Author Interview: Maria Johnson The Boy from the Snow
JMR- Hello Maria and welcome to the Book’s Delight. Tell us where you live? What do you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?
MJ- Hi Jeanie, thank you so much for having me! Lovely to be here. 😊 I’m originally from North Wales but am now based in NW England, Manchester.
For fun I enjoy reading, walking my dog, swimming as well as puzzle books and adult colouring books. I’m also a Christian, so I love church and am looking forward to meeting people from church physically again.
A perfect day for me would start with a bit of a lie in, then I’d walk the dog with my husband and probably go out somewhere nice for breakfast or for a coffee. I might do some reading or even go swimming, then in the evening relax with a few close friends. The perfect day would have to involve writing at some point too!
JMR- You have published two books of historical fiction. Do you have an academic background in history or just a love for the subject? What inspired you to write?
MJ- I don’t really have an academic qualification, although I did really enjoy doing history at A Level (a UK qualification at the upper end of high school).
I’ve always loved scribbling stories for as long as I can remember really. I owe a lot to my nanna, who inspired me by instilling in me a love of reading, which is why I dedicated ‘The Veiled Wolf’, to her, the sequel to ‘The Boy from the Snow’.
One of the main reasons I started writing ‘The Boy from the Snow’ is because the story hadn’t left me. The main character, Daniel, has been in my head since I was 7 – my brother got a Lego set involving knights and king characters. My brother would always be constructing amazing things out of the pieces, but I would take the Lego characters off to my room and make up stories. Then, when I was a teenager, I realized Daniel had never really left me and I needed to write the story down. That’s when I wrote my earliest drafts of The Boy from the Snow.
Also in terms of inspiration, I had two wonderful English teachers in school. I vividly remember one of them, at the beginning of my academic year, had set a homework asking students what they were interested in. I shyly mentioned that I wanted to be an author and talked about a story I’d recently written. When I got the homework back the next week, it was covered in a big sticky note with a smiley face on it. My teacher told me how exciting that was and really encouraged me – I’ve never forgotten it, which tells you just how important teachers are!
JMR- What is your favorite historical era? Why?
MJ- Probably 6th century Celtic Britain, because I’ve been so immersed in that time and absolutely fallen in love with the era.
JMR- Your books are set way back in 6th century England. There is not a lot of documents related to this time. What are your primary sources for your historical research? What was the most interesting or unexpected thing you learned from your research?
MJ- Yes, research took quite a while! Most of my research was online, there were a few really helpful websites which, for example, detailed the genealogies of the royal family in Rheged, the Celtic kingdom where the Boy from the Snow is based (roughly Cumbria today).
One of the most fascinating things for me was to see how Daniel blended in with the history around him. I’d already had Daniel in my head for years and the main gist of the plot, so in my late twenties (when I first started writing it again) it was a case of where Daniel fit best, historically speaking. One of the main aspects in the plot is of warring rival kings within the same wider kingdom, so the early medieval period fit that quite well.
Then when I started researching that era and putting Daniel into that world, it was like going from 2D to 3D. One of my favourite things was Daniel encountering some of the historical figures at the time. You mention there wasn’t a lot of documentation – you’re absolutely right, which was what made it so interesting and exciting to uncover some of the history of the so-called ‘Dark Ages’.
JMR- Your main character and his friends have Hebrew/Judeo-Christian names; Daniel, Sarah, John. I’m curious why you chose not to use names of Celtic origin?
MJ- Well, I do use quite a few Celtic names – one of my favourite characters is Aife, for example, who is another one of Daniel’s best friends, as well as several other characters who do have Celtic origin.
As for the names you’ve mentioned – well I wanted to reflect that because of the Roman influence, there would have been a Christian worldview and several of the characters would have been Christians/know of the biblical stories.
I often use names that lend a meaning to the story and at one point Daniel’s mother explains why he was called that name – I won’t say any more though! 😉
JMR- How close to the historical record is your setting? How and why did you deviate from known facts? (if you did) How far do you think a writer can stray before their story becomes anachronistic?
