Today I am excited to bring you my first author interview – with Allison Tait! Allison is a freelance writer, one half of the Australian Writers Centre podcast with Valerie Khoo, and the writer of The Mapmaker Chronicles – a trilogy for children. Her third book in this series, Breath of the Dragon, was released this week. You can read my review of the first Mapmaker book, Race to the end of the world, and you can have a look at the Mapmakers Chronicle website here – lots of information about maps for kids awe well as teachers’ notes.
The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race To The End Of The World was named by Readings as one of the top 10 Best Middle Fiction Books of 2014 and was a Notable book in the 2015 CBCA Children’s Book Of The Year Awards.
The Mapmaker Chronicles website tells us, ‘The king is determined to discover what lies beyond the known world, and has promised a handsome prize to the ship’s captain who can bring him a map. To do that, they’ll need mapmakers – and 14-year-old Quinn is shocked to be one of the chosen. While his older brothers long for adventure, Quinn is content with a quiet life on the farm, but when word of his special talent gets out, he has no choice but to pack his bags and join the mismatched crew of slaves and stowaways on board the Libertas.’
Thank you for joining us, Allison!
KC: I know you’re more of a pantser than a plotter – writing the first draft to see where you end up rather than planning everything in the beginning. Did you have a rough idea of what you wanted each of the books in The Mapmaker Chronicles to cover or did you work on one book at a time? After you finished the third book, did you have a chance to change anything in the first book if you needed to emphasise or delete anything?
AT: When I wrote the first draft of the first book, I started with an idea – a race to map the world and a boy who didn’t want to go – and started writing. I wrote 48,000 words during NaNoWriMo in 2012, and then wrote another 5000 words during the following week. Once I had that first draft, I did a short – one paragraph – outline for the following books.
What I discovered as I wrote books two and three was that things changed. I also discovered that things I’d put into book one really came into their own by the time I wrote book three, particularly Quinn’s family history. I hadn’t had a clear picture of a lot of that in the beginning, but my subconscious was working for me and it all came together beautifully in the end.
The books came out six months apart, so there wasn’t a lot of room for making big changes as I went. I wrote the drafts of books two and three as quickly, and as close together, as the editing process would allow because it did give me an opportunity to seed things in to book two that I knew I would need for book three.
It’s not the most scientific process for writing a series, but the organic nature of it worked for me.
KC: How many drafts did you write and what did you change or refine in each draft?
AT: I did two drafts of each book before I sent them through to my publisher, Suzanne O’Sullivan at Hachette Australia. The first was the ‘get it all down’ draft. Then I read the draft aloud to my son (now 11), which helped me to see what was working and what wasn’t. Once I’d redrafted (which was more a sense of adding bits and deleting bits rather than an entire rewrite), they went to a structural edit. So that’s another draft – and, with one book in particular, that required some hefty additions. The books then went to copy edit – so I went through them again, and this is not just moving apostrophes but also answering a lot of questions that come up when a new person reads the story – and then to proofreading.
So I guess we’re looking at five drafts for each book.
KC: The Mapmaker Chronicles has a great pace – enough details to paint the scene but not enough to slow down the story. How did you balance the details with the action?
I’m not sure I thought about it that much. It was more a question of writing the kind of story that my sons and I both like to read – none of us are fans of long passages of description… They like things to move along and I’m the same.
Perhaps my journalism training comes into play here as well because I’m used to getting a message across in a limited word count – you want to let the reader know exactly where they are and exactly who they’re dealing with without wasting too many words.
KC: Quinn, Ash and Zain are well-developed, memorable characters with strengths and quirks and particular ways of speaking, thinking and acting. Did you spend a lot of time developing them before writing or did you get to know them as you wrote?
AT: Very much the latter. Quinn appeared to me as a fully-formed person even as I was having the idea for the series. Zain developed for me even as he developed for Quinn. At first, he was this large, taciturn Deslonder and I was thinking, ‘what am I going to do with you?’, but he slowly revealed all his different facets over time. As for Ash, well, as soon as she popped up in that garden, complaining about the fact that girls weren’t even allowed to apply for Mapmaking school, I knew we were going to get along beautifully.
KC: Did you ever get stuck while you were writing your trilogy? If so, what did you do to work your way out?
AT: I did get stuck, of course. I remember sending out a tweet during the writing of Prisoner of The Black Hawk saying ‘I’ve put my character down a hole and have no idea how to get him out…’
But I find when I get stuck that the best solution is to walk away and do something else for a while. I walk for miles with my dog. I weed the garden. I wash dishes. And while I’m doing active, repetitive things, my mind quietly goes about its business.
Having said that, the biggest problem I had actually came up during the writing of Breath Of The Dragon, and it was my good friend Anna Spargo-Ryan who reminded me, during one desperate phone call, that every character is the hero of his or her own story. Even the villains.
KC: Are you planning any more adventures for Quinn and Ash? We hope so!
AT: Unusually for me, I do have plans. They’re plans that change daily, depending on where my thoughts wander, but I’m hoping we’ll see them again. They’re both telling me that there’s more to the story, so fingers crossed!
KC: Are you working on any fiction now?
AT: I’m working on a new kids’ novel, this time a contemporary story with a most delightful heroine. I’m not sure what will happen with it just yet, but I’m really enjoying getting to know her.
KC: What advice do you have for young and adult writers?
AT: Much like my plans, my advice changes on a daily basis. Today, I have three tips:
- Write a lot. It takes a long time to develop your voice and to discover how you write a book (which is probably very different to the way I write a book). Don’t just talk about writing, do the writing.
- Read a lot. I know this comes up all the time, but, really, read widely. Not just things that you know you like, but things you’ve never tried. When you write a novel, you bring every single book you’ve ever read to the page in a funny way, so make sure you’re drawing on a wide library.
- Finish what you start. I know a lot of aspiring authors who have drawers full of half-finished novels. They get halfway through writing a manuscript and become distracted by a shiny new idea. The thing is, the middle of ANY manuscript is hard. ANY other idea looks better than what you are writing when the writing is hard. Finish what you start so that you know that you can.
Thank you so much, Allison!