Episode 3

Creating a community of readers, with Octavia Randolph

31 May, 2023

​​In this episode, hosts Theo Brun and Julia Kelly are joined by Octavia Randolph, author of the critically acclaimed Circle of Ceridwen Saga. With eleven books (and counting) set in 9th century England and Scandinavia during the Viking incursions, Octavia’s meticulously researched and imaginatively crafted Norse sagas have gained a cult following among readers and listeners worldwide.

During the conversation, Octavia shares insights into the challenges and rewards of building a community of loyal readers, as well as the process of writing and researching historical fiction. Listeners can expect to hear about the importance of authenticity in historical fiction, and how Octavia’s passion for the subject matter (and persistence) has driven her success as an independent author.

Watch on YouTube

Listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify

Click here for this episode's resources

Enter your details below to receive a list of recommended free resources on creating a community of readers, plus other topics discussed in this episode. If you want to develop your skills as a historical fiction writer, you can also join our email list to receive new podcast episodes, more free resources, and promotions.

Podcast resources
Would you like to join our email list?
What stage are you at in your writing journey?

By submitting your details, you agree to the processing and storage of your data in accordance with our privacy policy.

Click here for the transcript

[00:00:00] Julia Kelly: Hello, and welcome to another episode of The History Quill Podcast, brought to you by The History Quill. I am Julia Kelly, historical fiction author, and I am here with my co-host Theodore Brun.

[00:00:23] Theodore Brun: Hello, Julia. Thank you. Yes. I’m Theodore, also a historical fantasy fiction author. And we are fortunate enough to have a wonderful guest this morning called Octavia Randolph, who has a veritable army of readers behind her. She writes in the Anglo-Saxon period in the sort of deep, dark ages. So, which is kind of more, more my period than Julia.

So I’m looking forward to getting to that. But before we bring her on in to meet with us, what have you been up to? I know you’ve had a book out, haven’t you, Julia? Tell us about how it’s gone.

[00:00:58] Julia Kelly: I have, and I feel bad because I answered this question first last time, so I really should have dove in and, and asked you first, but I’ll be very selfish and go. so last time I told you all I was stressed. I am less stressed. The book has come out, which is exciting. I. And I am writing again, so I’m still technically in the middle of my manuscript, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And it is, it is a very beautiful thing when that happens and very helpful. So, I think things are moving along. Okay. How about yourself?

[00:01:28] Theodore Brun: Well, I’m quite jealous of anyone who describes seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. So I, I think I’m about to go into a tunnel. I, yeah. Oh, no. On the book that’s coming out later this year, I’ve done. Got the rewrite in. Got it back, got positive comments. So I think that’s going off to the copy edit stage, which is, you know, a big sigh of relief cuz the third book was an absolute nightmare. The write the rewriting process.

So I’m, I think I’m sort of in the clear on that one. And then as a sort of, my alter ego does a bit of ghostwriting as well. So I’ve got a couple of projects going on nonfiction, ghostwriting. But really my imagination is, now kind of trying to, trying to do the Madeline Martin thing of, not read a hundred books on a particular topic, but at least start with one. And I’ve got ideas about a historical mystery in a different time period. So I’m kind of trying to marinade my head in, in that for the moment, and then bits of the story are starting to come. So that’s right at the beginning of my process for that.

[00:02:27] Julia Kelly: Excellent. Well, I’m very excited about that because I just wrapped up the first proofreading stage for my historical mystery. So if I can bring you along with me into historical mystery, I’ll be very, very pleased. Very exciting.

[00:02:38] Theodore Brun: You can tell me how, how it’s done. By all means. I, I, I will sit at your feet and learn. Cause I, this is all new territory for me. Julia’s being very modest. So before we actually get Octavia on the call, She hasn’t mentioned the name of her book, the Lost English Girl, and it’s doing very well. Your homework is, if you’re listening to this, go straight to Amazon or anywhere else where you might find this book and, get yourself a copy.

[00:03:04] Julia Kelly: That’s your lesson. Lesson number one is promote your own book.

[00:03:10] Theodore Brun: Yeah, I know. I don’t think Octavia would make this mistake, but let’s, let’s find out. Well, this morning we are very lucky to be joined by Octavia Randolph, who is another author of historical fiction who has written a tremendous series, epic saga set in the ninth century, starting in the Anglo-Saxon world, but roving all over the, the continent, as it were from, from that period. So welcome Octavia.

How are you this morning?

[00:03:45] Octavia Randolph: Thank you. I’m very well, and again, it’s a great pleasure to meet Julia and yourself Theodore, and thank you so much for asking me on the show. I’m excited to be here.

[00:03:57] Theodore Brun: Excellent. Well, I thought. Why don’t we kick things off for our readers or for our listeners, rather by, giving you an opportunity to kind of give your own background story and just a little introduction to kind of where you see yourself in the world of historical fiction.

