What are your top five all-time favourite books, and why?
'Katherine' by Anya Seton. I read this novel when I was fifteen and it has been a long-time favourite because it awakened my love of historical fiction. Other books which moved me include, 'The Thorn Birds' by Colleen McCullough, 'Battleaxe' by Sara Douglass which introduced me to fantasy fiction for adults, the 'Tomorrow When the War Began' series by John Marsden, a brilliant Australian young adult writer. And 'The Girl in Times Square' by Paullina Simons, a novel I was able to relate to on a personal level like no other novel I've read.
Who are your five favourite authors, and why?
Leon Uris, whose novels of war and the atrocities of the Jews swept me away in my teenage years. James A Michener, whose epic sagas were amazing achievements in research as well as writing. Jennifer Fallon, a brilliant Australian fantasy writer whose fantastic creative stories never fail to entertain. Paullina Simons, a great modern story teller with beautiful believable characters. And Bryce Courtney, who is an exceptional storyteller.
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
My very first favourite book was Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist'. I was around eight at the time and I remember selecting this book from the shelves of my school library for its cover. It held me enthralled from its first page to its last, and was the book that started my love of reading.
Who is your favourite hero in a book?
I don't have one specific hero, but my hero type is someone who has struggled to succeed, has known the good and bad in life, is not perfect, and changes for the better over the course of the novel. I have many favourite heroes.
If you could be a character from a book who would you be?
I've read too many books to choose just one character I'd like to be. If I could choose to be someone from my own books, it would be Isabel from The Guardians of Time. I grew close to all the characters in this series over the three years it took to write the books, and for much of that time I was in Isabel's head, enjoying her strength, courage and loyalty.
If you could recommend just one book for everyone to read what would it be?
That book would be 'Holes' by Louis Sachar. I remember at the time I read this thinking it came as close to a perfectly-written novel as can be.
What's the best thing you've ever written?
Hopefully the book I am currently writing!
When did you start writing?
I remember enjoying writing stories when I was quite young, but it wasn't until my early thirties when I started writing with the idea of publication one day. I had just started back in the work force after my three children were all at school. I was teaching various classes in Office Administration and Computer Studies at an adult technical college, and though I enjoyed teaching I felt there was something more I wanted to do with my life. I enrolled in one writing course after another, entered a few short story competitions, and from the encouragement I received from my tutors began writing full-length manuscripts.
If someone wanted to be a writer what would be your number one tip for them?
My number one tip would be to know your characters like you know yourself, your best friend, or your children. Spend time with them, research their past, know how and why they react in certain ways, and what they're possible of doing. Carry them around in your head and in your heart, including the villains. Know what drives them, what makes them the good or bad people they are when, on that first page, you bring them to life. Give them full backgrounds. This will make them more realistic and drive your story.
Is there any particular routine involved in your writing process (favourite pen, lucky charm)?
There is not really any kind of lucky charm that I rely on, but at the end of every project and before I start my new one, I like to clean up my office and clear out my desk.
Do you have any abandoned stories in your 'bottom drawer' that you would like to revisit?
I have several. In fact, my first published novel Old Magic was a 'bottom drawer' story. After a year of thinking it wasn't good enough my husband suggested I should pull it out and give it another look. I'm very glad I did. The story currently sitting in my bottom drawer is the first full-length novel I wrote after my battle with bone-marrow cancer. This one is particularly close to my heart and I hope to revisit it one day. It's called 'Chains', and it's the story of two brothers and their downward spiral after losing their mother to cancer. The tragedy sends the youngest on a self destructive path, and induces in the eldest a series of psychic dreams he must unravel to save his younger brother.
What are your top three favourite young-adult books?
There are so many it is hard to pick just three because my top three is continually changing. I loved Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I devoured all four books in this series. Another would be Unearthly, the first book of a trilogy by Cynthia Hand and the world Cassandra Clare created in her Mortal Instruments novels stands out in my mind, which began with City of Bones.
How did you come up with the idea for Guardians of Time?
The spark for the idea originated when I was writing Old Magic. In Old Magic I had toyed with the concept of what might happen to the present, or the future, if a figure from the past was tampered with or even killed. I took this concept further and thought of writing a story about organised manipulation of the past, and the potential havoc it would create.
Which is your favourite character in the series? Which was your favourite perspective to write, if different?
My favourite character kept changing over the course of the three years it took to write the series. Having said that, my first favourite character was Ethan, and by the end of the trilogy, it was Ethan again. In between, my favourite character had changed to Arkarian, and then Rochelle, but I came back to Ethan because of his strength, his belief in Rochelle's innocence and his loyalty to the Guard. Isabelle was my favourite perspective to write from, most probably because I spent a lot of time in her head and I thoroughly enjoyed her fighting spirit.
