‘Home has always smelled of cooking fires and desert roses that only release their perfume after sunset.’
Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom
By P M Freestone
Published by Scholastic
Shadowscent is your debut YA novel. Tell us about your writing journey leading up to publication.
I’ve written on and off for years, and had a handful of short stories published, but it wasn’t until I received a Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Award in 2016 that I gained the confidence to seriously pursue writing a novel. That novel was Shadowscent. For me, what’s most important to note is that so many generous people helped with advice and encouragement at key junctures along the way. There’s a reason the acknowledgments in Shadowscent are three pages long!
Did you read a lot of fantasy when you were younger? What are your main influences?
I did! These days, I love Leigh Bardugo, Sabaa Tahir, Roshani Chokshi, Samantha Shannon and others, but I grew up on the likes of Feist, Eddings and George R. R. Martin (yes, prior to the HBO series, I’m one of those), before YA as a category really took off. In many ways, Shadowscent is an homage to those epic books I loved most as a teen, but hopefully with a broader range of identities, perspectives and experiences than I often saw in those stories. I sometimes wonder, for example, what it would have been like if I’d more regularly read positive portrayals of queer characters while I was growing up – I imagine life would have been way less confusing!
Scent plays a big part in your novel. Tell us what fascinates you about all things olfactory.
I’ve long been intrigued by how we think about perfumes and stenches. At many points in history, people took extraordinary measures to make themselves smell nice. It wasn’t just fashion. It could determine whether you were worthy of trust, like in Ancient Rome, where your aroma was believed to reflect your morals. But it was more than that, too. Pleasant smells were associated with the divine. In many ancient civilisations, animal sacrifices were burned with fragrant herbs and oils to seek the favour of the gods. Medicine and scent were also entwined, with some scents believed to hold the power to protect or heal. And, neurologically, our sense of smell is linked to memory. Merely thinking of a scent you’ve previously experienced likely conjures up all kinds of associations. So, I thought, what better way to transport a reader than to build a fantasy world around fragrance?
Your academic background is amazing! What drew you to such subjects as disparate as archaeology, religion and infectious diseases?
Curiosity. And you know what they say: curiosity kills the bank account! But seriously, I studied archaeology because I was a history nerd as a kid, fascinated with everyone from Akhenaten to Boudicca, and every place from Copán to Delphi. Adding in religion was because I wanted a deeper understanding of where belief originates, how it changes, and how it can be co-opted, and there’s a vein of that running through Shadowscent. Infectious diseases was later, after I’d been working in universities for some years. I knew I wanted to do a PhD in how science and technology are not separate (as many would like to argue) from our social, political and economic values. After one of my best friends contracted tuberculosis, I focused on the state of play in science for TB management, because the drugs we currently have for treatment are losing efficacy and the mycobacterium is becoming resistant again. There’s no coincidence, then, that there’s a prevalent disease – the Rot – in Shadowscent.
Shadowscent is the first book in a series. Can you give us some hints as to what to expect from further books?
Sure! Shadowscent is a fantasy quest caper embedded in a world where a much larger struggle for power has been brewing for centuries. Book 2 will reveal more about the vying factions hurtling towards that confrontation, and the roles Ash, Rakel, their friends, allies and enemies, will take. Because with what’s coming, there can be no bystanders. Prince or servant, everyone must make their choice.
What else are you looking forward to in your publication year?
Everyone tells me that getting your first fan mail is pretty special! But I’m also looking forward to connecting with readers at various events – a particular highlight will be appearing at Cymera, Scotland’s first festival of science fiction, fantasy and horror writing. It’s in June, and I can’t wait. See you there?
Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom by P M Freestone is published by Scholastic, priced £7.99