Celine Kiernan Interview
Celine Kiernan writes fantasy novels for young adults. She is best known for The Moorehawke Trilogy, a dark, complex fantasy adventure set in an alternative renaissance Europe.
She has twice won the Readers’ Association of Ireland Award for best book (2009 for The Poison Throne, and 2013 for Into the Grey). Her fourth novel, Into the Grey – a YA ghost story set in 1970s Ireland – also won the 2012 CBI Book of the YearAward and the CBI Children’s Choice Award. It is the first book to have won both categories. In 2013 the Irish Times named Into the Grey as one of the best children's books of the past 25 years.
Celine’s latest novel, Resonance, is a gothic supernatural thriller set in Victorian Ireland. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1967, Celine spent over seventeen years as a classical feature film animator before she became a full-time writer.
Celine, can you tell us about your latest book and where the idea came from?
Resonance is a gothic mix of sci/fi and supernatural, set in 1890’s Ireland. It follows two separate sets of friends as they try to build lives for themselves in a harsh and uncaring world.
Seventeen-year-old seamstress Tina, her suitor Joe, and an American magician called Harry, are determined to carve out a future for themselves, despite the hardships of the Dublin tenements they inhabit, and the insecurities of the theatre where they earn a living. However, a trio of ruthless immortals, Cornelius, Vincent and Raquel, have other plans for them. The immortals know they cannot survive much longer; not unless they find food for the angel they have trapped in the dungeons of their remote stately home. Tina, Harry and Joe may be just the food the angel needs, and the immortals won’t hesitate to use them up in order to eke out another few centuries of life.
The idea for this book grew, as most of my books do, from my wanting to explore a particular idea to its maximum: what is it that keeps human beings going? How is it that some people manage to get joy and fulfilment from life on their own terms – perhaps despite illness or adversity or lack of social acceptance – while others retreat or give up or fade away? Also what does it really mean to love someone? What kind of actions are statements of true love, as opposed to acts of possessiveness or control?
These philosophical questions grew for me into a pretty exciting, dark adventure featuring immortal pirates, captured angels, best friends, broken hearts and a supernaturally attuned young woman. (I see no point writing a philosophical story if it’s boring.)
How long did it take you to write?
I think the first draft took me two years. Then I spent approximately four more years slicing it down and down and down from its original unwieldy 170k words to the slim trim volume it is now.
How do you organise your writing day?
Against all convention and (good) advice, I have no routine and no particular place in which I write. I do have an office, but I rarely write there, preferring to wander about with my laptop, snatching comfy spots where I fancy. I don’t even have a set technique. Each book has been entirely different to the other in terms of when, where and how I write them. The Poison Throne was hand written in school copybooks. Crowded Shadows and Rebel Prince were typed into the laptop. Into the Grey was written hunched in a corner of the sitting room on my kids’ table top computer while they watched TV in the same room. Resonance was written in snatches on the laptop as I hung around hospitals and sick rooms in the final years of my dad’s life. Come See the Sky (as yet unpublished) was written almost entirely at my kitchen table. And my current work in progress, Begone the Raggedy Witches, is being hand written into copy books once more.
I would say, in all sincerity, that the only rule I’ve stuck by has been to try and write a set amount every day. Be it 250 words or 2k words, if you do it every day it will eventually add up to a first draft.
And at what time of the day are you at your writing best?
There’s no real good time for me. It’s always a struggle. (But mornings are marginally more productive.)
Do you edit as you go along? Or edit after the first draft?
I treat each chapter as a short story which I edit mercilessly until it feels complete. I find it difficult to move on otherwise. I also keep going back and back as I write, to tweak dialogue and adjust character’s actions so that they speak better to the plot or theme.
Do you use the internet for research? What research tips can you give writers?
The internet is awesome because you’re so readily able to cross reference details (and therefore leave yourself less open to mistakes or bias) but I also read a lot of books set in the time I’m depicting, or books which deal with a subject my work might reference. These books are mostly biographies and autobiographies, but I also read historical accounts. For example, as research for Resonance, among the many things I read were a history of Nevis; a particularly great oral history of life in the Dublin tenements, and a couple of histories of the slave trade between Africa, the West Indies and America.
Are there any books or websites you would particularly recommend for writers?
For the writing side of things I highly recommend Inkwell Consultancy. They have a host of experience professionals working with them as consultants (including Celine herself – Sarah), if anyone can help you iron out those wrinkles in your work, it’s them:
For the business side of things I will always recommend the writer’s forums at Absolute Write (without whose excellent advice, my early career would have screeched to a very quick demise). They’re quite oriented to the US market, but invaluable nevertheless:
How did you get your first book published? Was it difficult?
Yes, it was very difficult to get published. My books have always been strongly crossover, dealing with quite complex themes but told via YA characters, and my use of language tends to the literary end of the spectrum. Though I always got very positive feedback from submissions, it was initially hard to get a publisher take a chance on me. It was only when I found my first agent (Svetlana Pironko of Author Rights Agency) that things began to move for me. After that, it was like a steam train it all happened so fast. Now the same books that got rejection after rejection are winning awards and being translated into multiple languages.
Do you have an agent? And if so, how did you find her/him?
My current agent is Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates London. She came highly recommended to me as someone with great industry connections, who works non-stop for her clients, and really knows one end of a contract from the other. I emailed her. She rang me. We hit it off. The rest is history.
What type of books do you like to read? What's on your bedside table at the moment?
I’ve very eclectic tastes, but I love history, I love biography (esp historical biography) and I love the fantastical. Magic realism is something I particularly enjoy.
The books that are on my bedside table at the moment: I’ve just finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck which I found extraordinarily powerful. I’m partway through Isabel Allende’s Ines of My Soul, which I’m enjoying so far. Before that I’d read the very interesting, and beautifully written, YA horror Bones and All by Camille DeAngelis. It’s a wonderful read which I highly recommend, and though I’m not certain I got it as such I’ll definitely be hunting down more of DeAngelis’s work.
And finally, do you have any advice or tips for writers?
There are no rules – everyone has their own voice, and their own path to success (and indeed, their own definition of success) Write purposefully, write honestly, and don’t give up.
Find out more about Celine here:
Thank you, Celine for sharing your writing life with us.