The Path Keeper: Q & A with N. J. Simmonds

The Path Keeper: Q & A with N. J. Simmonds

Today, I am bringing you a post that has never been done on the blog before so I am very excited to finally be able to do this. Welcome to my very first blog tour with N. J. Simmonds!

N. J. Simmonds is the writer of debut novel, The Path Keeper (releasing on the 28th May). It’s a tale of love and fate and features themes of reincarnation. Read the synopsis below to find out more about it, with links to pre-order it at the end of this post.

What if our lives were mapped out before birth? Does anyone have the power to change their destiny?

Ella hates London. She misses her old life in Spain and is struggling to get over her past—until she meets Zac. He’s always loved her but isn’t meant to be part of her story. Not this time. Not ever. Little does she know that his secret is the one thing that will tear them apart and force her to live in a world that no longer makes sense. A world full of danger, lies and magic.

The Path Keeper is a passionate tale of first loves, second chances and the invisible threads that bind us. Can love ever be stronger than fate?

As part of the blog tour, every post features a letter that spells out an answer. Stay tuned until the end of this post to get the letter!

So with that, let’s get onto the blog tour questions!

First of all, I wanted to ask what inspired you to write The Path Keeper?

What got me into writing a full book, and where the ideas came from, are two very different things. I started writing this series in 2012 (I always knew it would be a trilogy) when my children were 1 and 3. I was really sleep-deprived to the point of being seriously, mentally ill. Between them they had me up every hour or two for years and I was losing my mind. After a while I made the conscious decision to use that time to my advantage and began ‘writing’ a book in my head. While I fed the baby, or was up at 5am with Tellytubbies blaring in the background, or during the work commute, I escaped in my head until the entire book was formed. Then I took the leap of faith and began to write it down.

The concepts (the book has MANY themes) came from various experiences. Backpacking solo around Australia and dabbling in crystals, past life regressions and mediation influenced me. As did my teen years in London, going to a Catholic school and questioning my own beliefs, as well as looking at the many decisions I have taken in life and where they have led me.

The book has a lot of focus on time, fate and our paths already being laid out for us. Do you believe in fate and us all having a path set?

Yes, to some extent.

I’ve had a lot of shocked readers surprised by the ‘there’s no God’ element of the book, so to clarify I was brought up Catholic and this story isn’t 100% what I believe in – it just made more sense, when dealing with this story, past lives and fate, to take God out of the equation. But I have been heavily influenced by Buddhist countries I’ve visited, as well as practicing yoga and a few very strange things happening to me, that have made the idea of fate and destiny easier to believe.

One example is the fact I met my husband while in Australia. He missed two buses, the third one he got was the one I was on. We were both from the UK (London and Southampton) yet met on the other side of the world. Turned out his best friend was friends with my sister and I was in the same year at school as his uni roommate’s sister… even though we met in Australia we were already linked. THEN two years later my sister went traveling, met a British guy on a beach in Thailand, and they’re now married – this guy is friends with my husband’s friends. What are the chances of finding our husband’s on the other side of the world, yet all our paths had crossed previously?

Lots of things like this have happened to me, so yes – I think certain aspects of our lives are planned.

The Path Keeper mostly follows the characters Ella and Zac but we do see flashbacks of times before these characters. How did you find writing those scenes?

When I first started writing The Path Keeper I was very focused on the romance between the two main characters. Then, out of nowhere, Evie and Dolly popped up and I couldn’t let them go. I’d read about the Bank bombing during the Blitz and I wanted to link a WW2 romance with present day and show how our pasts and our futures all overlap. I absolutely loved writing their story and I became very maternal towards them, crying buckets through certain scenes.

I have no idea why I started writing in their voice, but it paid off as some readers say those characters are their favourite (although some American readers struggled with the old Cockney vernacular). Writing a story set in the past is easier in some ways, because you already have your frames of reference – but at the same time it’s harder as you have to get your facts straight. I spent weeks researching what taking shelter down in the Tube was like and the limitations older teens had back then.

As mentioned, we meet a couple of different characters throughout this book. Which character was your favourite to write?

Obviously Zac and Ella are close to my heart, but I do want to shake them both at times and tell them to get a grip! Strangely Margaret Montgomery-White was a great character to write as she’s so damaged and intriguing.

But my very favourite character of all is Luci – although you won’t meet her until books 2 and 3 (Son of Secrets is out May 2020). She’s a dangerous, passionate, seething jumble of maternal obsessive rage and wantonness that I’m yet to see in a book. People are either going to love or hate her, but then opinions of my books have always been very polarized!

The Path Keeper ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Are you able to tell us what we can expect from the next book?

