Great Australian Fantasy: Meet Jaclyn Moriarty, author of A Tangle of Gold

 

A Tangle of GoldJaclyn Moriarty’s ‘The Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy (Pan Macmillan), beginning with A Corner of White and The Cracks in the Kingdom (which I reviewed here) and now concluding in A Tangle of Gold, is one of Australia’s great fantasy series. Jaclyn has also written some other fascinating YA novels, in their own unique sub-genre.

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Jaclyn.

– Thank you for having me!

 Where are you based and how involved in the YA literary community are you?

 – I live in Sydney where there’s a strong YA community. (I think there’s an even stronger one in Melbourne, but we are catching up.) I see other YA writers at festivals, conferences and schools sometimes and, in the last few months, I’ve walked across the Harbour Bridge with Justine Larbalestier a few times, and had hot chocolate with Kirsty Eagar. I don’t believe in ‘networking’ at all: it’s very important to me that friendship and socializing be genuine, and not motivated by career goals.  Life is too short and friendship is too important. But there are so many lovely, funny, intelligent YA writers in Australia (and in the world generally), that it’s a real pleasure to mix with them, and to talk to them about writing and books. I’d like to go to more YA social events but I have a 9-year-old and getting a babysitter can be tricky.

What interesting thing is happening to you at the moment?

I’m sitting outside my 9-year-old’s electric guitar lesson. I just wasted five minutes trying to find an app on my phone to record a few seconds of the lesson so that I could use that as an illustration to this answer. But I couldn’t find it. I need the 9-year-old to tell me where it is.

Feeling Sorry for CeliaYour books have won and been shortlisted for numerous awards and are popular in Australia as well as overseas. Which of your books started making people pay attention?

 – I was lucky that my first book, Feeling Sorry for Celia, was a number 1 bestseller in Australia and won the NSW Premier’s Award (Ethel Turner Prize), so I had a kind of crazy start. But I think it was my second book, Finding Cassie Crazy (published in the US as The Year of Secret Assignments) that seemed to catch people’s attention both here and overseas.

Your recent trilogy ‘The Colours of Madeleine’ which now concludes with A Tangle of Gold is fantasy with ‘realism … ingeniously wedged’ into it but even your realist novels have an elated sensitivity and glee. Do you recall any examples?

Bindy Mackenzie – (I like that ‘elated sensitivity and glee’ phrase very much – thank you!) I never really like the idea of writing straight realism. It’s kind of like photorealist art: it’s very skillful but what’s the point? You can just take a photo. Also, I don’t like rules. I get restless and want to go outside the borders. So you are right that even my realistic books were never very realistic. In Feeling Sorry for Celia, the main character gets letters from imaginary organisations like the Cold Hard Truth Society; in Bindy Mackenzie, there’s a highly unlikely murder mystery; and in Dreaming of Amelia, there’s a ghost.

 ‘The Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy is set both in the Kingdom of Cello and the World – particularly in Cambridge, England where Madeleine lives. Why Cambridge – you seem to know it well?

 – I lived in Cambridge for three years in the late 90s when I was doing a PhD in Law. It was a strangely dreamy time: punting on the river, going to classes in castles, deer crossing my lawn, owls in the tree outside my bedroom window, tulips in the marketplace, being able to go to Paris on the train for a weekend for a few quid…

Madeleine receives letters from Cello through a crack in a parking meter. We find out about the fascinating places in Cello such as Bonfire in the Farms, Nature Strip, Cat Walk and Jagged Edge. Do you imagine yourself inside the Kingdom of Cello? Where would you live?

– I spend a lot of time imagining myself living in the Kingdom of Cello. If I did live there I think I would move around a lot. When I felt like a party I would go to Jagged Edge, when I wanted magic and snow, to the Magical North, and when I was hungry, to the Farms. They are very good bakers in the Farms.

A Corner of WhiteYou also invite us into this beguiling world through descriptions of its Living Colours such as Colour storms caused by vicious Greys and Purples; Lime Greens and Spitting Fuchsias. Are there some details about the Colours that you would have loved to include in the trilogy but couldn’t fit in (this will also be some solace for those of us who want to live in Cello)?

– I made a giant table of colours and their effects, so a lot of them missed out on making it into the book. I would have liked to use a very Pale Apricot. It floats through towns making everybody smooth-skinned and dewy-eyed. Although now that I think about it that sounds a bit like an ad for a skin product.

Spaces between Worlds are intriguing. What interests you about spaces in-between?

– My earlier books were written in letters and notes, and I was always intrigued by the space between those letters and notes. There is so much story in silence and in expectation. So when I started this trilogy, and the two characters started exchanging letters between worlds, I was drawn to the fact that the space between their letters had actual substance. It was also the space between their worlds: they were right beside each other and a universe apart, and it was this impossible space that was preventing their connection.

