|Jane Routley at a book signing at Slow Glass Books in Melbourne, Australia|
Jane Routley was born in Australia but now lives in Denmark with her partner, Terry. Her three novels to date, Mage Heart, Fire Angels, and Aramaya, are published by Avon and detail the adventures of the mage Dion Holyhands. The books are a strong blend of romance and fantasy and are sure to please fans of both genres. We first met while I was living in Melbourne, but the following interview took place in London last year. Given that Jane named her heroine after the famous British sorceress Dion Fortune we really should have done the interview in the Assyrian Gallery of the British Museum, where doubtless one of the great winged bulls would have spoken to us in Fortune's voice. But in true Melbourne tradition we did it in a coffee shop instead.
Cheryl Morgan: Jane, why did you choose to write fantasy?
Jane Routley: I always liked historical books, especially romances such as Georgette Heyer's, and I probably know more about the past than the present anyway, having studied history. I don't really like historical novels because you know how the story ends. So made-up histories seemed the way to go. And as a child I loved books about witches and magic. I love books like Ursula K. Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea.
CM: I read books like that as a kid too, but I think my parents expected me to grow out of all that stuff and start reading books about real life instead.
JR: My mother was always much more worried about me reading Georgette Heyer. She thought I might grow up expecting that one day a knight in shining armour would come and carry me away. She's a feminist, my mum.
CM: But of course your books have ended up with a large element of romance in them.
JR: Yes, I didn't listen to her.
I decided that she was wrong. You know people say a lot of bad things about romance, and the main reason that they do that is because it is written by women, for women. The fact is that women enjoy reading books about love, and about sex. Why should we feel guilty about that? Men are always reading books about war and about killing each other. The typical male genre books are the Alastair McLean type war stories and westerns. To my mind they don't have anything to redeem them.
CM: Of course the standard feminist critique of romance novels is that they are all about feeling helpless and swooning in front of a tall, dark, handsome stranger. But your books aren't quite that simple.
JR: Yes, I think that one of the important things about Mage Heart is that it is an anti-Gothic romance, but I can't really explain why I say that without giving away too much of the plot. Across the three books I've tried to undermine the idea that a woman should fall in love once with her one true love and live happily ever after with him. And I don't like my women getting rescued by men. All that stuff is just too unbelievable to put up with anymore. But you can still have romance.
CM: Aside from that, there is a lot of feminism in your books. Dion is always having to struggle against the prejudices of the male mages.
JR: Yes, well it is a struggle. I belong to a Women's Studies group in Denmark, and one of the things that we talk about a lot is the glass ceiling which does exist for us.
CM: Which reminds me, what is an Australian writer doing living in Denmark?
JR: Well, basically I've just been following my partner's work. It started off with his being offered a job in Germany, and he was worried and thought that he'd miss Melbourne. But I said, "Go, go!" So we went. And I was really homesick.
But then again if we hadn't gone, I might never have ended up writing books because I wouldn't have met my agent, Jim Frenkel.
CM: Oh, how did that happen?
JR: Well, Jim is Cherry Wilder's agent, and I met Cherry while I was living in Frankfurt. Jim would come and see her every so often and she'd put him up at her place, but she'd just had to move into a smaller flat and didn't have room. So Cherry said to me, "Why don't you offer to put Jim up and then you can show him your book." So I had Jim to stay and I plied him with chocolate ice cream and a year later I had a contract.
CM: So you found an American agent because you, an Australian, met Cherry, a New Zealander, whilst living in Germany.
JR: Yes. I was really lucky. You hear all these stories about writers getting rejected again and again. I was only had to go through that twice. Even so I almost committed suicide by chocolate both times.
CM: Living in Europe seems to have influenced your writing. I can't imagine many Australians writing a book like Aramaya that is set in a fantasy version of mediaeval Russia.
JR: No, but then I studied mediaeval Russia at university.
CM: I suppose there isn't quite so much source material in Australian history.
JR: No, but the big issue for Australians is colonisation. And that is why for my next book I have decided to write a story about how the Peninsula was colonised by the Aramayans. The Australian influence is there in my writing, it just isn't very obvious.
CM: In Fire Angels you have what seems to be a Gypsy society.
JR: But they are Aboriginals. They have Aboriginal names and their big issue is land rights.
CM: Really? To my European mind they come over very much as Gypsies.
JR: It is funny isn't it? I try to do a lot of my writing out of my subconscious rather than out of my conscious brain. And I guess that my subconscious is European. Australians are, after all, only a few generations away from being European.
