[Review and Author Interview] The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen

Hey guys! So I’m back with another blog tour, this one slightly different from the ones I usually do with Sealea. This one I found via Twitter and is being done by the author! I’m not sure if you guys have noticed but lately I’ve been trying to read more LGBTQ books. Yes I’m partial to M/M but that’s more because I “grew up” reading this type of literature, but then I went to C2E2 this year and I was introduced to something else, the terms Aro/Ace.

At this point terms like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer have been terms I’ve heard many times, but Aromantic and Asexual were new concepts for me. We had some discussions and looked at how media portrayed these characters and I realized I didn’t know any characters that would fall into this category. Which is why I decided to pick this book up. I wanted to read the story (dragons!) but also meet new characters

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★★★★★

In The Dragon of Ynys we have Sir Violet, the only knight at the small village of Ynys. The people of Ynys have lived peacefully for many years until one day a gold necklace is stolen. Everyone believes that Heath, the newcomer of the village has stolen it, but Sir Violet holds off on punishment, deciding to investigate first. And his investigations lead him to a Dragon that lives in the mountains near Ynys. He goes to retrieve the necklace and finds that the Dragon is well mannered, returning the necklace immediately

This pattern continues until a person goes missing and that’s where Sir Violet draws the line!


Aside from a kleptomaniac Dragon and a knight visiting this dragon, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the story. One thing I didn’t expect was opening this on my phone and finding that it was only 70 pages long! I was a bit worried of the pacing but as I started reading, EVERYTHING just felt Right. We’re introduced to the village of Ynys and our main character, Sir Violet. We’re thrown almost immediately into the theft of the necklace and the discovery of the Dragon. The story gave us enough information about everything, not going too quick or too slow. But the best part was that it was very rhythmic and fairytale-esque. I could really picture myself reading this aloud to people

While the story wasn’t amazing (it was simple), the message of the story really came through.  It really hammered down that it’s OK to be different (in fact, it’s Awesome) and that not all fairytales should end with a knight and the princess living happily ever after. I really feel it’s a story that can be read to children to introduce a lot of topics and create discussions. For example, not only do we see a positive portrayal of a married lesbian couple but one of the wives is trans. A very optimistic and great read

I have no complaints, give this short story a solid 5/5, and hope that we make what happens in this story a reality in our own way. Definitely nab yourself a copy of this book!


INTERVIEW

Now that you guys are done reading that blubbering mess of a review, I have this extra special treat for you all! An interview with the author, Minerva Cerridwen~ The purple text is Minerva and I’ll be orange because favorite colors are awesome!

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Minerva Cerridwen is a pharmacist from Belgium who has loved writing fiction since she was five. Her first written story was about a princess picking berries; the second about a bear who met a pirate-detective. Since 2013 she has been writing for Paranatellonta and her first published work was the queer fairy tale ‘Match Sticks’ in the Unburied Fables anthology. After her debut novella The Dragon of Ynys, she has at least one short story and one poem published in anthologies that will release in 2018.

Website | Paranatellonta | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads | LT3 Profile

So before we start, can you introduce yourself? What are some of your favorite genres to read? What do you do for fun? Your favorite color? Really anything you want to share!

I’m Minerva, 26 years old, from Belgium. When I’m not writing or working as a pharmacist, I enjoy baking, drawing, handlettering, yoga, and learning languages. My favourite colour is purple and my Hogwarts House is Hufflepuff.

You mentioned that you’ve been writing since you were five, can you tell us about some of your first stories?

I’ve been telling stories for as long as I can remember. There’s a home video of tiny me holding my favourite book of fairy tales while I’m telling my stuffed animals a whole different story, complete with dramatic intonation. So once I was learning to write, it was only logical to use that new skill to write my own “books”. I still have the first two of those. The oldest was about a princess who went out to pick berries even though her parents hadn’t allowed it, and some of the pages of that notepad were filled with just one or two letters, because I was still figuring out their shapes. The second notebook has a bear on the cover, so I started writing about that bear. It got adopted by a pirate and together they’d end up solving a great mystery, but then I lost focus and never finished the story, so I’ll never know exactly what grand adventure I had in mind.

When did you realize you wanted to become a published author? Was it something you just knew or was it something you pondered for a while?

I think it’s something I’ve always dreamed of. After those first writing adventures at a very young age, I kept coming back to writing, even though I sometimes went a couple of years without really writing down a story and I barely ever finished any of them. I just loved coming up with story ideas and worldbuilding concepts, but it took me longer to learn the skill of developing a plot.

I know the year isn’t even halfway done and there are lots of great books still coming out, but what are some of your favorite reads of the year so far? 

Between work, writing and book promo, I must admit I’ve barely had time to read yet. I’m actually planning a small break from writing new short stories this month, in the hope I can get back to reading more published stories. When I’m tired, it’s all too easy to open AO3 and find a relaxing piece of fanfiction, which is great, but doesn’t help my Goodreads challenge 😛

I did read my friend Ava Kelly’s fantasy novel Havesskadi this year, and it was awesome. Magic, dragons, an asexual character… I certainly recommend it!  

