I have loved all of the authors I've invited to participate in Just Contemporary. They were all invited because I especially loved whichever of their books I've read. But I definitely have to admit that Melina Marchetta agreeing to participate is the icing on my awesome cake. I've never tried to hide how much I love her writing or how strongly I've connected to her books, so here is my interview with Melina Marchetta! (runs off to fangirl squee more)
You've written both Contemporary and Fantasy. What made you decide to switch genres? Which do you prefer writing? Which is more of a challenge?
When Finnikin the character came to me, I knew I couldn’t set it in the here and now. It would have been too political, so I decided to set it in a world that looked like the year 1000. But I didn't want to deal with the Crusades so the fantasy novel was born. I had always been frightened of writing fantasy because I’m a bit in awe of good fantasy writing and didn't think I was good enough.
With regards to my preference, I always prefer the novel I’m working on so if you asked that question two years ago when The Piper's Son was being written, I’d say contemporary. I’m writing the follow up to Froi at the moment, so I’m preferring fantasy. With regards to difficulty, what I actually find is that the Contemporary novels are emotionally the hardest to write and the plot driven novels (Jellicoe and the Lumatere Chronicles) are structurally the hardest. The Lumatere Chronicles require much more research and world building and I’m currently in a great state of anxiety. Do not believe for one moment that writing gets easier.
Jellicoe Road is absolutely one of my most favorite books of all time. I recommend that book to so many people, more so than any other book I've ever read and I honestly doubt that I will ever find another book that affected me the way Jellicoe Road did. So, I'm so curious — What was it like? Writing that book?
Out of all my novels, it’s been in my head and heart the longest. I started writing a version of it back in 1993 and still today I’m putting the last full stop on the film script. So Taylor’s been there for quite some time. Plot, as I said earlier, is difficult. If you get one thing wrong, the whole thing pretty much falls to pieces and every time I solved one problem, I’d discovered another. It really hurt my head trying to get it right. While writing the film script I had to find a completely different way for Taylor to piece together the clues of the past so it hurt my head a second time. In the script, there are visuals like maps and wall charts and photographs and artwork to do the job of the words in the novel. I never want to have to replot this story again.
I think the key word is patience. I would never ever criticise someone who can write a novel a year. But I can’t. Some of the magical moments come to me when I've let it simmer between drafts. Jonah Griggs was born in that simmer. He appeared as a multi-dimensional character in Taylor’s story almost ten years after I first started writing it. I’d wait those ten years again for another character like him.
On a similar note — I've talked a lot of people who feel the same, who just so fully connected to the characters and the story you created. What does it feel like, knowing that you've inspired and created such intense emotions in so many people?
Overwhelming seems a cliché, but that’s what it is. What I love best is that most readers have responded to the friendships rather than just the love story. There are many things you want as a writer. Awards, shortlists, starred reviews etc are fantastic. But I want to be read, not just referred to. So knowing that someone in the deep south of America or a reader in Russia or Korea or Sweden or Spain is relating to Taylor, well that’s pretty mindboggling for someone on the other side of the world. Twenty years ago when my first novel was released, I calculated I knew two hundred people in the world and that only 200 people would ever read my work.
You said you wrote The Piper's Son because Tom wouldn't leave your thoughts alone. Are there any other characters that have been sneaking back that we might get to see again?
If that’s a surreptitious way of asking about Jimmy Hailler, no. I don’t know where Jimmy is. I think he’s happy though because the real Jimmy is happy and I never thought he would be. I looked up the real Jimmy’s profile on facebook the other day and under interests he wrote, “ laughing at people when they fall down”. Cruel, but very Jimmy-like and it made me laugh in the same way as when I knew him as a teenager.
The problem with revisiting a character is that you don’t just have to concentrate on one. You have to work out where they all are. How can I do that without breaking a reader’s heart with life’s realities or fooling them into believing in perfect endings for everyone? What I try very hard to do is leave the ending open for the reader so they can work it out for themselves. But I promise that in my head, they get a happy ending. Jonah appears in his little brothers book, The Gorgon in the Gully and I think I’ll be writing another Danny Griggs novel next year so Jonah’s bound to make another cameo. A friend and I are also working on a 10 part TV series which may go nowhere, but we think it’s about Jessa McKenzie, four years on.
You caught me.:) Although I'm beyond delighted to hear that Jonah makes a reappearance, I was most definitely hoping we'd get to see more of Jimmy!
Jellicoe Road is one of the most complex and layered books I've ever read. There is so much, so many secrets and hidden things to learn. Did you start Jellicoe Road knowing how the story was to unfold, knowing where it would take you? Or did the story surprise you too, unfolding slowly, layer by layer as you wrote?
I think I failed for so long because I didn’t know what the story was about. I only knew who the story was about and where it was set. But plot is very important in a mystery and it wasn't until I read the novel, Holes, that I figured out I was going to have a parallel story line. There are things that did surprise me. Without giving anything away, I remember exactly when mid-writing I discovered why Jonah was on the railway platform that day when they were younger. I've said before, there are parts in this novel that make me cry every time. The Jonah on the platform incident is one of them.
As you've probably guessed, I'm not exaggerating when I say that I LOVE Jellicoe Road. Are there any secrets or unknown tidbits you can share?
Just a few film script things. We have a producer, director and a complete film script. The two major differences between the script and novel are that Sam, the kid from Taylor’s past, isn't in the film script. But I do promise that the emotional impact of those scenes is still there. The other thing is that the Hermit is now part of the present, rather than the past. I’m almost sure we’ll cast mostly complete unknowns. It will be shot in Australia and I do have a dream actress for Taylor. I don’t think we have a chance of getting her but I spent twenty years on this story so I’m not exactly one to give up on a dream
What's next from you in the Contemporary world? Will there be a Finnikinthree, or will another Contemporary be next?
Well Froi of the Exiles has a cliffhanger ending. Not a Finnikin ending, but a true cliffhanger. The third novel, Quintana of Charyn, begins three weeks after and every time I read a fantastic review of Froi, I’m elated and stressed out of my head at the same time. QoC comes out in October 2012. After that I think I’ll be concentrating on our TV series idea. We want it to be really edgy and dark, but with a great sense of hope and powerfully flawed relationships and characters. That will be keeping us very busy.
Thank you so incredibly much for participating! I loved learning a little more about the books and your writing!
And to everyone reading this, go pick up a Melina Marchetta book pronto!!Seriously. She's amazing.