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Take Five: Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Photobucket [1]WU contributor and bestselling fantasy author Juliet Marillier [2] has a new book out! Heart’s Blood [3] hits shelves in the US and Australia today. To celebrate, she would like to offer two copies of her new book to Writer Unboxed. Becoming eligible for one of these copies is as easy as leaving a comment at the end of this post between now and Sunday, November 8th. We’ll choose two winners at random after that date and announce shortly thereafter.

Want to know more about this fabulous new book? Without further ado, our Take Five with Juliet Marillier.


Q: What’s the premise of your new book?

JM: The major theme of Heart’s Blood is acceptance: learning to see beyond people’s outward flaws to their inner qualities. Parallel with that is learning to accept yourself. Acceptance lies at the heart of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, on which Heart’s Blood is loosely based. It means coming to terms with the past, good and bad. Communication and miscommunication form another theme. Heart’s Blood contains extracts from diaries, letters and journals, which weave the stories of past generations into the main narrative. And then there are the mirrors …

Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

JM: The first person narrator, Caitrin, is a skilled scribe. Running away from home, she ends up at Whistling Tor, the crumbling fortress of reclusive chieftain Anluan, where she is hired to sort and transcribe a disordered collection of family documents. As she works through these, Caitrin uncovers a dark story spanning four generations. At the same time, her presence triggers profound changes in Anluan’s eccentric household.

This is not simply a fairy tale retold. The novel contains several interweaving story elements. There’s the historical: the setting is twelfth century Ireland, the Anglo-Normans are advancing towards Connacht, and Anluan may lose his territory. The supernatural: a curse has been laid on Whistling Tor and its chieftain by a misguided ancestor, crippling Anluan’s capacity to act. The family drama: the documents reveal the tales of several generations of Anluan’s forebears, and a perilous, hundred-year secret. And then there’s Caitrin’s own story. What is she running from? Why has she turned her back on her home and family?

Readers should know that despite the title, this is not a vampire story! Heart’s blood is the name of a rare herb that features in the plot.

Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

JM: I made significant changes to the story of Beauty and the Beast. In particular, I wanted to create a ‘Beast’ character who would be real to today’s reader. Anluan is burdened by both a physical deformity, caused by a childhood illness, and by bouts of depression. His beastly qualities are caused, not by a magic spell, but by misfortune, the limitations of early medieval medicine, and superstition. He faces challenges from the external world, not only the Norman advance but also the prejudice and mistrust of his people and the curse that lies over his household. Before he can tackle any of these, he must learn to believe in himself.

Rather than send Anluan a ‘Beauty’ who is physically perfect, strong-hearted and capable, I had Caitrin bring her own set of personal difficulties to Whistling Tor. I felt it would be much more dynamic if both the Beast and his Beauty had a journey to make towards healing. They behave like real people, not fairy tale characters, so it isn’t a straightforward process.

Q: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

JM: In my previous books, the supernatural element has always been based on the mythology or folklore of the setting. For instance, in the Sevenwaters books the mythological races of Ireland make an appearance, and Wolfskin features the oath of loyalty between a berserk warrior and the Norse gods. Heart’s Blood is my first ghost story. I did a lot of thinking about what it would mean to come back from beyond death, the nature of purgatory, and other thorny issues. I hope my somewhat unusual take on this makes sense to readers!

The main story, narrated in first person by Caitrin, unfolds as the tales of past generations are gradually revealed through the documents she is reading. I found it technically challenging to pace this well and maintain tension without stretching credibility.

The biggest challenge was one I’ve blogged about here in the past – I wrote the first few chapters of Heart’s Blood, then set them aside for a year to write a different book, which an editor had decided she wanted first. Picking the project up after that long break was difficult, and it took me a while to re-engage with the story and the characters. But I’m happy with the end result.

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

JM: At the time I began Heart’s Blood I was feeling frustrated at US editors’ lack of interest in a bigger, more historically based project I wanted to do. Who wouldn’t want to write what she loves and believes in, rather than what the editor thinks will sell? However, as I make my living as a writer I knuckled under and wrote the shorter, more romantic book required, and Heart’s Blood is the result. Of course, once I got going I came to love the oddball cast of characters and to enjoy the technical challenges presented by the story structure. Now that Heart’s Blood is in print I can truthfully say I’m proud of it. Beauty and the Beast is my favourite fairy tale. I hope my novel does it justice.

Thanks so much, Juliet! Heart’s Blood sounds fantastic. Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of Juliet’s new novel.

About Therese Walsh [4]

Therese Walsh (she/her) co-founded WU in 2006 and is the site's editorial director. She was the architect and 1st editor of WU's only book, Author in Progress [5], and orchestrates the WU UnConference. [6] Her second novel, The Moon Sisters [7], was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal and Book Riot; and her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy [8] was a Target Breakout Book. Sign up for her newsletter [9] to be among the first to learn about her new projects (or follow her on BookBub [10]). Learn more on her website [11].