Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Friday, 20 May 2016

The Lowdown with... Juliet E. McKenna

Juliet E. McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels, from The Thief’s Gamble which began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, to Defiant Peaks concluding The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. Exploring new opportunities in digital publishing, she’s re-issuing her backlist as well as bringing out original fiction. She also writes diverse shorter fiction, reviews for web and print magazines and promotes SF&Fantasy by blogging, attending conventions, teaching creative writing and commenting on book trade issues online. Most recently she’s been campaigning for the reform of EU taxation on digital sales causing serious problems for small press and independent publishing. Learn more about all of this at her website.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.

My hobbies, besides reading, are knitting, embroidery and the martial art, aikido.

I’m the family DM when we play Dungeons and Dragons with our sons. Yes, we bred our own next-generation gamers.
My track record with killing house plants is roughly on a par with a ghost in the TV series ‘Supernatural’. I do okay with gardens though. 

2. What was the first thing you had published?

If that means ‘in print, for other people to read’, a poem in my secondary school’s magazine in (I think) 1977. It was called ‘Looking at a Painting’, and contrasted a grandmother imagining all sorts of stories based on what she is seeing, with a teenager thinking being an adult requires a very different response. I wonder if I still have a copy of it anywhere...

If that means ‘in print and paid for’ that would be my first novel, The Thief’s Gamble. Long form is my natural writing length so I didn’t take the short-story route to a writing career. 

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

Oh come on, that’s like asking me which is my favourite son! I’m proud about different things which I’ve achieved in different pieces of writing but to ask me to rate them in any kind of order? Not a chance.

Something I’ve done which I’m proud of which I’d like more people to be aware of? The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy. 

I aimed to really and thoroughly overturn preconceptions about epic fantasy being consolatory and conservative, advocating ‘the return of the king’ and all that. This is the story of what happens when the ordinary people have had enough of being run over roughshod by the ambitions of princes and wizards...

4. …and which makes you cringe?

That, alas, is easy. In my first book someone sees people climbing cliffs and confidently states they’re gathering seabirds’ eggs to eat. Er, sorry, no, not at that (clearly stated in the text) time of year, they’re not. So my excuse, after the fact, is the speaker is a city girl and knows next to nothing about ornithology!

5. What’s a normal writing day like?

Get up around 7 am, have breakfast, sort whatever domestic administrivia can’t be avoided. Once or twice a week, head out for a session at the gym.


Once I’m at my desk, I fire up the computer, check social media stuff, check email, deal with whatever might arise from those – as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Open up the Work in Progress and review what I wrote last time. Tweak and tidy up as I go, doing bits of line editing, that kind of thing. Not starting any substantive rewrite unless I’ve had some nightmare realisation about a major problem while I was in the shower.

Check my notes about what I’m writing. I’m very much a planner and outliner, so there’ll be a notebook beside my keyboard with the overall idea set out plus additional pencil scribbles, arrows, stars, bits circled, as my thoughts develop or change as the actual writing unfolds.

Crack on with the wordsmithing until midday/one o’clockish when I break for lunch –usually watching some bit of telly. That can be anything from a SF/fantasy serial to a historical documentary to a US drama like The Good Wife or Nashville.

Back to work, picking up where I left off – and I will be all the more productive for having taken a break. Write until I reach a natural break point some time after 5pm, or until the Husband gets home from work.

Cook the family dinner, catch up with the Husband’s day, then we’ll relax together with some telly or a good book, the usual sort of thing. Unless it’s an aikido night in which case we’re off to throw people around a padded mat for a couple of hours.

That’s the theory, anyway, and it’s a routine I’m very much striving to get back to, after spending so much of last year being a political lobbyist on international digital VAT.


6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?

I’d say the first thing they should do is head for my website where there are some free stories as well as sample chapters from my novels. That way they can get an idea of my style and decide if it appeals. If it does, well, The Thief’s Gamble is the first novel so that seems like a good place to start.

7. What are you working on now?


I have just returned rewrites on a short story for an ‘Alien Artefacts’ anthology. 

I’m currently working on an Aldabreshin Compass related short story. I’ve decided to write a few of those, to accompany the ebook publication of that series. The first one’s free for reading via the Free Stories page on my website. 

I’m also planning the rewriting needed for the opening of an unpublished novel which I want to get out on submission to literary agents as soon as possible.

I’m also noting down thoughts for a possible Patreon project.
 That’s enough to be going on with, I think.

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