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A Conversation with Jane Welch
Interview by Katharine Mills
April 2000
Jane Welch
Jane Welch

Born in Derbyshire in 1964, Jane Welch was educated at Repton Prep School in Derbyshire and three separate public schools at a time when each was making the awkward transition from boys only establishments to co-ed schools.

After working in Heffers Booksellers for a short while and running her own small business, she spent five winters teaching skiing in the Pyrenees. Summers were spent less idyllically labouring in circumstances that would have been familiar to Tess of the D'Urbervilles, giving the impetus to achieve her childhood dream of writing. She completed her first novel, The Runes of War whilst in Andorra, but after HarperCollins made an offer for that and the rest of the Runespell Trilogy, writing took over.

The Runes of War was published in 1995, The Lost Runes in 1996 and The Runes of Sorcery in 1997. Though very happy and thankful for all the support and guidance provided by Jane Johnson and Joy Chamberlain at HarperCollins, the opportunity to join John Jarrold and his new list at Simon & Schuster with her second trilogy, The Book of Önd, was impossible to ignore.

Her first three books, the Runespell Trilogy, are available in Canada and also available through The second trilogy, the Book of Önd, is not so readily available in North America, though it can be obtained through or ordered through any good bookstore.

Jane Welch is just completing the first book in her third trilogy.

Jane Welch Website
ISFDB Bibliography

The Lament of Abalone
The Bard of Castaguard
The Lord of Necrond
The Runes of War
The Lost Runes
The Runes of Sorcery
The Runes of War was your first published novel. Had you published anything else previous to this, or did the novel sale come out of the blue?
No, I had nothing published before that. What happened was that I always knew that I wanted to write fantasy novels, and so I did not attempt any other form of writing but launched straight into it. I wrote the first three chapters and a synopsis and this I submitted to HarperCollins. Thankfully, the commissioning editor liked it and wanted to see the rest. Once I had that she said, "Great, I'll publish it!" and I was away. I was unbelievably lucky!

How long have you been writing?
I started writing the very first chapter of The Runes of War in June 1993, but before that I think I must have read just about everything available on writing novels. I think this helped in getting published in that, by the time I sent my first three chapters to HarperCollins, I knew that what I was presenting to them would not be immediately discarded for silly mistakes.  I didn't write another word until I heard back from HarperCollins. I then wrote the rest of the book whilst abroad in the Pyrenees where I was teaching skiing during the winter months.

I think I should also say that I was incredibly privileged to be introduced to writing fiction at the age of 10 by a very gifted English teacher by the name of Christopher Richmond. He was very encouraging and inspiring in his approach and I shall never forget writing what he would call  the 'Parvum Opus' (short story of 2,000 words) one year and progressing to the 'Magnum Opus' (the big work of 10,000+ words) the next. He also separated use of language, characterisation and story from grammar, spelling and handwriting, thus separating the imaginative side of writing from the technical. It was exactly the encouragement I needed.

Why do you write fantasy?
That's a very hard question and I don't really know that I have a good answer to it. I guess it stems from wanting to write the sort of story that I would want to read myself. For me, a good fantasy novel allows the reader to explore the various shades of human nature within an entertaining, action-driven environment. I also love the way in which the worlds within the pages of fantasy novels, though perhaps familiar in many ways, cannot ever be completely relied upon to constrain the outcome of a situation; this of course is equally true of science fiction.

How did the original idea for the series come about?  How has it developed from its inception?
It is such a complicated process that it is very hard to define where and how an idea starts and develops enough to become a story. I wanted to write about two youngsters who had conflicts in order to immediately provide an exchange between them. And I wanted to write at least about one youngster striving to do what was right through the difficulties of adolescence.

The original setting of the castle atop an immense tor was inspired by a high mountain pass on the southern border of France and the small principality of Andorra, to which I had climbed in the spring of 1990. The goat track to the pass is several miles long and, as you progress along the path and head further and further from metalled roads, it is like being transported back in time. When I reached the pass, I thought of what a good place it would be to build a stronghold to protect the principality from the threat of invasion from the north in times gone by.

I sat for several hours mulling over the problems that the guardians of such a castle might face and why they had built it there in the first place. Bit by bit, I created the pieces of the jigsaw that formed the basis for my world. When I'm writing, I have very powerful images of the scenery and events held vividly in my head. Once I have imagined enough detail around me, it becomes easier to watch the characters interact. As I fleshed out their histories, it became more apparent what nature of problems were likely to beset them.

The original story grew in a progressive manner. At the outset, I had not thought beyond one book, but once I was nearing the end of writing the Runes of War, I realised I simply did not have space to say all the things I wanted to about the world I had created. I had travelled thus far with them and I was hooked.

I see that you are planning another trilogy in this world. Will this be the finale? Do you plan to continue to write in this milieu? Or are there other places and situations you would like to explore?
I am just about to complete the first book of my new trilogy and I don't think I'll be ready to think about what I will do after this until I have completed the second book. My head is so full of all the ideas I have for this current trilogy that I can't think that far ahead yet. However, I would like to continue with this world because I believe it becomes richer and has more character the more I delve into it and explore its different regions.

