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The Flowers Of Time, By A.L. Lester

QSFer A.L. Lester has a new F/NB fantasy time travel romance out, book three in the “Lost in Time” series – and there’s an interview AND a giveaway: “The Flowers of Time.”

Jones is determined to find out what caused the unexpected death of her father whilst they were exploring ancient ruins in the Himalayas. She’s never been interested in the idea of the marriage bed, but along with a stack of books and coded journals he’s left her with the promise she’ll travel back to England for the first time since childhood and try being the lady she’s never been.

Edie and her brother are leaving soon on a journey to the Himalayas to document and collect plants for the new Kew Gardens when she befriends Miss Jones in London. She’s never left England before and is delighted to learn that the lady will be returning to the mountains she calls home at the same time they are planning their travels. When they meet again in Srinagar, Edie is surprised to find that here the Miss Jones of the London salons is ‘just Jones’ the explorer, clad in breeches and boots and unconcerned with the proprieties Edie has been brought up to respect.

A non-binary explorer and a determined botanist make the long journey over the high mountain passes to Little Tibet, collecting flowers and exploring ruins on the way. Will Jones discover the root of the mysterious deaths of her parents? Will she confide in Edie and allow her to help in the quest? It’s a trip fraught with dangers for both of them, not least those of the heart.

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Guest Post – Interview With A.L. Lester

QSF: Do you have a writing schedule or do you just write when you can find the time?

A.L. Lester: I have a really busy and chaotic family life with kids, a naughty dog and a cat and various helpers and carers coming in and out of the house. My writing time is either carved out when I wake up early and can’t go back to sleep or by being extremely bad-tempered with everyone until they leave me alone. If I do too much of anything at all, I tend to have a seizure. I have both fibromyalgia and FND (functional neurological disorder) which means when I get tired or stressed my brain thinks whoah, time to have a rest and cuts out, so pacing is very important for me. I can go days without writing and then write four thousand words at a sitting, which isn’t ideal, but it is what it is.

QSF: Briefly describe the writing process. Do you create an outline first?  Do you seek out inspirational pictures, videos or music? Do you just let the words flow and then go back and try and make some sense out it?

ALL: Historically, I haven’t outlined. I just start writing and the story and characters develop as I go along. This results in really bitty first drafts with a lot of repetition that I then need to tidy up. However, earlier this year I took part in Tasha L. Harrisons #20kin5days writing challenge. She has a method that starts with writing the blurb and using that to see if there’s a story there and planning the novel from that point over the few days before the challenge starts. It was a really helpful thing for me to do and the WIP I began during the challenge is relatively coherent much earlier in the process than usual. 

I use Scrivener to write with and I usually write in small scenes of 1,000-3,000 words so once they’re out of my head and on to the page I can drag them around to an order that seems to make sense and then drag them back if I don’t like it. 

QSF: Where did the desire to write LGBT romance come from?

ALL: Initially? I was looking for easy reading during a very bad bout of depression and had a KU subscription for a while. I realized there were all these fantastic diverse books out there by LGBTQ authors. And I consumed them. The depression was very much linked to my sense of self and my identity. It was during the period when people were looking back a hundred years to the First World War and I started to think about how someone living now would differ from someone of the same age who had experienced the conflict. That and the personal introspection was how Lost in Time/Shadows on the Border came about. I was trying on different identities and using fiction to work them through I think. 

Once I’d started writing the two books, it became obvious to me that there was eventually going to be a relationship between the Lew and Alec. Then in the second book, Fenn, the non-binary not-quite-elf popped out of my head and I thought oh, my next book is probably going to have a non-binary MC and that was that. Jones in The Flowers of Time is non-binary and probably grey-asexual and Edie, her lover, is probably pan. I didn’t feel I needed to give them discrete labels because in their own time there just isn’t that language for them to think about themselves and that was very liberating to write.

QSF: How much research do you do when writing a story and what are the best sources you’ve found for giving an authentic voice to your characters?

ALL: I’m dreadful at falling down research rabbit-holes. I like all my history to be as accurate as possible, or, if I’m taking liberties, I like to know what I’m deliberately making different. For the scene in the cave in The Flowers of Time they needed a light source. A lamp, a candle or something. And they are in the Himalayas, so candles or whatever you use for lamp-oil in England isn’t going to be that readily available. Butter-lamps seemed to be the right thing. So I started experimenting and ended up drawing the cream off the milk from the farm down the road, making butter with it (in the blender, not by hand, much to everyone’s relief) and then putting it in a little dish with a bit of cotton string to see if it would light. Then I wrote the scene. I couldn’t write the scene until I knew in my head how the light was going to work. 

