About Juliet

Juliet E. McKenna, picture by Peter Coleborn

I was born in Lincolnshire in 1965, later moved to Dorset, and now live in West Oxfordshire with my husband Steve and my lads, Keith and Ian.

Since I first started reading folk tales and Greek myths at about the age of five, other worlds and times, magic and mystery have fascinated me. As a result, my favourite subjects at school (Parkstone Girls’ Grammar School, Poole) were History, English and Latin. Out of school, I read as much fantasy and SF, crime and thrillers as I could get my hands on.

Classics offered me the best way of combining all of these in a university degree, so I went to St Hilda’s College, Oxford where I studied Greek and Roman history and literature, together with only the philosophy I absolutely couldn’t avoid. I took up table top and live role playing and joined the Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group and read my way through their library with what I’d now consider a woeful lack of discrimination. I also took up Aikido, a Japanese martial art based on principles of defence, developed from ju-jitsu. This is also when I made those friends who have supported and encouraged me with my writing over the years, including Liz and Andy, Mike and Sue who you’ll remember if you’ve read the acknowledgements in the books. Helen and I have known each other since school.

After taking my degree, I went into recruitment and personnel work, continuing with my various hobbies. I married Steve, whom I’d known for a couple of years through aikido and role playing. Increasingly, I wrote the table top scenarios we played and Steve and I ran an invitation-only LRP club where we developed a fantasy world to be the on-going background for all the adventures and events. One of the most important things this taught me was what makes a good novel, what makes a good table-top adventure and what makes a good LRP scenario do have certain things in common but equally are very different in some crucial respects.

I wrote my first complete novel during this time, a classic ‘youth leaves home, rites of passage’ tale and sent it to various agents and publishers, with a rather diffident letter. The responses can be summed up as ‘well enough written but nothing special’ and ‘there’s nothing to distinguish this from the half dozen competent fantasies that land on my desk every week.’ Of course, I cursed them all as blind to my exceptional talent and sulked.

We all grew up, in some respects at least. Jobs took friends away to different parts of the country which meant time for gaming was increasingly limited. Steve and I started a family and when Keith was a year old, I joined my local Ottakar’s as a part time bookseller. This was to give me something beyond nappies, baby food and the latest pre-school toys to talk about when I met grown ups who were not also mothers. It was great fun and I started to see how the publishing and bookselling trades work from new angles. I also had several weekends away from being a mum at the Crime and Mystery Weekends run at St Hilda’s each summer. Here I met many friendly and accessible authors (often very famous) who were happy to give advice and encouragement. I went to presentations by agents and publishers who showed me just what is needed to stand a chance of breaking into publication. What you need, I heard, is ‘the same but different.’

I started working on ideas for something different in a traditional fantasy setting. I was at home full time now we’d had our second son and again I found I needed something grown up to do, that was separate from my life with the kids. More practical considerations also applied; writing would be a job I could do from home, fitting it round the family. I came up with the idea of an independently minded female character telling her own story and Livak, heroine of The Thief’s Gamble was the result, with Steve and Helen making a major contribution to the initial concept. Mike and Sue, Liz and Andy read the first drafts and encouraged me to pursue it.

After pitching the book to various agents and publishers with a far more professional presentation, I collected another file of rejection slips. The difference now was these said things like ‘excellent characterisation’, ‘natural dialogue’, ‘you’ve really got
something here’ and ‘I’m sorry we can’t take it ourselves’. With friends and family encouraging me, I followed up contacts I’d made through Ottakar’s. Emma, who still worked there, read it and seeing potential as a bookseller, rather than doing a favour for a pal, she passed it to Adrian, the Orbit rep. He assessed it with the same commercial expertise, quite failing to make the connection with me, who’d gone off on maternity leave after all, surely never to be seen again. Liking what he read, he passed it to Tim, the commissioning editor and one unforgettable Friday, as I was unpacking the kids and the shopping from the car, I got the phone call saying he’d like to publish my novel! In fact, could we make it a two book deal? I rapidly sat down to write up an outline for The Swordsman’s Oath!

The success of those first two books led to a contract for another three Tales of Einarinn , to follow up storylines that suggested themselves for The Gambler’s Fortune and The Warrior’s Bond. After completing The Fifth Tale, The Assassin’s Edge, I opted for a new direction within the same world, writing, The Aldabreshin Compass series, starting with Southern Fire and turning to Northern Storm and Western Shore, concluding with Eastern Tide. That was followed by a trilogy focusing on The Lescari Revolution.

My most recent trilogy, The Hadrumal Crisis concluded in 2012 with Defiant Peaks, my fifteenth fantasy novel. Since then I have been working on taking my writing in further new directions as well as writing a serial novella and several short stories in an entirely new fantasy scenario. I’ve published a couple of short story collections with Wizards Tower Press; one of A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, and one of stories about a group of monster hunters in the Victorian era, Challoner, Murray & Balfour.

Writing is certainly a good job to combine with being a Mum but juggling work and home life keeps me busier than I could ever have imagined back then. As well as writing novels, articles and reviews, I enjoy going to conventions and visiting local SF and writer’s groups where I can meet and chat to people about what I write, what other people write and read and all kinds of topics besides. That’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an author.

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