I have to admit, I am very excited about today's post. Recently I had the opportunity to interview author Celine Kiernan. She is probably best-known for the award winning and critically acclaimed Moorehawke series, a stunning trilogy comprising of The Poison Throne, The Crowded Shadows and The Rebel Prince. Her book Into the Grey (aka Taken Away) is currently nominated for the CBI 2012 Book of the Year Award (more details here). And if this all wasn't keeping her busy enough, her fifth novel Resonance is due to hit the shops in 2013. If you like what you read here and would like to find out more about Celine's books, this month's Three Step Trilogy will be looking at each of the books from the Moorehawke Trilogy in turn so do stay tuned.
What inspired you to write the Moorehawke trilogy?
It started off as a story for very young children (due to the fact that my kids were quite young at the time, I suppose). Inspired by a visit to the final home of Leonardo Da Vinci at Clos Luce in the South of France, where I shared a quiet sun-soaked garden bench with a rather pensive kitten, Moorehawke took seed as a rather light sunny adventure featuring a carpenter’s daughter, a missing prince, a talking cat and a regretful ghost in an avenue. I was working on something else at the time though (the script to my science fiction graphic novel, and then the ghost story which eventually became Into The Grey) and as I only ever work on one thing at a time, I laid Moorehawke aside until I could give it my full attention. When I finally took it out of the mental box I’d held it in (maybe two or three years later) it had … well… it had grown up a bit.
Wynter, Razi and Christopher are highly distinctive and memorable lead characters. Could you tell the readers a little bit about them and also, how you as a writer get to know your characters?
I can’t really answer the second part of that question so well, I’m afraid. I’m not actually too sure how I ‘get to know my characters.’ By the time a book is finished I know the cast so well that I can’t imagine a time when they weren’t just there, fully formed and breathing in my head. Even were you to ask me that question about the book I’m currently writing, I’d be hard pressed to answer it because the characters are already fully alive to me – perhaps they are so before I even put the first words on paper. All I know for sure is how hard I work to try and convey those characters to the reader through their actions and dialogue.
|page from Celine Kiernan's Moorehawke webcomic. |
A full list of pages are available on her blog here.
In respect to Razi, Wyn and Christopher, certainly all three play their own role in exploring the themes of power and justice and societal responsibility that I wanted to explore in the Moorehawke books; but in a way, I hope that they are more rounded than simply being glyphs. You can’t just say of Wynter, for example, that here is the innocent girl oppressed by the cruel world. She is innocent, yes (and her innocence becomes more apparent as the books continue and her world view is challenged again and again) but she is also very flexible, and quite shockingly ruthless too, in how she is willing to abandon, manipulate or disregard the feelings of those she loves for what she believes is the greater good.
Razi is a kind, loving man – but he also has a dangerous tendency to bully and dominate those he loves ‘for their own good’ and he too is ready to sacrifice anything, even his own moral principles and the friendships he so obviously craves, in order to preserve the society he believes in. Christopher balances this with a less distanced view of justice – his devotion to his friends, and belief in the importance of the individual as opposed to that of society as a whole, serves as a challenge to his two very courtly and sometimes coldly political friends. He is ruthless in a different manner, and the differences between his world view and Wynter’s are what balances their relationship out, I think, and helps them both come to a place where they may engineer a happy life in an unhappy world.
Though the Moorehawke trilogy is set in an alternative Renaissance Europe, it deviates from much European fantasy work in the emphasis it places on the (sometimes fraught) interactions between people of different cultures, languages and traditions. Was this intentional?
Yes, absolutely. One of the things I wanted to explore in Moorehawke was how difficult it can be to maintain consensus in a society where differences are tolerated and where multiculturalism is embraced. Tolerance is easily preached, but not so easily lived and I wanted to be realistic about the fact that there is no one correct answer to the world’s problems, and no one perfect way of living. Societal stability is fragile and peace is something that can only be achieved (if it is achievable at all) when all sides make a genuine effort to understand and accommodate those who they may be naturally inclined to despise. Every person in Moorehawke has their own view of how their very real problems should be solved. As an author I tried very hard not to step in with any moral judgements – there is no specially wonderful, shiningly prescient character in these books who the reader can cheerfully follow knowing they are the one who has all the answers (if only everyone would listen to them!). For the problems in Moorehawke to be solved, in so far as they can be solved, there needed to be less of the one true hero trope, and more of a combination of individual compromises than is (probably) usual in fantasy politics.
