Monday, January 17, 2011

Juliet Marillier - Author Interview Series

Juliet Marillier has written eleven historical fantasy novels for adults and two books for young adults. Her most recent publication is
Seer of Sevenwaters (Pan Macmillan Australia and Roc US.)

What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?

My parents read to me and told me stories long before I learned to read, and I grew up in a home where books were valued, so my love of books is almost as old as I am. Some of the books I loved as a child were the Moomin books by Tove Jansson, the Narnia books by C S Lewis, and Andrew Lang’s collections of fairy tales. Other favourite authors were Noel Streatfeild, Lorna Hill, and Louisa May Alcott.

When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?

I’m not sure there was a moment of realisation! I did a lot of creative writing up till the time I started university, then I became more interested in music and worked in that field for years. I guess I really did know I was a writer at heart, but many years passed before I went back to doing it seriously. I hope my readers will be swept up in my storytelling – that’s the first level. On the next level, I hope they’ll find truth, learn something about themselves, be helped in some way, and/or discover a fresh passion for reading or writing. I love it when my readers tell me that’s happened for them as a result of reading my work.

Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?

I’m far more aware of the craft of writing these days, so I don’t often manage to read without the writer microscope. I choose my recreational reading carefully. I go back to writers I know are consistently good. I try new writers on the basis of reviews (not always a reliable guide!) or on the recommendation of family and friends who know my tastes well. The very best books don’t come under the writer microscope because they draw the reader right into the story from the start. It’s only when you reach the end that you realise how well the book was written.

Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?

I generally steer clear of any novel of similar genre to my own while writing, in case I unknowingly pick up the author’s style or ideas. In fact my recreational reading is almost always outside my own genre anyway, as I’m keen on mainstream fiction, women’s fiction and some literary fiction – I do like historical fiction but I read very little fantasy. I read a lot of non-fiction while I’m writing, some research related, some for my own enjoyment. And I read mythology, fairy tales, commentary on fairy tales etc. I believe my lifetime of reading traditional stories shows in my writing, making it richer.

Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way?

William Shakespeare: studying the plays at high school had a great impact on me. He was a master of shaping dramatic scenes and a powerful user of language.
Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre (the book that made me love romance)
Dorothy Dunnett: The Game of Kings and its sequels (her books are a master class in writing historical fiction)
Daphne du Maurier: Cornish novels (exciting romantic stories told with an elegant simplicity of style – she could create a scene or image with a few perfectly chosen words. I especially like Jamaica Inn with its feisty female protagonist and bad boy hero.)
Andrew Lang’s fairy books: The Red Fairy Book, the Blue Fairy Book etc had a lifelong impact on me, as they introduced me to the world of myth, legend and fairytale which has played a huge part in my development as a storyteller

If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?

A big book of mythology, perhaps the Welsh Mabinogion. That would keep me going for a long time and it would provide lots of food for thought. I might need a porter to carry it.

What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?

For me, it’s the winning combination of great storytelling, excellent writerly craft and originality.

What makes you put down a book without finishing it?

Poor writing, gratuitous sex or violence, ‘head-hopping’ (changes of point of view within a scene), a story that’s overwhelmed by the author’s personal/political/religious tub-thumping, a story lacking any empathetic characters.

Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?

I can’t single out only one author. There are several authors whose new releases I always buy: David Mitchell, Iain Banks, Jodi Picoult, Neil Gaiman. They’re all quite different. What they share is that combination of great storytelling and excellent craft.

If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?

(In no particular order – I’ve left out children’s books)

The Crow Road by Iain Banks
The Business by Iain Banks
Little, Big by John Crowley
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
Selected Poems by George MacKay Brown

My ‘top ten’ covers a pretty broad range of style. I’ve included a book of poetry and a book about women’s roles in traditional stories (Clarissa Pinkola Estes). The rest are novels. My list favours the quirky and unusual. They’re all books I have on my ‘keeper’ shelf and will come back to over and over. Each of them has been memorable to me in its own way, and some of them have been life-changing.

If you asked me for a ‘top ten’ in the sense of great works of literature that everyone should read, it would have some different books on it. This list contains my personal favourites.

What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. This is an engaging, unusual novel written through letters. I was caught up in the story from page one and captivated all the way through. It combines comedy and tragedy with a deft, light touch. Fantastic storytelling. I was feeling rather low at the time and it made me happy.

What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?

I don’t own an e-reader, but I understand how convenient e-books are for people who travel or commute and don’t want to lug print books around, and I can see big advantages of the e-format for textbooks or research material. I don’t think the availability of e-books on its own will encourage more people to read books. Lots of people read a significant amount of text online in blogs etc, but many of them won’t engage with something requiring as much time and concentration as a novel does. I think the same people who read now will read in the future, probably dividing their reading between e-books and print books. Many people, like me, vastly prefer to read off-screen and like the physicality of a print book. I don’t think that is entirely age-related. However, publishers of print books may find it increasingly hard to turn a profit, especially if e-book prices are significantly lower than print book prices. This will also have an impact on writers’ ability to earn a living from what they do. Lower book price, lower royalties.

Juliet Marillier was born and brought up in Dunedin, New Zealand, and now lives in Western Australia. She is a graduate of Otago University and worked as a teacher and public servant before becoming a full time writer. Her novels are published internationally and have won a number of awards. Juliet is a member of the druid order OBOD. When not writing she tends to a small pack of needy animals. (website) (award-winning genre writing blog; Juliet posts monthly) (Official Facebook Fan Page)


  1. Wonderful Interview! My favorite yet! :)I Love Juliet Marillier! Her books are captivating from start to finish. :D

  2. Thanks for commenting Sarah :)