University of Virginia third-year student E.G. Radcliff knew she liked storytelling long before she could even read or write. When she was 4 years old, she dictated stories to her father, who patiently wrote them down.
By the time Radcliff was in elementary school, she was turning simple homework assignments into epic tales, complete with heroes and supernatural forces.
What truly opened her eyes – at least as it pertained to character development – were the Hobbits from “The Lord of the Rings” fantasy novel, Frodo and Sam Gamgee.
“It got me studying the real world to see how people worked in concert with each other, and I came to understand real truths even as I learned to represent unreality all the better,” Radcliff said. “It was a delightful, crucial part of my formation.”
In 2019, Radcliff published her first book, “The Hidden King,” the first of a fantasy trilogy called “The Coming of Áed,” which has also included “The Last Prince” (2020) and “The Wild Court” (2021). The three books have been downloaded from Amazon by Kindle eBook readers nearly 12,000 times to date, and have sold more than 400 paperbacks.
UVA Today caught up with Radcliff – a history major from Elmhurst, Illinois, who is a member of the University Singers and also plays on the women’s club water polo team – to learn more.
Q. Do you remember what books you really enjoyed when you were a kid? And then, were there specific genres you were attracted to as you grew older?
A. As a kid, I loved anything that was weird enough to get me thinking – even then, I preferred the genres that ventured a bit beyond reality. I read and re-read “The Phantom Tollbooth,” which to this day I’ll attest as one of the greatest works of children’s literature ever to be written, and as I grew up, I discovered a growing interest in fantasy. I loved Brandon Mull’s “Beyonders” series, and naturally anything by Rick Riordan. I also have a very fond half-memory of a book called “Dragon Slippers,” which I found stuffed in the bookshelf of my sixth-grade homeroom.
I never escaped the lure of the genre; to this day, it’s the vast majority of books on my shelf.
Q. Where did the inspiration for your first book come from, and how long did it take you to write it?
A. The inspiration came largely from a dream that I had late one Sunday morning, and I holed myself up in my room with a bowl of reheated spaghetti to write until night fell. I managed about 40 pages that first day. I wrote the first book from start to finish over the course of about two years, taking breaks that lasted months and never planning what would happen next. I never thought that anybody would read it; it was something I did only for fun.
Which, of course, is why editing “The Hidden King” was a royal pain when I decided that it had the potential for publication. Remembering that learning curve still makes my brain ache.
Q. How were you able to get published at such a young age? I’m guessing you had some great teachers, mentors, parental guidance or all of the above along the way?
A. Most definitely. From as early as elementary school, where my teachers encouraged my progress, to the moment that my mother read “The Hidden King” and encouraged me to do more with the manuscript, I’ve been buoyed by the support of others.
Publishing under my own imprint, Mythic Prairie Books, has incredible benefits – defining my own schedule, selecting my own professional team, keeping my own royalties – but it is quite labor-intensive. Publishing involves an immense amount of administration, from contracting with editors and cover artists, typesetting, proofing, to setting up accounts on IngramSpark (the distributor to bookshops and libraries) and Amazon, banking and taxes, securing International Standard Book Numbers, registering copyrights, maintaining a website and multiple social media accounts, blogging … I couldn’t possibly do it all without help. I’m beyond grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way.
Q. How would you describe the types of books that you have written to somebody who isn’t familiar with the fantasy genre? What do you like so much about the genre, and what ages are your books geared toward?
A. For most people, fantasy is synonymous with magic, and while magic is definitely a part of my writing, it’s far from the most important aspect of the story. By and large, it’s part of the world-building as opposed to a primary plot driver, and though the magic definitely amps up in the third book, most of the tension in the series is character-based. That being said, I did take liberties with a fair amount of Irish folklore, which gives the series a distinctly fantastical texture. I prefer fantasy for the liberties it allows me as an author.
One of my very favorite parts of the writing process is solidifying the world, and fantastical elements open the door to so many opportunities. How does magic manifest? Does this pose problems for local governments? What infrastructure is enabled or prohibited by the existence of fantasy creatures? Are the fantastical elements antagonistic? Beneficial? Evil in the wrong hands? How do the religions of the world explain them? It’s something of a creative free-for-all, and I have an inordinate amount of fun making the rules.
My books are geared primarily toward young adults. However, I have an adult audience who find that some of the more mature themes appeal to them.
Q. Being from the Midwest, what attracted you to UVA?
A. I gravitated toward UVA as, like many, I just had a feeling – a feeling that blossomed when I set foot on Grounds. The culture of vivacious creative discourse and opportunities to extend my intellectual network were too appealing to pass up.
Q. Are your UVA classmates and friends surprised when they learn that you have written these books?
A. Yes. Honestly, it’s always uncomfortable to bring up, so I usually don’t unless the friends are particularly close. I’ve kept it relatively close to my chest, supported by a select few wonderful friends, and I have maintained distance between my personal and professional identities.
Q. Do you hope to write more books in the future? Are you interested in other genres? What are your long-term goals?
A. Most certainly, I will write more in the future! Since about halfway through “The Wild Court” I’ve been planning another series. Like “The Coming of Áed” trilogy, it’s set to be a fantasy series, though I’m currently trying to decide whether to gear it toward an older audience.
Over the next few years, I intend to finish this upcoming work, and then move on to whatever the next project reveals itself to be.
I can’t imagine a future in which I stop writing, though I may at some point experiment with historical fiction as opposed to fantasy. The research element of that appeals to me.
I hope to pursue a career in historical archiving and write in my spare time, essentially working two very delightful jobs.
Q. As an author, you probably get this a lot, but why did you decide to major in history and not English?
A. The truth is, I don’t study other books in order to write my own. I study, that’s certain, but I study people – the things they do, the ways they feel, the monuments they leave behind.
That’s why a history degree is so useful to me. It isn’t that I don’t observe the strategies that other authors employ; in fact, I’ve recently declared an English minor. But when it comes right down to it, history is the world’s own narrative. What better story is there to study?
Q. Do you have any advice for young writers who are hoping to get published?
A. There are a couple ways to approach this, so I’m going to start with offering my best advice on writing in general: the most important thing you can do is observe. Watch everything around you, and watch it with the intent to make it yours. Memorize the way a certain person plays with his hair when he’s nervous, and how the sunlight shines off certain bricks in a wall more brightly than others. Find out what the wind smells like at 3 in the morning, and how the air moves differently. Watch how people fidget. Watch how they turn their head as they talk, and how those motions change depending on who they’re talking to and why.
As with any art, few people start out great, or even particularly good. If you hate something you’ve written, take that as a good sign! You have to care about something in order to hate it, and genuinely caring about your work is the first step. Find out what you hate about it, and try a different approach next time. Make sure there actually is a next time, and don’t stop.
Share your writing with people you trust, and then when you feel bolder, share it with people who aren’t socially obligated to be nice to you. Try to take criticism in stride, because from experience, it’s the best way to learn. I’ve improved immensely by absorbing some very ego-crushing advice, and in hindsight, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
However, in terms of publication advice, I’d say that the biggest myth in the industry is that authors work alone. Yes, many of us are introverts, but that isn’t what I mean; successful publication requires an author to gather a professional team of readers, editors, cover designers, formatters and, depending on the path, an agent. It is inherently a team effort. From the support of family and friends to the professional assistance of editors and agents, you’re going to need help. Finishing the book is only the first in a long line of steps, and it’s a path you shouldn’t expect to walk alone.
To learn more about Radcliff’s books, check out her website.