Roses and Rot – Thoughts on Art and Faerie

Last weekend I tried to implement a ‘Writing and Study Free Weekend’ and ended up reading Roses and Rot by Kat Howard from e-cover to e-cover.

25732504What would you sacrifice for everything you ever dreamed of? Imogen has grown up reading fairy tales about mothers who die and make way for cruel stepmothers. As a child, she used to lie in bed wishing that her life would become one of these tragic fairy tales because she couldn’t imagine how a stepmother could be worse than her mother now. As adults, Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program—Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there’s more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she’s dreamed about as a child, but it’s one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart’s desire.

The book is structured around the tale of Tam Lin with a touch of Thomas the Rhymer. The original story revolves around the rescue of Tam Lin by his true love from the Queen of the Fairies. Here, the tale is retold and traditional roles changed so instead of a loved up couple it’s about sisters. Instead of a wicked step mother, there is an abusive mother who is tremendously well crafted.

I started writing as an escape, as an act of defiance. If I hadn’t had a childhood that had driven me so far into stories, that might never have happened. But I liked who I had become, and I was proud of my writing. Take away one thing, and maybe I don’t get the other.

There are three major themes that play out; fairy tales, family and art. To my reading the main theme is the latter. There are deep thoughts about art woven into the narrative and with the characters staying at an artists retreat its easy to explore the ups and downs and the layers of insecurities and ambitions that artists suffer from. There were times when it felt like a conversation with friends who are artists, the complaints were so familiar. There are things in this book, phrases and other tense moments, that non-artists won’t fully appreciate. It’s a fairy tale for artists with multiple levels of sacrifice and soul searching.

The faeries demand the best artist from the school as a tithe for seven years, after which they will be granted their hearts desire. In most cases its the success of their art and its longevity, the difference in being good and great. There is a manic factor to artists ambitions and it’s illustrated with an uncanny accuracy. I know I won’t be the only writer who feels a little uneasy and awkward when Imogen’s thoughts and desires are reflected in their own. It’s a story that asks boldly – what wouldn’t you do to be a successful artist?

The story also explores how abusive situations can drive a person to art in order to feel in control or to have a voice. Howard’s accuracy in this particular subject is like a scalpel blade to scar tissue. There is even the familiar ‘someone always has it worse’ game that the abused run over in their mind:

 You always tell yourself that there’s someone who has it worse, and if you lived through the abuse, there almost certainly was. There’s a horrible sort of comfort in reassuring yourself in that fashion—maybe you were hungry some nights, but you had food. Maybe you got slapped, but at least you didn’t get beaten. Maybe you got beaten, but at least you never had broken bones. You think of the worst thing that happened to you, and then you think of something even worse than that. If you survived, you always can, and so by pained, contorted logic, what happened to you wasn’t really that bad. Maybe your mother tried to break you, to tell you that you were nothing, that you’d never matter, that you were a waste of her time, but she never succeeded. Maybe you still have scars, but those marks on your skin mean you’ve lived long enough to heal.

Pain and art goes hand in hand and as a tithe its the emotion that Faerie feeds off…the greater the pain or emotion the better it is.

Maybe you lived, once, a life full of secrets. Ones you could never tell, not because you didn’t know the words, but because you had learned, time and time again, that the words didn’t matter. People would rather believe a pretty lie than an ugly truth, and you were always the one who wasn’t believed. So you learned the power in silence, and in secrets. Maybe you still look over your shoulder, but at least you got away. And after all, if you’d had a childhood that was different, one that didn’t always feel like walking on knives, maybe you would never have found your voice. If you hadn’t been forced to swallow your words, you would have never learned the power in speaking them. This is what you tell yourself. This is how you keep breathing. This is what happily ever after means.

Creating art has a way of cutting you deep even as it heals you. Like magic it always has a price.

My only criticism of the work is I would’ve liked to see more of Faerie..not because it’s necessary but because I’m fascinated how every writer describes it differently.

A thought provoking beautiful book and highly recommended to anyone who needs and artistic brush with the fae. Be careful what you wish for.

The Blessing of Dark Things

Twitter can be the unexpected giver of delightful gifts and random connections. A fortnight ago I saw a photo shared by Laini Taylor of a parcel she’d received containing a copy of Dark Things by urban fantasy writer Sukanya Venkatraghavan. I read the back cover of the photo and thought ‘Gosh, that sounds like my cup of tea.’

Oh how little I knew what I was about to discover:


Somewhere on Prithvi, a mortal survives a supernatural attack. In the dark realm of Atala, an evil goddess prepares to do the unspeakable. And a Yakshi finds herself at the heart of an other-worldly storm.