Are any of the characters in the series based on people in your own life?
I did not set out to base my characters on any specific person I know in my own life, except for perhaps the shape of a character's eyes or the colour of his or her hair, but the people around me definitely have an influence on my life in general and it is quite possible I might have inadvertently used an aspect of their personality, incorporating it into one of my characters to make the character more charming, or funny, or simply more realistic.
If you were one of The Named, what weapon would we find you wielding at the final battle?
The weapon of my choice would be a sword. I'm not a very sporty person, especially since I injured my back in 2004, fracturing two vertebras, but the sword epitomises my idea of the elegance and romance of medieval times; the symbol, one could say, that represents the quintessential fantasy novel.
A technical question about our beloved Named. When Isabel turns eighteen, will she stop aging? If so, will she go live with Arkarian? Do they marry eventually?
Isabel will stop aging at eighteen and continue with her life in the human world until her unchanging youthful look begins to become obvious. Whether she marries Arkarian or not sounds like a prospective sequel. I imagine she would marry Arkarian, and the ceremony would be beautiful, with her brother Matt happily officiating.
If we look ahead five years in the future of the Guardians, what would we find happening with our characters?
To answer this question I might have to write another novel first! I imagine it is a time of great peace in the world, and our characters are all very busy making sure it stays that way, fulfilling their new obligations, and moving forward with their own hopes and aspirations.
History plays a big role in the Guardians series. What kind of research did you do?
The research I conducted was mainly through historical non-fiction books resourced from my local library and my own, very-small-but-growing personal library. I also used the vast resources of the Internet and held discussions with my daughter Amanda, a history student at the time, with a wonderful comprehension of all things ancient.
Has your childhood influenced the way you write?
Since I lived on a farm without close neighbours for most of my childhood, I spent a lot of time alone. My sister and brothers were several years older than me and occupied with their own busy lives. My books were my best friends and we shared many adventures together. Whether this quiet lifestyle influenced the way I write, I really can't say. I never think about it when I'm writing.
What writers have influenced you?
Early in my career I was influenced by Tamora Pierce, and Australian young adult writer Brian Caswell. Later it would have been Australian authors Bryce Courtney and Jennifer Fallon, and Barbara Erskine.
Do you have any advice for inspiring writers?
Read widely. Read magazines, newspapers, essays, reviews, historical, non-fiction as well as fiction and novels from genres you would not normally read. Doing this will not only increase your well of knowledge but introduce you to inspiring ideas and many different styles of writing. Experiment with the different styles until you find the one that suits you best. And finally, just do it. Write the novel, polish it, get opinions on it, then submit it widely, giving it the best chance it has.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be published?
Having a literary agent put my manuscripts directly in the hands of an editor helped immensely. I also recommend checking the websites of publishers to learn how they want the manuscript presented before you send it. Find out what the publisher wants to see first, just the first three chapters, or the entire manuscript, or if they accept online submissions. And finally, learn how to write a brilliant Synopsis and cover letter.
Which of your books did you enjoy writing the most?
I enjoyed writing The Key the most. This is because after writing the first two books in the Guardians of Time Trilogy, I had become attached to the characters and knew them so well they almost wrote the book themselves!
When you write, what comes first, the stories or the characters?
For me it is always the characters. My characters are what drive the story. I need to have them living with me, so to speak, inside my head, before I devise the plot.
When you write do you plan or make it up as you go?
I always plan. First I start with creating profiles for all the characters. And then I write a summary of the plot. After this I'll prepare chapter-by-chapter breakdowns. The story might change along the way, but I like knowing where it's going and how it's going to end before I start.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Being able to tell the stories that are in my head. To touch people's lives with my words. To give them time out from their everyday difficulties. It's awesome. I also love the freedom being a writer allows, being able to work to my own schedule.
How did you get the idea for Old Magic?
My family and I were having lunch on Dorrigo Mountain one day with friends. It had been raining that morning and there was a lot of mist around. My children started walking across a grassy field when a cloud of mist rolled over them, and I knew then I wanted to write a story of a girl and boy with magical abilities.
Who is Marianne? Tell us a little bit about yourself, your hobbies…
If you had asked me this question pre 2004 I would be giving you a completely different answer. So what happened that changed who I am today? I was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 2004 and received a stem cell bone marrow transplant with only days to live. I was fortunate to survive, and that was due to my sister's perfect-match stem cells, a brilliant transplant medical team at the Westmead Hospital, and a multitude of prayers from family, friends and many, many strangers. I'm now more than seven years cancer free and grateful for this chance at a new life. I live on top of a mountain with a rainforest at my back door. It's awesome, and I appreciate being able to enjoy the fresh open air and writing again. My hobbies are reading (what a surprise!), knitting, and spending time with my grandchildren.
