Juliet Marillier is a New Zealand-born writer who now lives in Australia. Her historical fantasy novels for adult and young adult readers include the popular Sevenwaters series. Juliet’s books have won many awards including the American Library Association’s Alex Award, the Prix Imaginales and the Aurealis Award. Her lifelong love of folklore, fairy tales and mythology is a major influence on her writing. Her latest novel, Shadowfell, was published by Knopf in September. More at http://www.julietmarillier.com
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to start writing? How did you begin?
JM: I’ve been writing since I was very small – my first story was about killer robots running amok. I began writing because I love books and reading, traditional stories in particular, and writing my own stories seemed the next logical step. My studies and career took me in a different direction, though, as a musician and teacher. I came back to writing in my mid-forties after a big upheaval in my personal life. I wrote my first novel more as personal therapy than anything else. That novel was picked up by Pan Macmillan and my career took off from there.
JM: I never studied ‘creative writing’ formally, but I did have a very sound education both at high school and university, so I learned how to use the English language correctly, as well as studying history, foreign languages and (my major) music. All of that helped hone my writing style, as did being a keen reader. If we’re open to it, we go on learning all our lives. The more I write the more I realize I still have to learn! I do read books on the writing craft, as well as networking with other writers to share our collective wisdom.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did you write until your first sale? What was that?
JM: Counting from when I started writing seriously, around four years, three of which were spent writing Daughter of the Forest very much part-time while working at a full time day job. My first sale was a two-book deal with Pan Macmillan Australia for world rights to Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows. I remain ever grateful to them for taking me on as a newbie writer!
SFFWRTCHT: What aspect of Shadowfell came first? Characters? Plot? Setting?
JM: It’s very hard to say as the development of a new book or series is a fairly organic process for me. I think two things happened at once – the theme (young rebels standing up against a tyrannical ruler) and the setting (an imagined version of ancient Scotland.) Once that framework was there the characters appeared almost immediately.
SFFWRTCHT: What sort of pre-writing did you do for Shadowfell? Did you outline?
JM: On the planner to pantser spectrum I am pretty much right at the planner end. Usually I do a general outline, a synopsis and a chapter plan, though there’s room for flexibility in those – the story is allowed to grow and develop as I work. I don’t do character profiles; I know my characters inside out without needing to make notes on them. With Shadowfell, I created a draft map for reference as I went. This was later turned into the map for the book by my talented calligrapher friend Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?
JM: I’m a full time professional, so my writing time is quite structured – pretty much like anyone else’s ‘day job’. I work from home, so I have to juggle writing with the needs of my dogs, currently four small canines, all rescues. They make sure I take breaks from the computer in order to provide meals, walks, cuddles etc. Having said all that, sometimes I work shorter hours and sometimes, especially close to deadlines, much longer ones.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you use any special software or music playlist?
JM: Thus far I haven’t investigated writers’ software such as Scrivener though I know some people find it useful. At this stage I manage pretty well with Word. I love music but I usually don’t listen to it while I’m writing. When I do, I choose music that’s relevant to the book. For Shadowfell, it would be something by my favourite Scottish folk/rock band, Runrig.
JM: I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think it’s a catch-all term people use to describe everything from laziness through to full-on clinical depression, and not especially useful. Sure, there are some days when the writing doesn’t flow very well. On those days I do other related tasks: research, accounts, editing, interviews. I don’t want to dismiss the issues that stop some writers from working, as I realize they can be very serious. Exercise helps break blocks, as do hands-on creative activities such as gardening or cooking. It can also help to re-read something good that you’ve written earlier. Or do a happy activity with your dog, who loves you even if your writing sucks.
SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play, if any, in your process as a professional author?
JM: It varies. I’ve been a member of a very small critique group for several years now, and the input of those trusted colleagues has been valuable. I always make sure a couple of fellow writers have read the manuscript and provided feedback before I submit it to my editors. But criticism at the wrong stage of development can paralyse my writing a bit, so I am fairly careful whom I ask for feedback and when.
SFFWRTCHT: What advice would you give an up and coming writer?
JM: Reading is the best foundation for becoming a writer. Read a lot, and read outside your chosen genre; it is a painless way to improve your writing skills. Make sure you know the basics: spelling, grammar, syntax. You need to understand the rules before you can start to break them. I’d also say, keep practicing your craft. Write a little every day. And don’t expect to become rich and famous; most writers don’t make a living at it. Have faith in yourself, and be prepared to work hard. You should be writing because you can’t stop yourself, not because you think you will be the next instant success story.
SFFWRTCHT: Are you involved with cons and fandom? Cosplay?
JM: I attend cons here in Australia regularly, but I’m more in the writers and writing stream. I like the positive vibe at events like the Supanova Pop Culture Expo, where almost everyone comes in costume, bdressing up has never been my thing. I was always the one sitting quietly in a corner reading a book.:
SFFWRTCHT: Where did your love of specfic and science fiction in particular begin?
JM: My interest in spec fic probably developed from my early love of folklore and fairy tales, myths and legends. It’s an obvious step from there to The Lord of the Rings, The Mists of Avalon and other fantasy classics. But my recreational reading is very wide, and there’s more general fiction and women’s fiction in it than speculative fiction. I think that reflects the fact that my novels are not straight fantasy but a blend of fantasy, romantic fiction and historical fiction. I have a few favourite fantasy authors whose work I love, including Neil Gaiman, Jacqueline Carey and Joe Abercrombie. I read very little science fiction.
SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up?
JM: Tolkien (specifically The Lord of the Rings.) Historical fiction writer Dorothy Dunnett, whose Lymond Trilogy remains my favourite series ever, so full of intensity and imagination, with a magnificent anti-hero. At an earlier age I loved the Narnia books and Tove Jansson’s Moomin books with their chilly landscapes and characters beset by Nordic angst. Children’s writers of an earlier era, such as Edward Eager and E Nesbit, whetted my appetite for stories that included magical adventures and other worlds.:
SFFWRTCHT: How do you define epic fantasy fiction?
JM: Stories that include uncanny or supernatural elements, told on a grand scale, featuring high themes and heroic journeys. Often set in a secondary or imagined world.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
JM: I’ve written book 2 of the Shadowfell series, Raven Flight, which comes out in mid-2013, with book 3 due in mid-2014. I also have a collection of short fiction due out in March 2013, with a mix of previously published and new stories in it. That’s called Prickle Moon and it’s being published by Ticonderoga. And I’m currently planning a new adult fantasy series, with the first installment likely to appear some time in 2014.
Michelle Ristuccia writes short fiction of all speculative fiction genres in between chasing her toddler from tree to tree. The shorter the work, the better, because 200 words looks very long on her cellphone and that keypad is very, very small. You can find out more about her rabid love of Star Trek, podcasting, and raising future geeklings at her blog, wakingdreamsblog.blogspot.com