Can you tell me a little about yourself and how you got into writing?
I own over two hundred books about the middle ages. I’m a Cancer, I lived in Australia as a child, and I earned two master’s degrees before the age of thirty. I’m married to a math teacher, my teenage son has read every book on programming in the public library, and my cat has thumbs. I make rag quilts with more enthusiasm than skill, and my attempts to keep a garden alive have been successful to date.
I don’t think I’ve ever not been a writer. I wrote my first book before I lost my first tooth. My second-grade teacher shepherded twenty-nine seven-year-olds through the publication process, from idea to editing to cover design. The result was twelve pages, handwritten, meticulously illustrated, complete with a copyright date and a colophon. I was hooked!
Can you tell me a little about your debut novel The Wicked and the Just?
The Wicked and the Just takes place in 1293-1294 in north Wales, ten years into English rule. Cecily is an unwilling transplant to the English walled town of Caernarvon, and she’d like nothing better than to go home. Gwenhwyfar, a Welsh servant in Cecily’s new house, would like nothing better than to see all the English go home. The ruling English impose harsh restrictions and taxation on the Welsh, and conditions in the countryside are growing desperate. The rumors of rebellion might be Gwenhwyfar’s only salvation – and the last thing Cecily ever hears.
Where did you get the idea from The Wicked and the Just?
Medieval Wales doesn’t get a lot of attention despite the fact that it was a complicated, dynamic place. The native rulers managed to resist outright conquest by their English neighbors until 1282-3, but then the victorious English fast-tracked a series of castles and walled towns to maintain control of the area and the people.
What interested me was this question: Even when granted a lot of special privileges - including significant tax breaks - how did English settlers live in a place where they were outnumbered twenty to one by a hostile, recently-subjugated population, and how did the Welsh live so close to people who’d done the subjugating, especially given the burdens placed on them by their new masters?
How does it feel to have you book out in the world for people to read?
It’s a bit like sending a kid to kindergarten. You spend those early years nurturing and guiding and carefully cultivating the book so it says please and thank-you and looks both ways before crossing. More often than not, you get to pick and choose its friends and influences. But then? You walk your book to the school doors and it walks inside itself. You have to trust that all those things you did to make it ready really did make it ready, and you have to accept that it’s going to live in the same harsh world you do. Some people will love it. Some will hate it. Some won’t care about it at all. But you have to let it go and let it be what you’ve made it. And that? Is difficult and terrifying and exciting all at once.
I love the cover of The Wicked and the Just. Who designed it and did you have much say in the designing process?
The cover was designed by Christine Kettner, and the title was hand-lettered by Leah Palmer Preiss. The basic design was more or less finalized when I first saw it, but I gave some suggestions on tweaking different aspects. For instance, the castle in the original design was smaller and situated in a forest. The designer was able to accommodate an image of the real Caernarvon castle and situate it near water, which allowed the art department to do all that lovely work with color and light and shadows.
The Wicked and the Just in historical fiction. Is this the genre your prefer to write in?
I write books I think should exist in the world. I let the experts decide where to shelve them.
Why should we read The Wicked and the Just in one sentence?
Medieval teenagers behaving badly are interesting in ways that might surprise you.
Thank you to Jillian for this awesome interview. The Wicked and the Just is available to buy now!