This interview was conducted by guest blogger Thando Bhebe. Thando is a passionate reader who is currently diving into 30 library books she took home for the holidays. She is also an emerging writer whose work is up on Internet writing community Inkpop.
Thando is a major fan of the wonderful fantasy novelist Juliet Marillier, who has kindly agreed to an interview. Welcome to The Great Raven, Thando and Juliet.
Interview questions by Thando Bhebe, a teenage reader of the Sevenwaters books and Heart’s Blood.
1.Why is the Sevenwater series set in Ireland?
Daughter of the Forest (first book in the series) is based on a traditional story called The Six Swans, a fairytale set somewhere in Europe. Irish folklore contains many stories about swans, and in particular people turning into swans. The Irish landscape suited the sort of tale I wanted to tell, with a mysterious forest and lake. So I chose Ireland as the setting for the first novel and then, of course, for the ongoing series.
2. Is it in the south or the North of Ireland?
It’s the north. Sevenwaters is based on an area called the Ring of Gullion in County Armagh. There used to be a very big forest there, though in the past it was cut down for grazing. They’re currently replanting the hillside with trees.
3. What types of books do you enjoy reading?
I like a wide variety of books and I always have. I think that’s essential for a writer! I enjoy books with strong female characters, ranging from classics such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women right through to recent novels such as The Distant Hours by Australian author Kate Morton. I read a lot of non-fiction, partly as research for my writing. I like books that are original and well-crafted. I have a small list of writers from whom I read every new book: Iain Banks, David Mitchell, Jodi Picoult.
4. The women of Sevenwaters seem to go through a lot – why is this?
Human journeys and relationship are at the heart of storytelling for me. My characters feel quite real as I travel with them on their adventures. I think real life is all about meeting challenges and finding out how brave you can be in times of adversity. Would you want to read a book in which the central character lived happily at home the whole time?
5. How did you think up Bran the Painted Man?
Bran’s tattoos are based on the Maori traditional tattoos of my homeland, New Zealand. Tattoos have a lot of meaning in tribal cultures and I liked the idea that Bran made a new identity for himself this way. I’d also been reading a lot about men who were traumatised by experiences in the past, for instance, servicemen returning from active duty who could not escape their memories of what they’d seen on the battlefield. All of this combined to create Bran. From the start I saw Son of the Shadows as a story about peeling away layers of memory one by one to get at the heart of his fear and alienation.
6. Are any of the characters of your books based on people you know?
No, though I use characteristics of people I’ve met. But I mix them up so no character is exactly like anyone in real life.
7. Are any of the characters based on yourself?
Oh, no! Of course a certain amount of my own experience and attitudes is going to make its way into the characters, more in some books than others. The character with whom I have the most empathy is Caitrin, the protagonist of Heart’s Blood, who is struggling to get back her sense of self after suffering a breakdown. There are also a few older women in the books who are a little like me. I’d like to be Draguţa, the witch of the wood from Wildwood Dancing, and ride around on a white fox!
8. Do you ever write a certain scene, then get emotional over it (if it’s a sad one for example)?
Scenes in which good characters have bad things happen to them are always hard to write, and can be very hard to re-read. When I’m editing my own work I often have to go over a scene many times. There is a death scene in Blade of Fortriu that I found extremely hard to revisit. The person in question was one of my all-time favourite characters. But the plot required him to die in particularly cruel circumstances.
9. Heart’s Blood is based on Beauty And The Beast – why set it in Ireland?
I was originally going to set Heart’s Blood in Eastern Europe, either in Romania or Bulgaria. My American editor thought would not be very appealing for US readers, and so the setting was revised to Ireland. There are many people in the USA with Irish ancestors and they tend to love my Irish stories. The new setting worked pretty well, and allowed me to include the historical context of the Anglo-Normans moving into Ireland and helping themselves to the territory of the Irish chieftains such as Anluan.
10. With the Sevenwaters series did you make it a big family because you wanted to make it a series or because you like big families? Do you have one yourself?
