Fresh off the back of the release of Claudette in the Shadows, a prequel short story featuring Claudette the sister of Winter Saga leading man Blake, M. J. has agreed to answer some of my questions.
Plus, thanks to the fabulous people over at Pan Macmillian Australia I have a SIGNED copy of the latest book in the series Winter's Light, a SIGNED poster and an e-copy of Claudette in the Shadows to give away!
Welcome M.J. and congrats on the recent release of Claudette in the Shadows—your prequel novella set in the Winter Saga world but featuring Claudette. Thanks so much for agreeing to this little Q&A. I’m gonna try not to take up too much of your time, so lets jump straight into things…..
Before the opening chapter of Claudette in the Shadows you write a brief explanation on why you felt Claudette’s tale needed to be told. For those who haven’t read the story, why do you feel this was the case?
When I finish writing a book I’m quite ready to let the characters and story go. I’ve been living with them for so long that the idea of not thinking about them anymore is actually quite appealing. However, sometimes characters don’t just recede into the mists of my imagination. They dig their heels in and demand their stories go on. Claudette was one such character.
Even while I was working on Winter’s Shadow I had an inkling that there was more to Claudette. She was too vivid, too powerful to remain a fleeting secondary character. And so when my publisher asked if I’d like to write a short story set in the universe of Winter’s Shadow I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to shine the spotlight on Claudette. I was also kind of excited about writing from her point of view. It’s much easier to write a sympathetic character, someone your reader can identify with, than it is to base your story around an unabashedly dark character. So many of the books in the genre revolve around innocent naïf’s. I wanted to challenge myself and the readers by writing from a characters point of view who wasn’t necessarily sympathetic but who was still compelling. You might not like Claudette but hopefully you’ll find her wild and fascinating company.
Claudette’s a somewhat dark character but there’s something eerie about her logic and rationale, especially in Claudette in the Shadows. How do you reconcile some of the things Claudette does and the manner in which she operates with whom and what she is?
I approached writing Claudette like she was a sociopath. Someone for who empathy and compassion are foreign concepts. This is not her fault. This is the way she was born. She is certainly not evil, because to be evil would imply that Claudette has an understanding and respect for morality. She has an intellectual grasp of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but does not intuitively feel the differences the way a well-adjusted person might. Her first and primary drive is to satisfy her own desires. This does not mean she can’t feel love – she does, or at least a shadow of love – which makes her something of a tragic character. Part of Claudette (a small part admittedly) aches to belong, to be loved, which is why her family is so important to her. Especially Blake, her brother. She might not love
him in the conventional sense but she does need him, if for nothing else to remind her of what it is to be human. Something which, as the story progresses, becomes much more difficult. I do not expect readers to sympathise with Claudette but they should pity her. To be born without the capacity for empathy would be a terrible and lonely thing.
I have to know; both your main protagonists have been female (Winter & now Claudette). Was there a reason you chose to write your stories in a female’s POV? As a male writer, why did you choose to go down this path rather than an almost expected male POV from a male writer?
Despite the paranormal label which the books are collected under, the Winter novels and Claudette in the Shadows have much more in common with the traditional ‘gothic literature’ of the late 1800’s, books such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Those stories were driven by strong female characters thrust into a world of mystery and darkness and so it seemed only natural that my contributions to the genre do so as well. I don’t think the stories would work if they were told from a male POV. Of course I’m speaking generally here, but females tend to be more considered in their emotional responses to situations. In a gothic or a paranormal tale, a male character might be more inclined to strike out at the unfamiliar and strange without questioning their actions. A female character is less likely to attack the thing in the shadows and more likely to at least try and understand them. Maybe even fall in love with them?
There really aren’t any words to describe your writing. It’s so haunting and lyrical and gothic (okay, maybe I did find some, lol). I always feel completely transported to another place when I read your books. How much effort do you put into your writing? Are you a perfectionist? Do you slave away or are you more of a go-with-the-flow writer?
Thank you for the compliment. I think every writer is probably something of a perfectionist. Still, I’m pretty lazy. I don’t spend hours a day writing (I can’t – I’ve got a job and a family that demand my time) but in the scant time available to me I try to do my best. There are definitely times when I agonise over a sentence far too long. During the first draft stage I’m probably more concerned with story rather than the quality of my prose cause if that doesn’t work then it doesn’t matter how pretty your sentences are. It’s the subsequent drafts where I try and add a bit of polish. In answer to your question though I’m probably more of a go-with-the-flow writer. I don’t like plotting or outlining. I did for Winter’s Shadow because it was my first book and I was insecure, but I haven’t since. Now, I let the character’s dictate the shape of the story rather than try and force a story onto them.
Your mythology throughout the entire Winter Saga is really different. Where do so many of your unique ideas stem from?
