Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Iona Caldwell

Meghan: Hi, Iona. Thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview today, and welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Iona Caldwell: My name is Iona Caldwell. I am an outspoken druid and devoted author of the classics. Iona is indeed a pen name with a preference to keep my real name hidden. However, I am a very friendly person who is active on my social media and who loves to meet new people. I wrote Beneath London’s Fog to begin a journey I long wanted to begin. When FyreSyde picked it up, it elated me to find someone enjoyed it. To this day, I am blown away at how well it has been received. When I am not writing, I love to blog about books and movies on my review blog. My personal blog is devoted to my love of Druidry, gardening, sustainability and awareness. I feel we need to devote more time to conserving Mother Earth rather than taking advantage of her. The Oaken King, my personal blog, is in the middle of a shark related series in light of the recent shark week.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Iona Caldwell: I do not know why but many have fallen under the impression that I live in the UK. Though I would love to live there, I do in fact live in the US. I am also a practicing herbalist, an avid gamer, and a blossoming geomancer. One might also find me in a tea shop in light of my love for tea or perusing the True Crime section as my love of studying serial killers has become almost legendary in my household. I rarely read modern writing, preferring the company of masterminds like Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Mary Shelley, Poe, and other masters of the writing craft. I love to bake, doing so mostly in the Autumn and Winter time. That is probably more than five but eh.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Iona Caldwell: I fell in love with R.L Stein’s Goosebumps as a kid. I devoured them before moving on to Annette Curtis-Klause’s paranormal romance books Blood & Chocolate and The Silver Kiss.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Iona Caldwell: Right now I am enthralled in a non-fiction titled The Ardlamont Mystery: The True Case that Inspired Sherlock Holmes. As an author of detective and occult fiction, I keep myself “in the loop” on the methodology of the Victorian serial killer. For fiction, I’m enjoying Dean Koontz’s Prodigal Son. It is a modern day Frankenstein set 200 years after the monster escaped and Frankenstein died.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Iona Caldwell: I do not believe many would believe I am an avid fan of cozy mysteries considering how my books are written. The cozies offer me a chance to break from the dark occult/gothic worlds I create with lighter humor and the occasional romance. The Hannah Swensen mysteries by Joanne Fluke and Aurora Teagarden are some of my favorites.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Iona Caldwell: I had been wanting to write professionally for a while but never could gather up the courage to actually pitch a story to a publisher. I have been a blogger longer than an author but recently started running two blogs. One is The Oaken King. This blog contains my love of all things nature, sustainability and conservation, plus more. The other is The Antlered Crown. This is my review blog where I review books and movies, mainly in the horror genre. I began writing seriously in college where I studied history. I let my writing go for a while to pursue other things I thought were passions but found they actually were not. Hence, the writing of Beneath London’s Fog.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Iona Caldwell: I have a few places I prefer to write. It usually depends on how I am feeling. When I find creativity stunted, I tend to go out to Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, or even a favourite restaurant to write. When I am at home, either my office or the couch work just fine.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Iona Caldwell: Before I write, I perform a ritual including lying on the couch to let the stresses of the day to drain off of me. Once I feel relaxed, I meditate for about 20 minutes to focus and relax my mind further. As far as quirks, I am a punster so there are those rare times where I suffer from a temporary lapse in where to go. However, this is incredibly rare and I am usually able to finish a novella in a month or two. I also do not write every day. If I feel like I don’t want to and would rather do something else, I do. My other hobbies help me refill what I call the “creative well.”

