It is a pleasure to have Julia Embers on the blog today to talk about the places in her travels that inspired the world in her upcoming novel, Unicorn Tracks. When I read books, I really like following characters and getting drawn into the plot, but the setting is always the icing on the cake. And if you don’t have good icing, well, that wouldn’t be a particularly good cake, would it? Julia has been to so many fantabulous places that have also inspired different aspects of Unicorn Tracks. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on this diverse YA fantasy with ana LGBT romance!
The Places That Inspired Unicorn Tracks
I’ve always been a very world-orientated fantasy reader and writer. I like to experience new places, cultures and concepts when I read and the more outlandish the world, often the more I enjoy the book. I hardly ever read contemporary novels unless they are set far away from the western world I’m familiar with. When I read fantasy or historical fiction, My imagination can travel without gross airplane food and jetlag … And it’s amazing.
As someone blessed and cursed with perpetual wanderlust, I suppose that this continual desire to experience the ‘new and the bizarre’ isn’t surprising. At the time of writing this post, I’ve been to 59 countries spanning all the continents except Antarctica. All of my recent manuscripts have been inspired in some way or another by a place I’ve visited. The Ashes of Gold Trilogy, which I just sold last week(!!), was inspired by a trip to remote Himalayan Bhutan — a country that has so actively sealed itself off from Western influences that they didn’t permit TVs until ten years ago.
Unicorn Tracks was inspired by several countries in Africa, most notably Kenya and Tanzania, and my experiences on Safari there. I went on my first Safari when I was 10. It was a magical experience for me. I was and still am a crazy animal lover, and being that close to huge creatures, actively tracking them, and being outside in places with so much open space was incredible for me.
Mala Mala – South Africa
Although the landscape and culture of South Africa are vastly different than in Unicorn Tracks, I had my first Safari experience here. This part of South Africa is lightly wooded, and home to sparser herds and more tree dwelling animals. That being said, we managed to get ourselves chased by an elephant.
My little brother (then about 5) wanted to sit in the front of the jeep with the guide and threw a spectacular fit when my Mom said no. She finally agreed, but when he and the guide got out of the jeep to adjust, they accidentally walked between a mother elephant and her year old calf. The mother chased the vehicle and nearly caught us. Elephants are like battering rams speeding towards you at 30mph. I’d like to think that some of the danger and immediacy of that experience carry into the book!
Okavango Delta – Botswana
Our next safari experience was a few years later, in beautiful, lush Botswana. Some of the landscape of the Okvango does find its way into the book, around the rivers (home to the mermaids … Yes really …)
But I think the influence of Botswana on me as a person runs a lot deeper than what we saw. At one of the camps, we had a really phenomenal guide named Oliver. He was hilarious and energetic … Somehow, he managed to be up before dawn to get things ready and then still awake to have dinner with us and play games like Ticket to Ride and Risk (which totally fascinated him). On one of the nights, my Dad rather exuberantly started talking about my horse. Oliver was interested, until my Dad said that the horse’s name was Africa. In Botswana, horses are not cherished pets. Africa was and still is, a member of our family thus named because he has a patch in the exact shape of the continent. But in Botswana, horses are beasts of burden and the connotations that we would name an animal after his continent was offensive, although he took it with pretty quiet grace.
You can have the best intentions and still say the wrong thing. It taught me to be a lot more contentious about cultural differences. It’s easy to just think about the animals when you think about African safaris … but the people you encounter are just as amazing, and I’ve been really privileged to get to know as many as I have.
Serengeti – Tanzania and Masai Mara – Kenya
The Great Plains and herds you see roaming in herds of thousands are from Kenya and Tanzania. The Serengeti and the Masai mara are connected across the countries’ borders. During the food season, animals from all over the continent travel to the plains for food.
We saw everything on that trip. Elephants, zebra, rhinos, cheetah, lions, warthogs … It was honestly like a scene out of the Lion King. When we crossed the border into the Masai, we saw a woman with a large herd of goats. Her clothing was some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen … Rich woven dark wools and bright gold bangles, hair done up in a crazy assortment of braids. A lot of my inspiration for Mnemba comes from further study of the Masai people.
Mnemba’s name comes from a tiny island off the coast of Tanzania. While Mnemba Island has nothing to do with safaris or unicorns, it has this quiet, understated beauty to it with brilliant beaches and glassy water. I chose that name for my character because I saw her as being a bit like the island — a little bit hard to reach, beautiful and independent!
Windsor – United Kingdom
This final place may seem a bit odd! But horses feature so heavily in the book, I couldn’t leave it out. I spent hours and hours a week as a kid and later as a teenager riding in the park here, getting to know the personalities of so many horses.
After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.
Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.
Originally from Chicago, Julia Ember now resides in Sunny Scotland where she learned to enjoy both haggis and black pudding. She spends her days working as a professional Book Nerd for a large book wholesaler, and her nights writing YA Romantic Fantasy novels. She also spends an inordinate amount of time managing her growing city-based menagerie of pets with Harry Potter themed names.
A world traveller since childhood, Julia has now visited over 60 countries. Her travels inspire the fictional worlds she writes about and she populates those worlds with magic and monsters.