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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Juliet Marillier On Blackthorn And Grim!

Juliet with her dog Harry

Today I'd like to welcome Juliet Marillier for her third visit to The Great Raven. This time, Juliet will be answering questions about her latest series, Blackthorn And Grim, of which the third volume, Den Of Wolves, has just come out.  I've binged on this series over the course of a week, and have to say, I had a hard time putting them down. Personally, I wish there was a Grim in my life! Read the books and find out why.

 The two heroes are Blackthorn, an embittered wise woman, and Grim, a kind, generous giant of a man who makes friends wherever he goes. Both of them have been through horrific traumas before escaping from the prison of a particularly horrible chieftain.Both have a burning desire for justice, whether for themselves or others. And both are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Just before she is due to be killed by the chieftain's bullies, Blackthorn is visited by a nobleman of the fey. The deal is, he will spring her from jail. In return, she must go up north, to a particular area which is short of a wise woman, and live there for seven years, doing the job. She must help anyone who asks for it, and she must - this is vital - agree not to take revenge on her tormentor until the time is up.

Grim is also freed when the prison falls apart, and follows her.

Can the two of them help each other recover from their traumas?

Let's see what Juliet has to say!

SB: Your latest trilogy, Blackthorn And Grim, is, like many of your other books, inspired by fairy tales. Dreamer's Pool has elements of The Goose Girl and Den Of Wolves, as you have mentioned, was inspired by a Scottish folktale. Tower Of Thorns does have a lot of familiar fairy tale tropes - the curse, the thorn hedge, the characters whose ending might not necessarily be happy, the "true love's tears." Even the damsel arriving at court to ask for help sounds like something out of the Arthurian romances! Does it have a more specific inspiration?

JM: Tower of Thorns is not based on any earlier story, but contains many fairy tale elements (those tend to appear even when I’m writing contemporary fiction.) I did think of a distressed damsel at King Arthur’s court when I wrote that scene of Geileis throwing herself at Oran’s feet!  

SB: Your heroine, Blackthorn, is a very knowledgeable herbalist. And you know a lot about the role of the wise woman, which sounds very like the role of Terry Pratchett's witches. How much research did that need on your part? 

JM: I’ve done a lot of research into witches, wise women, healers and herb lore over the years, for other books as well as this one. Also, herb lore is part of my druidic training. I still do specific research for each book as well – there’s always more to learn. And I still make errors. I’m careful not to give detailed descriptions of herbal remedies and magical brews in case a reader attempts to make something and comes to grief. Sometimes I invent plants rather than naming real ones, especially if someone is concocting a poison or a risky cure. Where I do give details it’s something I know is safe, like one of Blackthorn’s herbal teas. In the past I had quite an extensive herb garden and I used to try things out. That’s harder in my present house, where most of the garden is deeply shaded in winter and blazing hot in summer.

 SB: Is "true love's tears" based on a real herb or did you make it up for Tower Of Thorns, where, apart from magical properties, it can be used in a headache cure?

JM: I invented ‘true love’s tears’ specifically for the story. I wish it was real!

SB: The character list at the beginning of the first novel included a historical figure from ninth century Ireland, suggesting that's when the story is set. Yet there is a cheeky, throwaway reference to the story of Daughter Of The Forest, which I recall happened somewhat later. How much is this story about ninth century Ireland? Or doesn't it matter? :-)

JM: Good question, but tricky to answer. The history in the Sevenwaters series is deeply flawed. Back then I didn’t understand the importance of writing accurate history in a novel that was full of uncanny goings-on, so Daughter of the Forest, in particular, has one foot in the 9th century and one in a later time. That couldn’t be corrected in the subsequent books of the series, as the setup was already in place. DOTF ended up being labelled 10th century and that sort of stuck. I see the  Blackthorn and Grim series as occurring a couple of generations after the Sevenwaters saga, in roughly the same area, just a bit further north. The link-up with Sevenwaters in Den of Wolves will be plain to fans of Son of the Shadows, I think! The historical element in the Blackthorn and Grim series is pretty light on, and readers are welcome to think of it as set in early medieval Ireland (my intention) or, if they prefer, an invented world. 

SB: You describe quite a lot of Irish law of the time, which sounds very fair. How much of it was really like this in early Ireland? Did you need to take a few liberties? 

JM: In Ireland prior to the Anglo-Norman arrival there was a remarkably fair and comprehensive legal system in place, known as Brehon law. The legal hearings and decisions included in the Blackthorn and Grim series are based on that system. For instance, the range of penalties for various crimes included working out your time in debt bondage to the offended party, different degrees of exile, paying a fine, or ‘sick-maintenance’ which meant taking on care and responsibility for someone you’d injured and their dependants. I’ve kept things historically accurate in that area, though I have taken some liberties with the degree of formality, or lack thereof, in the proceedings. That’s covered, I hope, by Prince Oran’s being considered a little eccentric because of his wish to give everyone an equal say. As for what occurs near the end of Den of Wolves, I did perhaps stretch things a little. But odd things can happen when leaders get together behind closed doors.

SB:  Your main characters - Blackthorn, Grim, Prince Oran - were a fascinating mix. They developed and grew in the course of the trilogy. Did you have this planned out from the beginning? 

JM: I intended all along that each of these characters would go on a personal journey spanning the whole series, yes. Blackthorn and Grim are both very damaged at the start of Dreamer’s Pool, bearing burdens that make it hard for them to function. It’s a long road for them to claw their way out of their personal dark places. Oran gains in wisdom and maturity as the story unfolds. While I didn’t have every single plot element of all three books planned in advance, I did know where the personal stories of those characters would take them. On the "planner to pantser" spectrum I am definitely at the planner/plotter end.

 The food and drink mentioned in the novels isn't generally detailed - bread and cheese, porridge, the occasional bowl of soup, mead and ale - but everyone sits down for a "brew", ie a cup of (herbal) tea, every few pages. Is all that tea drinking related to your own habits? 

JM: Absolutely! Drinking tea is an important aid to my creativity! I’m from a family of tea drinkers, so I understand the comfort and friendship that go with a tea ritual, just as Blackthorn and Grim do. I have a get-together with some of my US readers next month at a tea shop in Salem, Massachusetts, and the proprietor is going to create a special blend for us.

SB:  There was a lot of sleuthing in the series - would you consider trying your hand at a straight mystery novel? 

JM: I included the mystery element in the Blackthorn and Grim series partly because I love reading historical mysteries, and partly as a challenge to myself – I find it hard to withhold information from the reader effectively. It would be an even bigger challenge to tackle a straight mystery . I do like the idea of trying something completely different, so who knows?.

SB: Are you working on anything at the moment? 

JM: I’m still working on a proposal for a new project – it’s been rewritten a few times. I’m juggling commercial considerations with artistic ones, never an easy thing to balance. I won’t elaborate on the project until I have some good news for my readers. I’m also preparing for my trip to the US, where I am appearing at several book-related events including the World Fantasy Convention and the Writer Unboxed ‘UnConference.’ As soon as I get home in mid-November I hope to be setting to work on the new project.

Thanks for your fascinating answers, Juliet! Blackthorn And Grim, the full series, is now available at all good bookstores and ebook sellers.

Available from Pan Macmillan Australia.

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