Rebecca Ross chats Scottish influences behind Elements of Cadence

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Rebecca Ross, known for her The Queen’s Rising YA duology, has penned her first adult duology, Elements of Cadence. Consisting of A River Enchanted and A Fire Endless, the duology is set on the magical isle of Cadence where girls are going missing from their clan. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind; plaid shawls can be as strong as armor; and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. Jack, who hasn’t set foot in Cadence for 10 years, is summoned home to help find them. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.

Congratulations on the completion of your first adult duology! The most enjoyable and the most challenging part in making the transition from YA to adult?

Thank you so much! The most enjoyable part was giving myself permission to write the books the way I secretly yearned to, which was delving deeper into themes and topics I hadn’t touched on or examined in my YA writing and to also go at my own pace. Torin and Sidra’s arc, for example, was immensely satisfying to me. I think the most challenging part was preparing the book to go on submission for the adult side of the market. I revised it multiple times beforehand, and I remember thinking, “Well, we may not find an editor who is interested, or maybe they will read this and still think it’s YA, since that’s my background.” Thankfully, I found the perfect editor who loved it and taking this duology to the adult side was the best decision for the books.

The greatest thing about Elements of Cadence sitting on the adult shelf is the relationship you get to explore – between couples, with parents, and with children. Why do you think these different relationships are so significant in a fantasy novel?

I tend to gravitate to writing about families in my stories, and I think presenting these relationships in a fantasy setting is very important as it provides us a new lens to view and explore them by. Fantasy novels can give us opportunities, both as readers and as writers, to look at real world situations and relationships from another angle that can help us grow and heal and process things in real life. And I always love when I see deep (and often complicated) familial connections explored in fantasy settings.

Duty, career and sacrifices are also explored in Elements of Cadence, and the characters often have to make difficult choices. Did you always agree with their choices?

I don’t always agree with their choices, but I think that’s one of the best aspects of writing characters who are vibrant and alive on the page. Jack, Adaira, Torin, and Sidra all felt real to me and I wanted them to forge their own paths and to guide me (in a sense) as I wrote. My task as the author is to make things a bit difficult for them, but I do love it when a character takes me by surprise, because I hope that also means readers will feel that shock of emotion and delight (or perhaps weep and rage. Could always go either way!). 🙂

Let’s chat about the setting. What’s on the mood board when you imagined the setting of Cadence?

The Isle of Skye was the initial spark of inspiration for the setting. So if I were to gather together images for a mood board, you would find fairy pools, straths full of bracken and hidden lochs, heather-cloaked hills and rocks and a few craggy mountains, mist and temperamental weather and salty ocean winds, wildflowers, rings of ancient trees, cottages, crofts and wandering sheep and cows, a very old castle, and dirt-packed roads that vanish into fog.

The lux setting is complemented so well by your poetic and lyrical writing. Can you share with us the key to creating such elegant descriptions?

My storytelling gravitates to immersive descriptions, and I love to convey ideas in new, poetic ways. Sometimes this will come naturally as I’m drafting, but other times I have to knead the sentences over and over in revisions until I find the perfect words. I think the key to doing this is to fall back on what’s most important to you as you write: what senses will best compliment it, what mood are you wanting to convey, and then how can the setting or characters or dialogue make that happen in a seamless way? I like to challenge myself to describe or think of things in new veins and so I keep a journal close by. I write snippets down by hand when they come to me in the moment, and that has also helped me grow in lyrical storytelling (and it also means I have heaps of journals at this point, but can you ever truly have too many?).

And with Jack being a bard, music is an important feature in the duology. Any soundtrack while you wrote Elements of Cadence? And if not, any soundtrack you would recommend readers to listen to while reading the books?

Oh yes. I listened to quite a few songs while I wrote this. I drew a lot of inspiration from Bear McCreary, who composed the Outlander and God of War soundtracks. I love James Horner’s Braveheart soundtrack and all of Ramin Djawadi’s music from the Game of Thrones scores. I also like to find more obscure music to enjoy while writing, and for those who are curious, I have playlists for both A River Enchanted and A Fire Endless, which you can find on my Spotify account @ beccajross.

The duology featured the stories of the spirits of fire, water, earth, and wind. Can you tell those of us who don’t know Scottish folklore well more about the importance of these elements?

Yes, I’d love to share more about this. The elements and nature play very important roles in Scottish folktales, and one of those old beliefs is that where fire and water come together, there is sure to be a high potential for magic. I think that’s why certain places, such as the hearth in a home (which is considered the anchor for sacred activities) and certain wells and lochs were believed to hold powerful magic and considered to be portals to the fairy world. Every spring, river, and loch were treated with respect, for it was believed that they each held their own Spirit or patron deity. I was furthermore fascinated by the powers and magic of the twelve winds in Scottish tradition, where the winds are understood to be living Spirits. As such, it’s always best to actively work with the wind. Before setting out on a journey or undertaking any other important task for the day, consult the wind. Each wind has its own qualities and powers (and to share a few…the South Wind brings a rich harvest, the West North West Wind brings death and slaughter, and the East North East Wind brings enchantments and magic) and so that is why it is paramount to pay attention to which one is blowing at any given time. I truly love how Scottish folklore and traditions are attentive to nature and our role within it—how there is magic in small, everyday things if we would only slow down and pay attention to them.

And is there any difference between writing the main story, and writing the stories of the spirits?

There wasn’t much different between writing the two. I found they were very interwoven with each other, and they each challenged and sharpened me in my craft. One of my favorite things about world building is exploring myths, legends, and folktales and creating my own.

What’s next? YA or adult?

Up next is the start of my new YA Duology, Divine Rivals. I pitch this book as You’ve Got Mail in a WWI inspired fantasy setting, where two rival journalists fall in love through letters. It’ll be publishing on April 4, 2023 in the US and April 13 in the UK, with a sequel to follow in 2024. But I also have a few ideas simmering for my next adult project, which I hope to begin working on very soon!

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