DM Cornish is the author and illustrator of Monster Blood Tattoo, and can be found online here.
Q1: You’ve been shortlisted, with Monster Blood Tattoo, for the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards – congratulations! And for your first published work, too… tell us about it: how did you find out, how did you feel, what does it mean to you to be shortlisted?
Thank you very much, maâ€™am. My publisher, Dyan Blacklock, called me and told me and it felt very good; my hope and desire is to write good stories, to write them well, I have no idea if I have achieved this with MBT but a short-listing is certainly encouraging. As for what it means, in purely banal, fiduciary terms it means extra sales â€“ the shortlist is viewed as a buying guide for most schools and libraries â€“ but more especially it just feels like a big gold star (in the right kind of way), a â€œwell done and keep goingâ€ â€“ and I am very very grateful to be included.
Q2: Monster Blood Tattoo is one of the prettiest books I’ve seen in a long time – the illustrations are lovely, and the whole book is an experience of the world you’ve created, the Half-Continent, down to the name-plate at the very beginning. (Who me? A simpering fan?!) Was it your idea, to market the book that way, or some bright spark with your publisher?
It was very much my hope to make a book that was a complete experience and Dyan Blacklock was equally as keen (as long as the numbers worked â€“ as in $$$). In 4th year uni I had a visual journal that was blue and black and cloth covered. I loved that book, loved sticking weird collages and doing odd doodles in it and when it came time to publish my very own book (woohoo!) I wanted to make something that replicated that loved tome of my younger years. Indeed, I took a reduction in my royalty to make it possible to afford the production of the MBT series in the hardback form (Australian & New Zealand) readers can buy. That blue hard bound edition is very much close to my heart.
The name plate was very much about me wanting to make the reading experience as rich and immersing as possible â€“ this is all about suspending disbelief and escaping into another place after all. I figured that for the right reader the idea of a) feeling like you just might be holding a book made in the Half-Continent, and b) even identifying with the protagonist by naming yourself as a foundling too just might make the immersion just that much more deep. By way of a sneak preview, the book plate for Lamplighter (MBT Book 2) will be of a book given to you from the Empire itself.
As to the character illustrations, they are there because of the influence of Mervyn Peakeâ€™s books and those wonderful character studies that pepper his works. The way the illustrations appear in MBT is more formal â€“ with frames and name plates â€“ but the heart of the idea is Mr Peake. I might just add to this that I only wanted to show characters rather than whole scenes, to still allow the reader space to imagine these scenes for themselves â€“ the reader of a novel has to have that freedom, surely.
In the end, I think of the Half-Continent itself like others might remember great holiday destinations they have really been too, and regard its characters like recalling close friends who happen to live in another city at the moment â€“ and I would love to impart some of that to my readers. If I do then joy!, mission very much accomplished.
Q3: Monster Blood Tattoo is going to be at least a trilogy, I presume – there seems to be a lot of scope in the Half-Continent for Rossamund to keep getting into, and out of, trouble. Paint yourself a prophet, and look at the next 5 years: where to? Will you stay with young adult fiction? Are there short story ideas lurking in your mind, that might fill in some odd corners of the world you’ve created? Or is writing going to take second place to world domination?
In the next 5 years, Lord willing, I would love to write other stories about other characters in different situations â€“ to explore the H-c (as I abbreviate the Half-Continent) from other points of view. I have swilling about my noggin a couple of ideas, one being an whole novel about two characters thrust together by circumstances and off to see the world, the other a collection of short stories â€“ just as you said (maâ€™am, after reading your review of Book 1 and the above bit of foresight I reckon you and I might be on a sympathetic wave-length). The very first proper narrative writings of the H-c were short stories (barely a handful and poorly written at that) and it is a form I can see being very liberating as I explore all sorts of aspects of the H-c and the lands around it from many different periods in its history too. I reckon it might be a great way to show folks the breadth of my ideas â€“ RossamÃ¼ndâ€™s story only goes a small way into the ideas I have in my head and scribbled in my notebooks. There is even a notion for a graphic novel of short stories too, but we shall have to wait and see.
The YA section is such a rich and vibrant part of publishing currently and my working relationship with my publisher so fruitful I see no need to venture anywhere else. I just wish people would stop thinking that doing things for children is somehow less than writing for adults; you can see the , look in some folkâ€™s eyes when they find out Iâ€™m a writer then I tell them itâ€™s YA, it is a look that goes from keen interest to â€œoh, so youâ€™re not a real writer thenâ€¦â€ Very disheartening. Still, if I did or did not do things based on the comprehension of others there would be no H-c or MBT.
As to world domination, I had a great idea about it that I wrote down but â€“ stupid me! â€“ I left them in the pocket of my jeans and they went through the wash, paper utterly destroyed plans lost. So that was a bit of a setback I can tell you, ah wellâ€¦
Q4: Hopefully you’ve had the chance to do some reading this year, along with the excitement of Monster Blood Tattoo coming out: what has been the best thing you’ve read this year?
