Welcome to the Dragon's Pen, the blog of an aspiring kiwi author ... chatting about reading, writing, querying and publishing

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chatting with T K Roxborogh, Part 1

Recently I blogged about the launch of New Zealand author T K Roxborogh's latest book BLOODLINES. At that time I promised I'd soon be posting excerpts of an interview with her.

Yesterday I enjoyed a couple of hours chatting with T K about books, authors, writing in general and, more personally, her writing journey and her trilogy. She's a lovely lady and shared quite openly about the difficulties she faced in producing Bloodlines (but you'll have to wait until the next installment to learn more about that *teaser*).

I'm going to post the interview in two parts. In this post, Part 1: Writing History (sort of...), we talk about the books and writing in general. Next time, in Part 2: Blood, Sweat and Tears we'll be talking about writing trilogies and T K will share with us some good writing advice. So do up your seat belts, here we go!

PART 1: WRITING HISTORY (sort of...)

DragonsPen: Hi Tania! Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with us about your books and writing in general.

TK: Hi!

DP: My first question is one I like to ask every person I know who writes, and that is:What is it about writing that really gets you? Why do you write?

TK: I really like reading. I love stories. I get these stories and these characters in my head. I think it's a bit on a knock on effect in that I wrote a story, someone really liked it, that gave me a buzz and then more stories came. I discovered writing was something I was quite good at and something that I could work on getting better at. Because it becomes easier (HAHA) I don't block the stories. The trilogy aside, I have lots and lots of stories in my head.

DP: You have had quite a few books published previous to Banquo's Son, haven't you?

TK: Yes. Twenty-five or twenty six. Most of them were designed to be used in schools. My first published work was a text book for drama teachers and I wrote little Shakespearean skits and they were published. Then I wrote couple of novels. I got a publisher who was very supportive and I made a name for myself. Because I was a secondary school teacher, the stuff I was writing really appealed to teachers and so my name got known and it flowed on from there.

DP: Do you think being already well known in this way helped you when it came to approaching a publisher with Banquo's Son?

TK: Absolutely. Vicki, my publisher, was already familiar with my work and full of praise for me. She had moved to Penguin and kept saying to me “I want to publish you” which was really wonderful. So I sent in something – a novel called G Force that I wrote when I was on residency at Otago - she didn't like it! That really annoyed me.

At that time I had this idea that I'd just scribbled down. Fleance's story. It was her passion and excitement that made me shelve all the other things I'd been going to do and start on Banquo's Son.

It was only going to be one book deal until I got to know the characters quite well and I realised that I'd created more problems for Fleance than I had room to solve in one book.

I've done the hard yards. I've been writing and publishing for fifteen years. It's not as though I've just become an over night success. I think in part it's being available to be involved in writing workshops and making myself available. It's in making a name out there, like you're doing with your blog. The online community is really, really helping people getting to know each other and supporting new writers.

DP: In a way Fleance's story is a 'sequel' to Macbeth. What was it that sparked or inspired the idea?

TK: About three of four years ago when I was reviewing for the ODT I reviewed a John Marsden book called Hamlet, the novel. In that review I said “Hmmm, it makes me want to dust of my plans to write a sequel to Macbeth”.

And then, I had this dream where I could see Fleance. I knew him who he was. I knew he was hiding but I didn't know why. I knew that there was a ghost or someone dangerous in the woods with him. It's like you get an image of something and you go, “I wonder what's going on here? Why is he here? Who was he staying with? How did he get there? Why is he not in Scotland? Why is he in England?

So I was thinking, if I'm going to say Fleance becomes King, how is that going to happen? How is he going to go from the Northern woods of England to Scotland? What is going to spur him and motivate him? As I started asking those questions the story came to me very quickly.

When I was about half way through the book, Vicki suggested that we make it a trilogy. So what I had to do then was to make three story arches. So I did the one, over-arching arch, from the beginning to the end of the trilogy, and then considered the story arches for each of the three books.

At the start, I had no idea what was going to happen in the third book. I was getting an idea of what might happen in the second book but I wasn't quite sure because I hadn't finished writing the first book. Things can often come up unexpectedly.

I have an idea of what my main characters are going to do but I have no control at the moment over the other minor characters. And I have a feeling that a couple of them are very dodgy and that some others are going to become very important. They haven't shown themselves to me yet but I'm sensing that they're there.

DP: One of the things that was very cool in Blood Lines was the intrigue you had going on. There were a few characters who you were never quite if sure they were really good or not. That was really great.

