May 29, 2005

Author2Author: Juliet Marillier & Jules Watson, Bonus Question

Juliet Marillier: I found the psychological journeys of your main characters in The White Mare absorbing. Without giving too much away, can you say a little about where you will be going with the other books in this series in terms of both theme and character development?

whitemare.jpgJules Watson: One of the main themes I wanted to explore in these books was the concept of self-worth: how we often see ourselves as unworthy before "God(dess)" and the world. When Rhiann experiences her trauma and loss of connection to her spiritual life, she blames herself. I wanted to take that as a starting point and track the way she opens up to love again. In the next book, The Dawn Stag, we see the culmination of that process for her not just in terms of a love story, but in terms of her self-worth and spirituality. She is tested to her utmost both by worsening Roman attacks on Scotland, and her own inner demons. I wanted to show what I thought the fulfilment of this learning might be for her, how she might finally release her true soul and power to the world. Eremon, meanwhile, has his warrior identity tested, and Rhiann has to help him find a new way of being, too.

I guess I start out in The White Mare with a certain idea about what their masculine and feminine roles might be, their destiny, and then in The Dawn Stag that all gets flipped on its head. They both must delve further to find out what their true callings are. The third book, The Boar Stone, takes place three hundred years later with a connection to Rhiann and Eremon's descendants. The new heroine, Minna, has a very different path to walk from Rhiann. She has not been damaged by violence at the outset, so there's not that same healing to do. I am therefore able to take her deeper into discovering her psychic gifts and true identity. The last book is more about finding a sense of soul belonging, and remaining free from bitterness in the face of difficulties. And then.I'll have a rest!

May 27, 2005

Author2Author: Jules Watson & Juliet Marillier, pt. 4

Thanks to Juliet Marillier and Jules Watson for taking part in this week's conversation. Look for a bonus installment over the holiday weekend in which Jules will explain what's coming up in the sequels to The White Mare!

juleswatson.jpgJules Watson: I would like to know how you chose the roles/characteristics of your various heroines, since you have written a few now. Did you choose the story and create your heroines to fit that story? Or did your characters "come to you" and you constructed the story around that? I probably did a bit of both--the historical framework of the time period I picked gave me my larger plot, but the way Rhiann "came" to me drove her own inner emotional journey in the book. To expand on that, I also wonder whether you chose your stories because you liked a particular time period or series of events, or whether you started with particular themes you wanted to explore, and made your other place and time choices based on that?

marillier.jpgJuliet Marillier: One strong reason spiritual paths such as Wicca and Druidry have had a renaissance is surely the balance they demonstrate between the sacred feminine and masculine, in line with what you say. Because what we know of the originals is sketchy (either because the knowledge was secret or because it wasn't written down anyway, most ordinary people not being able to read and write then) the modern versions are largely reinvented, but I think in essence they are true to the originals, with their emphasis on the spiritual nature of all things and their recognition of those cycles you mention. (As a sideline, how odd that we each included a priestess called Fola in our stories!)

You asked about which came first, story or heroine, in my books. As with yours, it has been some of both. My central characters do seem to spring to life on the page without a lot of conscious creation on my part, although with all my characters I do think carefully about the nature versus nurture balance when writing them. This was especially the case with the flawed and confused Fainne of Child of the Prophecy: She lost her mother early, was raised by an obsessive druid father, then along comes the manipulative, power-hungry grandmother; how can she win? I would say that generally the story and the protagonist grow together.

The exception to that was with Foxmask, the second of my Norse books. When I was planning that, I was reacting to a proliferation of warrior women heroes in popular culture, some of whom were just men in women's bodies. So I deliberately made Creidhe a feminine stereotype at the start of the story, shapely, golden-haired, expert in all the womanly crafts and so on. This tends to make the male characters dismiss her as no more than 'good wife material.' Of course, as the story progresses she demonstrates that she is a great deal more than that, and surprises everyone, but not at the cost of her feminine characteristics. This goes back to our discussion about making the characters true to their setting: In Norse Orkney, I probably had the choice of a heroine like Creidhe or one who might have displayed more of the Viking qualities, as there are some impressive tales of women heading families, running farms, and leading expeditions to Iceland . Maybe for a future book.

Your other question was about themes vs time periods and events. I think the answer is both. Certainly with The Dark Mirror, I was captivated by the mystery of the Picts and the wildness of northern Scotland, and with the Norse books my love for Orkney played a part in choosing the setting. But usually the spark for me is an event from either history or mythology that touches the imagination. The story of Bridei and his druid mentor, Broichan, immediately gave me the idea of a series based on leadership--what do you need to be a great leader and what does it do to you? With Wolfskin, the idea came from reading about berserk warriors in the Icelandic sagas. How did those guys manage to be on the front of the longship wielding their axes one day, and back on the farm helping their mothers the next? That led to a book about the conflict between sworn oaths and conscience.

