Today, I have the pleasure of having author Sarah Key on my blog. We talk about how she incorporated astrology into her books. As you know, I have astrological signs as my titles in The Sign Behind the Crime Series. Gemini is book 1 and Aries is book 2. I’m not an astrologer. I do not use charts or anything formal. In my novels, the symbolism of the sign helps to solve the crime. And no, you do not have to be born within the sign to read the books. So, let’s see how Sarah does it.
How do you incorporate astrology into your book? What is the significance of putting in the characters’ charts?
At the time I began writing my trilogy I consulted an astrologer who worked out the birth dates of my four female protagonists. I had a good sense of the defining characteristics of the young women. The girls in the trilogy, which is set over a period of just four and a half months, are young – their ages ranging from 19 – 22. The books are psychological thrillers with backstories that involve family sagas and coming of age.
Petra Montgomery lost her mother when she was eleven and battles an eating disorder. Her birthday is the 15th of September. With her good looks and a desperate need to be loved by her father, she is Virgo with a Scorpio moon.
Flash Peterson, a music student and lead singer in a rock band, had to be Leo. Loving the limelight, with a strong sense of family, she wears her hair like a mane and is a touch narcissistic.
Honey Esack, a soon-to-be nursing student, possess psychic talents. Her survival in The Dandelion Clock requires her to draw upon deep reserves of courage, to trust her instincts and accept her supernatural abilities. She is Gemini with a Capricorn moon.
Joanie Parks is a young artist introduced in the first book and her background story is fully explored in The Butterfly Wind. Joanie is a complex Sagittarian. Warrior-like she is confrontational and feisty and harbours a shameful secret.
As a Scorpio, I have always been interested in the esoteric. Instead of drawing solely on my imagination, the charts were springboards that assisted me to develop my characters and opened doors to establish insecurities, strengths and reactions. This is, however, a work of fiction and, as I know little about astrology, I have exercised some poetic licence and hope the purists will be forgiving!
Although I believe aspects of a person’s make-up are written in the stars, my books strongly promote the idea that all people are masters of their own destiny and we are responsible for the choices we make with the resulting consequences both good or bad.
My interest in esoteric topics, however, extends beyond astrology… Honey Esack is psychic and can sense danger precisely. African belief systems attribute magical power to certain individuals. Mojadji, Queen of Balobedu, in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, was supposedly able to control clouds and rainfall. In The Butterfly Wind, Siango, a hunchbacked enchantress, brews potent potions (traditional medicine) that, it is believed, cure ailments and ensure people prosper. Murders in order to garner body parts, alleged to have special powers, for inclusion in the mixture is not uncommon.
What writing challenges did you come across constructing a group of women? I have that in my second book and making them all serve a different purpose is very interesting. How did you create their personalities? Do you use charts, notepads, anything to keep you on track as to not confuse characteristics?
My debut novel, Tangled Weeds is full of male characters so by the time I began The Dandelion Clock I had had enough of testosterone! Being female I found it easy to concentrate on women. The charts were starting points – skeletons to hang meat on. From then on, I was away.
Flash and Honey are cousins and, thus, share family bonds… They are Cape Coloureds (part of an ethnic group in South Africa comprised of mixed race who speak the Afrikaans language).
Petra and Joanie are life-long friends with complicated childhoods spent in the colonial outposts of Zambia. The pairing of the protagonists added to interpersonal dynamics.
Each youngster struggles with her own issues and insecurities in early adulthood. Coming to terms with these, results in personal growth, self-actualisation and a higher degree of inner peace. Themes of seeking forgiveness, finding self-acceptance, and managing disorders are explored. As my plots unfold, my characters are affected by circumstances in their own ways and make decisions and take actions particular to their personalities.
What part of you is in your characters? And which one? Please describe.
The sisters are a mishmash of people I know, bits of my younger self and figments of my imagination. I was a student at Cape Town University in the late 1980s so some of the experiences, favourite haunts and political context that colour the novels are my memories. I did a stint overseas working as a nanny in London, as Joanie does. My mother grew up in Zambia and I visited relatives there frequently and used these experiences in The Butterfly Wind. My personal history is woven into the trilogy but in terms of characterisation I didn’t write about myself having done that to a certain extent in my first book.
How did you create your setting? Please describe it for our readers.
The setting of a story does much to pique a reader’s interest and adds a mixture of curiosity and wanderlust. Settings create moods and provide the physical environment for action. Amazing Africa is a continent that is both breathtakingly beautiful and profoundly disturbing. As a South African, I have the advantage of drawing upon extraordinary locales.
The Dandelion Clock uses Cape Town as the setting for the production. From dodgy docks, to pristine beaches, to the rugged footpaths of Table Mountain with its tablecloth of clouds and a strong South Easter blowing, this city delivers mood, magic and madness. On the charred slopes of Devil’s Peak on Spring Equinox, the final act plays out.
