Tag Archives: Interview

Deborah Burrows: Q&A

 

Thank you, Deborah, for your time and for sharing a bit about yourself & your writing. I adored A Time of Secrets and have been keeping a careful eye for your next book so am very very happy with having one in my hands now 🙂

Thank you, Tien, for those kind words. I’m so happy that you liked Stella in Secrets – she’s one of my favourite people too. I do hope that you like Lily in Ambulance Girls, too. She’s a feisty Aussie girl in the thick of the Blitz mayhem.

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate?  It’s chocolate!! Whatever way it comes, I’m happy.

Coffee or Tea?  Coffee in the morning (crucial!) and tea in the afternoon (preferably with scones).

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark?  Ummm. I was known to dog-ear in my misspent youth, but now I’m a scrupulous bookmarker. I use anything, leaves, twigs, postcards, envelopes, pamphlets, anything available – even a real bookmark occasionally.

Plot or Character?   Definitely character, but this comes after I’ve decided on what themes I want to explore.

I usually begin a book with a couple of themes, for instance, anti-Semitism in WW2 Britain, the Australian Intelligence Service, the effect of war on those who fight, the impact of hordes of young American servicemen on a small city like Perth, what it is like to discover that your first love has died in battle in a country far away.

But I can’t begin writing until I know who my heroine will be, and I have a good idea of her back-story. I need to know where and when she was born, her family circumstances, where she grew up and what she is passionate about before I am able to imagine what she will undergo in the course of my book. Then other characters begin to appear in my mind and I need to know their back-stories in detail as well. Every character in my books (even quite a minor one) has a detailed back-story in my mind.

HEA or unexpected twist? Happily ever after! Always!!

What fascinates you so much about history that you have 3 history degrees?

I have always been fascinated by the past. Even as a child I would walk through the streets of Perth imagining how it had looked when my mother was a girl, or when her mother was young. My favourite books as a child were ones set or written in the past.

Also, history is about stories, and I adore stories.

And the study of history allows you to have some insight into why the world is the way it is today. It offers explanations, which I like.

Any other era in history that you like aside from WWII?

The 1920s. Like WW2 it was a time of enormous change for women. But it was a time of hope also, as people wanted to forget the horrors of WW1. And it has the added bonus of great clothes and music!

Any era in history you dislike? Why?

I don’t really dislike any historical period, but some don’t interest me as much as others. I doubt that I would write about the eighteenth century, for example, because I don’t know much about it.

When did you first start writing and what was the road to publication like for you?

I began to write in 2009, finished A Stranger in my Street in January 2011, and by April 2011 I had an agent and a publisher. So I can’t share any stories about having to paper my walls with rejections.

I will say in all humility, though, that I doubt a publisher would ever have considered my first book if I hadn’t paid to have the manuscript professionally edited before trying to find an agent. That really made all the difference. The editor suggested that I make a lot of changes to the pacing of the book. She also suggested that I write new scenes and remove others. Because of my editor I was able to see my ‘baby’ from an entirely new point of view and the flaws of the first time writer were horribly apparent. It’s not easy to accept that what you thought was wonderful needs a lot more work, but I’m so glad that I accepted her advice, because after re-writing I was able to offer a polished manuscript to literary agents, and I was accepted almost immediately.

What was the inspiration behind ‘Ambulance Girls’?

A 1941 newspaper article headed: “WA Girl is ARP Heroine”. It was about Stella O’Keefe, the first Australian A.R.P. [Air Raid Precautions] worker in Britain to be presented to the Queen for outstanding bravery in the London Blitz. Stella was born in a small town 160kms out of Kalgoorlie and (like me!) was a petite girl. (She was known to her colleagues in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Station where she worked as “The Mighty Atom,” which amused me.) In November 1940, at the height of the Blitz, she climbed up to the ninth floor of a bombed and dangerously unstable building in the blackout to rescue a trapped family.

In the article, Stella was quoted as saying, “Other girls at my station have done stickier jobs than this rescue. I am the only driver who so far has not crashed an ambulance into a bomb crater while going to hospital with wounded in the darkened streets. Many times bombs have been so close that I saw the explosion and disintegration of buildings, but the pressure of the job is so intense that there is no time for fear.”

After reading that article the character of Lily Brennan appeared in my mind, and the story soon followed.

Hmmm, I would love to know what’s happened to Stella O’Keefe after the Blitz!

What kind of research was involved in the writing of Ambulance Girls?

I was living in Oxford, UK at the time, and had access to Oxford University’s marvellous Bodleian Library. It is a deposit library, so every book ever published in the UK is in there. I just had to ask and books magically appeared in a few hours. This meant that I was able to read a lot of out of print novels written in WW2, and could peruse any books about the period that seemed interesting.

