Q1: Wildwood Dancing has been included in the Books Alive promotion this year. Was there a process you had to go through for that to happen? And you’ve also been doing talks at libraries and bookshops in conjunction with that: have they been a good experience for you?
I earn my living as a writer, and it’s a standard part of my work to deliver talks at libraries, bookshops, writers’ festivals and so on. Libraries and librarians played a big part in fostering my childhood love of books, so I especially like being involved in library events. The Q&A sessions this time around produced some interesting discussion about the craft of writing.
With Books Alive, I had no involvement in the process for inclusion. I do know the book choices for each category were made by different panels of experts. This year about 80% of the titles chosen are by Australian authors – a vigorous campaign by ASA helped that come about.
Q2: You’ve written about quite different countries and cultural groups in your books – the Bridei Chronicles set with the Picts, Wolfskin and Foxmask with the Vikings, Wildwood Dancing in Romania. How much research have you done for each area, and has it been difficult to maintain their distinct cultural voices over extended periods of writing?
I do extensive research for every novel. Generally by the time I begin writing I am pretty much immersed in the appropriate culture. For Wolfskin and Foxmask, for instance, I read a lot of the Icelandic sagas and also visited both Orkney and the Faroe Islands so that my portrayal of place would be as accurate as possible. And I studied the history. Researching Wildwood Dancing took me toTransylvania, and although I didn’t meet any vampires, I learned far more about the Romanian people’s attitudes to their own culture than I could ever have found out by reading background material.
Cultural voices – I do my best to capture them, but it can be hard to get the balance right between cultural authenticity and a mode of storytelling that will work for a present day audience. The core of the story should be in some way relevant to the reader’s own life, and the challenge is to achieve that while pulling the reader right into the time and place of the book. My stories contain human dilemmas that are common in any age and culture (for instance, tangled relationships, divided loyalties, tests of faith and courage, political imperatives warring with personal beliefs and so on.) Dialogue can be tricky. None of the cultures of my books was English-speaking. The question is how to phrase the characters’ everyday, casual language so it is neither too archaic nor too modern. I veer towards modern idiom for informal dialogue and some readers don’t like that. But a lot of our colloquial expressions would have had their medieval Pictish equivalents, after all.
Q3: The sequel to Wildwood Dancing, Cybele’s Secret, is due out fairly soon, and you’re also working on a couple of adult novels. Would you see yourself working on more adult, or more young adult, novels in the next five years or so, and why?
Because writing is the way I make my living, I have to consider three questions: What do I want to write? What do my readers want me to write? What are my publishers prepared to publish? I have two stand-alone adult novels under contract and after those are done I hope to write a fourth instalment of the Bridei Chronicles. So if there is another YA book to come, it won’t be for a while. I generally work at the rate of one novel per year.
I’ve enjoyed writing Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret and I feel there should definitely be a third in this series, featuring the youngest sister in the Piscul Dracului family, Stela. But overall I prefer to write for adults, partly because I struggle to tell a story within the shorter length of a YA novel and partly because I found editorial requirements for my YA books a little restrictive. Having said that, I’ve learned some economy of style through writing these two YA novels and that is a good thing.
Q4: Apart from writing, hopefully you’ve had time to do some reading this year as well. What would you say has been the best thing you’ve read so far in 2007?
I just finished Kushiel’s Justice by Jacqueline Carey, which I really loved. This is Carey back in top form, an intricate, absorbing, utterly stylish novel.
Q5: Finally, as a completely inappropriate way to conclude this interview: if you could get it on with any fictional character, who would it be?!
One-night stands are not my thing, so I’d be looking for long-term partner material. Good character would matter more than physical attributes. When I wrote my first novel, Daughter of the Forest, I deliberately gave the hero, nicknamed Red, all the qualities I’d like in a real-life partner: kindness, consistency, honour and integrity. Also, he’s physically rather well endowed. Alienated, difficult men make interesting lovers on the printed page, but they’re a lot less appealing in real life.