Author Interview: Sue Bentley and Second Skin
A Bridge of Fire #1
Estranged from birth and raised on tales of the great mountain castle of Idrith-Core, where her distant
father serves as Lord Commander and confidante of the King, Aledra Jewel-Wing was now going there to court.
As one of the Drakkoni, a race of powerful shape-shifters and conquerors of a wild land, she joins her
stepmother at the festival for all peoples. But when in attempting to save a life, Aledra shifts into her
Drakkoni Secondskin – her beautiful second soul: a giant flighted lizard with flaming breath – she breaks
an ancient oath, and the tremulous peace between the Drakkoni and Esrans is shattered.
Branded a fugitive, hunted by her father, and aided in escape by the master-mancer who raised her,
Aledra begins a journey for survival across a war-torn continent.
Interview with Sue Bentley
Where am you from?
I was born in Northampton UK, which is about sixty miles from London. I live a few miles away from the place I was born, close to countryside and forest.
Do you have a job away from writing?
I write for a living, so that’s my job. It wasn’t always this way, I worked for Northamptonshire Libraries for many years while bringing up a family and teaching myself the craft of writing. I held down that job for some years after I was first published as I couldn’t afford to pay my bills from what I earned, but I now write full time. Writing and books are my life.
What is your favourite book?
That’s really hard to answer, I have so many. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice is a particular favourite. I have a first edition, which she signed for me when I met her many years ago at the beginning of my writing career (see photo below). Books by Holly Black, Laura Purcell, Tracy Chevalier, Stephen King, Michel Faber, Hallie Rubenhold are some others I love. There’s dozens more.
Are you inspired by particular authors?
Yes lots of them, I love dark and compelling books, sometimes with touches of horror. I find Sarah Moss an inspiring and complex author, and Michelle Paver for her ability to send shivers up my spine. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials are wonderful. Recent inspiration comes from horror writers Beverley Lee and James Fahy who I’ve discovered and now become friends with through #bookstagram.
When did you realise you wanted to become an author?
I can’t remember the actual moment or even making a conscious decision. It seemed a natural progression for me. I adored books from an early age. I think their essence soaked into me and it needed an outlet. To quote Beverley Lee – “A book is a word child and it needs to be born.” I love that.
Do you have any hobbies?
I am an artist, when I’m not writing. But it’s not a hobby, it’s another reflection of my being. I’ve always been creative – it’s a state of mind, a way of experiencing and making sense of the world. And a part of my physical and spiritual make-up. You could say walking is a hobby, but I’m usually working out plot details or building on a particular character’s motivation while walking. So it’s still working in a way. Reading and watching films are the closest things I have to hobbies. But I can’t really separate them either from what I am and what I do as I get ideas from both things! But I do love relaxing in the company of other writers. There’s one for you, finally!
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Make a start. Don’t leave it, until it’s too late. None of us know how long we have on this earth. Keep a daily diary or notebook and commit to regular writing, if only for thirty minutes a day. If writing’s important to you, you’ll find a way to fit it into your hectic life. People have written novels a few lines at a time on their phones. That’s commitment. You need that. Keep at it and know that you’ll need to re-write and polish far more than you ever expected before the short story or book is ready for publication. Don’t be discouraged. Like any craft writing must be mastered and it takes time. Be a perfectionist. Only your best will do. Your voice is unique. Value it, and allow it its place. Good Luck.
How long did it take to write Second Skin?
Second Skin took longer than I expected (most of my adult novels do) This one took me around two years, all told. My books for Y/A-Adults become more complex as I write them. Adding extra layers, laying clues, making them rich, and multi-layered takes time. I often go down deep and dark byways with these books. I want to fully immerse the reader and not short-change them. But there’s no magic deadline – a book takes as long as it takes. Each one’s different. Each one takes me on an interior journey. I also really enjoy world-building.
What inspired the storyline?
A book springs to life from many things. I read widely and the germ of an idea will often spring into my head. With Second Skin I wanted to write about shapeshifters. The Drakkoni are people in human form, but who have a second-self or soul-double coiled inside them. They can transform into fearsome dragon-like creatures. Aledra the main character is a privileged member of the Drakkoni, who are conquerors of the native people of a beautiful continent. Jubal is one of the conquered, a young man of the Yupek tribe, and has seen his people slaughtered by a rogue Drakkoni. To coin a phrase, ‘there will be trouble ahead!’ I’ve always been fascinated by what happens at the interface when nations collide.
How did you come up with the cover design?
I think that’s probably a question for independent or self-published writers. When you’re traditionally published as I am, and always have been (Puffin Books – a division of PenguinRandomhouse etc. And now Endeavour Media, my digital publishing partner – who also produce my books in paperback) you don’t have a lot of say in cover design. There are specialist designers within any publishing house who make these decisions. But If I really hated a cover I would say so, and I’d be listened to. That hasn’t happened often. Occasionally I have had more of a say, as with the first edition of my urban fantasy with dark fairies novel We Other. The purple and black cover image was taken from one of my mixed-media paintings. The anniversary edition of We Other, soon out in paperback was a beautiful new cover.
What is your favourite food?
I’m vegetarian, so I eat mainly plant based food. I love curries, chunky soups, pasta with spicy sauces, baked potatoes with lettuce, cheese and salad cream (Which is also the writer Kate Mosse’s favourite!) I could eat that every day. And I’m addicted to chocolate peanuts. Being English I love tea, and drink it all day long when writing.
What is your favourite TV series or movie?
I enjoy anything dark, mysterious, atmospheric, gritty and chilling. The Penny Dreadful series is wonderful. I enjoyed the Taboo series with Tom Hardy, and Ripper Street was brilliant too. As for films Bladerunners 1 and 2, Fairytale. A true Story, which is quite old now but still wonderful, and Revenant, which amazingly is based on a true story.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?
Absolutely it does! The wind soughs through the trees, thunder roars and rain patters on dry stones, whether humans happen to be there to hear them or not. I hate the way we think we’re the most important species on the planet and at the centre of everything, instead of being part of the natural world. Incidentally I adore trees, which are some of the longest living beings on the planet. We should honour and revere and protect them, in a similar way to listed buildings.
Thanks for your questions, Kim. I enjoyed answering them and thank
you for hosting me on your blog – Sue Bentley
Reviews for Second Skin
I really enjoyed the world-building in this novel. The clans were interesting, the cultures and rules. I love how put together and consistent it all was. Sue Bentley has created a really cool world in Second Skin, and I think it will only get better with future novels in the series. – Jessica Belmont
Second Skin is an epic fantasy which draws in the reader through its strong characterization and vivid imagery. From the outset you find yourself drawn to Aledra and can’t help but will her on in her plight; yet she is such a determined character she needs little help. Its rich descriptive language immerses you in another world, but one which is at the same time believable which I personally like. It brought to mind the infamous Game of Thrones, but is more tender and less violent. – Catherine McCarthy
I loved this book! The world building was fantastic with so many original ideas. The author did a brilliant job of fleshing out the warring cultures. – Kirsty ~ Paper Hearts Ink