Can you tell us something about one or more of the historical figures you’ve written into the trilogy?

-I liked the fact that Byron spent some years sleeping all day, riding through the forest in the evening, then talking to friends all night long. Conversation in the night with close friends is very appealing to me: it can be a perfect way to connect. I also liked the fact that Leonardo da Vinci used to go into pet stores, buy all the birds, and set them free.

How would you describe your writing style?

– My writing always seems determined to turn itself into letters and notes, even when I’m determined that it won’t.

A Tangle of Gold is structured into Parts. Could you share how you’ve formed these?

– I spent a year planning the trilogy overall, and then about a year between books re-planning each. There were many different versions of each plan. I wanted Elliot, Madeleine and Keira to have room to move in this novel, so I let them take turns having their own Parts.

Your plot pacing bends boundaries in novel writing. Could you give us an example?

– Thank you! I’m too modest to answer this question.

Quick questions to answer without thinking too much:Moriarty Jaclyn med[1]

 Your favourite colour? yellow

Favourite word? bewildered

Introvert of extrovert? introvert

Do you get your ideas while speaking or writing? A bit of both but mainly I get ideas while I’m half-asleep or looking at the sea. Also I get ideas by drawing pictures, and writing down questions addressed to myself using coloured texas and big bubble letters, and as a consequence of eating chocolate.

Madeleine or Keira? They’re both different parts of me but if I had to choose, Madeleine

Science or magic? Magic.

Light or dark?   I want to say dark because I like stars, moon, shadows and so on, but I’m mostly an extreme optimist so I think that means light.

ClarielWhat else are you enjoying reading? At the moment I’m reading Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Steward, which I am loving. And recently I have read and loved The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and his Ex by Gabrielle Williams, The Burning Elephant by Christopher Raja, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Clariel by Garth Nix, and the manuscript of my sister Liane’s latest book, Truly, Madly Guilty. Next I’m going to read My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier and Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar.

Thanks very much for your responses, as well as your wonderful writing, Jaclyn.

– Thank YOU so much for your kind words, and your unique questions!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Australian YA: Meet Justine Larbalestier, author of My Sister Rosa

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Justine. 

liar

Your books have been praised by critics, winning and being shortlisted for numerous awards, and are also very popular. Apart from My Sister Rosa (Allen & Unwin), which book is your finest achievement?

That’s not for me to say. Besides which I always think the book I’m working on is my best until it’s published and I’m at work on the next book.

[Joy’s other favourite is the brilliant Liar.]

Where are you based and how involved in the YA literary community are you?

I’m based in Sydney at the moment. Though I also spend a lot of time in New York City. Some years I’m more based there than here. Most of my friends in the US are YA writers. That’s where my publishing career began so for the longest time I was more connected to the industry there than here. But I’ve been working on that and doing what I can to learn more about the YA publishing industry here and reading heaps of Australian YA. Team Human

It never ceases to amaze me how good the quality is given what a small population we have. I’ve been meeting more writers and booksellers and bloggers and other industry people. Right now I feel very involved with the YA literary community. I find it hard to believe I can count folks like Melina Marchetta and Jaclyn Moriarty as friends. They’re both geniuses! And recently I’ve read all of Kirsty Eagar and Leanne Hall’s books. Wow. They’re amazing.

You describe New York particularly well. Do your characters in My Sister Rosa inhabit areas that you personally enjoy or find stimulating? If so, could you give us an example?

my sister rosaThank you! I’ve lived there on and off since 1999. It’s the city I know best in the world other than Sydney. My Sister Rosa takes place in the parts of NYC that I know best. Though the narrator, Che, is seeing it for the first time. I asked friends who’d only lived there a short time to tell me what first struck them about the city and I tried to remember all the things I found strange, lo, those many years ago when I first lived in NYC. Like, the way it turns out that the steam coming out of the streets isn’t a Hollywood invention, but a real thing. I was so surprised the first time I saw that. I thought someone was shooting a movie.

A character suggests that Australians swear more than Americans. Is this true?

It’s a farken fact. (Er, that I have no substantial data support. Just trust me.)

What kind of role do fashion and fame play in My Sister Rosa?

NYC is a very fashion conscious city. I love people watching there because you see such a vast array of clothes. Top hats with roller skates! (I really did see that one time.) There are many fashion designers based there and lots of young designer markets where you can pick up clothes designed by up and coming designers cheaply. They also have some of the best second-hand clothes shops I’ve ever seen. If you love clothes it’s an exciting town to live in. I wanted to reflect some of that in Rosa.

