorn (Book 5)
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 6. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 38,450. Language: English. Published: May 26, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
The sorceress Mirabell has captured the white unicorn and all thirteen dragons and also stolen the Godking’s treasure. Now she has snatched the Princess of Lazaronia. For it seems that only the life in Esmé’s body can bring the wizard Ignarius out of his eternal sleep. But the sorceress’s evil experiment means certain death for the Princess …
Rider of the White Unicorn (Book 4)
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 5. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 32,660. Language: English. Published: May 25, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
The search for the golden key of the Tower of Kaleidoscopic Light has brought Mark and Esmé, separately, down into a terrible place of darkness and death where terror stalks them on every side. And it seems that even in Castle Lazarone treachery lurks …
The One Marked By Willow (Book 3)
Series: Mark Willoughby, Book 4. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 33,700. Language: English. Published: May 25, 2012 . Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
Mark returns to Lazaronia at the worst possible time—at a formal ball partnered by Lisa Marksby. On arriving he is faced by a hostile Esmé, spelled into believing Ignarius is her father and Mark her enemy, while even Esmeralda believes him to be her husband. For the wizard now has control over the Tower of Kaleidoscopic Light and brought Lisa’s brother to Lazaronia as "The One Marked By Willow" …
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