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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed author Martha Dunlop about her writing career, including her first book, The Starfolk Arcana, and her latest book, Wild Shadow. She shares her experiences, motivation, and advice for others.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Thank you for having me on The Table Read! I am a story addict, and an explorer of universes that aren’t accessible by foot. A tarot reader and avid follower of astrology, I love writing mystic paranormal novels and bringing psychic experiences into stories set in the normal world. In another life, I worked in PR and before that I studied English and related literature at the University of York.  I have published two novels, The Starfolk Arcana and Wild Shadow. The second book in the Starfolk Trilogy is coming out in the autumn. 

Martha Dunlop, author of Wild Shadow, interviewed on The Table Read
Martha Dunlop, author of Wild Shadow

When did you first WANT to write a book?

I toyed with writing as a child, but always felt I didn’t have enough life experience to write, and all my attempts tailed off into nothing. But the idea was always there as something I wanted to do one day. 

When did you take a step to start writing?

I first started writing seriously in my mid-twenties, but it was a while before I admitted it to anyone! I used to write on my commute into London, and in coffee shops during my lunch breaks. At that point it was wonderful escapism for me, particularly since I was writing fantasy.  I came back to the book later on and rewrote the whole thing as a paranormal novel, so it had two different lives. This book was my training ground. I learned a lot by writing and rewriting it, particularly once I got a professional critique. 

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I worked on that first book for ten or more years, and I haven’t published it. I’m not sure I ever will. My first published book, The Starfolk Arcana, was actually the fourth book I’d written and that one took me four years from start to finish, although I also wrote another two books during that time. I like to write a book and then put it away to marinade while I work on another project, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. I always have at least two on the go.  

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How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

Wild Shadow took me three years from start to publication.  During that time, I also edited and published my first book, The Starfolk Arcana, so the two lived quite happily side by side for a long time. I really enjoyed being able to switch between the two different moods.  The Starfolk Arcana is Urban Fantasy and is darker than Wild Shadow which is paranormal romance.  So it was nice to alternate between the two.  

Martha Dunlop, author of Wild Shadow, interviewed on The Table Read
The Starfolk Arcana by Martha Dunlop

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Wild Shadow?

I started off with two images. The first was a nature spirit, twirling around a branch next to its tiger. The second was a tiger climbing up a fallen tree trunk in a storm, to escape its enclosure at the zoo.  I used to dream a lot about lions and tigers on the loose, and I was keen to explore this as a concept. I also wanted to write about the creative process and the way it can put you into a different state of awareness. This is explored in two different ways in the book: Tabitha astral projects as a tiger when she paints, and Dylan is a drummer, singer and songwriter. 

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What were your biggest challenges with writing Wild Shadow?

Doing my tigers justice was the biggest challenge.  I did lots of research, pulled on whatever personal experience I could and was lucky enough to have support from a friend who knows a lot about tigers and conservation. I’m hugely grateful for that.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

My main character was born from the idea of the nature spirit. I could see her in my mind, twirling around branches by her tiger.  In the book, she a powerful woman and a world famous artist, who astral projects as a white tiger when she paints. She can appear solid, ghostly or even invisible at will and runs with the tigers at the nearby zoo. This close connection leads her to launch a conservation project to build a nature reserve, and to fight for her tigers’ freedom.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

When I was planning the book, I spent a lot of time watching tigers on YouTube and came across videos of captive tigers kept by individuals rather than zoos. This was how my antagonist was born. He is the tiger keeper at the zoo, and he does the job to feel powerful. He doesn’t treat his cats well and can’t understand why Tabitha isn’t falling in love with him. 

What is the inciting incident of Wild Shadow?

Dylan is doing a gig when he first sees the tiger stalking towards him through the audience in the crowded pub. He is rooted to the spot, locked into his drumming and nobody else reacts.  He then sees the tiger again walking towards him in the corridor at a nightclub.  For him, the tiger becomes a muse and a catalyst for change. 

What is the main conflict of Wild Shadow?

Martha Dunlop, author of Wild Shadow, interviewed on The Table Read
Wild Shadow by Martha Dunlop

The main conflicts in the book are internal and centre around authenticity, self-acceptance and taking responsbility for making dreams a reality. That said, for those looking for some action, there is an exciting tiger escape near the end of the book!

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Did you plot Wild Shadow in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I plan the basic structure of my books in advance, and I get to know the characters in my head, but the magic happens when I write that first draft. The stories and characters often surprise me, and I never allow my plan to be a restriction. Instead, I just change it and keep going. 

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Wild Shadow need?

I work with two editors. I have a structural editor who helps me develop the story and characters, as well as brainstorming ideas and changes, and I have a copy editor who does a final pass.  I find these stages enormously helpful and my book always improves a lot through their input.  I also do a lot of editing myself.  The first draft is for my eyes only! That said, each book is needing less editing than the last which is nice to see. 

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Be careful who you take advice from. There are a lot of people giving writing tips online and not all of them are experienced. 

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Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I have a sequel to The Starfolk Arcana coming out in the Autumn.  The first book in the urban fantasy trilogy about psychics, tarot and a personality cult left us with two of the characters kidnapped. In the next book we find out what happened to them, and get to know a guy we met at the end of book one. Things are really hotting up for the main characters. They have new people to meet and new crises to deal with.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

I am proud of my accomplishment.  This moment has been years in the making and I am very grateful to all of the wonderful people who have helped and supported me.  But I’m really only just beginning and am very excited to see what happens next!

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

You can find my books on Amazon here:

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Or order them from your local bookshop or library.

You can also find me online here.  Please do sign up for my mailing list on my website.  I have a prequel story to the Starfolk Trilogy coming free for my newletter subscribers soon!

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