[00:04:12] Octavia Randolph: Thank you. I think you, you started us off perfectly. The Circle of Ceridwen and saga is set in the late ninth century. It’s during the time of Alpha the Great and the main male protagonist is a Dane, a man who has. Come to Angolan to go a Viking, his neighbor Sidroc. But the books are not Viking books. The saga is a multi-generational family saga, which is about no less than the creation of the English people.

It is that large. And the unspoken but overarching theme of the series, which is now 11 books, and the unspoken but overarching theme of each title is examining the question, who is my enemy? I bring this up because I am aware that a number of authors who are at the start of their efforts are listening to us, and at this point in my career, I have been approached by writers who.

Want me to look at their work. And so I have seen that there are many writers out there who do not understand what their own books are about. They lack a great theme. And that theme needs to be a river pulling you and your readers along. I am in a small boat on that river, navigating the currents, the rapids, and.

Even an occasional waterfall and that big theme, that big question that you are examining is going to be what will sustain you on the surface. My books are essentially about the deep friendship between two women who are leading very different lives, struggling to survive in a perilous and wartorn time, and in every single book.

Again, unspoken is the question, who is my enemy? So I think starting with that, since we are writers, speaking to other writers, could be a good opening.

[00:06:19] Julia Kelly: I’m so interested. Just before we started recording, I made a joke that I write about World War ii, which is quite a ways away on the timeline, but all of the themes that you’re talking about feel very, very familiar. So I love that there’s always a universality to historical fiction and I think that, you know, addressing readers and writers, Brother who are at the beginning of their writing journey is, is such a thing that a lot of authors who are further in their careers feel a lot of responsibility for and telling the stories of how they got there.

So I’d be curious to hear about what was it that drove you to publish? And also, am I correct in thinking that you are fully self-published with this incredible 11 book series and why you decided to go down that route as well? Give some perspective to people who may be curious about that.

[00:07:08] Octavia Randolph: The answer to the first question, it is it, it is a cultural biography of the English people. I am English by dissent, and this is something that I wanted to really write about the formation of Englishness, and this was the ninth century was such a key moment of survival. So that’s, Something that had been intriguing to me since Girlhood because I’d been very much attracted to the artifacts of the Anglosaxon period, the Sutton who treasure, all of the extraordinary swords and, and gems, the poetry E everything had been, had, had a lifelong attraction to me.

My pathway to publication, and yes, I, I am an indie, I, I have my own imprint. I do not personally use the expression self-published because I do not do it myself. I have a fantastic team. I have a professional and wonderful cover designer and book designer. I have a fantastic narrator in Nano Nagle who does all of the audio books.

I have. Proofreaders, I have a business manager and so on and so forth. So I always prefer the term independent or indie to self-publish because none of us who are successful, with our own imprints are doing it alone. We do have great teams. It came about simply because for 18 years I tried to get.

Book one picked up by publishers and it was rejected 50 times, so it, I started to write book one in 1991 and it’s been a long journey even though, at times I had very good literary agents, they were just unable to sell it and so it sat follow, even though I continued writing from my own sense of sanity that I needed to continue the story and get the.

The main characters to a good point. So it, it was originally a trilogy. I, I wrote the second two books just for my own sake, and then eventually, it was a late nineties then, and then eventually it was the advent of the Kindle by Amazon. And so it was possible to self-publish a book. And so I just thought, you know, I’ve got these three books.

It was 2012. I said, why don’t I format them for Kindle and put them out? And guess what those, I did have an audience, quite a large one, so, you know, I, I, I took the path to finding my audience the only way I could, the gatekeepers had I. Persisted in keeping me out. And I said, I know that there’s great value in, in this.

I know that it’s there and I know that I, I know that there’s people who want these books. And fortunately I was right. So the first three books had a really tremendous reception and that encouraged me to continue writing. So there’s now 11, the latest having been just released a few days ago. so it’s, it’s, Obviously I’m, I’m always delighted when people go the traditional route and if they feel supported by their publisher, that’s marvelous.

But for most of us, We may not find that as a pathway to publication. And certainly if you are interested in becoming a career novelist, if you’re interested in having real income replacement from what you may have been doing before and making a living wage, have, having your own imprint publishing yourself is a, a much sure path to that unless you have some pretty extraordinary support from your.

From your publishing house, and that of course is simply because of the royalty structure is such that, that when if you own all the rights and you’re publishing under your own imprint for an ebook, which is priced at 9 99, your. You a 70% royalty, and if you’re with a traditional publisher, you’re usually going to get a 25% royalty.

So it does not take many book sales for that to make an enormous difference in your ability to truly become a career novelist. So, and yes, you are taking on all the responsibility of every task, although. We must admit that these days most people who are traditionally published have the onus of marketing on themselves anyway.