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Iona Caldwell: Honestly, no. Writing is as natural to me as breathing. I do not focus on what others may think of me and write what I want. The challenging thing is to decide which of the many ideas I would like to work on next. This is alleviated via the use of a notebook and the feeling of a sparking passion that occurs in an “aha” moment. If I do not feel that moment, I throw the idea aside even if I have started writing it.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Iona Caldwell: There are too many to name a single satisfying thing. I tend to find satisfaction in completing a manuscript itself.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Iona Caldwell: I am an avid reader of the classics. Very rarely do I indulge in reading modern authors unless they are Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Ruth Ware, Darcy Coates, Nick Cutter, Charlaine Harris, Joanne Fluke, or Clive Barker. Among my favorites are Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, and HP Lovecraft.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Iona Caldwell: To answer this, I will say what makes a good story is one that feels it does not, in fact, have to explain every facet of itself. Masters of horror have often criticized modern authors for their over-use of details and their feeling they have to explain everything. Deep characters with real flaws, world-building and the ability to show and not tell everything are bonuses. The latter is not really necessary since one merely has to read a Sherlock Holmes novel to find Conan Doyle is indeed a teller. A strong, unique story, well-formed dialogue and a fair amount of decent twists also gives a story a firm foundation. An author also does not have to manufacture an entirely new trope but to take what exists and make it into something unique. An example of this is perfectly exhibited in del Toro’s The Strain. Two tropes well known (a plague and vampires) to literature are taken and reformed into something new and unheard of. A well-designed inciting incident and a plot that pushes the story forward are also what makes a good story.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Iona Caldwell: I need to feel the character’s emotions. If I do not feel connected – like I am hearing, smelling, seeing, touching and tasting – to the character, then they are lost. I love characters that are flawed, Characters that are not perfect like an alpha male or overly strong female. The way I am able to do this is I only write in 1st person. This allows me to put on VR glasses and see what they are seeing. I must walk in their shoes and experience all they experience. 1st person, I think, is under-valued but again, Conan Doyle utilizes first person in his novels. Many classics did so and they are timeless. 3rd person limited and omniscient make it easy to write a character. 1st person makes it easy to experience them.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Iona Caldwell: I do not have a single character most like me. As I mentioned, I wear the skin of all of them. Each carries a piece of me within them and I in them. This might not be the answer requested but it is the best I have.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Iona Caldwell: I am usually willing to give a book a chance as long as it has a promising story. Do I look at covers? Absolutely. However, I do not let them be the deciding factor on whether or not I will try the story. I have the privilege of working with a publisher who lets their authors be involved in every step of the publishing process. This being the case, I have a say in which cover I would like and if I do not like it or want something changed, FyreSyde happily helps.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Iona Caldwell: The most important thing is to not worry about “pleasing every reader.” We, as authors, simply cannot and will not be able to earn approval from every reader. Bias plays a vital part in reviews and we need to remember that. I was terrified when I got feedback from one of the beta readers of Beneath London’s Fog but then I realized they had a different preference. Authors need to remember, we will get bad reviews. To think we will not is arrogant. Learn from them and let them help you appreciate the reviewers who are your fans.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Iona Caldwell: The last scene in every novella is the hardest. It means I am nearing a relationship I worked hard to nurture. We grow attached to our characters and ending a manuscript can be just as sad as starting a new one can be exciting.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Iona Caldwell: My genre is rarely written. I do not classify it as romance, horror, etc. My genre is Occult or Gothic fiction. My books are different because they exist in a genre not well-known to modern authors. When asked why I write Occult Fiction, I always answer with the diversity. It is such a magnificent genre because there are no bounds to what one can do with it. It is also one of the oldest genres. We have all experienced it in one way or another, we just might not know or realize we have.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Iona Caldwell: I do not have any trouble crafting titles. They are often the first things I have right after the very basic of plots. A title is like the pitch before a reader glimpses the synopsis. They, in my opinion, are more important than the synopsis. Often it is the title that catches the potential reader along with the cover. Once these two have done their job, the reader picks up the book and turns it over. I chose mine because it is the story. A dark story hidden beneath a very real and mysterious aspect of London. Fog is mischievous. It deceives, conceals, yet is beautiful to see. It is associated with the occult as a veil for spirits or for evil. That is what led to my choice of Beneath London’s Fog.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Iona Caldwell: A blog post makes me feel fulfilled. Why? Because it is a passion. Any form of writing fulfills me because I have woven another world with words even if I decide to keep it for myself. In the case of a blog post, I love to read and review books and I love to write about my other passions. Also, something to look at is with each time you write, you get a little better, which is fulfilling in and of itself.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Iona Caldwell: I have to chuckle with this one because I know some of my readers are going to be left with questions. I will never write a series because I do not always explain every little detail. As a matter of fact, there are many mysteries that will remain so. I do this on purpose. I want my readers to theorize and to ask questions. My target audience is mainly adult since there are some graphic scenes but with movies as they are, who knows? My books are full of flawed characters and characters who often walk the fine line of what is morally right and wrong. For example, Jonathan from Beneath London’s Fog, sees himself as a villain because of his monstrous nature. Yet, he is also a gentle and loving father. Markus from Hell’s Warden (my next title) can be classified as an anti-hero because of his choices (not saying). I want my readers to see these flaws but look beneath them to find a deeper story. I also want my readers to enjoy the story for its value which is why I never write series or show my face. Looking at the examples of the literary masters again, how often did they write “series?” True Agatha Christie wrote Poirot and Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock but those were not considered “series.” They were more installments in a saga of characters. Why? Because each was a stand-alone story in and of itself rather than a consecutive string of events.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Iona Caldwell: There really are not any. Since my novellas are short, I tend to include the most prudent scenes and make sure they are crafted carefully to be needed. In my first book, there were no scenes cut, not one. Instead, a few were moved around where my editor thought they may help with the pacing.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Iona Caldwell: I am a jack of trades. Outside of writing, I focus on raising organic seeds, baking, practicing my druidic rituals, cooking, gardening, gaming and reading. This is another reason why I do not really consider writing a career. I do not wish it to be. I just enjoy it. My other passions take up large amounts of my time and I plan on adding more as the years progress. I must admit, I have never heard it referred to as a “trunk” before. We learn something new every day.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