I, Claudius, Robert Graves â€“ wonderfully written (and much plundered for possible concepts that fit the H-c); “Red Spikes,” Margo Lanagan â€“ I love the short story form and this is such a sweet sweet example of the craft; Ock von Fiend, Luke Edwards â€“ a fellow stable-mate at Omnibus Books and one of the best picture books I have in my largish collection; Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell â€“ a superb book on re-thinking Christian thought and expectation.
Q5: And finally, if wishes were fishes is there any fictional character you would want to get it on with?! (Don’t worry, everyone is getting this question!)
Ummâ€¦ well, those who know MBT might think I might say Europe, yet I tend not to think of my characters that way. If I made my wife, Tiffany, into a fictional character then I would say her â€“ but I get to be with her for real so that kinda covers it for me. (This is a nice, boring answer Iâ€™m sure, but there you goâ€¦)
Juliet Marillier has been a full time writer since about 2002. She has written nine novels so far, with a tenth due out later this year. She can be found on the web here.
Q1: Wildwood Dancing has been included in the Books Alive promotion this year. Was there a process you had to go through for that to happen? And you’ve also been doing talks at libraries and bookshops in conjunction with that: have they been a good experience for you?
I earn my living as a writer, and itâ€™s a standard part of my work to deliver talks at libraries, bookshops, writersâ€™ festivals and so on. Libraries and librarians played a big part in fostering my childhood love of books, so I especially like being involved in library events. The Q&A sessions this time around produced some interesting discussion about the craft of writing.
With Books Alive, I had no involvement in the process for inclusion. I do know the book choices for each category were made by different panels of experts. This year about 80% of the titles chosen are by Australian authors – a vigorous campaign by ASA helped that come about.
Q2: You’ve written about quite different countries and cultural groups in your books – the Bridei Chronicles set with the Picts, Wolfskin and Foxmask with the Vikings, Wildwood Dancing in Romania. How much research have you done for each area, and has it been difficult to maintain their distinct cultural voices over extended periods of writing?
I do extensive research for every novel. Generally by the time I begin writing I am pretty much immersed in the appropriate culture. For Wolfskin and Foxmask, for instance, I read a lot of the Icelandic sagas and also visited both Orkney and the Faroe Islands so that my portrayal of place would be as accurate as possible. And I studied the history. Researching Wildwood Dancing took me to Transylvania, and although I didnâ€™t meet any vampires, I learned far more about the Romanian peopleâ€™s attitudes to their own culture than I could ever have found out by reading background material.
Cultural voices â€“ I do my best to capture them, but it can be hard to get the balance right between cultural authenticity and a mode of storytelling that will work for a present day audience. The core of the story should be in some way relevant to the readerâ€™s own life, and the challenge is to achieve that while pulling the reader right into the time and place of the book. My stories contain human dilemmas that are common in any age and culture (for instance, tangled relationships, divided loyalties, tests of faith and courage, political imperatives warring with personal beliefs and so on). Dialogue can be tricky. None of the cultures of my books was English-speaking. The question is how to phrase the charactersâ€™ everyday, casual language so it is neither too archaic nor too modern. I veer towards modern idiom for informal dialogue and some readers donâ€™t like that. But a lot of our colloquial expressions would have had their medieval Pictish equivalents, after all.
Q3: The sequel to Wildwood Dancing, Cybele’s Secret, is due out fairly soon, and you’re also working on a couple of adult novels. Would you see yourself working on more adult, or more young adult, novels in the next five years or so, and why?
Because writing is the way I make my living, I have to consider three questions: What do I want to write? What do my readers want me to write? What are my publishers prepared to publish? I have two stand-alone adult novels under contract and after those are done I hope to write a fourth instalment of the Bridei Chronicles. So if there is another YA book to come, it wonâ€™t be for a while. I generally work at the rate of one novel per year.
Iâ€™ve enjoyed writing Wildwood Dancing and Cybeleâ€™s Secret and I feel there should definitely be a third in this series, featuring the youngest sister in the Piscul Dracului family, Stela. But overall I prefer to write for adults, partly because I struggle to tell a story within the shorter length of a YA novel and partly because I found editorial requirements for my YA books a little restrictive. Having said that, Iâ€™ve learned some economy of style through writing these two YA novels and that is a good thing.
Q4: Apart from writing, hopefully you’ve had time to do some reading this year as well. What would you say has been the best thing you’ve read so far in 2007?
I just finished Kushielâ€™s Justice by Jacqueline Carey, which I really loved. This is Carey back in top form, an intricate, absorbing, utterly stylish novel.
Q5: Finally, as a completely inappropriate way to conclude this interview: if you could get it on with any fictional character, who would it be?!
One-night stands are not my thing, so Iâ€™d be looking for long-term partner material. Good character would matter more than physical attributes. When I wrote my first novel, Daughter of the Forest, I deliberately gave the hero, nicknamed Red, all the qualities Iâ€™d like in a real-life partner: kindness, consistency, honour and integrity. Also, heâ€™s physically rather well endowed. Alienated, difficult men make interesting lovers on the printed page, but theyâ€™re a lot less appealing in real life.