Thursday, 15 August 2013

Interview with Jo Spurrier

Today I have an interview with Jo Spurrier, author of the Children of the Black Sun trilogy. You can check out my reviews of her first two books, Winter Be My Shield and Black Sun Light My Way, both of which I absolutely loved. It was little surprise when Winter Be My Shield was shortlisted for both Aurealis and Norma K Hemming Awards.

A little bit of background on Jo, and then onwards to the interview!
Jo was born in 1980 and has a Bachelor of Science, but turned to writing because people tend to get upset when scientists make things up. Her hobbies include knitting, spinning, cooking and research. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and spends a lot of time daydreaming about snow.

You've described the cold and snowy environment in a lot of detail. Other than doing a lot of reading, did you travel anywhere to experience piles of snow?

Actually, I’d never seen snow until my husband and I went to the snowfields in Victoria, well after Winter Be My Shield was written. It was a great experience, but with temperatures around 0°C not exactly close to winter in Ricalan! I’d have loved to go to Russia or Canada to experience a sub-polar climate, but that wasn’t an option, and I based the world-building on research. I read everything I could get my hands on about cold-weather survival, winter camping and hiking, native cultures of the far north and about various explorers, pioneers and other people who ran away from civilisation to live in the woods.

The entire time I was petrified that I’d make some glaring error that would expose me as a fraud… it all came to a head when my publisher told me they were sending the book to Robin Hobb for a cover quote. Hobb had been one of my favourite authors for years, but I realised then that I actually knew very little about her, so I looked her up and saw that the grew up in Alaska! I just about had a heart attack, and when she sent me a message I replied to say that I was genuinely terrified, because if I’d got anything wrong, she was certain to pick it. She wrote back to say that I’d got the cold parts exactly right, which was an incredible relief! It doesn’t stop me from snatching up everything I find on cold-climate environments, though, and I suspect I’ll still be doing it long after Children of the Black Sun is all in print.

Q2. One of my favourite things to read about in fiction is moral ambiguity or "shades of grey" in terms of character choices. That is something which your character Rasten embodies. Where did the inspiration for him come from?

My characters first come to me with a few key aspects sketched out --- for example, to begin with I knew was that Isidro was wounded and Sierra was running away from something, but that’s all. Rasten began as an ordinary henchman, but one of the first things I knew about him was that he loved Sierra.

To begin with I couldn’t reconcile these two aspects, his love for Sierra and his obedience to Kell, but as the story came together and I had to climb inside Rasten’s head, I realised that he was far more complex than I first thought. It’s a rule for me that all my characters must make the best decisions they can and do everything in their power to achieve their goals --- I can’t let them make stupid decisions for the sake of the plot --- and the old saying that every villain is the hero of his own story was important here, too.

It took a long time to work out what made Rasten the way he is and why he makes the choices he does --- he is quite mad, but ultimately all his actions make perfect sense to him. His morality is learned from the world around him, a cruel and sadistic place where pain and power are all that matters. He’s always done whatever it takes to survive, and he realised long ago that no-one’s going to rescue him. He has no choice but to save himself, and that means using anyone or anything he can get his hands on. Once I realised this Rasten exploded onto the page and became a major character in the story. But the ultimate question for his character is whether his love for Sierra is enough to guide him out of the twisted world Kell has made for him, or if the damage he’s sustained is simply too great.

In the world you've created the living arrangements are very communal and families are polyamorous. What led you to choose that sort of culture, particularly the latter aspect? Will that be explored further in the final book?

The group-marriage concept came out of my research into the native cultures of Siberia. I chose to use it in Children of the Black Sun because I wanted to explore a society that was very unlike our own. I didn’t want a patriarchal culture, or a matriarchal one either, for that matter, and I really wanted to write about a world that doesn’t share our society’s hang-ups about sex. As I was learning how precarious life is in a sub-polar world I realised that communal living makes much more sense --- there is a reason why the cultures in the harshest environments have the strongest traditions of hospitality and the deepest incentive to form powerful personal bonds. For a traditional two-parent family living in such a harsh environment, injury or illness may well mean death, not just for the individual in question but for their dependants, too. But a family of four adults (or more commonly six or eight) offers far greater economic and physical security, for adults as well as children. The people of Ricalan aren’t necessarily polyamorous, and they’re not necessarily heterosexual, either --- what people get up to in their furs is no-one else’s business --- but it’s generally believed that if you wouldn’t have sex with a person under any circumstances then you shouldn’t marry them.

As for whether we will see more of this in book three… well, at the close of Black Sun Light My Way, Cam and Isidro, Sierra, Mira and Delphine are all scattered across two continents. If they do manage to re-unite, they’re going to have to figure out just what the future holds for them, and whether the damage that was done can be repaired, or if their only choice is to forge new bonds from the scraps that remain.

Do you have a title for the third book in the Children of the Black Sun? Can you tell us a little about your future writing plans after this series is done with?

Book three will be called North Star Guide Me Home --- it’s a story about homecoming, about fighting to reclaim a stolen motherland and build new lives from the ashes of war. However, those who’ve laid claim to the north by right of conquest will not willingly give up their prize, and they’ve had a great deal of time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the battered souls marching homewards.

Once North Star is done I’m planning to dive into research for my next series, which will draw inspiration from India and ancient Greece, with leylines and dragons and a sprinkling of science. I’m quite taken with ideas of magic-as-technology, but whenever I mention this people start talking about Steampunk. I don’t really think of it that way, and in any case I have been reliably informed that it can’t be steampunk without an element of Victorian England, which I can promise will be conspicuously absent. Either way, I can’t wait to get started!


Thank-you, Jo for taking the time to answer my questions! I'm certainly looking forward to reading North Star Guide Me Home next year and the new books that come after. Jo Spurrier is a writer to watch.


  1. Great interview Tsana, amazing questions! And you got the name of book 3 :p

    Jo is so talented and amazing, I'm glad I got to read an interview and see into her genius. :-)

  2. Fantastic stuff! I love this series and it's always great to hear some behind the scenes gossip :)