You know that there’s not a lot of, publishing houses that are actually doing very much for a lot of their authors. So very often, even people who have a reasonable deal from a publishing house may be asked to do quite a bit of their own marketing anyway. But I would just say from my own path that although it was ley, I believed in my work.

I felt that there was going to be an audience. The people in New York were wrong. I was right, and I do have a wonderful loving community of readers now. So continue to find. We’re just so blessed to be living today as writers because there are so many. Paths to successful publication. There’s so many paths to communicate with our readers and there’s a lot of people out there who, you know, are hybrid, that they’re both have their own imprints and they, they have deals with, with traditional publishers.

Well, this is a myriad of pathways to publication now, and I think we all eventually, you know, It’s, it’s thrilling and wonderful if you can get good representation, which I did have a couple of times. But if again, the door remains locked against you, build your own road. Build your own road to get to your audience.

[00:12:52] Theodore Brun: Wow, that’s such good advice. Octavia, but there’s so, there’s so much in there to engage with. I, I mean I, I, I almost dunno where to begin, but at first all I, I would say it just, it strikes me as, as quite a sort of beautiful thing and an admirable thing that the story itself, you were committed enough to the story itself to just believe in yourself, keep writing, you know, the first book itself is, is, is quite long lengthy, isn’t it?

So I don’t,

[00:13:17] Octavia Randolph: 200,000 words for.

[00:13:20] Theodore Brun: Yeah. I mean that’s a, that’s, that’s a real commitment to the story and to the world. And, and obviously then your whole journey into, I suppose, the world’s turned a little bit to your advantage by giving you these, offering you these other pathways that then you’ve, you, you’ve proceeded, but you’ve obviously maximized and, and, and, made the most of, for sure. the word that really comes to me in kind of looking at you in, in the round as it were as an author, is immersion. I keep coming back to this idea of sort of full immersion, both in your world, your experience as a writer, your interest in like the material culture, the language, the places, and also your kind of living out the experience in terms of.

I mean, if you go to listeners should go to Octavia’s website. We’ll give details later, but just, you know, you get to experience the cooking clothing, all kinds of craft work connected with the world. And, having started to listen to The Circle of Cera.. Cera…

[00:14:23] Octavia Randolph: Ceridwin

[00:14:23] Theodore Brun: Ceridwin…

[00:14:24] Octavia Randolph: Yes. Welsh name, Ceridwin right. Mm-hmm.

[00:14:29] Theodore Brun: Probably my Englishness coming through there. My trouble with Welsh, you know, the, immediately the language, the dialogue in particular just so much is like, gosh, I’m completely transported into the world. And I wonder whether that’s something that you’ve consciously wanted to share with your readers as they’ve kind of come in behind you and, and, and, you know, become followers of your writing.

Is that something that you know, why have you cast your arms so wide, as it were, in terms of embracing that whole world? And also is that something that you, you try to offer your readers? And does that therefore give them a kind of something else to engage with that really keeps them, in your following?

[00:15:13] Octavia Randolph: that’s an excellent question, and I thank you for going to the website. I, I have over 100 small essays on the website, which is essentially just the results of. My research over the decades, you know, and, and so having done. The research that is necessary to do, to write competently about another era, and we all go through this, but I, I wrote it up in a way that would be digestible and interesting for people to come to the website.

So there is a lot of information on the Anglo-Saxon and Viking ages on the website, and people come for that and it’s another source for them. And because real ardent readers of course, are. You use the term immersion and I’m certainly immersed in the world, but they also want to be immersed. And so doing things like a little cookbook that you know, deals with the meals that are oftentimes served in the saga stories or, or talking about clothing, because a lot of people do make their own costumes and I oftentimes, At literary festivals appear in costume, either Anglo-Saxon or Norris costume.

So that kind of additional atmosphere I think is exciting to readers. It is certainly exciting to me and the. Community that has developed around the books is of immense importance to me. I have certainly in the past, you know, at History Quill convention two years ago, spoken about the importance of community and building community and the fact that I do spend two to three hours a day interacting with my readers, whether it’s answering fan mail.

Interacting in the fan group on Facebook, and now that I have these two tours to Gatland, there’s, they each have a Facebook page for the tours, but responding to comments on ads on Facebook and so on and so forth. So being there, being responsive to people who are interested in the books or showing images.

The books is so, so important and so nourishing for me as well. It’s not a burden. It is something that I really. Love interacting with my readers and the fan group on Facebook is a really, I think it’s a microcosm of just the intelligence and passion of my readers because they just find amazing stories about archeology and about the period and about handcrafts and food and everything, and bring them into the group and.

With great postings and great and you know, and drawing parallels between what goes on in the saga books and the latest archeological finds and, and that it’s, it’s a wonderful community and, and it’s something that nourishes them, keeps them going between installments of the book coming out.

