Rosie Cranie-Higgs returns to the world of Whiteland with Karliquai, the terrifying sequel to her debut novel Whiteland. In celebration of Friday the 13th, we hope you horror aficionados enjoy this exclusive interview with the creator of one of our most chilling series. Karliquai releases on September 9th, 2021.
It’s been one year since sisters Kira and Romy escaped the twisted realm of Whiteland. Desperate and lonely, Kira has no one to talk to, or to convince her that she’s not crazy, and that everything in Whiteland really did happen. Worse, Romy remembers nothing and Kira just can’t bring herself to make her sister remember.
On New Year’s Eve, Kira agrees to go with her friends to a nightclub, where she hopes to finally forget everything and start fresh. Instead, she runs headlong into her past. Callum is there. He’s alive and his memories of Whiteland are intact.
But Callum isn’t the only thing that left Whiteland. A huldra has escaped, too, and it only has three things on its mind: punishment, revenge, and hunting down the trio that escaped.
Now the three friends are on the run in the real world. Little do they know that the farther they go, the closer they are heading into madness.
The only thing worse than going into Whiteland is when it comes out
From author Rosie Cranie-Higgs comes a masterpiece of psychological horror and suspense set against the snowy and stark Swiss Alps. Deftly mixing Scandinavian folklore and dark fairy tales, Rosie’s creepy and atmospheric Whiteland series “takes readers down a terror-filled rabbit hole…” (Publishers Weekly) to a realm that is impossible to leave.
BHC Exclusive Interview with Rosie Cranie-Higgs
Some people are describing the Whiteland series as “Alice in Wonderland meets Edgar Allen Poe.” As the author, how would you describe the series and, more specifically, Karliquai?
Edgar Allen Poe formed part of my studies shortly before I started writing Whiteland, so that’s nice to hear! I’ve always thought of the Whiteland series as a shadowy modern Narnia, with Whiteland itself the Alice in Wonderland book, Karliquai as Stephen King meeting Wallander, and then Memento Mori (book three) as a combination of the two. Karliquai specifically is the dark, troubled sister of Whiteland, I suppose, as Romy is to Kira.
Why did you love writing it?
I loved writing Karliquai specifically because I threw what I wanted at it, went back, changed ideas, changed direction, took inspiration from everywhere I was in the world—and have the coffee- stained, wine-stained, scribbled-on first draft to prove it, because as it took so long to complete, I took it on several summer holidays, including to the French coast, a Spanish villa, and an Arizona ranch. I had such freedom to have fun with it, even if fun comes in the form of tormenting my poor characters. Fantasy and horror are such good genres for that, just letting your ideas flood out and making it make sense later.
What is Karliquai? Does the name mean anything?
Both Karliquai (the name) and Karliquai (the book) were conceived of after several previous attempts —working titles were “The Beforemath” and :The Making of Sofia”, the first of which my family instantly vetoed and the second I vetoed, after trying to write a sequel to Whiteland where Kira turned to the dark side as a huldra named Sofia. I finally named it Karliquai after seeing a sign in Luzern, Switzerland which read “St Karliquai,” and as my brain often does, it went, “Oh, oh, oh, NOW we have it,” connected some sporadic dots, and left me with a book title and a sinister chalet in the village Whiteland is set in, called Karliquai.
I then had to find the rest of the plot, which again is how my writing brain works, and when I came across the Swiss folk tradition of the Silvesterchlause, some more dots just joined up. The Silvesterchlause in Swiss folklore are crazily, creepily costumed men who disguise themselves either as the Pretty, the Ugly, or the Pretty Ugly and journey around the Swiss cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden on New Year’s Eve, beginning with a haunting song/animalistic howl at 5 a.m., where they appear in the dark out of nowhere and chill you with their chanting. They travel in costume throughout the day, ringing bells and continuing their song and howl, with the largest congregations in the village of Urnäsch. There are videos on YouTube, but it really has to be heard at 5 a.m. to get the full effect, which I was lucky enough to do a few years ago. Such a unique tradition had to work its way into my writing, even if I did twist it, turn it, and make it monstrous…sorry, Switzerland.
From the beginning, Karliquai feels more sinister than Whiteland. Was this intentional? What is the connection between the two?