In the last few months I’ve researched the history of the hosepipe, made everyone eat Victorian root vegetables (there’s a reason some of those old varieties died out), listened to hours of Music Hall songs on YouTube and tried to remember what my grandmother taught me about darning socks. I think it’s probably more part of my character development process than the narrative development. I can’t proceed until I work out whether a person would have read that particular book, or would have worn those particular shoes

I like to read books written in or near the time period- I re-read Vanity Fair for example- and try and read some biographies. There’s a really interesting book by a woman called Isabella Bird, Among the Tibetans, that inspired a lot of Jones’ and Edie’s journey over the mountains. She was travelling in the second half of the nineteenth century, a hundred years later than my story, but a lot of the journey wouldn’t have changed that much. Her attitude toward the local people is dreadful, very patriarchal and exoticizing, but she has a good eye for natural history and description. I read biographies of Marianne North, a botanical illustrator of the same time period and accounts of the East India Company. There is also a very good history of India called Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor, which is much more accurate and complete than a lot of the British histories.

I guess I see myself as a historian first and a fiction writer second? Which is probably a bit up myself if I’m honest, but I do like to get it right. I’m always worried that I haven’t.

QSF: What’s harder, naming your characters, creating the title for your book or the cover design process?

ALL: Well, my lovely publisher does the covers. I get to pick out some pictures I like and suggest them and they are very flexible, but at the end of the day it’s not me putting them together. And the characters just grow names, really. And the title just sort of appears in my head. That’s not a very interesting answer, is it? But it’s true.

QSF: “How do you answer the question “Oh, you’re an author…what do you write?”

ALL: I look people in the eye and say queer paranormal-historical-romantic-suspense. And then they usually stutter something polite and I start ranting at them about historical research.

QSF: What does your family think of your writing?

ALL: They like it. Mr AL writes sci-fi and thrillers in between caring for me and for our younger daughter and our older child is vocally excited about having two writers as parents. My mother is supportive in the broad sense…she was very positive about a short story featuring Jones and Edie that I showed her a week or two ago. But she wasn’t that keen on Lost in Time. Imagine a very, very BBC-English lady saying “Well dear, I’m sure it’s very good, but there are rather too many fucks and cocks in it for my liking!

QSF: Tell us about your current work in process and what you’ve got planned for the future.

ALL: I’m currently working on a romance about a disabled farmer and a disgraced stockbroker set in 1972. I am slightly regretting the historical period due to the prevalence of moustaches and man-made fabrics.

On my waiting list I have a post-apocalyptic farming romance; a 1920s sequel for Shadows on the Border featuring Fenn the non-binary not-quite-elf and their police sergeant; a romance between Edie’s brother Henry and his friend Carruthers set in the 1780s alongside Flowers and perhaps another Edie and Jones mystery. And I’m coming to the end of Inheritance of Shadows, which is a novella-length sequel to The Gate (a free short story) that’s been going out to my newsletter lovelies and kofi-subscribers.

My head’s quite full and I find it difficult to concentrate on one thing at a time!

QSF: Do you have any advice for all the aspiring writers out there?

ALL: I think that keep writing is the main one. It’s very easy to get discouraged and stop, but for me and a lot of people I speak to, that discouragement is part of the process. I definitely reach a point where I loathe my work in process, the plot and all the characters and just want to pretend they never happened. When you hit that point, go away for a few week and write something else. Walk on the beach. Watch rubbish telly. Then come back and look at it with a less jaded eye and push on through.

QSF: If you could travel forward or backward in time, where would you go and why?

ALL: I hate this question and I always get asked it! I am soooo anxious that the idea of time-travel makes me sweat. Do you go backwards and end up somewhere with no antibiotics, no local knowledge and the possibility of dying horribly from dysentery or a terrible misunderstanding over pronunciation? Or do you go forward and take the chance the world hasn’t yet been conquered by people-eating aliens? Someone once commented that Lew in Lost in Time “deals with time-travel in the way a normal person would”. Which I think was the biggest compliment anyone has every paid me. If I had to choose… I choose being someone rich somewhere rural. A benign Lord of the Manor in the early nineteenth century, please, somewhere in the middle of England. And would like to retain all my teeth.