More novellas, intriguing characters and a growing number of gothic mysteries. Otherwise, I am very active on social media and share things on my Instagram and Twitter almost daily (yes, I am one of those oddballs who does not let social media rule me). Otherwise, I am very fast at writing and getting titles out. Thankfully my publisher knows this and is willing to work with me.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Iona Caldwell:

Twitter ** Instagram ** Betwitching Book Club ** Antlered Crown Reviews
Goodreads ** The Antlered Crown ** The Oaken King

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Iona Caldwell: Surprisingly no. You were quite thorough. I suppose all I can really add is to invite anyone who wants to connect with me to do so. I am taking reviews (paperback only) and enjoy meeting new and aspiring authors, bloggers, gardeners, etc. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me on any of my social media.

About the author:

My name is Iona Caldwell. I’m the author of the British Occult Fiction Beneath London’s Fog, which was published by FyreSyde Publishing this month. When I’m not busy weaving worlds of the arcane and dark, I’m spending time out in nature. I love books. My biggest inspirations are H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Edgar Allen Poe. I blog about many things, but mostly everything bookish.

All of my novels are stand-alone novellas, each with a cast of people I hope my readers will come to love as much as I have.

Beneath London’s Fog

Jonathan is the immortal master of Raven Hollow Manor – a decrepit mansion riddled with superstition, murder and restless ghosts. Beneath it lies a restless malice.

Its previous owner driven mad, violently kills his guests with a rusted ax, creating the perfect venue for Jonathan to seclude himself in a prison of his own device.

When the streets of London begin to run red with blood; the bodies exhibiting disturbing signs and baffling wounds, the identity of the killer remains elusive to police.

The bodies are just the beginning of Jonathan’s troubles. A mysterious letter accusing Jonathan of committing the murders appear, raising suspicion in the police. Hidden beneath the mangled bodies, Jonathan soon realizes he is being forced to face demons he thought died in a forlorn past he attempted to escape. 

One thing Jonathan knows for certain: He must deal with the demons of his past if he is to survive his future. Not only him but those he has come to love as well.