But I also like to visit the places I write about in my books. So I wandered around central London with a bomb map and worked out which buildings had been destroyed or damaged, so that I could get a sense of the city under siege. I also visited wonderful museums, such as the Imperial War Museum, the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall, and Bletchley Park (where they broke the German Enigma Codes).

And I went to the Westminster City Archives, where I was able to inspect the actual records of the Blitz. I touched the detailed incident reports filled out by the ARP Wardens each day. They listed what bombs were dropped on what streets, the time they hit, the damage they caused to property, and the casualties. That was an amazing experience, because even after 75 years there was still a faint scent of smoke in the yellowing paper.

Was there a particular historical incident you came across during research that really touched you? Could you please share it with us?

This story, from a book that set out people’s memories of the Blitz, really affected me. It still makes me want to cry, for so many reasons:

“She was a beautiful little girl, about eight years old, blonde, the sort of girl you’d see in the old Pears soap advertisements. She was lying on the ground and she was dead. We checked her over but there was no injury except that a piece of shrapnel had taken off the back of her skull. She had a beautiful smile on her face. We took her to the hospital and asked for a doctor to certify her as dead and a young doctor came out. He took one look at her and took off his white coat and said he was going off to join the air force, because he wanted to drop bombs on people who were dropping bombs on us.”

Could you share your top 5 favourite WWII novels, please?

(in alphabetical order)

Enigma by Robert Harris

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer

A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Black-out/All Clear by Connie Willis

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I’ve read 3, have got Blackout off the shelf to read, and added the other 2 to my tbr (ack!) ~Tien

What’s next for you?

Ambulance Girls is the first of a trilogy, which all deal with women ambulance drivers in the blitz. The books are loosely connected, so that Lily from Ambulance Girls will appear in the other two, but as a more minor character.

So, at present I’m writing the second in the trilogy, Ambulance Girls: Under Fire.

Eeeek!! I can’t wait 😀

You can check out my thoughts on Ambulance Girls, here

About the author

Deborah Burrows was born and grew up in Perth, Western Australia. She is the author of four novels, all set in the Second World War. Deborah’s inspiration is her late mother, who was widowed by the long shadow of that war and who loved to tell stories about life in wartime. Deborah’s latest novel is Ambulance Girls, which is the first of a trilogy set during the London Blitz.

Deborah’s ‘day job’ is in the law, but she has a passion for history. Perhaps that is why, although she adores the clear skies, beautiful beaches and easy-going atmosphere of her home town, she so loves spending time in dreamy Oxford, where she completed a post-graduate degree in medical history. She now divides her time between the two cities.

Find Deborah: website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

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Juliet Marillier: Den of Wolves (Blackthorn & Grim #3)

juliet-marillier

Juliet Marillier was born July 27, 1948 in Dunedin, New Zealand and grew up surrounded by Celtic music and stories. Her own Celtic-Gaelic roots inspired her to write her first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. Juliet was educated at the University of Otago, where she majored in music and languages, graduating BA and a B Mus (Hons). Her lifelong interest in history, folklore and mythology has had a major influence on her writing.

Juliet is the author of twenty historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults, as well as a book of short fiction. Juliet’s novels and short stories have won many awards.
Juliet lives in a 110 year old cottage in a riverside suburb of Perth, Western Australia. When not writing, she is active in animal rescue and has her own small pack of needy dogs. She also has four adult children and seven grandchildren. Juliet is a member of the druid order OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.)

Find Juliet on: goodreads  |  website  |  facebook

Q&A with Juliet

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Dark, always.

Coffee or Tea? Tea while I work, a long black as the occasional treat.

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark? I never, ever dog-ear – I was taught to respect books! I have lots of bookmarks, proper ones.

Plot or Character? Character first, but you need a good plot too.

HEA or unexpected twist? Provided at least one character has made a journey and become wiser / learned something / developed as a person, either is OK. HEA is probably not realistic – happy for some is not happy for all – but I don’t like an unresolved ending.

Q: You have previously mentioned that Blackthorn & Grim are ‘more damaged than those in [your] previous books’. What was the inspiration behind these 2 characters? Why did you choose to write such broken characters and what motivate you to put these two in partnership?

A: I knew some readers were keen for me to write an older female protagonist – that was part of the inspiration for Blackthorn, who is oldish by early medieval standards, though we’d barely call her middle-aged now. They lived much shorter lives in those times.

I’d been reading a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially in the military, and wanted to write about characters scarred by terrible events in the past, trying to work their way through, alone or together. I thought it would be more interesting to write, and to read, characters who were less heroic, less physically attractive, and generally harder to like than some of my previous protagonists. I ended up loving both Blackthorn and Grim. I think their flaws make them more real. As for putting them in partnership, I have seen how much the support of peers can mean to people with PTSD. I thought of Blackthorn and Grim as somewhat like Modesty Blaise and Willy Garvin, who share a deep friendship and mutual support.