Wonderful friendships have been made there. It, I mean, it’s, it’s thrilling to. Have an environment like that, and I’m really, really blessed in that. Five years ago, a reader of mine contacted me on Facebook and said, I would like to create a fan group. You know, for the books, may I do? So, and you know, I always encourage people, if someone offers to do this, say yes.

Because, you know, it’s a, it’s a tremendous labor of love for them, but it is such a great community. It’s such a gathering place and I feel really strongly that because the books are so demanding and I give so much in the book, this is nourishing for me. I mean, dealing directly with my readers is so, So nourishing and, and, of course they enjoy it as well.

I mean, you know, having that kind of actual relationship with people, knowing, knowing their names, knowing who they are, and now later this year, I’ll have the opportunity to actually meet people, you know, some of my most ardent readers are going to be here, 60 of them, so it’s going to be thrilling for me to actually meet them.

So, yes, I can’t say enough about the importance of community and, and how lucky we are to have fans, how lucky we are. Every writer, every author should be cherishing each and every one, and I certainly do.

[00:19:30] Julia Kelly: I love the sort of interviews or conversations where I’m thinking, oh, I have a question about that. And then you answer it and then, oh, I have a question about that, and then you answer it. So I had a whole bunch of questions about, about reader community and whether it was sort of organic or very intentional.

It sounds like it’s sort of come along with your series. As the series has grown, the reader engagement has grown. I’m curious about how you balance that with the demanding nature of your books because these, these books are, are long as you mentioned, and there are a lot of them. And before we started recording, you and I were chatting about how much you’ve been able to write over these last few years as well.

So I’m curious about how does that all fit together for you as an author?

[00:20:14] Octavia Randolph: It is important to set some limits. There’s no doubt about it. I. Do because my engagement with my own readers is quite important to me and quite nourishing. I do make time for that every day, but there are limits that one needs to make. One thing that happens, of course, is that we cannot allow ourselves to become emotionally enmeshed in our readers’ lives, and that can be an issue.

Fortunately, the wonderful woman who has created. The Z Group. Facebook also has a support group off to one side so that people who are going through readers of the books, who are also going through some. personal issues in which they need support can take those into another place. And that is a place I never enter.

So that was another, another was like a buffer for, for me. And there are obviously times when one needs to withdraw, as I already mentioned that. Quite a number of writers do approach me and ask if I will look at their work. And that is something that also you, you need to make a judgment on, if you have the time and bandwidth to do that.

So that there are, there are times of course, it, it really depends on where I am, you know, a book has just been released. Of course I’ve started writing book 11, but I’m also in a. A time now where, you know, there’s little openings in my schedule where I feel like I can be more, more giving either to other writers who I’m usually delighted to help.

And certainly, as I said the reason I’m here are my readers and they are my first priority reader. Satisfaction is my first priority is making sure that they understand how important they are to me and that these characters exist because they want them. They’ve summoned them forth because as I’ve told them, I know what’s going on for the saga folk.

I mean, they’re living right here. I can’t escape them. But if my readers didn’t want to know themselves, then there would be no reason for me to have put it all down. And so I owe them a tremendous amount.

[00:22:26] Theodore Brun: Yeah, it’s so interesting, isn’t it? The notion of where you draw your own boundaries and you know, where you’ve only got so many, so much time in the day and, and sort of how you weight that towards. I mean, personally, I, I’m, I’m at a stage where I’m raising young children and I might, if I can get to my desk just to do some writing, then, then that’s, that’s a win for me.

But at the same time, you sort of, one thinks in the round of like, yeah, but you’re trying to do this for a purpose, which is, to reach people to read this story that is real and alive for you, and you want it to become alive for other, for other people. but it sounds to me like the. Again, that, that, you know, the scope of, or the span of your, your journey, I guess through, through writing has just has kind of built up a readership around you and then you’ve started to realize, hang on I can, there’s, there’s value to that rather than, is it something that at the beginning of.

Earlier, also earlier on in your, your career that you were just glad to get the books out there and then you started realizing, hang on these books to take you on a life of its own and the readership takes on a life of its own, so now I need to serve that readership as well. Is that kind of how it went?

Or were you always thinking right, there will be readers and this is how I’m gonna engage with them.

[00:23:43] Octavia Randolph: I had a very active website from the very beginning. I, I had an author website beginning in 1998, and believe me, I was ve a very early adopter of the author website. And again, I, I think I have the URL to prove it. octavia.net. I mean, it’s a single name, and that’s, that’s an early website. But, so I always had a lot of engagement there because I was always welcoming people writing to me.

And I was in the, those early days I was publishing Book one serially for free from my website. So I had hundreds of thousands of people coming to the website to download, you know, each chapter. So I knew that, that there. Was an audience out there. I knew that there was a community of people who wanted more and it just getting it to a point where there was a better delivery system, which did not happen until 2008 when you know Amazon created the Kindle.