You've woven a lot of historical and mythological themes into your work. What kind of research do you do?  Who are your sources?
I read bits and pieces all the time and always have done so it's information gleaned over a lifetime, really. If something triggers an idea and I want to know more about it or give more accurate details, I then go and look it up or ask someone. I have endless dictionaries and encyclopaedias, herbals, lots of books on Celtic magic, several books on runes and the Celtic tree magic and books on armour. I visit places of historical interest, particularly castles, and I watch a lot of the Discovery and History Channels, which give great ideas that I then research in more detail. There are a couple of people on the Internet who have given me some detailed advice on sword play and I am very lucky to have a very good friend who is captain of a four masted square-rigged sail ship, who has very rare and specialist knowledge of the sea. He has been of invaluable help.

The trinity of priestesses is one of the threads running through both series. Why is the breaking and reforming of the trinity such an important theme?
The trinity of priestesses and the religion they represent allows me to explore the changes through which society passes. The male-dominated new faith and the female-dominated religion are struggling against each other for recognition. They are in many ways opposites, neither essentially good or evil, though they are perceived by different characters as such. The struggles involved therefore are not simply for what is right or what is wrong but what is perceived to be right or wrong. It makes for a much more fascinating dilemma, since these qualities have to be judged through the eyes of the characters and so it becomes an exploration, not just into faiths and morals, but also into human nature.

Have you ever done any personal experiments or learned some particular skill in order to better understand a character or scene?
A scene, yes; a character, no. I like to visit places which are either wild, moody or antiquated and do my best to capture some of the atmosphere that such places exude. I have refreshed certain skills from time to time; horse riding and skinning a rabbit are two that spring to mind. There is a school of thought that believes that you can truly understand other people's experiences through simulation. I do not think it is possible to understand a character by voluntarily exposing oneself to the events that have shaped them. I had a teacher at school who spent the night in a ditch, after which he claimed to understand what a soldier in the World War of 1914-18 felt like. One night in an English ditch, however uncomfortable, could not in any way be the same as coping with the misery of months of constant bombardment, the noise, cold and the knowledge that his life expectancy was little more than six weeks.

What I do instead is to draw on my own experiences and mould them. I don't know what it is like to be knocked unconscious during a jousting tournament but I do know what it feels like being knocked unconscious during a road accident. I would be mad to deliberately have myself knocked unconscious but it comes in handy if I have already had that experience. I've also ridden a horse into a bog and been lost in the mountains but, again, I wouldn't try that sort of thing as an experiment.

What authors have most strongly influenced your approach to writing, and in what ways?
J.R.R. Tolkien for the breadth of his world, extraordinary imagination and introducing me to runes. David Eddings for having such a great control of language. Shakespeare for his beautiful tragedies which so clearly illustrate the timeless nature of human motivation. Thomas Hardy for his exploration of human suffering and richness of characterisation.

Please take us through your writing process, briefly.  How do you begin a new book; how do you proceed?
At first, I simply start to write what comes into my head. My books are predominantly driven by my characters' foibles and flaws that initiate events. However, once the first part is laid down and I have a clearer idea in my head of how the characters need to develop and what problems have to be solved, I then plan out the rest of the trilogy. This detailing of the overall layout I find a most taxing process since to plan out over half a million words is not a task undertaken without ample consideration and often a great deal of cutting of interesting material that, nevertheless, turns out to be irrelevant to the story.

Once I have a plan, I write the whole story out in rough without ever going back to make corrections but always moving forward. (If I realise I need to change something I have already written as events have taken an unexpected turn, I simply make a note for myself to do later. I then clear up all my little notes once I have completed the whole story in rough.) This enables me to let the story flow and stops me from getting bogged down in the process of polishing the words. Only when the story is complete do I start the lengthy process of revision.

I set myself a target of a number of words to write each day and this I do every day bar Sunday until the book is finished in rough. After that I revise and revise and revise until it is polished. I always discover new characters and unexpected developments occur as I go. My outline will only cover the major plotline of the story and, as I begin to flesh it out, new subplots appear, which again will have an impact on the major plotline. I find that an outline is a rather sterile technical thing but a story has a life of its own and, as such, will develop in its own way.

Do you have a favourite of the six books written so far?  What makes it your favourite (or not)?
I still love the first one because it was where I first met, Hal, Caspar and Brid and that was very exciting for me. A bit like one's first child; you watch every movement, every smile and count its life in seconds.

My second trilogy (The Book of Önd) I think is more skilfully written, and if I had to choose I think my favourite of all those three books is the middle one of that trilogy, The Bard of Castaguard, because, in it, the character May, who is an ordinary young girl, goes to extraordinary lengths to protect those she loves. And though she makes many mistakes, she is always trying to do the right thing. I so admire her courage.

Can you give us a little sneak preview of the next books? What's in store for everybody?
Let me introduce my favourite new character: Rollo is 13 years old but is more bitter and suffers a greater sense of self-loathing than any man twice his age. He was born heir to a kingdom and yet by 5 years of age he was already a failure in the eyes of his countrymen; for those without the skill required of the royal line cannot be crowned. Before two more years had passed, he had watched his younger sister achieve what he could not and take his place as heir. The seizures and rages with which he is afflicted had started at about that time and with them came the loss of most of the friendships that he had formed within the palace...

Copyright © 2000 by Katharine Mills

Katharine Mills is bookish and nearsighted. She lives with an ever-expanding library and a great deal of dust in Southern Ontario, and mourns the passing of Edward Gorey, whose decorating ideas she has always admired.

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