Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions for Spotlight Sunday. Our Australian Speculative Fiction group is growing and we love seeing Australian authors taking the spotlight.
Can you tell us about your series, Tarin of the Mammoths?
Tarin of the Mammoths is a middle grade adventure set about 30 000 years ago, during a time of history called the Paleolithic. My protagonist is a boy called Tarin. He’s about twelve, and is the son of the leader of Mammoth Clan. His clan lives on the edge of the tundra in northern Europe, somewhere around the border of Finland and Russia. Tarin is small and weak, with a twisted leg that has never healed. This means he cannot hunt with the men of the clan, and is despised because of this. When he ruins a vital mammoth hunt before the long, dark winter, his clan decides to send an Offering to the Earth Mother and ask for her help to survive. Tarin volunteers to take the Offering, but the journey will be dangerous and no one in his clan thinks he will survive.
Along his way he meets Kaija and Luuka, running from an illness that has devasted their River Clan. Together, the three of them face many dangers and harsh terrain, rescuing wolf pups and an injured owl, and forming their own little Wolf Clan.
And as the journey continues, Tarin finds a hidden talent within himself. He has always known he was protected by Spirit of Owl, after Owl saved him as baby, but now Tarin’s connection to his Spirit Guides is growing stronger – Owl, Mammoth and Wolf.
What drew you to not only speculative fiction, but also a younger audience?
I’ve always read speculative fiction myself. My favourite books when I was younger were Narnia and Lord of the Rings. I watched Dr Who and Star Trek on TV. I also love history, so blending history and fantasy together came naturally to me. I started writing when my children were small, as a creative outlet, and found I enjoyed the structure of middle grade stories – I like definite endings and fast moving plots. I like to explore boundaries though, so even though my stories are middle grade, I like to add enough depth to them to make them suitable for older readers as well. There is a stage between middle grade and YA that readers, Teacher Librarians and educators are calling for. I’d like to think my books fit that Upper Middle Grade/Early YA niche. An 8 year old can read it for the adventure and the Ice Age animals, but a 14 year old interested in history and themes of self worth and friendship would also enjoy it.
I read that you are now available to visit schools and discuss your writing. Can you tell us more about that?
I love visiting schools! I have so many great travel photos of Finland (I lived in Lapland for a year as an Exchange Student) and so many fascinating facts about life in the Ice Age to talk about. I have photos of mammoths and wolves and a (replica) sabre tooth tiger fang. Depending on the group, sometimes we talk more about writing, and sometimes we talk about the actual history I researched. My clans lived in houses made of mammoth bones covered in bison fur. They hunted for their food. They made blades from flint and hunted with spears tipped with bone points. The history I include in my stories is accurate. I also have a Neanderthal clan called the Esi. Did you know they were actually a caring community of skilled hunters? They used herbal medicine and were very strong. They communicated and their voices were nasal and high pitched. They couldn’t pronounce hard consonants.
Where can we find more of your work, short stories or otherwise?
Tarin of the Mammoths is a trilogy and all books are now available. Book 1: The Exile; Book 2: Clan of Wolves; and Book 3: Cave Bear Mountain.
What is your current work in progress about?
I’m slowly working on a new story, completely different to Tarin’s Ice Age world. Again, it’s Middle Grade. This time I’m looking forward, with a time-slip story moving between our contemporary time and a possible 5 thousand years in the future, after climate change has radically altered the world. My future world is one of tribal communities and radically altered landscapes. It’s fantasy but with a very Australian feel and Australian geography.
I work slowly, but I put a lot of research into my world building.
Can you give any advice about publishing?
Oooh! My first thought when I read this question – it can take a long time. Tarin of the Mammoths took 10 years from 1st draft to holding the book in my hand. It was the 3rd manuscript I had submitted to Penguin. Traditional publishing definitely needs patience and perseverance. I kept going to conferences. I kept going to workshops to ‘write better.’ I kept paying to sit down in front of publishers at conferences, sometimes more successfully than others, but it was networking and showing that I was invested in my career as a writer. I kept entering competitions. I think in the end it was a combination of all that and having a product that was a little bit unique that helped me over the line.
What has influenced you most as a writer?
Reading, definitely, and especially reading what my kid’s were reading. I wouldn’t have read Harry Potter or Cherub or Darren Shan without their influence. Now they’re in their 20s and it’s my choice to reach for How to Bee, Nevermoor and Dragonfly Song.
What was the best money you ever spent on your writing career?
I took part in a series of extended workshops through Queensland Writers Centre called Year of the Novel and Year of the Edit. They taught me so much about plotting and structure and helped me to actually finish a story, instead of abandoning it half way because I had no idea what I was doing. Other than that, I’ve found it’s worthwhile to go to specific children’s and YA conferences, such as CYA in Brisbane and KidlitVic in Melbourne.
Any advice you would give your past self or other writers just starting out?
Be prepared for the time involved. Some writers will have instant success, but that’s not usually the case. Think of the time as an apprenticeship and always persevere. Don’t submit too early. You can’t submit a 1st or 2nd draft. The time and tears you put into polishing your manuscript makes a difference publishers can spot. And don’t take rejection personally. So hard, I know. But sometimes a story just isn’t for that particular publisher. You don’t like every book on the market, so why should a publisher?
Final advice – grow thick skin. You’ll get a lot of criticism. Listen to it. Don’t respond straight away. Think about it for a few days, or weeks, or months. Then if it’s valid, use it to make your story stronger, even if it kills you to admit that maybe that person in your writing group was right after all.
If someone was to write your biography, what would it be called?
That’s so hard! Away with the Fairies, maybe. Or Faeries. I have a penchant for Dark Fae. My unpublished YA is a dark faery fantasy with flesh eating water horses and an Unseelie Queen. I’ll go back to it one day when it doesn’t scare me silly.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I think the Australian writing community is absolutely amazing and I’m so proud to be part of it!
You can find me at www.josandhu.com
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