Melina Marchetta har skrivit åtta böcker, översatts till ett tjugotal språk och tilldelats ett flertal prestigefyllda litteraturpriser. Hennes stora internationella genombrott var ungdomsromanen Jellicoe Road och till svenska har också Francesca översatts. Melina Marchetta bor i Sydney, Australien och är sverigeaktuell med fantasyromanen Ett folk utan land.
Are your books only for teenagers? Do you write your books with a specific reader in mind?
I tend not to think of audience when I’m writing. With most of my novels I write about young people but the adults play a very important part in their journey so usually there is insight into the adult relationships as well as the teen ones. I would say I have a general audience; a lovely mix from older teens and much older readers. It’s always felt a privilege to be able to capture such a broad spectrum.
In Sweden we have read the two very successful novels: Saving Francesca and Jellicoe Road which are both fairly realistic stories about girls coming of age. Now there is Finnikin of the Rock – a fantasy novel. How come you turned into writing fantasy?
For me, story is story, regardless of whether you set it in a contemporary or fantasy world. The human experience never changes. Finnikin, at nineteen, is really no different from many of my contemporary characters. He is someone’s son and someone’s friend and someone’s student and someone’s guide, trying to work out where he fits in the world. He is drawn to a young woman who he knows will change the state of his heart, regardless of whether he wants that or not. So it’s a novel about family and a search for home, and identity and love. One of the big differences is that in fantasy, you can make the emotions so much bigger. I loved doing that. So much was at stake for these people when it came to the plot, but emotionally, they are the same stakes that you’ll find in my contemporary work.
Finnikin and Evanjalin are the main characters in this story about Lumatere. I kept reading Evanjalins name as “Evangelium” which is Swedish for gospel. She is someone who is turning up to gather the people to save the “land of light”. Could you please tell us a little about the names in this novel and why you choose them?
My family is Italian so instead of making up words, I used many Latin based one. Lagrami (tears) Sagrami (blood). The Mont leader’s name is Saro and that is a Sicilian name (also my Uncle’s). Seranonna is the matriarch of the forest dwellers and in Italian it means “night” and “grandmother”. So the names had significance to me. I then went into different languages. Blessed Barakah comes from an Arabic term which means “spiritual presence”, so that was the title of the Lumateran holy man. I understood the significance of the name Evanjalin, but really I just named her after the actress in the TV series, Lost (Evangaline Lily). It was actually more the “j” sound that I was attracted to. Sometimes I wonder if the deliberate sound devices get lost in translation.
Normally I find the genre filled with characters who are either good or bad. In this book even the heros can be jealous, take the wrong decisions and start a quarrel out of pure vanity, was it important for you to create heros which also were human?
I love flawed characters and I would never have wanted to write this novel with characters that were one-dimensional heroes, or one dimension in their evil. It was deliberate that the villain of this story is off the page and becomes more significant in the sequels. Ultimately, a saying that stuck in my head when I was writing the novel was, “Bad things happens when good people do nothing”. It’s why the Primo Levi poem is there at the beginning. These novels are character and relationship based, not just plot. So I wanted the true darkness to come from within someone. It’s sort of like using our normal everyday emotions and making them more pronounced. So grief becomes something so powerful that it curses a kingdom, and love becomes something so powerful that it brings a kingdom to it’s knees.
Sculdenore is the island (with the Nordic sounding name) where all the action takes place. I kept thinking of if there was an island somewhere in the world which resembles Sculdenore. Did you have an actual place in mind when you wrote?
Not particularly, but sort of subconsciously.
When it came to research, I begin in France in the Dordogne area because of the rivers and the castles and the farming land and the caves there. So in that way I had Finnikin of the Rock, Beatriss of the Flatlands, Trevanion of the River, Tesadora of the Forest Dwellers, Lucian of the Monts. I loved the part that landscape had in my world building.
I could say Skuldenore is a smaller version of Europe. Rather than 50 countries, it’s made up on eight. I’m not saying that Lumatere was based on Italy at all, but sometimes I think it has similarities. Up North they are so fair, down south (where my family comes from) they are very dark. Evanjalin and Finnikin are the dark and light. The dialects in Italy also differ. If someone from the North of Italy heard me speak Sicilian they wouldn’t understand a word of it. On a bigger scale, I think the entire land of Skuldenore is made up of kingdoms that share the same basis of language, much like the latin based languages: Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and Catalin.
As a teacher of history I am very pleased to see how you have set the plot in a setting inspired by the European Medieval period. The clothing, weapons and food are all inspired by the Middle Ages. How come an Australian writer choose that setting?
Mostly because I’m an ex History teacher as well and loved studying the Middle Ages. I tried to stick to one particular time frame. I began by reading the book, Life in the Year 1000. I wanted it to be fictitious, though, because I didn’t want to be dealing with Crusades and religion. But by sticking to that time frame, it sort of placed boundaries in my imagination so I didn’t go off and write something totally unrealistic.
Some aspects of your book stays in my mind a little longer, one of them is your description of life as refugees. The Swedish title of the novel is “A people without country” and in Europe and Asia both we can see human tragedies with people forced to flee their homes, drifting on boats a s o. In that way your book comments upon our times in a very effective manner. Was commenting upon the present a purpose of your book?
Yes, definitely. When the character of Finnikin first came to me I was sitting in a train in New York City. Above someone’s head was a poster of a camp in Darfur and surrounding me were people who were speaking various languages. I remember thinking that so many people, including myself, were not currently in their country of birth. I was on holidays. Others were there because of war or poverty. That’s how it began for me. I didn’t want to write about the here and the now because it would be too political, so I made the decision to set it in another time period, but one we could relate to. I’ve said this many times before – I live in a country where people are literally dying to get in. The amount of refugee boats sinking and the amount of deaths are staggering and sadly, our government’s response to it has been quite inadequate. Finnikin, for me, is a citizen of the world. His greatest enemy on his journey around the land, is the response from most of the other kingdoms to Lumatere’s fate. My grandparents weren’t refugees, but they travelled to Australia on boats searching for something other than poverty, and I grew up misplaced because they yearned for another place. It certainly wasn’t a tragedy for us, but it did have us constantly questioning where we belonged. That’s what the characters in this trilogy do, so they are no different to me.
The summer is coming up here in Sweden, and that’s a time for reading for many of us. Could you please recommend a good book to read this holiday?
For fantasy readers, I would never go past Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. They are my all time favourites. For contemporary, I would recommend Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective and Gayle Forman’s Where She Went. They all have a very strong sense of place and are character driven.
/ Melina Marchetta
Tack till Anna på Gilla Böcker som förmedlade kontakten.