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A moment with J. Victoria Michael, creator of The GriffinSong Trilogy

Songbird: GriffinSong Trilogy | Vol 1

Irenya O’Neil is trapped in another dimension. She needs to go home to her infant son, but the way she came is not the way back. She finds she has a unique gift of power; if she could just figure out how it works she could go home. Her journey has just begun.

Griffinsinger: GriffinSong Trilogy | Vol 2

Irenya finds the seer, Fis, who confuses her with grave warnings. A series of events, including being lost in the desert, lead Irenya to the information she needs. Now she can go home to her infant son Mikey. But the Melbourne she left is not the city that awaits her. Stunned, she takes the only course of action that can offer her and Mikey hope for the future.

Today, I'm talking with J Victoria Michael, author of my new favourite fantasy novel series, The GriffinSong Trilogy. Judith is a New Zealander living in Australia and a wonderful storyteller. The GriffinSong Trilogy is published by Odyssey Books.

i Judith. Thanks for letting me pester you with questions.

Hi Patricia. Thank you for having me.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to start with your name. On your books and website, you’re labelled as J Victoria Michael. Why not just use Judith Michael?

That would be easier, but J Victoria Michael avoids confusion with a couple who write under their combined first names: Judith and Michael. Victoria is my second name, and I’m happy living in that beautiful and vibrant state of Australia.

I read in your bio that the GriffinSong Trilogy is actually the second incarnation of the manuscript you originally started with. How different is it from the original story you had in mind and why did you rewrite it?

Years ago, I took the characters and fantasy world of a book I’d read, added my barely-formed ‘Irenya’ and I hijacked the plot; barefaced plagiarism, solely for the purpose of testing my ability to write a story. It turned out to be exciting and inspirational, though I seriously doubted I’d get beyond the first chapter. Sixteen months later, I deleted the completed work and began writing Songbird. I created Dar Orien, its map and people, their version of a clock, talked to the Goddess Meia (who feels it is time she reminded the realm of its commitment to honour land and all life) and I thought long and hard about the god-like griffin. Of the plagiarised story, I kept only Irenya and my premise of a vulnerable woman, from our time and place, who is lost in a world that doesn’t use technology but functions by harnessing a natural human talent.

What was, or were, the original ideas that started you writing this story? Did they come ‘out of the blue’, from researching a theme or topic you’re interested in, from something you read/heard/saw? All all of the above?

Music, and initially the voices of Loreena McKennitt and Enya. The haunting, other-world quality of their music unfailingly transported me to that sweet writing spot. Other music, from Wagner to Silent Night, to Shostakovich, lent me inspiration for the story. Some folk find a few glasses of wine sets them aglow; the music I can’t live without does it for me.

Before I started writing Songbird, the dominant theme was clear: a liminal threshold, the kind many of us face, a woman cut off from everything familiar and without support. How does she cope, and how does she re-shape her life?

Have you always wanted to write fiction or was it something that you were inspired to do later? How have you fit it into your life?

I wanted to be a ballerina and dancing was my way of creating stories. I attended classes, but never made ballerina - nowhere near it, though beautiful movement and music is still one of my happy places.

Sometimes there’s a single event, or one person in our life who stands out like a beacon. During an English Grammar class, our teacher asked me to read a poem aloud. As a rather passive student, I surprised myself by reading with passion and feeling. The teacher made no comment, but joy transformed her usually severe face. (I often hear of amazing educators who just want to see students respond with heart and soul.) The English teacher will be long dead, but I would’ve liked her to know where that moment in class eventually took me. Later in life, I discovered the joy of creating stories, and exploring the what-ifs and the just-supposing with a pen instead of dancing shoes.

The main protagonist, Irenya, is a great character. Her contemporary attitudes and experience contrast well with the otherworld of Dar Orien that she finds herself in. She’s certainly been through a lot. At times I wanted to yell at her, other times I wanted to give her a hug. Even though she’s your creation, do you find yourself proud of the way she’s developed and grown through everything she’s faced?

Impressed, and relieved! Writing a character who makes readers want to yell is risky, but Irenya had to be real: a living, breathing person complete with demons. The treatment of her during the first 24 hours in Dar Orien both frightened and damaged her to the point she was, thereafter, dangerously out of her depth. Irenya owned this one day when she sat in the invisible chair in my study and poured her heart out. The journey across her liminal threshold, and out of her trapped state, is through the cirayla, which is both making music and, in another sense, facing it. I loved guiding her path through all three books, especially GriffinSinger and Fleetwalker. Sometimes I felt more like her counsellor than creator.

There is a tendency for genre fiction to be dismissed as a poor cousin of literature. Have you ever been tempted to write a literary work rather than speculative fiction?

In the early days I was tempted, and I’ve read many blogs and articles on the subject. Meena Shamaly, presenter of the Games Show on ABC Classic radio, nails it, and I quote him, “When you can dispense with the confines of normality, the results can be truly magical.” He was referring to the evocative and amazing musical scores written for video games. His perception and comment can equally apply to speculative fiction. I take heart from that. I love the truly magical, especially when it echoes the perils of planet earth and feeds it back to us from unexpected angles.

Fleetwalker is the final in the GriffinSong series. Do you miss the world and characters of Dar Orien?

Not yet. I’m still there, caught in that final scene with my internal video running. (No spoilers ahead!) What happens to the Gifteds? I want to immerse myself in the journey of that nation, and see what changes are made. We know all too well, how forcefully some folk will fight change.

Finally, what’s next for J Victoria Michael?

Ah, well… perhaps I’ve partly answered that in the previous question, though I do have another. How was life in Dar Orien before, during, and immediately after the disastrous Rauballi invasion? And before anyone had heard the name of Irenya O’Neil. The elderly fisherman in Tire who was good with Mikey – did he survive the invasion? A different point of view would allow me a deeper study of that world.

Apart from that, I do have outlines for short stories, blogs and non-fiction articles, though the involvement of long projects is my preferred writing experience.

Thank you so much Judith. It was wonderful learning a little more about you, your writing and your musical inspirations. The GriffinSong Trilogy is a moving story - I'm so looking forward to reading Fleetwalker!


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