Karliquai is a continuation of the Whiteland story, picking up with the Whiteland epilogue, but they do have very different feels. The plot of Karliquai is darker, the characters are a bit older, they’re dealing with the trauma Whiteland left behind, and so the book as a whole turned out more sinister. I didn’t necessarily write it that way intentionally, but I write however feels right—having being hunted as a major theme, as opposed to hunting, which was really the theme of Whiteland, meant everything was more urgent, and so that’s the way it all came out. I’ve always seen it more as a monstrous thriller, while Whiteland is a twisted Narnia.
Karliquai picks up with Kira back in our world, trying to move on after Whiteland. Did you always know that Kira’s story wasn’t over with Whiteland?
Initially, it was meant to be a standalone, and the beginning of Karliquai was actually the end of Whiteland. I tried an ending with a happy-ever-after far in the future, but I just couldn’t let it go, and while it took a few years to finally hit on the right continuation, once I started writing the final plot of Karliquai, I knew I’d made the right choice. I’d created too much in Whiteland, and too many characters I loved, to leave them with only one book, even if there was a nice ending!
“Oh Wow! This book was awesome! The writing is like nothing I’ve read before…”Rubie Clark, NetGalley Reviewer
The Whiteland series centers around two sisters, Kira and Romy. One of the things we loved about Karliquai was Kira’s changing relationship with Romy.
- What was it like writing about such a realistic relationship against the backdrop of such fantastic, horrifying, and magical places?
- It helped me ground the story more, rather than getting completely caught up in the fantasy—I hope the same is true for readers, too, that it gives some relatability in the midst of all the magic. I enjoyed writing all the character relationships with the background of magic, either helping or getting in the way. It’s fun!
- How does their relationship change going into your new book?
- Kira sees Romy less as someone to take care of/get out of trouble and more as an equal, if you will. They’re not exactly close, but they’re closer, and work through things together. Kira does sometimes still play big sister, though, and this need to protect Romy causes her some pretty big problems early on in Karliquai.
- Did you base the sisters on anyone you know in real life?
- I didn’t, actually! They developed completely organically throughout the many edits of both Whiteland and Karliquai, becoming more and more into their own as people the more time I spent with them.
We love how you pull from real-world myths and folklore and twist them to create these new worlds. Throughout the book you mention multiple mythical creatures such as fauns, trolls, and fossegrim. Tell us more about the origins of these stories and how they inspired the series.
Most of them come from Scandinavian folklore, but as I worked through the series, I did expand my reading to eastern European (the bishop-fish) and Russian (the Leshy), as well as Japanese, although I didn’t really have room to explore that as much as I’d have liked—there did have to be a limit to how many amazing creatures I included in detail! The stories themselves I plucked themes from as it suited me, really—there’s a Finnish tale about a place, the Kyopelinvuori, which is haunted by dead women and sometimes associated with witchcraft, and I reshaped this into the Kyo. The Elves’ Dance, a Swedish tale, inspired the Kyo taking over Romy in the forest in Whiteland, as it is a story about a young man wandering in the woods, hearing music, and being lost to the dancing elves. I just love the act of looking at these old tales and seeing how to combine them. It’s such a creative, imaginative process that really makes me see why I love being a writer.
What are fossegrim, which are found in the book?
Fossegrim are basically male water sprites who reside in waterfalls, are extremely talented fiddlers, and can be persuaded to help travelers if you provide them with a suitable cut of meat. There are a lot of variations on this, such as how the fossegrim look, the meat they want, whether they’ll help you or whether they’ll just brutally help you play the fiddle, but my fossegrim is a twisted trickster. He’s young, similar to an elf, and lives in a lush waterfall deep in the forest. He does help, but his knowledge is barbed and dangerous, and he takes pleasure in emotional pain. I loved writing the fossegrim who appears in Memento Mori, partly because it turns into such an emotional scene for Kira and partly because he’s full of eccentric, capering malice, which doesn’t sound great but, set against the backdrop of a tropical waterfall and leading to some big reveals, it was really fun to write.
What was your favorite creature to write?
In Karliquai, the Leshy. I’m not sure why, but I love writing semi-human creatures, maybe because they don’t only have their human aspects but their ‘creature’ aspects, too. (I know this is certainly one of the reasons I adored writing Freya.) The Leshy reminded me of the trees in Lord of the Rings; full of wisdom but also humor, suitably esoteric and deliberately cryptic, and also peaceful. His thoughts and explanations really made me think while writing them, and I was very proud of how he turned out.
What sparked your love of these myths?