May 26, 2005

Author2Author: Juliet Marillier & Jules Watson

Jules Watson wondered about the elaborate Pictish spirituality Juliet Marillier depicted in her novel, which led Juliet to explain herself and then turn the question around:

Juliet Marillier: I did create the spiritual system for the Picts in The Dark Mirror, because we don't know much at all about what it was other than that they were not Christian before the advent of missionaries from Ireland a little after the time in which the novel is set. Because the Picts were a different culture from the Gaels and the Britons, I decided they needed their own deities and observances, based on the seasonal and solar/lunar patterns that were the basis of most pagan observance in the Western Europe of that time. For my story it was important to include a strong religious element, as Bridei's life was tied up with the struggle between old and new faiths in what later became Scotland. Because I belong to a druid order myself, I created something which is, in essence, quite close to my own beliefs, but made it appropriate to the sixth century. Am I right in thinking your own beliefs colour your approach to spiritual matters in your writing?

whitemare.jpgJules Watson: I think I instinctively possess interests and ideas that fit in well with what we know of Celtic belief. The main thing I am attracted to (and think we are missing) is that for the pagan Celts there was no split between religion and secular life. They saw the sacred in everything: every tree, stream, pool, rock. The sacred was wound all through ordinary life, the gods were close by, and there were little rituals and prayers attached to the most mundane things, cutting crops for example. I think feeling so embedded in the landscape, so intimate with the gods and goddesses, helped people to feel sure of themselves and their place in society. Also, it appears they revered many female goddesses and representatives of feminine power, and I think that gives a lot of balance to society.

So this concept of male and female, god and goddess, is at the heart of my trilogy. Many of the Celtic statues and carvings we have left are unnamed, general representations of the "Mother Goddesses." As a woman, I suppose that feels balanced and inclusive to me. I also love that everything was cyclical: the seasons, the four great festivals to mark the year, the way the soul died then was reborn here. The Celts loved the symbol of the spiral, which many people think represents this cyclical nature of the soul. Perhaps it's comforting to know that change will happen, but then everything wheels around again, so nothing is lost. In small ways I have tried to bring those ideas in through my trilogy, as the characters journey through pain and back to love a few times.

I suppose the other thing which I love from Celtic mythology is they had this mixture of fate and free will. They believed in destiny, yet the failure or success of mythical characters is based less on capricious gods, and mostly on their own wise or foolish choices--the qualities they promoted were things like generosity, wisdom, hospitality, respect of the gods, self-sacrifice etc. I have made that a central point of The White Mare and The Dawn Stag: No one will rescue my heroine but herself, and she must find the sterling qualities in herself to do that.

May 25, 2005

Author2Author: Jules Watson & Juliet Marillier, pt. 2

The conversation that began yesterday with talk of creating compelling historical characters continues along similar lines in our second installment...

Jules Watson: In your next book, The Dark Mirror, you had to construct a hero, Bridei, with certain traits you wish to explore, and yet you need him to fit into an often brutal Celtic warrior culture. What was your approach to that? You also draw unusual women. One thing I loved in your Sevenwaters trilogy was the difference in the three heroines. Sorcha in Daughter of the Forest was a healer, almost a bit mystical. Liadan in Son of the Shadows was quite dry and down to earth, very easy to relate to--and also a healer to her hero. And poor Fainne in Child of the Prophecy was even more different - she was an agent of the darker forces in the novel. I think, like me, you have interesting things you wish to explore, and so your female characters have to have some sort of power to be pivotal to the story. To make sure they are not passive. Is that critical to you?

darkmirror.jpgJuliet Marillier: The Celts do provide wonderful raw material with their apparent combination of creative energy and almost foolhardy courage in battle. To be more specific, Pictish culture has provided both you and me with an interesting possibility that opens a door beyond the patriarchal model. We've both chosen to adopt the theory that Pictish royal succession was matrilineal, which of course appears to indicate a society in which women played a significant role, perhaps in spiritual observance as well as in political wheeling and dealing. That's one of the great bonuses in writing novels set in 'grey areas' of history on which historians still disagree. As a novelist one can pick and choose whichever options best suit effective storytelling.

