Author interview: Juliet E McKenna

Accomplished author Juliet E McKenna talks to Sandy Auden about the inspiration, emotions and cruelty behind her latest fantasy series

Juliet E McKenna has taken us on some exciting fantasy adventures since she first created the world of Einarinn back in 1999 and the latest series, The Hadrumal Crisis, continues the trend with vicious coastal raids, a couple of power hungry wizards and one man’s immense loyalty to his Lord that takes him to the limits of his endurance.

With Defiant Peaks concluding the Hadrumal Crisis in November, the author takes at look back at how the series began…

SFX: Your short story “The Wizard’s Coming” inspired the creative juices for this latest series, were there any other influences?
Juliet E McKenna:
One of my main inspirations has been the cover art by Clint Langley, in a way that’s never happened to me before. I got all three covers while I was writing the first book so I was able to weave elements from that first picture into the first book as integral plot elements. Then I had the second and third pictures to look at and they really focused my thoughts on the specifics of how some crucial things happen to key people.

SFX: It’s easy to find lots of themes in The Hadrumal Crisis, but what themes did you intentionally include?
McKenna:
I wanted to look at some traditional fantasy plot elements and test them with “yes, but…” Such as, “The return of the king/long lost heir/hero who saves the day.” Yes, but what if the people who suddenly find themselves with this unexpected ruler look at him and aren’t overly impressed? What about the damsel in distress? If she’s been reared to be gentle, deferential and decorative, how exactly is she going to cope without her strong male protector? Then there are the wizards: why don’t they rule the world? This time round, I’m also looking at what everyone else is going to think and do, if that actually looks like becoming a possibility.

SFX: How rude have you had to be to the characters to keep them true to the plot?
McKenna:
“Rude” doesn’t really apply given my writing style. Now, “cruel”, that definitely applies! A few people have suffered undeserved fates or come to very sticky ends. But life isn’t fair, in fiction as in reality.

SFX: How did you feel when book three went to the publisher?
McKenna:
There was the usual relief that the story is no longer dominating your every waking moment; writerly satisfaction with a job well done; and a few mild regrets at compromises between concept and completion. The closer you get to the end, the more important the story becomes. The stakes all round are higher and that also sharpens the anticipation of readers’ reactions which starts the instant you hit “send” to deliver a manuscript.

SFX: How conclusive will this final volume be?
McKenna:
The plot for this trilogy has developed out of so much that I’ve already written, that the final book is definitely wrapping up aspects of those 14 previous novels and short stories. It’s been a very eventful decade in Einarinn and the key players are really going to need to pause and reflect. Except … some characters playing minor roles have been doing rather interesting things in the background. I’m very tempted to write those events up as short stories. Of course, those goings-on are going to have consequences. Novel length consequences? At the moment, I honestly can’t say.

SFX: Thanks Juliet!

Defiant Peaks: The Hadrumal Crisis Book 3 is released by Solaris in November. “The Wizard’s Coming” was published in The Solaris Book Of New Fantasy (2007). Visit Juliet E McKenna’s blog here. The latest issue of SFX contains the last of this year’s Summer Of SF Reading bonus features.

Sandy Auden