Australian author Pamela Freeman has written for both adults and children. She is best known in children’s literature for her FLORAMONDE trilogy and its award-winning spin-offs Victor’s Quest and Victor’s Challenge. Her books for adults include the CASTINGS TRILOGY and the upcoming Ash and Ember which will be released on April 26 in the US. (Read my reviews.) Leave a comment below for a chance to win a book from our stacks.
Rebecca: I’ve heard it said by some authors that readers mistakenly think that it’s easier to write for children than it is for adults. Do you think that’s true?
Pamela Freeman: The only way that writing for children is easier is that the books are shorter. But even that doesn’t mean much. Victor’s Challenge, which won the Aurealis Award for best illustrated book last year, took me 13 years to write!
A lot of people (especially parents) start out trying to write a kids’ book because it’s less intimidating. But writing simply is a difficult skill to acquire, and telling a straightforward story without talking down to your audience isn’t easy, either. The fewer words you have, the more each word has to be exactly right. I think writing a good picture book (which I’m not that great at) is far harder than writing a good novel for adults — there’s no wiggle room in a picture book. But I think, in a way, that all writing is equally difficult, if you are writing what is the best thing for you to write. The trick is in figuring out what will suit you best!
On that note, what was the biggest challenge/difference when you moved from writing the FLORAMONDE books to the CASTINGS TRILOGY?
It was much harder to make that transition than I had expected. Mostly it was about layers of meaning and feeling in characters, and coming to understand that I could pause and reflect on the action in some detail without boring my readers. Layers of complexity, pace and character interactions were all more detailed than I was used to. I think I have the boredom threshold of an eight-year-old, which is terrific for writing kids’ books, but I had to fight against the instinct to just keep things moving.
I was encouraged in this by my thesis supervisor (Blood Ties was my doctoral thesis), but I’m afraid she encouraged me too much, as I think the pace of Blood Ties is actually a little slow. I tried to improve the pace in subsequent books, and I think I may have finally got it right in Ember and Ash — although I’ve been told that reading the trilogy as a whole, in the omnibus, the slower pace in the first third feels more appropriate than when you read the books separately.
Your exegesis on “Monarchy in Epic Fantasy Fiction” is closely tied to the CASTINGS TRILOGY. What first piqued your interest in the subject of kings; enough to write a trilogy that deconstructed the use of them in fantasy fiction? Specifically, the trilogy has no interest in putting any rightful king back on the throne. How did you want to challenge or subvert the usual tropes and expectations surrounding how the monarchy is usually portrayed in epic fantasy fiction?
I believe in democracy. I am very thankful to live in one. I don’t understand why anyone would want to live under any other political system. So I have always been puzzled about why fantasy writers from democratic countries keep writing stories where the main aim is to put a king back on the throne. This might have been acceptable from JRR Tolkien, who after all was born when Queen Victoria was on the throne, but surely modern writers should be interrogating that system more than they do?
While some writers, notably Ursula Le Guin, have looked more critically at the monarchical system in recent books, the tendency is still to write as though the concept of ‘the rightful king’ has its basis in truth.
As a student of history, I resented the depiction of the would-be kings in fantasy fiction. The men who have united a country have, in reality, been bastards who haven’t cared how many people died in the pursuit of their ambitions. We don’t see those kings in fantasy fiction, only the ‘good’ kind.
So in CASTINGS I showed a country on the verge of unity where the person who wanted to be king was a complete evil bastard, much worse than the ‘villain’. I also wanted to show the lives of ‘ordinary’ people as worthy of interest.
In the final paragraph of your exegesis, you mention the literary links that exist between our ideas concerning the rightful king, godhood, the Golden Age and Eden, to achieve what Tolkien called the “eucatastrophe.” How did you feel you resolved the expectation in the reader’s mind for “peace and plenty and the rightfulness in the order of things” without using the traditional plot of a king reclaiming his throne at the end of the CASTINGS TRILOGY?
What I was trying to do was to set up a situation of extreme injustice and then show that the resolution of the story would lead to a restoration of justice and equity. This is, I believe, what lies underneath the desire for the ‘rightful king’ — a desire for a world in which the weak are protected and the strong controlled. By satisfying the underlying desire, I hoped that readers would find the resolution as satisfying as a more traditional ending.
My favourite part of the CASTINGS TRILOGY was the way peripheral characters had their chance to tell their stories in the POV chapters that were strewn amongst the Bramble and Ash narrative. By the end of the trilogy, these stories were an essential part of the way in which the story was resolved. Was that your plan right from the start?
Absolutely! In fact, the whole idea started with those stories. The first chapter, The Stonecaster’s Story, was written in 1996, and began a whole series of short stories. It took me a while to realise these were part of a larger narrative. Without giving a spoiler, I can say that hearing Bishop Desmond Tutu talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa showed me how those stories could be the climax of the larger story. In addition, I wanted to show that not only the ‘special people’ in the books (Bramble, Ash, Saker, etc) had stories worth hearing. I wanted the structure of the story to reflect its democratic principles, by allowing many voices to be heard.
It also allowed me to vary the emotional tone of the narrative. The first-person stories are much denser and more emotional than the main narrative, because you can’t ask a reader to exist at that level of intensity for 450,000 words. But having the stories allowed me to have richer, more complex feelings explored concisely — like the cream filling in a sponge!
He was given a name when he started to race, and Gorham called him ‘Thorn’. When I wrote the first scenes between him and Bramble, I felt very strongly that naming him felt to Bramble like a claim of ownership, and their relationship wasn’t based on ownership, but something deeper. I had to write how she thought of him, but ‘the roan’ wasn’t really what she thought. Her mental image of him was deeper and more sense-based than those words convey, but unfortunately I couldn’t describe that time after time in the story. The fact that Bramble didn’t name animals was one of the things which, I hoped, showed that her relationship to the natural world was different to most people’s. It was this which allowed her to adjust to the hunter’s life in Full Circle.
Your next book, Ember and Ash, is out in April. What can we expect from it?
Ember and Ash is set about 20 years after the end of the CASTINGS TRILOGY. Some familiar characters return and some new ones are introduced. Ember is the daughter of Martine and Arvid; Ash is the baby who was born in Blood Ties and named after the main character. I wanted to explore the difference a generation makes — the world of the trilogy has changed significantly because of what happened in Full Circle, and the children who have grown up in the new world have different attitudes and preoccupations.
It’s not a spoiler to say that the story starts with Ember’s new husband being burnt to death by the Power of Fire, and that this starts a desperate attempt to reach the seat of his power, Fire Mountain, by the main characters. On the way we get to see parts of the world we have never known about, like Starkling, which is a refuge for the shape-shifters of the Domains, and the Ice King’s country. There are new kinds of magic, and new places with their own enchantments.
As it’s a single book, the pace is much faster than in the trilogy, and the ending is rather more spectacular. I’m hoping people will enjoy it!
I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for spending some time with me and the FanLit readers!
Readers, leave a comment below for a chance to win a book from our stacks. We’ll announce the winner in a comment, so please subscribe to comments.