Talented author Jane Dougherty has published three books: The Dark Citadel, The Subtle Fiend, and, launched yesterday, Beyond the Realm of Night. The Dark Citadel is free on Kindle today, August 21st, and is such a good read. Grab it up, folks! Jane has also published a short story collection entitled In the Beginning.
Jane agreed to let me interview her to celebrate the release of her newest book. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed the chance to ask some questions about my newest favorite series.
Jane, you’ve written some amazing books. Can you please tell us about the inspiration for your Green Woman series? How did it get its start?
After my youngest child was born I was housebound for quite a while. We were living in a small medieval town in Picardy at the time, and for entertainment I relied on the books my kids brought back from our rather gorgeous local library located in a thirteenth century abbey. Two of the children were keen fans of fantasy, which is how I was introduced to the genre. Much of what I read was repetitive and predictable (mages, female healers, kings and princes, dragons etc), and when my two fantasy fans began to complain that they’d read everything of any interest in the library, I decided that I would have a go at writing something different, something without the elements they were getting sick of, and something with a bit more moral involvement.
I had a single visual image that started the story off, of a classroom full of grey-veiled schoolgirls. One of them was looking out of the window, trying to see beyond the gloomy, sand-filled atmosphere outside. I called her Deborah, and decided I was going to write her story.
Having read both The Dark Citadel and The Subtle Fiend, I am seeing a juxtaposition between an incredibly harsh dystopian society and the possibility of a utopia to come. Can you tell us a little about this contrast between the two? Will we see more of the utopian aspect in Beyond the Realm of Night?
Ah, you’ll be wishing you hadn’t asked me such a leading question! The utopian aspect is really at the heart of the story. Providence is bankrupt as a society. There is nothing worth saving in it. Its citizens live beneath a hermetically sealed crystal dome, surrounded by a sterile nuclear desert. According to the Elders that’s all there is, and all there ever will be, Amen. The social structure is based on all the worst notions humankind has come up with. In my opinion, of course—there are people who like the ideas of powerful organized religion, strict social order, strong police force, and the suppression of women’s rights. The Elders have boxed Providence into a prison of ignorance and bigotry, which is exactly the kind of society the king of the demons approves of. But there is an alternative.
One of the aspects of many fantasy stories I’ve read in recent years is a lack of vision. Yes, we can usually agree on who is the villain. It’s much more difficult to say exactly why the villain is worse than the average fantasy world ruler who tends to be an absolute, hereditary monarch in a society where nobles rule over insignificant, rather brutish peasants. The Dark Lord upsets this natural order and has to be defeated. Why? So the ‘rightful’ rulers can sleep easy again?
In The Green Woman series I wanted to create an alternative to the awfulness of Providence and all it stands for. But not a milder replica of Providence. I wanted a real Utopia, based on sharing, equality, compassion, and respect. As well as being an unashamed feminist pinko, I’m also an ecologist (or eco warrior as my children put it when they get really exasperated) and one of my daydreams is trying to work out how a society would work without heavy industry, industrial farming, gadgetry, and still have a reasonable level of comfort and health care. The Green Woman takes us to the brink of its creation, a merging of hopes, dreams, common sense, and magic. The next series, Angelhaven, is about how my Utopia works, what goes right, and what goes wrong.
Your books are deeply rooted in mythology. I would love to hear some more about the mythological influences and how they shaped the story.
Mythology for me has always been strongly associated with religion. I was brought up an Irish Catholic with a healthy dose of myths and legends that were, more often than not, transcribed by Christian monks, which gave them an air of respectability. My dad had a thing about the Norse legends, my mother’s mother loved the Greek myths, while regarding them as interesting stories. The Irish stories are, as we all know, historical fact. :)
So, between church, the priest, and stories of Niall of the Nine Hostages, Atalanta, and the murder of blind Balder, I have never tried to work out what is truth and what is invention. Once you realize that the bible stories crop up in all sorts of other mythologies, that many of the symbols are common to dozens of religions, it becomes easier to take out the religious element and see that since the dawn of time human beings have invented stories to explain their world. Apples, gardens, floods, plagues, fires, resurrection, underworlds, afterlives, are in many cultures’ stories, they all strike a chord somewhere, and they form part of our inherited humanity. Stories that make up a mythological foundation to our culture are as essential to us as oxygen.
The Green Woman is about recreating the world after its destruction. Rachel, and later Deborah, brings back the physical world that was lost, but also the imaginary world of stories that have formed our dreams probably since man learned to communicate with speech.
Your characters are named after biblical figures, Greek gods, and so on. Did you have specific reasons for choosing these names?
