Did you have an idea of how you wanted the Dustlands trilogy to end when you started writing it? Also, why did you choose to have Emmy’s story end the way it did?
Absolutely not! ‘Blood Red Road’ was the most ambitious book I’d attempted to write and it took me from the autumn of 2006 to the spring of 2010 to complete it. Prior to that, I’d only written a picture book and a couple of 40,000 word books for younger kids, none of which had been published; the very idea of writing a trilogy would have terrified me so much that I would never have written a word. The hint of a bigger story began to emerge as I was writing the final pages of ‘Blood Red Road’ and, in a rare moment of bravado, I told my new agent that it was the first of a trilogy. But I had no idea what the other two books would be about, not a clue. The story emerged and the larger themes became clear as I wrote and rewrote.
As for Emmi, the importance of her role and the part she would play became clear as I wrote ‘Raging Star’. She had a very strong hero’s journey of her own and, after all, sacrifice is the hallmark of the best heros.
Moira- what is your next writing project about?
I’ve allowed myself a little break after eight years of the Dustlands, so all I can say is that I’m currently feeding my next book. I have a whiff of a hint of an inkling of an idea and have no idea what it will be or where it will go, so I’m helping it along by filling the well: hanging out in libraries and reading widely, travelling some, visiting museums, watching movies, going for walks, staring out of windows, daydreaming and listening, always listening. Eventually I’ll start asking the question, ‘What if?” and I’ll feel the need to start writing and through the writing the story will come to life. Dickens said that an idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to for a time before it will reveal itself. That’s where I am at the moment.
What was your inspiration for writing the dustlands and how did you come up with the idea for writing the series?
Well, the spark for the Dustlands came as I read and worried about our inaction on climate change and began to ask myself the writerly question, “What if?”. “What if the earth were to warm by 3 degrees? What would happen? What would life be like? How would people live?” It took me four years altogether, including edits, to write the first book, ‘Blood Red Road’ and lay the groundwork for the two books that followed. My early versions set Saba’s story in a new ice-age; it couldn’t be further from the Dustlands setting.
But the moment Saba’s voice came to life, her world came with her and it was a place of wild weather, lawless, violent and dangerous where the inhabitants scavenge the landfills, tire dumps and scattered remnants of the Wreckers.
That springs directly from the movies of my childhood; Westerns such as John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ and great epics like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘Dr Zhivago’. I drew on classic 19th century adventure stories such as ‘Treasure Island’, ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ and ‘The Lost World’. Another deep wellspring for the trilogy was Canadian history, including my family history, and the vast landscape of BC and the prairies.
A writer’s inspiration comes from their life; books, movies, jobs, romances, friendships, family, home, travel, conversations overheard … everything. So if you want to write, live your life and fill your well and you’ll never lack for inspiration. It will be there, waiting for the right moment to come into the light.
How much varied from the first to the final drafts of your books? How many times have you completely overhauled a novel (and, perhaps, how many times per novel)? I am midway through the first draft of my own novel and am fascinated to see how much stories change over drafts.
There’s barely a whiff of ‘Blood Red Road’ in the first 20,000 words of the earliest draft: it was set in an ice-age United Kingdom, with two third-person narrators, a girl and a boy. As I rethought and rewrote, all that remained were the names Saba, Lugh and Emmi and the idea that Saba goes in search of her missing brother. I wrote and gave up and wrote and rewrote for over three years and it was truly dispiriting. I had no confidence that I would ever be able to make a coherent book of the tangled mess I was producing. But, without my realising it, as I was struggling and despairing Saba and her story were taking shape within me. Once I’d limped to the last line of that incoherent mess, I took a deep breath, began again with a blank page and ‘Blood Red Road’ sprang to life. For ‘Rebel Heart’, again I wrote the first draft, rewriting, constantly rewriting as I went along and once I’d finished, took a break of a couple of weeks. Then I began again with a blank page and wrote a second, completely different book. I’m constantly rewriting as I inch my way forward, discovering the story, uncovering it bit by bit, rather like an archaeologist.