Photo Content from Alex Thornbury
Alex Thornbury is an award-winning author. She grew up in Cheshire UK, and developed deep love of history and fantasy thanks to the many castles she visited as a child. Though she grew up to be an Alchemist by trade, she never stopped fantasising about other worlds, dragons and epic battles.
She has abandoned her Alchemy and potion making career, and is now a full time author of high fantasy. Three of her books are to be released in early 2023.
Greatest thing you learned at school.
How not to take myself too seriously or judge myself too harshly, then the criticism and mockery of others lose power over you. I think that perhaps, deep inside, most of us are our own harshest critics.
When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
As a child, I used to own an old leather-bound book of fairytales. It was my most prized possession. It inspired me to dream up my own stories about princesses and castles and talking animals, and I was the heroine on some bold adventure. I went on to read legends, folklore, and later classical literature written hundreds and even thousands of years ago. I began to think there was something notable and perhaps a little romantic about stories outliving their authors. In my teens, I started to write stories in earnest, hoping that one of them, a thousand years from now, would still be read by the future citizens of mankind.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I think there is a certain love-hate relationship between an author and his work, so my favorite books are never my own. There is just too much strained history between us.
The Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb is probably my favorite book. It has everything I look for in a fantasy novel — a vivid, immersive story and unforgettable characters, with pirates, talking ships and dragons to add.
Outside my genre, The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, would probably be close to the top of that long list. It always tickles my humor. Of the more serious work, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier left a powerful impression on me. Dark, compelling and slightly surreal, it has the type of elements I try to add to my own stories.
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Opening the package from Ingram Spark with my finished book inside, and flicking through its crisp pages still smelling of fresh ink (I may have imagined the latter). That moment vindicated years of toil, isolation and a bucketful of mental tears in pursuit of my lifelong dream. And more recently, my book winning the 2022 Royal Dragonfly book award for Science Fiction/Fantasy. It just made the last 12 years of all that hard work and pushing through worthwhile.
If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
Harry Potter. This book will outlive the whole of our civilization and will likely be unearthed, lovingly restored and read en masse by the next one to come after us. And if they ever launch a suitcase full of books into space for aliens and their cute, tentacled offspring to discover, this one will be amongst the few selected. Those little tentacles will be waiving wands around in no time.
What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Aside from my young son? Romance books, mainly regency and fantasy romance. They hook you and keep you prisoner until you reach the end. Then, despite my better judgement, I am compelled to buy another one. They have the power to distract you for weeks at a time. Sometimes I lie to myself by telling myself that I am doing market research.
Can you tell us when you started THE BRIDGE TO MAGIC, how that came about?
The Bridge to Magic was the fourth manuscript I have written over the years. Before that, I spent 10 hard years working on three iterations of another book, a mega, 300,000 word epic fantasy, The Sprite Catcher. It was a huge learning curve for me in writing, and a very painful lesson that you should never, ever, ever start your writing career with epic fantasy. Just don’t… Anyhow, when I finally took the book to the edge of publication, I got cold feet. So I put it aside — a trial separation, if you like — and finally do what I should have done years earlier and write a very different type of fantasy story.
Over the years, I acquired many unfinished stories and ideas for new books. The early draft chapters of The Bridge to Magic caught my eye amongst them. It fought for life some years ago as a fantasy romance, inspired by C.L.Wilson’s books. However, I hated every word I had written, hated the boring characters, the sickly plot, the malformed storyline. I felt like I was trying to replicate what other authors have done before me, and they did it much better. So at the time, I mentally burnt the manuscript and gave it no more thought. But around two years ago, I considered what I had written, and a different story emerged from those ashes. Like before, it was based on the Bridge to the Deadlands, where magic had been banished. But that was where the similarity ended. The story came to me suddenly, in its entirety, fresh, vivid and with a life of its own. I merely sat down and let it flow out onto the pages. It took two weeks for the first raft to be written, and two years to mold and shape it.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
That you cannot force characters to do your bidding and live up to your hopes, desires and expectations of them. They have their own. In that regard, they are like children. As a parent, you try to do your best by them, try to shape them and guide them on a particular path. Ultimately, however, they break away and follow their own dreams and goals. And they become a different and better being than you envisaged them to be.
At the start, with The Bridge to Magic, I wanted to write a fantasy romance like C.L.Wilson. But the characters fought me all the way. No matter how long I spent forcing characters to do what I wanted them to do, they resisted, and the result was a dreadful story which stopped at chapter 3. When I finally gave them free rein, unfettered from my expectations, they emerged all on their own and showed me a much better story.
There is a story inside us all, seeking a life of its own. Let it out, and do not try to make it be something it is not and cannot be.
Meet the Characters
ELI (ELIKA) SPIDER — This is her story. A 15-year-old orphan who was left behind by her parents when they took the bridge. She spends her life trying to remember whether they made it across the chasm or perished, why they left her behind, and whether they were waiting for her on the other side.
