I’m delighted to be ending the tour for Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo. Both authors are sitting separately in my hot seat which means double the delight for you today. 🙂 Enjoy.
The first in a thrilling new historical fantasy series; Odysseus must embrace his secret heritage and outwit the vengeful Gods who would control or destroy him…
Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.
Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.
When one of Athena’s schemes goes drastically wrong, and the young Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Odysseus must journey past the gates of Hades to save her. Falling in love with a Trojan princess, a bewitching woman who poses a deadly threat to both his homeland and Athena, won’t make his task any easier…
Drawing from classic Greek mythology, Athena’s Champion, first in the epic Olympus series, is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and David Gemmell
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree Cathy.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
Athena’s Champion is a natural progression from my two YA novels Murder at Mykenai and The Bow, both of which have a teenage Odysseus as their hero.
I’ve been fascinated with Ancient Greece since I was about seven, when my mother read aloud a retelling of The Odyssey. As children, my brothers and I spent a lot of time mucking about in boats, but I was also a great day dreamer. Very quickly I became Odysseus, sailing his raft home from Ogygia, or Penelope, standing on the rocky headland near our beach, looking out to catch a glimpse of his sail on the horizon.
As I grew older, I became increasingly aware of the complexity of Odysseus’s character and I wanted to explore it more deeply.
What scene was the hardest for you to write Cathy?
The plot revolves around the fate of a young teenage girl. She’s ambitious and ambiguous, clever, strong-willed but vulnerable. In the climactic scene, we needed to dig deep to engage with her feelings and the reactions of the people around her without turning her into a victim – she’s too strong and too complex to be confined by that label. We also battled with the issue of credibility. Is she going to be believed by our other characters and by the reader?
Did you do any research? What resources did you use?
Co-writing, in the way we go about it, needs a lot of preparation, and both David and I really enjoy this aspect of the project. I did a History degree and went back to Uni for three years to study Ancient Greek, so I’m used to trawling through academic journals and original texts to find the right character and the right setting. Timothy Gantz’s Early Greek Myths is a fantastic portal into the Greek myths, and online sites www.theoi.com and the Loeb Classical Library are wonderful resources.
Did you travel to any places?
I love travelling to Greece and exploring the places that feature in my books – Ithaca, Sparta, Mycenae, Arcadia… The opening chapters of Athena’s Champion are set in and around Delphi, or Pytho – the earlier name for the prophetic site. It’s surrounded by spectacular cliffs on the lower slopes of Mt Parnassus, and I had a fantastic time exploring the route up the cliffs and the high ridges and valleys above.
Does Athena’s Champion tackle a social barrier?
In Athena’s Champion, we tackle several major social issues. One of them, illegitimacy, is no longer as destructive as it used to be, but we can still relate to the accompanying issues of self-identity and confidence, social stigma, bullying and worthlessness.
I don’t want to talk too much about how we’ve developed those themes – the best way to understand how we’ve gone about it is to buy the book!
Do you have a most creative time of day Cathy?
I’m an early morning writer. I love that interface between sleeping and waking, where my mind drifts between a dream world and reality. Some of my story ideas are born in that zone, in moments when my imagination isn’t yet fettered by logic. Then, once I’m up, I’m refreshed and energetic and I can work with a clear head. Other writers are night owls, but after dinner, I’m often tired and my judgement isn’t as reliable.
Panster or plotter?
I’ve been both. I wrote my first novel, Murder at Mykenai, without any plan at all. It was a really exciting ride, but creating a satisfying ending became a massive task. My first draft didn’t even have one that remotely deserved the name. I gave the manuscript to a writer friend to read. She happened to be moving house at the time, and she thought she must have lost the ending under all the furniture they were packing up.
The book then went through seven more drafts, and I think I wrote seven different endings. Finally I was signed to Walker Books Australia, and the first thing my editor said was “I love the book, but you’re going to have to do something about the ending”. Gulp. Luckily I came up with something new, and we were all pretty happy with it, in the end (sorry!). Since then, I’ve done a lot more planning. Some people say that if you know what the book is before you start writing, you lose the urge to write it. I don’t feel that at all – I find that rewriting and reworking the manuscript is as satisfying as the initial drafting. It always feels fresh.
Which authors have influenced your writing?
I’ve always been an avid reader, with very wide-ranging tastes. And, since I’ve also spent many years working as a musician, my ear picks up on lots of stylistic details, the rhythm and the colour of words. So it’s hard for me to pinpoint one writer over another, style-wise – there’s so much writing that I’ve enjoyed. A good book can be like eating cake, savouring every mouthful.
In terms of imaginative inspiration, a few writers do stand out – Tolkien, Rosemary Sutcliffe and Ronald Welsh when I was a kid, Mary Renault, Patrick O’Brien and Lindsey Davis when I grew up. All but Tolkien work within a historical setting, which is where I’m most happy with my own writing.
Perhaps the most important author, in relation to Athena’s Champion, is Mary Renault. The Mask of Apollo was the first book of hers I read, and the image of the actor/narrator suspended over the stage in Delphi as the strands of rope slowly part, has stayed with me down the years, as has the search for his would-be murderer up through the cliffs around Delphi, with the hunted man caught and hurled to his death. I think we only hear his dying scream, but the whole sequence of events is vivid in that one moment. As a result, it was a joy to use Delphi/Pytho as an early setting in Athena’s Champion.
Do you have a favourite book Cathy? What is it about that book?
I LOVE Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. The mixture of humour and wisdom is irresistible.
Finally, are there any tips you could share with new writers?
I find my writing flows best if I write every day. Even if I don’t think I have anything compelling to write, I try and get to my desk every morning by 7am and get some words down. I try not to beat myself up about word counts unless I have a deadline.
