I’m declaring my professional year as being the Year of Taylor and Quintana. Two very prickly beloved characters who have consumed quite a substantial amount of my life these past couple of years.
I’m hoping that March will be dedicated to blogging about the possible/potential/pre-pre-pre production of Jellicoe, the film. But for now, here are a couple of lines from the script that don’t belong in the novel. I’m presuming you’ll guess who “I Am” is.
So who’s their captain?
Ben painfully unbuttons his shirt. Written across his chest in green paint are the words: I AM.
He seemed to think you’d know who “I am” is.
For the time being I did this Q and A a while back for my US publishers at Candlewick as part of their PR for release this April.
Readers were left with a huge cliffhanger at the end of Froi of the Exiles, the second book in the series. Can they expect all to be resolved for the characters
at the end of Quintana of Charyn?
Yes, definitely. Every single character gets a resolution.
How do you feel about the story arc and how it came to a close?
For me, and hopefully for the reader, Quintana of Charyn is everything I wanted it to be and more. I was still discovering things about the characters right up until the very end, but there was never a time when I felt I was being rushed. What surprised me, though, is that I think the entire trilogy began as a story about two people, but by the time I finished it, there were six main players and a supporting cast, and every single one of them counted.
You play a lot with the theme of redemption and the recurring idea that there is no completely irredeemable person or group of people; that when faced with hardship, people can surprise you. These types of imperfect and conflicted characters really dominate this series. Why do you enjoy writing about them?
I think we are all imperfect and conflicted characters, and too many times I’ve been completely surprised by the way someone close to me has dealt with hardship. I grew up with Bible stories, and although this trilogy isn’t religious, it’s biblical at times. When I was a kid, we had this big colorful children’s illustrated Bible, and the stories were so epic. Then, of course as an older reader I was introduced to Shakespeare. The stakes are so high in those stories, and the people so flawed. In Macbeth and King Lear and Henry the Fourth, Part 1, and in the stories of King David and Saint Paul and Mary Magdalene, there are no truly good or evil characters. People face dilemmas. People turn the other way. People are tempted. Isn’t that just all of us, but on a bigger scale?
Is there a particular character in the series who you relate to the most? Why?
Probably Phaedra. In my head she became the mouse that roared. I think anyone can challenge another, not just those who are charismatic or ultra-intelligent or physically stronger or those who get noticed more. Phaedra is an average girl. She doesn’t have the brilliance or cunning or bravery of some of the other women to begin with. She hasn’t particularly suffered as much as everyone else, but she gets things done. I relate to being that average person who gets things done.
Can you talk a little bit about the importance of setting in the Lumatere Chronicles? You have said that you travel extensively to research features that might distinguish the locations described in each book. Can you give an example of something you saw in your travels that readers will see in the series?
The most important physical aspect of Froi of the Exiles is the gravina. Gravina is the Italian world for “ravine,” and in Matera, Italy, there’s a ravine that splits the town. My guide called the center of that town the citavita. Writers choose words that play a tune in their ear; and gravina sounded better than ravine, and citavita sounded better than capital. In Quintana of Charyn, the description of the province of Sebastabol is based on Guernsey in the Channel Islands. It’s a coastal town, so where Froi and his party stay was pretty much where I stayed high above the city. I also came across a little church in Guernsey covered in ceramics, which was quite over-the-top, but it resonated, so there’s a scene in Quintana of Charyn when Froi goes to see the head Priest in the underground city where they’re hiding, and the walls are covered with ceramics. Also, the shape and interior of a well in Orvieto, Italy, was expanded in my head to become a castle where Froi and his people hide at one stage.
Another device that you use in your writing is a shifting point of view. Was there a particular character whose voice was particularly easy or challenging to channel onto the page?
Quintana was very challenging because her voice for most of Quintana of Charyn was sort of a melody with ten to twelve beats per line. It’s her song to Froi. They’ve been calling out to each other, without realizing, for most of their lives. So Quintana’s voice was very hard to sustain, and I used it sparingly. My favorite voice to write was Lucian, because despite everything, I could be funny with him. His scenes are a combination of humor and pathos.
What do you think the shifting point of view adds to the reader’s experience?
The thing with Quintana of Charyn is that Froi and Quintana are separated, so I couldn’t have the whole story from Froi’s point of view. It would have frustrated the reader, and there wouldn’t have been enough tension. The different points of view allow the reader to get a glimpse of what’s taking place elsewhere, because the events in Lumatere and in the valley are just as important as what’s happening in Froi’s part of the world. Ultimately all these factions are going to meet in the one place. There’s conflict in almost every relationship in this trilogy, whether it’s a father and son, a husband and wife, or a group of women who are forced into one another’s company, but overall the trilogy is about hope and community and the power individuals have to change their destiny.
When you hear from fans of the series, who are their favorite characters? Is there a hands-down winner?
It really varies. I’ve had obvious love expressed for Froi and Quintana and the brothers from Abroi and Lirah and Trevanion and Beatriss, but I think the standouts for some readers have been Lucian and Phaedra. I also have a feeling that after Quintana of Charyn comes out, there could be some Perri and Tesadora love out there because the reader gets a bit of their backstory. I’ve loved Perri and Tesadora ever since Finnikin, so it seemed natural to link their story to Froi’s.
Has a fan ever told you something about the trilogy that really delighted or surprised you?
I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by the reaction to this trilogy, and more than anything I love that people from countries where my novels aren’t published, like Norway and Pakistan and the U.K. and Russia, have found Finnikin and Froi and write to me about how they feel. We only have to watch the news and read the newspapers to see that displaced people desperate for hope and longing for a connection are part of our everyday lives, so I think these three novels are the most universal of my work.
Do you envision any other stories in the future that will continue in the realm of Skuldenore?
I was asked to write a short story for an online literary magazine, so I chose Lady Celie of the Flatlands. It’s a murder mystery called “Ferragost,”and it’s set on an island castle in the kingdom of Belegonia where Lady Celie is like the Agatha Christie of the medieval world. Writing “Ferragost” let me play more with mystery and intrigue and love, rather than some of the darker themes in the trilogy. I’m sure I’ll write another few Lady Celie mysteries, and I’m sure that the Lumateran and Charyn lot will feature in them.