Happy Friday, all! Today, one of our new favourite authors, Merlina Garance, returns to our blog for a fun interview all about their stunning queer romance series, The Leicester Trilogy, with hints as to what readers can expect from the third and final book, Mending Bones, out December 15th.
Prepare yourself for later-in-life sapphics by the sea... We can't wait!
If, like us, you can't get enough of Merlina, be sure to read her article detailing the relationship between her sexuality and writing journey, too!
The Flourishing is currently on sale for 99p as part of the IHeartSapphfic Mega Sale. As one of my (Rach's) personal favourite reads this year, I encourage you all to grab a copy and get stuck into this beautiful, suspense-filled love story. You're bound to find your next book girlfriend!
Welcome back to our blog, Merlina! First of all, tell us all about your stunning Leicester Trilogy and how it came to be.
Each book in the trilogy follows a different character and couple from a group of friends and colleagues who all live in Leicester.
The first one, The Flourishing, follows Andy, a policewoman who is put on a case with her colleague Claire, investigating a missing person’s case. Things get a little complicated for her when Andy starts having feelings for the wife of the missing man…
In the second book, Just Stu, we meet John, who lives in the same building as Andy. He has just moved to the city after his divorce and is a bit isolated. Thankfully, he quickly meets our group of characters, including Stu, with whom he joins a TTRPG campaign. They quickly become best friends but, over time, it becomes apparent that there is something more between them.
Finally, Mending Bones is the third book in the trilogy and centers around Claire. The story begins as she breaks her leg and finds herself on sick leave for over a month, with very little to do. Except maybe go on a week-long vacation on the coast with Estelle, and wonder why the hell she’s resisted the other woman’s flirting for so long.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in this series? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
I think there is a bit of me in all the main characters, which is why I chose to write the books from their specific points of view.
Andy from The Flourishing has a strong sense of justice that I’ve often felt, as a social worker. What makes her get so personally invested in that particular investigation stems from personal experience I’ve had working with victims and always wanting to do more to help. It’s really hard to keep healthy boundaries and I think I put all my rage in Andy’s character.
John from Just Stu has my scoliosis and overwhelming need to please people and make everyone around him happy.
Finally, Claire from Mending Bones has a lot of my insecurities, doubts and fears. I think if you merged all 3 together, you’d have something that resembles a Merlina!
Both the upcoming book, Mending Bones, and the first book in the series features sapphic romance (yay!). What are your favourite tropes to read and do any make an appearance in this love story?
My two favourite tropes have to be second chances and friends to lovers. I love exploring the shift in relationship, how two people can regain/maintain a healthy relationship as they become romantically involved. It might have to do with the fact that my personal relationship hit both those tropes: we were friends for a long time, then fell in love, then didn’t speak for several months until we finally found a way to make it work.
Claire and Estelle’s relationship is a form of ambiguous friendship that lasts for years, maintaining a status quo because neither of them are exactly sure if the other wants more. Though there’s always been a spark there…
Your protagonists, Claire and Estelle, are both past the age of fifty, which is unfortunately still rare in the romance genre. What made you decide to focus on older MCs, and how did it impact the story, process, and character development?
As far as I can remember, I’ve always written characters who are much older than me. When I was 13, I was writing about 30 year-olds. I’m not sure why, exactly! So the gap has remained and now that I’m nearing my 30s, my characters have aged with me.
As for how it impacts writing, one thing I like with older characters is the baggage. I love having to figure out how two people can make it work while not erasing their past, but accepting each other, making room for the other’s history and possibly trauma, and creating something new together.
Especially in romance, it also allows me to explore themes that are not often represented. For example, Estelle at 56 is dealing with menopause, and I found it interesting to include in the story and still show her to have a romantic and sex life.
The book takes place in a cosy seaside backdrop, which is a big contrast to the suspenseful, busy setting and plot in The Flourishing. Is there a reason behind this change of pace? Do you prefer one to the other, or do you enjoy the variation?
Honestly, I love both (though writing an investigation is a nightmare of juggling timelines and I always have regrets after I start) and I think what happened is I just need to tell a significant part of each character’s life. For Andy, it was the investigation and meeting Thalia. For Claire, it was this break from work and her daily life, a moment out of time. As it often happens, I didn’t really choose what I was going to write, the characters chose for me!
Speaking of setting, you currently live in France but have also lived in the UK! Do your experiences with different cultures and places influence your writing at all?
Well, having lived in the UK has certainly helped me write in English, which isn’t my mother tongue, but also setting my stories in England because I’ve been immersed in the culture a lot more than say, the US. Plus it’s easier to throw in a little sensory detail that I can remember having experienced - for example, the very specific smell of British pubs. Even easier when those things are deeply ingrained in my memory with a sense of nostalgia!
