May 10, 2022

Interview with Lucy McLaren, author of Awakening: The Commune's Curse

Interview with Lucy McLaren, author of Awakening: The Commune's Curse

Hi friends! I am so excited to welcome Lucy McLaren to my blog today. Her debut novel, Awakening: The Commune's Curse, came out on May 1 2022 with the Santa Fe's Writer Project. I wanted to take this opportunity to interview the author and get to know them a bit more. Make sure to add the book to your TBR today!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Lucy!

Q&A with the Author
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
You know, as cheesy as this may sound, I actually wanted to write from a young age. And it saddens me now to think that I avoided it for so long (until my late twenties) because I didn’t believe in myself. I’d received some positive feedback about my writing over the years, but also some criticisms or lack of belief in my abilities too. Unfortunately it was the latter that stayed with me for far too long. I’m glad to say that once I trained to be a counsellor, I realised that life is too short to not do something you enjoy, no matter your supposed skill level. I set myself the goal to write a whole book back in March 2018 and I have far surpassed that expectation. I’m very proud of myself. 

Describe your journey to becoming a debut author. 
After setting myself that goal in March 2018, I managed to complete the first draft of what would become Awakening in November 2018 (with thanks to NaNoWriMo). I also made some brilliant writer friends on Twitter through the Writing Community—most notably Cindy van Wilder, who became a great supporter of my writing and really encouraged me to keep going. I did naively submit that completed first draft in late 2018/early 2019 because I was so excited to have a finished book. That was certainly a mistake and I got many, many agent rejections… With the help of vets readers like Cindy, I went back in and did a lot of editing to the book before resubmitting it to agents and publishers. I found my publisher, Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP), when they did an open call for SFF books. I received a “no, but…” rejection from them, giving loads of helpful feedback about what areas I could work on in my book. I implemented those suggestions, resubmitted the book and received an offer of publication a few months later! I was thrilled when that email came through. It still feels surreal now that my book is actually being published.

What do you hope readers take away from Awakening: The Commune’s Curse? 
This book (and series) explores a few contemporary issues within a fantasy setting. I hope to bring some of those issues into more open discussion, whether that be the mental health issues explored or anything else readers connect with. Although, really, I’ll be happy if anyone just enjoys the book and loves the characters as much as I do!

What came first for you in Awakening: The Commune’s Curse - the plot or the characters? 
The characters for sure. It started when I was doing the backstory for my D&D character Evelyn. I began to think about writing a book and things just grew from there. Raif and Rose came from a short story I’d written years earlier. From those three, the world and story slowly came together. 

Does your day job influence your writing at all? If yes, how so? 
I’m a counsellor and my work absolutely influences my writing. I try to implement mental health and counselling theory into my stories in order to represent certain aspects such as mental health issues, trauma, relationships, and how people think, feel and behave in a realistic way. I hope it creates the flawed, three-dimensional characters I’ve come to love in my favourite books. I also started a series called “A Counselling Session With…” on my blog where I offer counselling to other authors’ characters, which has been a lot of fun. If any authors read this and want to have a go, DM me on Twitter (@lucyamclaren).

What advice would you give an up-and-coming writer? 
Don’t take rejections personally. Not everyone will love or even like your writing and stories, that’s okay. Write what you love and that passion will come across in your work.

What is your favorite underappreciated book? 
The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies is brilliant and highly worth checking out—think Final Fantasy crossed with His Dark Materials, except it’s so much more than that! Excellent world-building and characters, with unique races and intriguing twists and turns. 

Besides writing, what are your favorite pastimes? 
Reading (fantasy, crime thrillers and horror), playing video games (RPGs mostly), watching TV shows (a whole mix—fantasy, crime documentaries, drama, thrillers) and films (Marvel, fantasy, sci-fi, musicals). Most of my time at the moment is taken up by raising my baby though, who was born last summer! 

If readers enjoy your book, what other books would you recommend? 
I’d recommend all the books that influenced me in writing AWAKENING, including His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman; The Sword of Shadows series by J.V. Jones; The Inheritance by Robin Hobb; The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb; A Memory of Flames series by Stephen Deas… It will also appeal to fans of other YA fantasy series such as Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bones trilogy and Heidi Heilig’s Shadow Players series.  

