Monday, September 28, 2015

An Interview with writer Jemima Pett

We are participating today in a blog tour for the new paperbacks of Jemima Pett's Princelings of the East series--with their beautiful new covers! I have reviewed all six of the books, so instead of a review, I thought I'd do an interview today. Since Jemima lives in Norfolk, UK, I have left her British spelling in place!

NL:  I know that you started by telling stories about the adventures of your own guinea pigs, but how did you get from Fred and George in your garden to princelings, pirates, and flying machines?
 JP: I think it originated in an online guinea pig forum where we had a thread which was telling stories a few sentences at a time.  I remember a castle with a tunnel in the corner, and guinea pigs going through it to an alternative universe which ran on strawberry juice.  One of the pigs that they met was a large white woolly one called Random – who turns up as the ghost in the Pirates adventure!  I think the online story petered out, and it didn't star Fred and George, I don't think, but that's where the inspiration for castles and tunnels, and strawberry juice came from.  Then I came up with the titles, and away we went.

When they were out in the garden eating the grass, George used to look up when a small blue biplane from our local flying club went over.  He seemed to track it across the sky, although guinea pig eyesight is not supposed to be good at distance, so maybe it was the sound.  But that inspired me to make him keen on flying – and that's why we're only at the biplane stage in the Realms, around 100 years after they were invented in our world.

NL: Many of your characters are based on, or at least named for, real cavies you have known. Do their real personalities ever get in the way of the characters you are trying to develop for the stories? I’m assuming these tales have rather run away from their origins as fun adventures for your own pets!
JP: Yes, my boys (sorry, pets) don't get up to these sort of adventures on their own!  Although it's amazing how close some of the characters stay to the characters of the original animals.  Humphrey in Book 5 is pure Humphrey as I knew him.  Colman (Book 5 onwards) is the problem character, since when I wrote him in the first place, the guinea pig had not been with me long, and resented having been rehomed from a very loving home.  He was angry with me for having taken him from his former 'Mum' and let me know it with his teeth, a lot!  Ten months later he decided I wasn't so bad after all, and now he is the most loving of all the pigs I have (although he occasionally reminds me of George), and has reached the grand old age of 7, which is well over 90 in human equivalent.  But he's still the baddie in the books, along with Smallweed, who he used to live with. Finding baddies for the books is a problem, although the character interviews on my blog of Ludo (not a guinea pig) and Smallweed (someone else's), show that some of these characters have some decidedly nasty streaks!

NL: Totally unfair question: who among your characters is your favorite?
How long have you got?  Fred and George, Victor and Hugo will always be very special to me, as they were in life.  It's why, despite writing him out of the timeline as the baddie in the first book, Hugo (Mariusz) will just not go away!  The favourite is probably Kira, though.  I don't have any female guinea pigs, which is why, especially in the first book, it seems such a male-dominated society.  That changes as things go on.  Kira is the sort of person I'd really like to be.  She's a real hero.

NL:  George is constantly inventing new things, especially forms of transportation. In what way are these bringing him closer to fulfilling the promise made to Mariusz at the end of the first book?
JP: At the end of book 6, Bravo Victor, we get a pretty good steer from George where he thinks these inventions are leading.  When I wrote Book 1, I had no idea what was going to happen, except that they did fulfill their promise.  In a way I wish I hadn't put that epilogue in the first book, but left it open ended.  On the other hand, if I can write it well enough, I hope I'm going to be able to create a sort of 'will they, won't they' tension, like I saw in a fabulous musical called 1776, which is about the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  You really can't believe that they'll come to an agreement by July 4th, as the days tick down off the calendar at the back of the set!

Anyway, I haven't answered the question yet.  Yes, you'll see that George's flying machines get more elaborate as time goes by.  He's learning, and other people are learning and sharing their ideas, and that's how technology progresses – mostly by small steps, but sometimes by giant leaps.  And most giant leaps are due to conflict, I'm afraid to say.  'Necessity is the mother of invention' is very true.

NL:  While we are on the subject of George’s inventions, how do you see them impacting the essentially feudal agrarian society in which the books are set?
JP: This is a fascinating subject, the social change that is brought about by technological change.  Look at the changes in society brought about by the Industrial Revolution, people leaving their lives as peasants on farms and working in factories and in mines and so on, and the changes in the way urban life was organised as a result.  I'm trying to avoid mining in my Realms, but there is a small amount going on, in order to make metal goods – and glass.  Social change in the 20th Century is another example – from lords and servants to a far more egalitarian society.  People don't have such specialised jobs any more and look what we are doing with the massive computers we keep in our pockets!  Reading books written by authors we would otherwise never have heard of, chatting to people on the other side of the world from our bedrooms, or on buses.