But I. I wasn’t one of those very early adopters. I, you know, was somebody who didn’t come to that platform until 2012. So, but as soon as I did, you know, and the, the books were an immediate success. Again, discoverability was different than that. It is now, there’s now. More than 10 million books on Amazon.

There certainly weren’t anything close to that number. I think there were 2 million or something when my three books came out, but it, they immediately found a home. And after that, you know when, when your books are suddenly selling and people are writing to you and asking for more. You know, you’re, you’re thrilled and delighted.

It was validation for, for everything that I’d always believed about the characters and the breadth of the story and the importance of the story. And so it just kept going. So I, I had the website and a mailing list and now I had the books out in a, in a way in which people could access them. So, you know, they quickly, then I brought them out in, in Trent and shortly thereafter found the, Fabulous than Nagle and she has narrated all of the books.

So then I’ve had the audio books. So they’ve, you know, all, all of the books have been out in all of these different, and I’ve always been wide as well. I’ve never been exclusive to Amazon. They’ve always been available on Apple and Cobo. And Barnes and Noble in the United States and so on and so forth. So I’ve always felt that it’s so important to meet your, readers where they are.

And I have quite a large following. In Australia, for instance, Amazon is getting stronger in Australia, but, but originally those were mainly Cobo readers as it is in Canada. So you wanted to be wherever you know your readers were. I feel strongly about that.

[00:26:31] Julia Kelly: I’m curious about how, kind of tying together some of the themes of what we’ve talked about here, the, the scope of the books, the, the thing that compels you to write these books, this early reader interest and your commitment to reader satisfaction as well. How do you keep. These stories living in your head, but also having feedback from people coming to you through the form of your Facebook group and email.

Do you ever make changes or move stories into different directions or characters into different directions based on what you’re seeing from your readers? Or is it really, you know what you’re telling and you just trust that the readers will come along with you and we’ll follow the stories of these people?

[00:27:14] Octavia Randolph: That’s an excellent, and thoughtful question, Julia. I will tell you what I have told my readers. The saga folk live right here. They live off to the left side of my temple and that’s where they manifest and they are telling me their story. It can be extremely interesting and. Even entertaining to read what readers conjecture about the books.

And every time there’s a new book created, there’s a new Facebook subgroup created just for that book so that fans can talk about it without spoilers, which is wonderful. So they, they go out of the main saga group into the subgroup, and then they can talk about waterborne the new. Title as much as they want without any spoilers to other people who may be further back in the series.

So it is very interesting for me to see the conjectures that are coming out about what’s happened in this new episode, but it is the saga folk who manifests right here that are telling me what happens. So, no, I’ve, I’ve have not altered anything because they are telling their own story and I’m fortunate enough to be able to take it down.

[00:28:24] Theodore Brun: I love that. I mean that that was just, that was something I was thinking right at the beginning of when we started talking to you, when you were talking about theme and you had such a clear picture. I mean, once you picked your world, that once that theme was a river, as you described, and, and that river kind of can run, run on and on and on.

So I, you know, a question I had before we even met was, you know, did you have a sense of the scope of. The saga that you’re telling before you started writing page one, but I mean, that’s always a, a, a sort of, you know, it’s the JK Rowling question of like, did you see it all before you had it? It’s sounding like, you know, there’s a, there’s this sort of mining aspect to it.

What I mean by that is, you know, you strike upon a sort of seam of gold if you like, and you just keep, keep close to the go and, and, and then it kind of keeps coming out of the ground as it were.

[00:29:16] Octavia Randolph: Yes. No, I, and I, I, I understand. No, and, and, and I, I, I will say, and I had originally. Thought that perhaps there would be 10 or 12 books. And a few years ago, I realized that’s not possible and that I have made a vow to my readers that I will continue to write the saga as long as they keep reading it. And that is really wonderful and freeing for me.

And it’s reassuring for them as well. I’m happy to say so that I feel like, okay, I can, I can just keep going because there’s. You know, in a multi-generational family saga. I mean, we’re already onto the, the main characters are still very much potent characters in every book, but their children are highly active now, and that now there’s a little babies born in the third generation.

So there is so much, again, that river, the current in that river is pulling, pulling, pulling us down, you know, and down the stream. And, it’s, it’s very freeing for me to think that. I’m not looking for a, a tidy conclusion that I can keep going at. You know, as long as readers stay interested, that’s a beautiful thing for us, Bose.

But I continue to, I feel very strongly that I will continue the books, you know, as long as it’s humanly possible because I, I get so much out of it myself and knowing that I’m connecting with so many people is thrilling and a, and a great honor for me.