Yes, sorry about that! The sequel, Son of Secrets, will answer all the questions you are left wondering about: why the jewellery is so important and where it came from, who Zac’s mother is, whether Lily and Leo end up together and what happened to Sebastian. The book also goes back to two other past lives, including 5BC Tuscany in the Roman times where Zac and Ella first met, and 1613 Roermond in the Netherlands, the site of one of Europe’s biggest witch hunts. Book two is very feminist, more blood and less lust, although unfortunately it will also leave you with yet another huge question which book 3, Children of Shadows, will answer for you. Unlike some series, the books do work alone but ultimately the three together are one long story, so you won’t gather all the parts of the jigsaw until the end. I’ve been told The Path Keeper is one of those books that’s a totally different experience when read a second time.

What did you enjoy the most when writing The Path Keeper?

The escape. Writing this series helped me through a really tough time. The mind is such a wonderful thing that by focusing on something that doesn’t really exist, you can make reality easier to cope with. I also loved twisting and playing with traditional tropes and fables. A bit like what Dan Brown did with Da Vinci, or Neil Gaiman did with the London Underground, I wanted to do with angels and past lives. Take what we think we know, change it, and make it make sense in a weird way.

To follow my previous question, what was the hardest thing about writing The Path Keeper?

Being my first book, it wasn’t hard to write as it took four years and I was in no rush. The hardest part of this book was signing with a UK publisher, the book coming out in 2017, then leaving the publisher and re-launching it with a new publisher two years later to both the UK and US. The first time around I was naive, it got very little press, and those who read it loved it as they were all friends of friends. This time it’s had a much bigger push, the audience is younger and not just British, and the feedback has been really extreme one way or another. Not only is it hard to release your baby twice, but I’ve written three more books since this one so I’m so desperate to show the world what else I’ve been working on. Writing and coming up with ideas, for me, is a slog but a fun one – the stuff that happens once you’re signed and your book is in other people’s hands is the tough part.

I’m so excited about the new book I’m writing as it’s totally unrelated to this world –  although it is still a mix of fantasy, history and romance. Here’s a little teaser aesthetic:

What tips do you have for aspiring authors?

Read, read, and read. Read everything, even genres you don’t enjoy normally, and really analyse how your favourite writers do it. How do they create suspense, how do they flesh out characters, how do they manage flow and pacing and grab hold of your attention?

Don’t overthink about who you are writing for, what an agent is looking for or what the market needs right now – just write what you love. Write the book you would love to read. Don’t worry about getting it wrong, just get it down on papers.

Never stop learning. It doesn’t matter if you have a Phd in Creative Writing or have published ten books or have read every How To book out there – keep learning. Make friends with other writers, share tips and woes, join a class or attend a writing retreat, read books on writing and keep evolving. I still have so much more to learn, and I’m writing my 5thnovel.

Grow a thick skin and learn to accept ‘no’. You’ll get a lot of rejection in this industry, so you need to roll with the punches and not get offended or upset about it. Easier said than done.

And finally, never ever give up. Keep going. There’s no entry level requirement or cut off point for being a writer!

Finally, I wanted to ask what your favourite book is?

You can’t ask a writer that! I have at least fifty favourites for different reasons. I’m going to list the three that I have gone back to read more than once, and probably influenced the kinds of books I write now.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – That obsessive, fated, non-linear love story really hooked me. Her loss for him at the end and the way the book jumped about obviously influenced me when writing Zac and Ella’s love story. I adore this book. The film is OK, but the book is perfection.

Killing Me Softly by Nicci French – The instant attraction between them, and the way she overlooks all the warning signs, really drew me in. The scene where he licks his finger…well, read it and you’ll know, was just so extreme and I wanted that edge and damaging passion in my work. Don’t watch the film though, it’s so badly cast.

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – A disturbing, raw and honest book about motherhood, following your gut instincts (even though it’s against societal norms) and inherent evil. Plus it’s written in the second person, which is genius. This book really shook me up, which I loved.

As a bonus, my favourite YA fantasy romance authors and their books (because that’s the category of my own series) are Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology and Laini Taylors Strange the Dreamer duology. I’m a huge fan of their worlds and writing. So beautiful and clever.

Ultimately, much like these books, I want my own work to leave readers a little shaken, to make them question themselves and what they feel. Yes, escapism is good, but ultimately I want people to put my book down and think ‘whoa, what the hell was that about’ and start reading from the beginning again.

Thank you so much to Natali for coming on to the blog and answering my questions. It’s been really interesting to learn a bit more about the book and about the processes behind the writing of it!

You can pre-order a copy of The Path Keeper from Amazon and Book Depository now.

You’ve come to the end of this post and with that, you have earned your letter!

Make sure to check out the previous posts on this tour so far. You can find all of the posts at the blogs below.