A huge thank you to Juliet herself for answering my questions, and also to Lucy Inglis at Pan Macmillan for facilitating the interview. (Did I mention how grateful I am?)
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Den of Wolves! How does it feel to have explored Blackthorn and Grim’s stories for three books now?
Thank you! I’ve loved every minute of the journey with these two characters. They are complex, difficult, and not always easy to love, and that has made them rewarding to write. Although each novel in the series has a stand-alone story, the personal stories of Blackthorn and Grim and their gradually evolving relationship run through all three books.
You have mentioned in previous interviews that Blackthorn and Grim as characters were born from your research into PTSD. Was it difficult to continue exploring this topic in Den of Wolves? Or was it more difficult initially when you first started writing the characters back in Dreamer’s Pool?
Several factors went into the creation of these two characters. My interest in military PTSD was one of them; another was various requests from readers over the years for an older female protagonist. Most of my novels have youngish central characters, partly because in the time periods of the books, people married and gave birth, went off to war, plied a trade or headed a household at a much younger age than they do now. They generally lived far shorter lives. I liked the request for an older protagonist and decided I’d tackle not only older characters, but characters who were less obviously good, heroic and self-controlled than some I’d written – so poor Blackthorn and Grim both start the story with a weight of past trauma and some serious hang-ups as a result. Blackthorn is bitter, angry and disillusioned – in no fit state to return to her calling as healer and wise woman. Grim believes himself to be worthless, a failure. They’re both exhibiting PTSD symptoms such as finding it hard to sleep and hyper-vigilance. They both find it hard to trust anyone.
The dark and gritty flavour of this series is a departure from my previous work, and that was challenging, but it was a good challenge. Some scenes were really hard to write, as they took me into some dark places. The story evolves through the three books – Blackthorn and Grim deal with their own challenges in different ways, as they are very different individuals, but they also help each other through those dark places, and in the end become able to reach out the helping hand to others. The support of a peer group, others who have experienced similar trauma, is a valuable part of recovery for PTSD sufferers.
Originally I believe the Blackthorn & Grim books were going to go for a few more books – do you think you will come back to explore their stories again in the future?
I had hoped Blackthorn & Grim might be a longer series. With Blackthorn sworn to follow her fey mentor’s rules for seven years, it felt like a seven book idea! But the story ended up being wrapped up quite neatly in three books, which was what my publishers preferred. In my imagination I do know what happened next for these characters, but I think this is quite a good point at which to say farewell to them.
Did the characters take control of the storyline during the course of Den of Wolves? (I imagine Blackthorn can push things forward a bit, and Cara seems like an independent pusher, too!)
Cara went off on a tangent once or twice, as suited such a non-conformist! But I generally keep a pretty firm control of the storyline, especially in a novel with such a formal structure – Den of Wolves has four narrators, each with a particular voice, and they take chapters in turn for most of the book. Cara’s chapters can be longish as a result of her lyrical voice. The words she has such difficulty getting out when speaking aloud flow more poetically in her train of thought. Bardán’s chapters are the shortest, because he is so shut down as an individual. Blackthorn’s and Grim’s voices we already know from the earlier books. Blackthorn is acerbic and sometimes impatient. Hers is an educated voice, wise and reasonable when she isn’t angry. Grim’s voice reveals his true character – he speaks simply, but has strengths far beyond the purely physical.
Have you found that writing strong female characters in your books has made you feel stronger in yourself? Do you feel you share qualities with Blackthorn?
I should think there is a lot of me in Blackthorn, yes. I love to write about women’s lives, their challenges, how they stay brave or find their old courage when it’s been beaten to almost nothing. One of the most satisfying aspects of my work is getting feedback from readers who say my writing has helped them through their own dark places. I don’t think I would ever write directly about my own life experience, but that experience is instrumental in my creation of characters like Blackthorn. I also love writing complex male characters like Grim. He is one of those characters who are so real they almost write themselves.
Do you feel that your study to become a Druid (I am studying the Bardic grade currently) influences your writing and the way your stories write themselves?
Most definitely. Druids believe that storytelling is a powerful force for teaching and healing – that is something I hope to do through my books. Readers’ comments seem to confirm that it’s working. I feel as if I am part of a long line of storytellers going right back to my distant ancestors, and that too is a druidic idea. Possibly, when the stories seem to write themselves, it’s the voices of those ancestors whispering in my ears. My characters are often so real to me it’s as if the stories were once in some way true. I call that ‘truer than true’, meaning it’s a deeper truth than literal truth.
Druid training has also helped me understand the natural world and its cycles better – nature plays a vital part in all my stories. Last but not least, the idea that god, goddess or spirit is not set apart from us, but exists within all living things, linking us together, has had a profound impact on both the way I write and the way I live my life these days. Knowing you have a spark of the divine within you means you learn to respect and forgive yourself. And other people. And book characters! I now think of characters as multi-faceted individuals, all of whom have the capacity to do good, though in some it’s hidden deep. I hope you’re enjoying the Bardic training – I loved it.
You have written so many fantastic characters, Blackthorn and Grim being great examples (I am a huge fan of both) – do any characters ever stick around after their book is written? Perhaps niggling at you for more stories?
They do stick around, and I always know what happened next for them even when I don’t write it down. But there are also new characters clamouring for their stories to be told.
In your collection of short stories, Prickle Moon, you explored some tales and even genres that you hadn’t before. Do you think you will explore other genres like science fiction in a novel format in the future?
I can’t see myself writing a science fiction novel – I just don’t have the science background to do it convincingly. I have considered writing women’s fiction or straight historical fiction. Or a book about dogs.
And finally, some quick questions!
What are your current favourites:... reading?
What are your current favourites:... reading?
I’ve recently read Vigil, a dark fantasy/horror novel set in an alternative Brisbane, by multi-award-winning writer Angela Slatter. I was most entertained by Vigil even though urban fantasy is not one of my preferred genres. It’s highly recommended, as are Angela’s short fiction collections, which are dark folkloric fantasy. I’ve also read a stylish new anthology, Beyond the Woods: Fairy tales Retold, edited by Paula Guran. It’s a real treasury of wonderful, imaginative tales.
Tea, an essential aid to meeting deadlines.
Here in Australia it will soon be the season for fresh nectarines, apricots, plums, and peaches. I’m really looking forward to that.
...loving about the current season?
The rain. We don’t get much of it in Perth these days and we need to treasure every drop. It has been a long winter, though, and I’m looking forward to some spring sunshine.
Juliet’s website: www.julietmarillier.com