Mandy Eve-Barnett relishes her creative writing life and is an advocate for the writing community and proud member of her local writing group. She enjoys exploring her new homeland, Canada, long walks with her rescue dog, Sammie, time with her grown children and escaping into stories.
Tell us a little about The Commodore’s Gift—could you give us a brief overview?
The novel is a steampunk adventure with a strong female protagonist, Owena. She fights against society’s feminine expectations of the simulated Victoria/Industrial Revolution era of the steampunk genre. Brought up by her widowed father and older brother, she grew up as a tomboy learning excellent strategic and swordsmanship skills. These come to the fore in her journey throughout the narrative. After an attack and imprisonment of villagers, Owena, her brother, her female companion and two rebel soldiers run for their lives but find new dangers ahead.
Propelled into the world of rebel forces, she joins the battle against the Buldrick Empire, its self-proclaimed King and his cruel, sadistic commodore. Her unlikely champion, Galen, is a giant of a man, who is feared by all, even his rebel compatriots. However, their mutual respect and his acceptance of her as an equal propels them to organize a ‘win or die’ fight to restore the rightful King to the throne.
What attracted you to the steampunk genre?
I enjoy exploring new genres, the characterizations, the worldbuilding and the minutia of each genre. It is my way of learning more of my craft. I read a steampunk short story collection and the worlds portrayed were such fun, I decided to write my own. Initially, I wrote a short story centering on a toymaker and his creation of a unique toy with an internal surprise for his captor. All genres have certain rules and reader expectations and steampunk is no different, it is however open to more interpretation and has multiple possibilities for exploration with location, mechanisms and characters. It is a fun genre to write.
The story takes place in an alternate version of England—what went into creating that? What do you think is important when choosing a setting?
As steampunk is a merging of Victorian England society and the industrial revolution, it was an easy choice for setting as I am originally from England. The setting allowed me to utilize my knowledge and experience within the narrative. I had in mind actual places I have visited or lived, within the story, with some author adaptation, of course. I explored a large part of the British Isles when I lived there and visited many ancient and historical sites, this gave me a wealth of knowledge to use.
Setting is an important part of a story; it is in essence, another character. It allows our readers to visualize where our characters inhabit. It is the reason a character is struggling or finding refuge, the base of their existence. It can be the vehicle to show why a character does what they do, how they do it and even the force against them.
What was important to you when creating Owena, your protagonist? Was she enjoyable to write?
Owena was actually not the main protagonist when I wrote the original steampunk story. It was a toymaker named Marcus. Although I had planned to expand his story from eight thousand words to novella length during National Novel Writing Month, Owena soon became the louder voice, pressing me for attention. I liked her as she was determined, strong and fought against not only the society expectations in the narrative, but the men within the rebel force and their dismissive attitude to their ill-conceived view of her feminine role.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing Owena’s character, as women are rarely seen as the major force in a fight. I feel stronger female roles within all media gives young women a look into what they can achieve. A woman is worthy no matter her situation or role within our patriarchal society.
How has your background influenced your writing? To what extent does your own life influence your writing?
I have lived on three continents, each with their own unique sights, sounds, smells and culture. These have given me a plethora of knowledge and experience to utilize in my writing. As the old adage goes ‘write what you know’ and I do use my life experience within my narratives, although they are usually heavily disguised! I was brought up to be curious about the world I lived in, its flora and fauna as well as the delight of folklore and history. I have incorporated this knowledge into my stories. As a lifelong reader I know the importance of books for shared knowledge as well as enjoyment thus, I feel my stories are my legacy.
Can you take us through the process of writing a book? What do you do first?
Most of my stories come to me as a scene, or a character idea, sprung from an external source (or a dream sequence on occasion). This can be a conversation, an image either real or imaginary or a writing prompt. I am, for the most part, a panster, allowing my characters to pull me along within their stories. I have the basis of the story to start and then allow the characters, their habitat and struggles to evolve, much like a movie in my head.
I do not edit as I write to ensure I don’t lose the impetus of the story. If a new direction comes to the fore, I follow it. My stories have taken many new directions with this technique and have enabled me to create immersive stories and characters. This is the joy of my creativity. It is a portal into the world of my imagination.
What is the most challenging part of writing a book?
For me, as with many authors, it is time. I work full time, run my freelance writing business, serve as secretary, meeting host, prompt creator and Zoom moderator for my writing group, the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County, and also have family and friends and the minutiae of life. So, finding time can be a struggle. I utilize regular writing retreat/road trips with a friend and also National Novel Writing month to give myself deadlines and word count goals.
You write in a wide variety of genres. Is there a theme that you think unites your books?
I completed an exercise several years ago, which called for me to evaluate the basic themes of my stories. It was a complex journey culminating in my discovery that ‘love’ is a perpetual thread throughout my narratives. This is not just romantic love, but for friends and family, the natural world, wildlife and the magical realm of fairies, elves and sprites. We all experience love in a multitude of ways from the love of oneself to everyone and everything around us. It is life’s force and important to us all. That is the thread, the message of my stories at their core.
What other books and authors have inspired you?
Anyone that knows me or reads my blog or social media feeds will know I hold Stephen King as the ultimate storyteller. Some dismiss him as a ‘horror’ writer, but he is so much more. He creates narratives that immerse the reader in character in a spellbinding way. As I read across many genres for enjoyment and research my reading is eclectic to say the least. I read within the genre I am writing so the list is long. I am reading detective novels currently for my own trilogy and recently found M.J. Arlidge, whose structure and storytelling are excellent.
Other authors I have enjoyed are Kate Morton, Felix de Palma, James Long, and many more including local authors. Books that immerse me in the story, stay true to character and keep me guessing are the books I enjoy the most.
Which of your books are you most proud of?
This is a really difficult question to answer as my current project is always the one dear to my heart. I think I would say The Rython Kingdom series is a real contender because it was through reader demand that the second novella was written. I had not planned on continuing the story, but my readers had other ideas and the sequel, Rython Legacy became a reality. I was honoured and humbled to have these requests, of course. I was also an Edmonton Best Seller with my reincarnation romance, The Twesome Loop.