 

I know that whilst you had a longer series in mind, Blackthorn & Grim has only contracted a 3 book deal. I am rather disappointed in having to say goodbye though I hope we may meet again sooner than later!

Yes, I had thought the publishers might approve of my writing a couple more in the series even though the initial contract was for three books. After all, Blackthorn does agree to keep to Conmael’s rules for seven years – but the publisher asked me to wrap it up in Den of Wolves. To my surprise I managed to make it work well in the three books. I’m satisfied with the overall story arc. But I am sure Blackthorn and Grim went on solving mysteries and having weird adventures.

Q: You’ve mentioned that it’s been tricky to find a balance so that Den of Wolves has a rounded ending for a trilogy and yet leave also a possibility for more in the future. Is there a particular theme/topic you’d like to tackle with these two characters that you haven’t yet explored?

A: There are many possibilities, but sharing them would probably create spoilers for people who have not yet read Den of Wolves.

Q: In my review of Dreamer’s Pool, I compared it to Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Deathmistress-of-the-art-of-death with a fairy tale spin. Are you familiar with this book/series? Is there a particular ‘mystery’ book that inspires you to incorporate mystery into your fantasy historical works? (If anyone is interested, my review for Mistress of the Art of Death can be found here.)

A: I haven’t read Mistress of the Art of Death, but I will do so on your recommendation. I love well-crafted historical mystery series – Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books are a favourite, and I love the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. As well as the stand-alone mystery plots, both of those series have beautifully researched, evocative period detail and casts of central characters with personal stories that slowly develop through the whole series. Blackthorn & Grim was my attempt to do something similar. I’m not sure if the next project will be a mystery or something completely different.

Q: I loved this quote at the end of Tower of Thorns,

” What happened felt too big to take in. It was a tale of cowardice and courage, intrigue and simple goodness, choices that were complicated mixtures of right and wrong.”

This summarises what I feel about this book. I think fairy tales are usually about making the right choices; do your characters make their own choices or do they need your guidance? How do you find the balance between having them making their decisions [in character] and where you want them to be?

A: I always try to keep them in character. That means they often take a long time to get around to making those right choices, and sometimes they never actually do so, because that’s how it is in real life. And even in a story that contains magical elements, the human characters are just that – human, flawed and fallible. They make mistakes, they stumble and lose their way, they hurt those they care about. But they can also be brave, unselfish, and honourable. As the writer, it’s up to me to make the characters believable. While I’m writing they feel entirely real to me.

Q: In the Acknowledgements of Den of Wolves, you’ve noted that the idea came from ‘a traditional tale from western Scotland, Big MacVurich and the Monster.’ For those of us who have not read the book nor have any knowledge of this particular tale, could you share a little on what this particular tale is about? Also what about this tale that inspire you to incorporate it in a Blackthorn & Grim’s story?

A: I can’t share much about the original tale without giving away a central plot element from Den of Wolves. As a druid I was inspired to write a story in which trees played a central part. The old tale is about a special house made using wood from every kind of tree in the forest. Each tree has a particular significance in druidic lore, and therefore each conveys a specific blessing on the person who builds the house, or has it built – prosperity, fertility, compassion, insight and so on. I called this construction a heartwood house. Den of Wolves doesn’t follow the MacVurich tale exactly, but just as the original story is quite dark, so is my variation on it. If there’s a lesson in the story, it’s this: Don’t dabble with magic unless you have pure and unselfish intentions, because magic always comes with a cost, and that cost may be more than you can afford to pay. Den of Wolves also has a theme of love, and how the power of love can draw people together or push them apart.

Q: When we first met Blackthorn, she was screaming for revenge and this was her focus for living. How would you describe her growth at the end of Den of Wolves? (This might be a bit tough without giving away too much of the story) Was this a tough journey for you as well as you write?

A: She was very much focussed on bringing her enemy to justice, yes, not only because of what he had done to her and her loved ones, but also for his many crimes against other innocents. This was really eating her up, sometimes causing her to lose her good judgement and making it impossible for her to get on with her life. Some of those scenes were hard to write; I think there’s quite a lot of me in Blackthorn. I felt the wrench with her each time she was halted in her efforts to make it happen, and I also felt the full impact of her unexpected moment of truth in Den of Wolves.

Q:

“Of all my books, I like this [David Copperfield] best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.” –Charles Dickens

Juliet, which is your favourite ‘child’? Why? Or is there a top-secret manuscript that you have been polishing for the umpteenth time? If so, would you share a little of it with us?

