Author feature – A.W. Exley

I got a little bit overexcited last week because I found a new author that I really love. The magic doesn’t happen that often for me, so it was great to find myself absorbed in a new series of books, and equally great to discover that the author herself is a lovely lady who was more than happy to answer the questions of her newest fangirl. So today, please allow me the pleasure of introducing you to A.W. Exley. I caught up with her to ask a few questions, and then I reviewed two of her books.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and a little bit about your writing journey.

I live in New Zealand on 12 acres with an assortment of animals. I’m one of those people who has always had a pen in hand, scribbling down stories but I never seriously considered publication. Then for health reasons I decided to drop down to part time work and I needed to fill in those extra hours. Once I weaned myself off Farm Town, I thought I should do something more productive! Lol

I decided to pull out my scribblings and actually show them to someone…

2. The series of yours we’ve been reading is The Artefact Hunters. Where did the idea for this series come from?

I love Egypt, so decided whatever I wrote, had to incorporate an Egyptian element. Plus I am fascinated by serial killers, so I wanted one of those. I love historical novels, and the aspects just kind of came together in my head: Victorian, something from Egypt and a killer.

3. We absolutely love your characters and how you’ve made them so emotionally intriguing! How do you balance a character like Nathaniel Lyons that can be so dark and cold so that he’s such a loveable rogue; and was it hard to get the perfect blend of strong, sassy and vulnerable for Cara?

Everybody has different aspects to their character and we all have our strengths and weaknesses. As Nate and Cara grew in my head, I could see how they complimented each other and drove each other nuts! Cara is healing from the trauma in her past and Nate is just the right blend of person to help her heal and move forward. At the same time, she keeps him grounded.

4. One of the awesome things about this series is the technology and the way it’s so matter of fact in the world you’ve built. Did you always intend for it to be so seamlessly unobtrusive and unremarked upon by the characters or did it just happen that way?

I think every writer approaches steampunk in their own way. I’ve read books that are very technologically slanted and gadget laden and that drives the plot to a large extent. I wanted my world to be the background and unobtrusive. It’s a different take on Victorian England, but the story is about Cara’s adventures, not how I’ve changed the time line. I deliberately kept everything low key, if it’s necessary I mention it, otherwise I leave it alone, chugging away in the background somewhere.

5. Where did the idea for those amazing mechanical horses come from? They made us picture the kelpies from here in Scotland!

They just seemed like a real extravagence. Usually with steam power it’s all about horseless carriages, but I thought if you had enough money, what about mechanical horses? Like carasol horses come to life. Plus I found a picture of a sculpture of a metal horse and I just thought “wow, that would be so cool if it worked!”

6. Steampunk can sometimes seem a little elitist and puritan about only using steam powered devices. Was it a conscious decision to incorporate batteries and wind-powered technology or was it a natural progression in line with the plot?

I’m not big on doing what everyone else is doing, and the elitist attitude of some within the steampunk community is really sad, and stops a lot of people from joining in because of the self appointed police force. Batteries and electricty can fit into a Victorian story. I find it funny when I see comments from people that electricity wasn’t invented until after WWI! Lol Batteries have been around for thousands of years and it was in researching light bulbs I found out that a Scottish inventor made working bulbs in the 1830s. I liked the idea of the wealthy using small wind turbines to generate enough electricty to power their lights, it was another way to show the class division.

7. Steampunk is also really big in the fashion world. Do you costume or cosplay? If so, please share some of your favourite pieces and/or suppliers with us.

I don’t costume or cosplay, it’s more a lifestyle choice! I’ve worn corsetry for a long time and even have a custom made corset specifically for riding sidesaddle (they are cut higher over the hips). Some of my favorite places to shop are Damsel in this Dress and Venefica Corsetry. For the most awesome, amazing hats there is Lilly B I just bought a Poe corset from Venefica, how cool is this?

And I have this hat coming to me from Lilly, it’s going to be my writing inspiration hat

8. In July you announced on your Facebook page that there wouldn’t be any new books from you this year, citing various reasons. As authors ourselves, we know how hard it can be to strike the balance between where the muse takes us and what our readers want. What’s your ‘go to’ comfort place? How do you achieve a healthy balance?

This has been really hard, and I feel I am letting readers down. Unfortunately I have health concerns and the possibility of surgery that is taking a lot of mental energy. As a reader, I know how frustrating it is to wait over a year for a book in a series and I hate having to do that to people. I’m hoping to be back on track by Christmas and I find it helps to have lists of what projects need writing and what stage they are at. For me, the ideal situation would be 2 novels and maybe 1 novella a year. But don’t hold me to that!

9. Also in July, you won a Readers Choice Award. Congratulations! How was it for you?

Thank you! That one was a real surprise. There is a magazine called BTS that carries a lot of reviews. Once a year, their reviewers pull together their top reads for the year and Nefertiti’s Heart was one of those. I never expected to win and I’m gutted I couldn’t go. They had a big red carpet awards ceremony. It’s just amazing to think that not only are people reading your book, but some actually LIKE it! That just blows me away.

10. If you could have one item from the series in real life, what would it be? (I really want an air ship. I think I’d be a badass sky pirate lol)

I want a dragon. It doesn’t even have to be a big dragon, I would be happy with a smallish house trained dragon…

11. Your research has obviously been quite meticulous, especially given that you don’t live in London. How do you go about this part of your writing process? How do you draw the line between fact and fiction, especially since you feature real people, such as Queen Victoria?