How scary was it for you to try to bring the historical figures, like Harold and William, to life? I know I 'd be really nervous of putting my stamp on a historical figure.

Well, yeah, but it's so long ago. One of my students gave me a CD of the History of Scotland by an archaeologist. It went from about 300AD but, dammit, missed the whole area that I'm writing. It jumped from 1020 to 1240 or something like that. Still, it was a great thing to watch,

Also, we have the Bayou Tapestry and a few others things like the Doomsday Book (which is, unfortunately, after the time I’m writing) and archaeological digs but that's all really. It was just so long ago. The written word was very laborious because it was before the printing press, but it's very hard to pick out the personality of man from these records. For example, it's well known - and backed up by the Bayou tapestry and other writings - that William the Conqueror had very long arms and very big hands and he was quite short. So, I have used such detail in some of the description of my story.

There is a measure of freedom. I try to imagine what a character is wearing? Is she wearing woollen garments? For instance, if I was her and I'm feeling unwell, how would that cloth feel against my skin?

DP: How long did it take you to write the first book, Banquo's Son?

TK: Three months.

DP: No way!

TK: I wrote the synopsis in September, a month later I began writing. Two months later I'd written 106,000 words. I was also teaching and marking NCEA in that time as well.

(I think my jaw was hitting the floor at this point :P)

TK: I really did nothing but write.

DP: How do you fit it all in? You're a wife, a mum, you teach full time. How do you find time to write?

TK: The kids are teenagers and I expect a bit of independence. I'll still cook and stuff like that but I don't mollycoddle my children. I don't garden and the dusting might get done occasionally. Plus, I type very fast. We all, particularly women, have something that we do. Some people knit and others have groups they attend.

DP: I'm curious ... who is your favourite character?

TK: In the first book, the one I killed. Duncan. I cried. After I killed him I said to Vicki, “I've changed my mind.”

At the moment, in the trilogy, I really like Henri. He intrigues me. I still haven't fully figured him out yet. I think he reminds me of me because I say the wrong thing or the right thing at the wrong time. Henri doesn't give a shit about procedure and protocol especially if he sees it as being pompous, but he isn't perfect. He gets it wrong. He can recognise when he has over stepped the mark.

DP: It's obvious in reading Blood Lines that you have done a lot of research in order to write the book. Which scene was your favourite to write?

TK: The nits! I had to research what natural remedies they would have used at that time. There were two things. Britain and Scotland used bacon fat and ash. That root, which is the method in the book, was used in Europe. It's made into a paste and had a sting to it.

The other scene I liked writing was where Rachel was getting the clothes off the dead bodies. I know, it's terrible. It's all the gross stuff that's the most fun to write.

DP: I have to admit I love the hard, gory stuff too. Thanks for sharing Tania!

Everyone join us again soon for the next installment!


  1. Thank you(!) Ruth for giving up your time to come see me. Your account of my ramblings makes me look, um, actually, coherent. lol.

    Great questions!

  2. Tania, honestly I had an awesome time. :D
    I look forward to catching up again on less *formal* terms.

  3. Great interview. I found it interesting that TK's favourite scene was the nits, because it was my favourite to read. I can still feel that stinging stuff and the horrible creepy crawlies!
    Looking forward to part two.

  4. Ah, but Sue, it will be part three! And, I've had it suggested to me that there might be more after the trilogy

  5. TK, I think she meant part two of the interview. lol. :D

    What do you think of the idea of writing a sequel to the trilogy? Yay, nay or maybe?

    Hehe. Once you start answering questions they never stop!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Excellent!

    Isn't it amazing how you can write these books and yet everyone remembers the Nits.

    After my experience with banquo's Son, and now reading Bloodlines, I'm really not sure which of the new characters I can trust. I'm a little bit nervous about getting enthralled in a character only to discover that he's a villan after all. Like Preston. I was jsut starting to love Preston, then he turned evil - and now he's good again - Arrgh, I'm a nervous wreck!

    I guess I'll just have to rock in the corner until the third book comes out. :)

  8. I think Rachel is my favourite character. She has so much strength of purpose.

    But yes, Peter I felt the same way about Preston. Not sure what he is going to do in the third book. Will he show true evil colours or good ones? Like you I will be nervously waiting to find out.

    And Henri, what's he doing there? Is he up to mischief...?

  9. Yes, part 2 of the interview is what I meant, but I'm really hanging out for the 3rd book in the series. And now I hear word of more .......