Ardra has only known life as a Yakshi, designed to seduce and kill men after drawing out their deepest, darkest secrets for her evil mistress Hera, queen of the forsaken realm of Atala. Then, on one strange blood moon night, her victim, Dwai, survives, and her world spins out of control. Now Ardra must escape the wrath of Hera, who is plotting the unthinkable, ready to throw the universe into chaos.

To stop Her, Ardra must find answers to questions she hasn’t dared to ask before. What is the significance of the blood moon? Do Gandharvas and Apsaras exist or are they as much a myth as the sky city of Aakasha? Who is the mysterious Dara and what makes Dwai impervious to her powers?

Combining fantasy with the rich tapestry of folklore, Dark Things is a strange fairytale wrought of intrigue and enchantment, of shadows and secrets, of evil and those who battle it.

For starters I know surprisingly little about Indian mythology and this book ties in a lot of different myth tales. My ignorance of the root stories added to my intense enjoyment of the reading. As you all know myths and folk tales are my passion so to be able to be drawn into something so new was a continuous source of wonder.

I’ve started talking (argh fan girling) Sukanya on Twitter who much to my delight has become my spirit guide of book recommendations and an advice giver on where to start wading into the rich and varied world of Indian folklore. Its opening up new worlds and ideas for me which my story teller heart is feeding off like a Yakshi on a secret (see what I did there).

Alright, back to Dark Things.

Those of us who read a lot of paranormal fiction know there is an ocean of succubus books out there. To set the record straight this story is on a whole different level. It’s not simply a book about a succubus who rebels against her maker, or falls in love with a human, or fights to stop a terrible tyrant. It’s a story thats focal point is stories and the power of secrets.

A concept that really spoke to me in the story is that of the Untellable Secret- something that if spoken the hearer and the teller are never the same again. As someone who has carried the burden of such a thing I know the gravity of the secret that binds Ardra, Dara, Hera and other characters together. Some secrets leave a stain, they shape who and what we are and what we become. Once told they are like a drop in the ocean and you can’t stop the ripple effect they have. It is also a story of memories of things lost but not forgotten. I’ve got strong memories linked to frangipani flowers so this symbol within the story also really spoke to me and helped set the scene.

As I read Sukanya’s words I felt like someone with a kindred spirit was telling me a story over tea (black, strong and floral). “Listen up Know it All,” Sukanya says to me,”I’m going to tell you something that you’ve never heard before so be quiet, pay attention and try and keep up.” It’s presumptuous of me, I know, but all I could think was; Finally, here is someone who really gets it, who believes in the power of storytelling and the old tales, who will understand what I’m trying really hard to do…we want to write the new myths. The kind of stories that tease the back of your imagination because they feel like they are a story you once knew and have forgotten. They aren’t the kind of stories where everyone gets out alive, where the lovers are always triumphant or the heroes don’t pay a massive price for being a hero.

There is a deep melancholy sense of loss in Dark Things…all the characters feel it on some level. They don’t want to be the heroes but they are the only ones that can be.

After I finished reading it I knew I was going to suffer from the worst book hangover. I cleaned the house as cleaning is when I work out the messy problems in my brain. I’m melancholy. I’m undone. I’m hardcore in love with a Gandharva. I fear for the next book I pick up because I know that whatever it is I’m going to be disappointed. It’s not it’s fault.

I don’t think I’m writing this review very well because I know I haven’t finished processing. I know there are things I’ve missed and I’m going to have to re-read it again in a few months time so I can appreciate the finer flourishes. It’s hard to find an urban fantasy book with such complex storytelling.

Okay, I’m going, but I’m going to leave you with my favourite paragraph of the book, from an enchanted Forest of Fireflies:

“A story is only as true as you believe it to be,” said Dara. “A myth is only as wondrous as the imagination of the people who pass it down through the ages. I don’t know if the story of the sun, moon and stars is true. I don’t know if the stars were once cold, in a time before time was even born; I don’t know if the Sun pines for the Old Moon, my mother. But I know this – the universe is full of strange,beautiful stories, some untellable, some forgotten, and some written in a language that nobody can read, not even the Gods. These stories exist because the universe does, and the universe blazes on because these stories keep it alive. You and me, are the stories. We live and so does the universe. One does not exist without the other.” 

Writing Catch Ups and What Nots

Hi Everyone

Long time no chat. I have had a crazy couple of weeks so I thought I’d drop in and debrief on all the stuff thats going on.

I feel bad for not being around so much but the good news is things are going to calm down (are listening Universe??).