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Edie was still washing when she heard the commotion.  The sheep and goats were making a dreadful racket, baaing and wailing much louder than she had ever heard them, even when they were on the move.  Then the herd dogs joined in, giving tongue like Edie had never heard before.  She didn’t have her stays on.  Or her chemise.  Or anything. She hastily pulled her dress over her head, grabbed up the pistol she kept by her camp bed and dashed out toward the noise in her bare feet, hair flying.

She ran without a thought.  She didn’t know where anyone else was, but she assumed Henry and Bennett and the young men had already started the day of surveying they had planned last night.  She and Jones had discussed riding out to look at the ruined caravanseri they had glimpsed from the hilltop yesterday as they were riding down into the valley, but Jones was usually up and about well before Edie emerged from her tent each morning, as were her men.

When she reached the little flock of sheep and goats, she stopped in horror.  She wasn’t at first able to make out what she was seeing, but then it came into focus sharply, with scents and sounds and colors.  There was a tiger in among the goats.  It was eating one of them.  Margery, the leader of the herd.  The three herd dogs were going berserk, barking and making short forays toward the tiger, before backing off again.  The goats couldn’t get away because they were tied.  The tiger was sat in the middle of them, with its kill.  It was peaceably eating Margery for breakfast.

Edie screamed.  The dogs barked.  Distantly she heard voices shouting, but they were a long way away.

The tiger looked at her. Or perhaps through her. It had big, black, bottomless eyes and looked annoyed that she had disturbed its breakfast.  It stood up, ponderously, and growled. If anything, its eyes became darker and more menacing.

“I really don’t want your breakfast,” Edie said.  “I liked Margery, I’m not going to eat her.” The dogs were still barking like mad.

The tiger growled again, sniffing the air. It took a step forward.

Edie raised the pistol.  She was pretty handy with it now.  Henry had made her practice and practice at home before they had set out on their journey.  She could shoot a musket as well, although she wasn’t very good at loading.  Her pistol was loaded.  Henry had said that it was dangerous to keep a firearm loaded but that at night, fumbling in the dark to load one if the camp was attacked would take too long and might get her killed.  Generally speaking, Henry  had been very brutal in his explanations before he had agreed to bring her along.  Edie spared a brief second to be grateful to her brother, although not too grateful, because a proper brother would be here at this point defending her from the tiger.

The tiger took a step forward.  Edie said “I really don’t want to shoot you.  Please take Margery and go away.”

The tiger growled some more.

Edie swallowed.  She was going to have to shoot it.  She had no idea how easy it was to kill a tiger, but she had a vague idea that shooting it and missing or shooting it and only wounding it would be a bad outcome.

It had Margery’s blood all around its mouth and down its front.  It looked like it was a male tiger. It had a beard and lots of muscle.  It was very large and its eyes were completely black.  It probably came up somewhere between her waist and her shoulder.  She really hoped it wasn’t going to kill her and eat her.  She didn’t have her stays on.  She didn’t want to die without her stays on. Her mother would be mortified.

Author Bio

A. L. Lester likes to read. Her favourite books are post-apocalyptic dystopian romances full of suspense, but a cornflake packet will do there’s nothing else available. The gender of the characters she likes to read (and write) is pretty irrelevant so long as they are strong, interesting people on a journey of some kind.

She has two and a half degrees, a BA in Archaeology and History; a MSc in Geographical Information Systems; and a few half-arsed courses as part of a Science and Science Fiction undergrad. In galaxies long ago and far away she has coded GIS, taught computing skills in the community, was a very expensive secretary and worked as an audio-visual technician. It came as a great surprise when health and safety got upset about pregnant people climbing ladders to do rigging; and so she gave all that up to breed poultry, bees, plants and children.

Now she has a chaotic family life and has become the person in the village who looks after the random animals people find in the road. She is interested in permaculture gardening and anything to do with books, reading, technology and history. She has stress-related seizures and lives in a small village in rural Somerset with Mr AL, two not-quite-teenage children and various animals and birds. She is seriously allergic to both rabbits and Minecraft and struggles to find time to write, but manages anyway, because it’s what keeps her going.

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