Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Interview with Juliet Marillier

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 cafĂ© 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

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Interview with author MK Tod

Our guest today is MK Tod, author of Time and Regret, which is her third novel. She began writing while living as an expat in Hong Kong. What started as an interest in her grandparents’ lives turned into a full-time occupation writing historical fiction. Her novel Unravelled was awarded Indie Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society. In addition to writing historical novels, she blogs about reading and writing historical fiction at www.awriterofhistory.com. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

What or who inspired you to first write?

I began to write when I was an expat spouse in Hong Kong. My husband and I had embarked on a three-year assignment with gusto but after a year reality set in. I had no friends, no family, a husband who travelled constantly and a job that hadn’t worked out. So I conceived the idea of researching my grandparents’ lives with the possibility of writing about them. Roughly four years later, and back in our hometown of Toronto, I gave up my consulting practice and began to write full time. I was obsessed!

What is the inspiration for your current book?

On a trip to France a few years ago, my husband and I were in a small bistro and I pulled out a notebook and wrote something. Hubby asked what I had written and I told him I had an idea for a story featuring a woman following her grandfather’s WWI diaries. It was my husband who suggested adding a mystery and over dinner—and a bottle of wine—we amused ourselves sketching out the story, which is now Time and Regret.

Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?

So far, each of my novels has featured World War One and the devastation that occurred as well as the lifelong effects one those who survived. So that’s one theme. In Time and Regret I also explore the notion of regret and how it can eat away at an individual over time often with unexpected consequences. We all have regrets in life and I wanted to explore that for both Grace and her grandfather Martin.

Which period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?

I seem to be drawn to periods of great conflict although I have no idea why! While in school, I was never a fan of history classes, however, as an adult I am discovering that I’m very keen to understand the political, social and military forces that shape change. I am also drawn to time periods that are not too distant. Such periods feel more tangible and relatable to me.

Which authors have influenced you?

I’m constantly reading and while I have some favourite authors, I tend to find different techniques to emulate from different authors. For example, when I wrote the character Grace Hansen in Time and Regret, I had the styles of Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig in mind. The novel I’m working on now is set in 1870s Paris so I think the main characters will need a different approach. I hope that makes sense!

Which methods/ strategies do you employ to write?

I’m a planner so I create a concept, then a summary outline. Following the summary outline, I develop a detailed chapter outline and only then do I begin to write. When I wrote Unravelled, my first novel, the process was totally ‘seat of the pants’ and while I am happy with the final result, it took many, many iterations to get there!

What do you do if stuck for a word or a phrase?

My thesaurus is always in reach—my son gave me the largest one he could find as a Christmas gift one year—as is my dictionary. I frequently look at poetry for inspiration and occasionally I put in #needsabetterword as a placeholder to return to later. There are times when the creative spirit has disappeared so I leave those rather than become frustrated.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

There’s so much advice out there, it’s hard to know what to emphasize! However, here are a few takeaways that have worked for me. (1) Learn how to write well. I know that’s obvious but if you want to be competitive, you have to develop a style and write very well. (2) Learn about your genre. In my case I’ve done a lot of research on historical fiction (who buys it, why, what are their preferences, what kind of stories do they prefer and so on) and while I wouldn’t suggest you invest the time I have in conducting surveys, I would suggest you look for similar information about your chosen genre. (3) Build a platform. This is another truism in today’s social media driven world. You can’t start building a platform soon enough. I originally thought this was nonsense until I heard more than one agent/editor mention that they always look at a prospective author’s social media presence before deciding whether to take them on. (4) Develop a writing approach and discipline that works for you. Others talk about ‘bum glue’ as a key component for success and I agree with that notion. Novels don’t get written unless you sit down and write!

Tell us about your next book

Thank you for asking. My next novel is currently called Camille and Mariele, mainly because I haven’t yet come up with a more compelling title! It’s about two women who are nothing alike but develop a strong, enduring friendship and is set in 1870s Paris, a time of conflict and great turmoil for France. These two women originally appeared in Lies Told in Silence. In that novel, which is set during WWI, Camille has already died and Mariele is a grandmother. The new novel has them as young women on the verge of marriage and, of course, many twists and turns will unfold. If I were cleverer, I would have written this one earlier and develop a series!!

Many thanks for sharing your insights, Mary. Good luck with Time and Regret.

When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long buried secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determine to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her.

From her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a many very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harbouring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.

Time and Regret is available from Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Indigo and Audiobooks.

Mary’s other novels, Lies Told in Silence and Unravelled are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes