Before we begin, I would just like to say thank you to Kate Jack for inviting me to her blog. It’s a real seal of approval; I feel honoured.
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Jane’s soon-to-be published fantasy novel, The Dark Citadel. Curious as to how Jane works as a writer, I invited her to answer some questions on her creative and reading life.
Q. Where did the idea for The Dark Citadel come from?
A. My children, who devoured fantasy literature, had been complaining that they were sick to the teeth of thick warriors, evil witch queens, wise mages, and endless wars fought over some princeling’s rightful inheritance. Being naturally irreligious, republican and bolshy, I could see their point. I began to think about the kind of story they might like to read, and for some reason I had a very strong image of teenage girls, swamped in grey veils, sitting in a classroom. They were in a place that offered no escape, no change, and their future was bleak and colourless. Almost the exact opposite of the highly coloured frescos my kids were currently reading. I hadn’t read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale at that time, but when I did, I thought, wonderful! I was thinking along the same lines as a great writer.
Q. How long did it take for you to complete it and is there to be a sequel?
A. It took years to get the story into its actual shape. It started off as a fat 106K tome, far too long for YA. So I cut it into three, rounded out characters and added scenes until I ended up with a trilogy that weighs in at about 205K. There is also a prequel and a few in-world stories. The whole process has taken about eight years though I have had several projects on the go at the same time. The next up should be the prequel. I’ll keep you posted about release dates.
Q. Did you edit it yourself?
A. I butchered it all on my own, carved it up, and made a first attempt at putting it back together. Then I had the bright idea of posting some of the first volume on the authonomy site. Whatever the shortcomings of authonomy, it is certainly a great place to meet like-minded people, and I had the good fortune to run across a handful of great writers who helped me sort out some of the glaring problems with the story. One friend in particular went through the whole trilogy giving her wise opinions, and inspiring a lot of new ideas. I have also worked with a tremendous editor at Musa Publishing who ironed out the last wobbly bits and pointed out the remaining plot holes.
Q.What first inspired you to become a writer?
A. I’m not sure I became one, I think I always was a writer. For every successful writer, there are hundreds of unsuccessful ones, and for every one of those, there are hundreds more who never have the nerve to have a go. I’m just one of the tenacious buggers who persisted with it. I’ve scribbled ever since I learned to write, it was always something I knew I could do well, but it took an act of bravado to say, I can write, and when I write, I am.
Q. Who are your favourite authors and why?
A. The writers who have given me the most consistent pleasure have probably been John Masefield and Tove Jansson. I started reading them when I was in primary school and fell in love with their fantasy worlds. I have since read works by both authors for adults and have found the same lyrical beauty in them. Jean-Claude Mourlevat is an author I discovered not long ago and I have loved all of his books. They lie in that mysterious zone between fantasy and reality, between children’s and adult literature. Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum are both books that I have reread a number of times and each time I have been swept away into Eco’s fantastic recreation of the Early Middle Ages, or his absolutely mind-boggling thriller that blends Templar daftness, black magic and madness.
Q. Do you come from a writing background?
A. I come from a background of readers, writers and…talkers. Both my father and my mother’s grandfather were poets. My father was a regular contributor to a literary magazine where many of his poems were published. My great-grandfather Brennan wrote his memoirs as well as dozens of poems, both in Irish, his first language, and in English. My mother and two of my sisters are artists: we’re a bit short on scientists in my family. Unless you count studying form.
Q. Where do you see yourself – writing wise – in five years time?
A. There are another two volumes of The Green Woman to prepare for publication, plus the prequel. I have another two-part YA apocalyptic fantasy ready for publication, and the first part of a ninth century saga. Two volumes of another series, Angelhaven, set in the same world as The Green Woman are written in first draught form. I’m not sure if five years will be enough to finish writing the second volume of my Viking saga, the third volume of the Angelhaven series, and editing the whole lot. I’m going to try though!
Q. What is your writing routine – for instance, do you listen to music, or write in silence?
A. I need silence to think. If there’s music playing I listen. If I don’t like it, it annoys me; if I do I get absorbed in it.
Q. What are your favourite genres?
A. What I ask of a book is that it take me somewhere I’ve never been before. Fantasy in its many forms can do that. Historical fiction I enjoy, especially alternate history, and literary fiction when it is set in a foreign country or another epoch, or when the characters are so vivid I really care about what happens to them. My ideal bedtime reading though is a mixture of all three, alternate history written in a literary style, with a hint of fantasy so that I can expect absolutely anything to happen.
Q. Finally, what advice would you give to writers just starting out?
A. To keep writing: you get better the more you write. But also to listen to criticism—I can’t stress that enough. If you can’t listen to what your peers say about your writing and take their suggestions to heart, you will never improve. I don’t mean rip your first chapter to shreds because one reader who would have been happier with the Beano said it was rubbish, I mean when several readers whose opinions you respect point out a weakness, try to understand what they’re driving at. Look on it as a small compromise in order to get your book out there. You leave out some of your beautiful adverbs and in return, instead of taking up memory space on your computer, your book could be on readers’ bookshelves.
Thank you Jane for sharing your thoughts with us. For anyone interested in purchasing The Dark Citadel, watch this space for publication dates.