What projects are you working on next? 
The second book in THE COMMUNE’S CURSE series is in serious need of editing, so that’ll be next on the agenda. On top of that, I’ve got a couple of short stories I’m working on and a couple of novels on the back-burner, one of which is a joint project with another writer. As soon as I’ve worked out this whole writing with a baby thing, I’ll be focusing on as many of these projects as possible—though of course book two of TCC is the number one priority. 

About the Book

AWAKENING is set in the Kingdom of Septima, where a ruthless cult rules in all but name, hunting down children born with ancient powers in an attempt to strengthen their hold over the kingdom. Evelyn, 18, finds herself on the run from soldiers of the Commune as she tries to protect two children, Raif and Rose. It soon becomes all too clear how much danger they are in when young Rose reveals incredible and deadly powers. Commander Jonah Sulemon doggedly pursues them under the orders of the man he loves, Commune agent Lord Torrant, and Evelyn is forced to accept the uncertain safety offered by a rebel group or risk capture—or worse—at the hands of the Commune.

*Please note - as an affiliate of, I may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase

Check out an excerpt from the book



The boy was afraid.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been kept in this dark place. The days had passed by in a blur of endless errands—cleaning, cooking, serving faceless robed men and women who occupied the compound that housed his prison. The guards encouraged whispers of horrific punishments for any who tried escaping, and he’d long since given up hope. Each night, as he watched the stars rise through the solitary narrow window high on the grey stone walls of his cell, the guards would come and bolt the doors, one by one.

When he closed his eyes, he dreamt of home. There had been decadence, feasts, servants. His parents, often absent on affairs of state, kept their distance even when home, believing too much attachment to be unhealthy for their children. But he remembered loving his brother, Ythan, dearly; his heart ached at memories of their time playing with swords in the garden or going on mock wolf hunts in Taskan Forest. For his last birthday—his ninth—his brother had gifted him his very own bow. “Now you can join the hunts for real, little brother.” The boy turned his mind away from the thought, the pain almost too much to bear. The bow had been left behind, along with all but the clothes on his back, the day he’d been taken from his home.

He sighed and retrieved a shard of glass from beneath his threadbare cushion, wiping away stray pieces of hay and moving to scrape his initials on the wall of his cell.


He pressed harder with the shard of glass, scraping and scraping, even as it bit into his hand. He pushed through the pain, entering a trance-like state, going over and over those two letters as the blood ran down his fingers and dripped to the floor.

He’d learned quickly not to make friends with any of the other children in this place. Eventually, they would be taken away. He told himself he’d be safe if he behaved, kept his head down, did as he was commanded, obediently returned to his cell when his work was done. Deep down he knew it wouldn’t matter. His time would come like all the others.

Then, one day they came for him.

He was hauled from his bed before sunrise.

“Where are you taking me?” he croaked, but there was no response from the hooded guards who dragged him forward even as he tried to dig his heels in. “Please.” He bit his lip to hold back the tears that would betray him. The guards were silent.

The mansion, previously forbidden to him, loomed in the centre of the courtyard; its walls black as the night, its windows like dark, emotionless eyes. As he was shoved inside, a cold dread clamped across his chest. The hallway was lavishly decorated, much as his home had been, but that gave him no comfort. Though he’d lost count of the passing months since his imprisonment, the sudden recollection of his father’s study, similarly panelled with dark wood, was enough to send his heart racing. He gulped in air with panicked breaths, finding it thick and difficult to inhale—a stark contrast to the cool night breeze. There was a sickly-sweet incense that seemed to be covering a deeper, more malicious smell. He imagined, suddenly and against his will, something hidden, slowly dying, and rotting away; the rich perfumes smothering the truth.

Portraits of stern-faced men in red robes hung throughout the hallway. The boy’s eyes never left them. His jaw began to tremor. Each portrait was steely-gazed, each man sure of his power and control, his ability to command, to be obeyed. Beneath each, shining plaques read: ‘His Benevolence, Grand Magister of the Commune’.

Grand Magister. Something in his memory stirred, a niggling sense that he should know something more about that title, about why he was here.

They reached a door, the boy walking now with a numb resignation to whatever awaited him. The door creaked open, he was forced inside.

“Kneel before the Grand Magister,” one of the guards said. The boy’s legs shook as he lowered himself to the wooden floor. Grand Magister. This is it.