“She was alone, just her and this creature of magic that did not belong in their world. It was twisted and ugly, and she hated it—hated it above all else. The bridge was meant to free men from their terrors. But even now, the Blight was nigh upon them, driving good folk across the chasm to nowhere, save that it was away from here.”
Having been raised on the streets, she always battles the choice between compassion and survival, between right and wrong. Each day she faces the harsh reality of their world where one ill-considered decision, be it right or wrong, may cost you or those close to you their life.
“No one tried to comfort Elika. She should have known better than to torment the poor babe for pity’s sake. It would have been kinder for the babe to perish on the bridge in the embrace of her mother.
… It was a hard, bitter lesson, and Elika had learned it well. She had learned to shield her heart from the endless river of misery and hunger that flowed through the streets of Terren. Aye, it had diminished her, made her less somehow, but it had kept her alive where she had watched others perish.”
When Elika discovers that magic is hiding within her, she knows that to protect her gang she must make hard choices that will likely destroy her. Deep inside her, she realizes that to save them all, she or the magic inside her must die. And the one thing she hates and fears the most may yet be her only salvation.
BAD PENNY — The savvy and lethal leader of the gang of orphans, of which Elika is part. Her life revolves around protecting their pack of young orphans in a world where compassion is likened to weakness. She finds abandoned children, those enough old enough to be taught how to survive on the streets, and brings them back to their hideout. Elika, too, owes her life to Penny.
“Penny ran nimbly ahead, the hilts of two daggers stuck out from her belt. No one was better than Penny at wielding them, for she had been taught by Eight Dagger Duggie himself. He was a legend on the streets in the old days, feared even by the city guards. It was said that half the thieving brats running in the streets were his get. Bad Penny was Duggie’s daughter and a favorite of his bastards. And he had made it well known, too. He was likely dead now. Got blind drunk one night and disappeared. That was before Elika knew what was what on the street.
Penny’s stark copper hair, said to be a spit of Duggie’s, would have warned everyone for miles about who she was. So it was that no one accosted them now as they made their way toward the Silver Circle.”
'LITTLE' MITE — No story is complete without a love interest who has his own secrets to keep from his past. He is one of the oldest in their pack, a young man in truth, who stays with them still because his heart keeps him close to Elika. She, however, seems ignorant of his feelings. He remains loyal to Bad Penny, never mind the whispers from the others that he should take over the gang. Elika thinks him a letch who chases any skirt that looks his way. He thinks she’s too young and innocent to be courted. The fumbling awkwardness between them deepens until the moment he gives her a choice which their budding romance might not survive.
“For a moment he looked like he might smile. “What can you do alone that countless powerful men before you could not do? We lost. Men lost the war. This is the end. Magic has won.”
Her heart shrank back on itself. “No! You always told me to fight to the end. You lied.”
He grew serious. “You still do not understand. Long ago, men made a terrible mistake when they destroyed magic and sent those who could command it to the Deadlands. Men started the Sundering War, not the tsaren and not the magic. And what is left of magic is now destroying men as we destroyed it. Do you not see? There is nothing left but Terren. And soon there will be nothing left but the echoes of magic. There is not enough blood or salt in the world to destroy every echo. Eli … you do not want to be here when men lose hope.“ “
BILL FISHER — He is a 700-year-old ‘tane’, a half-breed child of a tsarin and a human woman. He loves magic, despite being shunned by it, and is drawn to Elika and the power within her. He has witnessed much of humanity’s past and remembers many things that men forgot. His purpose is to stop Elika from destroying her magic, fearing she would destroy herself too. He also has an agenda where Little Mite is concerned, for he knows the dangerous secret lurking in his past — one that may yet restart the Sundering War.
“Old, craggy Bill Fisher was said to be the last man alive who had seen the sea before the last of it had poured away into the chasm. His was the blue boat tilted away from them with a single sail mast. It was where he made his home to this day. He spent his days on the boat with his mending work, but his evenings were devoted to the Fat Fish tavern where he liked to nurse a tankard of sour ale whilst telling his stories to anyone who’d listen.
He had sworn he would rather throw himself into the chasm than try crossing the bridge. No one with any sense threw themselves into the chasm. But then men questioned how much sense Bill had left at his age.”
PETER POCKETS — He is a powerful and ruthless gang leader on the streets of Terren who wants to be king and lead his people across the bridge to their new beginning. He just needs to overthrow the useless king and his simpering nobles hiding behind the impenetrable gates of their fortress. And Elika’s magic might yet be the key to his ambition.
“Yet for all its lavishness, there was a subtle sense of absurdity about the whole feast. It might have been the gaudy, gold candle holders. Or that there was enough food to feed twenty men, yet only two of them were seated at the table. Or perhaps it was Peter Pockets himself. Though impeccably dressed in the finest attire, his every article of clothing was studded with countless pockets. They drew her gaze and she could not help but try to guess what secret was hidden in each one of them.
