Meet Juliet Marillier …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented and prolific Juliet Marillier to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: You started out writing for adults, but I see your recent books, Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret are Young Adult. (Cybele’s Secret won the 2008 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best YA Novel).  What led you to veer into Young Adult books?

I was persuaded in that direction by a publisher. I already had a good cross-over audience for some of my adult novels, the Sevenwaters series in particular. I’m sure that is partly because they have youngish protagonists, though I didn’t make it so in order to attract YA readers – in the early medieval period, people led shorter lives and were mothers, craftspeople, farmers or fighters during their teenage years. Those who didn’t die in childbirth or get killed in a fight or a nasty accident might then live into their forties, fifties or even older. That makes it realistic for the protagonists to be in the 15-25 age group. My readership for those adult books starts at about age 13 and goes up to folk in their nineties, including one visually impaired friend to whom I’ve read most of my novels aloud! I currently have both a YA series (Shadowfell) and an adult series on the go.

Q: I see you were a music teacher. What was your instrument? I know some writers who make up a ‘play list’ specific to each book they write. Do you write, while listening to music?

Violin, oboe, voice, in that order, with singing being my main area of performance. Generally I don’t listen to music when I write, especially not anything with lyrics, as I find that too distracting. For certain books I did listen to particular styles of music. I’m very keen on folk music these days, especially Celtic and Galician music. My favourite group is the Scottish band Runrig. When I was in the Highlands doing my research for the Bridei Chronicles I would play their music very loudly in the car as I drove along those wee one-way roads. For Wildwood Dancing, set in Transylvania, I listened to Australian gypsy band Doch.

Q: You were born in New Zealand and grew up there, but your family are from Scotland and Ireland and you grew up hearing Celtic music and stories. Have you travelled back to Europe to research your roots?

I have travelled back there for general research, but I haven’t done specific research into my family history – I have more of a passion for the physical landscape and the stories of my ancestral culture (mostly Scots, a bit of Irish) than the urge to seek out the specific details of my own family. I do know a fair amount about the last few generations. And thanks to a comprehensive book about the Pringle family, on my mother’s side, I know I have a wrong-side-of-the-blanket connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Q: The Sevenwaters Trilogy (which seems to contain five books LOL) has a big gap of eight years between books three and four. When you came back to writing in this world was it like visiting old friends?

Yes, and that surprised me. There was an eight year writing gap between Child of the Prophecy, final book of the original trilogy, and Heir to Sevenwaters, the first of the follow-ups. It’s not really a trilogy of five books (with a sixth to come) but a trilogy plus three later stand-alone novels with the same settings and some of the same characters. Again, this was something I was encouraged to do by a publisher, because the first three books were so well-loved. I had some misgivings because I had not intended to write any more in that series or in that style. I would never write a book solely because it was likely to be commercially successful. So I had to make the new project into something I could feel passionately about. That turned out not to be difficult, as I realised there was a heap more I could do with the Sevenwaters characters.

Q: I’m a big fan of the Pre-Raphaelites. I notice that some of your covers feature artwork which has a strong pre-Raphaelite look. (Heart’s Blood and the Australian editions of the Sevenwaters books.) Did you have any say in the covers?

For the Australian editions, yes. I asked if Pan Macmillan would commission a cover for Heir to Sevenwaters from Australian painter Kim Nelson, whose work I really love. At the same time as producing that cover art, Kim designed the covers for the new editions of the Sevenwaters trilogy, using paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artist J W Waterhouse. A painting by Waterhouse was also used for Heart’s Blood. I was consulted extensively right through the design process, which was wonderful. It’s not so with many of the overseas publishers. Often something extremely weird and inappropriate will go on the cover and I won’t get to see it until it’s finalised. But I have been very lucky, with wonderful artists like Kinuko Y Craft, Jon Sullivan and John Jude Palencar commissioned to do covers for US and UK editions.

