M.J. Hearle, author of Winter’s Shadow, and Winter’s Light, has stopped by Treasured Tales for an interview. In the interview M.J. talks about writing, music, his characters – Winter and Blake, and a little about the sequel, Winter’s Light.
Hi M.J. Welcome to Treasured Tales for Young Adults. Would you tell us a little about yourself?
At the risk of going all David Copperfield on you I’ll try and keep this brief – I was born in Port Macquarie, a small town on Australia’s mid north coast. When I finished school, I went to university in Newcastle and completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Film. After graduating, I spent the next ten years trying to break into the film industry. On the eve of my 30th birthday, I came to the conclusion that I might never make it as a filmmaker so I better think of another dream career. Becoming an author had always seemed more intimidating than making movies –all those pages and words! – but I figured I should try. It was certainly a cheaper way of telling stories. The idea for Winter’s Shadow was inspired by a sunset jog through a cemetery where I encountered a teenage girl taking photographs. I started thinking about the girl and what if something odd was revealed in the pictures she’d taken and by the time I got home the story was there ready for me to begin writing. Even though I had the idea for the story, getting it into a novel was a tricky and sometimes painful experience. A lot of words make up a book – much more than a screenplay – and I agonised over every single one of them. As soon as the draft was done I sent it out to various literary agents. I was lucky enough to get signed and subsequently be offered a 2 book deal with Pan Macmillan. Winter’s Shadow was published last year (2011) and the sequel Winter’s Shadow is coming out May 1st this year (2012). The sequel expands the mythology introduced in the first book and is a much stranger, darker tale. I’ve just begun outlining the third book which expands the scope even further. Think Lord of the Rings to The Hobbit in terms of scale.
Who are some of your all time favourite authors?
I love Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Susan Clarke, H.P. Lovecraft. Outisde of the genre, Jonathan Franzen is a fantastic writer and I can’t get enough of Kurt Vonnegut. Ultimately though, I’m a child of Stephen King. He’s the author that first opened me up to the possibilities of storytelling. I remember sneaking The Shining from my parents room when I was a kid and being absolutely petrified by what I read. King taught me the power of words.
When writing a novel, do you outline the entire plot before beginning, or do you like to let the characters guide you?
Interesting question. I outlined Winter’s Shadow quite extensively and didn’t outline Winter’s Light at all. The difference can be seen in the two novels. Winter’s Shadow is much more tightly contained, it adhers closely to genre conventions and has a distinctly familiar paranormal rythmn to it. On the other hand, Winter’s Light is a great big sprawling beast. Scene to scene, I didn’t know what was going to happen before I wrote it which I think lends the story an unpredictability – a sense of danger. Anything can happen (and does).
Do you like to listen to music while you write?
Sometimes. Usually when I’m beginning a novel and looking for a way to get into the creative mindset I’ll put music on in the background. I only listen to film scores though. Never songs with lyrics as I find them distracting. My favourite composers are Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, Carter Burwell and Thomas Newman.
Are there any particular songs that you feel suit or express a certain scene in your novel, Winter’s Shadow?
I think Sia’s – Breath Me could be played while reading the last few chapters of the book and it would compliment the mood nicely. Maybe some early Cure for the opening passages set in school. Danny Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands suite for Winter’s exploration of Pilgrim’s Lament.
I love the main character’s name – Winter. I think it really suits her and the feel of the novel. Was Winter the only name that your ever considered for the main character or did you waver between a few names?
You know what? Winter wasn’t Winter until just before publication. Up until that point her name was Elodie Winters – my homage to Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Killer). Her name changed when the title of the book changed from Shade (it was already taken) to Winter’s Shadow. My publisher thought it would suit the title better if Winter was her first name instead of her last and I agreed. Just one example of how vital a publishers contribution is to a writer’s work.
How would you describe the relationship between Winter and her sister, Lucy?
Winter loves her sister but feels a little stifled by her overprotectiveness. That said, she understands their parents death has made her sister this way. Grief affects people differently. It’s made Winter numb and left Lucy raw. Deep down she appreciates the sacrifice Lucy has made in postponing her studies and returning to Hagan’s Bluff to care for her.
Blake is a very intriguing character. What part of Blake’s past did you enjoy writing the most?
Well, carrying on with the sister theme, I found the relationship between Blake and Claudette fascinating. At turns defined by resentment, heartbreak, fear and disgust there’s nevertheless a strong undercurrent of love running through their interactions. This depth of feeling exists even up until the very end. Writing scenes of such emotional complexity between Blake and Caludette was a challenge but incredibly satisfying.
How would you describe the impact that Winter has on Blake?
At the beginning of Winter’s Shadow, Blake is in a very dark place. He’s resigned himself to an isolated, nomadic existence moving from town to town, never staying long enough to form emotional connections with those that cross his path. Blake’s purposefully sealed his heart off for fear of the danger caring for someone might bring. When he saves Winter in Pilgrim’s Lament he breaks every rule he’s set for himself. A prolonged moment of eye contact is all it takes. At first, rhis attraction to Winter begins as a purely chemical response – his Demori hunger activated by her unique essence. Then there’s the passing resemblance Winter has to Elisabetta, his first love, which further complicates his feelings. Blake also labors under the burden of responsibility. He knows Winter’s soul is in danger and it’s entirely his fault. All of these factors contribute to stripping down the walls he’s carefully erected around his heart. Ultimately though, Winter herself – her innocense, complete lack of guile, her sadness, her strength – is responsible for bringing Blake out of the darkness. Such pure, selfless love is impossible to ignore, especially after decades of repressing his emotions. She re-connects him to his tender feelings, his soul –how could he not love her for that?
Is there anything you can share with us about the sequel to Winter’s Shadow – Winter’s Light?
Hmm…let me see. What can I reveal without spoiling the surprises of the story? I’ll have to tread carefully. Firstly, the book is much larger in scope than the first novel. Winter leaves the confines of Hagan’s Bluff and travels extensively. Jasmine plays a more prominent role. The Bane return and we learn more about their organisation. Ariman, Claudette and Blake are not the only Demori. The mythology of the Dead Lands and the Malfaerie is expanded upon. Oh, and the novel begins with a prologue set two thousand years ago. That’s it –that’s all I’m going to give you 🙂
Thank you for the interview M.J.
My pleasure, thank you for your questions. I had fun answering them.
More information about the Winter Saga and author M.J. Hearle:
A big thank you to M.J. Hearle for the interview, and to Charlotte, from Pan Macmillan Australia, for arranging the interview.
I absolutely loved Winter’s Shadow. It was full of so much suspense. I can’t wait to start reading Winter’s Light. Have you read Winter’s Shadow? Are you looking forward to Winter’s Light?