A: My favourite child is usually whatever book I am currently working on, or the last one completed. Blackthorn & Grim is definitely my favourite series. Of the earlier books, I am quite fond of Son of the Shadows, with its supporting cast of oddball tattooed warriors. No top secret manuscript, sorry – at least nothing that should ever see the light of day! I could share a snippet from my forthcoming novella, Beautiful, mentioned below.

The year I turned seven Rune came, and my whole life changed. He climbed up the glass mountain with no trouble at all, using his claws. Rune was a bear. If anything in the world was beautiful, he was. His eyes were the blue of a summer sky. His fur was long and soft, with every shade in it from shadow grey to dazzling white. His ears were the shape of flower petals, and his smile … Could a bear smile? It seemed to me that this one could, and although his smile was full of sharp teeth, it, too, was beautiful. There was a sadness in it that went deep down. I was at my high window when he came, and as I watched him climb steadily onward, I felt my heart turn over with wonder.

 

I love all your books, Juliet, but one in particular haunted me to this day, Daughter of the Forest. I couldn’t sleep whilst I was reading it as your words continued to echo in my mind and my heart ached so badly for Sorcha.

It’s interesting how that novel, the one I wrote as therapy rather than for publication, has remained one of the most popular with readers.

Q: What are you working on now? Or what can we look for from you next?

A: 2017 will be the first year I haven’t had a new novel out since Daughter of the Forest was published in 1999. I’m hoping 2018 will see the first in a new fairy tale fantasy trilogy, featuring an older and a younger woman, plus some unquiet spirits. I do have a novella coming out in a collection from Ticonderoga. My story is called Beautiful. It’s an unusual reworking of the fairy tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, about a girl who marries a white bear. I’m hoping that will be published in the first half of 2017.

Q: I have read also that you mentor quite a number of authors. Which upcoming authors/books should we look out for?

A: I only mentor occasionally and usually only one writer at a time. For people who haven’t already read Meg Caddy’s novel Waer, which came out earlier this year from Text Publishing, I highly recommend it for young adult readers. It’s a great combination of well-crafted writing, anwaer interesting story and a completely non-cliched portrayal of werewolves. I was Meg’s mentor when she was still a high school student, and I’m really proud of her success. I’m looking forward to her new novel – I’ve had a sneak peek.

Also, look out for Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer, to be published by Tor in early 2017. It’s a highly original fantasy for adult readers, set in a culture of tree-dwellers, and very rich in its world building. Thoraiya and I are colleagues and close friends despite living on opposite sides of Australia, and I was lucky enough to read an advance copy. Thoraiya is already well respected as a writer of short fiction, but Crossroads of Canopy is her first novel. If you love an intricately constructed world with stunning visual detail, you’ll really enjoy this book.

 

Juliet’s latest book

 

den-of-wolvesDen of Wolves (Blackthorn & Grim #3)

Feather bright and feather fine, None shall harm this child of mine…

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…

My Blurb

Please note this review is in relation to the third and final book in the Blackthorn & Grim trilogy; if you are interested you may find my review for book 1, Dreamer’s Pool, here and book 2, Tower of Thorns, here.

Juliet Marillier never disappoints –her prose as lyrical and captivating as ever. Her choice of fairy tale is obscure interestingly dark, if not intriguing, yet woven through them are patches of light/goodness. I very much appreciate Marillier’s tendency to end her novels with hope because a novel with a hopeless end is something I cannot stand! Thankfully, this finale has been concluded in a rather satisfying way.

Blackthorn & Grim are home but yet trouble is never far away. Cries for help find them and as they cannot stand puzzles, they begin to unravel them strand by strand. In this book, we have a mad old man called Bardan and a strange young girl on the verge of womanhood, Cara. Bardan does not quite seem to know himself except that he has lost a treasure. Cara, on the other hand, seems to have everything, being the only daughter and heir of Wolf Glen. Yet, deep inside them, they know something is not quite the way it should be.

Choices were made, with love, whether for good or bad, with consequences that echoed through time. Some part of this reminds me of The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman which was one of the most heartbreaking book I’ve ever read, especially for me as a young mother. I found the main mystery to be rather predictable or rather, I worked out who’s who in relation to the fairytale and had a rough idea of how but Marillier sort it out in a rather neat way.

I was rather frustrated with the end book 2, Tower of Thorns; of Blackthorn’s thick-headedness (didn’t you?!?!). And yet, with all the angst in this book, I felt totally weird and awkward about it… which is I supposed how they felt about it! A masterly touch for romance… There’s hope for all us awkwards 😉

Den of Wolves is like a bird’s nest… What seemed to be a mess of sticks bunched together from afar but up close, you can see those sticks intertwined in meticulous care and formed a safe & loving home. That is just how Juliet Marillier has concluded this trilogy of Blackthorn & Grim! I still do have hope for more 😉

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review and for organising the interview. Juliet, my deepest thanks for your time and above all, for sharing your words and wisdom.