Today, a new author for me, which is always a pleasure, and following on the theme from my last author chat, another kindred spirit – her favourite children’s book is Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree. I am feeling very nostalgic! But, to bring us right up to the present, let’s chat with MJ Porter and hear about her newest release. An author of fantasy (Viking age/dragon-themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest), MJ was born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since AD1066.
What music do you listen to when you write (or don’t you)
I have a few ‘go to artists’ when I’m writing. This can range from Faithless to Enya, and what I’ve found is that I often write ‘opposite’ to the music I listen to. So, Faithless and Calvin Harris might be for quite a serious, political book, Enya might be for blood-thirsty fighting. I have my own playlists, and I almost always have to listen to music when I write. I find that I can pop my headphones on wherever I happen to be, and can immediately get in the ‘zone.’
Also, a bit of a confession, I always listen to SuperStylin’ by Groove Armada when I deem a book ‘finished.’ It’s become a ritual.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections or themes between each book?
I write historical fiction which is all set in the ‘same’ time period – all be it, it actually covers nearly 600 years (about AD500-1066). My initial idea was to write a series of books telling the story of England from about AD990-1066 through the eyes of one family. However, I’m now working my way backwards in time, and I do find myself referencing events from other books and also characters. I personally love it when authors give a nod to their other creations. My current release, Lady Estrid, is a standalone novel, and can be read as such, but there are references to characters from the Earls of Mercia series, although I’m careful never to tell the same story twice.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell my younger writing self to just get on with writing, and not worry about the words. There’s a famous Terry Pratchett quote which is ‘the first draft is just you telling yourself the story,’ and I think that’s very true. Rather than agonizing over every word, I write the story, and then it all comes together in the edit. I don’t edit as I go. I think I’d have saved myself a great deal of time if I’d realized that from the beginning.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Character names are both easy, and really difficult, because for this book, many of the historical characters shared the same name. I don’t like it when authors change the name of historical characters, and so I had to work a way around it. I opted for choosing different variations of the same name – such as Swein, Svein, Sven and Swegn. While they might sound the same, I would certainly notice the differences. It perhaps also helped that the book covers near enough forty years, and so not all the Swein’s are alive at the same time.
For fictional characters, I tried to find names that were completely different to the historical characters, while still authentic. I often hunt through the index of historical non-fiction books of the era to find really unusual ones.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Lady Estrid is in many ways just another of the ‘unknown women’ of history. It’s very difficult to find a reference to her that isn’t in connection with who her father, brothers, or sons were. As such I feel I ‘owe’ the real Estrid the chance for people to discover her, and know who she was. I don’t always feel that I have to treat historical characters kindly because I’m writing about them, but I do feel that portrayals of them have to be more reasoned than you might find in the historical record of the time period.
What would you want readers to think when they reach “the end.”
I would always hope, when a reader reaches the end that they a) really enjoyed the book and b) might take the time to find out some more about the real people involved in the story, either by reading the historical notes at the end, or by looking them up on the internet. I always know I’ve really engaged with characters when I have to find out more about them, and often my main question is ‘did that really happen?
Quick Q & A
Tea or Coffee
Dark or Milk Chocolate
When were you the happiest?
Favourite Children’s Book
The Faraway Tree
Favourite Adult Novel
The PERN novels by Anne McCaffrey. I’ve reread them many times.
Connect online with MJ Porter: