An Interview with Jenny Hale

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jenny Hale is an Australian author illustrator of children's picture books, and her werewolf fantasy book, Jatta, is her first novel (and a pretty good one at that!). Many thanks to Jenny for answering my questions about Jatta and being a writer!

1. What was the inspiration behind Jatta?
I had this image of a girl weighed down by a disability. By its stigma. By the threat of its cancerous growth. I chose a werewolf curse because this brutal alter-ego would be the opposite of Jatta’s own shy, gentle personality. Considering the trauma she suffered as a child, it was also the very thing that would almost crush her. I wanted to see her develop from there. Of course the werewolf would also grow stronger, and I didn’t yet know which of the two sides of Jatta would win.

2. I often hear that fantasy novels are a bit like an iceberg - you only see the ten percent that is the story, but there's a whole lot of background information underneath. Is this true of Jatta? Are there things about the world and characters that exist within it that never made it in to the book?
Oh, sure! I love biology, and the creatures in Jatta — dragons, wolves, Undead, Sorcerers, even prehistoric pterodactyls — appear to come from a whole junkyard of fantasy genres. However, in Jatta there’s a common, semi-scientific root to them all: it’s the Sorcerers. They play God, and fabricate dragons and pteros from assembled prehistoric bones, a la Jurassic Park. I’d always figured dragons looked a bit like a composite dinosaur, complete with ptero wings and T-rex head. Only, mine aren’t so pretty.
My Undead are another Sorcerer creation. They display no especial powers except having skin that’s near freezing. That’s to discourage grubs, because corpses start to smell quite appealing to egg-laying flies and beetles by night’s end. Oh, and obsidian teeth. (Volcanic glass is one of the sharpest materials known, used in some surgical blades). Undead are just DEAD. Unclothe one, and you’ll find mottled wine-red staining under the skin along his back. This is where blood settled during his first hours of Undeath. Gruesome, I know. That’s why it’s not in Jatta’s story. (Yet.) It’s hard to imagine romantic feelings stirring for such creatures … though one of my characters tries.

3. What's the most rewarding thing about writing?
It’s waking from a night’s sleep to find the ideas I’ve been toying with have melded into something quite simple and elegant. It’s discovering as I write that my scene is evolving into something more powerful than I had first imagined. And writing’s an addiction.

4. Are you working on something new at the moment? Could you tell us a bit about it?
I’m into Jatta’s sequel. She will continue to morph. Arthmael’s a strong presence, and there’s romance, too. I now understand my characters so well, it’s easier to guess what they’ll do.

5. What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Intense. Warm-hearted. Forgetful.
And what three words would you use to describe your writing?
Intense. Layered. Surprising twists.

6. Complete this sentence: My teenage years were...
A work in progress. At 14 I was like Jatta, incredibly shy. However my friendship with the girl who sat next to me in English gradually brought me confidence. We’re still best friends. We galvanised other school ‘creatives’, launched into plays, art, film, into long debates over boys and life. I made my first movie (vampire, of course).

7. Have you always wanted to write for young people? Or did you set out to become a brain surgeon and wind up stumbling down this path? Was the road to publication rocky for you?
I wrote stories as a kid. I also drew. I wanted to be an illustrator of children’s books, and I’ve had fun doing that. But four years ago I got the writing bug again. YA fantasy. I love reading it; it speaks to adults, too. I’m pretty focused, and the road’s also been smoothed by my previous career. I wrote one novel, sent it to one publisher. When she politely rejected it on a Friday, I sat down that Saturday with the idea for Jatta. I haven’t looked at that first novel since, and I’ve no idea anymore whether it’s brilliant or bad. Jatta took 11 months and lots of drafts, but I found Margaret, a literary agent who shared my vision of Jatta as a tortured, sensitive soul in a genre filled with feisty kick-arse heroines, and my agent championed my book to publishers.

8. Who were your biggest inspirations and idols growing up and today?
Charles Darwin in Year 8 Biology. His simple concept made God superfluous for me.
Nelson Mandella. Anyone who has suffered a terrible crime and has forgiven. There’s no other way out of the painful abyss.

9. Who are your favourite authors and which movies are your all-time favourites?
Jane Austin. JK Rowling. Stephenie Meyer. Jonathon Shroud (Bartemaeus Trilogy) Cormac McCarthy (The Road).

Movies? Oh, so many! Shrek. Groundhog Day. Pride and Prejudice (BBC series). The Sound of Music (yes, cringe). Raiders of the Lost Ark. Men in Black. Harry Potter. Mars Attacks. Brazil. Pan’s Labrynth, The Orphanage (El Toro). Gone with the Wind. Contact. GATTACA. AI. The Sixth Sense.

Steph, here’s the abbreviated list:
Shrek. Pride and Prejudice (BBC series) Men in Black. Harry Potter. Mars Attacks. Pan’s Labrynth. GATTACA. AI. The Sixth Sense.

10. Complete this sentence: My life outside of writing is...
My cute, cuddly, hunky husband Brad.
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