Imagine a future where humans no longer exist. A tale spun conjuring visions of lions, tigers and wolves that walk amongst snow covered mountains. Through written page a fantastical world is born where the influences of dynastic China, ancient India and feudal Japan spring to life.
Such a world exists and is the brainchild of local author H. Leighton Dickson. Her first novel To Journey in the Year of the Tiger was the start of Heather’s journey. Subsequent novels in this series followed with To Walk In The Way of Lions and Songs In the Year of The Cat. Now with three successful self-published novels under her belt Dickson is in the midst of writing her fourth novel, Cold Stone & Ivy. Her new novel is brewing excitement within the literary world and last year she signed on with the prestigious Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York City. Both Penguin and Baen Publishing are expressing interest. It is an exciting time for this author and it marks the beginning of a new chapter in her life.
Working along side her photographer husband Alan Dickson she admits their household is a creative one that has inspired and encouraged her writings. “When the kids were little, we would sit by the fire and I would read novels aloud to them, complete with different voices and accents for different characters.” Her enthusiasm for art and literature evolved at a very early age with her parents encouraging her to explore her many talents. “My mom was an art teacher and my dad an architectural technician, so I have drawn, written and painted ever since I could hold a crayon. I guess it’s in the genes.”
At the tender age of 13 she wrote her first full-length novel and had an offer to publish from KidsCan Press but to this day cannot explain why she did not pursue it. During university she continued to write and draw and was selected along with a good friend for DC Comics New Talent Showcase. Her talents allowed her to pencil comic books and the income assisted with some of her tuition.
It was while she attended university that the idea of To Journey In The Year Of The Tiger first presented itself in the form of a graphic novel. After penciling out the first chapter Heather decided that it would serve better as a novel. Her first draft once completed consisted of a 1,000 page novel. She approached agents who were very encouraging and suggested she create two novels from the draft. Thus To Walk In The Way of Lions was born.
As Heather explains, “This was the summer of 2012 and Amazon was beginning to make a mark in the publishing world, in the form of Kindle e-books. I really didn’t know anything about publishing but I thought this might be a good way to see if I had what it took to entertain a reader. I put both books up on Amazon and they started selling immediately. Also, almost immediately I had people asking for more in the series. I was getting fan mail!” Her fan base continues to grow by proof of her ranking among Amazon’s Best Sellers in their Kindle Store and reviews left by readers world-wide testify to the originality of her characters and innovative story telling.
After attending the University of Guelph where she studied zoology and then a two-year equine study program in New Liskeard, she took a position as what she describes as a “scullery maid” in a great house in Lancashire, England. This experience would ultimately be the seed of inspiration for her current novel Cold Stone & Ivy. “The Great House where I worked became the estate of the Mad Lord of Lasingstoke and is an integral part of the storyline. Both my editor and agent have commented how they felt like, while reading, they were living in Victorian England because I related the sense of place – the smells, the sounds, the textures.”
Having always been inspired by such classic authors as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Alexandre Dumas and Arthur Conan Doyle, Dickson describes her new novel has a Victorian steampunk thriller in which the greatest mystery of that era serves as an anchor to the plot. “Given that I love all things Victorian and have always been a reader of the great Victorian writers, I thought it was simply natural to set my mystery in the Victorian era. And what was (and still is) the greatest unsolved mystery of that era? Why, the identity of Jack the Ripper of course!”
H. Leighton Dickson admits she has learned much on her journey having self-published her first three novels and now embarking on a more traditional route with her new novel. She considers herself “a hybrid” having experienced both worlds. Although both offer benefits to a writer there is much to consider. “I’ve learned that both markets are very different and sort of antagonistic toward each other. Self-publishing is much more instantly gratifying. But somehow, being a part of the ages-old tradition of publishing, being validated by a signing agency, of making the cut and ultimately seeing your work in a bookstore that is very gratifying.”
When asked what advice she would give to other aspiring authors she puts emphasis on the fundamentals: grammar, sentence structure, pacing and tension but is also quick to point out that there are no short cuts to achieving a great plot and characterization. Hard work and dedication are required. “Edit it. Chop it. Lengthen and strengthen it. Then leave it and percolate for a while and see if you can think of ways to give the ending more of a wow, make the characters more complex, give the story a twist and write your way out of it. Think, “What would I do if this happened to me?” and then have your character do it.”
As winter slowly settles in I can’t help but ask this writer a simple question. Does living in the North influence creativity? Her response is enthusiastic. “Actually, I think we are very creative here in Northwestern Ontario. The country here really affects us. We see, smell, hear and feel things very differently and I think there is something to be said for harsh climates and the creative fire. I think the connection to environment has given me the words to create a sense of place, of being somewhere very different, and then the emotional response that goes along with it.”
Most evenings H. Leighton Dickson can be found at home typing away on her laptop, sitting by a warm fire and enjoying a glass of red wine. She is an author who dares to dream big and is excited about the potential of her latest novel. She envisions Cold Stone & Ivy on the big screen and is currently making plans to travel to Vienna, Strasbourg and Paris for research for a follow up novel. Experiencing the cultures, sites and sounds of these stunningly beautiful cities will again inspire this gifted writer to weave yet another tale. As her journey continues it will serve as the inspiration that will delight and entertain readers for years to come.
To learn more about H. Leighton Dickson and her novels please visit: www.hleightondickson.com.
Lisa Sandham is an interior designer, home designer and freelance writer. Contact her at www,lisasandham.com