As someone who is trying to improve their language skills, I’m super impressed with how you’ve decided to write your works in English. Is it a struggle? Do you still write stories in Dutch? Do you have any fun multilingual mishaps you want to share?

These days it’s more of a struggle for me to write in Dutch, because I’ve been reading mainly in English for years. It’s really become the Language For Written Stories in my mind. Now and then I return to Dutch for practice, mainly in the form of poems, and I often find it’s easier to find rhyme words in Dutch than in English. But when it comes to prose, my Dutch sentences easily become more complicated than English ones, which makes for a less comfortable reading experience.

What inspired you to write The Dragon of Ynys? Was there much research involved in the process?

I was inspired by a call for submissions from Less Than Three Press. They have a story collection called “For the Hoard” with a dragon theme, and as I love dragons and had the characters of Sir Violet and Snap the dragon wandering around in my mind since 2011, I really wanted to write for that call. In the end, the story didn’t become part of the Hoard-collection, but to my great joy, LT3 did want to publish it as a separate book.

My starting point really was the question: “What kind of (dragon) story would I want to read at this moment?” The inspiration flowed from there.

As for research, I don’t think I did a lot specifically for this story, but I couldn’t have written it without reading a lot myself. Especially when it comes to Holly, who is trans, it was important that I’ve been reading stories and experiences written by trans authors, not necessarily published works, but also on Tumblr and in fanfic. I learned a lot from that to (hopefully) get her character right.

You mention getting inspiration/reading from Tumblr and fanfiction as part of your process (which BTW, are some sites I’m quite preoccupied with at the moment, lol). I know that these sites can be a bit problematic with their content. How do you go about using them?

I don’t think the Tumblr and fanfiction communities as a whole are problematic. But just like in real life, on every social media platform you’ll find certain people who have dubious intentions or who spread misinformation, consciously or not. Sometimes you do need to tread carefully, and it’s important never to take one person’s word as gospel. But in my opinion, you get a long way with common sense and doing your own research to check facts. And when you see that someone is sharing toxic content, there’s always the “unfollow” button.

At the same time, platforms like Tumblr can be a safe space where it’s possible to speak more freely than you would when you aren’t (semi-)anonymous. You get to read about real people’s experiences in daily life in a way that you probably wouldn’t in any book or magazine. Back when I was figuring out I was asexual, the ace community on Tumblr was a massive help to me. And in fanfiction, too, writers can find this kind of safety by speaking through well-loved characters, and that way reach a much wider audience than they would with a dry essay about the same topics.

On the topic of trans characters, I also want to give a shout-out to my dear betareaders, because they pointed out some of Holly’s lines and helped me phrase them better. Even when you have the best intentions, it’s still useful to ask other people for help. You need an outside view to filter out statements that might be problematic or offensive, but which you as a writer don’t notice anymore because rather than reading what it says on the page, you’ll only read your own meaning behind those words.

BTW, how do you pronounce Ynys? I was saying it Ee-nee-s 

“Ynys” is in fact the Welsh word for “island” (since the village is very isolated). Ee-nee-s is fine but in Welsh it would sound a little more like uh-niss. Here’s a link where a Welsh person says it: http://www.geiriadur.net/sain/ynys.mp3

(I’m only learning Welsh on Duolingo myself, so I had to look this up myself back when I was writing the story.)

I know this can be a tough question but what were some of your favorite moments (or moment) in The Dragon of Ynys? Any characters you would consider favorites?

My favourite moment is the night scene in chapter 5. Favourite character is a tougher question, but Snap always has the advantage of being a dragon, so there you go.

I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this, but did you ever consider making The Dragon of Ynys into a picture book as well?

Not really, actually, since it was originally written for LT3’s call. I can see how it might work well to have illustrations accompany this story, but so far we haven’t really talked about this. I do love drawing, but I haven’t been doing it for very long yet, so I don’t know if my own illustrations would be good enough for a real picture book. So while the idea sounds fun to me, whether it would actually ever happen would depend on finding an illustrator, and of course on whether the publisher would consider publishing it again as a picture book.

While reading The Dragon of Ynys, I was wondering about the genre of the story. Who was your target audience while writing this? 

In my opinion, The Dragon of Ynys is a story for all ages. It’s a fairy tale, and those usually aren’t intended just for children or just for adults. Everyone can enjoy them.

I think many adults are happy to find queer characters in a light fantasy read like this. At least I would be, because as I said, I really wrote the story I’d personally love to read. But as you mentioned in your review, the story also touches many subjects that should be discussed with children, and it could be used to introduce those topics to them.

So I recently read another story that had many trans characters as part of the cast. One thing I felt that story lacked was a way to communicate this to the readers clearly. Was this something you found difficult while writing The Dragon of Ynys? Especially for Sir Violet who is Aro/Ace? What do you recommend to creators trying to write characters like this? To make their intentions clear to the reader without just spelling it out?