There is a fair bit of symbolism in The Green Woman, and the use of names drawn from several mythologies is an example. The Elders are not representative of any particular religion, rather Religion as a concept of social control. The aspects they particularly like are those that keep the population firmly subjugated, like keeping women ignorant, veiled and out of the way, taking away even their right to bring up and love their own children. Each man is born to a particular station in life with no hope of ever changing it, and the Wise God is to be thanked for providing everything from electricity to a servile underclass. The Book, in which all the rules and laws that govern this theocracy are set down, is a mish mash of usefully repressive concepts from dozens of religions. Children in Providence are given names used by all these religions and mythologies, or as many as I could get my tongue around.
You have an amazing gift for bringing characters to life. I love the way that everyone grows and changes as the story progresses. Do you have a favorite character, and why? (I think I am torn between Jonah and Hera.)
That’s a difficult one. It’s a bit like being asked which of my children I like the best. I might have a favourite in terms of personality but I’d never admit it. Jonah is an obvious choice. I love Jonah. I love him so much I couldn’t bear to let him go. As soon as I finished The Dark Citadel I had to write his back story to show a deeper side to his character, how it was formed, and how he felt about the destiny he didn’t fully understand but was willing to accept regardless.
A character I also very much like is Brigid, Zachariah’s mother. I know it probably sounds strange to choose a secondary character, and somebody’s mum to boot, but she plays an important part in the story, she is full of energy and moral integrity. She drags those two little kids around and keeps them safe, she’s gentle and she’s strong. Her role increases as the story unfolds. As one society falls apart and another, more caring society has to be created, people like Brigid become the examples. Maybe she’s the kind of mother I wish I was. I haven’t her patience, I’m afraid.
Honestly, I thought your second book was even better than the first, which is really saying something! Did you find it difficult to keep up the momentum when you moved into writing your second book? Can you offer any advice to authors who are embarking upon that second-book journey?
It’s quite often said that the second book of a series is the least good. The author sets out the story and hooks the readers in the first book and brings the story to a climax in the third. In between is often waffle disguised with a thin plot line. I’m thrilled you think I escaped the pitfalls of the dreaded second volume, Kate, but it’s probably because I cheated.
The Green Woman was originally a single volume. The first publisher I sent it to said it was too long and too complicated. So I chopped it into three parts. After messing about with it for suitable cut-off points, I decided to take the whole thing apart, keeping back the chapters that told the story of what was going on in Providence and putting them in a separate volume. The chronology was tricky as the events of The Subtle Fiend are more or less contemporaneous with the events of the second half of The Dark Citadel and the beginning of Beyond the Realm of Night.
It meant that Deborah and Zachariah, the main characters of The Dark Citadel, don’t figure to any great extent in The Subtle Fiend, and two secondary characters, Hera and Amon, get the big parts. I was afraid people would complain that they don’t get to see the heroes of the first volume, but it gave me a chance to build up the other characters who go on to play a big part in the story. Hera doesn’t have Deborah’s inherited role or the power that goes with it—she’s just an ordinary, timid, modest schoolgirl of the kind Providence approves. But she has such a lot of courage waiting for a chance to express itself. Same goes for Amon. As a career soldier he should have been immune to the gentler human emotions, but…well, he isn’t.
There is such a lot happening in Providence, that if the reader was having to follow Deborah’s equally momentous story at the other side of the Great River, they might well find it confusing. The third volume brings all the main characters together, so anyone who is really pissed off about it will just have to hurry through volume two to get to the third part.
Maybe that’s the secret to writing a second book as good as the first one—write the whole story arc first as a single story and break it into three logical parts. They might be chronological breaks, three different points of view, or three steps in the journey. As long as the middle isn’t just padding between the beginning and the end, it should work. After all, we are taught how to write essays at school where the beginning sets out the problems and the aims, the ending wraps it all up, but the main part is the middle where the argument is set out in detail, the battles fought and the sense of the story made quite clear.
Please, please tell me that Beyond the Realm of Night is not the end of the Green Woman series. Please??? (I will beg if I have to.)
Beyond the Realm of Night, while ending on a suitably final note (I promise—not the hint of a cliff-hanger), has an epilogue that suggests there is more to come. You can’t keep a good demon down, and my utopia is still only a beautiful dream. There will be a follow-on series, Angelhaven, set three years later, with characters three years older. Makes them New Adult, I suppose. I won’t say more than that about the story, but I have completed the first draught of the next two books. Following my own advice though, I’m going to have to get to the (very complicated) end first, then go back and rearrange it all!
Thanks so much for answering my questions, Jane. I can't wait to read Beyond the Realm of Night.