When the characters of my series Children of the Black Sun first came to me, there was one thing about them that I knew for certain, one thing on which they all seemed to agree: they needed to live somewhere cold. The northern nation of Ricalan where Winter Be My Shield is set is a land of Siberian cold, dominated by taiga forest where snow can fall even in summer and covers the landscape for half of each year.
Environment shapes the culture of those who live within it — it’s no coincidence that people living in the harshest environments have the strongest traditions of hospitality. The story of Winter be My Shield is tied closely to the culture of the people who live in Ricalan. It’s a society of interdependence, where one person alone has a low chance of survival and where a single misfortune could mean their death. The harsh and unforgiving landscape forces people to work together, rely on each other and find common ground — even when their goals and values put them at odds and drive them to conflict. Ricalan is a place where you have a responsibility to the welfare of the people around you, as they have a responsibility to you; a land where if you find a stranger half-frozen in the snow, you bring her into the warmth of your home, whether it be stone walls or a tent of hide and fur, because tomorrow it could be you stranded, alone and defenceless amid the elements.
When it came time to plan the book launch, I wanted a way to introduce people to the culture and the landscape of the story. In our world, our first exposure to a foreign culture is often through their food and their traditions of hospitality, and so when I wanted to introduce Ricalan to the folk who came to help celebrate the launch of my book, I decided to do it through the foods that would be familiar to the people of Ricalan. Some foods, like ramps, the tender young fronds of fiddlehead ferns, are difficult to find in Australia, but there are many things in our supermarkets that would be known to the people of the Taiga forests. At the launch we had rare roast meat with horseradish on parsnip fritters; goat’s cheese and cured pork with cherry preserves; salmon, that ancient staple of the north, smoked and served on sourdough with cultured cream; and kimchee pancakes, a version of the traditional bannock which northern travellers have eaten for centuries. To follow we had cranberry pies with fresh cream, and panna cotta tartlets sweetened with maple syrup and forest berries.
It’s an incredible feeling to walk into my regular bookshop and see Winter Be My Shield on the shelves, when for so long it’s been just a file on my desktop and words running through my head. It was amazing to see so many people come to share this latest step in a long but very rewarding journey; from friends who’ve known me since I first started to write, to folk I only met a few weeks ago. I hope I was able to give my guests a symbolic taste of the north, and that it let them feel a connection to the people and the landscape of Ricalan. It may be a harsh and dangerous land, but there are warm places hidden away from the biting cold. I hope you enjoy seeking them out as much as I have.
Filed under: Author guest blog, Events, Guest Blogger, Jo Spurrier, New Book Releases, on writing, World building | Tagged: book launch, Children of the Black Sun, fantasy food, Food, Jo Spurrier, Ricalan, Winter Be My Shield |