Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Princelings of the East Author Interview


I’d like to welcome Jemima Pett, author of the Princelings of the East trilogy back to my blog to answer all the questions readers have been dying to ask. Please remember there is a shared Rafflecopter giveaway with a prize consisting of a $25 Amazon gift card or PayPal cash + a copy of The Princelings of the East Trilogy.

The Princelings have been a long time coming, given your other career in writing ordinary, even technical stuff. Did the idea of writing about guinea pigs (as opposed to cats/dogs/hamsters) arrive with Fred and George’s entry into your life?

Yes it was entirely driven by them. I’m not sure that I would ever have tried writing fiction again if they hadn’t inspired me. The ‘again’ is because I started writing a sci-fi story when I was 19, and a friend told me not to bother. Your friend, even your best friend, is not always right, you know. She was right that the story I’d been working on was lacking plot, character, and interest, but not to bother??

This is no happy little story about 2 pets; it’s an adventure with two intrepid explorers and a complex plot. Where did it all come from, any particular moments of inspiration?

I called Fred “The Philosopher” and George “The Engineer” very early in our lives together. I hadn’t had a pet since I was about 11 (so for that, read I had a pet that my mum looked after mostly), so this whole thing of two wee lives relying totally on me was very scary—but fascinating. I used to just sit and watch them. Fred seemed to spend a lot of
George is Relaxing.
time gazing into space. George seemed more practical, rearranging their cage furniture, getting it all to his liking. The Philosopher and the Engineer just carried on from there. I got the time tunnel idea from a bit of fun the Rodents With Attitude guinea pig forum was working on—one of those post-by-post stories that forums sometimes do. I threw in the world running on strawberry juice at the end of a tunnel they’d gone down in the corner of a castle ...  it all stems from that!


I found the world of the Princelings an unusual mix of old and new, quaint with technological—any influences here?

Well, my work is in environmental technology, which means I work on policies and practice in pollution and energy efficiency and climate change, areas like that. So the science and technology basis stems from there, but I have a sociology background too, and the changes in the way our society works that are brought about by technology are very interesting to me. I think the Princelings emerge out of what you might call ‘popular’ settings (castles, pirates) but apply these new technology ideas. Then again, if you are talking about guinea pigs, they have a herd or clan system, and not much use for machinery, so starting out with the castle system just seemed to work.

I was struck by a Watership Down and Wind in the Willows feel to the whole story—any comments here? Any childhood books as inspiration or influence?

Definitely Wind in the Willows. I would generally cite Ann McCaffrey’s Pern stories as well; the clan and castle system works in that world too.

Our heroes continue their adventures with an encounter with pirates, and an unexpected love interest coupled with danger. Was it hard to continue these adventures?

Strangely, I originally conceived the idea of the stories as a Trilogy and decided the second would be Pirates and the third would be a Lost City long before I wrote them! I suppose that was the influence of a well-known Pirates film series and also of Indiana Jones. How they turned out though … well that’s all me. But I was aware that I was missing an essential ingredient in my books—girls—because I have all male guinea pigs. So I was pleased to get Kira and her sister into the Pirates book early on, and then Kira becomes a very important character—and Fred’s love interest. In many ways these books wrote themselves. When I got stuck I slept on it, and generally came back raring to go the next day! I found early on that my characters did things because it was right for them to do so, some things they did were most unexpected! I just wrote it down, and tried to make the most of the opportunities they gave me.


Your other books in the series bring both new characters (Humphrey) and old characters (Hugo) into the spotlight. Do you want to tell us more?

After the first book I realised that I couldn’t use Hugo again, which was a great shame. He is such a marvellous guinea pig, and his alter ego Mariusz as well. Mariusz belongs to a friend who lives in New York, the two of them are virtually identical and in personality too. Mariusz is maybe a little less sociable than Hugo. So I decided that he had to have his own book, and the best way of doing that would be for him to tell his own story. That was
Hugo being Busy!
a more difficult book to write in some ways—he had a number of individual adventures, but I remember getting to a point where I thought, OK, but where is this all going? I left it for about a week before I realised how to bring it all together, and that involved a secret that I didn’t know until then. There was just one line I had to change further back in the book to make the secret work. I can’t leave Hugo out of things. He’s like that … into everything. He’s back in book 6, Victor’s story, which I started writing years ago and got thoroughly stuck. I’ll tell you why nearer the time that book is released.