CM: Turning to your characters now, you mentioned that Dion is named after Dion Fortune. How did that come about?
JR: When I was living in Melbourne I worked for a time as a librarian for the Theosophical Society. They had a lot of Fortune's books there and I just loved her writing.
CM: Unlike her namesake, your Dion, despite her magical powers, is a bit of a wimp. She has no self-confidence. She's always dithering and wondering if she is doing the right thing. But then you have the courtesan, Kitten Avignon, who is wonderfully competent and self-assured.
JR: I really hope that one day I will be able to do a courtesan book that would be full of Kitten Avignon type characters. I'm a Dion sort of person, but I'd love to be adventurous.
CM: I think the trouble is that we all know we are Dions at heart but we'd all love to be Kitten Avignon.
JR: Yes, when I was growing up I wanted to be one of those glamorous actresses with a past full of lovers, all of whom remembered me fondly.
CM: That sounds wonderfully wicked. Of course your books deal with the subject of demonic possession. Has anyone tried to have them banned or wanted to have you burned at the stake?
JR: Well, not yet. But at school I knew some fundamentalist Christians. Everything I know about demons I learned from them.
CM: Perhaps that is why the demons are realistic -- because you learned it from someone who really believes in them.
JR: And another thing that happened at school was that we had a Baptist minister's wife come and talk to us about religion. She told us that whenever you think about the Devil you are inviting him into your heart. I'm a very imaginative person, and I had awful times afterwards lying in bed at night trying not to think about the Devil. Scared myself silly.
CM: And Dion spends a lot of time lying in bed thinking about demons.
JR: Exactly. Though of course she hasn't yet realised that the answer is to turn on the light and read a book.
CM: You mentioned that you are working on a new series. What can you tell us about it?
JR: As I said, the new books are set three hundred years earlier than the Dion books, during the colonisation of the Peninsula by the Aramayans. The inspiration for the books is the story of Helen of Troy. I don't understand why no one has looked into Helen's motivations. So she ran off on a boat with Paris. Did she really want to go to Troy? Was she in love with Paris? Did he kidnap her? Her husband took her back afterwards, so he must have felt she wasn't at fault.
CM: I've noticed that most people who write about Troy use Cassandra as the main female character. I suspect it is because she is a sympathetic figure whereas everyone is just jealous of Helen.
JR: Now that I've started writing these books I just feel sorry for her. I suspect that she had a lot of sex and didn't enjoy much of it. If you think about what life is like for a woman in that sort of situation, it can't be much fun. I got started on this through living in Denmark because the same sort of thing used to happen with the Vikings. They were forever carrying off Irish princesses and they'd take them back to their villages, make them bear lots of children and keep them in slavery for the rest of their lives.
Anyway, it was thinking about women in that sort of position that gave me the idea for the books. Except in my story the Helen character has a sister who is a bit of a Xena type and who is determined to win her back.
CM: It sounds like an interesting family.
JR: Yes, and there's another sister as well who is a mage. But she's a mage who doesn't want to grow up. She's a very rude little girl and she's always playing practical jokes on the adults.
CM: She sounds like a lot of fun.
JR: Yes, but she's also very powerful. Everyone thinks of little girls as safe and harmless. It's only when they get older and become sexual that they start to suffer from all the restrictions that male society places on women. So she can use her youth to go places and do things that her sisters can't. For the first time too, one of my point of view characters is male -- a young mage. He's an arrogant guy who tends to treat women as the foolish playthings of an idle hour. My little girl character kicks him into shape though and it's fun watching her do it.
CM: How does your partner take to you writing all this steamy, sexy romance?
JR: He seems to cope very well. He's very fair, and very supportive, and he loves the books. Which is very good of him, because the poor man has to go through these periods when I'm saying, "I think everything I'm writing is crap and my career is going down the tubes." And he just sits me down and says, "look, I think you are a very good writer." It also helps to have someone around who can spell. And sometimes he helps me with plot problems. I do bounce ideas off him.
CM: Does he help you with your male characters?
JR: No, but some of them are in part based on him.
CM: Not the demons I hope.
JR: No, he's very sexy, but not nasty like they are.
CM: Jane, thank you for talking to Strange Horizons. We wish you every success with your career.
Cheryl Morgan is the editor of the online science fiction and fantasy book review magazine Emerald City.
Visit Jane Routley's Home Page.