I’m elated that I have the Queen of Aussie YA herself on the blog today. Please give it up for the amazing author who gave us such beautiful books to enjoy – MELINA MARCHETTA!
The sequel, the companion novel, the audience and me.
I’ve said more than once that there have been big surprises for me in my writing life and one of them is Tom Finch Mackee. When he came back to me in 2007 I was midway through writing Finnikin. I had never written two novels at the same time and I chose to put Tom on hold. But I thought of him all the time and we kind of talked in that strange dialogue writers have with their characters. In a way I had to get to know him again. I had first introduced him in Saving Francesca as a 17 year old boy who was never going to be anything more than a bully in the lives of the new girls in his school. But I was teaching boys at the time and the students I first believed to be bullies ended up being pretty decent. Tom got caught up in that decency.
Sequels and companion novels are difficult because you constantly question what you owe your audience. I have an incredibly loyal readership regardless of whether they’ve liked every one of the novels or not, and I’m very much aware of them out there. It’s a strange intimacy that develops between a writer and a reader. While I’m writing, however, I won’t allow those readers in my head. So when I question what I owe them, the answer is usually, I owe them nothing. Which seems harsh, but the moment my writing is shaped by someone other than myself, I begin to let down a whole lot of other readers and there’s less truth in the story I want to tell.
A few times I’ve broken that rule, though. When I wrote The Piper’s Son, I introduced a whole lot of new characters and re-introduced some old characters that needed to be part of Tom’s journey. But I cheated with Will Trombal because really, Will didn’t need to be part of Tom’s journey. Tom can’t stand Will. But many of my young readers especially, were very keen to know what happened between Francesca and Will. Every time I did a school visit or a festival, I’d be asked about them. Deep down, I was curious about the pair myself and although I pretended that Will was out of the picture temporarily in The Piper’s Son because I sent him overseas to work, I couldn’t resist flying him back for a long weekend. Anyone who’s read the novel would also notice how I snuck him in Chapter One the night before he flies out. I’m very weak in that way.
There are problems when you cheat. Most writers have a nazi editing voice that lives in their head. The Voice has the capacity to nag at the beginning of the process and then hide for ages and ages. During later drafts of The Piper’s Son mine revealed itself again.
The Voice: Like, really, what does Will have to do with Tom’s journey?
ME: Mumble mumble mumble Francesca mumble mumble mumble.
The Voice: Francesca? But this isn’t her story, fool? It’s Tom’s and Georgie’s.
ME: Mumble mumble mumble but I love Will mumble mumble.
The Voice: Then put him to work!
The Voice is always right. It’s actually quite powerful because it has conversations with others as well. Usually soon after, my editor will say, ‘By the way, let’s talk about Will? Why does he really need to be part of Tom’s story?”
So regardless of whether I included Will for my Francesca readers, I had to put him to work. He had to spend time with Tom, instructed by both Frankie the character, and me the writer. Will’s words had to somehow shape Tom’s journey and teach him a thing or two about human nature and relationships. The character of Will was also utilized to bring much needed humour in what could be a dark novel. Not that Will has a sense of humour at all, but his scenes had an element of humour in them. One of my favourites, later included, was between Tom and Will at the football game.
The other character that surprised me into getting his own novel was Froi. I know for sure that I had no intention of writing his story when I started Finnikin because I would never have called a protagonist “Froi”. It’s a bit of a blah name and if I was serious about him, I would have named him Tariq or Akbar or Olivier.
I also know that if I had his own story in mind, I would have changed what Froi tried to do to Evanjalin. It’s not a good place to begin a sequel because I knew for sure that the novel would be criticized by some readers before they read the first page, and that I would lose a whole lot of other readers who were disgusted by Froi’s actions in Finnikin. How could one not be? But what I wanted to show was how that single heinous act became part of his bond to women and to himself. Female characterisation and the way men and women interact with each other is paramount in my story telling, whether in my contemporary or fantasy novels, and I’d love to think that after reading the whole 600 pages, an independent reader would make up their own mind about Froi and his treatment of women. I was very conscious of not insulting the Finnikin reader. For that reason, I set myself three rules: don’t forget what Froi tried to do; don’t let Froi forget what he tried to do; don’t let the reader forget what Froi tried to do.
But there was also a character in Froi of the Exiles that I included to make my Finnikin readers happy. Not Finnikin and his Queen, however. Both characters are important to this trilogy, especially in Quintana of Charyn. My big cheat was Beatriss of the Flatlands. I wanted closure because I left her relationship with Trevanion in some sort of limbo. I had absolutely no regret not tying up the pieces in Finnikin because it was too soon. But I wanted their relationship played out in the real time of a novel, rather than the three years in between. My decision was questioned once or twice in early edits by both the Voice and my editors. I could understand why. Beatriss didn’t belong in Froi’s journey. So I made her count in other ways, especially when it came to understanding what life had been like for the Lumaterans throughout the curse. She was also used to compliment the character of Phaedra of Alonso. Beatriss and Phaedra were similar in my eyes. They both had an abundance of strength, concealed by their own fear as well as society’s perception of them.
There have been other little cheats along the way. The cameo by Ben the Violinist in The Piper’s Son. He and his band were my gift to Jellicoe readers. Some didn’t pick up the references, others have told me they burst out crying when they realized who Ben was. And of course there’s Danny Griggs’ older brother in The Gorgon in the Gully. Even Taylor makes a cameo appearance as part of a photograph in a sock drawer. Sometimes cheating is a lovely thing to do. I’m thinking of making it a habit.
Yes please, would love to see more cheating! Melina, we can never thank you enough for writing wonderful novels that speak to all of us in many different ways. Thank you for graciously doing a guest post for this week (also for commenting on the posts), I’m sure I’m not the only fan who appreciates this. I can’t believe it’s the last day of Marchetta Madness!