Good Reading : December January 2009
last word fantasy, romance, adventure, family / relationship drama. Unlike writers of true epic fantasy, who generally set their novels within a created secondary world, I write stories set in the real world, enhanced with natural magic based on the beliefs of the book’s time, place and culture. That means I can use real world reference material to keep track of my settings: historical maps, for instance, books about Viking warfare or Pictish symbol stones or Islam in the early Ottoman period – whatever I need. I read a great deal of history and folklore when preparing to write a new book. I do tend to choose grey areas in history, such as the time of the Picts, for which contemporary records are few. Those shadowy periods and cultures provide fertile ground for a storyteller’s imagination. As well as reading reference material a world of her own M y books embrace several genres: historical novel, As a writer of historical fantasy novels, JULIET MARILLIER is often asked how she keeps track of her characters, the elements and rules of magic, and the places where her books are set. She shares her methods with Good Reading. links the characters in this stand- alone novel with those of the previously published Sevenwaters books. When I create characters I consider an individual’s My approach to writing I visit the settings of the stories. Research has led me to the Faroe Islands, rural Transylvania, the Baltic region and Istanbul as well as Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. I make copious pen-and-paper notes on history, geography, animal and plant lore, and I take many photos as guides to terrain, vegetation, light and so on. In particular, I jot down quirky or touching snippets of information in which I recognise the seeds of future stories. The research process, which can take months, enables me to ‘feel’ the setting (including the historical period) as if I were physically present in it. When I eventually begin to write the book, I am not so much consciously recreating history as allowing it to seep through me into the story. Not every detail is accurate – I’m telling a story, not writing a history textbook. But if I’ve got things right, the setting clothes the story in the garments of its time and place. 54 goodreading i DECEMBER 2008 / JANUARY 2009 is highly systematic – I’m a control freak – but the way I develop characters is organic. I’ve never kept a database of characters or written character profiles. I keep track of my characters in my head. They are real people to me, as real as old friends, and I can’t imagine confusing one with another or making mistakes about their physical or psychological makeup. I do maintain a simple character list on my PC as I progress with the novel, adding names as I go (the entries are generally grouped by the place of residence, and include the person’s occupation and perhaps kinship ties.) The major players spring to life and get their names at the synopsis stage, well before I start writing the book proper. The spear-carriers and kitchen maids acquire names as they enter the narrative. The character list often ends up in the front of the published book, especially if a pronunciation guide is required. For my new book, Heir to Sevenwaters, a calligrapher friend has drawn up a gorgeous family tree that parentage, upbringing and life experience. These may exist within the story if it’s a saga of several generations, or I may need to invent a history for a new adult character. This may not be spelled out in the novel, but it should at least exist in my mind. I remain fascinated by my characters’ journeys through life and the ways in which they meet challenges. Can the disadvantages that beset a person be overcome through his own courage or another person’s kindness? Can a damaged soul heal herself, and if so, where does she find the strength? All my major characters and quite a few minor ones develop, think and interact according to my perception of how nature, nurture and experience have shaped them. Some find untapped strengths within themselves. Some come unstuck when the going gets hard. For many, the journey is full of twists, turns and upheavals. Readers often tell me they felt as if they were right in the skin of the characters, living the journey with them. There are few things more exciting than discovering I’ve managed to make a new book’s collection of flawed human beings real not just to myself, but to my readers as well. Heir to Sevenwaters is published by Macmillan, rrp $32.99. Juliet Marillier’s website is www.julietmarillier.com. You can also read some of her writing on her shared blog www.writerunboxed.com.