An Interview with Juliet Marillier
Your newest Blackthorn and Grim novel is fantastic – I read it rapturously for an afternoon. I know that you tend towards trilogies, is this due to publisher requests or your own preferences?
I’m glad you enjoyed Den of Wolves! Re trilogies, it’s usually my own choice to write in that form and it can be for different reasons. With the Sevenwaters Trilogy, I felt I needed three generations of the family to deal fully with the impact of the traumatic events in the first book. Publisher pressure led to three more Sevenwaters books being written quite a bit later, but they don’t form a trilogy, they are linked stand-alone novels. The epic stories in both the Bridei Chronicles and the Shadowfell series also seemed to need three books to be complete. So it’s mostly my own preference – I choose what feels like the best way to tell a particular story. Trilogies are pretty common in fantasy fiction, and publishers often expect them. I’d originally thought of a longer series for Blackthorn & Grim, but to my surprise the story ended up feeling quite complete in three books.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
I have a few hidden away, some written in longhand. There are three romance novels stashed in a drawer somewhere – I got encouraging rejection letters for those. And there’s an early fantasy novel that nobody got to see. I suspect it’s pretty clunky. Definitely abandoned for good! I also have a great collection of stuff I wrote (and illustrated) as a child, including a tale of rampaging killer robots and one about scientists finding prehistoric life in the fiords of New Zealand.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write… Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)? Has the place you write changed over the many years of your writing? I understand that you live in a home that is more than 100 years old!
My house was built in 1904, and is part of the ‘poppy trail’ in the historic Perth suburb of Guildford – two Anzac soldiers lived here during World War 1. I love that historical connection and I often think of those two young men and what faced them in the trenches. They both got home safely!
I write most often on the kitchen table, even though I have a perfectly good study. That’s because the kitchen/living room of the house is where my five dogs hang out, and we all tend to congregate together. Also, good heating and lighting and ease of making tea. Like Blackthorn and Grim, I enjoy my brew. I write almost exclusively on my laptop these days, plus a tablet for travelling. I used to write everything longhand, then word process and edit at the same time. That got much too slow. I learned to touch type when I worked in the taxation office, probably the best thing to come from that experience! I’ve moved house a couple of times since I started writing seriously, but the workplace has often been a kitchen table.
You’ve said that you travel to countries where you are going to set your next novel to get reference material you would otherwise miss out on. Where is the most interesting place you have been, and did you work any of the local personalities into the resulting novel?
I have been to some fascinating places. Most interesting? A tie between an off-the-beaten-track trip to Transylvania (for Wildwood Dancing) and a trip the Faroe Islands (for Foxmask.) Transylvania was really beautiful and I discovered all kinds of quirky historical details because the guide was prepared to take me to places where tourists don’t go. The Faroes are so dramatic, everything larger than life – towering cliffs, thundering waterfalls and so on. And puffins!
I don’t work real people into the novels, it’s more a case of blending characteristics from various people I’ve observed to create someone new.
You’ve worked as a music teacher. I love the way Grim uses telling tales to calm others in your newest novel – do you think any of your future characters might use music instead?
Considering my background in music it is perhaps surprising I haven’t included more musicians in my stories, or had them do what you suggest. I think there are one or two harp-playing characters but that’s about it. Certainly it’s something I could do in the future. Storytelling and music are very much tied together in history.
What formal training, if any, do you have in writing? Do you think the education you have had has influenced you write?
I have a university degree in English and foreign languages, and an honours degree in music. That’s on top of a very sound school education, back in the days when we studied classic novels and Shakespeare in high school and learned grammar in primary school. All of that taught me how language worked and how to use it capably. Being an avid reader from a very early age was really significant in shaping me later as a writer. My love of music, singing in particular, and of traditional stories was instrumental in my developing a particular writing style, for instance, I often tend to put things in threes. I’ve never undertaken formal training in creative writing. I can’t say whether doing that would have made me a better or worse writer. Just a different one, I guess.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I do have an e-reader, which I use when travelling, but I very much prefer print books. Anything I know I’ll want to re-read, I try to get in print. I’ve found it really sad that so many local bookshops are going out of business. This happened with our Dymocks branch in Midland, where the staff had done a great job and had really supported my books over the years. It was horrible to see the sudden closure. Favourite bookshop: Stefen’s Books in Perth, a specialist speculative fiction and crime bookseller. That’s where my Perth book launches are held. The staff are really knowledgeable and go that extra mile to find exactly what customers are looking for, often before the customer really knows what that is!
Answering interview questions can often take a long time, and I know you have done many over the years! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
I try not to, as it would feel a bit disrespectful. Inevitably there will be some overlap, though. The more interesting the question, the more interesting the answer is likely to be. I’ve enjoyed answering your questions!