I’ve wrapped up final assignments for the two university units that I’ve been working on for the last twelve weeks. Me trying to get this Bachelor done really cracks me up sometimes. I’ve really done my education ass about face so now I’m still trying to get a degree in Creative Writing finished when I have three books out and I’ve held a steady freelance writing job. I know all education is worth it but sometimes I fight and flail against the education system with frustration at it all. I’m studying an Ancient History unit next semester (only the one) so I’m hoping there will be less me shouting at the computer screen about how assigned books for a Romance genre are actually Literature and the how whoever wrote the lectures is extremely dismissive of genre fiction. Admittedly it was much worse when they tried to teach me about Speculative Fiction but sometimes I need to just shut the fuck up, play the game and try and get through it. The good news is I’ve only got three units left in my Major writing stream and the rest of my degree can be electives and I’ll find more interesting units to do. I really hate school sometimes.

Okay, next!

My partner spent a week in Hong Kong for work so I spent my week doing a writing challenge. I find ‘Middles’ of books can drag about if I don’t watch what I’m doing. After a full re-structure of my current work in progress, BLAISE, I was floundering a bit so a writing challenge was in order. I aimed to do 1000 words/ day for a week and my total ended up being over 11,000. I’m 900 words away for having my middling out of the way which is great news. Writing challenges help me push out all the voices saying ‘this is stupid no one is going to read this’ and ‘this makes no sense even to you’ and ‘you really should eat the rest of that chocolate in the fridge cos you ain’t no writer’ and just focus on the words. I know writing challenges are some peoples form of hell but every couple of months I need it and so does my writing. I’m happy with the way it’s pulling together and fingers crossed I don’t hate it by the end of it.


As a few Twitter posts have suggested (I do a lot more on Twitter than Facebook so make sure you come say hi @AmyKuivalainen) I have been working on final copy edits and covers and publishing what nots for the third Firebird Fairytales book – Rise of the Firebird. This is the final book in the trilogy, it’s massive but it’s also my favourite. I will make announcements when the process is a little bit further on and make you aware of release dates and all that jazz  *spirit fingers*


I’m in the process of changing publishers to Ingram. Amazon have been great but Ingram are published here in Melbourne and so shipping costs and product are much cheaper to produce. They have publishing houses all over the world so it should end up being cheaper for anyone chasing paperbacks. Their distribution is wider and even though its more work for me once its done I’m going to be stoked and you, the readers, will be better off.


I’ve got two series that I could launch after the Firebird Fairytales is wrapped up. One is an epic fantasy YA/New Adult series that I originally finished when I was 19 and have recently pulled to pieces and rebuilt to make it a real book, well two books because together its 180k words. There is a third spin off book that I will work on in the future.

The other series is a gothic fantasy romance series that I began in September last year. BLAISE is the second book of that series and it does feature a character we meet in the Firebird Fairytales. It isn’t a spin off series but it does happen after the events of Rise of the Firebird. It ties in a lot of Celtic history and mythology and could be read totally independently from Firebird.

Why am I telling you this? WELL. I’m struggling to decide where to go next because I’m still writing/ working on both. I had the Firebird Fairytales completely wrapped up before I launched book 1 and in doing that I could tie and foreshadow like crazy. I’m ultra conscious of continuity issues within other writers books (looking at YOU Sookie Stackhouse)  so I want to make sure that I make the right decisions.

I have this feeling when the time comes it will be a roll of a dice or Duke the Shepherd will decide for me.


I haven’t had a Free Stories for a while, the next one is over 8k words to make up for the time between drinks. It will be out soon but I’ll write another blog announcing it.


I started a new day job in March. It’s been really challenging and rewarding but new jobs always take it out of me so I’ve been a bit fatigued  but making my way back to where I need to be.

In conclusion with everything else going on the poor blog has been neglected but I’ve scaled back uni and pushed out some dead lines on other things so expect to see more of me.

Duke the Shepherd says Hi.

Amy xoFullSizeRender


On Little Gods

Great words of advice that is important to hear. I’m in the process of getting together the third Firebird Fairytales and even though I do have control over covers I don’t have control over much else when it comes to how well the marketing goes (no matter how much copy I write) it’s all thrown to the wind and the randomness of Fate and the Strange Elder Gods of Publishing.

Victoria (V.E.) Schwab

I’ve been thinking a lot about control. As a writer, you sculpt a world from scratch, populate it with people, with stories, and control them all. From the geography to the folklore, the smallest details to the largest plots. It’s in your hands.

In that sense, as a writer, you become a ‘little god’.

But in publishing–that business side of the art, your control dissolves.

You don’t control whether the book sells.

You don’t control the marketing budget if he does.

You don’t control the publisher’s investment.

You don’t control your place in-house.

You don’t control the sales plan.

You don’t control the cover art.

You don’t control the jacket copy.

You don’t control how the book is portrayed, publicized, given, sold to the world.

You don’t control anything.

Or at least, it can feel that way.

Because, of course, you still control one thing.

The words.

The content between…

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