As for fame, that plays a much smaller part in the book. I’m fascinated by fame and do plan to write about it more in a USA setting. After all some claim famous people are the USA’s primary export. When I’m in NYC I often see famous people. Oh, look, there’s Philip Glass at the next table. Is that Bjork? Why, yes, it is. Hello, Yoko Ono, Uma Thurman, Ai Wei Wei. Oh, and there’s Gwyneth Paltrow. Again. I’m not kidding. I see her everywhere. She needs to stop going to my favourite restaurants already. Why can’t I see Janelle Monae everywhere instead? Life is cruel.

The only famous person in Rosa is Leilani and she’s only microfamous. I loved writing her. I’ve met several high profile bloggers who’ve parlayed that into various different high profile gigs and they all talk very interestingly about their small amount of fame. So Leilani is based on them, but also on Tavi Gevinson, who started her fashion blog at twelve and whose online magazine Rookie is wonderful. She turns 20 in April. I like to think she and Leilani would be besties. Zombies

My Sister Rosa is described as a psychological thriller, a genre very difficult to pull off, but you have done it! I couldn’t read it at night because the suspense and anticipation kept me awake.  How do you create this unnerving atmosphere?

Thank you. I’m so glad it worked for you. The first few drafts of Rosa were massively bloated so I had to cut and cut and cut and keep on cutting. It’s tricky to balance letting readers get to know the characters with building tension and having enough scary incidents. It involves lots of cutting and rewriting and sending out to readers to see if I’m getting it right.

Narrator Che’s voice contributes significantly to the verisimilitude of the story. How did you create his voice and character?

It was a struggle. Rosa is the first novel I’ve written where I didn’t start with the voice. I’m a writer who doesn’t plan. Usually I don’t even know what the plot is when I start writing. But Rosa was my YA version of William March’s The Bad Seed (1954). So I knew the plot: instead of the mother of a psychopath, I would tell the story from the point of view of the older sibling. So instead of my usual practice of starting with the pov character and figuring out the story; I already had the story and had to figure out the pov character.

In the original draft Che was a girl but it didn’t work. I started over. But it still didn’t work. It took about four drafts before I figured out who Che was and what made him tick and made him believable and not cloying. He was really hard to write. Not because he was a boy, but because he’s such a fundamentally nice person, assuming the best of everyone, worrying about other people. We readers are trained to not much like good people. Mostly our favourites are the morally ambiguous characters, not the goody two shoes. Razorhurst

What makes his cute, ten-year-old sister, Rosa, so terrifying?

My guess is that she’s terrifying because she’s a psychopath. And she’s a real psychopath not the serial killer stereotype of the likes of Hannibal Lector. When I was writing the first draft I did a lot of reading on psychopathy. I wanted to see how much what we knew had changed since William March did his research back in the early 1950s. A lot it turned out.

I learned that psychopath, sociopath and antisocial personality disorder are synonyms. I read many case studies of real-life psychopaths who aren’t serial killers.

I also learned a lot from friends, who, on hearing of my research, told me about their own encounters with psychopaths. One dear friend went out with one for years and another close friend’s mother was a psychopath. I also heard stories of people whose children had been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. The stories they told me of the manipulation and lies and absence of empathy went a long way towards shaping the character of Rosa.

How well matched are Che and Sojourner or is she out of his league?

I’m not convinced there are leagues. Che and Sojourner have a lot in common. I think they’re well matched. Che underrates himself.  He has a gift for making and keeping friends. He’s loyal and caring and smart. I like that Sojourner was able to see the depths in him. Though, yes, she is amazing.

How carefully did you balance love and empathy with evil?

Several drafts in it was clear that Che was pretty much the opposite of his psychopathic sister. She feels no empathy; he feels too much. That central fact, I think, keeps the book balanced.

What are you enjoying reading? This is Shyness

I’m on a great reading roll at the moment. I loved Kirsty Eagar’s Summer Skin, which is sexy and smart and unputdownable. I’ve read all her books now and loved all of them. As I mentioned above I also recently discovered Leanne Hall’s work. Wow. This is Shyness is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. And her new book Iris and the Tiger is utterly delightful.

Thanks very much, Justine. 

It was a pleasure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Zombies and Unicorns

So what is it that the shuffling undead have in common with the equine symbols of purity? Well, nothing really. It’s just that for some odd reason they seem to divide opinion. Apparently, most people favour one or the other.

Authors Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black had a bit of a blogging discussion about zombies verus unicorns on Larbalestier’s blog. This eventually resulted in the two of them co-editing a YA short story anthology titled, yes you guessed it, Zombies vs Unicorns. It’s a great read. (Checkout my review on the MC Reviews website.)