I have been to the UK and spent a lot of time in London which helps, as there are little nods to places that stuck in my mind, like Libertys. And tiny little bookshops that seemed suspended in time. With using real people, I think its about knowing a bit about their character and then dropping them into situations and imagining how they would react. Queen Victoria expanded the British Empire to make it the greatest the world had ever seen. It wasn’t too hard to give her meglomania a prod in Hatshepsut’s Collar.

12. Many of the artefacts have a link to Egypt. Is that primarily because it’s an interest of yours or is it because it was a fascination of the Victorians, who sent many an explorer searching for tombs?

I love Egypt. When I was at high school all I wanted was to be an Egyptologist. I even studied Egyptology at university, but alas that career didn’t happen. I originally intended to have every novel feature an Egyptian artifact, but those names are seriously hard to spell and fit on a cover! Hatshepsut’s Collar gave me and the cover artist nightmares, after that I promised to only use easy to spell artifacts.

13. Who are some of your favourite authors to read for pleasure?

My reading tastes are very eclectic. Anne McCaffrey has been a favourite for decades. I consume her books and often re-read. I thought it was fab how she passed the world of Pern over to her son before she died. I’ve dropped hints at home, but my son’s not interested in picking up the Artifact hunters! Lol I am a huge Nalini Singh fan, I love her psi-changling series and it is so hard to wait a year between books! I also enjoy Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series.

14. If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t give up, the voices in your head don’t like it if you try and shut them off 😉

15. Your cover art is great! Would you like to give a shout-out to whoever designed it?

The original Artifact Hunters covers were designed by Ricky Gunawan, a fabulous digitial artist.

16. I know this is a weird question, but we ask it of everyone we interview – if you were a cake, what would you be and why?

Lemon syrup cake. A bit dense, tart and zingy 😉

Thank you so much! These are fascinating answers and we’re so glad you took the time to give them!

Although I’ve read the entire series now, I have just reviewed the first book of the Artifact Hunters series – Nefertiti’s Heart, available here

I’m so glad I took a chance on this book. Steampunk is one of my favourite genres and I adored the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, but lately all the Steampunk books I’ve attempted to read have been significantly subpar. I stopped reading Steampunk several months ago but recently I got back into historical novels and as I was searching Amazon for something to spend my birthday gift vouchers on (my friends know me so well!) I stumbled upon this book.

Sassy heroine? Check! Steampunk? Check! Dark and brooding hero with a mystery involvement? Check! Links to Egyptian history and artefacts? Check. A series of grisly murders? Check! Yes, I was one-clicking this as fast as my mouse could move!

I loved it. The story is well written and romps along at a thrilling pace, through murders and social etiquette and romance in a well-melded and perfectly balanced mix.

Cara, our heroine, is a very likeable character. She’s such a strong person but she has her vulnerable moments, usually around the dark and dashing Lord Nathaniel Lyons, but the story is carefully crafted in such a way that the reader doesn’t know until the end whether he is to be trusted or not. He’s a classic anti-hero and I love him as a character. He’s a bad dude. You don’t mess with him because you’ll die horribly. He traffics in illegal goods and sometimes he’s controlling in the way that men were back then, but it’s tempered by irrepressible charm and a desire to see Cara safe. He has his own moral code that he doesn’t step over the lines of. He’s a sky pirate. A SKY PIRATE. What’s not to love??

This isn’t “pure” steampunk, for the people that care about that sort of thing. As well as the classic steam powered gadgets, there are batteries and wind turbines, some of which power mechanical steel horses. There are the classic air ships though, which are always my favourite.

I think what I liked most about this book was that I totally didn’t see the villain coming, which is rare for me. I usually have it worked out by about 40%.

I enjoyed it enough that I finished the book and went straight and downloaded the rest of the series! Definitely recommended, particularly if you enjoy steampunk and aren’t a puritan.

I also read and very much enjoyed Ella, The Slayer, available here.

This is a very different re-telling of the Cinderella story, told in a time just after WW1. The soldiers that survived have come back to Britain, bringing with them what seems at first to be Spanish Influenza, but later becomes some sort of zombie virus that resurrects corpses.

The story adheres quite closely to the main tenets of the fairytale – wicked stepmother, ugly sisters, a prince (who is a duke for the purposes of this tale) and a displaced daughter forced into servitude. Don’t make the mistake of assuming this is a simple story, though.

Ella is a dark and complex character. She has lost so much and she lives a life of utter misery. Not only is she regularly beaten and forced to do the most awful kinds of drudgery, she has a special but reviled place at the heart of the community as the person everyone else calls on to put the zombies out of their misery when they come into the village seeking food. They need her help but they hate her for it, convinced she’s committing murder and is going to hell. She struggles with her loss in a way that makes the reader empathise with her. She’s strong but vulnerable, sassy yet open to being railroaded by her awful stepmother. It’s something that Exley does so well – balancing these cognitively dissonant characters perfectly in ways that draw the reader in.

The portrayal of Somerset is idyllic and since it is the home of much of my family, that too was a bonus for me 🙂

As with her other series, the details of the period are meticulously researched – the vehicles, the clothing, the social conventions…it’s another thing Exley excells at.

All in all, I’m very excited to see what else I can find from this author and she’s up there amongst my favourites!

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