[00:30:50] Julia Kelly: I think there’s so many wonderful lessons here. I’m, I’m also very conscious of the fact that, you know, one of the things that we are doing here is speaking to people who are all across different stages of their writing career. You know, people who may just be curious about writing historical fiction all the way through to people who are seeking publication, whether that’s traditional or independent, or maybe their mid-career and looking at a career shift.

One of the things that came up in our conversation for our first episode with Madeline Martin was learning from some of the things that haven’t gone. To plan or haven’t gone so well. Is there anything that you can kind of reassure people maybe has been a stumbling block in your career or something where you thought, you know, that really didn’t turn out the way that I expected, but this is what I learned from it, or this is the good that came out of it.

Um, obviously I know your. Introduction to us in talking about traditional publishing not being the route that you went down. Obviously you have this fruitful career in independent publishing, but is there anything else that you’d like to reassure writers with?

[00:31:53] Octavia Randolph: I, I think persistence is all if you believe in your talent. It took me 18 years and much heartbreak before I could find my audience. The audience was always there. And if you believe in your own work, if you believe in your voice, if your message is potent enough. Then you will find an audience. You will find an audience.

I want to encourage you to persist because I did, and I have an extraordinary audience now, and a beautiful career, an enviable career. For which I’m profoundly grateful. So would I like to have those 18 years back? Would I have loved to have been picked up by a major publisher and, you know, had the sort of support that, Diana Aldon had or any of those people?

That would’ve been phenomenal. It did not happen. I had a different path in which I was forced to walk. But I built my own road. I made it work, and it’s been immensely rewarding. Not only do I have complete control over what I write and what my books look like and what they sound like, no one says no to me.

The only people that can say no to me are my readers, and I write for them. So, I mean, it’s, it, it’s, it’s turned out wonderfully and I just have to say, if your vision is big enough, if, if your persistence is such that you’re willing to commit to the road, then by all means have faith that you will have an audience and you will find it.

[00:33:35] Julia Kelly: It’s wonderfully inspirational, I feel. Like I need to go right now.

[00:33:39] Theodore Brun: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s something quite beautiful and an apt that your own story is quite a saga. In itself. And you know, my impression when you were talking about the 18 years is like nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted. And and the greater the struggle, the, the, the greater the satisfaction and fulfillment and reward, which you have richly earned and richly deserve.

So Octavia, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you. I feel like I’ve been sitting around a fire listening to the voice of wisdom and encouragement, which is always a good.

[00:34:14] Octavia Randolph: I’d like to be, I’d like to be that to your listeners. Thank you, Theo.

[00:34:18] Theodore Brun: Yeah. Well, you’ve been it. Yeah, you’ve been it to us. I’m sure you’ve been it to our listeners as well. Just one thing before you go, what’s next for you and where can we find you?

[00:34:26] Octavia Randolph: Well, book 11, which I’m already writing, which should be coming next year I hope. And very easy to find online. Again, very simple URL from my website, octavia.net. So and I welcome listeners who would like to be in touch with me, and have a writing question. Please feel free to write to me at octavia.net. I always answer every letter.

[00:34:55] Julia Kelly: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining us. This has just been fantastic and, and like I said, I feel like…

[00:35:01] Octavia Randolph: It’s been a delight for me.

[00:35:01] Julia Kelly: Well,I need to go get back to writing because I now feel very inspired.

[00:35:08] Octavia Randolph: Thank you both. It’s really been a delight.

[00:35:16] Theodore Brun: Well, wasn’t that fantastic? I absolutely loved listening to our guest, Octavia Randolph, talking about her life as a writer and all the things that she was up to. What do you think, Julia?

[00:35:27] Julia Kelly: I think that there’s a lot to learn from this episode and a lot to dig into. But first I wanna make sure that we do some housekeeping. So I wanna just remind you all that, you can visit the historyquill.com/3, where you can access a range of resources related to this episode. You can also join our email list to receive new podcast episodes and more content.

For historical fiction writers, you can find the link in the description or enter it into your browser.

[00:35:54] Theodore Brun: That’s right. And if you do, you’ll find all the tools you need to help put into action exactly what Octavia was talking about. And she was obviously encouraging the History Quill community. So we should take that encouragement and, make the most of it. So Julia, where do you think we should start picking apart what she gave us?

[00:36:12] Julia Kelly: Okay. I think maybe starting at the beginning with her story of her path to publishing, I didn’t realize that she had those sort of 18 years of waiting and. You know, hoping and getting a literary agent and hoping she would get published and then deciding to do it on her own and going independent.

She brought up so many wonderful points there. but the one that I think strikes me the most, because I have a personal connection to it, is the idea of. Of persistence and keeping the faith. I know my own personal path to publishing was not a straight line by any means, and I took time. It wasn’t 18 years.