All your books belong to the fantasy or science-fiction genre, why do you choose this genre?
My stories are usually a combination of reality, fantasy, adventure, romance and history. I didn't set out to belong to any genre, it just happened as I evolved as a writer.
In your biography you tell your readers that you took writing courses by correspondence, did they help you to improve your writing quality?
The writing courses I took were extremely helpful in achieving publication success. I learned many things from them, starting from the basics of short story writing to creating the full-length novel, as well as other fundamental topics such as: word skills, sentence structure, presentation of manuscript, motivation and searching for a publisher.
How do you choose the names for your characters? Do you base any character on a person near you?
Some names just pop into my head as I need them. The name Arkarian in the Guardians Trilogy happened this way. Sometimes I look up the meaning of names to find the right one for a particular character, and sometimes I make up the name altogether, but this takes the longest time.
You have three children. Are any of your books written for them? Did they like reading like you did in your teens?
In their teens my daughters were big readers, especially my eldest who read thirty novels during a six-week school break when she was fifteen. My son reads too, but not as intensely as the girls. He reads more now than when he was in his teens. My first book, a bottom drawer novel, I wrote at my youngest daughter Danielle's request. She was 13 at the time.
Did you ever imagine your books being translated into so many international languages?
No, I never imagined that would happen. It's absolutely amazing how many countries my books have made it into. To know that children around the world are reading the stories that came out of my head, stuns me every time I think about it.
When and where do you usually write? At what hour of the day do you feel more inspired?
I have converted one of the bedrooms of my house into an office. It has a lovely window that looks out to the rainforest backyard. I like to write in the mornings mostly, and in the early afternoons. I like to unwind with a book or watch a favourite TV show in the evenings.
Would you like to make a movie from one of your books? Why? Which one?
I have been told that my books are extremely visual and read like scenes in a movie, so I would be happy to see them all turned into films! Several years ago Warner Brothers took out an option on the Guardians of Time Trilogy to make it into a television series but dropped the option at the end of the one year agreement. There was interest in Old Magic by a young, upcoming producer who wrote a script for it, but, unfortunately, that didn't eventuate either. She had selected actors and even filmed a scene. It was awesome to see that one scene played out. Meanwhile, more recently, there has been some interest in the Guardians Trilogy by two different movie production companies. Unfortunately negotiations failed in the early stages with one of them, while I haven't heard from the other in quite some time.
Is there a sequel for Old Magic?
This question is one I'm often asked. And I am sorry to say there is not a sequel for Old Magic in the works. When I finished writing Old Magic I felt strongly that Kate and Jarrod had resolved all their difficulties and were very happy, so I moved on to writing the Guardians of Time Trilogy, and now my new series.
Is there going to be a fourth volume in the Guardians of Time Trilogy?
I think it is very important for an author to know when to end a novel. It is sometimes a very difficult decision. At the time I thought I made the right one, but I have had many requests for a fourth volume and I am considering the idea very carefully. While I am deeply involved in my new series at present, I will not discount the possibility of continuing the series in one way or another in the future. The possibilities for one are endless.
How did you find an agent?
I looked at a list of agents recommended by a professional writers' organisation called the New South Wales Writer's Centre and selected three agents that handled young adult fiction. I sent them each the first 30 pages of my finished manuscript along with a covering letter and a brief one-page Synopsis. Fortunately, one agent loved what he read and rang me to send him the rest.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I am inspired by music, photographs and nature. When I need to be motivated I listen to music. It generally always works. I also love the feel of strong wind, the spray from a fierce ocean, the sight of a storm hammering the horizon. The power of raw nature feeds my imagination. Looking at unusual photos of people, or places I've never been before also fire up my thought processes. Photographs, especially close ups of people, tell their own stories and every face has one.
What inspired you to take up writing in the first instance?
I've always been a big reader and an involved reader. I feel aligned with the characters and they stay in my mind long after I turn the last page. Writing seemed like a step I needed to take. One day I had an idea to give it a try, and I thought, why not? I decided I'd test myself by writing a romance novel. Six weeks later I had 55,000 words. It was a dreadful book, but that was beside the point. I loved the experience so much I was hooked.
Why do you like writing fantasy?
Fantasy allows me to stretch not only my own imagination, but everyone who reads my books. Fantasy can combine many different genres. The writer is only limited by the rules she or he sets.
What was it like growing up in Australia?
