Jane Welch is the author of two very well received fantasy trilogies. Although perhaps best known in her home in the UK, her work has been receiving notice in other markets as well. FutureFiction has just completed reading and reviewing the books comprising her first series, "The Runespell Trilogy" and found them to be quite enjoyable. We are looking forward to reviewing the second trilogy, "The Book of Önd" in the near future. Ms. Welch has been a wonderful correspondent throughout this process and was kind enough to agree to the following interview for our readers.
An Interview with Jane Welch (26 March, 2000)
FutureFiction: It sounds as though you had a fairly unorthodox childhood. Some of your main characters have also had unusual upbringings. How much of your own experiences do you share with your characters?
Jane Welch: My childhood was actually pretty normal, you know: loving, concerned and perhaps overly-protective parents, arguing and fighting with brothers and all the usual stuff like that. I think, if you scratch the surface, most people have had something unorthodox about their childhood/adolescence; for me it was being the one of a handful of girls at boys boarding schools through most of my school career. Yes, I collected a few bruises along the way but I would never say that I had anything but the most privileged of childhoods and I am constantly aware as I observe the world of just how lucky I am.
What I share with many of my characters is the heartache and soul-searching common to many of us through the trials of growing up. It is the act of suffering and enduring that makes us grow; it doesn't really matter if it's fighting barbaric invaders intent on taking slaves or struggling against the whole class to protect someone being bullied at school.
When something happens that makes you question your judgement of people or your understanding of the world even to the point of re-establishing in your mind the boundaries between what is right and wrong, we develop a greater awareness of others and ourselves. The young have so little control of their lives that they are constantly having to go through this painful formative process. The problems created by adults with authority being wrong and underestimating the knowledge, understanding, capability and depth of feeling of teenagers is a theme that I enjoy exploring. It is also the belief that no one individual or group of individuals has a monopoly on knowledge.
Many of my characters have had difficult childhoods. It is the way the trauma effects their behaviour, whether they learn and grow or fail to come to terms with it, that gives bite to the pleasure of progressing my characters through the changes in their lives and worlds.
You've written 6 books so far, all set in the same world. Any plans to branch out to another one or to try another type of writing (science fiction, mystery, some other style)?
No, I've no plans at present to try another type of writing. If I felt that my work was not progressing then I would certainly consider other genres but I firmly believe that fantasy is at present an incredibly underrated form of fiction. Fantasy is where my mind wonders; fantasy is a deep rich pool that allows me to explore so many facets of human nature. I love writing fantasy with its heroes, quests, epic journeys, battles, mystery and magic, exploration into new lands and cultures.
What are your current projects?
I am now writing a new series following the ancestral line of Torra Alta.
What authors influenced you?
It is a hard task to try to mention only a few authors when, in reality, I feel that my writing has been influenced, one way or another, by each and every author I have read. But if I must mention only a few then these are they: J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS for creating a world that was large enough to become lost in. As a child, I would take my copy of LOTR and climb into the branches of a huge willow tree that grew beside a lake not far from my home, its leaves dipped into the water and its vast ancient canopy sealed out the rest of the world. By the age of eight I could write in runes, that I had carefully gleaned from THE HOBBIT and it wasn't until much later that I discovered they were Viking runes and not a script invented by Tolkien. I also loved C.S. Lewis' Narnia stories that were read to us at school by an enlightened English teacher who then progressed to the Greek Myths and Legends. The Shakespearean tragedies and the wonderful language of Chaucer and Milton left a deep impression on me. I also love the novels of Thomas Hardy for the intense depth of passion in his characters.
Did you always plan to be a writer or was it one of those gradual things that sometimes happen?
I think I was about ten when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I guess I was just too stubborn to give up on the idea. When I was about 15 we were given IQ and psychometric testing as part of our careers counselling. I wasn't feeling particularly helpful towards the establishment at the time and when I was told that my test results showed I was best suited to studying law I blurted out that I wanted to be a writer. The careers advisors threw up their hands in horror and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I should steer clear of such silly nonsense. But it is a fact that the odds are stacked against a would-be author and I was very aware of it and so I did many other things first before I grasped the nettle and seriously set about the project of writing with intent. I even joined a writing course though I never did any of the assignments but simply absorbed the information. That led me in to discovering all the other books available on planning and plotting and the general craft work of writing a book. I spent a number of years perusing them, stored the ideas for a while and then found the right moment to start. And I have never looked back.
How much research goes into your novels?
