Today I have the pleasure of being joined by New Zealand author, Anna Mackenzie. Anna is the author of the award-winning The Sea-wreck Stranger, and her latest book, Cattra’s Legacy tells of the journey of Risha, not only across the wild land in which she lives, but from timid young girl to fierce and powerful young woman. I love Cattra’s Legacy and I asked Anna a few questions about her fantastic new story and the life of a writer.
- What inspired you to write Cattra’s Legacy?
The novel began with a single idea, a visual image initially, of a girl alone at a graveside. That idea could have gone many different ways, but my daughter had just begun to read fantasy novels, so I decided I would write one for her, from that starting point. That gave me the direction, and the story soon took over.
- How did you build the world of the story? Did you know what it looked like and what the history of the world was before you started writing?
Elgard opened out before me just as it does for Risha. I was sometimes a step ahead, but a small one, and every now and then we would both be surprised. About six or seven chapters in I sketched a rough map which I added to as I wrote. The map on page 7 is a tidy version of that, created using computer software rather than a pen so that it’s more legible for readers. In terms of the history of Elgard, I had a broad sense of it as soon as I knew Pelon had been a scholar – about the time Risha began to read his manuscript – but some of the regional details became clear to me only after reaching LeMarc.
- Did you get to do any fun or interesting research before you wrote the story, like weapons training or horse riding?
I rode farm horses when I was growing up, but it wasn’t really my thing. That said, my earliest memories include the creak of saddle leather and the smell of horse and hot summer: my father used to sit me in front of him on the saddle as he rode around the farm – I guess between the ages of 2 and 4.
As for weapons training, I’ve learned both martial arts and archery in the past. All knowledge is useful in writing!
- The story is ultimately about the legacy that a mother leaves for her daughter. What legacy would you like to leave for your daughter?
My aim as a parent is to instil in my kids a confidence in themselves, the knowledge that they are loved and valued for who they are, and the bravery to fight for what they believe in.
- Which of your own personality traits have you given Risha?
Determination. I don’t tend to give up (even when I probably should!). It’s an essential skill for a writer, and for many other things. Some people call it stubbornness.
- Risha is a strong female character that teenage girls can look up to. Do you feel that New Zealand young adult literature is lacking in these strong female characters?
No. Given the size of our market there is a fairly small crop of YA books published each year. Some years there will be more of one type of book than another, but feisty female characters are a feature of New Zealand’s YA literary landscape – and certainly of my work.
- The advice that a lot of writer’s give is ‘write the sort of books that you would like to read.’ Is this the case with Cattra’s Legacy? If so, what other books can you recommend to those who love Cattra’s Legacy?
I read very widely and this is a story I loved discovering as I wrote it. For readers who are looking for similar adventure fantasy, try Cynthia Voight’s Elske, Celine Kiernan’s Moorehawke trilogy, The Merlin Conspiracy and Dalemark quartet by Diana Wynne-Jones and Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy.
- What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a writer?
The best thing is getting to live dozens of different lives through the experiences of my characters – writing a new story is just like that feeling when you are completely wrapped up in reading and have to be dragged reluctantly away.
The worst thing is far too much time spent sitting at a desk: it’s seriously bad for you, but sometimes I have to be dragged away from there too!