Q: The Saga of the Light Isles is about a Viking farm boy, Eyvind who dreams of becoming one of the Jarl’s elite warriors. Were you always interested in Norse mythology?


I’ve always been interested in all kinds of mythology, legends, fairy tales and folklore. It comes of being brought up on Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books and by parents who loved storytelling. My particular interest in Norse history and mythology came about when I read a book on Viking warfare and started thinking about what kind of men berserk warriors would have to be – on one hand, crazy killing machines dedicated to a god of war; on the other hand, dutiful sons who went home to help Mum on the farm in between raiding voyages. The Icelandic sagas actually describe this dichotomy. That fascinated me, hence Wolfskin, my book about the making (and unmaking) of a berserker.

Q: The Bridei Chronicles is based loosely on real history. We were on a panel together at World Con in Melbourne 2010, where you said (I’m paraphrasing) that when not a lot is known about a time, the writer is able to extrapolate and invent. Do you find your general knowledge has helped you fill in the gaps about what is known of the Picts?

Definitely. It’s certainly not a case of, if you don’t know it, make it up! The writer needs to research pretty thoroughly and be familiar with what is known, even if that isn’t much. And when you do venture into informed guesswork, what you create should at least be possible within what is known of that culture. It helps to look at other, similar cultures of the time that may have more contemporary documents.

I used my general education all the time – for instance, I invented place names for many locations in the Highlands whose current names couldn’t be used because they belong to a later (Scots) period and language. To do so, I had to put together names derived from the bits and pieces of other languages that were thought to belong to the same family as the lost Pictish language of Bridei’s time. I’m sure most people who read the novels didn’t give a hoot if the names were historically probable or not, but it mattered to me! I have in the past made historical errors in my books, before I realised such things were important in fantasy, and these days I try to get things right. Being a nit-picker of this kind does sometimes spoil my enjoyment of other people’s fantasy – I can’t bear it when writers mix up ‘real world’ cultures holus bolus to create their secondary world. But I love it when writers get it right. Jacqueline Carey is a great example, with her intricately detailed alternative Renaissance Europe.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I think that would be too much of a generalisation. I do see a trend in the UK towards a style of fantasy that reflects a somewhat pessimistic or jaded world view and is often extremely violent and gruesome. The names that spring to mind are all male: Jesse Bullington, Joe Abercrombie, and literary writer Glen Duncan’s recent venture into fantasy, The Last Werewolf. I found Bullington’s first novel too sickening to read, but Joe Abercombie is one of my favourite writers, and the Glen Duncan novel is a striking piece of storytelling, though the subject matter is often challenging. But I don’t think this is the answer to the question. Really, fantasy writing is about individual writers, not men vs women or Americans vs Brits or redheads vs blondes. All sorts of factors influence the way a person writes; gender is only one of them. Perhaps the recent tendency to undervalue women fantasy writers is based on the massive rise in the number of paranormal romances we see in the bookshops, most of them by women – some people may be assuming that’s what we all write!

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Difficult to answer, as the interview is based on fantasy writing, and I’m not a great fantasy reader. Within that genre I tend to stick to a few favourite writers, both male and female, and my expectations are based on their previous work. With an unknown fantasy author, I don’t think gender would change my expectations much, because there’s such a huge variety of approach within the genre. I would be influenced by the cover, the blurb, and the first few pages – perhaps also by the author bio and who published the book. The qualities I want in any novel, regardless of genre, are skilled craftsmanship and great storytelling. And originality.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I’ll go to sixth century Britain, eastern end of the Great Glen (where Inverness is now) so I can find out the answers to all those questions about the Picts and perhaps drop in at King Bridei’s court. Can I take my thermal underwear?

Give-away Question:  (win a signed copy of a JM novel of your choice)

Juliet says:
I’ve confessed that I don’t read a lot of fantasy. Recommend a fantasy novel for my reading list, and tell us why you chose it.


