Book Talk – The Physician’s Apprentice

EDIT – This Book’s title has changed since I wrote this post. The story is still the same, but the swanky new title is A Study of Ash & Smoke.

I’ve never done a post discussing what this book is actually about, and I honestly don’t know how that’s happened. So, considering I’ve completed the final round of edits and the novel is out of my hands again (WHOOOOOHOOOOO) I thought I’d break down the story for you.

I’m not particularly skilled when it comes to the elevator pitch, but here’s my best go.

The Physician’s Apprentice is a novel about a foreign royal who has to hide – for her life and others – as a physician’s apprentice, in a kingdom under a forcefield where a plague breaks out.

The story seed came from a Sci Show video about deadly viruses. The idea that something so tiny as a virus could be so deadly fascinated me, and I spent many hours researching viruses and bacteria. Around the same time, I played Dragon Age Inquisition for the first time, and ADORED the Grand Game, the Orlesianisms and the entire Winter Palace Ball. Then, I read an article on Bored Panda (or a similar website) about how blond women used to be considered the pinnacle of beauty in history, then were replaced by brunettes at some stage (unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find this article again, so I don’t have dates or a link to share with you).

Those three things are completely unrelated, I know. But, combined with my love of steampunk (it wasn’t even a question that this book would have a steampunk flavour) they still came together to form the general idea for TPA. What if the plague was the Big Bad of the story? What if this plague broke out somewhere where it would be impossible to get a cure? And what if the protagonist had to help cure this uncurable thing?

With my steam technology, it wasn’t a far leap to the idea of a forcefield, jokingly called a mantle, which, of course, stuck and became the Mantle. And since my protagonist had to help cure the disease, she’d have to be a physician. I liked the idea of her knowing how to heal, but didn’t want her to have mastered her profession yet, so I demoted her to an apprentice.

I knew the healers would wear flowing white and grey clothing and their heads would be covered. I really liked the look of the Sisters of Plenitude in Doctor Who, which inspired the robes and hoods my healers would wear.

Initially, I wanted the apprentice to live in a kingdom similar to the UK, specifically in the capital, which would resemble London, one of my favourite places in the world. I drew a lot of inspiration from our visits to England and parts of Scotland, especially from the architecture, people and weather. However, the time we spent living in Germany rubbed off on Aelland (pronounced eel-and) and the capital of Roicester (row-uh-star) became a little more European with each draft. In fact, the festivals celebrated in Aelland are all based on similar German festivals, and some of the buildings are inspired by buildings we saw in Germany.

Meanwhile, Dragon Age’s Grand Game wouldn’t let me be. I kept wondering how I could incorporate a more political aspect to my budding story, then inspiration struck when I remembered how strained relations between historical England and France were. Aelland needed a neighbour. A pseudo-French neighbour, and so Mordoux (more-dew) was born.

Mordoux would be a land of spies and political intrigue, and I immediately knew I wanted a rakish character named Du Pont, nicknamed Pointy, to be a Mordian character. I also wanted to incorporate some aspects of historical politics. Something about nobles plotting to overthrow each other excites me. 😀 But it played in nicely with the developing political plotline of the story.

I realised the apprentice would have to be involved in all of this somehow. She’d have to be from Mordoux, living in Aelland (a nice little ode to our own immigration story). So, what if the spies were looking for her? Considering the fact that she’d be wearing a robe and hood, maybe I could incorporate the hair idea. What if her hair had to be hidden, what if that would give her away? And just like that, my apprentice was a brunette, hiding for her life in a kingdom where everyone was blond.

I can’t say much more without giving away too much of the plot, but the pieces just clicked together from there, forming a more complete picture with every draft. Sure, the plot changed massively from the first to the last drafts. I had to revisit every aspect of the story and often had to come at the problems or characters from new places and perspectives to make them fit.

As for characters, there are a few. 🙂 But the most important are the five viewpoint characters.

The apprentice is the protagonist. I wanted to give her a name with an ironic meaning, preferably of European origin, but that’s also used and known in the UK. She couldn’t have a French name that would scream she was a foreigner. Cara is originally Latin, and means beloved, but is also an Irish name meaning friend. Both of those meanings contrast heavily with her backstory and her current reality of hiding for her life, so it was perfect. To pseudo-Frenchify her name, I added a -belle to the end, and named her Carabelle, Cara for short. She’d be a nervous wreck, and would have major trust issues.

Now Cara has to be apprenticed to someone, right? It’s in the title. 🙂 The physician in the Physician’s Apprentice is Nathaniel Cutter, a famous heart surgeon. He no longer performs heart surgeries, but still practices as a general surgeon. Nathan takes over Cara’s apprenticeship from his father, Magnus, early on in the story, and has to find a way to keep her safe, despite not really trusting her.

Lance was an accidental character that happened after a close friend read the first draft and made the observation that she didn’t care for those people dying of the plague. The reader was too far removed from them, so I wrote a character on the ground where the plague was spreading, in Aelland’s slums. Lance can be a bit shady at times, but has a good heart, even though he’d never admit it to himself.

Seraphine is a prisoner in the palace, but no one can know that. She’s the queen, after all. Her name means serpentine and blazing, which both capture her personality. She plays the grand political game as easily as breathing, and isn’t one to quietly accept anything. Her greatest adversary is her father, one of the king’s advisors, but she won’t be bested by him.

Finally, there’s Varda Ahlström from Dvara (duh-vah-rah). Another character that was born to plug a plothole or two, but has become a firm favourite of mine. She’s a pseudo-Viking princess, who sails the oceans of Ehrdia (the world, ear-dee-ah) with her mother, Vendla. She’s also the only viewpoint character not under the Mantle in Aelland, so we get to see the rest of the world through her eyes. All she wants is safety for her people. They can’t afford to lose more Dvarans, but her mother refuses to ally with those who can help them.

And that’s all I can think of for now. 🙂

I’m EXTREMELY thankful for my wonderful editor Nerine Dorman, who took the time to guide me by the hand through this whole novel, and also for putting me in touch with the equally wonderful Cat Hellisen, Cristy Zinn and Tallula Lucy. Were it not for these extraordinary women, asking all the questions and making all the observations, this story would have remained too flat and colourless.

Speaking of ladies who asked all the difficult questions, my cousins Shants and Tanja read this thing so many times I bet they can quote passages from memory. I think Shants may have read it more times than I did. 🙂 But if it weren’t for their brainstorming sessions over multiple time zones, their brilliant off-hand suggestions and those difficult questions, many of the characters and scenes close to my heart would never have been written. They inspire me and I can’t wait to keep working on this story with their help. Love you!

Watch this space for more concerning this little book of mine. I can’t wait to share the final product with you. It’s been three years in the making, and I seriously can’t believe how close to the end it is now. It’s so completely unreal.

Anyway. Until next time.



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A Study of Ash & Smoke
A Trial of Sparks & Kindling


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