MJ- I try to have a mix of blending fiction with fact. The castle town of Gaeson is fictional, as is the smaller kingdom of Klumeck, but North Rheged was a real Celtic kingdom spanning much of NW Britain, the equivalent of Cumbria today and Lancashire today. The capital of Caer Ligualid (roughly Carlisle today) also really existed. Daniel’s story is purely fictional, but I loved having him encounter the King of Rheged, King Urien, his son Prince Owain and also King Urien’s bard, Taliesin, who wrote several ancient Welsh poems and recorded quite a lot of the history at the time. In fact one or two of the battles that happen in my books were recorded by him, between Celtic Kingdoms and the invading Anglo-Saxons (the Angles specifically).
In terms of anachronism, that’s a really interesting question. I think it’s a spectrum. Some historical fiction writers are mainly writing a historical commentary of the time and the fiction side of it is a by-product of telling the reader what happened in that era.
The other approach is to focus more heavily on the fictional – the author is primarily telling a story set in a particular time, so more focus is on the characters and the plot and the history is more into the background and weaving into the world the characters are in and what happens to them.
I think both approaches are great ways to do it! I think it depends on the reader as to where they fit on that spectrum and what counts as anachronistic. For me, I lean more on the fictional side. I try to be accurate about the period and be historically accurate, but first and foremost it is about Daniel’s story. A couple of readers who have reviewed the book mention it has some fantasy elements, so I’ll admit to taking some historical fantasy liberties, for example what castles were like at the time.
JMR-Who is your favorite historical female and what is it about her that inspires you?
MJ- Does Charlotte Bronte count? I find her writing – and the things she says about writing – truly inspirational and Jane Eyre is my favourite book.
About a year ago I also read ‘To Be a Queen’ by Annie Whitehead, who tells the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred the Great and ‘Lady of the Mercians’. It was a fascinating, wonderfully written book (I really recommend it!) and Aethelflaed has become one of my favourite historical females as a result.
JMR- Sure, we'll allow Charlotte! Annie Whitehead was here at the books delight a few weeks ago to talk about her books, she'll be thrilled to hear that you enjoyed her book. See her interview here.
JMR- Tell us about your books, The Boy from the Snow and The Veiled Wolf. What are they about?
MJ- ‘The Boy from the Snow’ is Daniel’s story. He’s a Celtic soldier living in the small castle town of Gaeson in 590AD, where he serves King Reghan and his daughter Princess Evelyn. At the start of the book we see Gaeson is at war with King Cedric who rules the kingdom of Klumeck to the east of Rheged. Despite the battles that come Daniel’s way, Daniel is content, but then he discovers a truth that makes him question everything. Then, while he searches for the answers, there is a greater enemy waiting to arise.
Then, ‘The Veiled Wolf’ is the sequel that came out in May last year, which continues Daniel’s story. Daniel believes there to be a spy in Gaeson, known as ‘the Wolf’. The more Daniel discovers about the Wolf, the more Daniel starts to doubt those around him, even those closest to him. Ultimately, Daniel has to uncover the Wolf before they seek to destroy everything he holds dear.
JMR- What’s next? Are you working on a new book?
MJ- Yes, I am! I’m currently editing the third novel in the series, in what I hope will be a trilogy. I think that will be Daniel’s story finished (although I’m really not sure about that!) but I do have a vague idea of carrying on writing in that world, but about 10-15 years after the events of the first 3 books and from the point of view of another character.
Also, rather excitingly, I have a MG (Middle Grade audience, 9-12 year- ideally but hopefully adults will enjoy it too!) fantasy novel called Lottie’s Locket about to be published on the 26th November. Here’s a little flavour if anyone is interested!
On the night she turned 11, Lottie opens a mysterious present from her mother, an old locket hundreds of years old. The locket transports her to the realm of Orovand. Lottie enjoys her new adventure and meeting new friends, but the next day she discovers a scandal at court and her locket has been stolen. Lottie and her friends work together to solve the case and get her locket back in time for her to go home.
JMR- Tell readers how to find and follow you on social media and the web.
MJ- Thank you! You can follow me on social media here:
JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?
MJ- I’m not really sure – apart from maybe if someone is interested in finding out where they can buy my books!
My two historical fiction novels are available on Amazon, directly from Olympia publishers and also on Barnes & Noble, Foyles and Waterstones. At the time of writing, Lottie’s Locket is available to pre-order from Olympia and Amazon UK. You can click on the link above to then check out my books on the online bookshop of your choice.
Thank you again for having me! 😊
Thank you Maria for a great interview and we wish you luck with your writing!