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A world where feelings are banned – Beyond The Hills by Maressa Mortimer

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need a different world to escape into for just a while, so that I can let my imagination run free and unfettered. Maressa Mortimer has created a dark and brooding dystopian world in her Elabi Chronicles series, and I’ve just had the privilege of reading the second in the trilogy, Beyond the Hills (Good Hope Publishing, coming June 21st) I thought I’d ask Maressa a few questions about the book – I’ve also asked her some more questions about the writing process over on the More Than Writers blog, if any of you budding authors are curious about her methods!

Here is the blurb:

Macia Durus, daughter of the well known Brutus Durus AMP, works hard to achieve a life of honour and prestige in her beloved Elabi. When a so-called “friend” challenges her priorities, Macia’s confusion threatens her carefully constructed plans. And her decision to investigate a forbidden book could have serious consequences for Macia as well as her family, turning their lives upside down.

Firstly, I want to say that I’ve really enjoyed this book and became immersed in it as I read – it’s certainly a page-turner (as was the first book in the trilogy, Walled City). I’m a YA dystopian fan anyway – I do enjoy reading books that involve complicated world building and characters fighting against a system they may not at first realise is oppressive (I’ve written two thirds of a trilogy myself, which one day I might get round to publishing…) In Beyond the Hills, the main character is Macia, a young woman steeped in the ideology of her city, Elabi, because she doesn’t know any other way. Her ambition is to climb through the ranks of society (a little like a caste system) to the top, and she’s almost there, but a friend throws a spanner in the works by sending her some pages of an unknown book. Macia is reluctant, but feels a pull towards the pages, and as she starts reading her life is transformed by the power in the words. She has no idea she’s reading the Bible, or who God is, because those concepts are banned in Elabi. For me one of the loveliest parts of the book was seeing Macia blossom as she embraced emotion and joy, becoming the person she was meant to be. There’s threat in the book as she’s chased down and eventually sent Beyond the Hills, but I’ll leave you to discover what happens next…

I can’t wait to find out what happens in book three. Both books so far are stand alone reads, but do feed into one another, so I would recommend reading Walled City as well to catch hold of the sinister background behind the story, and understand where the pages Macia was given come from – reading the first would give a fuller experience of the second, and leave you wanting more for book three, which Maressa tells me she is working on!

So, Maressa, tell us a bit about yourself…

I homeschool my children, which is lovely, but when I discovered writing about three years ago, I was thrilled. There was this tiny slice of my day or evening just for me and my thoughts. My daydreams could go anywhere, and to simply focus all my energy onto my laptop and the growing story was a wonderful break. The story ideas also multiplied, so now I find it hard to even know where to start!

I love that your book explores a world in which any kind of faith is taboo, and how you bring characters gently through to an understanding of what faith is. Tell us a little about your own faith journey, and what led you to writing YA books exploring faith?

I grew up in very conservative churches in the Netherlands, with their own schools and Teacher Training college. Assurance of faith and being filled with joy were hard topics, and I only became a Christian after I moved to England. Being Dutch, I love heated discussions, and I struggle with glib answers. So Sapphire Beach was a lot about the lasting effect of trauma, and Walled City is about the fact that simply having a wonderful faith doesn’t make people fall at your feet begging you to share your testimony. Viking Ferry was about forgiveness, and Beyond the Hills is about the difficult journey faith can bring. It’s what I love about writing, where you can say, “Yes, but, what if…”

In Beyond the Hills, your main character needs a whole load of courage to get her through some great difficulties – how do you think this will speak to young people (and old!) today who are struggling with keeping faith in a hostile world?

I think it’s about being real and honest. Becoming a Christian isn’t going to guarantee a smooth ride. On the contrary! But it’s about trusting God even when we have no idea where He will take us. I also feel fellowship with other Christians is so important. It’s the mutual encouragement, and accountability as well, that is so necessary. And it’s all about the power of the Word of God, through His Spirit. All we need is there, and it can bless us beyond measure. It’s not about status or achievements, it’s just trusting and obeying.

What’s your greatest desire for your book?

That it will bless people. I have had so many encouraging messages already, it’s really moved me to tears actually! I felt so blessed writing it, and to see that blessing touching others is just wonderful. I want to encourage others and just knowing that it has given people some new insights into their relationship with Christ is amazing.

Maressa Mortimer is Dutch but lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, England with her husband and four (adopted) children. Her debut novel, Sapphire Beach, was published December 2019, and her first self published novel, Walled City, came out on December 5th 2020, followed by Viking Ferry, a novella. Beyond the Hills is the second book in the Elabi Chronicles, and will be released on June 18th 2021. Maressa is a homeschool mum as well as a pastor’s wife, so her writing has to be done in the evening when peace and quiet descend on the house once more. She loves writing Christian fiction, as it’s a great way to explore faith in daily life.

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