Monday, 17 August 2015

Author Interview: Melinda Salisbury

Melinda Salisbury is the debut author of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, the first in a new YA trilogy. She lives by the sea, in England, and saw The Grand Budapest Hotel (great film!) ELEVEN times at the cinema.

Follow Melinda on Twitter: @AHintofMystery

Buy 'The Sin Eater's Daughter':

-  Amazon
-  Foyles
-  Waterstones
The interview

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

1. For those that haven’t read The Sin Eater’s Daughter, can you sum it up in 140 characters?

Executioner of traitors. Embodiment of a Goddess. Betrothed of a Prince. Puppet of mad queen. Take away her duty and who is Twylla?


2. Were there any books, in particular, that influenced or shaped the story? 

Originally I’d planned it as a re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, but instead of a young woman navigating a forest, she’d have to move through castle politics, where the wolves were the people around her. That motif was largely lost, as the story grew, though it still has a very fairy-tale theme to it, which I like, as I have such a love for the traditional fairy-tales – the darker the better. The Pied Piper of Hamelin and Sleeping Beauty all play a massive part in building the foundations of the world, though both have been distorted to suit my needs.

3. What made you want to write this story and in particular, why the fantasy genre and (young adult) audience?

When I was a little, almost all of my games involved very elaborate world building. At my Nana’s house I’d play with the decorative glass stones she’d bought for her garden, organising them by colour into factions; red for the royals, yellow for servants, blue for the armies, and green for villains. I’d play out childish versions of love affairs between princes and witches, and queens and jesters. I was the same with normal toys, preferring ones with lots of characters, where I could spin the game out for days, if not weeks, until it became a self-supporting world of its own.
The same thing happened with The Sin Eater’s Daughter – I never consciously chose to write it, it just developed out of the materials in my head – a love of poison, and medieval history, and darkness, and fairy tales. Fantasy has always been my favourite genre, because I find it difficult to be entertained by ‘reality’. I don’t like to read or watch things that I could be doing myself – soap operas and any kind of reality based television has no appeal to me, because I feel almost wasteful watching people live a life that is very similar to mine, or doing things I could be doing. I tend to want something different – like Vikings, or The Musketeers, for entertainment. I want to experience lives that are vastly different from mine and fantasy offers me a way to do that.

As for why YA, because quite simply it’s what I prefer to read. YA novels, regardless of genre, are always breaking new ground and pushing boundaries in ways that challenge the reader without alienating them. They are stories filled with people figuring out who they are and how they fit in, and I think deep down that’s how most people feel all the time. I’ve technically been an adult for a while now, but I still feel as though I’m on a learning curve and YA is a great reminder I’m not alone in that. I’m writing what I feel I know. And what I love.

4. Where did the idea for Twylla’s story come from? How did you go about creating the mythological framework for the story?

It started with a small, idle idea in the shower and grew from there. I was singing away to myself and suddenly wondered what it would be like if I had to sing for a king, was taken from my home to do it, and my family’s lives would be at stake if I didn’t? What if I’d originally seen this as an escape, only to find it was even worse? What if my whole life was designed around me and I had no choice in it? The plot grew from there. I knew there would be a queen and she would be a bad person. I knew my heroine would be forced to choose between love and duty, and I knew that every single character – even the good ones – had an agenda.

I also knew religion would be a huge part of it, because it’s the cornerstone of every world, including ours. It determine a lot of the laws, and rules, and behaviours of a people and so I spent a lot of time developing those and making sure they were both ‘realistic’ and solid. Civilisations have risen and crumbled in the names of gods. Countries have been invaded; populations decimated – all in the name of gods. For any world to be fully realised, whether we like or not, it needs some kind of higher power, a rallying or rebellion point for its people.   

And because kings and queens are traditionally the gods’ representatives on earth, regardless of century, country or people, Gods and kings (or queens) are inextricably linked. Therefore if I was having a royal family, I needed gods, and vice versa.

So I created my gods; the female, Næht – death, darkness, temptation, and her counterpart Dæg - life, light and strength. I can’t say, without revealing part of the plot of the next book, why there are dual gods, and how they came to be worshipped in Lormere, but that mythology exists, and will come to the fore.

As for fairy tales and mythology, I’ve always believed those are the tools we use to make sense of the world around us – the monster in the woods, the wicked witch. It’s how we learn, and teach. Again, as with religion, a fully-developed world needs its own folklore.