I have quite a small family, though it’s getting bigger as I acquire more grandchildren! The story of The Six Swans features a girl with six brothers, so the big family was there even before I began writing. The whole Sevenwaters saga simply grew from there. I had originally intended writing only one book. The story got longer because I thought I should investigate the effects of the swan transformation on future generations of the family. Happy endings are usually not happy for every single character, only some, and that is certainly true of Daughter of the Forest. I wanted to go down the paths of some of the characters whose lives were forever changed by what had happened. Once you get into the third and fourth generations of a family, as I’ve done with Sevenwaters, you have a big cast of characters to choose from.
11. I have noticed that in your books (Sevenwaters series and Heart’s Blood) there is always some romance. Is this because you enjoy romance or is there another reason?
I love reading a book with a good romance in it, and I think that’s my main reason for including a love story in every novel. As I mentioned earlier, I am fascinated by human journeys and human relationships, and love stories are a vital part of that.
12. Which is your favourite book, if any, and why? Your favourite character and why? For what age group do you recommend them?
My favourite book is usually the one I’m currently writing – at present that is the first instalment in a new series for young adults, called Shadowfell. If I was pushed to choose a favourite from the earlier books it would probably be Son of the Shadows because I really loved creating Bran and his motley band of warriors, and Liadan is the heroine I would most like to be. Favourite character: I have so many … Perhaps Faolan, the anti-hero from the Bridei Chronicles.
Age group for readers: Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret are written for young adults, age 13+. They are also a good read for adults. The Shadowfell series, first book due out in 2012, will suit age 14+.
All the other books are intended for adults, but they do have a keen readership among young adults, age 14+. They include ‘adult’ content, so it really depends very much on the individual reader. I’d suggest young adult readers start with Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret, and then try Daughter of the Forest or Heart’s Blood.
13. Would you like it if people wanted to turn one of your books into movies?
Only if it was really well done. A bad movie with cheap special effects would be ghastly. Now if Peter Jackson were interested …
14. If they asked you, which book would you most like to be made into a movie?
Wildwood Dancing, which is very loosely based on The Twelve Dancing Princesses, would make a great animated movie. I’d love to see my Viking novel, Wolfskin, as an action adventure film.
15. In the first Sevenwaters book the brothers turn into swans. Why swans?
The book is based on a traditional fairytale about a girl whose brothers are turned into swans by their jealous stepmother. The girl has to make shirts for each of them from a prickly plant and throw them over their necks, to win her brothers back their human form. While performing this task, which takes years, she is not allowed to utter a word.
16. In Sevenwaters, there seem to be an awful lot of twins. Is it in the Sevenwaters gene to have twins?
Yes, twins are definitely in the family’s genetic makeup. Both girl/boy twins like Sean and Liadan, and same sex twins like Conor and Cormack, and Deirdre and Clodagh. They’d be fraternal twins, not identical twins.
17. If you had a choice to pick one of your characters to come to life, which one would it be?
Gosh, difficult question! I’d have to consider who would cope well when transplanted into the extremely different setting of the twenty-first century. It might have to be one of the uncanny characters.
18. My favourite Sevenwaters women are Sorcha, Liadan and Sibeal.
Is there a reason why these women are more or less similar? Sorcha’s husband’s from Harrowfield, Liadan’s husband was once an out law and although I have not finished SEER OF SEVENWATERS , Sibeal meets Felix (Ardal ) who’s from another island. Is this because you like that type of romance, with people from different places coming and joining the Sevenwaters family?
Because the series is based around the Sevenwaters family, and because the central characters are women, their romantic partners will tend to be people from somewhere else. Sevenwaters itself is quite a big territory, so it’s not surrounded by close neighbours whose sons can provide a handy social circle for the Sevenwaters girls. In those days, young women from a chieftain’s family would usually have arranged marriages to men of similar social rank, perhaps the sons of other local chieftains. But of course, the Sevenwaters girls are unusually strong-minded young women and many of them end up on rather different paths in life, Liadan and Clodagh especially.