The advice I hear the most when it comes to this is: “Simply use the word.”

However, I didn’t do that. xD

When I was writing it, I felt it didn’t quite fit the tone of the story to simply throw the labels out there, so instead I described Holly being trans and Violet being aro/ace more implicitly, but in a way that I hope is clear and will resonate with trans and aro/ace readers. Of course they’re not giving a “general definition”, since everyone’s experience is different. Just like not every lesbian would want to get married like Holly and Juniper, not every aromantic person will recognise themselves in what Violet says about not wanting to be in a relationship. He’s just one character, with his own particular spot in the spectrum, and if he knew the words “aromantic” and “asexual”, he’d use them to describe himself. (In fact, if I ever get around to writing a sequel, I will probably make a point of that.)

Also, I noticed that a lot of the character names were flowers, was this something that just happened or is there meaning behind this? Should I start looking up the language of flowers?

The flowers started with Sir Violet. In 2011, I wrote a short fairy tale for my friends at the Dutch-speaking Harry Potter forum. It was called “Ridder Viooltjesblauw”, which would be “Sir Violet-blue” in English. It was about a knight and a rather snappy dragon who, in that version, was called Pootjes (“Paws”, after the name of one of Mrs. Figg’s cats in the Harry Potter books). I wanted to give them both funny names that you wouldn’t immediately expect a knight or a dragon to have.

The story itself wasn’t brilliant, but I really liked those two characters and kept wondering if I couldn’t use them in a better story. But as I’m writing almost exclusively in English these days, I had to translate their names from Dutch. Violet sounded better than Violet-blue, and once I’d come up with the plot for The Dragon of Ynys, I think I decided pretty quickly that Holly’s character looked like a Holly. Then, facing the difficulty of naming the other characters, I decided I’d give them all plant names too. I looked up what characteristics are assigned to certain plants to choose fitting names, and it worked out even for the dragon. Snap still sounded cute and silly, but it fits his character better than Paws ever did. I also like that giving the names a “theme” connects them and says something about the culture of this world, so I’m quite happy with how it turned out, even if originally it was just a way to make the naming process easier for myself.

In terms of writing, can you tell us about any future books you’re working on? Or writing projects in general? What is the best way to keep up with news?

I’ll have a short story out in the Love & Bubbles anthology, which is expected to release in August 2018. It’s called Summoned and it’s about a grumpy old merman who’s trying to express his feelings to the water demon next door, when suddenly the demon gets summoned.

In October, I’ll have a poem and a haiku in LVP Press’ Darkling’s Beasts and Brews: Poetry with a Drink on the Side, which contains horror poetry combined with drink recipes.

I’m also working on a science fiction novel with L.S. Reinholt. We’ve been working on this manuscript for almost five years and it’s evolved into an awesome story. We just need to do a final round of editing and polishing, and then we can start looking for a good home for the book.

Aside from that, I always have several short stories waiting for my attention, and every 2 weeks I write a 10-sentence story inspired by a photo on Paranatellonta.

To keep up with news about my projects, you can hit the “follow” button at the top right of my blog and leave your email address to receive updates directly in your mailbox. (I never update more than once a week and there’s often even more time between blog posts, so your mailbox won’t get cluttered by doing this.)

You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.

Just a question I always like to add, can you give us a couple tips for any aspiring writers who might be reading this?

Tell the story that you’d love to read, or that you really feel you need to tell. There are moments when I see so much writing advice going around that all I feel it can do is confuse writers. But you have your unique voice to tell the story you want to tell, even if it’s not at all what “the market” seems to want right now. It doesn’t matter, because the needs of your audience change with time, and by the time you’re done with the story, there might be a home waiting for it.

However, that doesn’t mean you should never listen to advice, either. I think it’s important to open your mind to learn at all times. Whether it’s an article, or remarks from a betareader or editor, or a storytelling course: there’s always something to pick up and use in your future work. But it’s up to you to choose what you pick up and what you leave. Just try to tell a good story. You’ll learn as you go.

Speaking of writing, can you tell us about your writing process? Do you handwrite or type? Do you need to do a special ritual to get in your writing zone or do you immediately Begin?

I usually write my outlines by hand, because it’s somehow easier to brainstorm on paper. When I’m actually writing out the story, I’ll type it on a laptop, but sometimes when I hit a block, it can help to bring out the paper again and write there until I’ve unravelled the knot.

I can write best when I’m completely isolated from the world, away from distractions and offline (except for my phone, to look up synonyms and translations of words that escape me in English). I love to have a good movie soundtrack in the background. For example, The Dragon of Ynys was written on the extended soundtracks of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Usually I need to more or less know where I’m going with the story from the beginning. Otherwise it’s hard to get it started. But I also don’t like to outline every single point, because I want to keep the writing process exciting for myself and discover new things while I’m typing.


TOUR STOPS

Like always, I’ll be adding the direct links to the posts as they come out!

May 15

May 16

May 20

May 22

May 28

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