5. Twylla: where did her name come from and how did you build her identity?

Twylla was the name that came to me when I imagined her! It was never a choice; I’d never heard it consciously before, but I must have picked it up from somewhere. I just knew that was her name, and I never questioned it. I later found out though that ‘Twyla’ is the Cherokee word for ‘twilight’ and loved how that fitted with her being Daunen Embodied (Daunen is Old English for dawn) and Naeht and Daeg (Old English for day and night). It felt right, somehow.

I built her identity out of my own experiences at her age! I had tremendously strict parents, my weekend curfew at age seventeen was 11pm, I wasn’t allowed a key for the house and was rarely allowed to remain in the house unsupervised, (I would often spend the day at the library if it was raining, or in the woods if it was sunny, taking food and books with me). I was very, very rarely allowed to sleep away from home, I had to fight tooth and nail for almost every freedom and it really isolated me from my peers, who were experimenting with boys and girls and drinking and basically being “normal” teens.

I lived a double life at home and at school, keeping so much of who I was a secret from everyone in my life. And I also had a very strained relationship with my family. So it wasn’t at all hard for me to put myself in the shoes of a seventeen year old who is disconnected from the world around her, and who has little love and support in her life. I was better off than Twylla in many ways, but there’s a lot of me at seventeen in her. All her naivety, and her fear of questioning the status quo comes directly from my experiences and my fears. So I built her around that – at her core is a confused, frightened and lonely young woman who doesn’t know who she is or what she should do.

6. What was the most difficult part to write?

I didn’t find any of it difficult! I don’t know whether it was because I didn’t feel under any pressure when writing it, but the words just flowed, I didn’t get at all stuck during the first draft. At times it was almost as though I wasn’t in control of the story at all, it happened without any planning, or real thought – it just happened. Of course, the first draft was kind of a hot mess because of that, but there was a lot of stuff in there that made it to the final version. 

7. The ending to The Sin Eater’s Daughter is a definite nail-biter. What can we expect from the next book?

I can tell you that it’s set in Tregellan, and is based around a new character, and their life and the challenges they face in the aftermath of The Sin Eater’s Daughter. There is more danger, more treachery, and more death; we’ve said goodbye to some characters and we’ll say hello to some other new ones. It’s always been an uncertain world, and it continues to be so. What happened in The Sin Eater’s Daughter set off a chain of events that reaches far across the realm, and things are changing for everyone. 

8. How did you find the writing-to-publication process? 

Surprisingly pleasant! I went down the traditional route of finding an agent, working with her, and then submitting to publishing houses when we thought it was ready. Thanks to her expertise the whole thing was very smooth, and easy to participate in. 

I found my agent because I submitted a different book to her, but whilst I’d been looking for an agent I’d begun to write The Sin Eater’s Daughter as way of keeping myself occupied. My agent came back to me after reading the full MS of the original book to say she loved my writing, but the story wasn’t anything new or exciting, and then she asked if I had anything else. By coincidence, I’d finished the very first draft of The Sin Eater’s Daughter the day before, so I told her about it, but warned it was unedited. She read it anyway, loved it, though felt it needed some work, and eventually we both got it to a place where she felt she could try and get it onto publisher’s desks. And boy did she! 

I’ve been incredibly fortunate that both my agent and my editors have loved the story as much as I do, and have so much faith in me. I’m very privileged and honoured to work with the team I do; there is a lot of expertise and creativity – but more importantly, a lot of trust and support from them and it makes writing an absolute pleasure.

9. Do you have any unusual or strange habits while writing?

No. I’m really dull! I free write at first, and pretty much just let the characters do what they like! I loosely map the ending, and the beginning, and who the main characters are, and what they are to each other, but in between I give them free reign to do their thing while I build the world around them. I keep a notebook with me all the time in case I have an idea, and I like to get it down on paper, as a starting point, as soon as possible. I love editing, I prefer it to writing. I like making things pretty, the hard work bit at the start is my least favourite.

I am a night-time writer. Between 7pm and midnight is my best time for writing. I tend to start by re-reading the last passage I wrote, and making alterations, which helps ease me back into the story, and then the new writing tends to come between 9pm and 11pm. Then I read back again for a bit. I’ve tried working in the day, but I get distracted by the outdoors very easily, so it’s better for me to work at night, when the light is gone. I like to have a cup of tea going cold beside me, and I can’t write to music, but that’s about it.

10. You’re on Mars (because that’s what authors do, right?) and you realise that you only have 48-hours of oxygen left in your canisters. You reach for your emergency kit filled with five books (apparently, there was a food shortage, you’ve lost communication with Earth and no Kindles!). What five books are they?

The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher


Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. We, at YAfictionados, wish you all the best with the book and your writing career.


No comments:

Post a Comment