So I said to the man I said, “What on EARTH is that?”

22 Mar

I conducted an interview with myself at Kindleboards in response to a question about ‘where the idea for your book came from’. Yes, I interviewed myself, I told you I was weird. Anyway, here’s the transcript, a perfect reproduction, archived here for posterity:

Renowned Journalist ‘Ben’ (hereafter referred to as RJB): So, Mr White–

BJK White (hereafter referred to as BJK White): That’s BJK White, thank you. I didn’t earn that second middle initial just to be called ‘mister’.

RJB: Um. What gave you the idea for the Pirate Princess series?

BJK White: The “Pirate Princess” series? Is that what they’re calling them? Listen, these books aren’t about a ‘pirate princess’, they’re about a girl; Miya Black. The fact that she’s a pirate and a princess–look, just sit back and let me talk, all right? Journalism these days, I don’t know.

RJB: …

BJK White: Your repulsed silence tells me I’ve gone a little too far; fine, I’ll try to reel myself in. Quite frankly I have no idea why I acted like that at all, I don’t know you shine those bright studio lights down on a nice, normal person and you shove a microphone in their face and they just go nuts. You’re not representing my true character very well, I must say. What was I talking about?

RJB: Er … the idea for your books?

BJK White: Oh, right. Yes. Miya Black. I had the idea originally after a long patch of not writing much at all–I’d been working on a text-based MMORPG for much of the year but had grown a little tired of that. My wife and I had just driven out to see a fireworks display (which we were just a little too late for), and on the way back I mentioned I’d like to write something that she’d enjoy. We chatted about what she liked in a book–adventure, fun, likeable characters and so forth–and I mentioned an idea I’d had for a while before that, a princess who was also a pirate. I love pirates and I also think princesses are pretty rad, if done right (they’ve gotten something of a short stick lately in most fiction, which I also wanted to change), so naturally a combination of the two would suggest something pretty awesome.

RJB (tentatively): So the idea came from Miya first?

BJK White (relaxing just ever so slightly): Yes, pretty much … Princess Miya Jean Black leapt into my head pretty much fully-formed, sword out and ready to fight. I knew from the start that she had certain qualities–determination, a well-developed sense of right and wrong, a certain naivety and a concealed sense of romanticism–Miya wants the world to be a certain way, and gets frustrated when it’s not. Of course, her love of adventure was always a key character trait. Going back to the pirate princess thing for a moment, I liked the innate conflict between these two ‘archetypes’–pirates representing freedom, while princesses represented responsibility. Could you have a character representing both? The duality between these two key concepts becomes more and more important as the series progresses.

RJB (with growing confidence): So you created the character of Miya … then what?

BJK White: Well, having a good character is a nice starting point, but it’s not a story. With that said, everything came from Miya–she had to have a ‘royal’ parent and a ‘pirate’ parent, to make her a ‘pirate princess’–that was something I always felt very clear about, Miya was not a pirate with some princess qualities or a princess with some pirate qualities, she was definitely both. And she wasn’t a princess in some kind of piratical royalty, she was a proper princess of a kingdom. So then Clover Island came into being, a kind of ‘free kingdom’ ruled by her parents–

RJB: Was it always her mother that was royalty and her father the pirate?

BJK White: Pretty much, because I based Tomas and Lily very loosely on myself and my wife, and also on the relationship I have with my parents. I think in many traditional marriages, the wife is ‘responsibility’ and the husband is ‘freedom’. Well, that’s how it is in my case, anyway. Getting back to the story, I thought about what Miya loved most in the world. The answer, of course, was ‘her family’, but this was closely followed by ‘adventure’. Again, freedom and responsibility. What would Miya most hate to lose? Her island, her home. So it had to come under threat, a very real threat. And from that naturally came the idea of a pirate conqueror, Badger Pete, and of Miya’s “Legendary Pirate Grandparents” Scarlet Jean Black and Heartless Jon Black, and her quest to find them in order to enlist their help in saving her home … but all of that is, of course, just the prologue to Miya’s adventure, which really begins in the second book.

RJB: Sounds like a cheap tactic to get people to buy more of your books, to me!

BJK White: I don’t have to be here, you know. I could be writing right now.

RJB: Er, what about the rest of the world?

BJK White (slightly gruntled): Honestly, at first I wasn’t so concerned about world-building. Actually, I was going to go the Princess Bride route and have Clover Island and the Rainbow Archipelago exist within the real world somewhere unspecified, like William Goldman did with Florin and Guilder–this so I could have Spaniards and Asian pirates, that kind of thing. But as I developed a picture of what Clover Island was, the place it occupied in the world, I realised I had to have a good enemy for it–

RJB: The Highland.

BJK White: The Highland, exactly. And I didn’t want the Highland to be a real country because basically what I wanted to create was a real bastard of a place–arrogant, greedy, ruthless, old and cunning and powerful. With that said when creating the Highland I did have certain countries in mind–perhaps the Highland might be what Europe could have become if England had conquered and unified it. Certainly within the Highland itself the different kingdoms all have different values and ‘feels’, as well as ethnic characteristics–Miya’s mother is from Brightburn, whose people are generally tall and quite dark, with black hair and dark eyes. Miya takes after her mother in looks, and certain worldly characters mistake her for being Brightburn-born.

RJB: What about the other countries, Algernon, Al-Rhal, Spirea–at what point did you create these?

BJK White: As and when the story demanded, with the first two books. In fact with the first book, in the first versions, I intentionally didn’t mention any other countries besides those very close to Clover Island–Algernon and the Highland. I had this idea of a world without continents as we think of them–I have no idea how that’d work from a geological standpoint, probably somebody smarter than me will read this and say ‘that’d never work, the world would spin off its axis or there’d be terrible hurricanes’ or something similar, I just liked the idea of a world where ocean travel was commonplace and important–vital even. And of course, where you have ocean travel, there you also have pirates. I also liked the idea of a world where every country was an island–some bigger than others, naturally. As I went I made a very rough map to keep track of things, just basically lumps on a piece of paper, more relative than anything–‘Algernon is west of the archipelago, Highland to the southeast, and then the south pole below that’. However, one thing I was always certain about was that this part of the world–Oceania–would be geographically isolated from the other countries.

RJB: … and that’s all the time we have.

BJK White: Frankly I’m amazed that you let me rabbit on this much. Do you have any lemonade?

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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Of Writing


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