The trouble with social change is that if you start with a feudal world with some people who set all the rules, there is a tendency for some of the 'peasants' to say "hang on, we are capable of doing this ourselves, who gave you the right to tell us what to do?" So there is going to be a huge change in the world of the Princelings.  After book 6 the vampires mostly leave because of the garlic in the strawberry juice fuel cells!  Displaced people and population growth are becoming pressure points, and this will be made worse by kings who exile 'troublemakers', i.e. people that disagree with their right to rule.

NL: Sounds like there's a lot of interesting stuff to look forward to!
One final question: The series currently has 6 books (I’m not sure, but I think The Princelings and the Pirates might be my favorite. Or maybe Talent Seekers. Or Bravo Victor…). Do you have an idea how many more books there will be? There is a story to complete still, so I know there will be more (even though it’s been a long wait while you write for a more grown-up audience)!
JP: Interesting that you picked Pirates first.  My out and out favourite is Lost City, despite its dark secrets. I'm planning two more Princelings books, with working titles, Chronicles of Willoughby the Narrator (I think I've written about a third of it, but it's too long) and Princelings Revolution.  From what I've said about change you might guess that revolution is on the way.  I'm just not sure where Willoughby's story stops and where the last one starts.  I think I need to write them both, to make sure all the detail ties up.  As you have spotted, I'm writing a science fiction series for grown-ups, the Viridian System series, the first of which, The Perihelix, is due out this winter, and the second probably for the following autumn/winter. Then I can immerse myself back in the turmoil of the Princelings world.  Maybe we're talking about Willoughby coming out in 2017.  That would work well for me, since the last book will end in 2021, even though it will probably come out before that.
There'll probably be a short story or two about the Princelings world before that, and I usually do a serial for Christmas on the Princelings website each year, the last two of which have taken events in their world forward and introduced Willoughby to the fans. That helps me measure the pace of change in the Realms, too!

Thanks for inviting me to your website today, and good luck with your own books – I'm a fan of the Ninja Librarian too!

And thank you so much for coming! I look forward to the next books, both in the Viridian System and the Princelings.

Author Bio:

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old.  I still have a small booklet I found in my mother’s box of treasures, written in a very childish hand, entitled The Little Stream.  It reads very much like the story of Smetana’s Vltava, or The Moldau as it was called when I was young, so I must have been into classical music at an early age (I blame my brothers’ influence).   My early fiction attempts failed for want of suitable inspiration: I couldn’t get characters or plot that seemed interesting, and my first attempts were derided by a ‘friend’.  I had the bug for writing, though, and wrote articles and event reports for newsletters and magazines whenever I got the opportunity. My career in business and in environmental research kept me chained to a desk for many years, but also gave me the opportunity to write manuals, reports, science papers, blogs, journals, anything and everything that kept the words flowing.  Finally the characters jumped into my head with stories that needed to be told….

Excerpt from The Princelings of the East:

Fred sat staring at the tunnel, lost in thought.  George waited.  This might take a while.  He could hear soft sounds of crackling flames in the fire on the other side of the wall, and in the distance the occasional pitter-patter of footsteps echoing down the corridors.  He wondered what would happen if they ventured out of this castle into the tunnels.  When he had been out in the marshes, he’d never gone a long way from home; the castle was always visible in the distance, light glinting on its spires.  He’d never been out overnight, either.  He identified a strange feeling inside him.  They might be on the edge of a Great Adventure, but he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t rather be safely tucked up in bed.
Fred stirred.  “We need to go and investigate this Great Energy Drain,” he said.  “We must find out whether it is a widespread phenomenon, and whether the causes are known.” 
George nodded; this was elementary procedure for an investigation.  “And then?” he asked. 
“And then,” answered Fred, “we shall come up with some ideas for how to solve it.”
“Good idea!” said George, knowing that you can never know exactly how you are going to do something until you have made the preliminary investigation and tested out a few theories.  But the aim was set, and all they had to do now was decide... to go or not to go?

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Thanks for having me today, Rebecca. I really enjoyed the interview.

    I revealed the (draft) first chapter of Book 7 (Willoughby) on my blog on Friday, in case your readers would like to check it out!

  2. Thank you for the wonderful interview and for participating in the tour. Victoria at My Family's Heart


We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.