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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket [1]I’ve caught myself sounding tired and negative in my recent posts—I put this down to a lengthy struggle with the current wip. This started out as a book called Heart’s Blood, then when I was about five chapters in and under contract in Australia and the UK, the US rights were sold for that novel and another stand-alone book on the proviso that I delivered them in the reverse order. The deadline was the same. I had to put away what I’d been working on and start writing a new book that only existed as a short synopsis at that point. Very fortunately, the Australian and UK publishers agreed to publish the second book first, or I would have been in real trouble.

It just happened that all sorts of interruptions got in the way of progress on the novel. Some months down the track, I was seriously unhappy with what I’d written, and not only because there wasn’t enough of it. The new novel, an adult fantasy set in early medieval Ireland, has the same setting and some of the same characters as my first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. The expectation is that it will be closer to the mode of those earlier books than to that of my more complex, more historically based later books. It was much harder than I expected to return to that simpler and more emotive style, and to the restrictions of first person viewpoint for a story that had to include battles and journeys as well as domestic elements. My writing has developed a lot since I began the Sevenwaters series—I’ve written seven other novels since the last in that trilogy.

At the end of those few months of wrestling with the new book, I tested the first four chapters on my peer critique group. They told me what I’d by then worked out for myself—I just hadn’t got the ‘voice’ right. My narrator was not sufficiently likeable to draw the reader in. In fact, she was in the same state of anxiety as I was, constantly mulling over everything that was wrong in her world and floundering around ineffectively for solutions. She was a real bundle of angst. In the rewrite her problems are more clearly defined and she’s much quicker at getting on with things. And she does her best to be a good person. The only time I created a seriously flawed protagonist (Fainne in Child of the Prophecy) my readership was deeply divided in its reaction. Generally, when the protag is female it seems more difficult to get away with giving her major faults of character. The majority of my readership is female. Does that mean we women are too hard on ourselves, I wonder?

Anyway, I’ve completely rewritten those first chapters—I kept very little from the original version—and I’m happy with the way things are going. I’ve realised that this book will be ‘the same but different.’ I’m hoping to combine the best aspects of my earlier style with some of what I’ve learned about writing over my eight years or so of doing it professionally.

One of the problems with returning to the setting and characters of an earlier series for a later, stand-alone novel is what to do about the old characters. The readership for this book will include fanatical devotees of the Sevenwaters books—people who’ve read them a zillion times—and people who have never heard of my books before. Including too much about those previous characters will bore the latter group and slow the story down. Not including enough will disappoint the fans and generate a deluge of ‘What happened to X?’ messages. One of the changes I made in the rewrite was to be ruthless in cutting out the stronger and more interesting of the ‘old’ characters. Let these guys loose and they are liable to dominate the story, which I always intended to focus on the new, younger characters. The novel has to work for people who have no prior attachment to Sevenwaters. Ideally, those readers will enjoy this novel, then rush off to the library or bookshop to seek out the earlier books. Now back to work.

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About Juliet Marillier [2]

Juliet Marillier [3] has written twenty novels for adults and young adults as well as a collection of short fiction. Her works of historical fantasy have been published around the world, and have won numerous awards. Juliet’s most recent novel, Den of Wolves, was published in October/November 2016. Den of Wolves is the third book in the Blackthorn & Grim series of historical fantasy/mysteries for adult readers. The Blackthorn & Grim series is published by Penguin Random House US and Pan Macmillan Australia.