K.J. Taylor was born in Australia in 1986 and plans to stay alive for as long as possible. She went to Radford College and achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications at the University of Canberra, where she returned to obtain a Master of Information Studies in 2012. She now holds down a “real” job as an archivist.
She published her first work, The Land of Bad Fantasy, through Scholastic when she was just 18, and went on to publish The Dark Griffin in Australia and New Zealand five years later. The Griffin’s Flight and The Griffin’s War followed in the same year, and were released in America and Canada in 2011. The Shadow’s Heir, The Shadowed Throne and The Shadow’s Heart have now joined them in both Australia and the US.
K.J. Taylor’s real first name is Katie, but not many people know what the J stands for. She collects movie soundtracks and keeps pet rats, and isn’t quite as angst-ridden as her books might suggest.
You have serialised your new novel, Wind, posting weekly instalments on Wattpad. Can you tell us about the story and why you chose the path of serialisation?
I’ve always been interested by the different character “types” who tend to show up in stories, and one of those types is the character I call “the Messenger”. They’re not the protagonist or the villain – instead their role is to be a catalyst. They might be a mentor figure, or the protagonist’s friend, but they do things like provide valuable information, or give the hero that little extra push they need to save the day. For example, Rafiki from The Lion King is a Messenger. As a teenager, just starting out, I wrote an entire series of books about that kind of character. More recently I decided to revisit the idea, and that’s what got this new project started. The character who binds each installment together is a mystery figure who has seen the future and knows who she must find and what they have to do. I made the setting Germanic since I’ve been studying German – which I love.
When I wrote the first part, Wind, it turned out to be quite short (publishers prefer fantasy novels for adults to be about 200+ typed pages) and I was feeling pessemistic about the fantasy publishing environment generally – right now it’s very hard to sell anything new in that genre, because its rise in popularity has made it much more competitive. So I decided to go ahead and put the book out myself, with a plan to charge money for the sequels. That said, my agent has now looked at it and is about to send it off to publishers, so that plan isn’t set in stone yet. If it sells I’ll be taking it down – but for now you can read it for free!
In the Fallen Moon trilogy the main character is an anti-hero. What inspired that choice?
Actually, he was meant to be the villain. I had grown disenchanted with heroic characters, and had noticed that the villain is often more interesting. So I decided to write about one, and deliberately gave him all the traditional hallmarks – I made him pale, thin and not very masculine, gave him a tragic backstory and, in a final very unsubtle touch, I gave him the title of “Dark Lord”! It was all deliberate, and meanwhile his nemesis is a blond square-jawed orphan with the sadly all-too-common “heroic” trait of being a racist moron.
Of course, later on I found out that I’d wound up with an anti-hero, which isn’t so surprising since I couldn’t make him out-and-out evil – that would have made him too unsympathetic, and unrealistic as well. In any case, darker characters are popular at the moment – I think society has become pretty cynical as a whole, which would explain the prevalence of dark, gritty stories in both book and film. I think I came along at just the right time.
Since Fallen Moon, which I wrote in about 2006 when I was barely out of high school, I’ve discovered that heroic characters can be just as interesting and fun to write about, so I’ve moved away from the whole anti-hero thing – while still keeping my trademark dark, cynical tone.
What’s next for you? Will you be writing sequels to Wind, more griffin books or something completely different?
Wind has three sequels, one and a half of which have been written. The griffin series is fifteen books long, and I hope to publish the remaining nine volumes eventually – I’ve promised fans that if I can’t sell them I’ll just put them out myself. Either way they’ll get to find out how it all ends. In the meantime I have a few other things out there with my agents, and am currently writing the first of an entirely new series. Obviously, I’m not one to hang about. Readers of the griffin series (which really needs an overall title – I’m considering “Chronicles of Cymria”) may be interested to know that I’m also working on a spinoff project; an urban fantasy series set in the same universe, hundreds of years after the ending of the original series. So now the originally medieval world, which has reached its equivalent of the Renaissance by the end of the series, has progressed to having cars, phones, the Internet, big cities, and so on. But the griffins and magic are still around. I’ve written several instalments in that series, and it’s looking great.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
That’s a tricky question, since I don’t generally take note of where a book came from. Plus I have a tendency to read the same books over and over again, and don’t necessarily read “new” books as they come out. However, one recent Australian book I enjoyed was Ink, inc., written by my friend Jack Heath, who asked me to launch it for him. But I’m not just saying that to shill for a friend – I genuinely enjoyed it, which is saying something since it’s science fiction, and I don’t read a lot in that genre. Some of my other favourite Australian authors are Jackie French, Robin Klein and Gillian Rubenstein – all of whom I grew up reading.
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
The world of publishing is in flux right now, thanks to the increasing popularity of e-books. According to my Australian agent, book sales are down by 30% across the board, pretty much as a direct result. It’s also become a lot harder to sell a new book to the publishers, and as I’m sure you’ve noticed bookshops are shutting down all over the place. Personally, I believe this is a transitional phase. The former head of Voyager told me she believes that one day the majority of books will be electronic only, and that printed books will become a luxury item, with only bestsellers and classics being produced in that format. In other words, the cheap paperback will become a thing of the past. Since my day job is in archiving that does trouble me a little bit – I know all too well how fragile digital data is, and a lot of books could be lost in consequence. Nevertheless, I think that’s where the future lies. I explained all that to my grandmother when she grumbled to me about the state of books – but of course she didn’t want to hear it!
In all seriousness – people will always tell stories. We’ve been doing it since we evolved language. Stories aren’t just entertainment; they’re the way we pass on the things we have learned in our lives. The fastest way to teach anyone anything is to put it in the form of a story, and it’s been proven that we learn things much more quickly that way. The way in which a story is communicated really doesn’t matter. Once we passed them along orally, then we started using pictures, then we invented the written word, and after that we had movies and TV, and more recently video games. All forms of storytelling are valid – I don’t care what Luddites like Alan Moore say. Whether a story is given to you as a book, a film, or an anecdote on the bus – it’s still a story, and that’s what counts. Even if the printed novel eventually dies out, which I doubt it will during my lifetime, I won’t mind. In any case, I’ve been trying my hand at screenwriting; as a film fanatic, suceeding at that would make me very happy indeed!