In Bridei, the hero of The Dark Mirror, I created a character was based on a real historical person who became a very powerful figure in northern Britain around the period Arthur would have been fighting the Saxons in the south. I wanted to examine the theme of leadership and the concept of charisma in this book, and to show how a perfect king could be created, given the right potential and the right education. The reverse of that was to find out what personal cost there would be in living one's life as that kind of near-godlike monarch. I made Bridei a quiet, devout, scholarly type, but as a high-born Pict he is also required to be a warrior and a decisive leader of men. Fitting him into the culture of his time required me to have him to perform some acts that the contemporary reader may find hard to take, especially in the decisive scene where he proves his worthiness to be a candidate for kingship. I think I've managed to make that acceptable by showing his repugnance at what he has to do, and his will to change certain customs amongst his people.

I did once get accused of creating a passive character in Sorcha from Daughter of the Forest, but I challenged that--women don't need to brandish swords to solve their problems! I do like my women characters to be decisive, or to grow gradually into a knowledge of their own ability to make decisions, find solutions and achieve their personal quests. I think it makes for a strong story if they do that differently from the way a man would do it. Most readers find a story more satisfying if the protagonist's journey is difficult, like Fainne's or indeed like your Rhiann's. As a reader, I love depth of character and compelling human journeys in both fantasy and historical fiction (and, unfortunately, it isn't always there.) The most intricately portrayed secondary worlds or historical settings will not involve me if the characters are not 'real'. That was one reason I enjoyed The White Mare so much--I felt I got to know these people with their flaws and strengths as the story developed.

May 24, 2005

Author2Author: Juliet Marillier & Jules Watson, pt. 1

Author2Author veers into antipodean territory this week with Juliet Marillier and Jules Watson, both of whom live in the vicinity of Perth (although Juliet is actually a native New Zealander). Jules' first novel, The White Mare, was published in the U.S. a few months ago, and is the first installment of a three-part historical fantasy. Meanwhile, the opening book in Juliet's most recent trilogy, The Dark Mirror, which also combines historical and fantasy elements, will be released to American readers in August.

marillier.jpgJuliet Marillier: One of the aspects of The White Mare that I really loved was your creation of characters who manage to stay true to the social order of the time and place (first century Britain) and yet grow and develop and are real and likeable to a contemporary readership. In particular, the two protagonists, Rhiann and Eremon, are seen to go through various psychological changes in the book. Of course, I have a special interest in this series as my own newseries deals with the same part of the world and the same Pict/Gael struggle (although it's set a bit later, in the 6th century). Have you found it a challenge to create characters we can identify with and still make them believable in their own culture?

juleswatson.jpgJules Watson: It's always going to be a challenge as an historical author to set your characters firmly in their time while making them available to modern readers. I always start from the premise that people are pretty much the same all over, whether from different cultures or different time periods. I think we are all driven by the same emotions; we all react out of fear and insecurity, we all want safety and love. So I treat my characters as if they are modern in that sense, driven by the same things we are. I think it helps readers feel connected to them. Secondly, from what we know of the Celts, the complexity of their religious and social ideas is not reflected, for example, in a corresponding sophistication of their material surroundings. What we are mostly left with is the remains of their houses, and we think that because they were one-roomed, and not organised by and large like Roman towns, with heating and plumbing, that the Celts themselves were simple. Yet they sunk their efforts into creating amazing portable objects and art instead, and all the textiles and home furnishings and decoration they probably had have long since rotted away. So I've taken them back to that complex place, and treated them as every bit as sophisticated in thought, behavior, and ideas as we are.

Regarding your point about characters, I find that heroines are often drawn in books in a similar way. I decided I wanted to tell a deeply emotional, spiritual story against a historical backdrop, and I wasn't afraid to allow Rhiann to be "faulty". Perhaps she is an unusual priestess because she doesn't have all the answers: She has a public aura of being untouchable and in control, but really she is traumatised and unsure. I wanted to delve into some of the themes about how to keep one's heart open to love of others and self after suffering trauma. To do that, I needed her to be quite closed off and twisted with hurt and anger inside. A strange place to start a story, a strange idea for a heroine. But that is what came to me, and it actually gave me a great opportunity to develop her then, as she opens up.

As far as Eremon goes, to make him believable I decided to show his sensitivity only in relation to his role as warrior, noble, and leader. To his own culture he is the typical "hero," and yet I also showed only to my readers the cost of that position to him--the overwhelming responsibility, the conflict between personal goals and what is good for his men, the way the buck stops with him, so he has no one to relieve him of that burden, etc. This makes him immediately more complex. And as will be seen with the second book, The Dawn Stag, those roles of Rhiann and Eremon are turned on their heads, so I suppose I was playing around a lot with what is female and male power, and how the hero/heroine mix can work both ways.