Can you tell people who don't know much about your latest novel, Finnikin of the Rock all about it?
After the slaughter of its beloved royal family, the kingdom of Lumatere is cursed and half its people are trapped inside never to be heard from, and the other half are scattered in exile across the Land. Ten years later, Finnikin, once the best friend of the young prince and the son of the captain of the king’s guard, travels the land taking care of Lumateran refugees. Until he’s called to an abbey where a young woman, named Evanjalin, claims she can walk through the sleep of those trapped inside, as well as claiming that the prince is alive. Finnikin doesn’t believe her, but they’re stuck with each other and it all starts from there.
Who was the hardest character to write?
Definitely, Finnikin. He’s a bit pigheaded, at times, really. But I loved sitting back and watching Evanjalin slap him down. Although it’s not written in first person, most of the action is seen through his eyes, so I had to keep him more emotionally held back than the narrators of my other novels.
Who was your favourite character?
Perri the Savage. He’s the second in command of the Guard. A very dark character, who as a child and young man was a violent bully. But I wanted to show what happens when a character is trusted and the Captain of the Guard trusts him with his son, Finnikin and from that point on there’s no turning back with Perri. When I was a year coordinator at a boys’ school, sometimes you’d get the naughtiest, less trust worthy kid to run your errands and have the keys to your office. It was a gamble, but most times it worked because they took trust seriously.
Evanjalin is a favourite as well. As much as this is Finnikin’s journey, Evanjalin isn’t merely the love interest. She’s the one who challenges him and controls the narrative. But I had to be careful with her. I wanted her to be respected by the reader for all the right reasons. Sometimes, a female character is raved about because she knows how to fight and defend herself with the best of them and really, all that means is that we like her because she’s demonstrated traditional male hero traits. I didn’t want to do that with her. Apart from one or two fight scenes she’s forced to participate in, I wanted to show how she uses her brain and her faith to get them through situations and although you feel you can’t trust her, I’d like to think that the reader, like Finnikin, can’t help loving her and wanting to follow her.
What was your inspiration for Finnikin of the Rock?
Inspiration never really comes from one place. Sometimes a character hangs out with you, gives you a bit of information and you go with it. I’m the grand daughter of migrants. Displacement and loss of homeland are part of my story.
A lot of readers of Just Listen Book Reviews have yet to read Finnikin of the Rock because it's yet to be released in the U.S, but a lot of them have read On the Jellicoe Road, can you tell us about your inspiration for that?
A strange inspiration. I just wanted to write a boarding school story because I love them. On the surface it might look like a story about the territory war between three factions of this particular area, but for me, Jellicoe is about what happens when the lines between being enemies and friends are blurred. It’s about gathering community when community has been wiped out and it’s about the role fate plays in our lives and how we either become reactive to it, or proactive.
On The Jellicoe Road was a pretty intense novel, was it hard for you to write?
Oh very. I can’t even read the last fifty pages without crying and it’s my book and I know what happens! But I love the strong bonds in this novel, especially the relationship between Taylor and Jonah. It’s a tough book on the reader. I always say, ‘Be very patient. It’s not Alibrandi and Francesca. In Jellicoe, you find out things at the same time Taylor does and sometimes it’s a long time coming but I’d love to think that the patience pays off.
Of all your characters, do you think that you can choose a favourite?
Too hard. I think it’s Frankie Spinelli (SF) Her story is personal to me so I feel I know her well and I love her relationship with the very pragmatic Will (who at times reminds me of that stubborn Finnikin). And of course I love Tom Mackee from Saving Francesca because I’m writing his story in The Piper’s Son (see below)
When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?
Do you have any advice for young aspiring writers?
My first novel was rejected about six times. It was re-written about ten times and took about six or seven years to be published. This writing business isn’t for those who have no passion for their work. You can’t give up.
Why do you write for young adults?
I tend to say that I write about this age group rather than for this age group. I think the age of seventeen is a powerful time in a person’s life because it could be the first time you make the really big decisions on your own rather than having to rely on your parents or teachers to make them for you. It’s a fascinating age and comes equipped with conflict. Perfect for a writer.
Can you tell us (in extreme detail) about the novel you're currently working on, The Piper's Son?
Hmmm. Haven’t learnt how to articulate this one yet so this is going to sound like a ramble. Sequel to Saving Francesca except it’s about Tom Mackee. The gang is 21. Tom’s estranged from the girls because of an awful family tragedy two years prior. He just couldn’t cope and gets lost for a while. At the start of the story he’s back in Frankie and Justine’s life, reluctantly. He’s a dish pig at the pub the girls work at that belongs to Justine’s uncle. They’re all still obsessed with music and used to be in a band together at university.
The rest of their people are overseas and their story is about how they cope with the distances between them. Frankie’s still with Will (I couldn’t have put two more different people together but somehow they work) and Tom has to make amends with Tara Finke because of something intense that happened to them in their second year of uni. That relationship is explored in a series of angry, funny, poignant emails and phone calls. It’s hard to conduct a love story when they are never in the same room but I’m hoping it works because I find it pretty romantic having to rely on words.
Mostly, it’s about not being able to bury your dead and the impact that has on Tom’s family. But for all the sadness, they are intensely dark- humoured people and I’ve had fun with them, despite the fact that I could easily cry every time I write a scene. Tom’s hard to write because he can’t articulate how he’s feeling.
The grown-ups get more of a story in this one, especially his pregnant Aunt Georgie and her estranged partner, Sam. (not quite the same themes as Mia and Robert in SF, but same dynamics) as well as Tom’s very fragile relationship with his father. It’s got a cast of thousands in the same way Saving Francesca has, but it’s still a small book with big themes. How to do all that without it being a sloppy cliché? I’m working very hard at it, I promise, but I think I’ve done it before and I can do it again. I never thought I’d say I’m crazy mad for Tom Mackee, but I am.
Favourite novel of all time?
My first was Anne of Green Gables. I’ll say over and over again that my life changed when Anne hit Gilbert Blythe over the head with the slate and that it influences my writing because I think I use that scene metaphorically over and over again in my novels – think Francesca Spinelli and Will Trombal in the Tolstoy/Trotsky face off (Saving Francesca)
Anything else you want to add?
Only that I suppose it’s difficult changing genres for both the writer and her readers. But I’m ecstatic about the reviews and letters for Finnikin. I either get them from people who are avid fantasy readers or those who have never read fantasy before. Once or twice I read a negative blog and I just have to just put it down to a reader not connecting with the world I’ve created or having their own expectations of what the novel should be before they start reading it. Someone commented on their disappointment that the action with the villain is off screen. But for me the villain isn’t the one-dimensional imposter king. It’s the hearts and mind of good people who turned their back on others who were suffering. It’s why I used the Primo Levi poem. Regardless of when it was written (Levi was an inmate at Auschwitz) he speaks about retribution - of what happens to people who look the other way when bad things are happening. Perhaps, deep down, that’s what I wanted to say.
Thank-you so much Melina!!
(Remember that if you post a comment on this interview you get another entry into my contest where you have the chance to win all of Melina's books.)