The time is now! ‘The Immortal City’ is out in the world at last! I’ve talked about it a lot in vague terms and descriptions the past few months to avoid spoilers but no more. Over the next few blogs I’m going to be talking about the main players in ‘The Immortal City’; and today I’m starting with the Big Two: Penelope and Alexis. Don’t worry I’m still going to make these as spoiler free as possible, while giving you a bit of insight into who they are and how they wandered into my brain and developed into the characters you’ll meet.
Penelope Bryne started as a panic attack.
I had been thinking about writing an Atlantis book for a while, and having a female archaeologist as my protagonist, and I’d been working for universities / academia and had an insight into the daily struggles, but didn’t have a feel for her just yet. Then life got in the way.
I’m not a sharer, but I’m comfortable enough to say I was not in a good place anxiety wise in early 2017. My work place wasn’t a healthy one so I knew that it needed to change, and I was locked into a contract until May and thought I could keep it together and wait it out. In April, I started having public panic attacks. In restaurants that were too crowded, on the train going home from work etc and then as I sat holding in tears in the bathroom of a strangers house, at a party I’d been convinced to go to…there was Penelope. Anxiety filled and in the darkest place, feeling like a failure and unable to even control her own mind and body.
I started writing her, and I felt like if I could write a character and how she dealt with her anxiety, maybe I could figure out my own. Pen was doing yoga and meditation, so I got back into it and man, has it helped on so many levels. I’m not saying Penelope is a reflection of me, or that her triggers are the same, but writing her struggles as I went through my own was therapeutic. It still is. I wanted a character who had the panic attacks and anxiety, but still got up and did what she had to and manage it as best as she could. I wasn’t thinking of an audience at the time I planned and wrote ‘The Immortal City,’ I was thinking how as a reader I don’t see people with anxiety being the heroes. Yeah, sure, there are some that I’ve found where the character has anxiety, but it tends to mysteriously get cured pretty early on when they find the right man/place they belong/ the ‘source’ of their anxiety like magical interference. I’m going to tell you right now – Penelope’s anxiety doesn’t go away through the whole series because you don’t get cured of that shit, you only learn to manage it.
Penelope has an impossible dream– to find the historical Atlantis. This dream has shaped her life in all aspects as a daughter, an academic and as a woman. It’s impacted her relationships and drives her waking moments. I wanted a character to get a glimpse of achieving that dream and having it taken away, her hard work and research panned and her grant money gone. I work in a creative industry so I know a little bit about having the impossible dream, especially when it gets trodden on. I was also working closely with academics and seeing firsthand how they spend so much of their professional life trying to get grants, publish articles and get recognition for the work that they do and have the means to continue it. I’ve seen people burst into tears when they’ve been denied grant funding because it means they have to leave their research and go back to teach in order to pay the bills. I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with teaching or it’s a lesser vocation because it’s not, but I wanted to share this side of academia because you never see Lara Croft or Robert Langdon being forced to say no to an adventure because they don’t have the cash or means of obtaining it.
Penelope is absolutely the kind of person obsessed with her dream enough to leave her holiday to go to Venice because something pertaining to her research has turned up at a crime scene. While I don’t like to inflict talk of ‘themes’ onto readers, obsession in all its forms plays a big part in the Magicians of Venice series, and nearly every single character in is obsessed with something.
Okay, I don’t think I can say tooooo much more about Pen without giving out spoilers apart from adding she’s an Aussie and an only child. For a bit of fun, I’ve created a yoga flow for her that you can find below. It’s not intensive, as she uses yoga to calm down, and I’ve enjoyed putting this one together for anyone who’s interested. FYI – I’m not a yoga teacher, this is for fun, please practice safely.
Penelope’s ‘Calm the Fk Down’ Yoga Flow
- Childs Pose
- Forward Fold
- Sun salutation
- Mountain Pose
- Warrior 1
- Down Dog
- Childs Pose
(ten rounds, 3 breaths for each move)
Alexis Donato started as a dream.
Before I had Penelope, I had Alexis. Penelope made me work to see her character and her motivations clearly, Alexis was a god damn freight train of ‘Here I am. Try to understand me at your peril. No, I’m not changing because you want me gentler, or easier, or less complicated.’ Alexis turned up in a dream, in fact a bunch of dreams. And yes, I know how lame this sounds, and yes, just because I had a cool dream doesn’t mean it makes a cool story. Dreams can be pretty bullshit but bullshit fertilises (as the saying goes).
Dream 1, came about as all of the Atlantis and research primordial ooze was percolating in my brain. In the dream I knew I was someone else. I wasn’t *me* but I was in Venice at night and someone stepped from the shadows and stabbed me as I was admiring the view from a bridge. I toppled into a canal and when I came to I was in a stranger’s house and that stranger was Alexis, who told me he was a magician from Atlantis. For those who’ve read ‘The Immortal City’ this scene may seem familiar although not in this form. It’s because I couldn’t leave this moment out of it. Alexis had arrived and I woke up thinking I really shouldn’t eat so much before bed, but this character refused to go away. The following week I had about three different dreams including having coffee with him in the San Marco piazza. The bastard wouldn’t leave me alone and I knew in my bones I had one of my main characters. The weird thing was, once I had Alexis, every bit of random research I had scattered through notebooks all clicked into place. He was the keystone, the spider in the web, and the plot connected in the most surprisingly creepy way. Writing this series has been like that from day 1 and even now I’m in my third book things keep connecting randomly.
Alexis is a great character and one of the most fun I’ve ever gotten to write. I love writing about magicians and magic in general, so building the myth of Atlantis up around Alexis and the other magicians was such a blast. His duty has been to protect the other magicians and prevent mankind from learning the truth about Atlantis, so you can imagine him butting heads with Penelope who’s determined to discover the truth. He’s a general, a big brother, a son and he does his best to keep the other magicians in line. I really loved being able to use him as my storyteller, and crafting mini stories and memories was a way I could go to Atlantis without losing the book completely to full fantasy territory. Alexis has lived a LONG time, and there’s so much room as a writer to play with and use to develop layers and motivations.
I recently saw a reviewer describe Alexis as ‘part romance, part violence’ and its pretty spot on. He’s a scholar and a warrior. He doesn’t always play well with others but he’s loyal and fierce and damn charming when he wants to be. I’m shamelessly in love with Alexis. I’ve also created him a yoga flow because the poor guy has a lot on his hands.
Alexis’s ‘I’m Trying not to Murder these Magicians’ Yoga Flow
- Forward Fold
- Upward Dog
- Downward Dog
- Warrior 2
- Reverse Warrior
- Crescent pose
(seven rounds, three breaths per pose)
Developing Penelope and Alexis was night and day by way of process, but I love them both like crazy. They’ve really pushed me as a writer and have helped me through the last few years of anxiety and growth.
For those of us who are visual people, I really encourage you to check out ‘The Magicians of Venice’ Pintrest Board, its massive and gives you a good vibe of the series. Also, if you really want to know, Jade Taylor is probably the closest I’ve come to imaging Penelope in my head, and the model Maximiliano Patane for Alexis 😉
I hope you love them as much as I do! Grab your copy here and don’t forget to leave me a review 🙂