Shadowfell author Juliet Marillier was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us. She talks about the themes in this book, writing, what she’s reading now, and more. Without further ado, here’s Juliet!
Shadowfell is a crossover novel, written for young adults (aged 13+) but also a good adult read. It’s set in Alban, which is a magical version of ancient Scotland. The story is about young rebel mounting a challenge to a tyrannical king whose regime has the entire country in terror. The central character, Neryn, starts the story alone, destitute, and on the run from the king’s Enforcers. She has a powerful gift – the ability to see and communicate with Alban’s elusive fey inhabitants. That gift must be kept secret, for to admit to it would mean torture, enslavement or death. It could also be the key to defeating the tyrant.
There are lovely fae folk of all types in this story. Why did you decide to go with the fae as the major theme, and how did you decide which beings to use? Take the reader through the process of creating the fae part of the plot.
I see the major theme as tyranny and rebellion, and the secondary theme as conscience versus duty
(is it OK to do bad things for the greater good, and what does that cost you?) I chose that because
difficult moral choices interest me, and because we’ve recently seen various challenges to tyrannical
regimes as part of the so-called Arab Spring. But yes, the Good Folk play a big part in the Shadowfell
series, since Neryn and the rebels must win them over to the cause if they’re to restore freedom to
Once I’d decided on a setting that was a thinly disguised version of Scotland (the land of my
forebears) I developed the cast of Good Folk from Scottish folklore. Fey people in that part of the
world were given the flattering name Good Folk to keep them happy so they were less likely to turn
the milk sour or stop the chickens from laying. Shadowfell includes some beings taken directly from
folklore, for instance the urisk, the brollachan, the trow. But I let my imagination run riot when I was
creating the characters. My favourite is Hollow the brollachan, a fearsome being with a heart of gold,
who speaks in broad Scots. I also love Sage, the wee woman whose frail appearance belies her inner
Neryn is a really strong character who goes through an evolution throughout the book as she
discovers who she really is and lets that start to emerge. Take us through her head, and what it was
like to write the balance between the insecurities and the deep, inner strength.
With any character, I try to put myself in their head and walk the journey with them. I didn’t want
to make Neryn too much of a hero from the beginning; characters are far more interesting if they
have room to grow. Although she’s in a very dark place at the start of the book, we know Neryn
has shown strength already – she’s had to, as there was nobody else she could rely on. With both
Neryn and Flint I wanted to show how hard it was for them to hold on to what they believed in. That
internal struggle continues through the three books in the Shadowfell series. Neryn is only 15 at
the start of Shadowfell and she has the fears and anxieties of any girl of her age would have in her
circumstances. She gets sick and tired and cold. She feels terribly lonely. She feels angry with her
family for deserting her even though she knows that’s not justified. She gets scared, with very good
reason. And she makes mistakes, especially where Flint is concerned. Yet all the time, deep down,
she has an instinct for doing the right thing, for being brave, for surviving. And she gradually learns to
trust that instinct, helped to a certain extent by the Good Folk.
There’s a great build-up of romance with Neryn and Flint, but it’s not overtly in your face. How
important is the romance element to the overarching story?
The relationship between Neryn and Flint is the emotional heart of the series, but is only one of several equally important elements of the story. The gradually developing relationship between these two highlights what it means to be a rebel, and what a person may have to sacrifice for the cause of freedom.
For those writers out there, talk about your writing routine. What’s the easiest way you’ve found to get words on the page? Any superstitions, tips or tricks?
That’s a big question! I’m a full time writer – that’s how I earn my living – so I treat writing as I would any other ‘day job’ and it’s extremely rare for me to need a deadline extension. But it can be really hard; all writers are talented at distracting themselves. Some of the tips I could suggest are these:
1. Internet-free time: switch off your modem for an hour or so every day, and write without constantly checking your email or watching funny cat videos. There is software available that will prevent you from going online until you’ve been working for a certain period. You only need that if you lack will power.
2. Set yourself a minimum daily or weekly word count and stick to it. I always do this when working towards a deadline.
3. Take stretch breaks, go out of doors from time to time, give your eyes a rest.
4. Working somewhere different from time to time can recharge the creative batteries (outside under a tree, at the coffee shop)
5. Reverting to pen and paper for a while achieves the same result.
What’s it like starting a new series?
Exciting. I love getting to know a new cast of characters and developing the ‘voice’ for the series.
What’s on your reading shelf at the moment?
An advance copy of The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth, which I am launching for Kate next month – it’s a
novel about Dortchen Wild, the girl who told Wilhelm Grimm many of the stories included in the Grimm
brothers’ collections. Uncommon Soldier by Chris Masters, a non-fiction book about the modern
Australian soldier. Exit Wounds by Brigadier General John Cantwell, a searing memoir of Cantwell’s
years in the Australian army and his struggle with post traumatic stress disorder. Rebecca by Daphne
du Maurier, a classic suspense novel I re-read quite often. In fantasy, I’ve recently finished reading
the stunning Midnight and Moonshine, a collection of linked short stories by Lisa L Hannett and
Thanks Juliet! The sequel to Shadowfell, Raven Flight, is due out June 2013. Want to know more about the books or the author? Visit Juliet at her website, www.julietmarillier.com.