School interview, Erskine Park High, NSW - Part II
Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 2:47PM
Ben Julien in Interviews, School, The Runes of Odin, advice, interviews, writing process

And here's the second half of the great questions from the students of Erskine Park High:


12. Why did you give Lena red hair? Was it because it was bright or uncommon?  Thisuri

I wanted to use the idea of how unusual red hair is, particularly among blond Scandinavians, and use it as a symbolism of the power of the rune magic. Red hair is definitely uncommon, but even more so in Lena and Calum’s world where it indicated the latent power of a vala or duelva.

Red hair is much more common in Britain, or the Isles of the novel’s world, so it also added an element of confusion and a reason why Bjorn might want to take Lena when he was raiding in the beginning of the book.

Lastly, I had browny-orange hair and freckles as a kid. I don’t have much of my hair now (and it has become brown) but maybe I was putting myself in the story again. 

 

 13. Why did you decide to write the novel in third person point of view instead of first person?  Kira

I wanted to treat Calum and Lena equally, give them equal weight in the story. First person is difficult to write well and consistently – the author is restricted to showing the story from a single, subjective point-of-view and a lot of what is going on is missed by just one person.

Using third person, I could jump from head to head, and even use other characters to show different scenes or events, or different thoughts.

I don’t think third person is better than first person, it’s just a different way of telling the story. First person is also hard work, and a challenge I’d like to take up soon.

 

14. How long did it take you to finish the series?  Aaron and Chelsea

I wrote each book in about 3 or 4 months, after having planned out what the story was going to be. That took quite a while, lots of note-taking for me. I didn’t do much research for the second and third books, but continued on with the story and world I had created, so they were a little faster to write, though not necessarily easier. I found it amazingly difficult to ensure all the threads of Book One were tied off neatly in Books Two and Three. I had to go back and reread Book One a lot to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I am sure I still did!

So, all in all, it was about a year per book. Publishing certainly took quite a while for each one – editing and illustrating take many months each, so writing and publishing isn’t a game for the impatient!

 

15. Calum and Lena use magic in the book, did you ever have fantasies about using magic as a child?  Emily

Sure, and not just as a child! Fly, teleport, read minds, influence decisions, telekinesis… Imagine just being able to will the remote control for the television to you without having to stand up! I often thought that it’s silly we can’t, when travelling, just swap places with someone already in our chosen destination who also wants to travel… I guess that’s why I’m not a physicist!

As a child, when I was really young, my mother took me down to the local park where there very old trees, perfect for building cubby houses because the branches were so wide and climbable. We climbed up into a tree and she read me some of Enid Blyton’s The Magic Far-Away Tree which was essentially about kids who found they could go to these strange, magical places by climbing into this special tree.

So I blame my mother, but travelling has always been the magic for me. I’m pretty happy I live in times when an airplane can whiz me to other places in a matter of hours, rather than having to sail for months on the ocean to get anywhere.

 

16. What challenges did you face while writing this book?  Eseta

There were the external challenges: I had just started a new job and was working full-time and I was renovating an old house in Brisbane, so I didn’t have a lot of spare time. But the challenges around the writing of a novel itself were much more difficult.

Writing a book takes weeks and months, sometimes years, and each time I sat at the laptop to write, I knew that I wouldn’t get much of the overall book done, and that I had thousands and thousands of words to go before I finished. So it was quite difficult to motivate myself to sit down and work on it.

Structuring and pacing the story well was also difficult. I outlined a lot – writing down bullet points of what the scene was about, what I wanted to do in the scene, general plot points – but the outline changed often because when writing a particular character’s chapter, something might flow better, or go for too long and I had to try to keep the overall story in sight so I didn’t get bogged down.

I guess most of all, self-doubt was the most difficult challenge to overcome, and always will be probably. I often think that what I am writing is terrible, or clunky, or boring, or any number of negatives, and want to give up and do something else. This is, in my opinion, the number one reason why more people don’t write. It’s hard to believe in yourself enough to make it to the end of a full novel. And the fact that most people’s first, second or more novels won’t be any good, but that the would-be writer will have to write another, and another, always practising. Writing is a skill like any other. To be good at it, you have to practise. A lot.