Actually, the same thing that kick-started the whole Whiteland series—seeing the film cover for Changeling. I had a vague idea of what a changeling was, but I went back to my dorm and started googling, and that googling process is what led me to the folklore that inspired the series. I fell down that unique, magical, beautiful rabbit hole, so different from everything I’d read and lived before, and never got out again, especially after I found East of the Sun and West of the Moon and Kay Nielsen’s associated artwork—At Rest in the Dark Wood inspired Romy getting lost in the forest, and She Held Tight to the White Bear inspired Kira with the wolves. Of course, the story “The Three Princesses of Whiteland” may have had its own little role…
Do you do a lot of research for your writing?
Oh, yes. Quite apart from scouring the internet for folk tales, Karliquai had me researching precise train times and connections throughout Europe, plus Interpol. I will never forget how nervous that made me feel, and when you read the book, you’ll see why…!
You have such a talent for writing dark, macabre, chilling fantasy while your lush and beautiful language juxtaposes the genre in such an interesting way. As an author what inspires you to write horror stories?
Honestly, it’s what I’ve always enjoyed writing. As a child, I wrote about dark magical quests, and as I got older, they just got darker. I’ve tried writing different genres, including lighter contemporary things, and they never stick. I grew up with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Abhorsen, and Charmed, as well as all kinds of ghost stories, and moved to Stephen King as a teenager, so I suppose it’s where I feel most at home! You can do so much with horror and fantasy, and no one ever told me I couldn’t twist a story this way or that way, or that I had to write like this and not that. I was allowed to find my own voice and write exactly what I wanted right through school, plus a year studying Gothic literature, which all led me naturally to the genres I’m in. I never actually sat down and thought, “I will write fantasy,” or, “I will write horror.” I only looked at genres for the first time when trying to get published, and working out how to classify my writing!
This series is full of compelling characters with even more compelling relationships to one another. Were any of them inspired by real people in your life, and if so, who?
Lena was inspired by my mum’s look at the time, which was short spiky hair with more feminine dresses and a take-no-rubbish attitude. Hazal, who is in Karliquai far more than Whiteland, was also inspired by the owner of the real-life Whiteland hotel. My dad and two of my past pets have cameos in Whiteland, if that counts? Look out for a man with a husky and a sneaky cat called Hugo.
Something that readers may have picked up on are the interesting chapter headings in your novels. Tell us more about those.
It really just started by wanting to name my chapters. I named a couple and thought they should probably have a pattern, and realised they were also starting to have a rhythm, which is where the poems came from. My family helped come up with some I was struggling with, so a shout-out to them there! The patterns and rhythms are slightly different throughout the three books, but the general poetic style is always there, as something that can be read as a whole piece when combined. Hopefully it’s as enjoyable to discover as it was for me to put together!
What was different about writing Karliquai than writing Whiteland?
I already had characters and settings, so it was like diving back into a well-traveled world rather than creating one from scratch. I enjoyed writing new scenarios for the characters, having old characters meet new ones and other old ones they hadn’t met before, and just getting them tangled up in even more horrible magical webs. At the same time, Karliquai was more fast-paced and gruesome from the outset, and I went with that completely. I gave myself more freedom to say, “Why not?” when I thought of something to put in. Hello, Silvesterchlause, Leshy, Freya’s character arc, underground-witch exile, every single thing that happens in Urnäsch…
“I liked this book, a lot, it’s fast paced, scary and full of imagination.”Francisco J. Trueba, Goodreads Reviewer
What would you like your readers to ultimately take away from Karliquai?
The world has so many fascinating folk stories in it to explore! I started off reading Scandinavian folklore for Whiteland and broadened out for Karliquai, and really, there’s no end to the creepy, ghastly, sometimes wholesome stories and creatures out there. Also, hug your family, because you never know when a huldra might come after them.
The series concludes with Memento Mori. What can you tell us about this final book without giving any major spoilers?
Every single character begins the book in a huge, huge mess that took me many note cards and a wardrobe covered in a storyboard to figure out the solutions to. There is much more time spent in Whiteland, many more creatures, love and heartbreak of all kinds, and the most magic out of all three books. Ultimately, it’s Ragnarok for the Whiteland world.
Karliquai Releases September 9th, 2021!
Preorder your copy at any of the links below:
Want more Whiteland? Don’t miss our exclusive interview with Rosie Cranie-Higgs where she talks about the first book in the series.
About the Author:
Rosie Cranie-Higgs is the author of the Whiteland series. She enjoys writing about darkness and ghosts.
Rosie grew up across Europe, and now lives in Malta with her husband where she is currently working on her next novel.