Our guest today is Juliet Marillier who has recently released Den of Wolves, the new book in her Blackthorn & Grim series.
Juliet was born and educated in Dunedin, New Zealand, and now lives in Western Australia. Her historical fantasy novels and short stories for adults and young adults have been translated into many languages and have won a number of awards including the Aurealis Award (four times), the American Library Association’s Alex Award, the Prix Imaginales and the Sir Julius Vogel Award (three times.)
Juliet’s novels and short stories combine history, folkloric fantasy, romance and family drama. Her lifelong love of myths, legends, folklore and fairy tales is a major influence on her writing. Juliet’s eighteen novels include the six-book Sevenwaters series, set in early medieval Ireland; the Bridei Chronicles, based on Pictish history; the Viking duology Wolfskin and Foxmask, and the Shadowfell series. She is currently working on the Blackthorn & Grim series for adult readers, combining elements of history, fairy tale and mystery. The first Blackthorn & Grim novel, Dreamer’s Pool, was published by Pan Macmillan Australia and Penguin USA late in 2014.
As well as writing full-time, Juliet acts as a mentor to developing writers and presents workshops on the writer’s craft. She is a member of the Committee of Literary Advisors at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, and is a regular contributor to the award-winning blog, Writer Unboxed. Her website is at www.julietmarillier.com When not writing, Juliet is active in animal rescue. She shares her house with a small pack of waifs and strays. Juliet is a member of the druid order OBOD - The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
What or who inspired you to first write?
My parents were keen readers and musicians, so I can’t remember a time when they weren’t reading to me, singing or telling stories. I started writing pretty much as soon as I’d learned how to wield a pencil. The stories that inspired me most strongly were myths, legends, fairy tales and folklore – I loved those windows into worlds of enchantment and mystery. My mother was my greatest supporter, reading my efforts, typing stories out for me, and always being nice about my work even though some of it was probably not that great! We were very fortunate to have a wonderful Children’s Library in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I grew up. It was housed in its own two-storey stone building, and had a really extensive and interesting collection for its time. That library and its rather scary but very clever librarian (who also happened to be my best friend’s mother) were very influential in my life.
What is the inspiration for your current book?
My most recent book, Den of Wolves, and the series, Blackthorn & Grim, are not only built around
fairy tales / folklore, but also have a theme of characters working their way through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) Both the main protagonists, embittered healer Blackthorn and her hulking companion Grim, come to the story carrying a heavy weight of past trauma. Inspiration for this particular idea came in part from reading some powerful non-fiction books on military PTSD, notably The Good Soldiers and Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel. The third inspiration came from readers who asked me to write a novel with an older female protagonist – my central female characters are more usually aged around 17-25, simply because people led shorter lives in the period of my stories and their major life events happened at a younger age than they do now (marriage, childbirth, going to war, supporting a family.) Blackthorn is that older character, and a very damaged one.
Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?
Apart from PTSD – how it affects people’s lives and the ways people survive it – Den of Wolves has a theme of fathers and daughters. It also looks at different ways of being brave, and different kinds of love.
Which period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?
I love the grey areas of history, such as the time of the Picts – those periods and cultures that left few, if any, contemporary written records. Historians still argue about some aspects of Pictish culture, such as matrilineal succession to the kingship. Those times provide fertile ground for writers of historical fiction! I loved researching my Pictish series, the Bridei Chronicles, and my Viking-era novels, Wolfskin and Foxmask. But I’ve been strongly drawn to early medieval Ireland. I love Irish mythology, unsurprising since my own forebears were from Celtic countries. The society of early medieval Ireland had some unusual elements such as Brehon law, a remarkably fair and thorough legal system that among other things provided protection for the rights of women.
