Tuesday, March 2, 2021

E.J. Beaton Interview - The Councillor

Photo Content from E J. Beaton 

E J. Beaton is the author of the fantasy novel The Councillor, to be published by DAW Books on March 2, 2021. She has previously published a poetry collection, Unbroken Circle (Melbourne Poets Union), and has been shortlisted for the ACU Prize for Poetry and the Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize. She studied literature and writing at university, and her PhD thesis included analysis of Machiavellian politics in Shakespearean drama and fantasy literature. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Where were you born and where do you call home?
I’m Australian and I live in Melbourne, a city known for its arts and culture. To be surrounded by art galleries, theatres, and music venues is a true joy, and one I’m constantly grateful for. Melbourne is also the home of laneway dining, inconveniently capricious weather, and Australian football.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
It’s been deeply rewarding to read (and watch) early reviews from readers and hear the reasons why they enjoyed THE COUNCILLOR. Hearing that someone felt connected to the main character Lysande and her struggles, that they enjoyed the representation of sexuality, that they loved the prose, or that they related to other characters… it means an enormous amount. I’m an avid reader myself and I know how much it can mean when you connect personally with a book. There is no greater reward than knowing that a reader loved my work and found something in it to hold on to.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
Several elements fed into my inspiration and swirled together to create the book. The world-building drew upon both my travels and my reading – I’d experienced some incredible places and landscapes, especially in Europe and Asia, but reading Renaissance histories and literature also inspired me.

I studied Shakespearean drama, and found that Shakespeare’s plays helped me to think about character motivation and the rendering of human psychology. I also drew upon my own experiences, and upon what I’d like to see that I hadn’t yet found in a book – I wrote the kind of story I wanted to read, where a scholarly woman could be the main character in a political drama.

Tell us your latest news.
THE COUNCILLOR is getting an Australian hardback release! It comes out in the USA and Canada on March 2. Now, it will also hit Australian bookshelves on May 18.

Can you tell us when you started THE COUNCILLOR, how that came about?
I began writing the novel when I was at a low point in my life, and the main character’s health struggles partly represent my health struggles at the time. I didn’t write that aspect immediately; I developed more confidence later to write about those overlapping mental and physical health struggles. In the beginning, the symbolic and epic elements of fantasy appealed to me as a way of metaphorically representing my struggle. Fighting a queen with dangerous powers seemed a bit like my own fight to push back harmful thoughts and behaviours.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
Given the very diverse reasons that people read books, I know that readers will prioritise and enjoy different things. I think that there’s a beauty in how unique the reading experience is: ten people could read the same book, and each of them could find a different thing to like.

I hope that the characters will seem fully human and that Lysande’s reflections on knowledge and power will offer some food for thought. Since writing style is a big factor in why I enjoy a novel, I hope that readers will also enjoy the way I write.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Lysande?
I’ve learned that characterisation is not a matter of once-off insight, but a process of layering and building and thinking. I had the basis for Lysande at first, but I added more to her as I continued editing and writing.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d love to introduce my character Cassia to Caterina Sforza, one of the most remarkable female leaders of Renaissance Italy, who features in several histories and novels. Cassia has a lot of experience and has seen off her enemies, and while she’s got fighting skill and a fair bit of swagger, she’s also a shrewd thinker. Caterina also carved out an extraordinary life and was known for her daring and clever feats – she once rode out to take over a Roman fort while heavily pregnant, and used it to hold the cardinals to ransom in negotiations. She also navigated the politics of shifting alliances in the face of interference from France and Spain.

I think Cassia and Caterina would have a good conversation – assuming they didn’t draw swords on each other.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
My brother died shortly after I had finished the draft of the novel. He was a huge supporter of my work and my closest friend. Not only was dealing with his death hard, but my family had many practical arrangements to deal with immediately, as he died in another country. Although it was very difficult to keep going, I motivated myself by trying to live up to what he wanted for me: to get the book published, and to share the story. Every time I sit down to write, I try to make him proud.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
If you have the freedom and time to do so, embark on a creative endeavour and express yourself.

I once heard the novelist Richard Flanagan say that the act of creation comes from love, and I think that summarises the benefit of creation very well. In expressing yourself, you’re giving something to the world – you’re not tearing something apart, but building something. You might also discover something about yourself, others, and the world, along the way. There’s so much rich and rare beauty that comes from creativity.

Which incident in your life totally changed the way you think today?
Doubtlessly, my brother’s death changed my thinking. Reflecting on his life, on the positive impact he had on others, on his big-picture thinking, and on the kind and thoughtful way he encouraged friends, colleagues, and strangers, I’m reminded of what matters the most: kindness, wisdom, and the effort to make positive change.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
There are so many moments as a writer that have uplifted me, and given me the hope to uplift others. Just the act of writing forges powerful memories, and I do that almost every day.

One recent memory comes to mind, though. At the beginning of last year, I came out as bisexual, and submitted a poem to an LGBTQ+ journal. Like many bisexual people, I worried that I was “not queer enough” for the community. Not only was the poem accepted, but the magazine’s editor nominated me for a Pushcart Prize. It was a marvellous moment, not only because I felt accepted and validated, but because I realised that I can contribute to the queer literary tradition and help others like me to feel seen.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
There are too many to pick one. Many stand out for their sheer beauty, especially when I was able to linger in the moment and savour it.

I worked in Cambodia for a little while, and I had the opportunity to visit the temples at Siem Reap several times. Watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat was an experience I’ll never forget. But my favourite temple experience was wandering around Ta Prohm, a masterpiece of integrated nature and architecture. Tree roots drape over the walls; butterflies flit from hollows in the stone; pocked walls reveal places where gems might once have nestled. Even the walk to Ta Prohm is atmospheric, vibrating with the sounds and rhythms of the jungle. It feels like magic permeates the very air and slips between root and rock, leading you on.

This Machiavellian fantasy follows a scholar's quest to choose the next ruler of her kingdom amidst lies, conspiracy, and assassination.

When the death of Iron Queen Sarelin Brey fractures the realm of Elira, Lysande Prior, the palace scholar and the queen’s closest friend, is appointed Councillor. Publically, Lysande must choose the next monarch from amongst the city-rulers vying for the throne. Privately, she seeks to discover which ruler murdered the queen, suspecting the use of magic.

Resourceful, analytical, and quiet, Lysande appears to embody the motto she was raised with: everything in its place. Yet while she hides her drug addiction from her new associates, she cannot hide her growing interest in power. She becomes locked in a game of strategy with the city-rulers – especially the erudite prince Luca Fontaine, who seems to shift between ally and rival.

Further from home, an old enemy is stirring: the magic-wielding White Queen is on the move again, and her alliance with a traitor among the royal milieu poses a danger not just to the peace of the realm, but to the survival of everything that Lysande cares about.

In a world where the low-born keep their heads down, Lysande must learn to fight an enemy who wears many guises… even as she wages her own battle between ambition and restraint.

You can purchase The Councillor at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you E.J. BEATON for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Councillor by E.J. Beaton.


  1. "Where did you go on your first airplane ride?" To New York! I talked with a midwestern schoolteacher who talked about how she worried about her financier boyfriend working high up in the World Trade Center. (This was circa 1986.) She thought that on this visit to New York he would finally propose.

  2. To California to visit my grandmother.

  3. I can't remember it was so long ago.