Catch up with Juliet on GoodReads

Catch up with Juliet on Facebook.

The Juliet Marillier Cafe.

Catch up with Juliet on Writer Unboxed.


Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Covers, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Genre, Inspiring Art, Young Adult Books

59 Responses to Meet Juliet Marillier …

  1. Mary Preston

    I highly recommend WYRD SISTERS by Terry Pratchett for a trip through fantasy. Terry Pratchett writes his skewed interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It’s not a subtle take, which makes it even more brilliant. The three witches are laugh-out-loud hilarious. (I’d read it for the play scene alone.)

  2. Anne Bishop’s The Black Jewels series. Starting with Daughter of the Blood.
    I bought the series in the first place because I needed something to keep my mind off being in the air for a flight back from Melbourne (to Brisbane)
    Worked a treat,

    There’s magic, romance, intrigue, humor, a bad tempered hero and a heroine with a sting in her tail.

  3. Ok no attempt to brown nose but you can’t go past The King Rolen’s Kin Trilogy, pacey, fresh and tackles some current issues in a clever way.

    If you like folklore can’t go past Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, this really drew me in, one of those books you start reading to find out an hours past in the blink of an eye.

    While not Fantasy, Justin Hill’s Sheildwall I found to be a fascinating extrapolation on the period just before the Battle of Hastings. Focuses on Godwin Wolfnothson. I can only fault it for its coverage of women, lots of battles and blokes.

  4. Nice suggestions thus far. I’ve read and enjoyed Wyrd Sisters. My favourite Pratchett is Feet of Clay, closely followed by Night Watch – I like the more serious novels. I haven’t tried the Anne Bishop but they’ve been recommended before, so I should.

  5. Ashley DeGroot

    I’d suggest reading “Warbreaker” by Brandon Sanderson. It’s a great stand alone novel with a complex world. It’s a great all around fantasy novel with magic, mythical people, war, and a lot of twists. Very good book.

  6. I remember the first time I picked up “Daughter of the Forest”, I saw it at the local library and almost put it down because it seemed more historical fiction then fantasy. I desperately needed something to read however so I took it with me on the chance that it could be a topic my dad (a history enthusiast) and I could discuss.

    Stayed up all night reading it and rushed back the next day to get the other two books XD The weaving of Celtic mythology had me hooked and interested me into learning more.

    Well…there’s Pamela Dean’s “Secret Country” trilogy and Joyce Ballou Gregorian’s “Tredana” trilogy–I enjoy both because they take the ‘Child from our world sent to fantasy land to save it’ trope and then play pretzel with the results.

    Brandon Sanderson’s novels are some of my all time favorites–he writes strong female characters just as well as his male characters. “The Way of Kings” is his newest release for his new epic serial (The Stormlight Archives), but a follow up to his Mistborn trilogy is due out this fall that incorporates Steampunk into the world (which is kind of fantastic since its a world built around the ability to control metal).

    Brent Week’s “Night Angel Trilogy” and Rachel Aaron’s “The Legend of Eli Monpress” books are all AWESOME about thieves and assassins and cleaning up the messes you create when you save the world from enormous power.

    And anything by Sharon Shinn, but I love her “Summers at Castle Auburn” stand alone novel the most I think. She’s another author who writes young-ish characters, and thus has crossover between all age demographics.

  7. Richard Stein

    It is very light fantasy, but Across the Nightingale Floor – 1st installment of the “Tales of the Otori” series by Lian Hearn. The world is thinly veiled as Feudal Japan and has a heavy emphasis on “magic” verging on supernatural. The characters are likable and the world is immersive.

    • I read Across the Nightingale Floor because when I was learning Iaido (the art of the Samurai sword) I was taught how to walk across the Nightingale floor without making a sound!

    • LOL, Richard. I did 5 years study of Iaido, Taekwondo (I was runner up Australian champion) and Aikido. So when I write fight scenes I do it from experience.
      Then for battle scenes I bought the West Point Academy’s analysis of famous historical battles, Ceasar, Alexander the Great etc.

