Hello lovely readers! I’m thrilled to be bringing you an interview with Juliet Mariller, author of one of my favourite new historical fantasy novels A Harp Of Kings, the review of which went live on my blog yesterday, you can also find it here too:
A huge thank you to the amazing people at Pan Macmillan Australia for allowing me to be on the blog tour celebrating the release of this book! I’ve indicated Juliet’s answers in italics.
Now, for the interview! Read on 🙂
Hi Juliet, thank you so much for taking the time out to answer these questions! I’m so so excited for A Harp of Kings, it just sounds so wonderful and fascinating and it has such an intriguing setting and equally intriguing characters!
1. Can you tell me what was your inspiration to pen A Harp of Kings? What inspired you to craft the setting that you did?
My first career was as a singer and music teacher, but I hadn’t featured bards/minstrels as central characters before, and I wanted to. How could I incorporate musicians into an action-packed story with mystery and intrigue and an element of the uncanny? I set the story in the imaginary version of early medieval Ireland that I had used in the Blackthorn & Grim series, where travelling musicians were a good fit, along with an Otherworld realm based partly on Irish mythology and partly on my own love of folklore.
At its heart, The Harp of Kings is a story built around character. I thought it was time for a ballsy female protagonist, someone who physically strong and capable, unafraid to speak out, and prepared to step up and show leadership when she had to. That’s Liobhan, singer, whistle player, outstanding fighter. Alongside her are her brother Brocc, a charismatic musician, and Dau, a not very likeable young nobleman who is harbouring a few secrets. Because the setting includes two kingdoms, the human and the fey, we learn just how differently things are done in each, and the tricky line a person has to tread to move between them unscathed.
From those elements grew the story of the Harp of Kings, a precious old treasure that goes missing at exactly the wrong moment, and the small team that goes undercover on an urgent mission to track it down. I used the mysterious military training establishment on Swan Island as the jumping off point for the action, which means this story has a connection with both the Blackthorn & Grim series and the Sevenwaters series. However, The Harp of Kings is a stand-alone story.
2. Something which I’m always curious about is which authors inspire other authors and what were the first books that cemented their love for reading? Could you please tell me what were the first books you remember devouring? And favourite authors, whether it be from childhood or current?
As a child I loved the Moomin books by Tove Jansson with their Nordic flavour, their wonderfully observed characters and their evocative line drawings. I was a big fan of the Narnia books, without much awareness of the Christian allegory behind the story. As a teenager I was obsessed with Tolkien. And I always loved reading folklore and fairy tales. My library card was extremely well used right through childhood! As an adult I read mainly historical fiction and literary fiction, only going back to fantasy when I became a serious writer in my forties and realised that was what I was writing! Some favourite authors within the fantasy genre: Angela Slatter, Sebastien de Castell, Joe Abercrombie. Some favourite reads from the last year: Circe by Madeline Miller; The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley; The Binding by Bridget Collins. All three of these are wonderfully written literary fantasy.
3. Harp of Kings is a historical fantasy – one of my absolute favourite genres! Do you have a favourite (or favourites) period of history?
As a novelist I’ve most often chosen the early medieval period; it suits the kind of story I like to tell when writing long fiction. In my short fiction I sometimes choose a more contemporary period and a location closer to home. Periods about which not much is known intrigue me, which is why I chose to write the Bridei Chronicles, set in the Pictish kingdom that later became part of Scotland. The Picts did not leave any written records, so most of what we know about them come from sources that may have been rather biased (the Romans; Christian monks.) The grey areas of history give more scope to the writer’s imagination.
4. I am always intrigued by people’s reading habits! Do you find you read multiple books at once or just one book at a time? What have you been reading currently and what are you currently reading? What forthcoming releases are you excited for? Do you have a go to comfort genre?
I seldom read more than one novel at a time – with fiction in particular, I choose books I am fairly sure I will enjoy and I become too engaged with them to switch mid-stream. With non-fiction it’s easier to stop for a while, depending on the book. I’ve been reading the Dragon Lords series by Jon Hollins, which was described as ‘Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hobbit.’ It’s action packed, very funny, and has a central cast of wonderfully oddball characters. Prior to that I read The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King, a gritty, in-your-face military fantasy thriller. I enjoyed that for its break-neck pace and its unusual but convincing take on PTSD. I’m excited for the release of Unnatural Magic by C M Waggoner, which comes out at around the same time as The Harp of Kings, and from the same US publisher. I’ve read an advance copy of Unnatural Magic and I am certain that people who love my books will love this one – fantastic world building, unforgettable female leads, and a fast paced story full of wisdom and heart. My go-to comfort reading is anything featuring a good love story. I especially like Anne Gracie’s Regency romances.
5. I can’t wait to read the book! I’m so so so excited by its premise and your incredible cast of characters! I wonder, how do you find yourself able to distinctly jump into each character’s head? I notice that Harp of Kings is told from different character points of view, which I love! I can’t wait to get to know everyone!
This structure with the main characters taking chapters in turn has become my favourite way to write a novel. Liobhan, Brocc and Dau are so different – Liobhan capable and confident but at times rather blunt; Brocc the sensitive poet; Dau rather an enigma for reasons that gradually become apparent. Crafting their individual voices was a technical challenge (I like those!) and also really rewarding as I saw them come to life on the page. If a writer understands her characters from the inside out, what makes them tick, how they will respond to situations and why, how their past experiences affect their present day decisions, those characters will (I hope) also come alive for the reader.
Thank you again so much for answering these questions, Juliet! I’m so excited to read the book, I know that I and many others will become obsessed and will be recommending it left, right and centre!
You’re welcome, and thanks for having me!
Readers, don’t forget to add “The Harp of Kings” to your Goodreads TBR: