It’s my sincere pleasure to have the opportunity to interview Katherine Harbour, author of the novel Thorn Jack. A modern retelling of the Scottish ballad, “Tam-Lin.” It’s always nice to meet a fellow faerie fan, especially one who does such a fine job with it. I don’t normally go for the YA subgenre, but if more books were like this, I’d become a quick convert. It’s a dark and haunting story filled with characters that have depth and genuine voices that make them both believable and relatable. Katherine also has a gift with imagery and I found her prose truly exceptional. Simply put, it’s everything a good book should be; a great story with interesting characters that you genuinely care about.
Katherine was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule promoting the book to join me at the bar for a pint the craic.
Hi, Katherine. First, congratulations on the publication! Welcome to A Quiet Pint, and thanks for taking time from what is no doubt a busy schedule to share a glass and answer some questions.
First question, and possibly the most important: what are you drinking?
Starbucks espresso. I like to be wired when I write.
What about the legend of Tam Lin did you find most appealing? What about the story made you want to do a modern retelling?
I like that the girl rescues the boy, that the faery queen, the antagonist who is going to sacrifice Tam Lin, might actually love him. I wanted to write a modern version because I had the idea of making it more of a ghost story and adding another dimension, such as the heroine’s sister.
As writers, we’re supposed to be like parents and not have a favorite child (character), but we all do. Who is your favorite character and why?
My favorite character is Finn. She was fun to write as she began to awaken from her grief and became intrigued by Jack and his very dangerous family—she’s part Alice in Wonderland, part Nancy Drew. As she developed into a young woman whose curiosity led her into situations where she had to use her wits to survive, I became so proud.
What character was the easiest for you to relate to, and which was the most difficult?
Finn was the easiest character to relate to. Jack was one of the most difficult, as he’s someone scarred by his past as a killer and struggling out of a nightmare and into a life he doesn’t think he deserves. Caliban, his savage nemesis, was also a bit hard to connect with.
How much research did you do for this book?
I tried to read or re-read every book on Celtic folklore or faeries I could find. I also bastardized much of the Gaelic and Celtic languages, since most of the Fatas in Fairy Hollow are Irish.
You clearly have a love of faeries, what about them most appeals to you?
My first encounter with a faery was Maleficent in Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty. In the ‘80s, Charles de Lint and Terri Windling wrote faeries and elves into the modern world and it became a popular subgenre. Then I began reading Celtic mythology and found the faery folk to be a little terrifying, especially their associations with the dead, their capricious personalities, and the variety of shapes they took, from beautiful, to puzzling, to grotesque.
Do you believe in faeries?
Hmm. You’re not supposed to talk about them because they might be listening.
Did you know from the start where the story was going to go, or did you get surprised along the way? If so, when and by whom?
I basically knew where the story was headed, but I was surprised by some twists and turns. I was surprised by the introduction of the Black Scissors, (I woke up one morning with the poem describing him in my head), and by his being Reiko’s former true love. Reiko Fata, the ruthless Fata queen, also surprised me by revealing that she’d grown a heart.
Will we see these characters again in a future novel?
There are two novels—Briar Queen and Nettle King—set to follow Thorn Jack. Briar Queen, #2, is still being revised. I’m just finishing the first draft of Nettle King, #3. Finn’s, Jack’s, Christie’s, and Sylvie’s encounters with the Fatas haven’t ended yet.
In the film version of the book, who do you see as playing the main characters?
I don’t know. I’ve got such a vivid picture in my head of the main characters. I’ve placed some ideas by others on my Thorn Jack Pinterest page, such as Emma Watson for Phouka and Chloe Grace Moretz for Finn.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
All of the fantasy and sci fi authors chosen by Harper Voyager through the open submissions call have intriguing books being released in the next few months. I strongly suggest checking them out!
Thanks again, I wish you great success with Thorn Jack and your writing career, and hopefully you’ll get a chance to stop by again sometime.