here’s one more interview online at the Internet Writing Journal: it is one of the best set of questions I’ve ever been given, so it was an enjoyable one! My answers have been edited a bit, so if sometimes something doesn’t quite make sense … well … (how’s that for an excuse?).
Bestselling author Sara Douglass is a household name in her native Australia. And with the release in the United States of The Wayfarer Redemption series and her new series, The Troy Game (Tor), she is now being enthusiastically embraced by American audiences, as well.
Born Sara Warneke (Douglass is her pen name), in 1957 in Penola, a small town in the south-east of South Australia, Sara grew up with her parents, two older sisters and older brother on a sheep farm called Gundealga. She loved the farm and hated leaving when her family moved to the capital city of South Australia, Adelaide, when she was seven. She did most of her growing up in an old bluestone Victorian house in the suburb of Malvern, surrounded by books. She attended the Methodist Ladies College, which she says “was gentle, gentile and caring, and totally oblivious to the social revolutions of the sixties.”
Her life took a cruel turn when her mother died after a long and brutal battle with ovarian cancer. After her mother’s death, Sara concentrated on school and began to write. She came in second in a national essay competition on the life of horses in the circus, rodeo and racing. After graduation, at the insistence of her father and stepmother, she took up the family tradition of nursing, which she found that she despised. After seventeen years of enduring the stressful profession, she went back to school, while nursing part-time, eventually receiving a Bachelor of Arts and a Ph.D. in early modern (16th century) English history at the University of Adelaide.
She took a position as lecturer in medieval history in La Trobe University, Bendigo, which is in central Victoria, Australia. Although she loved the study of ancient history and the university, the interdepartmental politics of academia was anathema to her. So she began writing again, turning out what she calls “several really awful novels, a couple of not bad ones, and then one day, sat down to begin BattleAxe. I knew by the time I was about 100 pages in that this was the novel that was going to do it for me, if any novel was.” She finished the book and sent it off to a literary agent that she found in the Yellow Pages. The agency accepted her as a client after six months, and six weeks after that HarperCollins offered her a contract. Her editors asked her to change her last name so that her books wouldn’t be stuck on the bottom shelf in the bookstores, and Sara Douglass was born. Her first book, BattleAxe, (as it was called in Australia) began the series set in the land of Tencendor and was an immediate hit with both critics and readers alike. The Axis Trilogy begins the adventure into Tencendor. It tells the story of the enigmatic Axis, BattleAxe of the Seneschal, his mysterious and dangerous origins (if he is allowed to assume his full heritage he might as easily destroy the land as save it) and his heart-rending love for two woman, Azhure and Faraday. The Axis Trilogy won the prestigious Aurealis Award in the category of Best Fantasy Novel. Recently introduced in the United States by Tor, the series will be published as six books: The Wayfarer Redemption, Enchanter and StarMan are now available, with the other three books in the series (Sinner, Pilgrim and Crusader) scheduled for release starting in 2004.
Sara’s work is known for its vivid and complex characterizations, powerful emotion and richly descriptive fantasy worlds. Her work is intense: the battles are brutal, the passion is dangerous and the characters are never either all good or all bad. She does not write lighthearted, flimsy stories in any way, yet there is a witty and wicked humor which underlies her writing. Her newest series is The Troy Game, a four book series, which begins with the recent release, Hades’ Daughter. The Troy Game is a historical fantasy covering 3,000 years of British history, tracing the bizarre tale of the establishment of the Troy Game on the banks of the Thames in 1100 BC and following it through to the conclusion of the Game during World War II. Hades’ Daughter begins intriguingly with the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Ariadne helps Theseus defeat the Minotaur, thinking they will live happily ever after. But Theseus abandons the pregnant Ariadne, who curses Theseus. Ariadne, the Mistress of the Labyrinth, destroys all but one of the labyrinths, thereby setting in motion the destruction of the ancient world.
Publisher’s Weekly says of Hades Daughter, “In this dazzling start to a new trilogy, Australian author Douglass…. once again combines mythology, fantasy, magic and romance to produce a consistent, well-rounded story full of seriously flawed characters both abhorrently evil and enthrallingly empathetic.”
Sara lives in Bendigo, Australia in her beloved Ashcotte, a Victorian home with fabulous gardens and a resident ghost. When she’s not writing, you might find her working in her garden, attending to her popular website or curled up with a good book. She spoke with us about Hades Daughter and her evolution from medieval historian to internationally bestselling novelist.
What role did books play in your life when you were growing up?
They were my life! I had a terrible childhood (not so terrible as some, but terrible enough). Books were my only escape (as was school) from a family life that was sometimes too much to bear (and having said that, I must also say that this was no one’s fault — our family was the victim of circumstance and an over-keen adherence to Victorian morals of silence and in-expression). But the one terrific thing about my childhood was the family home which was so stuffed with books you can’t even imagine. There were books lining the walls. There were books stuffed under the sheets in the linen closet (and often on top of the sheets). There were trunkfuls of books in the back room — and there were even books in the toilet. My family was a sad remnant of a once grand Georgian and Victorian English family (someone got drunk, went bankrupt, and now Queen Lizzie owns our old family plot!!): some of those sheets had been woven by my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in the late eighteenth century … and among the stacks of tarnished silverware and moldy chandeliers (I have to waffle a bit here — the grand chandelier that once hung in our entrance way lobbed into my house here in Bendigo a couple of months ago, and once I had cleaned off the 45 years’ worth of mould and dust I discovered a beautiful — but very heavy — gem. I had it hung yesterday, and now I type very grandly under my beautiful Venetian crystal chandelier!).
Where was I? Ah, yes, the books. We had seventeenth century Portuguese books of poetry propping up the buckets under the leaking roof. We had nineteenth-century midwifery books (must have been where I got my fascination for childbirths gone wrong!). We had first editions, fiftieth editions, pamphlets, leaflets, maps, atlases, seventeenth-century books of prayer, climbing guidebooks, tractor manuals, rug patterns, sewing guides, stuff everywhere. I read it all. Thousands of books, and I swear I read them all. (Except those too moldy to read, or those involved in essential household tasks like propping open doors and holding up buckets.)
If you were told you could magically spend a week in a past time period, where would you go and what would you do?
Well, London, of course. But when? There are two periods that I just can’t choose between: the victory celebrations in London at the end of the war in Europe in 1945, and one of the great ceremonial celebrations of the medieval period — say, Henry V’s triumphal re-entry into London after his famous victory of Agincourt. That would truly have been something. I chose victory celebrations because that would put both London and Londoners at their best — and also allow me to get a glimpse of the rich and powerful. For both 1945 and 1415 (I think it was!) there would have been a week of celebrations and gaiety that would have been splendid and so much fun.
Of course there was also that wonderful day when a bunch of drunk Vikings hooked their long boat up to one of the piers of London Bridge in the late Dark Ages, rowed and rowed for all they were worth, and pulled London Bridge down. During their victory celebrations one of their bards came up with that lovely verse that is now sung by children, “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down!”. (Bet you didn’t know to what that nursery rhyme referred to!) What a blast! (grins)
©2003 Claire E. White / Internet Writing Journal. To read the full interview on the Internet Writing Journal website please click on this link.