I grew up on farms in Windsor and then Plumpton. The first property lined the banks of the Hawkesbury River. My older sister and brothers and I used to swim in the river almost every day. There was an incredible sense of freedom on this property with wildlife my brothers used to try to catch. I can still recall this farm, even though I was only five when we moved. The second property may have had closer neighbours, but was far less picturesque and had less privacy. I caught a bus to school but had to change buses for the return journey. Since I was a shy girl, I grew up a lonely child. But in general, Australia is a very outdoorsy, sports-loving country. Most children enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle involving many different sporting and recreational activities.
Your books are both historical and fantasy. Why did you choose to write using both?
I have a love of history and enjoy reading fantasy. It seemed a natural progression to combine the two in my writing.
Are any real-life scenarios incorporated into your books?
Undoubtedly, there will be some aspects of my personal life that find their way into my novels, but I don't purposefully incorporate real-life scenarios and couldn't name one if I tried.
As an adult, what kinds of books do you like to read now?
I still like reading young adult books and do so when I have the time. Most YA novels manage to cross all barriers and have wonderful things to say. I also enjoy novels by Tim Winton, Michael Crichton, Jennifer Fallon, Barbara Erskine, Fiona Mcintosh, Nicholas Evans and Jane Smiley.
Have you ever had anything published other than your novels?
In 2003 I contributed a short story called The Star to the UK War Child Anthology called Kids Night In, published by HarperCollins in July 2003. Before this, I had an article published in a writer's magazine about writers using word processors verses hand-writing. About the same time, I wrote a book review that won first prize in a competition, and a short story that came second in another competition.
How many more books do you intend on writing?
I can't give you a set figure because the future is an unknown quantity, though, at least one a year for the rest of my life would be ideal! What I can tell you is that I will be a happy person if I can continue writing every day of my life.
Your technique of writing in different perspectives is very unique, what gave you this idea?
The idea came from a series of experiments I performed when I first began writing to find a style that suited me. I toyed with different points of views and tenses to see what worked best and what I was most comfortable writing. I liked the way first person perspective allowed the reader right inside the character's head. Unfortunately, first-person point of view is very restricting in what action you can show the reader, so I tried switching perspectives from one character to the other. This may sound simple, but it can be tricky. You have to make sure your characters' voices don't sound too similar.
How do you think of all the different powers for the characters in the Guardians of Time trilogy?
There is no logical method or technique that makes this easy, though choosing the different powers for the Guardians characters ended up being a lot of fun. The main consideration was to make the power fit the character's personality, who they were or represented, like an extension of themselves or their personality.
What's the best thing about being a writer?
I enjoy the independence and flexibility it affords. I also get an immense satisfaction when the novel is complete. It's an amazing feeling to know people are reading stories that came out of my head and my heart.
Why should children switch off videogames and pick up a book?
I think there is a time and place for both in a child's life, but I believe nothing can fire up the imagination more than a good novel, especially one whose characters stay with you long after the last page is turned.
Teen fiction today seems to be more explicit in its subject matter than in the past. What are your feelings on this?
I think as long as the subject matter is handled tactfully there should be no subject matter that can't be written about. I think the author has to be comfortable with what they're doing and not writing solely for the sake of sensationalism.
Are there any subjects about which you would never write?
I can't think of any. It all depends on the novel, the characters, and what is called for. There should always be a reason.
Have you ever been to another author's book-signing as a fan? If so, who and when was it?
Quite a few years ago I went to a book-signing of Australian Olympic Swimming Champion Shane Gould. She had written an autobiography and was signing in my local bookshop. I met her and we chatted for a couple of minutes and she signed my book. Shane Gould is about my age and has always been someone I admired.
Have you ever had any unusual objects or letters sent to you by a fan?
In 2005 there was a Grade5/6 class in New South Wales that worked on The Named for a whole term. The class wrote, acted and filmed a play based on the Prologue. They also made numerous letters, posters, drawings, stories and trinkets based on the novel. They even had a party dressed up in characters from the book. Their wonderful teacher, Mr Kenneth Ogilvie, filmed everything and sent me a copy on DVD, as well as a box full of items the children had created, including their stories and ornaments. One of the students even made a sphere out of blue-painted Styrofoam!
Would you consider writing a book for adults?
I would consider it, but I don't have any plans for one at present. Even though my books are labelled 'young adult' I receive many emails from adults of all ages who tell me how much they enjoy reading my books. The eldest reader I know of was 94 when he read the Guardians Trilogy.
Where can I buy your books?
The answer should be, at all good bookstores, but if you can't find what you're looking for on your bookstore shelves, it might be necessary to ask for the book to be ordered in. You could also try the publisher, or one of the many online bookstores. My books are becoming available as e-books as I write this, and my new series is planned to be released both in print and e-book form.