From one of his many pockets, Peter Pockets took out a watch and glanced at it. Aside from his bizarre beehive of pockets, he might have passed for a true lord. Every pocket held something. She saw a handkerchief, the hilt of a throwing knife, a gold chain holding another watch, a white flower and many more secrets. Mite had once told her that Pockets carried enough gems and gold on him to buy an army and enough weapons to arm one. Until now, she had not believed him.”
What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
My story and my character. I plot and ponder what I will write that day, and what direction my characters will take me in. Usually, I am already busy editing and writing down those thoughts by the time my family wake up.
Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
I live by two mottos:
‘It was worth it!’ (in a shrill voice akin to the last cry of desperation) and ‘I regret nothing!’ (in a voice akin to shouting my last words)
True love and heartbreak would fall into both of these categories. I would chose experience and loss over never to have known, felt or tried. And I would never regret it. In fact, I never did, when I was heartbroken.
What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
It goes something along these lines:
“So, she is sitting in the dingy tavern filled with dragon folk… no, a cave, negotiating with the pirates sworn to the man she loves but wants to kill. She has to be a mermaid… no, a princess in disguise… has it been done too many times? He is in the tavern, with rogues and rebels all around. A beautiful witch comes in… A maid, a mythical Fae… pixie… demi-pixie human-half breed… Hunted by the prince for her powers…” Yawwwwn. “Oh stop it and focus on book 2 of the Bridge to Magic! Elika watches the ship sail away, carrying the man she once loved to the court of Tsraen Ilikan. She had to let him go. She has her own battle to fight, and besides, he had made his choice when …”
Darkness. Drool. Snore.
Honestly, I make a concerted effort not to worry or think about any real-world problems or tasks and jobs I need to deal with, for they would most certainly keep me awake all night. So I think about my stories instead until I fall asleep, and often I dream fantastical dreams.
If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I would have jumped into the self-publishing industry in 2010-2011 when I started writing my first manuscript. I should have put aside obsessing over my first novel and written another story which was much more manageable than the unwieldy epic. I would have started my career, learned and published as I went along, gained a following and grew with the self-publishing market. I feel like I am 10 years ahead and 20 years behind where I might have been had I simply taken that step into self-publishing then.
If you could be born into history as any famous person who would it be and why?
Queen Elizabeth I. I’d be a true-life queen of an empire, one of the greatest and longest-lived rulers. I’d live in a period of time taken straight out of fantasy, an era of epic piracy and deadly royal feuds. I’d have pirates loyal to me who’d lay treasure at my feet. And I’d take the most dashing of them as a lover. I could watch Shakespeare’s plays in real life and know his elusive identity. I’d be there to face the glorious and fierce Spanish Armada and gather my troops to war. It is a true-life period in time which is as close to epic fantasy as any your imagination can conjure. The only thing missing from it is dragons.
What is one unique thing you are afraid of?
Slides, roller coasters, anything that involves me descending from a height. I can’t even go on a water slide in a water park that 3-year-olds jump into. Complete horrifying, sick, body-freezing terror. The last time I went on a plunging theme park log ride with my young son, I almost threw up and was nearly reduced to tears from the sheer terror of it. Never again. Now his dad and other family members take him on those soul-freezing rides.
I developed this stark fear of heights when I went parachuting at the age of 16. I thought it the most horrifying experience in my life. I was convinced I was going to die and felt like a million kinds of idiot leaving that airplane and free-falling to the ground at speeds no human should experience.
What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
Chain locks on the outside of internal doors in a rental house I once lived in. I tried to rationalize the need for them, but there was no reasoning away why you’d want to lock the internal door from the outside in a normal suburban house. It was creepy and just wrong. I felt like I was in one of Stanley Kubrick's horror movies. I moved out not long after. Still gives me the shudders even now.
A gripping, award-winning debut for lovers of traditional high fantasy, set in the dying world where humanity is likened to weakness, and the only path to salvation is the same path which might lead to death.
The Blight. The end of Mankind. The Bridge that may be salvation or the final betrayal.
In this grimdark fantasy, Elika, an orphan on Terren's streets, hates and fears the bridge that spans the great chasm to the Deadlands. Like everyone else, she clings to the hope that purging every lingering echo of magic from the world can stop the Blight.
Then she discovers that magic is hiding within her, and through her it seeks to enact the will of its own. Everything Elika knew about her past shatters, as long-buried secrets about her true birth emerge. Accused of being a mage, many doubt her loyalties. Her gang turns against her. The one man she thought she could trust and love, abandons her. Elika must soon decide: Either destroy the magic inside her or cross the bridge to her own uncertain end. But what awaits them in the Deadlands where the enemy of mankind roams wild? Her future or her end?
The Bridge to Magic is a story of a life between two deaths and an impossible choice to make. It is a story of finding hope, love and survival in a world where none seems possible.