Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Katie Taylor and "The Dark Griffin"

What I enjoyed the most about Katie Taylor's The Dark Griffin (a 2010 release from Ace) was its gritty worldbuilding, especially regarding the griffins of the title. Eragon this ain't. I'm not surprised her debut novel was nominated for the 2009 Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel. Even better, Katie generously agreed to an interview where she discusses the publication of her book and the world of Cymria.

Tell us a little about your book The Dark Griffin, and what the journey from writing to publication was like.

The Dark Griffin is a dark fantasy story set in a country called Cymria, which I modelled (geographically, anyway) on Tasmania. I suppose if you wanted to categorise it, you could call it a tragedy, or perhaps a revenge story. I'd say it's both. I think the thing that's most interesting about it (and not everyone has picked up on this) is that the protagonist, Arren Cardockson, is actually the villain, or at least a villain to be. The meta story within the story is that it's a villain's origin story, and if you read it knowing that, it takes on a whole new meaning. The sequels make it increasingly obvious, and by the end it's staring you right in the face.

I wrote the first book when I was a 21 year old university student - at that point I had already published The Land of Bad Fantasy, which came out when I was 18. Getting it published was a lot easier for me than it was with my first novel, since I already had an agent - but even that took quite a while. In the end, as I've often said, publishing is mostly just a waiting game.

What’s the significance of the series title, The Fallen Moon?

Originally, the trilogy didn't have a title at all. In fact, to begin with it wasn't even a trilogy! I started out with a series in mind, and I wasn't sure how long it would be, but once it got picked up by Voyager here in Australia, I finally found out why all fantasy novels come in groups of three: it's because the publishers insist on it! They also insisted that the trilogy have a title, and it took a long time to finally settle on one. To begin with I was just calling it "the griffin trilogy", but this was deemed "too repetitive". I even ended up appealing to people on my LiveJournal, asking for suggestions, and one person finally nominated "The Fallen Moon". It fits partly because the moon is prominently featured in the book as a symbolic thing seen in the background of many scenes, and also because Arren's people worship the moon, and the "fallen" part is also symbolic because the first book is about Arren's fall from grace, and his people, the Northerners, are in a way a "fallen" race who have lost their land and most of their pride as well.

(Publishers also insist on the ever-present maps you see in most fantasy novels. And Now You Know).

The best thing about the worldbuilding – for me, anyway – is that the griffins aren’t ponies with wings. The blurb of one of the sequels even stresses that Arren’s griffin Skandar is “man-eating”. What gave you this idea?

Thanks! I think the griffins are the part I'm most proud of, and the reason why I wrote them is also one of the main reasons why I wrote the books in the first place. Since I was a kid, I've never liked the idea of dragon riders much, purely because I didn't like the notion that something so big and powerful would ever submit to a puny human. So I decided to do my own take on the concept, and I used griffins instead of dragons because I felt dragons were overused by this point, and if I used griffins people would go in with fewer preconceived ideas. I didn't want to explain things away with "magic", which is too often used as a cop-out in my opinion, so I decided to make it a social thing based upon mutual consent. The griffin is more powerful than the human physically, but the human has the brains, so both of them benefit. To the human, being chosen means becoming a noble, and to the griffin, choosing a human means becoming privelaged and important. So Skandar is Arren's griffin, but Arren is Skandar's human. It works both ways.

Are you working on future novels set in the same world, or a new series?

I've since written a sequel trilogy - originally, when I first signed the contract with Voyager, I pitched four books to them. They subsequently asked me if I could add two sequels to the fourth book and make that a second trilogy, and I said yes - and then proceeded to do just that. All three are now finished and have been sold to Voyager - we're hoping to sell them to my American publisher, Ace, as well. The second trilogy is currently titled The Risen Sun, and will probably stay that way. It has a different protagonist from the first trilogy.

I've also nearly finished the first in a third trilogy. It also stars a different protagonist from its predecessors, and is currently called The Southern Star (the protagonist is a Southerner). And I've now written the first two installments of a series for young adults - that series doesn't have a title but the working titles for the first three books are Scales, Claws and Spikes. My agent and I are about to start selling those. And apparently I've done all that in approximately... four years. Man, I have been busy.

No kidding! That inspires me to buckle down as well. Finally, what’s your favorite fantasy novel?

To be completely honest, I don't actually read much fantasy. I grew up reading young adult fantasy - I was a big fan of Robin Jarvis and Brian Jaques, but didn't like The Lord of the Rings. The only adult fantasy I ever got into is George R R Martin, but I also love Clive Barker and was a huge fan of William Horwood as a teenager. A lot of the time I actually read non-fiction. I also love movies. A movie made out of my books would be a dream come true... if it was a good movie, of course. Heh.

Yay, a fellow Horwood fan. Those are much harder to find that ASoIaF afficionados. Thanks very much for the interview, Katie!


Katie said...

You're welcome!
(I think I misspelled "privelage". I always did have a blind spot with that word for some reason...)

Marian Perera said...

I don't know... "privelage" sounds like some medieval duty. :)

Thanks again for the interview, and all the best for your (many) books!

Anonymous said...

Interesting take on fantasy, specially writing from the villains point of view. Most be a great work if you can pull that off and yet keep the readers interested.

gypsyscarlett said...

Sounds very intriguing. Much luck and success to you!

Steph R said...

As a Tasmanian, I have to read this now!

Mary Witzl said...

Interesting interview, and I must say, that cover is fantastic. I like the idea of griffins and people enjoying a symbiotic relationship.

I don't read much fantasy either, but I loved Clive Barker's 'Thief of Always', one of the books which inspired me to write.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the great interview! The book sounds fantastic, I'll be adding it to my TBR list.