I have to go back and do the math at some point and figure out what it actually was, but maybe sort of four or five years between getting a literary agent and then having my first contract. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. And I think that’s one of the big messages that I took away was that you know the stories that you want to tell.

They have an audience, you will find that audience, but you need to keep the faith, you need to stay persistent and you need to keep doing the work as well. she continued writing even after that first book didn’t sell, and so she ended up with three books that she could immediately begin working on as an independent author with her own imprint. And I think that’s a really powerful message.

[00:37:33] Theodore Brun: Yeah, for sure. It’s the, it’s the same, the same message really, or one of the same messages as Madeline Martin. That, that idea of persistence and having the discipline and kind of being your, your own cheerleader as it were, through these kind of dark passages where you just think, what’s the point of this?

All? What came through really clearly to me was the value that she puts on each and every reader, and that was the case, right from the very. Beginning, I think it’s quite easy to see the value in your own story and you think, oh, you know, this is, this is a story I really want to tell. but who are you telling it to?

And if someone’s willing to kind of sit down and listen, then you’re like, that’s really a precious thing. And I, I personally need to take that on board better, I think, cuz I think linking that value with your readers. Encourages you to kind of do the work in that direction within your writing career.

And that can be something right from the beginning. And what I mean by that is, you know, she, she described spending two or three hours a day interacting with her readership, but also presumably building all the tools, managing all the tools that, that enable that to happen, whether that’s Facebook platform or her, website or whatever.

And, and speaking very personally, like I find that. It’s not my natural world as it were. So you find the kind of, the mystery of that proves a bit of a barrier to actually dedicating the time to do that. And, and it’s much safer in a way for me to just go to my desk and keep writing kind of thing. But, but that value of the reader is something that would say, yeah, you know, there’s, this is something you want to cultivate.

And yeah, so that’s, that’s definitely something I’ll take away from this, this conversation.

[00:39:11] Julia Kelly: You know, it’s funny, I’ve struggled for a while because somebody once described kind of like an author to reader interaction, like customer service and being a customer support representative, and I never loved that as a way of thinking about your interactions as an author with your readership, because that feels so transactional to me.

I liked her framing it more as reader satisfaction and the idea that, you know, she is trying to. Honor the fact that these people are so engaged with a story that has come out of her own imagination and with characters that she really cares about and a story she really wants to tell with, you know, this enthusiasm and this excitement.

But I was also really glad that you said the word boundaries as well, because I think that’s something that’s also very, tricky sometimes to get right is, you know, you do need to still have time for yourself and your writing, and you do still need to have boundaries within your own. Personal life as well.

And in, in her case, mentioning that, you know, she tries not to enmesh herself emotionally in her reader’s lives. There is kind of a separate way that they can express that if they need that within the community. So it’s almost, it’s almost like she’s created this community and created this. This meeting place for people.

And you know, I love the idea of having the, the spoiler-filled subgroups where people can really dive into, you know, okay, I can’t believe that so-and-so did that. Or, what do you think is going to happen in this book? So it, it’s sort of creating that space that’s almost bigger than, than just the author interaction, although that’s a big, a big part of it as well.

[00:40:42] Theodore Brun: How you interact and how you engage is obviously something that perhaps you get wiser and more adept at with time, and you understand what works. I mean, it, it’s sort of the same if for any community, as it were. whatever the, whatever the, the basis of that community. Happens to be, it’s like you still gotta work out boundaries within that community cuz it’s about a thing.

It’s not about everything. I think one of the things, there was a big topic, that probably will come up a lot in this series of podcasts is that balance between the self publication and the traditional publication. And obviously we are both. We have, sort of fought hard in a way to get ourselves into the traditional route.

But, you know, there’s the, the, the value of royalties and the fact that maybe the world’s changed a little bit. And even if you’re going the traditional route, you have to find ways of basically doing your own sale, sales and marketing, at least for the large part anyway, so, I think there was. You know, there’s definitely food for thought.

I still think it’s, it’s not an unequivocal answer, but I dunno what you think, whether you still think there’s, there’s, does it make you stop and reflect, this is the route I’m going, but maybe there are other ways, ways to get future books out there.

[00:41:56] Julia Kelly: You know, I, I think one of the things for me that’s been a big hallmark of my career is, is being open-minded and being willing to pivot if that’s been necessary. So I would never, you know, I would never take it off the table. I think one of the wonders of having those self-publishing tools available to everybody is that, If it feels right to you or if there’s a story that you wanna tell and you’re being told that, you know, New York or, or the, some of the smaller publishers are not interested in telling it, you can put that story out there.

And I, I’m, I think that that’s a really wonderful thing. I think it’s a really wonderful thing also to look at, you know, the benefits of traditional publishing. And I think there’s always tensions there between pros and cons, no matter what side of publishing you’re on, but the idea of just giving people access is, is huge.

