I am excited to welcome P.J (Paula) Tierney to my blog! She has kindly agreed to visit my library and answer a few questions about her Jamie Reign series, her writing journey and inspiration and her wonderful character – the kung fu warrior Jamie Reign.
Her debut novel Jamie Reign: The Last Spirit Warrior was released in 2013. With ancient magic, kung fu and adventure it’s no wonder it was nominated for the Readings Children’s Prize. John Flanagan, author of The Rangers Apprentice describes the novel as ‘...intriguing and ingenious…Jamie Reign keeps the plot bubbling and the pages turning.’ The second novel in the series Jamie Reign: The Hidden Dragon will be on shelves on the 1st August 2014.
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- Firstly, congratulations on your short-listing for the Readings Children’s Book Prize – just how excited were you? Super excited until the winner was announced; massive congratulations to Julie Hunt for Song for a Scarlet Runner, by the way. Now I get say, ‘It was an honour just to be nominated.’
- What inspired the Jamie Reign series? The inspiration for the Jamie Reign series came in three parts, first was on the set of The Matrix where I watched the legendary fight director Woo Ping turn Keanu Reeves into a kung fu master. An encounter with Jackie Chan while we were working in Malaysia had me thinking about how he is revered beyond anything I had ever witnessed and it was thanks to Jackie that I found the underlying theme in the series; the things that make you different are the things that make you powerful. And finally the most powerful inspiration comes from my husband who was that small Eurasian boy living on a barge in a small village on the edge of the South China Sea. I lifted his childhood for my Jamie Reign and that first chapter in the Last Spirit Warrior is more biographical than it is fiction.
- Author Kathryn Heyman said on her session about the craft of writing at the Sydney Writers’ Festival – What is it that only you can write about? Was Jamie Reign: The Last Spirit Warrior that story for you? Absolutely, other that the fact the story borrows from my husband’s childhood it is the accumulation of moments that have resonated with me.
- I loved how Jamie’s confidence and strength grew throughout the book, part of that confidence came from finding a place where he felt accepted after years of being an outsider because he was different. Is that an issue you specifically wanted to explore throughout the book?I’m pleased you saw that in the book and if you loved it then that’s exactly what I meant from it. But no, it was not by conscious design that Jamie becomes more confident, in fact I think his courage increases simply because his fears do. It reminds me of the best advice I ever received, ‘breathe and be brave.’ That’s the message that’s important to me; that fear is inevitable but bravery is a choice.
- I find fight scenes a little hard to write sometimes, especially for a children’s book. I am always wondering – Is there too much violence? Or not enough? Does a character need to be fatally wounded or could they just be knocked out? But in any novel, even in children’s novels, where a there is a physical battle of some kind – there needs to be enough ferocity for it to be interesting and create tension, but not too much, with younger readers in mind. There are some great flight scenes in Jamie Reign – How did you find that balance – and tell us….did you jump around acting out the moves? HA – no jumping but definitely lots of arm blocking movements between sentences. Fight sequences are particularly tricky as you have to keep very close track of what limb is where. As to the level of violence, it is an ongoing argument and a genuine concern but I think its coming from the wrong quarters. We adults are the gatekeepers and the ones having this conversation but young people are very astute consumers of popular culture, they know when it’s not ringing true. I think violence that is in perspective and important to the scene should not be edited out of fear – that’s what your editors do for reasons that are just as valid.
- How much research did you do, and did you find it hard to drag your self away from it and get back to the writing? Research is a joy and can be never-ending if you let it, particularly in the early stages of a story when you don’t know what you are going to write and you end up in a ever widening circle of research. Once you have a grip on the story you have to just walk away and limit your research to what is vital to support your plot, or characters or setting. Because if you’re honest anything more is just procrastination – which I happen to be very good at.
- Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? I honestly believe you arrive on this planet knowing what you are meant to do and you spend the rest of your life trying to remember what that was. I wanted to write when I was young, got my degree in writing and then went backstage and worked on concerts and events for 20 years, they were an amazing 20 years and they helped me find my story, but now I’m doing what I was meant to do.
- What drew you to writing for children? It was the story I had to write, a story of my husband’s childhood, my awe of Jackie Chan and Woo Ping and my desperate desire to know kung fu; all those things lent to children’s fiction. Jamie has an innocent integrity about him that seems unique to that age group. It was that moment I wanted to capture so it had to be a children’s book.
- What do you like to read? At the moment it’s all those past life stories, Life After Life, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. You can tell from the Jamie Reign Series, that it fascinates me.
- What were a few of your favourite books as a child? Who was your favourite character? I wish I could say to say it was the Chronicles of Narnia because it seems to be held in high esteem by literary types but I’ve never read it. Instead I was lost in the wonderfully trashy world of Elisabeth and Jessica from the Sweet Valley High Series. (Side note from Lisa – I loved the Sweet Valley High books too!)
- Could you share your journey to publication? Like all good publishing stories mine begins with a rejection. My rejection was fabulous, it detailed exactly why they were saying no. Armed with that, I started a mentorship with Kathryn Heyman and she showed me how to fix what was sloppy. But before I had finished I went off to the Kids and YA Festival at the NSW Writer’s Centre, I gave my card to anyone who would have it, with a request to have a look at my website. I think the website was key – it detailed Jamie Reign, gave a taste of my other writing and told my story as well – because by the time I followed up with an email the next Monday I had three requests for the manuscript. A few weeks after that I had three offers and on the strength of that I signed with a US agent. She put the manuscript to auction and we signed with HarperCollins. I’ve got to say it was a highly memorable few weeks.
- What hints do you have for aspiring writers? Find a great mentor. To this day Kathryn Heyman’s voice rings in my ears. I will never be able to write a past continuous phrase again.
- I read your book last year (and loved it!) and have just read it again – I am looking forward to reading the next book in the Jamie Reign series. When will it be in bookstores? 1st of August and you’ll LOVE the cover, its fabulous. It delves deeper into the world of the Spirit Warrior and fans of Jade should be particularly excited.
Jamie Reign: The Hidden Dragon
This is the serves for every young boy who has dreamt of living on a boat, having extraordinary adventures and discovering he is totally awesome at kung fu! This thrilling sequel to The Last Spirit Warrior sees Jamie take to kung fu training with fervour, knowing that Zheng, or at least part of him, is so close. And despite this, Jade insists on training Jamie in upper body strength only. If this continues he’ll never beat Zheng. It’s only Jades ability to see into the future that stops Jamie from rebelling entirely.