The Butterfly Wind moves swiftly from Cape Town to Harare, Zimbabwe, to Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. The journey includes riding the rapids of the Zambezi River in the majestic Batoka Gorge and hearing the roar of the Victoria Falls, a visit to Chistlehurst Manor outside Lusaka, a house that evokes disturbing memories for Joanie and a storm on a bridge spanning the mighty Zambezi River.
In my novels, I present Southern Africa with its blends of old and new, mystical and modern, city and country. I endeavour to write in a gripping graphic fashion so that readers feel they are breathing in the dust of the country and experiencing the scorching heat of the African sun. To me there is no better setting than this extraordinary, brutal, unique land.
The Dandelion Clock Synopsis
SMITHY is hired as an assassin by SEBASTIAN VAN DEN BERGH, a playboy record producer, who botches the job of killing HELENE VAN DEN BERGH, Sebastian’s sister.
PETRA MONTGOMERY, a complicated rich kid and FLASH PETERSON, a music student and lead singer in the band, Biskuit, know each other from the nightclub circuit and the launderette they both use.
Silent Helene van den Bergh, homeless after decades of psychiatric institutionalisation, is a selective mute. She and her dog, Argus, frequent the laundry where Petra befriends her. Helene is in danger. The Dark Man follows her. She discovers her friend murdered.
JORDAN GIANNO, Petra’s lover, runs a security company and employs SMITHY. Journalist, KEVIN KINGSLEY, covers crime. When Petra sees Kevin’s photograph of a murdered vagrant and recognises Helene’s green cap on the dead woman’s head she believes Helene was the intended victim.
HONEY ESACK, Flash’s cousin, has psychic ability. She works part-time at the morgue where DOCTOR IQBAL ASSAD is harassing her. Honey, following her instinct, spies on the doctor. She informs Jordan of Assad’s activities and he promises to gather information and tail the doctor. Assad murders his helper in his secret illegal abortion operating room.
THE DIABOLICAL CREATION slashes a hobo’s throat.
Helene’s paranoia and confusion overwhelm her.
Sebastian van den Bergh’s father’s death refills his coffers so he plans a music industry bash.
The Diabolical Creation is commended and encouraged by a shadowy form who speak to him.
Petra learns that Helene is Sebastian’s sister.
Jordan sees Helene’s name in Smithy’s notebook and realises that Sebastian has hired him to carry out a hit.
DUKE, also employed by Jordan, observes Assad at a sinister meeting. Honey senses immediate and deadly danger. She retreats to the morgue, armed with her scissors and hides. Assad hunts Honey. Honey stabs him in the heart.
The Diabolical Creation’s ethereal visitor, Poe, promises to hunt him as The Creation does his victims.
Trapped on fire-ravaged Devil’s Peak, Helene realises her father has died and her brother is trying to have her killed.
Honey senses a malicious force and discovers Smithy is its source.
The Diabolical Creation kills his first victim of the Equinox. Helene retreats up the mountain. Smithy spots the hobo and her dog. The Creation scales the slope to the blockhouse.
Jordan’s men lose Smithy. Honey’s psychic intuition confirms Smithy’s position and Jordan, Kevin, Petra and Honey head up to the peak. Smithy is overpowered by Jordan and Kevin as the Diabolical Creation prepares to kill Helene. Poe, the manifestation of evil, descends as an abominable wolf-bird, grips the Creation’s skull and carries him away, dropping him into the charred valley.
The radiant moon rises, as Petra salutes her friends, ‘To the Sisters of Light, may we always conquer the darkness.’
Honey pricked her finger as the needle liberated itself from the ribbon forming the embroidery rose she stitched. As a drop of blood stained the blue cotton, she was overtaken by an acute awareness of approaching danger. Something formidable presented itself, manifesting as a discernible rotten-egg stink. It floated above and beyond her, for the present, but she knew it was headed directly towards her at alarming speed; hissing sibilantly, its forked tongue flickering as it tracked her. There was no time to lose. It was the smell of her demise.
Trembling, Honey rose to her feet and seized the heavy pair of scissors lying on the countertop. The nightdress slipped to the floor forming a stagnant pond. Honey’s intuition urged her forward. She shook off the paralysing sense that the recipients of her gifts would never receive them. The smell’s pungency intensified and she backed away from the reception desk, overturning her chair. It clattered to the tiles in a mockery of laughter reminding her of her isolation.
The doors to the morgue were closed, withholding their own odour ‒ a unique blend of death, heartbreak and formaldehyde. Honey did not want to venture into the mortuary but she knew that she could not wait where she was. She considered the lift could raise her from this Hades but disregarded the idea as her olfactory sense reported that the reek had reached Declan and Jakob’s office. Fear permeated every particle in her being until fury at her cowardice and survival instinct propelled her through the doors into the room where the deceased unwearyingly waited. She pulled the doors shut behind her.
Where you can purchase Sarah’s books.
Please feel free to leave comments for Sarah! Oh, and I must add in some shameless self-promotion. This morning I awoke to some awesome and humbling news from my publisher, Black Opal Books. Their board of directors nominated Aries, book 2 in The Sign Behind The Sign Series for the Mystery Writers Of America Nero Awards!
The Sign Behind the Crime,