Jenna Burtenshaw's Wintercraft was my Book of the Month back in May 2010, so when I received an email asking if I would be interested in taking part in a blog tour for the sequel, Winterctaft: Blackwatch, there was only ever going to be one answer. Further details about the tour can be found at the bottom of this post. My review of the book will appear on The Book Zone in the very near future, but in the meantime let me hand you over to Jenna Burtenshaw:
How would you describe your books Wintercraft and Blackwatch to a potential reader?
Wintercraft and Blackwatch are supernatural fantasy stories about a girl who can see into the veil between life and death, and the sinister man who is hunting her for the knowledge she possesses. The characters blur the lines between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, right and wrong. Secrets are held back from those who need to know them and everything hinges upon a lost book that can reveal knowledge of death itself.
What was the original inspiration behind the Wintercraft story?
Many small things inspired the story as a whole. I didn’t realise how many pieces made up the puzzle until the first story was finished. I think the greatest inspiration came from my home town, Darlington in County Durham. A few years ago a large group of medieval skeletons were found underneath the town’s market square and reburied under a circular memorial a few metres away. The idea of people living on top of a graveyard really interested me, and the mysteries of death are a fascinating subject to write about.
Do you know how many books there will be in this series? Have you planned out the full story already?
At the moment, there will be three books in the series. I originally planned the story as a trilogy, but I have so much extra information about Albion’s history and the lives of the characters beyond the third book that I would love to write more. I have ideas for at least two more books in the series, so if readers enjoy the first three, there could be more to come in the future.
How did you go about building the world of Albion?
I named the main country Albion because it is an ancient name for Great Britain. I wanted to write about a country that could have gone down a technological route in its past, but veered away from it and became caught up in a war that has gradually worn its people down and reshaped society in a mostly negative way. I am a big fan of dystopian stories. Broken societies are very interesting to me, especially when they don’t realise that they are broken. I read a lot about the history of ancient Greece before writing Wintercraft, as well as the medieval history of Great Britain. Albion is my version of a country that has become fragmented and is dying on its feet, but its people are so used to the destructive way of life that they do nothing to fight against it.
How did you carry out the research when writing Wintercraft and Blackwatch? Did you discover any really interesting facts during your research that you would like to share with us?
I read a lot of history books and looked into different cultures’ theories of life after death. The existence of a soul appears in many belief systems and I spoke to a few people who have had first-hand ‘ghostly’ encounters with things that could not easily be explained.
The most interesting fact I discovered while I was writing Blackwatch was that London once had a short railway that ferried bodies to a cemetery outside the city. It was called the Brookwood Cemetery Railway and it ran funeral trains until 16th April 1941, when its station was bombed in the Second World War. I didn’t know anything about it when I first created the Night Train, so I thought it was quite eerie!
A lot of readers (myself included) love your character Silas Dane. How did you go about creating this brilliant character?
I do love writing for Silas. Silas was not in the earliest drafts of Wintercraft, and until he entered the story it always felt as if something was missing. When he appeared on the rooftop of Morvane’s market place in chapter two, he was as much a mystery to me as to the reader. He keeps a lot to himself, but I knew he was not a typically villainous man. I wrote down a biography of his life leading up to the very beginning of the story and realised that he was a man of many layers. He is a product what his life has made him with a very different heart beating underneath. I know a lot more about Silas than has been revealed in the books so far.
Who are your greatest literary influences?
I like the bleakness of Marcus Sedgwick’s fictional worlds, the humour of Jonathan Stroud’s characters, and the strange unpredictability of Neil Gaiman’s stories.
Your books are fantasy stories with elements of horror. Are you a fan of both of these genres?
I do like fantasy stories, particularly ones that give a different twist our own familiar world. I like the idea of things going on quite separately from ordinary human life, which most people know nothing about. Secret societies, cursed objects, people with supernatural abilities... great fun! I wouldn’t say I was a horror fan at all. I don’t like goriness or gruesomeness in books or movies, but a little bit of it did sneak into my books because some of the characters demanded it! Silas in particular is not going to go around being nice to people. He has his own way of getting things done.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I had my eye on a lot of different careers when I was younger: English teacher, museum curator, veterinary surgeon, swashbuckling archaeologist (I’d still love to do that, if I’m honest!) ... but being a writer was always top of the list. It felt like something that was so distant and unlikely that it was unachievable. It seemed that writing was only for the lucky few. I’d never met a writer face to face before. I was a teenager in the 90s, before the internet had really taken off, so it was a lot harder to get in touch with authors than it is now. I started writing seriously in my early twenties, armed with an electric typewriter and a determination to at least give it a go. You don’t get anywhere if you don’t give it a try. After a lot of work, things seem to be going quite well so far.
Why did you decide to write for the Young Adult market?
I just set out to write something that I would like to read. I didn’t aim it at a particular age group. I took the story in directions that felt right for the characters at the time and I’ve heard from people belonging to lots of different age groups who have enjoyed it. I think some of the best books can be found in the Young Adult section. I can’t resist a good adventure.
Which books/authors did you read as a child/teenager? How do you think they compare with the children’s/YA books available today?
At primary school I read everything I could get my hands on. I was a big Roald Dahl fan and I loved classic stories like Alice In Wonderland, Wind In The Willows, 101 Dalmatians (and its sequel The Starlight Barking). As a teenager I discovered Shakespeare and was drawn in by the darkness of the characters in plays like Macbeth and Hamlet. They had tragedy, murder and swordfighting! From there I moved straight on to adult books, particularly thrillers and crime. The choice, variety and quality of books that can be found in the Young Adult section now is absolutely fantastic. Classics like the books I have mentioned are so good, they will be part of people’s lives for a very long time to come, but I think modern books will soon rise up to take their place at their side.
I think I read somewhere that you listen to music whilst you write. Does Blackwatch have a soundtrack of songs that inspired you whilst writing it?
I have a long playlist of movie soundtracks that I listen to when I’m writing. Albums from films like Pirates of the Caribbean, Stardust and The Golden Compass have some wonderful pieces of music on them. Other music I particularly liked when writing Blackwatch included albums by Within Temptation, Evanescence, and Nightwish. If my books were to have a soundtrack specifically written for them, Within Temptation would be the band for the job.
If you were to host a dinner party for any three people (alive or from the past), who would those three people be?
Hatshepsut: one of Ancient Egypt’s greatest female pharaohs. Neil Gaiman: so I can talk to him about stories, dogs and bees. And Michael Fassbender: because he is the closest person I have seen who matches my impression of Silas (I’ve had some readers say the same thing too).
And if you were allowed to invite a few fictional characters as well?
Indiana Jones, Josephine March from Little Women, and the eleventh Doctor from Doctor Who. Now that would be a dinner party.
I know Wintercraft: Blackwatch has only just been published, but is there anything you can tell us about the third book in the series?
The third book will reveal more about a particular character’s past, expose the true legacy of the Winters family, and test the main characters’ loyalty to one another even further than before. It is much darker and bloodier than the first two books and will unearth secrets within the graveyard city that will change the course of Albion’s history.
Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of The Book Zone?
The Book Zone is one of the book blogs I visit regularly and it has been a real pleasure to be invited here. Thanks so much for reading this post. I hope this website - and others like it - help you all to discover books you will remember for a lifetime.
Massive thanks to Jenna for taking the time to write such great answers to my questions. If you want to find out about Ms Burtenshaw and her work then head on over to www.wintercraft.co.uk or Jenna's blog at jennaburtenshaw.blogspot.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/JennaBurtenshaw. Jenna's Blackwatch blog tour continues on Monday at www.iwanttoreadthat.com.