LOVE'S PHILOSOPHY (POEM):
ON A DATE WITH JANE AUSTEN:
Juliet Marillier is a multi Aurealis, Tin Duck, and Sir Julius Vogel Award winner and recipient of the Le Prix Imaginales for her historical fantasy fiction. Her novels are published simultaneously by major publishers in United States and Australia and are translated into other languages all around the world. Known for combining folkloric fantasy with historical fiction, her novels are often filled with sensitive depictions of the transformative journey a person can go through, metaphorically and physically, to protect their family and future partner—even characters who once thought themselves too broken or incapable of love. Born in New Zealand, Juliet now resides in Western Australia with a delightful menagerie of elderly dogs.
HEART'S KISS INTERVIEWS JULIET MARILLIER
by Lezli Robyn
Lezli Robyn: I had the pleasure of meeting Juliet Marillier online, on the 19th of June, 2009, but I had already been immersing myself in her fiction for a decade, since my twin sister and I discovered her first book, Daughter of the Forest, in our favorite Aussie bookstore on the Melbourne Peninsula. We were mesmerized by the folktales woven into her historical novels, and by the warmth of her characters; her romances swept us away.
Last year, I finally had the pleasure of catching up with Juliet in person for a hot cuppa and conversation, and she was even more wonderful than her books. When it came time for me to do my first interview for Heart’s Kiss, I could not think of a better romance author, now a dear friend, to ask.
Juliet, let us start with the obligatory first question. You graduated from the University of Otago with a BA in Languages and a Bachelor of Music, teaching in both high school and university positions, as well as conducting choral groups. What prompted you to make the leap to becoming full time author?
Juliet Marillier: It wasn’t so much a leap as a very gradual transition—I did a lot of creative writing as a child and young adult, then veered toward my other love, music, working in that field for quite a few years. Later on I worked as a public servant. During that time I also raised my four children. I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until I’d made a lot of life errors and grown wiser as a result. I wrote Daughter of the Forest while I was a solo parent working full time. It was written at least partly as therapy after some challenging times in my personal life. At that point I had no real thoughts of becoming a published author, let alone a full time one. But I did find that at last (in my 40’s) I had the space for my imagination to work, and I squeezed in the time to write because I passionately wanted to tell that particular story. My manuscript was picked up from the slush pile at Pan Macmillan and the rest, as they say, is history. I made the transition out of the public service job over four years, going gradually more and more part time as it became apparent I could actually make a living as a novelist.
LR: Your books are often filled with rich folkloric and historical content, yet you have also created settings that have a distinctive feel only experienced when reading your novels. How do you decide how much factual research you are going to include in your books versus fantasy extrapolation and innovation, to balance out the blending of the two into a believable world and narrative?
JM: Great question! I like to base my settings on real world history and geography, but with that underlay of folklore and the uncanny, which I try to base on what the people of that time and place might have believed. I hope that helps make the magical elements believable to the reader too. Some of my novels have in-depth historical research behind them and it shows—for instance, Wolfskin, the first book of my Viking duology, required a huge amount of reading and some travel to back it up. If you visit Mainland in Orkney you can walk around most of the locations in that story! My Bridei Chronicles, set in the kingdom of the Picts, also has solid research behind it, but because we know less about Pictish history and culture there was more scope for informed guesswork and occasionally pure imagination. The “grey areas” of history, those about which there is some doubt, are fertile ground for the historical novelist. In my earlier novels, the Sevenwaters series in particular, I didn’t yet realize how important accurate history can be in a fantasy novel, and if I had my time again there are quite a few things I would change.
LR: You often write heroines and heroes in your books that can be considered flawed in some emotional or physical capacity. Whether they are warriors afraid of the dark and small places, or women with a powerful legacy who were born with a genetic deformity, I admire how you do not simply erase that flaw—make them perfect—by the end of the book, but make them face it, and learn to find strength and love around the imperfections in their life. I was afraid of the dark as a child, and closed spaces, and so I could identify so clearly with your character, Bran, from Son of the Shadows, in big part because he was still dealing with the ghost of those fears in adulthood. How much conscious effort is placed in writing lead characters that are dealing with the emotional and physical difficulties we deal with in real life, instead of creating a character of pure escapism for the reader?
JM: A lot of conscious effort. I try to get the psychology right, not only through research but by thinking myself into the mind of the character. I’m definitely choosing to feature more damaged characters now. It may be because a wider range of readers can see aspects of themselves there, or because that damage makes the character far more interesting to write about (and to read about) or because it’s a better reflection of real life, which is low on perfect heroes. In the Blackthorn & Grim series the two protagonists are both suffering from PTSD and it governs their reactions and choices in some surprising ways. I had been reading a lot about military PTSD, especially in soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and how difficult it is for those soldiers to adjust after the return home. I did want to write about that issue, and I seem to have succeeded as I have had some magnificent feedback not only from readers who have PTSD but also from carers. I loved exploring the ways in which the various characters in the series find they are able to help one another. Another thing I loved doing was creating antagonists/villains who were three dimensional. One of the wisest pieces of advice on characterization is that every character is the hero of his or her own journey.
LR: You had your first short story collection, Prickle Moon, published by Ticonderoga Press in 2013. Since this is a magazine specializing in short fiction, can you tell us how a writer so used to exceling in novel length publications found the process of writing romance in short form?
JM: Challenging, but rewarding. The short story doesn’t allow much space for character building, plot development, internal monologues, etc. The writer needs to imply things subtly, not spell them out, and the reader needs to be able to make leaps of logic and imagination. Short stories require a lot of paring down and polishing, choosing the perfect word, shaping the perfect sentence and paragraph, and, of course, packing maximum emotional punch. I think short stories provide good practice for writing better—I hope I waste fewer words now when I’m writing long fiction!
LR: If you could pick only one of your books to be seen as your legacy in the world, what would it be, and why?
JM: Oh, that is so hard, especially as so many of them work as part of a series. If I really have to, I will pick Son of the Shadows. Although Grim is my favorite male protagonist, I am very fond of the “painted man”, Bran, and I love his band of tattooed warriors so much I brought them back in a later series! That’s possibly my most romantic novel.
LR: That is my favorite novel of yours, so I could see why you made that choice…. And lastly, but in no means least, what publication is next on the horizon for you?
JM: I’m currently writing a short story for an anthology, details of which are secret at present. In terms of novels, I’m still working on a proposal for a new series. I have a novella coming out later this year in a Ticonderoga anthology. My story, Beautiful, is an unusual version of the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
Copyright © 2017 by Lezli Robyn.
Heart's Kiss Magazine
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