I trained and worked as a violinist, and I feel that, although practising the violin is physically and mentally different from writing, they function in similar ways in this regard. I can feel the difference if I’ve had a day off – my creative mind stiffens up and my words become stilted and clumsy, just as my fingers start feeling like sausages if I haven’t been playing.
So my advice? Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. When I was a violin student, I asked my teacher how to go about practising. I was expecting pearls of wisdom about analysis of the score and the breaking-down of technical problems, but what she gave me was much more valuable than that.
“It’s simple,” she said. “Put your music stand in the middle of the room and your chair in front of it. Don’t stand, make it easy for yourself. If you drink coffee, go and get your coffee and put it on the floor next to your chair.” She also added something about cigarettes which I can safely omit, these days. “You put your music on the music stand,” she continued, “you open your violin case, take out your violin and put it under your chin and place the bow on the string. Now you have no more excuses – there is nothing else left to do but practise.”
Thank you for being my guest today.
Cath Mayo is a New Zealand YA, Children and Adult fiction author. Her two published YA historical novels are both set in Ancient Greece and her first novel received a Storylines Notable Book Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014. She’s joined her considerable skill and expertise with David Hair to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @cathmayoauthor
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree David.
Please summarise Athena’s Champion in 20 words or less.
Athena’s Champion begins Olympus, a prequel series to the Iliad, told through the eyes of Odysseus, the coolest Greek hero.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
Athena’s Champion is my first ever collaborative novel. A few years ago, I met a fellow Kiwi YA author at a writers event, Cath Mayo. She’d just published two adventure stories about the imagined early years of Odysseus. We became friends, and I was intrigued by the notion of Odysseus’s life before the Trojan War. He arrives fully formed in The Iliad, already a hero famed for his cunning: I began to imagine a series of adventures in which he gains that reputation, set against the backdrop of the origins of the Trojan War, as an historical-fantasy story, with a unique take on the Greek gods and their role in the war. I approached Cath to work with me, knowing that she’s a subject expert, and thankfully she agreed.
Please tell us about the characters in your book.
The focus is on Odysseus – it’s a first person narrative, so everything is seen through his eyes. With him being an action man famed for his cleverness and quickness of thought, we’ve had a lot of fun building up a smart, witty hero, coming into his full powers in a turbulent time. And of course there are so many other colourful characters inhabiting his world; from heroes like Theseus, seers like Cassandra, and all the gods of Ancient Greece as well. It’s a magical world to write in.
Who would you cast in the role of your main character if your book were optioned for a movie David?
I think Tom Hardy would be ideal – the right look and physique for the action stuff, combined with great acting skills and screen presence.
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be …
Don’t go to Pytho 🙂 (in our story, something truly life-shattering happens there, that sets Odysseus on his path into legend, but it comes at an awful cost). Although, if he followed that advice, we wouldn’t have the story…
What inspired you to write?
Everything I’ve written has been directly or indirectly influenced by history and mythology. My degree is a BA (History & Classical Studies), I read extensively from a young age about both, and I love weaving history and mythology into contemporary stories. I’ve written six YA fantasy books using New Zealand’s history and culture (the Aotearoa series; HarperCollins), four Indian-based YA novels based on the epic Ramayana (The Return of Ravana series; Penguin, re-issued by Quercus); as well as six (to date) epic fantasies through Jo Fletcher Books (Quercus), the Moontide and the Sunsurge quartets, that drew heavily on European, Middle Eastern and Asian influences. I lived in India for four years in the Noughties, and have visited twice since.
How do your characters come into existence? Do they have a bio?
I’m a big believer that characters need to have a solidly constructed persona and backstory, so yes, they all have biographies. I like to have a fact sheet for each of them, which includes not just the basics like their age, history, appearance, preferences, etcetera; but also asks such questions as “How do they react under stress?”; “Who are their biggest influencers?”; what was their worst/best moment to date?” and the like. And on Athena’s Champion, my co-author Cath Mayo had to agree them, which I think gave them greater depth.
Panster or plotter?
Very much a plotter, and my co-author on this project, Cath Mayo, is even more so. We spend a lot of time mapping out the story-boards for the series and each individual book, creating a chapter plan that details every scene, as well as numerous (dozens, maybe close to a hundred) documents giving background information on each character, location, and specific topics (like “How do gods and magic work in this story-world”). But when we do the first drafts, we do leave ourselves enough wriggle room that if a better idea occurs, we have license to do things different to the plan, so long as we preserve continuity and the overall arc of the narrative.
Athena’s Champion is part of a series, what is in the future?
At this stage three books are contracted, taking the narrative of Odysseus and the origins of the Trojan War up to a crucial point. Ideally if things work out, we’ll be able to continue the narrative right up to the start of the Iliad, and maybe even doing our own take on the Trojan War and the Odyssey (Odysseus’s journey home. Currently Olympus Book Two (Oracle’s War) is fully drafted, and Book Three (Sacred Bride) is planned, and we’ll start it soon.
Finally, can you share with us what you are working on now?
I’m a fulltime writer, and my main projects aside from Olympus are my epic fantasy series, The Moontide Quartet and its sequel, The Sunsurge Quartet, both published by Quercus UK and available worldwide. Currently I’m drafting the fourth and final Sunsurge book, while also completing the edits on Book Three. And of course, I’m dying to get back to Odysseus, as soon as I meet my current deadlines! Sacred Bride, the third Olympus book, is fully planned, and I can’t wait to start drafting it.
Thank you for being my guest today.
David Hair is an award-winning New Zealand YA and Adult fantasy writer, and the author of sixteen novels. He’s joined his considerable skill and expertise with Cath Mayo to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods.
Don’t forget to check out the other hosts on tour.
Read all posts in the historical fantasy genre on Jera’s Jamboree.
Canelo on Jera’s Jamboree.