K.J.Taylor published her first manuscript, The Land of Bad Fantasy, through Scholastic when she was just 18, and went on to publish The Dark Griffin in Australia and New Zealand five years later, through HarperCollins (which was also shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards in 2009). The Griffin’s Flight and The Griffin’s War followed in the same year, and were released in America and Canada in 2011. The Shadow’s Heir, The Shadowed Throne and The Shadow’s Heart have now joined them in both Australia and the US.
We are lucky to call Katie ‘one of us’, as a member of the appraising team at The Manuscript Agency, but she also holds down a ‘real’ job as an archivist.
The Last Guard is Katie’s most recent book, which has just been published by Black Phoenix. I always like the chance to pry into other people’s lives, so I convinced her to tell us more about herself…
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
KATIE: Well, I’m 32 years old, I live in Canberra, and I’ve been writing and publishing novels since I was 18, when I sold my first novel to Scholastic. I’m single and keep pet rats, and I love movies.
KIT: I feel like I am at a speed dating event, I like your little ‘life snapshot’ 🙂
Could you tell us more about The Last Guard?
The Last Guard is the seventh book in a series I’ve been writing for quite a long time (the first one came out in 2009!) and it introduces a new protagonist to the series – a fellow by the name of Kearney “Red” Redguard. Red is a common city guardsman whose only ambition in life is to prove his worth by protecting his city and solving crimes. But when his home is overrun by his people’s ancestral enemies, Red must fight for his country. But he won’t face this challenge alone: the massive black griffin, Kraego, soon becomes his ally and friend. Together, they set out to stop the invaders – and take their revenge.
Can you tell us a little bit about what made you write this particular story? Where did it come from?
Aside from the obvious (that I was continuing the story as the series went on), the first three books starred a villainous protagonist – I deliberately set out to write from the point of view of the bad guy. The next three featured a protagonist who started out as a decent sort, but eventually descended into villainy as well. This time around, I wanted to finally write from the point of view of a good person for a change – someone who’s honest and decent, and honourable. It was honestly pretty refreshing. I also wanted to have a Southerner protagonist at last – the last two were both Northerners (in this series Northerners and Southerners are two separate races who despise each other). Previously the Southerners had mostly been antagonists, but when I wrote a new story from their side of things you see how most of them are just ordinary people trying to live their lives in peace.
There was one other motivation involved: one of the main characters in the previous books was a Southerner guardsman named Bran Redguard. I really liked his character, and later on I wished he had played a bigger role in the story. But then I thought “well, Bran wasn’t the only member of the Redguard family. There must be others out there”. And indeed, Bran had mentioned in passing that his sister had recently gotten married. And in the last book, along came her orphaned son, Red. Red’s family heritage is very important to him; as a boy he idolised his brave guardsman ancestors, and he wants to live up to his family name.
KATIE: I wrote little stories and poems in primary school, and speeches which I read out to the class. When I was thirteen I started trying to write novels and decided I wanted to be an author. As for this particular MS, I wrote it back in 2009 or so, and it took me maybe… three months? Give or take? I’m a fast writer (other authors kind of hate me for that).
KIT: Haha! I can imagine!
What does the writing process look like for you (even if it only takes three months!)?
I didn’t actually make that many changes; mostly just small tweaks. I go back and re-read my manuscripts a lot, plus every time I sit down to write I read over what I wrote the previous day, partly to refresh my memory but also to deal with any typos or continuity errors I find. I do occasionally go back and add something I think up later, such as an extra scene or a line of dialogue or some such.
What happened in writing this MS that you didn’t expect?
Red’s character turned out to be not quite what I had expected. I had originally envisioned him as a noble, good-hearted kind of guy – and he is – but he turned out to be a lot rougher around the edges than I had expected, and a bit of a thug as well. At heart he’s a very good person, and he has a code of honour; he won’t hurt women, children, or anyone who’s unarmed or surrendering. But when he’s in a rage he can be very scary indeed; more so than he realises, and sometimes that makes him lose his head.
What do you hope people will take away from reading your work?
Mostly I just want them to be entertained. It’s why I write, after all; I want to tell stories that are fun and exciting to read, with characters you can connect with.
There are a few themes I use in my stories, which I think are important. Probably the biggest one is to do with prejudice, and how it comes in many different forms, some of them subtler than others.