Did you find any challenges while writing these books? How did you overcome them?
There are challenges writing any book, I think, but The Flourishing was more difficult because of the timeline of the investigation, and having to know at all times where and when things were happening to avoid incoherences.
In comparison, Mending Bones with its main storyline set over one week was fairly straightforward!
We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! More sapphics? More romance? Anything that might surprise your readers? Could we perhaps even request that the trilogy becomes a saga? *Insert prayer emoji here*
Some people have convinced me of writing a little something to go with the trilogy… I’m not sure yet which form it will take, but I’ve written down a few scenes to show what the characters are up to a few years after we leave them in their respective books.
I have far too many things I want to do, really:
I have a novel, beta-read and edited, that I want to start querying. (It’s set mainly in Edinburgh because I fell in love when I visited it, and is a second chance romance between friends who lost touch after spending many summers together as children.)
I have started writing a very ambitious project: a steampunk adventure following a young woman and her non-binary former friend, now kind of enemy, to try and save their country from a political disaster.
I also have a MLM romance planned for NaNoWriMo, that I hope to self publish next summer.
You understand why my friends and partner tell me to take breaks more often…
Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?
I studied French literature and grew up immersed in French cinema. Emile Zola was quite influential in my teens, as I really connected with the school of naturalism he was a part of. He strived to tell stories set in reality, the lives of people in the lower classes and their struggles, but also the changes in society. His books are full of details and research (sometimes too much if you’re not an expert on 19th century mining for example!) and I admire that he put so much effort into that aspect of his books.
I often mention French dramatic comedies, and directors like Cedric Klapisch, who makes very character-driven films, which is something I aspire to do with my books.
Finally, I’m also a big fan of British TV series, especially the short ones that masterfully pack a lot of story in just a few episodes. I used to make my stories longer ‘just because’ I felt like I had to. Now if I feel like I’ve told the story I wanted, it doesn’t matter if it’s 40k words or 90k, it’s the right length to me.
How did you come to self-publish rather than pursue more traditional routes? Do you see yourself switching it up in the future, or will you remain indie?
It was mostly a lack of patience on my part… Obviously I’d love to have an agent and a publisher for the support it would grant me, allowing me to focus primarily on writing. But ultimately, I write because I want to share my stories. So I started self publishing because I couldn’t wait to share The Flourishing and the rest, but I will start querying on the side, and we’ll see how that goes!
You also write fanfiction. How has this impacted you as an author, and do you have a preference between writing original characters/worlds vs. fanfic? Are there any fandoms that influenced your writing career the most?
I wouldn’t have started self publishing without having posted fanfiction before. Because that’s where I met my first faithful readers, people who became friends and a community, and who encouraged me to start publishing original fiction. They are still a very precious support and the first ones to buy my books as they are released.
As for fandom influence, the one that has captured my attention the most is Good Omens. The book is hilarious, but the show also added another layer to Aziraphale and Crowley’s relationship, and the way this has been shown to evolve over two seasons is absolutely beautiful. I think there’s a little bit of their dynamic in most of the couples I write, because I’m so hopelessly in love with both these characters.
If you could give any advice to indie authors set to make their debut, what would it be?
Connect with other indie authors! They’re the best allies you can possibly have. They will tell you how to avoid scams, and share valuable input with you. Joining the Swords & Sapphics discord server after I participated in an indie author event on Instagram was really amazing for me!
Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, or games you’re enjoying at the moment? Any recommendations for our audience? Bonus points if it includes sapphics!
I can’t recommend The Owl House enough. It’s an animated series that is ultimately about queerness, being different and finding family and love in each other. It has beautiful representation of the LGBTQ+ community, of disability, and the main character is a Latina girl! What more can you want?
I’ve always heard my mother say that as soon as I could hold a pen, I started writing stories. First, transcribing and illustrating the ones that my father had invented for us. Then elaborate back stories for my toys. Then one day, at the end of an exam in secondary school, with too much time on my hands and only paper available, that’s when it really started.
For a long time I wrote romance stories (in French, my mother tongue) and published them on a blog. I started writing in English in 2020, first fanfiction for videogames or tv shows that were dear to my heart and now, novels.
I worked for some years as a social worker, and quit at the end of 2022 to take care of my health and focus on writing.
I still write mostly romance, about characters who are always queer, often neurodivergent – and some poetry on the side. When I’m not writing, I like to spend time in nature, gardening or hiking, or play video-games.