Ah, the question all writers dread J – where do I get my ideas? Unfortunately, there’s no real answer to that. There’s no magic rituals or potions. There’s no store that sells story ideas (though I wish there was). Like everyone else, my imagination has been formed by my unique life experience. You might find it hard to believe where some of my ideas for the Winter Saga began. For example, a dim memory of a scene in a children’s cartoon from the early 1990’s called SKELETON WARRIORS was ridiculously integral to developing the mythology of the Demori. Bizarre huh? The stuff that sticks. It’s like a grain of sand caught in an oyster that turns into a pearl over time. There are definitely authors that have influenced my storytelling those being Stephen King, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Anne Rice, Enid Blyton, Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman. I love cinema too and can’t discount the formative influence of The Wizard of Oz. I watched it so many times when I was a kid that it’s ingrained in my creative DNA. It’s no coincidence that Winter’s Shadow features a girl who travels to an emerald-hued world full of magic and mystery.
I know many writers find inspiration, and take inspiration from events or people in their lives. Has this ever been the case for you?
Winter’s Shadow was partly inspired by a sunset jog through a cemetery. I’m not much of an athlete but I try and run a couple of times a week. One time my run took me into Waverly Cemetery in Sydney. I spied a girl taking photos of the gravestones. As I jogged past she took a photo of me. I don’t know why? I doubt I would have been a very pretty picture all sweaty and red-faced. Still, the incident got me thinking about what would happen if the photo she took revealed something strange. Something otherworldly. Before I knew it, I had the opening section of Winter’s Shadow all worked out.
Are you a big reader, and if yes, what can we expect to find on your book shelf on any given day?
At the moment, it’s a bit of family affair on my bedside table. I’m reading Joe Hill’s NOSFA2 and right after that I have DOCTOR SLEEP by his dad, Stephen King. I recently listened to the audiobook of Neil Gaiman’s THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE on a long drive and found it moving and beautiful. I’m going on holiday soon so I’m going to load up my eReader with Clive Barker’s ABARAT books, which I’ve been excited to delve into.
Let’s say you had the opportunity to meet anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, who would you want to meet and why?
I think I’d like to meet Nikola Tesla. He was this amazing scientist from the early 1900’s who’s probably most famous for harnessing alternating current electricity (the AC in AC/DC) but was also responsible for a whole host of other genius inventions. He was an environmentalist (a big believer in developing devices to utilise renewable energy) a humanitarian and a philanthropist. He developed a wireless system that would make electricity safely available to everyone who needed it, yet his system was rejected by the government because it was impossible to meter, ie make a buck out of. I think Tesla was the closest thing to a real wizard the world has ever seen so to spend an hour or so in the intellect of such a man would be pretty amazing.
Who’s been your biggest inspiration throughout your life?
My family. I grew up feeling incredibly loved and supported. My parents were super smart and creative and encouraged me to develop any and all of my artistic interests. Born to a different family, I never would have become a writer.
Obviously, Claudette in the Shadows has just been released in ebook formats, but what can we expect from you next? When will we readers be able to get our greedy little paws on the third story in the Winter Saga?
Right now, I’m finishing a children’s fantasy novel in the vein of Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always. I’ll hopefully have a first draft finished before Christmas and sent to my agent. After that, it’s on to the third and final novel in the Winter saga. It’s a big story, much bigger than the first two novels, and will hopefully satisfy fans of the series. As for when it will be released? That’s difficult to say. If it’s an eBook than it could come out late next year. Otherwise, look for it early 2015. The publishing world moves very slowly I’m afraid.
6 Quick Questions:
1. Night or Day? Night.
2. Dark or Light? Dark.
3. Favourite colour? Blue grey.
4. Favourite movie? The Wizard of Oz.
5. Lucky number? Nine.
6. Ice cream or Cake? Neither. I’m a chocolate man. Cadbury’s fruit and nut is my brand.
Thanks again for agreeing to answer my questions M.J. I’m looking forward to the next installment in the Winter Saga and can’t wait to see what you do with the characters next!
Thank you very much for inviting me to take part in your interview. It was a lot of fun and I really appreciate your support and interest in my books.
Claudette Duchamp was born into a life shadowed by fear. Ever since she can remember her family has been running. Running from a man named Victor Bonnaire and the men in his employ, the Devil’s Bane.
Her family has a secret. One her parents refuse to tell Claudette or her twin brother, Blake. It has something to do with why Victor pursues them. And something to do with her dreams…
For Claudette has begun to feel a strange stirring in her heart. A wildness that is both thrilling and frightening. Soon, she will uncover the truth of her family’s haunted legacy. She will discover the world that lies on the other side of midnight. She will take her place in the shadows and embrace the darkness within.
· Giveaway will run from today (November 6th) until November 20th (two weeks time!)
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And that's it!