I was fortunate to work alongside Melina, Elizabeth Honey and Adele Walsh ( Program co-ordinator for the Centre for Youth Literature) as they travelled into schools across the Mallee a few months ago.
Melina and I talked about fantasy and to my shame I had not read 'Finnkin of the Rock'( I now have- thanks Melina) and Melina has a new fan- I haven't yet completed 'Froi of the Exiles'- but I hope to finish it over the Christmas break.
I enjoyed so much Melina's answers to my questions and realise there are so many more to ask!
|Photo credit: Marc Burlace 2011|
So Welcome Melina- let's chat awhile about fantasy and specifically your new book 'Froi of the Exiles.'
Fantasy is a step away from the direction of your other novels(such as 'Looking for Alibrandi')- what is it about fantasy that draws you to its world?
I love how epic a fantasy novel is allowed to be. Everything is so heightened, more romantic, more tragic, more cursed. There is no such thing as blasé. It’s a bit biblical, in that way. Think of all the epic stories of the Old Testament. Brothers betraying brothers, men sacrificing their sons, women giving birth to dynasties, displaced people following a prophet to a promised land. It’s all those big themes of faith and questioning a higher power and redemption.
The character of Froi (in 'Froi of the Exiles') is markedly different from when we first meet him in 'Finnikin of the Rock.' How did Froi come to star in his own novel?
After “Finnikin of the Rock”, the character of Froi stuck in my head but that wasn’t going to be enough for me. He had to come with his own story. I went on to write “The Piper’s Son” and it was during that time that I started thinking of Froi again. He was a very tricky choice and I wrote it in my head for a whole year just to be sure. The plotting was the hardest especially when it came to his personal story. What does he find out first? How does he find out? What does he do when he finds outs? I’m one of those people who work everything out in the first five minutes of a movie, so as a writer I’m more interested in the execution of it all, the emotional impact rather than what’s being revealed.
These novels are very much for older Young adult readers because of their sexual references. Has this been an issue for you as an author?
Out of all my novels, even “The Piper’s Son” Froi is the least YA and not just because of the sex, but because of the depiction of war and displacement. That doesn’t mean there’s a lot of “swiving” as the Charynites say, because there isn’t. Most of it takes place off the page for older readers to pick up on and younger readers to miss. I’ve always been marketed as a YA writer so if I’m going to include sex and darker themes, then I just have to accept that not everyone is going to like my work, and the focus for some is going to be more on the negative rather than what’s good about the novel.
I read a review recently that was critical, especially of the relationship between Finnikin and his Queen. It was also highly critical of the sexual relationship between Froi and Quintana, questioning its morality. There is such fragility to the lives of these broken characters and the way they relate to each other sexually is just as important as other aspects of their day to day lives. Froi finds his humanity and compassion when he’s sharing a bed with Quintana, without even touching her. It’s where they get to know each other. Their road to intimacy is painstakingly slow and it’s all about Froi questioning what is right and wrong and Quintana trusting him. It’s through her that Froi writes his own bond as a man. With Finnikin and his Queen, what I wanted to show was that they were two young people trying to balance leadership with family and their own personal needs.
What I’m saying is that my intention is never to include sex for the sake of it. There was absolutely no way that I was going to let those little horny munchkins from “Saving Francesca” have sex. It didn’t belong in that book. But it belongs in The Lumatere Chronicles. For all the abuse that happened to both women and men in these novels because of war and turmoil, I wanted to also show the beauty of their intimate relationships. I hate gratuitous anything but I also don’t like it when I feel the writer is playing it safe to satisfy an audience or a gatekeeper. This wasn’t the novel where I wanted to play it safe.
Violence is very much a part of the Finnikin and Froi books- how to you actually visualise the fight scenes?