As a writer of historical fantasy, I’m very much aware that in my earliest books the history was flawed. I didn’t know then that readers who were happy to accept a big dose of magic and the uncanny would at the same time expect accurate history (the stories are set in the real world with a dash of folkloric magic.) After those first three books, I started researching my history properly. The Blackthorn & Grim series contains only one real historical character, whose name will allow the astute reader to work out the exact period. But it’s far more fantasy than history. And far more a story about the characters’ personal journeys than either. I’m interested in seeing my characters grow, change, learn, make their errors and meet their challenges, come unstuck and (mostly) put themselves together again.
What resources do you use to research your book?
Because I’ve written several earlier novels set in the same general place and time period, I have a solid personal library of books on Ireland in the period before the Anglo-Norman arrival (and after – my standalone novel Heart’s Blood, based on Beauty and the Beast, is set in the 12th century.) I have a book of historical maps, one that deals with legal systems, books of Irish names, books on birds and animals, trees and plants, geography, herb lore and so on. A collection of fairy tales, folklore and mythology, and scholarly commentary on the same. The internet is useful for pointing a researcher in the right direction, but print books are still my main resource. Over the years I have also visited the locations of my novels, walked the ground, taken photos, got a feel for how it might have been back then. Nothing beats actually being there, even when the physical landscape has changed markedly.
Which authors have influenced you?
Oddly enough, mostly not fantasy writers, though as a young adult I was an avid Lord of the Rings fan, so Tolkien certainly played a big part in my development. A major influence was historical novelist Dorothy Dunnett, especially her Lymond Chronicles, for the combination of magnificent period detail and an edge-of-the-seat story that is not resolved until the end of the sixth large novel. Vivid, unforgettable characters. Dunnett was recommended to me when I was a teenager, by that children’s librarian I mentioned earlier! I love the elegant simplicity of style shown by Mary Stewart and Daphne du Maurier, both of whom I discovered quite early. For quirky imagination and subtlety of character interaction, plus understated humour, Tove Jansson (the Moomintroll books.) Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, first encountered when I was about 12, was also a big storytelling influence. I love a good love story. Most of my novels contain one.
Which methods/ strategies do you employ to write?
I usually complete one fairly substantial novel a year as well as some short fiction, so I have to be organised. I am a planner – research, then a story outline, then a chapter plan all get done before I start. I don’t do lots of complete drafts. I revise as I go. Write three chapters and revise. Write three more chapters and revise all six. And so on. By the time I get to The End, most of the manuscript is quite well polished. The actual mechanics of writing – always straight onto the laptop, using Word. For my earliest books I wrote in longhand first, but that soon became too slow.
Is there anything unusual or even quirky that you would like to share about your writing?
I’m writing from the local café today, because my five dogs have become expert at distracting me when I work at home. They sit around my feet making ‘Feed me!’ eyes. And every time I get up from the computer there’s a stampede for the front door. ‘Yay! Walkies!’
How long does it generally take you to write a book?
Since my first novel, Daughter of the Forest, was published in 1999, I’ve written 20 novels and one collection of short fiction. So I’ve done slightly better than one per year. Generally speaking, it takes me a year for an adult novel from first research to submitting the finished manuscript.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Follow your heart – write the story you feel passionate about, not something you believe will suit the current market. Learn your craft. Don’t expect instant success – writing is a testing journey with many ups and downs, and you will need to work hard. Find a support group of fellow writers, either online or in the real world. Lastly, READ. Read as widely as you can, well outside the genre you are writing in. Good writers start out as avid readers – reading is the most painless way to learn how to write well.
Many thanks for sharing your insights and experiences, Juliet. 20 novels is an amazing achievement. Good luck with Den of Wolves.
‘A new book by Juliet Marillier is always a cause for celebration.’ Kate Forsyth
Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring to justice the man who ruined her life.
Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help Lady Flidais take care of a troubled young girl, Cara, while Grim is sent to Cara’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—rebuilding a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…
Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again side by side or to fight their battles alone.
Den of Wolves and all Juliet's books are available via PanMacMillan