Most of my work comes straight out of my imagination but there are aspects of it that require research. I have herbals and books on runes, Celtic magic and rituals, Latin dictionaries and books on armour. On the warfaring front, I absorb large quantities of the history and discovery channels, which gives me ideas that I then develop and do subsequent research on. I have had some wonderful advice from a couple of people over the Internet who enact swordfights. I also have a very good friend who is Captain of a sail training tall ship and his seafaring knowledge has been invaluable. In book three of my Runespell trilogy 'The Runes of Sorcery,' my characters made their first journey into waters and I realized that they were sorely lacking in navigation skills. I asked my friend to take a look at what I had written and he gave me a great many ideas and explanations as to what could or could not be done. A big thank you to Captain George Mills! Some of my research is done in a different field and then adapted to fit my story and world. For instance, as a ski instructor I had to go through rigorous and extensive training and examination. The emotional stress and pressure of this I used as my foundation for understanding what Hal and Caspar were going through when they were training to fight in tournaments, when they reach Camaalia in 'The Runes of Sorcery.' The techniques are obviously very different but the sense of competition within the group and the desire to prove oneself to the trainer and in front of one’s peers is very much the same.
Do you write from an outline or does the story just "flow?"
A little of both though I know that sounds like a paradox. I start off writing off the top of my head, discovering new characters and new problems and, once I have understood and developed the characters enough and let them create their own problems, I then form more of a structure around the story and plot out the major events. Once I have that it is not a hard and fast outline set in mortar because I may well discover more interesting twists and turns and developments as I go. Many of my most dramatic scenes are not planned in advance but are simply a consequence of the events and my characters’ reactions. I left the ending of the Lord of Necrond (the last of The Book of Önd series) until I was actually writing it so that the events unfolded in what felt to me like real time. When I write, I get completely caught up in the drama and I was as shocked and as horrified as my characters with the way events turned out. I believe in planning but I also know that the best plan in the world would be flawed unless it allowed for the intensity and reality of real-time writing.
How much time and effort goes into writing one novel?
A huge amount! I am in front of my PC from 9 AM to 1 PM and 8 PM to 10 PM Monday to Friday plus whatever I can get at the weekends. Most of my books have been completed in around ten months. It takes a couple of months to get the rough story out in full but then I revise and revise and improve and that is what takes the time.
You’ve mentioned elsewhere that you’re a mother with two young (and presumably active) children. Do you set writing goals for yourself and how do you fit them in with your parental responsibilities?
If I tell you that my four year old is sitting on my knee asking me what I'm writing about right at this moment, it might give you some idea of the difficulties involved. I do indeed set myself goals and I really believe this is the key to getting the work done. When I'm initially writing out the story, I set myself a number of words to do each day (usually 3000) and when I'm revising I aim to complete a certain number of pages or chapters. I write for 4 hours in the morning when my children are either at my mother's or at Nursery. I then devote my time to them for the rest of the day and – here comes the hard bit - I go back to work when they have gone to sleep. I am very much a morning person and so I find it hard to work at night but needs must; it's a small price to pay in exchange for that wonderful time I can spend with my children. They're only young once.
Do you still teach skiing or has writing become a fulltime career?
I no longer teach skiing anymore. I could probably juggle ski instructing with writing but not with a family as well; it would simply be impossible. I do miss the mountains though... Much of the scenery and the sense of remoteness and icy wilderness that I write about is thanks to living through several winters in the heights of the Pyrenees. The mountains are so inspiring, the elements so much more brutal there and I owe a lot to that experience.
What is the most difficult thing about writing? The easiest?
The most difficult thing is taking myself back to work in the evening rather than curling up in front of the fire with a book and relaxing. Once I'm actually installed in front of the computer, I'm quite happy and the time simply flies when I write. On the technical front, I find plotting out a novel in advance extremely taxing especially since I write trilogies and so I am planning out three books at once, making sure that the story arc neatly umbrellas all three books and yet is broken at satisfying points at the end of each individual book. Most of my books are between 180,000 words to 200,000 words and so planning out a trilogy that is over half a million words long takes quite a bit of time and serious consideration.
The easiest? I think it's finding the inspiration and imagination for my ideas. When readers email me, (something I very much enjoy since it is invaluable to have that direct contact with readers) I am very often asked how I managed to think of this or that, and I know from people who are considering writing that this is one of the sticking points for many people. However, I am very lucky indeed not to find this a problem. Perhaps it is just the way one views the world but I seem to see a story in most things.
What impact has the Internet had on your career?
The Internet is an invaluable tool that has brought me very much closer to my readers. Mywebsite has excerpts and information on my books so that people can easily get a taste of my books and this has encouraged a great many sales. I get emails from all around the world which is both enjoyable and informative and if anyone would like to email me at email@example.com I would be very happy to answer any questions or chat further.
Do you have any advice for unpublished authors?
Read everything you can on writing and don't ignore some of the "How to Write a Bestseller" type books. They are actually a very good place to start for some of the basic bones of what is needed from plotting and characterisation to presentation. Just ignore the hype. Before you present anything to a publisher or agent check out their websites; many offer a great deal of advice on how to submit work and, if you ignore it, they will almost certainly ignore your work. Beyond that re-read your work with a very critical eye and revise and revise and revise. It takes an awful lot of work to write a publishable book so if you haven't sweated buckets over it already you need to go back and seriously consider how it can be improved. But, remember, publishers want books to sell! If your work is good enough, well-presented and right for their list, it won't be overlooked.
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