 

17. Is there anything in the story that you would change if you had the chance? Stephen and Blake

That’s a hard question to answer. As a writer, as I mentioned above, I am always practising by writing more. And hopefully getting better. When I look back at books I wrote years ago, I can think of many different ways of describing a scene or character, or ways to draw the action out more effectively. But I wouldn’t be where I am now without having written those earlier works. So I guess, no, I wouldn’t change anything. That story is my best effort at the time and I will always be ecstatic that I finished it and created a good story.

 

18. What would you say to aspiring young writers to get them started? Brayden

Writers write. It might seem obvious, but a lot of people spend too much time thinking about maybe starting writing someday. Or reading about the process of writing. If you want to be a writer, accept that, like any skill, you won’t be very good at it at first. But if you can think of good stories, and get most of the vision of your story on paper, then you’ll always have people who enjoy reading your work. Writing is all about the story. Don’t just worry about style and beautiful words, those are great to have, but it’s how compelling your story is, that counts.

So, to get started, there’s nothing like starting and finishing something to give you momentum and satisfaction. Short stories are perfect for that. They can be anything from a very short few hundred words (and very difficult to pull off at that length!) to four, five, or even ten thousand words. Most published short stories probably average around four thousand words (I am guessing). With a short story of four thousand words, you can develop characters and have quite a lot going on and it can take hours and days to write something that length. It’s very good practice, and more importantly, a short story that you finish and fix up, can be submitted to print and online short story anthologies and collections. You could be published sooner than you think! Most likely, if you submit, you’ll be rejected a lot of times, but this is part of every writer’s journey. Rejections are normal.

So, write complete stories. It’s easy to start something, harder to finish. Write a complete story, no matter how long or short, and then write another. And another. Along the way, try to get feedback from someone who knows about writing. Criticism is good, it helps to make you a better writer. And then submit your story to a magazine or website and see if you can get it published. It might take you five years, or one, but every writer who tries hard enough can be published.

 

19. I’m really interested in writing; do you have any tips to help get me a career in writing novels? Amy

Writing novels is a big investment in time. Very big. As I’ve mentioned before, I spent most of the months of each year working on the Runes novels, and they aren’t big books (only around 55 000 words). The average fiction novel is 80 000 words. A big fantasy novel is more likely 100 000 words, and many of them are double that. Novels take time. And, importantly, there’s probably no money at the other end. There might be, but probably not. If you want to write novels, I would suggest you start by knowing that you are writing because you enjoy it, and want to finish it, not because you dream of being rich and famous. Dreams are good, but reality can hurt, so if you write for the sake of telling a story, you’ll keep writing.

Because of the size of novels, consider writing short stories first to practise or develop an idea. If you have a good idea for a book, you could first right a short story or three about the main characters, and see where it takes you. You might be surprised. I wrote a couple of short stories after I finished the Bhel Sea (which is about 140 000 words) which might make it into the sequel.

And finally, a writing career is tricky. It’s hard to pay the bills with money from novels, especially at the beginning of your career. I certainly can’t yet. There isn’t a lot of money in general in novels, unless you’re very successful, but a lot of people do write full-time for a living, so it’s definitely possible. Just difficult.

Whatever you do, the best thing you can do, is to finish what you start. Big or small, finish the story. You can’t do much with an unfinished story, but you can always improve something you complete.

 

20. What, in your opinion, is the most important thing to remember when writing a novel?  Monique

For me, the most important thing to remember is that, one day, I will get there. I’ll finish. It might seem like it takes forever, that I haven’t written for two months and am getting nowhere, but if I keep at it, like chipping away at a mountain with a pickaxe, eventually it’ll be done.

And when it is done, it’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment, and joy and sadness that it’s over. Hard to describe, but I can’t wait to feel that again with the book I am writing now.

Article originally appeared on Ben Julien (http://benjulien.com/).
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