With his head bowed, he scrunched his eyes shut. He was in his father’s study, head down as his father paced in front of him, hands clasped behind his back. “The Grand Magister’s work is necessary for the kingdom, to ensure there are no future wars or uprisings. I’d never thought to see one of my own children so ... afflicted.” He’d given his son a look of pure, unadulterated disdain. “A disappointment to the last moment, boy.” He shook his head. “This is the way it must be.” His father turned away, dismissing him with a wave of the hand. The boy had not seen him again.

And now, here I am.

He opened his eyes, finally daring to look up.

The Grand Magister sat between four hooded individuals, his red robes striking compared to the uniform blacks and greys of those around him. His chair was carved wood, polished to a dark sheen and raised on a dais so that he appeared unnaturally tall. Like the men in the paintings, his eyes were hard and unfeeling, his mouth downturned, his very presence emanating authority. The boy met the man’s stare, a shiver running down his spine. He tugged at the ragged sleeves of his stained white shirt—the last of his once fine clothing—and pulled at the scrap of cloth tied loosely round his hand as a makeshift bandage.

The door opened behind him and he turned to see a scruffy, brown dog being led into the room. The animal’s claws scrabbled across the floor, fighting against the rope around its neck. The boy wanted to go to it, to clutch it tightly to his chest and shield it from harm, but he remained rooted to the spot, watching and waiting.

“Show us the extent of your powers,” the Grand Magister said. His voice sent a jolt through the boy, the words unexpected yet all too enticing. His powers, the abilities he’d known of since he was very young, that he’d kept hidden inside for as long as he could remember. Could this be a trick?

His breath quickened as he recalled the only time he’d dared to use them. The kitchen cat; he’d been delighted to see the unsuspecting feline obey his every command. The beating from his father had been severe.

“A curse, the Nomarrans call it. And here we are, my own son. You are not worthy of the name you were born into. I never thought I’d see the day, that our own bloodline should be so tainted. This is why the Commune must take ...” His father’s nostrils flared, eyes burning with disgust. “You will not use those abominable powers in my household again.”

But he wasn’t in his family home anymore. Not long after the speech in his father’s study and the abrupt dismissal, the early morning carriage had come and silent, black-robed men dragged him from his home. He spurned me even before he knew of my powers. I was never good enough. The boy’s lip curled into a sneer. Father never cared. He stood with his back straightened, pushing his chin forward as he met the Grand Magister’s eyes. This could be his chance to prove himself. To prove his strengths, not failures.

Or it could be a trap.

He chewed his lip, torn inside. He felt an immense weight pressing down on his shoulders, a sudden realisation that what he decided in this moment would somehow determine the rest of his life. What will become of me if I do this? If I refuse ... ? He peered at the guards, begging for aid, an answer, a hint, anything, but their faces were, as always, impassive beneath their black hoods. It doesn’t matter. This is my chance. I can become what Father never thought I could.

He faced forward once more and found the Grand Magister’s iron gaze unwavering, lips pursed into a hard line. This time, however, there was an air of interest. I can be worth something to someone at last. Convinced by the thought, the boy gave a brief nod and approached the dog. I just need to show him.

The animal cowered, tail tucked between its legs and body hunched. It was filthy, half-starved, and pitiful. He fiddled with his shirt sleeves, wishing he could cover the cuts and bruises mottling his pale skin, hoping he didn’t appear to the Grand Magister as pathetic as this creature did to him. The boy reached for the dog, hand hovering above it. The fear radiating from its ragged form was palpable. It knows. He drew his hand back, trying to steady himself. The dog sensed his hesitation; taking advantage of the boy’s uncertainty, it growled and snapped at him, teeth bared. The boy jerked back, thudding onto the floor. You idiot. His cheeks flushed and he glanced up at the Grand Magister, finding neither sympathy nor reassurance—only that constant, unflinching stare.

In the silence, one of the figures sitting beside the Grand Magister stood and approached him. The rest of the room still, their footsteps echoed. They leant down and offered a hand. The boy thought he saw a woman’s face beneath the dark hood, a gentle smile and sad eyes. He thought of his brother then—a time when he’d fallen amongst the jutting roots of Taskan Forest, when Ythan picked him up and dusted him off. “I’m here, little brother.”

You’re not here now.

He shook his head, waving away the offer of help. When the woman retreated, he stood and brushed himself off, running the back of his hand across his nose.

“Proceed. Now.” The Grand Magister’s tone was sharp, displeasure evident.

