Jackie French is the author of numerous novels, including Macbeth and Son and Pharoah most recently. She can be found online here
Q1: A lot of your stories revolve around historical people or places: Macbeth and Son, Pharoah, Dinkum Histories, A Rose for the ANZAC Boys… and those are just the recent ones! What is it about historical stories that appeals to you? Is there any person or time that you would *never* write about?
Nothing that I’ve deliberately censored from my mind and thought “that’s out.”
History? Partly because i’ve never quite believed in the concept of linear time, even though we may experience it that way. have always felt that the past and present is only a membrane away.
Partly early conditioning- as a child growing up in Brisbane in the 50’s I was subjected to long stretches in Church and religious instruction and the only acceptable thing to read instead of listening to the sermon was the Bible..which is a stunning source document for ancient history. Moved onto the great dialogues of Plato and had a crush on Socrates- all in all, lived in the past for large chunks of the week.
And partly too because of history’s sheer diversity and complexity. When you start thinking about the past you see it in terms of your own age. the more deeply you understand it the more different you realise it is.
But mostly…well, I don’t like being fenced in. Couldn’t live in a city, or work in an office- and would hate to be boxed up in a small world called ‘the present’ too.
Q2: You’ve received a huge number of accolades for your stories: shortlists and Notable Titles from the Children’s Book Council of Australia, YABBA and Bilby and WAYBRA shortlists… and that’s just this year! Two questions, then, really: is there one story or project that you are most proud of? And how do you react when you find out you’ve shortlisted or nominated for an award yet again?!
For every award I get there’s the rejection when a book I love DOESN’T get an award… especially the ones that i know are better than some of the ones that have.
Writing is a pretty solitary occupation. Sometimes it seems as though the publishers just kindly send you a cheque twice a year. Awards are when you suddenly realise that it was a book that you wrote, not just a pile of words.
Q3: Where to from here for Jackie French? You’ve been prolific in the last few years – will you keep up the pace for the next few?
When you suddenly have to face that you may not make it through the next few years, I suppose everyone starts wondering what they’ve missed doing. But for me it’s simple- I just want more. More books to write, more lunches with friends and family, more wombats to watch and trees to plant and see grow.
Q4: In between your writing, and public appearances, and other demands on your time – do you get to read much? What’s the best thing you’ve read in 2007?
I read at least a book every day (I read fairly quickly). But the best? Bloody hell… Audrey Niffenegers’s The Time Traveller’s Wife. Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear. Graham Green’s Travels with my Aunt (re read that last night- simply perfect). But there must eb at least another twenty somewhere there- proably in one of the boxes in my bedroom of books I’ve yet to put back on the shelves!
Q5: Should you ever have the chance to visit a fictional world, which would it be – and are there any characters you would like to meet and, shall we say, be intimate with?!
I think I could settle down quite happily in Lancre. But I’d prefer the Island of Aldous Huxley…minus the invasion at the end.
This interview has been undertaken as part of Snapshot 2007. The other interviews can be read at:
Garth Nix is the author of the Keys to the Kingdom series, as well as the Old Kingdom series (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen). He can be found online here.
Q1: The fifth book in the Keys to the Kingdom series, Lady Friday, was published this year, so there’s just two more to go – Superior Saturday and Lord Sunday. Have you already completed these? If so, how does it feel to have to sit on them for years before they actually get published – does it get frustrating? (Also, as a bonus: what did it feel like to have the UK bookstore WH Smith give away Mister Monday free to people who ordered Harry Potter 7?!)
I wish I had already written them, but unfortunately I’m still working on SUPERIOR SATURDAY and will have LORD SUNDAY to do after that. But it’s a nice feeling to be most of the way through the series, and also to be able to begin to reveal in more detail the entirety of the ‘big story’ that I had in mind when I started thinking about the series back in 2000-2001.
The WH Smith promotion was a good one, and I always like my books being part of some clever marketing. They ended up giving away more than 250,000 copies of MISTER MONDAY and if all has worked out as planned, some appreciable proportion of those readers will pick up the rest of the series or some of my other books.
Q2: You’ve been a guest at a number of conventions now: the Brisbane and Sydney Writers’ Festival, for example, and most recently at Conflux in Canberra. Is this just to keep the fans happy and get a chance to travel, or do you get something out of it as well?
The whole festival/convention scene is a funny one. Like everyone else, when I first started out I didn’t get invited to be a guest at any of them, but I had time to go and would have liked to be a guest. Then as time passed and I had more books published I started being invited to some, and then a few more and now I get invited to so many that I could probably be a guest at some sort of festival or convention somewhere in the world almost all the time. But now I don’t have time, and of course, I couldn’t do that and live my normal family life, let alone get any writing done. I have met other authors who can write when they’re at festivals or on tour, but I find it very difficult myself. Nowadays, I tend to accept invitations that tie in with when I’m going to be on tour anyway, like the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature in the UK in September, or where I have not been able to take up an invitation for a few years, like Melbourne Writers Festival later this month. I also decided to try to get to the World Fantasy Convention every two years, mainly to catch up with fellow writers from all over the world. Apart from the social aspect of catching up with other writers and publishing folk, festivals and conventions are also a good way to connect with a lot of readers in a short space of time.
Q3: You’ve written a number of novels, and quite a few short stories – those collected in Across the Wall, as well as being published in the webzine Jim Baen’s Universe and anthology Dark Alchemy. In the next five or so years, where do you see yourself concentrating your efforts – novel or short? And will you stick with writing for young adults?
I don’t really plan the short fiction, just every now and then an idea crops up and it turns out to be a short story rather than part of a current novel or notes for a future book-length work. So I expect that I will keep writing occasional pieces of short fiction as well as working on novels. I have a story in Jonathan Strahan’s forthcoming ECLIPSE anthology, for example, and another in Ellen Datlow’s and Terri Windling’s CINDERELLA GAME. Some of these stories are for young adults, some are slanted older, but I don’t really think much about that either, they just turn out to have a natural reading entry age which may be younger or older.
Q4: Amidst the traveling and writing you’ve done this year, hopefully you’ve squeezed in some reading too: what do you think is the best thing you’ve read so far in 2007?
I don’t read as much as I used to, nor as much as I would like, and a lot of my reading is non-fiction. One of the best things I’ve read this year is DOUBLE EAGLE AND CRESCENT: VIENNA’S SECOND TURKISH SIEGE AND ITS HISTORICAL SETTING by Thomas M. Barker, which is quite an old book. In terms of new genre fiction, I’ve enjoyed SATURN RETURNS by Sean Williams and many of the stories in THE NEW SPACE OPERA edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. Apart from that, I’ve been re-reading some old favourites, including a bunch of children’s historical novels by Ronald Welch, KNIGHT’S FEE by Rosemary Sutcliff and to round out the eclectic mix, the GUNNER ASCH books by Hans Helmut Kirst.
Q5: Finally, to finish on a silly note: are there any fictional characters that you would like to meet, and be… intimate… with?!
Oddly enough, given that I love the deep immersion of reading and I love writing and trying to make characters ‘real’, I never think of my real life and any world of fiction or the people in it intersecting, either intimately or not. I suppose that even when engrossed in a book I am also observing it and my own experience reading it, so am forever fated to be detached. I also have a strong instinct for the ‘rightness’ of stories, they are whole constructs that exist in themselves, and taking characters out of the story or out of their relationships within the story to have one with me feels like breaking an 18th century porcelain teapot to run off with the handle. There, plenty for the amateur psychologists to think about!