For me, there’s an element of what. Personality wise is the right fit. I have some friends, I, you know, I came up in the, in the romance world, I used to write historical romance and so I had a lot of friends really in that first wave of independent romance authors who were just, you know, running away with, with cash to the bank.

It was incredible. It really was the gold, the gold rush mentality. And people kind of talk about this in the romance world. Some of them did independent publishing because they were told that the stories they wanted to tell were not interesting. Traditional publishers and some of them said, you know, personality-wise, this is a better fit for me.

This is, you know, I want to be the one calling the shots. I want to be the one, you know, doing the marketing and putting together the budget and the timeline and you know, also doing all of the commissioning, you know, if, if you have a team and support. And so I, I was really glad to hear her talk about.

How wide her team is. You know, she has this, this independent imprint she has committed to, you know, hiring a professional cover designer, professional narrator, all of those things to really produce a high, high quality product. So I think you know it. Understanding that both traditional and independent publishing can take a lot of different forms, can fulfill a lot of different, you know, personalities, but also it is possible to do it in a way that is very high spec and very professional.

That does require a team as well. I think it’s all food for food for thought. As people think about how they might want to approach publishing.

[00:44:18] Theodore Brun: Yeah, I think that’s, gosh, you made so much, so many good points in there, Julia, but I think you, you were kind of reminding me of Madeline Martin’s approach, which was like, what does it feel like in your gut? And maybe that’s a thing for like each idea you have each new project. One of the things I loved about her as a writer and wanted to throw it back to you was this kind of, I said, called it total immersion, but it’s the fact that she’ll dress up in the clothing of her period. She’ll go and try and cook from that, that period. She’ll do handcraft and embroidery and all the rest of it.

Are there any sort of stories connected with your attempts at recreating World War ii Life that, would be fun to hear?

[00:45:02] Julia Kelly: You know, I’ve been threatening to cook some of the recipes that I’ve found as part of my research, although I’m not entirely sure I can bring myself to do some of the extreme rationing. I don’t know if I love potato starch quite that much. Much as I love potatoes. I am very, very guilty of weaving in things that I’m interested in.

So The Last Garden in England, I wrote about, Gardens and I didn’t have a garden at the time, although upon publication, I moved into a place that did, but I sort of got to live my fantasy of gardening out. I’m writing a book right now that incorporates another hobby of mine. I love knitting. So at some point somebody’s gonna get a knitting book.

I don’t know what that’s going to look like. but you know, I think that as. As authors we’re, we’re often, you know, drawing, drawing things in from our life that are interesting to us, and I know I’m certainly guilty of doing that. How about yourself?

[00:45:52] Theodore Brun: Well my world is quite similar to Octavia Randoplh, so it’s sort of the old, old Norse warrior culture. So at a certain point I realized, you know, I probably need to go pick up a sword and see what I’m, see how, how I fare with a medieval sword. And I went, and so I found this guy in South London who.

Taught medieval martial arts as it’s called, and ended up sort of traipsing off there and standing in a room that seemed to be way, way too small to be doing anything with big swords and spears and I don’t know what it was, three or four lessons. I just realized I was really, really ineffectual with a sword, which is quite a humiliating thing for her, for a man to accept about himself.

But I think this guy just terrified me far too much, even just being in the same room as him. And he was completely bald with a long shaggy beard. And when he was sort of jabbing, it, jabbing the sword in my, in my, on my mask. I was just quite intimidated by the whole thing. So maybe, keeping violence to the literary pages is probably where, where I belong.

[00:46:56] Julia Kelly: I love the idea of that just go coming in and being like that. I don’t know about this. This feels like this is too much. This sort is too heavy. The room is too small. This man is too scary. Like, I’m gonna back off here.

[00:47:09] Theodore Brun: Yes, I know. I’m a, I’m a total fraud when it comes to writing about big, big, courageous, warriors. But anyway.

[00:47:16] Julia Kelly: Well, I hope that we’ve left readers, listeners, everybody with the image of you and me trying to jab people with swords ineffectually, as the end of our episode. But, you know, there are other things that we can put into practice from this episode, perhaps.

[00:47:31] Theodore Brun: Absolutely. Well, thank you again to our wonderful guest today, Octavia Randolph, for that brilliant conversation. So that concludes this episode of The History Quill Podcast. If you’ve enjoyed today’s show and wanna find out more about the topics discussed, head over to thehistoryquill.com/3 to gain access to a range of resources relating to this episode.

You can also join our email list to receive a new podcast or each new podcast episode, and more content for historical fiction writers. The links in the description and you can enter it into your browser.

[00:48:06] Julia Kelly: And of course, wherever you’re listening to this podcast, make sure that you like, subscribe, and leave us a comment or review. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

Do you write historical fiction?

Join our email list via the button below for regular tips, resources, and promotions for historical fiction writers.