One of the world events that really stuck in my head was the hanging of Sadam
As hideous as he was, there was something so macabre about how it was reported and how much we knew about the moments before and after. I think it said more about us as humans in the end. In any violent scene, I mostly focus on the eyewitness and how what they’re seeing affects them. I try not to visualise or focus on anything more than what the characters are seeing and imagining, so it becomes less about what’s taking place and more about emotion.
On a more humorous note, when I was writing "Finnikin" I went to see a couple who taught combat to actors. They had all these weapons in their home and I’d say something like,’ I’d really like the dagger to come from a hidden scabbard at his wrist’ and the guy would say to his partner, ‘Babe, go get the blah blah blah weapon in the back room.’ And then they’d act it out in front of me. Priceless stuff.
But I tend to keep away from big battle scenes. Firstly they bore me to read and secondly, I am hopeless at writing them. I have to rewrite them ten times over. In the sequel, I’m replacing big battles with a siege of a castle. I love a bunch of people being stuck together with no way out. There’s more violence in what they want to do to each other, than the enemy at the door.
Will there be Book three of the Lumatere chronicles- such a cruel question after you've just completed the second volume.
Yes, Quintana of Charyn will be released in October next year. It was pretty much plotted out with Froi because both books were supposed to be just one novel. I had one of those, ‘Oh dear’ moments when I reached about page 400 and knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the story in one volume.
What role does a publisher/ editor/ support- in terms of writing friends, have in the journey of such a novel?
A very big role. What happens most times is I give first draft to my publisher and we talk about it. Then I go away and write second draft and that goes to Amy, my editor. These days I also give it to my US editor, Deb. Amy gives me a whole lot of notes and Deb also gives me feedback.
An example of a Froi edit was the need for more scenes in Finnikin’s kingdom (Froi spends most his time in the neighbouring kingdom). Lumatere plays such an important role in the second half of Froi’s story and especially in Quintana of Charyn, so I had to remind the reader of that. This trilogy is ultimately about two kingdoms. The lives of Finnikin and his Queen and Lucian and his lot, are as important as Froi and Quintana’s. So I had to find a good balance.
Once I’ve completed two or so drafts, I give the manuscript to my ‘readers’. These could include my agents, a friend who’s read every one of the manuscripts, and my mum. My mum’s not a fantasy reader because, ‘Darling, there are sooo many people to concentrate on”. She doesn’t understand why I can’t write a novel with less than ten characters. She also thought Froi spent too much time in the Citavita.
So yes I do rely on many people. The most frightening and exciting part is unleashing it onto the world so I try to get friends to read it before it comes out just to calm my nerves. I keep on telling myself to switch off the Google Reader because it will break my heart. And it does at times. A great review stays with you for hours. A very bad one stays with you for days. For this novel there wasn’t a lot of time to gage a reaction because the time between the novel going to print and being released was so short, so I had no idea how anyone felt about it except my publisher, editor and those who had read the manuscript. But one of the first people to read it before its release was Kirsty Eagar who is an amazing writer (Raw Blue) and a dear friend. She came to my writing through Finnikin rather than my contemporary novels, so I knew she had an affinity with these characters. Her response to Froi was beautiful. When I get feedback from other writers I’m a bit giddy from it. Peer recognition is always wonderful.
Any thing else you'd like to add?
Yes, probably that after all these discussions about sex and violence, “Froi” is about more than that. There’s so much hope in this story and I enjoyed writing the love stories as well as the new characters. The Charynites were funnier than the Lumaterans. I had so much fun with Arjuro and Froi and even Gargarin’s cynical sense of humour.
And also that one of the best things about being a writer is going on the road and meeting other writers. You and your husband were no different to my fantasy characters travelling around in your mobile home for those couple of days. It’s probably another reason I love fantasy. There’s nothing better than a road trip. You meet amazing people.
And I have met an amazing author this year- one I hope to know more and more through her novels and friendship- thanks for being my special guest Melina. And there is still time to buy a book or two of Melina's for that special person or even yourself- books are great for Christmas!