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A Conversation With Caitlin Sweet
An interview with Donna McMahon
April 2005

© Caitlin Sweet
Caitlin Sweet
Caitlin Sweet
Caitlin Sweet is a graduate of McGill University, Montreal. After graduation she taught English as a second language in southern Mexico. Her first novel, A Telling of Stars was published to great acclaim in January 2003. The Quill & Quire called it "an impressive debut," and The Edmonton Journal wrote, "It's a strong first novel that should have readers waiting for Sweet's next." A Telling of Stars made the Jury's Recommended Reading list at the 2004 Sunburst Awards, and was a finalist for the 2004 Best Long-Form Work in English at the Aurora Awards. From 1998 until 2003, she worked as an administrative assistant at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. She currently lives in Toronto with her husband and their two daughters.

Caitlin Sweet Website
SF Site Review: The Silences of Home
SF Site Review: The Silences of Home
SF Site Review: A Telling of Stars
Original cover art to The Silences of Home by Ted Nasmith
Author interview
ISFDB bibliographic listing
Publisher's pages for A Telling of Stars
REVIEWS: A Telling of Stars: 1, 2, 3, 4

Ted Nasmith
The Silences of Home

Martin Springett
A Telling of Stars

On a Friday morning in a VIP lounge at the Hotel Vancouver, Caitlin Sweet is friendly, animated, articulate, and clearly enjoying her first book tour outside of the Toronto-Montreal area. She also looks impressive -- being one of the rare authors who's better looking in person than on her book jacket. She waves at the posh setting and grins. Yes, she's enjoying the tour.
"I love my children, did I mention that? But I do a lot of talking to children under five so it's nice being away because I find I can more effortlessly access the adult part of my brain."

And yes, "Sweet" is her real name. When I ask if it was hell to grow up with, she laughs.
"Absolutely. I swore as an eight-year-old I will change it the minute I get married, feminism be damned! And then you know, something happened between eight and twenty-eight and I just couldn't do it."

This easy effervescence makes an interesting contrast with Sweet's novels which, while entertaining, have profound and dark themes. Young writers' first novels tend to be coming of age stories or romances, but Sweet's first, A Telling of Stars, was an intense journey through grief, and her current book is very much concerned with lies. When this is pointed out, she looks thoughtful.
"I don't set out thinking thematically. The first book was intended to help me work through issues of my own in terms of loss and grieving and the second one... I had sworn initially never to write a book connected to the first one, but what started to be compelling to me was this idea of legend and history. What if the truth isn't what gets passed down? And does that matter in the end?"

The Silences of Home explores the legend of Queen Galha who is said to have ruled "with wisdom and kindness" until her realm was invaded by Sea Raiders. The setting is centuries earlier than Sweet's first book, and its narrative structure is far more complex, but what's most compelling is the murkiness of the "real" story. Galha is a ruthless dictator who has no hesitation promoting her own version of the "truth." But her opponents are also caught in their own webs of deceit and silence.

The large cast drawn into the unfolding tragedy include naive young Lanara, best friend of the queen's daughter; Leish of the sea people, whose visions inspire his brother to lead a fleet across the sea and fight a disastrous war; and the key to that war's outcome, Aldron, a "teller" so frighteningly powerful that he is banished from his tribe.

Aldron's people, the Alilan, are roughly based on the Romany (though Sweet's other races are entirely original).

"I wanted a recognizable gypsy nomad from this oral tradition that was very powerful, but I made the oral tradition literally powerful. I like to take something which is almost a stereotype and add another dimension."

Sweet's writing -- which has been compared to Guy Gavriel Kay's in terms of depth, polish and scope -- was greatly influenced by Spanish literature, especially the fantastical short stories of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Much earlier, young adult fantasy was her "imprinting" experience.
"Lloyd Alexander and Ursula K. Le Guin and Alan Garner really defined my sense of what fantasy can do. It can be profound and moral -- without moralizing -- and full of wonder."

By contrast, she found that too many adult fantasies were "write by numbers" epics, emphasizing complex lineages, royal houses and battles. Although Sweet is not out to "subvert the trope," she brings a far more emotional approach to her work, focusing on character arcs and universal human themes.
"Good or enduring fantasy may have archaic trappings but, writers like Tolkien or William Morris transcend this because they're so universal in terms of human issues. Bad fantasy is trappings and nothing else -- it becomes an empty escape with no recognizable human markers."

A Telling of Stars was not published in the US, where the huge fantasy market has a bias against books that are "too literary." Sweet holds out higher hopes for The Silences of Home, which she describes as being "closer to what people expect."

The daughter of an English professor, Sweet grew up largely in Toronto. She took a degree in Humanistic Studies at McGill University and briefly taught English in Mexico. She quit her day job at the University of Toronto in order to write, but caring for two preschoolers takes up most of her time, leaving her only "an hour and a quarter a day." Attending writers conventions or going on book tours is also problematic. "Right now my mother-in-law has been shipped in from Newfoundland to cover for me while I'm away," she says.

She has "dipped a toe into the web" with a new site ( and a forum on but otherwise hasn't yet developed a web presence. That's coming, as is a new novel loosely based on Minoan Greece -- a period and culture that Sweet has always been fascinated with.

"My next book will be volcanic and seismic," she grins.

"Any lighter?" I ask.

She laughs.

"I doubt it."

This interview appeared in The Vancouver Sun. It is reprinted with the permission of the interviewer.

Copyright © 2005 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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