Juliet E McKenna – author and tutor


Throughout my writing career, I’ve learned invaluable lessons from other, more experienced authors, who benefited in their own early days from the generosity of writers who’d gone before them, sharing hard-won knowledge. These days the creative community also supports each other in person and online, as we negotiate the on-going changes, hazards and opportunities arising in the publishing world. I’d like to offer local aspiring writers the opportunity to benefit from my experience over the past twenty years.

I’ve made up stories for as long as I can remember. Sharing a room with my elder brother when we were little, I’d tell him stories long after Mum put the light out. Any school exercise or homework that could be remotely considered creative writing wasn’t work as far as I was concerned.

I have always read widely across all genres, and a broad range of non-fiction, especially history, myth and folklore. I was able to combine as many of these interests as possible by studying Latin and Greek history and literature in a Classic degree at St Hilda’s College, Oxford University from 1983. That was where I learned the critical and analytical skills which I still find invaluable in my writing and related work today.

As a student and for a few years afterwards, working in personnel management, I cherished a vague ambition to become a published novelist. I wrote a doorstopper of a novel which thankfully sank without trace as agents and editors ruthlessly rejected it. I say ‘thankfully’ because that process taught me invaluable lessons about the standard which a novel needs to reach, in order to be worth publishing. Thinking ‘that’s good enough’ means it will never be good enough!

After starting a family, I worked part-time in Ottakar’s bookshop in Witney. That offered me equally crucial insights into how the book trade works, from publishing to retail. I also began attending the annual Crime & Mystery Conference at St Hilda’s in Oxford, where any number of fascinating and famous writers shared their tips and experiences.

I started writing again with a totally different outlook. In 1997, I sold my first novel to Orbit Books, part of the Little, Brown publishing empire. With two small children at the time, I’d opted to write an epic fantasy story rather than try to do the research for modern, historical or crime fiction with one in a pushchair and one in a sling…

My first novel was published in January 1999. That was The Thief’s Gamble, first of The Tales of Einarinn. That series was followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. That’s fifteen novels so far.

I’ve also written a wide range of short fiction, from contributing to themed anthologies – most recently Temporally Out of Order, and Fight Like A Girl – to a handful of tales for Doctor Who, Torchwood and Warhammer 40k. Other commissions have included writing new stories inspired by classics of English literature such as works of John Buchan and H Rider Haggard.

I’m currently exploring new opportunities in digital publishing, reissuing my backlist as ebooks in partnership with Wizard’s Tower Press, along with original, digital fiction. I also review for web and print magazines and have served as a judge for a range of literary prizes and competitions, including The James White Award, The Arthur C Clarke Award, and for Mslexia Magazine.

I began teaching creative writing in 2003, stepping in to help out when a last minute crisis prevented the scheduled tutor from leading sessions at a science fiction convention. That experience set me thinking about the best ways to share the lessons which I was learning with writers as hopeful – but lacking essential insights – as I had once been.

Since then I have taught seminars and day courses at conventions and literary festivals, by no means only limited to talking about science fiction and fantasy. It’s the same skill set after all, whatever genre you may be writing in. I’ve been a guest lecturer for creative writing degree courses at Lancaster University, Edge Hill University, and Anglia Ruskin University, among others. I’ve also taught week-long courses, including one for the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. The next such residential course I will be tutoring on will be at Moniack Mhor in December 2016.

You can learn more about all of this at julietemckenna.com

I’m also on Facebook, and you can follow me on Twitter @JulietEMcKenna .