Juliet Marillier was born in New Zealand and now lives in Western Australia. Her historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults have been translated into many languages and have won a number of awards. Among Juliet’s works are the Sevenwaters novels, the Bridei Chronicles and the Shadowfell series, as well as a short fiction collection, Prickle Moon. Dreamer’s Pool, first book in the Blackthorn & Grim series of uncanny mysteries, will be published in October 2014. Juliet’s lifelong love of folklore, fairy tales and mythology is a major influence on her writing. Find out more at http://www.julietmarillier.com
1. Your most recent work is The Caller, the final book in the Shadowfell trilogy, which is aimed at young adults (though it is not your first foray into YA). How does writing a YA series differ for you, in comparison to your adult books, such as the Sevenwaters books?
It doesn’t differ hugely apart from the obvious: a YA novel is shorter, it features a younger protagonist and generally the plot is more tightly focused on that character’s personal journey – it’s usually a ‘getting of wisdom’ story / journey to maturity. Because my adult novels are mostly set in times and cultures when people lived shorter lives and did things earlier (marrying and giving birth, heading a family, fighting w
ars etc) their central characters are also quite young. That has meant those novels attract readers at the upper end of the YA age range as well as adult readers.
The Shadowfell trilogy is more of a crossover series, suited to the upper end of YA and also satisfying (I’ve been told) for adult readers who like folkloric fantasy. It contains some pretty challenging themes and situations.
2. Your work has frequently woven history and fairytales into the fabric of fantasy, and your books have a wonderful dreamlike, mythic quality to them. Have you always drawn inspiration from fairytales? Why do you feel that fairytales have such strong resonance today?
I’ve loved fairytales, folklore and mythology since I was a small child, and I’ve continued to study them all my life. All that lore is hidden away somewhere inside me, and comes out in my writing almost despite me. I believe fairytales have always had a strong resonance. They existed in the oral tradition long before anyone started composing literary versions, and their purpose was not only to entertain the community, but also to provide wise advice for dealing with whatever challenges life might put in one’s path. They also provided healing and solace. Although today’s world is very different from the world of the original tales, the qualities we need to live good lives haven’t changed. Fairytales demonstrate the values of true love, faith, honour, loyalty, comradeship and so on, neatly packaged in the easy-to-understand form of an entertaining story.
3. You have a book coming out later this year – Dreamer’s Pool – which is the beginning of a new series for you. Would you care to share something about it?
Dreamer’s Pool is the first novel in the Blackthorn & Grim series for adult readers. It’s a combination of historical fantasy and mystery, with a fairytale thread woven in. The central characters are significantly older and more damaged than the protagonists of any of my earlier books, and the series has a darker, grittier feel. But there’s also true love and magic. The story starts with the main protagonist, embittered healer Blackthorn, incarcerated in a hellish lockup, awaiting execution. When an unlikely reprieve is offered, it comes with a set of conditions she knows she won’t be able to keep.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Lee Battersby’s darkly humorous fantasy novels, The Corpse-Rat King and The Walking Dead (published by Angry Robot.) Short fiction by Angela Slatter, Thoraiya Dyer, Jo Anderton and others. I’m currently reading Kirstyn McDermott’s novel Perfections, which I’m finding both intriguing and unsettling. A big heads-up for Aussie small presses such as Ticonderoga, Fablecroft and Twelfth Planet, for their role in publishing quality anthologies and collections as well as new novels in the various genres covered by the term ‘speculative fiction’.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work?
It’s now 16 years since my first novel was published and during that time I’ve seen lots of changes. Readers expect far more direct engagement with their favourite writers these days, and it is time-consuming to keep up with that demand. But publishers now have reduced resources for publicity and marketing so the onus falls more heavily on the writer not only to engage with readers on social media, but to organise launches, blog tours etc. The more time a writer spends on all of that, the less time she has to write. I find that difficult as I am the slow, careful kind of writer.
A few years ago I would have been very concerned if my backlist was available only in e-book format, not in print. These days, having the backlist available at all is great, and e-book format makes perfect sense. At this point I’m lucky enough to have most of my 18 books still available in print editions as well as e-books here in Australia.
I have very mixed feelings on self-publishing (so-called ‘indie publishing’.) I generally don’t try out new authors unless I read a good review from a reliable source, or get a personal recommendation from someone whose judgement I trust. With the huge flood of self-published books on the market now, my caution has only increased. Some of them are very good, yes, but the quality control is pretty variable. I am more likely to purchase a book by an unknown author if it’s published by someone with a good track record – a mainstream publishing house or well-regarded small independent publisher.
On the other hand, self-publishing, when done with due attention to quality control not only in the actual writing but in every aspect of editing and design, can be a real boon for writers. A number of writers I know who have previously been published in the mainstream and have seen their books go out of print have self-published their backlists in e-book and/or POD, and have achieved good sales and greater visibility in the market.
6. What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
Reading: In five years’ time I’ll be reading new novels and short fiction in a wide range of genres. I’ll continue to re-read my old favourites. I’ll be reading in both e-book and print editions and using new technology.
Writing: I’ll be writing more short fiction/novellas. I’ll write a novel outside the fantasy genre.
Publishing: I hope my current publishers will continue with my books, though I understand the uncertainty of the business and the market. I like to think that I’ll be exploring new horizons and seizing new opportunities. Perhaps working more with small independent publishing houses.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.