Aside from the fact that I enjoyed reading the stories contained within its pages, this book made quite an impact on me as a writer. I was working on my novel, Gamers’ Challenge (sequel to Gamers’ Quest), when I read Zombies vs Unicorns. Unlike Larbalestier and Black, I did not find myself drawn to one of these imaginary creatures over the other. In fact, I loved the idea of using both of them. And so I did. Gamers’ Challenge, which will be published later this year by Ford Street Publishing, features both zombies and unicorns within its pages. When first plotting the novel, there was no trace of zombies or unicorns. But after reading the anthology, I just couldn’t resist working them in.

There was a moment in the plot that needed an unusual, unexpected threat. My original outline simply said something along the lines of “the heroes face a new threat, run around a bit and then escape, only to find themselves facing an even greater threat”. I knew what the greater threat was going to be, but I needed that unexpected threat. And now I had it — zombies.

Gamers’ Challenge also needed some mythic creatures to take part in the climactic battle. I already had a Chimaera, but I needed something else. Answer — a unicorn. In fact, I even ended up giving the unicorn a little extra time earlier in the novel.

Now that Gamers’ Challenge is finished and on its way to publication, I find myself being drawn back to both unicorns and zombies. And I keep thinking about what I would have written for the Zombies vs Unicorns anthology had I had the opportunity to contribute. Well, of course, I would have written a story with both creatures… or maybe… I would have combined the two and written something like this…

The first thing I noticed about the creature was its horn. The end was broken off, leaving a jagged edge that dripped with blood from its recent kill. It looked up at me, momentarily distracted from its meal of virgin’s brain, gore dribbling from the corners of its mouth. It stared at me with dead, vacant eyes and I noticed that one of its ears hung down, connected by a mere flap of decaying skin. It made a sound that was part whinny, part moan. It was a sad sound. A haunting sound. And possibly the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard. Then it returned to its grey matter feast, using a rotting hoof to hold down the body while biting into the girl’s brain with blackened teeth.

I had never been more thankful for my lack of virginity. And to think that Mum said it had been the greatest mistake of my young life. But she hadn’t realised that the zombie unicorn apocalypse was just around the corner.

Hmmm! I think it’s got potential. Well… maybe not.

One final thing to mention today. Tonight I’m off to the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne to do a reading from Gamers’ Quest as part of their regular Debut Mondays programme. So, if you find yourself in the Melbourne CBD this evening at 6.15pm with nothing to do… why not drop into the Wheeler Centre and listen to me and three other authors do some reading. More info here! I’ll probably report back about how it all went in my next post.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll inflict some more zombie/unicorn fiction on you.
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October Giveaway

OCTOBER MAJOR GIVEAWAY

Variety is the spice of life, and this month’s prize pack’s spicy indeed! Spend a year in Girl Hell,  search for truth, live a hilarious life alongside a comedian, and learn to cook for a growing family on a shrinking budget, in a pack that includes:

The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett SIGNED

A Year In Girl Hell: Dumped by Meredith Costain

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

A Nest Of Occasionals by Tony Martin

Woman Speak by Louise Nicholas and Jude Aquilina

On A Shoestring by Samela Harris

 

To go into the draw to win these books, just complete the entry form here. Entries close October 31, 2009.

OCTOBER FACEBOOK GIVEAWAY

When you join our Facebook Group, not only do you become a part of one of Australia’s fastest growing online book groups, you also go into the draw to win prizes! This month, one lucky member will win a pack that includes:

Nemesis and the Fairy of Pure Heart by Ashley Du Toit SIGNED

After by Sue Lawson

Elephant Dance by Tammie Matson

Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson

On The Case by Moya Simons

Elephant Dance Dragonkeeper

A big thanks to our friends at Allen and Unwin, Black Dog Books, Dragon Publishing, Hardie Grant Egmont, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Wakefield Press and Walker Books for supporting our giveaways this month.

 

A touch of magic

The magical world of Enid Blyton has been reimagined for a new generation with the ‘Enchanted World’ series (from February). Hardie Grant Egmont’s marketing manager, Natasha Besliev, says: ‘This is not just a new fairy series. The classic Blyton magic, solid storylines, well-rounded characters and strong elements of friendship are the perfect recipe for a new collectable series on which both parents and children can agree.’

A comic adventure story of a reluctant knight, a fantastical zoo, and a sorcerer’s assistant is The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures by Sam Bowring (Pan, March). Also in March from The Five Mile Press is a companion to the bestselling Dragonology called Dragon Diary (Dougald A Steer).

A&U is ‘very excited’ to welcome Justine Larbalestier with the ‘hilarious, original, enchanting’ How to Ditch your Fairy—‘urban teenage humour at its best’.

Maryann Ballytyne from Black Dog Books says ‘We have the beginnings of a fantasy trilogy—“The Strangers of Paragor”. The first book is Arrival (March). The trilogy is written by an extremely talented young woman Charlotte McConaghy and is really pushing all the fantasy genre buttons.’