  8. Super interview, Rowena! And aren’t those cover pics gorgeous?

  9. I’m trying to think of something really unique. As much as I love “Across the Nightingale Floor,” I love it for what it is – a samurai romance done exceptionally well – but it isn’t a whole new world.

    For enviable originality, I would nourish your sleepless nights with “The Etched City” by KJ Bishop and “Palimpsest” by Cat Valente.

    That is all 🙂

    • Thoraiya, the challenge is getting the publisher to accept the unique world. I have a fantasy set in a dangerous tropical paradise. My publishers won’t even look at it.

      • I believe you, Rowena. And it is a shame! I hope that I get to read it some day.

        “The Etched City” was given a small print run by Prime before it was picked up by bigger publishers – who had probably rejected it earlier, before it won critical acclaim and a World Fantasy nomination. As for Cat Valente’s recent NYT bestseller, “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of her Own Making,” she had to self-publish long before she appeared on such things as Hugo ballots. I don’t know if I could have blind enough faith in a book to be brave like that. We’ll see in another 10 years I guess 😉

    • And that hurts because I have a soft spot for it. Feels so vivid and fresh to me.

    • I’m thinking of paying my agent, who used to edit for Obrit, to go over the duology, then self publishing.

  10. My all-time favorite would be Stardust by Neil Gaiman. It’s simply gorgeous.

  11. Sofia Damásio

    My recommendation is Anne Bishop.
    When I bought Daughter of the Blood, I was in a book fair and my fauther offered to buy me one book. At the time, I hadn’t a wish list, so I went to fantasy section and start looking at julliet marillier’s books, nearly I saw Anne Bishop and I had never heard about her. I look to the couver and read that her novels attract the legion of juliet marillier’s fans. What could I do? I had to buy it.
    I started reading it and I didn’t like the book. It had so many information that I couldn’t understand a thing about the story, and I couldn’t reach any of the characters. I thought “Why did I bought this book?”. While I was understanding the story, I was getting more and more attached and when I finished it I felt like I was in hangover, I needed the next book.
    Here in Portugal, we have an expression that I use to say when I’m speaking about Anne Bishop “Primeiro estranha-se, depois entranha-se”. I don’t know how to translate that in english, but it means that at first it looks strange but then it becomes special. I think that’s the best way to describe Bishops’s work.
    Anne Bishop turned out to be one of my favourite writers in a way because of Juliet. So, as Juliet “introduced” me Anne Bishop, I’d like to “introduced” you the wonderful world of the Black Jewels.

    • ‘it means that at first it looks strange but then it becomes special. ‘ That’s a really interesting concept. By persevering with something different it became special to you. Thanks for this, Sofia.

  12. Loved reading this interview, thank you!

    I second the Sharon Shinn rec (Summers at Castle Auburn is one of my favourites) but would suggest her Samaria books as well – I love how music is such a large part of these books and the romance!


  13. Tansy Rayner Roberts Creature Court series- Power and Majesty and The Shattered City. Vivid and charming and very addictive you will find the hours disapear as you explore the city of Aufleur.

    • Absolutely Cecilia. Tansy’s Power and Majesty is quirky, creative and fun. I should add that Trent’s Death Works series is also different and a great read.

      While Ithink of it, I got an email from you theother day about the google link up thing. While madly cleaning out my inbox, 400+ emails, I accidentally deleted it and I’m still finiding my way around my new email program so I can’t find it. I know technically challenged. Sad.

      Can you send again, please?

  14. Juliet, if you haven’t read ‘The Mists of Avalon’ by Marion Zimmer Bradley, I’d rush out and buy it right now! Its one of the very first fantasy novels written by a woman, from a woman’s point of view, with a sense of women’s magic and power and history. If you have read it, my favourite fantasy reads in the last few years have been Alison Croggon, Lian Hearn, and Pamela Freeman. And they’re all Australian! Indeed, we have so much talent in this country.