To expand on that last question could you talk about your creation of the Merron and the Loup-Garous?
The Merron are perhaps the most tragic part of the Moorehawke mythology. Proud and self-sufficient and with a totally clear understanding of who and what they are, they haven’t yet accepted that everything they hold dear, all the things that in the past have made them strong and held them together as a people, are gone or are in the process of being taken from them. Their strong sense of identity, something which is to be respected and admired, is going to prove fatal for them if they can’t learn to let go and adapt to a world that is no longer capable of supporting them. I wanted the reader to only slowly come to understand the Merron. I wanted the Merron themselves to thwart our understanding in the same manner that they thwart Northlander society’s understanding of their ways. The choice to communicate in Hadrish, for example, a language they can barely speak. For them, this is a way of honouring their guests, a gesture of good manners. But it makes them seem clumsy, a little comical even, and easy to dismiss, especially to folks like Wynter and Razi who have been raised to see fluidity of speech and ease of communication as mark of good breeding and ability. It is only in book three, when Wynter hears Hallvor and Sólmundr use Germaine, the language of Merron diplomacy, that she realises the grave disservice her prejudice has done these people.
When I first started toying with the idea of the Loups-Garous, they were ordinary humans. An international organisation of bandits who travelled out from central bases in the
the Moroccos and Europe, I had wanted them to
embody a callous disregard for the welfare of others, and a lack of respect or
loyalty to anything other than their own kind. Originally they simply used the
legend of the werewolf in order to terrorise their victims. But
I couldn’t resist pushing it further, and very quickly they became
Wolves – their greed and cruelty now taking on a physical aspect as well as a
behavioural one. So Loups-Garous is a tribal name for an affiliation of Wolves,
and the Wolf nature is a unifying trait for what is a mixed band of diverse
races and ethnicities. In Moorehawke, if a man is born a Wolf he may
well find himself ostracised from all other societies, but if he is strong
enough and ruthless enough he will find acceptance by and be allowed live as one
of the Loups-Garous. For someone who has been marginalised because of their
physical birth-right this would be a very tempting life choice.
BUT, the trope of innate evil is something I can’t bring myself to tolerate. You read it all the time in fantasy and YA literature – especially in YA – and it drives me mad: the concept that a person (by dint of their race or sex or whatever) can simply be ‘born bad’.
I had always planned that Christopher and the Loups-Garous would mirror and contrast each other. Their histories are so intwined, and the whole concept of tribal affiliation mirrors itself nicely between the Merron and the Loups Garous. So I once again pushed one step further, and in my mind Christopher also became a Wolf. But he is a Wolf who was raised by folks who accepted his nature, and who worked with it, allowing him to develop the positive aspects of it (the speed, the endurance, the strength, the loyalty, the joie de vivre, the musicality) and control the more harmful aspects of it (the quick temper, the violent mood swings, the excess of energy, the hunger - which the Loups-Garous turn to greed). In that way Christopher became the perfect counter-balance to the Loups-Garous, who as a group had been raised to develop the less positive aspects of the same physical birthright.
By throwing these two disparate aspects of the same coin into the Moorehawke mix, I was still able to deal with all the themes I wanted to between Christopher and the Loups-Garous (themes of deferred revenge, physical and moral restraint, self-sacrifice etc. etc.) but they were so much more fun to write now that they also had this physical and mythological aspect to them. Especially when the Wolf nature got to express itself as PTSD in Christopher.
Before you became an author, you worked in animation and you still work as an illustrator. Do you feel that your drawing influences your writing, and vice versa?
Probably. I’m a very visual writer, quite descriptive of light and place, I tend to have characters communicate via gestures a good deal. I know it’s not a style that suits everyone, but what the hell, I write what I like to read.
Your most recent novel Into the Grey marks quite a departure from the Renaissance fantasy world of the Moorehawke trilogy. Was this a conscious move or did the story just arrive that way?
Moorehawke was actually written after Into the Grey (aka Taken Away). It just happened to be picked up after the trilogy and so published later. I guess the differences between the two books are fairly illustrative of how I approach the craft of writing. Each new story is what it is, and it comes with its own voice and setting and point of view, all of which are dictated by the story itself and the narrative approach that best serves it.
