Jane Dougherty is a product of the Irish diaspora. She was brought up in Yorkshire, educated at Manchester and London, then moved to Paris to work in the wine trade. She now lives in Bordeaux with her family, a Spanish greyhound, and a posse of cats. She writes fantasy with a touch of history and mythology and enjoys retelling Celtic legends. She has published the first two volumes of The Green Woman series and several spin-off stories. The third volume is in the formatting machine and will be out very soon. She is a sucker for anything Viking. Following a family tradition, she also writes poetry and has been published in Poetry Nook Magazine and The Bamboo Hut.
You’ve completed your trilogy The Green Woman. Looking back on when you started, would you do it all again?
That’s a hard one to answer. I know some people believe that a story is like a baby. If it’s left alone it grows regardless of the author’s wishes. Some stories are no doubt just ‘waiting to be told’, but I think there are usually other factors too. I started on The Green Woman years ago, easily ten, because the two main readers among my children worked their way through the fantasy section in our local library and learnt very quickly which books they were going to discard before they got beyond the first chapter. This was when I first took an interest in fantasy. Stuck at home with a newborn baby, and too wobbly on my legs to go with them to the library, I read whatever they did. The idea for The Green Woman came to me after listening to what my kids disliked in a lot of fantasy literature and reading how other authors did it. Deborah and the world of Providence was my take on fantasy without the kings, dragons, mages and soothsayers.
Given other circumstances, I’d maybe never have had the idea, but if the idea did come to me nonetheless, I’d jump back in again with no hesitation. I’m certainly glad I entered the world of the Green Woman, and I’m not ready to leave it yet.
It has been simplest to describe The Green Woman as a dystopian series, mainly because Amazon insists on categories but doesn’t deal in subtlety. Providence is a dystopian society, caste-ridden, unequal, and misogynist, demanding complete obedience. But it is also a theocratic society, deeply religious and profoundly convinced that the prevailing lunacy is ‘good’. What drives the story is the hope in something better. It doesn’t centre on destroying a regime, but on starting again and making a better job of it this time. I prefer to call The Green Woman utopian fantasy, but Amazon doesn’t have that option.
What I hope will stay in readers’ minds when they get to the end of the series is a sense of exhilaration. The ending isn’t all sweetness and light and it’s full of strong, conflicting emotions, but the world is poised on the brink of something potentially wonderful. Overthrowing an evil regime does not necessarily mean overcoming evil itself. Evil, or the potential for evil, is in all of us, and all we can do is have ideals and stick to them. I hope that readers will have thought a little about the nature of good and evil in the course of the story, and feel as excited as I am about the possibilities that are open to the survivors of Providence as they face their brave new world.
With all the work you’ve put into The Green Woman how frustrating is it to walk into such a crowded marketplace and not be able to spread the news about your writing?
Like most writers, I suppose, who write because they feel very deeply they have something worth saying, I rather took it for granted that the great book buying public would be as thrilled with my writing as I was 🙂 I had hoped that because I had a publisher that word would get out that this was the best thing to hit fantasy since GRRM, to name but four. I never worked out what my publisher did in the way of marketing, and never saw any evidence that they’d done any promotion whatsoever. After five months of nothing happening and nothing selling, I took my book back. However frustrating it is not breaking into the best seller lists as an indie, it isn’t nearly as frustrating as having your book stuck with a publisher who forgot about it ten minutes after it was released. I don’t do much in the way of promotion—too busy writing—so I can’t really complain. Happily I enjoy blogging so if I make myself interesting and agreeable maybe a few people will be tempted to give the books a try.
Some people think Amazon’s subscription service (Amazon Kindle Unlimited, read-all-you-can-for-$10-a-month) is a good thing for authors! What do you think?
I’ve given up trying to work out what’s good and what’s bad for authors. All I know is it’s all good for Amazon.
I don’t really have a writing process. When I have an idea I start writing. I write the bit that gave me the idea, usually an opening scene, do something completely different like write a bit of flash fiction or work on a poem, then go back to it when I’ve started to get an idea of what comes next. If I get a lot of ideas that string into a sort of plan I note them down. Once I get into the writing though, the story often has other ideas about where it wants to go.
Do you have any non-literature influences on your work?
I was one of those unnerving kids who was interested in about a million things and chose her university degree course in function of how many diverse classes it offered. I had a library full of books about history, linguistics, geology, languages, prehistory, history of art, animals, plants and insects—looking back, it was all about getting to the roots of things. I was brought up an Irish Catholic (as opposed to any other mainstream kind of Catholic) so naturally I have always been fascinated by mythology, the Irish and Norse stories in particular. Visiting Newgrange when I was about twelve was a life-changing experience. I remember feeling that I was breathing the same air as people who lived thousands of years before I was born. And when my uncle Michael took me to stand on the boundary wall of his farm, we looked down on the Plain of Meath and he pointed out the hills of Tara and Uisneach in the distance. I knew then that all the old stories were true. The notion has never left me.
You’ve been quite vocal on your blog about advice to authors. What’s the worst bit of advice you’ve ever come across?
It’s more a tacit understanding than advice, but the received wisdom that it’s better to have a tin pot, one-man-show publisher, or a massive author mill publisher than to do it yourself. Many of these very small outfits were started by authors to publish their own books. They have no more clue about publishing than I do. And author mills do exactly that, and nothing more—they churn out book after book like spaghetti coming out of a machine, chucking them onto Amazon believing that the law of probabilities will give them a winner if they turn the handle long enough. Don’t go there. If you can write a book on a computer you can do a bit of formatting. It’s just the extra very tiny mile.
I think the answer to that is that each human being has moral and ethical obligations. You know, like the people who win the lottery—can a character in a story spend all his winnings on utterly futile crap and be a hero? What does that make the character who uses his winnings to do something worthwhile? When you write a novel you create characters whose behaviour you have to be able to justify. You can make them do whatever you like, but if it is morally reprehensible, you have to tackle it, give your character a reason, remorse, self-loathing maybe. Otherwise you are lauding their behaviour. You can’t have a hero who is morally void, I don’t think. And that applies to YA heroes too.
Thanks to Jane for sitting in the interview chair. Everyone should now follow the links and find out more about the world of the Green Woman, Jane’s writing and poetry, and even a book trailer at Youtube.