The boy closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He thought back to his cell a final time, wishing he could run back and hide. The metal bars were rusted, the floors cold, the bed damp and unwelcoming, yet it was the only place that was his. He thought of the dark stone of the wall, scraped and scraped to reveal the lighter grey beneath: E.T.

I can do this. The boy lifted his head, clenched his fists, and stalked towards the quivering dog, careful to avoid a puddle of urine which reflected the flickering candelabra light above their heads. He moved slowly, footsteps light and breathing even. It mustn’t know my true thoughts. He thought of the kindness of the hooded woman; he sought to emulate it, focusing on reassuring the dog. I won’t hurt you. You are safe.

As he got closer, the animal’s violent shaking stopped. It blinked up at him, sadness flooding from its deep brown eyes—a plea for mercy. He placed a cautious hand on its neck and a fleeting smile flickered across his lips despite himself. “There,” he whispered. “There, girl.” He pushed outwards with his mind. Seconds later, it was there—the connection building between them.

For a moment, panic pulled him back; the image of his father’s rage-filled face at the forefront of his mind. He lifted his hand and studied it as though expecting some tangible evidence of the “curse” his father had spoken of. No; only pink flesh, calloused, bruised and broken. The dog whimpered, licking his fingers with her rough tongue.

He curled his fingers inwards, felt the trembling strength of his own anger. I am more capable than you believed I was, Father. I am no foolish child. Pushing aside the memories, he clasped the dog again. Their connection was immediate this time. His mind linked with hers and he felt a rush of immense excitement and intrigue. A companion, all my own. Look at me now, Father.

He was swept up in the moment before he could stop himself. His heart thrummed; his powers couldn’t be as evil as his father predicted. This dog could be his, body and mind. He could control her every movement and action if he wished. In turn, she would be by his side. He could confide in her, converse as people do—she would know his every thought. He would never be alone again.

She could abandon me too, just like everyone else. The moment the thought entered his mind, the dog yelped and slumped to the floor. The boy frowned and loosened his grasp. He knelt to examine her, saw the shallowness of her strained breaths, felt her mind retreat from his.

She’s dying. He held up his palm. Did I do this? It had been outside his conscious mind. There was no sadness around the realisation; simply an understanding that it was true.

She got too close, had been overwhelmed. Though he knew he’d allowed her to, he couldn’t stop the flood of hatred that poured forth then. How dare she? He pressed his hand down on her back, allowing his powers to take hold once more. “You can’t leave me,” he whispered harshly, shaking her delicate body. At the edges of his awareness, he knew his face was contorted with an unspoken fury— cracked lips pulled tight across his teeth, eyes burning into the collapsed dog, caring nothing for her growing weakness. He imagined he looked like his father.

See how worthy I am now. See my power.

“Stop.” The Grand Magister’s voice shattered his concentration. He blinked as he focused once more on the room around him, powers instantly receding.

Yet he couldn’t forget the feeling of control that had flowed through him. To have the life of another within his grasp. It was intoxicating. He spared a final look at the dog. She twitched as the last tendrils of her life drifted away and then was still.

Worthless mutt.

Turning towards the Grand Magister, he sensed a ripple of approval at his display.

And so he began to understand.

To understand why he was here. Why his family had betrayed him, leaving him to be treated as nothing more than a peasant despite the noble blood that flowed through his veins.

The Grand Magister nodded, bringing his hands together in a single silent clap, and the boy knew: this was only the beginning of his training.

About the Author

As a writer, Lucy spends her time capturing on paper the imaginary kingdoms, far-off places and characters who live there (and their pets, of course) that her brain throws at her at completely random times of day.

She’s been a fan of fantasy stories since she was a child, but especially loves to explore her characters through the real-world lens of mental health— what have they been through, what are they feeling and why are they how they are? She uses a mix of counselling theory and D&D backstories when creating her characters. Add a pinch of magic, ruthless cults, authoritarian, patriarchal leaders or murderous lunatics, and perhaps a talking animal or two, and you’ll have an idea of what her stories involve.

Her favourite books and series include His Dark Materials, The Priory of the Orange Tree, Liveship Traders, and The Age of Madness. She’s an avid video game player and loves epic roleplaying games, including God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. She also enjoys smaller, character-focused games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or What Remains of Edith Finch.

When not writing, you can find her spending time with her husband and young son, attempting to watch the latest Marvel film or fantasy TV series (such as The Witcher or Shadow and Bone), or taking way too many photos of wildlife in her local parks and woods.

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