  15. Melissa May

    I would reccomend Jennifer Fallons Tide Lords series i loved them oR Sara Doulass Axis beautiful writing .

  16. Bek

    I would recommend the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik – it’s the napoleonic wars with DRAGONS!! the characters are amazing and it is well researched, with great ethical/historical issues examined throughout 🙂

  17. I definitely recommend Lynn Flewellings THE BONE DOLL’S TWIN. It’s character driven fantasy, beautifully and heartbreakingly written and it is both haunting and moving.

    It’s a ghost story, a story about paying a price, about sacrifice, about finding out who you are and has great and heartbreaking moments. Even though the setting is definitely high fantasy and in some ways it is quite different to what Juliet writes, I think on an emotional level and in relation to the themes and subjects it deals with it is very much like Juliet Marilliers novels.

    Greetings from Germany


  18. mervih

    I’ll second the Temeraire suggestion and recommend Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Curse of Chalion”, “Paladin of Souls”, and “the Hallowed Hunt”. The world has gods based on the family (Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, Bastard) and great characters.

  19. Jim Anglea

    You should check out Charles de Lint’s Newford books. He has written several novels and has about five collections of short stories set there. They turned me on to urban fantasy…and eventually led me to this site!!! I’m getting all kinds of good ideas for my next read.


    • I do love Charles de Lint’s books. He has a very distinctive style. I met him and his partner when they came to Brisbane, had dinner with them (as par tof a large group), then he played his guitar and sang.

  20. Jess

    One beautiful fantasy novel I have read lately is M.D. Lachlan’s “Wolfsangel.” It is the first book in a new up-coming trilogy, and while it’s based on an extremely overrated fantasy concept, werewolves, it is one of the most refreshing, original novels I have read in awhile. Also try Jay Lake’s “Green”, Sarah Michlem’s “Firethorn” and “Wild Fire,” and Douglas Clegg’s “Vampyricon.”

    • Wow, Jess. I’d be interested in reading a book that did something fresh with this concept.

      • Jess

        Believe me Rowena, I am about as over vampires and werewolves as anyone could be, more so since I have seen how many young adult authors have butchered the whole horror concept and turned it into some kind of teenage glittery drama scene. But wolfsangel takes the werewolf concept and bases it on an old Nordic legend, while also inserting an interesting mythology based conflict between Odin and Loki. The reason I love Juliet’s work so much is that she is not only a fantasy writer but a historical fantasy writer. I appreciate any author that can combine magic and historical events to produce a wonderful, intricate novel that is neither dry nor absurdly over the top. Most of the time I am more into West European Celtic fantasy, such as Juliet writes, but once in awhile I like to stray to some Nordic material as well (which she has also touched on when she wrote Wolfskin and Foxmask.) So if you enjoy that book I also recommend “Ice Land” by Betsy Tobin, which embraces the same Nordic fantasy/ideas.

    • Wow, Jess. Another author for me to hunt up!

  21. Rachel

    Diana Wynne Jones was an absolutely fantastic author. Her characters were always completely believable, the worlds she invented were incredible, and she managed to hide so much depth in her novels. There were books I read and enjoyed at age 8 which I could reread and get more out of 10 years later.

  22. Pingback: Ramblings of a wRiter | The Australian Speculative Fiction Blog Carnival Part Two

  23. Bunny

    This is probably long over but for the sake of reading a good book, read “The thief with no shadow” by Emily Gee. I picked it up just in a shop because it seemed like a nice non complicated read and it has turned into one of my favorite stand alone books, I continuously come back to it and that is what you want in a book.

    • Bunny, I’ve read that one. As you say a good stand alone read and a bit different from the average fatnasy. I interviewed Emily Gee. You’ll find her by going to the Visiting Author page.
      Thanks for commenting.

      Cheers, Rowena

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