Ghosts feature heavily in both the Moorehawke books and Into the Grey. Would you talk about the ghosts in these books?
Well, I guess the ghosts in each are symbolic of those unresolved moments in history that linger, and affect the next generation. Sometimes this happens without that generation ever really knowing the truth of what has come before. This is so true of war, I think, where we are often only left the stories that the previous generation wanted us to hear (and even then often only those stories that the victors wanted us to hear). How much harder would the truth be to deny were it lingering about as an actual manifestation of the past? Of course, in Into The Grey (Taken Away) the ghosts also tie into themes of loss and the loss of identity: of not being able to recognise yourself without all those possessions that you’ve come to believe define you, or in James’ case, in not recognising yourself in the stories your country tells about itself.
Are there any writers and/or artists whose work you particularly admire?
Oh boy! So many! There are many writers who I admire on account of having reading one single book, and to whom I would love to return for second helpings: Heather O’Neill, for Lullabies for Little Criminals, example, or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Half of A Yellow Sun. Some writers I have been lucky enough to return to again and again, like Sebastian Barry (a huge hero of mine), Patrick O’Brien, Louis de Berniéres. Stephen King (much of whose work I think is genius) and Shirley Jackson who I worship and adore … argh… like I said, so many! Not enough time or space to name them!
Is there any advice you would give to emerging writers?
Oh the usual. Just write, just write, just write. Write for the love of it above anything else, because anything else (the pursuit of fame, money, praise) will break your heart. But treat writing like the craft it is, work hard at it the way a carpenter works hard or a plummer – put your sweat into it, and always strive to improve yourself and your communication with your reader. Write what is important to you, regardless of fashion or marketability or anything like that – all those things are so far out of your control that you may as well not think about them. Of course, this may mean you’ll never be published but that’s a risk we all take every single time we set hands to keyboard or pen to paper. For me, if I can sit back at the end of a project and say, ‘yes, I stayed honest, I said what I wanted to say, and I made it sing to the best of my ability’, then I’m happy enough. Of course, if anyone wants to buy the damned thing off me when I’m done, that’s jam I won’t refuse.
Can you tell the readers what you are writing at the moment?
The book that’s due out next is called Resonance and is tentatively scheduled for publication in May 2013. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy set in Victorian Ireland about three young folks (a struggling magician, a seamstress and a penniless cab driver) who find themselves enmeshed in a dark situation featuring an isolated country home, immortal pirates and a captive angel. As ever with my work there’s some debate as to whether it’s adult or YA. I have a feeling that, like Moorehawke, it may end up being published as both. My Aussie publishers are labelling it ‘metaphysical gothic’ which I think is pretty accurate.
It’s been a long time in the writing and there are a few bits of it scattered about the internet. The first actually appeared in the Irish Independent Christmas Supplement way back in 2008. It was a small short story I wrote for them based on the childhood of the character Joseph and his friend Tina. This story is set ten years before Resonance begins and so Joe is only eleven in it – but in the featured gif, I chose to draw him as the seventeen-year-old he is in the book (Oh Joe, he breaks my heart every time). The second section appeared in 2010, in an interview with Galaxy Books for one of their Raw Quill articles. This section had been written literally only a few days before posting. The next was a tiny tiny section which I included on the comments of this blog post. My son had shot a video of Bantry House in Co. Cork which so reminded me of my (then) work in progress that I couldn't help sharing it. And finally, this section here which includes one my favorite characters that I've ever written, Vincent, as he dives to the bottom of a frozen lake in hopes of finding answers to questions that have bothered him for centuries.
The book I’m writing at the moment is very different again. Set in a jungle compound, featuring characters who are not altogether human, it’s … yeah… it’s much too early really to talk about it. But I have put one or two excerpts up online. This one gives not clue whatsoever to the story, but does give a nice sense of place. And this one dates from before I converted the whole thing to first person.
Thank you to Celine Kiernan for her thought-provoking and insightful comments here. If you are not yet familiar with her wonderful books, I urge you to stop whatever you are doing this second and go out and buy one NOW. Better yet, save yourself the dillydallying and just pick up the lot. I promise you will not regret it.