There is plenty of racial prejudice to be had (Southerners view all Northerners as dishonest and savage, Northerners think all Southerners are arrogant, power-hungry and stupid), but there are plenty of other examples. For instance Red is mocked and has judgement cast on him because his father supposedly died a traitor, and later on he’s treated dismissively for being an uneducated commoner when in fact he can read and write and is perfectly intelligent (he’s a lot smarter than he thinks he is, actually). Kraego the black griffin is treated differently because of his colouring, and the fact that unlike most griffins he lives in the wild – wild griffins are seen as savage, mindless brutes. Even Arenadd, the mass-murdering protagonist of the first three books who plays a small role in this one, may not be as irredeemably evil as people think he is. In the end, everyone makes bad judgements and this is the entire cause of the war, which will claim so many lives.
When you write, do you have to jot down all your ideas first or do they come to you as you write?
I never make notes, but I do plan. The planning simply takes place in my head, and some of it does come to me as I go along. I always have a rough outline of the story in my head, but any time I write that outline down it instantly kills it. I’m not sure why.
What are the reasons you decided to publish?
Honestly, it was because I felt I had something to prove. To begin with, anyway. Now I just do it because I love it and because it makes other people happy.
What did you find easy, difficult, or surprising about the publishing process?
If I’m honest it’s gotten a heck of a lot harder to publish fantasy these days; most of the big companies aren’t buying it any more. It’s been intensely frustrating to say the least, but I’ve now turned to indie labels and that’s been working out very well.
Who are you published with?
Scholastic, HarperCollins Voyager, Ace Fantasy, Zoner Press, Black Phoenix and Burning Willow Press.
Where can we buy your book(s)? And is there anywhere else we can find out more about you?
KATIE: My website has links to all my books, though you can find a decent number of them in the bookshop! You can find lots of slightly embarassing personal information about me there, too. At some point I apparently decided the whole world needed to know about my weird fish phobia.
KIT: Who doesn’t need to know about weird phobias…it makes you endearing, right?! 🙂 You’re also on Facebook and Twitter…I know this, because I already follow you! And if you’d like to meet Katie in person, all of her upcoming public appearances are listed on her website. If you are hoping to invite her to make an appearance at your school, club, or other organisation, she is listed on the Invite-a-Writer site and you can book her through that.
Now, can you tell us what’s next for you?
Well, I took my agent’s advice and have written a new book for young children. There’s already an illustrator on board, and once he’s put together some “demo” pictures we’ll shop it around to the publishers and see how it works out. I’m hoping to turn it into a series if all goes well. I’ve also started branching out into other new genres and am working on a science fiction novel, an urban fantasy, and a thriller which I just recently finished.
That’s super exciting! I can’t wait to hear how everything goes! Thanks for chatting with me and sharing your writing journey with us.
Before you go, here are 10 QUICK QUESTIONS, just for fun…
- What’s your favourite book? In no particular order: The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer by Brian Masters, The Duncton Wood series by William Horwood,
- What’s your favourite line from any book?
‘But she was (a hero) and I am…’
‘And what are you?’
‘An ordinary (person).’
‘We are all of us ordinary (people), and it was for us she journeyed, not to show us the way, for that is for each of us to find, but to show us how to journey, and that it could be done by any one of us. That is by far the greater gift.’
~William Horwood, Duncton Stone
- Have you ever googled yourself? What made you laugh, what made you cry? I haven’t done it in a very long time, but I did once find out I have the same name as a professional boxer. Less amusing was when I found some jerk throwing an entitled snit fit on his blog because the storyline in one of my books didn’t go the way he wanted it to. I won’t be googling myself again in a hurry.
- Would you rather have a cat or dog? Why? I would rather have a rat! Cats and dogs are nice, but it’s rats I really bond with. I find them completely adorable, and I love how playful and mischievous they are.
- If you were attending a fancy dress party, what would your costume be and why? A griffin! For one thing, I already have the costume. I made it to wear to a convention.
- If you had to participate in any reality TV show, which one would you choose? I despise reality TV.
- How do you feel about going to a movie alone, or eating alone in a restaurant? Suits me just fine; I do it all the time.
- What is the wall paper/screen saver on your computer? My current wallpaper is one of my drawings! I have a character who is an eccentric history scholar and inventor, and just for fun I decided to draw him as he would appear if he lived in modern times – tapping away on a laptop while wearing a t-shirt that says “Nerd Power!”.
- If a film was made about you and your life would it be a drama, comedy, rom-com etc? Which actor would play you? I’d say a satirical comedy. Thora Birch could play me, but she’d need to put on a few pounds for the role.
- Favourite place you have ever travelled to, and why? Gosh, I’m really not sure. LA was cool. Christchurch was atmospheric and arty. I think I’ll go with Tasmania, because that’s where I was when I came up with the idea for The Dark Griffin. Plus it’s a beautiful place.