Interview with Juliet McKenna

This Interview has been provided by Orbit, and is printed with their permission.

On the eve of publication of her much anticipated fourth book of Einarinn, Orbit caught up with Juliet E. McKenna and asked…

How would you describe the world of Einarinn to readers who are new to your writing…? 
It’s a world on the cusp of change from a feudal age to a new era of exploration and discovery. Some countries are further along this path than others; some cultures are looking forward eagerly to new opportunities, others are clinging on to older certainties. Every society has its historical reasons for its outlook, often related to the existence of real and provable magic in this world. But those attitudes are also being challenged as another very different form of enchantment is emerging as a power to be reckoned with.

In a nutshell, what’s THE WARRIOR’S BOND about?
It answers the key questions I saw facing Ryshad and Temar at the end of The Swordsman’s Oath – which can be summed up as ‘What by all that’s holy do I do now?’ Ryshad has to test the strength of his ties to the House of D’ Olbriot when his own desires are pulling him in a different direction. Temar has to face up to the challenge of resurrecting the Kellarin colony – and picking his allies carefully.

Are there particular themes you wanted to explore?
I don’t set out to explore themes; when my kids bring books home from school with a deliberate focus on some moral issue, I find them generally very dull. If there are any themes in my books, it’s because they emerge naturally from the story – and the way I write tends to show an issue from several angles anyway. Questions of loyalty confront Ryshad and Temar in The Warrior’s Bond and I had to consider very carefully how they would react – but that’s not the same as setting out to write a book about loyalty.

Will we meet any new central characters?
People we’ve met in passing in previous books, or who’ve just been referred to, get their chance to come onto centre stage. We see the Sieur D’Olbriot and Esquire Camarl busy as leading citizens of Toremal while Livak’s associate Charoleia sheds a little light into the darker corners for Ryshad and Temar. The mage Casuel is back as Planir’s eyes and ears but does find himself looking over his shoulder trying to fathom the motives of Velindre, a magewoman who’s invited herself along to the Festival.

Do you find the process of writing harder, or easier, now you are getting towards the latter stages of the series? 
Both. It’s easier in that plot lines are developing naturally from what’s gone before and I’ve also learned a lot about the craft of writing over the past few years. On the other hand, the more I learn, the more I realise there is to learn. It’s also harder in that I’m committed to what’s already in print and that can cut off some options when I’m devising a plot or thinking about someone’s actions and reactions. Trying to keep each book readable for someone coming new to the series is the hardest challenge – but I’m determined to keeping trying there.

Is the world you have built still full of surprises for you when you come to write, or is it comprehensively mapped in your mind? 
Einarinn is mapped out in so far as lines on a big sheet of paper go but beyond that, it’s mostly broad brushstrokes. I devise the detail for each new country and society as necessary for the plot and characters of the story in hand, so each book is as interesting for me to write as I hope it is to read. There’s still plenty of the world waiting to be explored – and I’m looking forward to doing so. The only question is where do we go first?

Do you ever find yourself writing away at a tangent into parts of the world that aren’t necessarily related to the story? And are there avenues you’d like to go back and explore in future writing? The impulse to go off at a tangent is always there but I am ruthless in suppressing it. The plot’s the thing, not the scenery, no matter how fascinating something I’ve discovered or invented might turn out to be. Yes, this does mean I have an ever-growing file of notions and ideas waiting for their chance in some future book.

What would be a ‘normal’ day in the life of Juliet E. McKenna, writer?
Oh, no such animal, I’m afraid, not as the mother of two boys. An ideal day would be getting the lads to school without having to stand over them barking orders like some orc captain of the guard. Then I either head for the gym to counteract the effects of working from home with unsupervised access to the biscuit tin or go home to whatever tedious domesticity can’t be avoided – but I’ll be thinking about what I’m planning to write next all the while. Once I’m at my keyboard, it’s solid work until lunchtime, grab a sandwich while downloading email and answering anything urgent and then more work until it’s time to get the kids from school. Ideally work will be stringing words together for the current book but it can also be drawing up an outline for the next chapter, reading for research, writing articles, doing business admin. As soon as the kids are home, Juliet E McKenna, writer, transforms into Mum and letters from school, after-school activities, reading, homework and having assorted small boys round to play take priority. Once the lads are in bed, I can do some more work if I need to – or not. An ideal day ends with me having managed to read the paper at some point, to watch any telly I’ve been aiming for and getting to bed without thinking ‘Damn, still haven’t done so-and-so’.

What do you do when you want to escape from writing?
Mostly, I read – crime and thrillers for preference because I find I just can’t read fantasy while I’m actively engaged in writing it. I also play computer games like Civilisation, Sim City and Transport Tycoon. That’s my mental escape and the martial art of aikido gives me a break from all the sitting still.

Is it cool to be an author?!
Cool is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? It’s certainly great fun being a writer – I get paid for doing something I enjoy enormously, I travel to new places and meet interesting people. Writing a book can have its tedious moments, like proof reading and juggling work and home life is as much a concern for me as it is for any other parent but on balance, I generally feel I’m ahead on points and from where I’m standing, OK, that’s pretty cool.

Copyright© 2002 Orbit. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. The interview has been provided by Orbit and is printed with their permission.

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