Humphrey came into my life just about a year before I published Princelings of the East. He and his friend Hector were abandoned in a house when the tenants moved out and not found for a month. So cruel! But he’s such a kind, gentle soul, I thought he deserved to be the star of the next book. And as I’d slid him into the Prologue of Lost City, I decided to follow his adventures after that. It’s a much darker tale though, YA rather than MG.

In the book I noticed a lack of ear-rubbing, whisker-twitching, paw-scratching actions one would associate with Guinea Pigs. Fred and George behave like humans. While reading, sometimes I actually forgot they are not human. Is this intentional?

It’s not intentional, but it is how I think of Fred and George and the others. In fact there isn’t much of those characteristics that my boys do. Fred mainly gazes into space. Guinea pigs have this wonderful special pose for gazing at the moon, sort of almost like a sea lion.
Fred is Thinking...
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot, since it was such a surprise to me. It hadn’t been something I’d thought of. Now when we get down to Dylan and Dougall, who are my youngest and newest guinea pigs, they do rub their ears, and Dylan in particular is a terrible fidget. But then Dylan is a big personality.

I do occasionally mention them brushing or cleaning themselves. Hugo pauses mid-brush on one occasion, which I see the guinea pigs do.  But then again, there has to be reason for discussing one’s grooming habits in a story, don’t you think?

The anecdote about your mum’s story is so charming. Will you ever make that into something readers can enjoy?

Well, it’s a very short story, and in truth it’s almost identical to the story of “The Moldau” or “Vltava” the piece of classical music by Smetana. I know it was one of my favourite pieces when I was young (I still like it) but I can’t imagine I knew it that well when I was 8. Maybe I did.

How do Fred and George feel about all this publicity?

They have always been perfectly unfazed about attention. They are very modest chaps, George in particular, and they accept things and take them in their stride. I think they treat all these things as an interesting new experience to be enjoyed. Hugo, on the other hand, expects a lot of attention and sees it as his right. Humphrey would be very shy about it. Dylan will be insufferable.

I love the cover artwork and it’s interesting that your own drawings grace the inside pages. Have you always had a talent for drawing?

Like most people, I drew and painted at school, not particularly well. I then didn’t really do any painting for a while; then took my pastels on holidays. Later, I joined the Epping Art Society, where I lived at that time, and had a very enjoyable time with other people in the same boat, picking up painting again, often after being rubbish at school. It’s amazing how much talent emerged from that group, and how we developed our skills.

I didn’t do much painting when I moved to Norfolk (there are a lot of professional artists in Norfolk, but then it’s also a hub of literary talent, and that hasn’t stopped me!). When I first started illustrating the books they were a bit of a mess, in fact I’ve just redrawn Castle Marsh and Castle Buckmore. But like most things, when you keep at something, you tend to improve. I was very self-conscious about my illustrations for the first few books. I’m starting to gain confidence in them now.

I found that my niece’s daughter, Danielle, was at college doing Illustration, so I contacted her to see if she’d be interested in doing the covers. I did the original idea for the swirl with a castle in the middle for the cover of the first book, and she took it on from there. I’m pleased to say she’s just done another cover for someone else, as she’s been out of college for a year now.

Are you tempted to try other genres?

I have some ideas for more books; the horse book will probably be much the same level: older MG. There’s a character that seems to be gathering a few stories to himself in my weekly flash fiction challenge; he might end up having a full length book and I suspect he might be proper MG. Then again, I might just go for clean fantasy and have trouble classifying it. That’s my main trouble—finding what genre it fits into, rather than writing in a particular genre.

Many thanks for joining me today and I can’t wait to read more of our intrepid heroes’ adventures!
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