Meeting Karen Maitland
This week I met Karen Maitland, the author of five nationally acclaimed novels, in Waterstone’s High-Street bookstore, Lincoln. She greeted me warmly and, seated in the unusually sunny staff room, we discussed her latest novel, ‘Falcons of Fire and Ice’.
Set in Portugal in 1564, during the Inquisition and Iceland during the Reformation, ‘Falcons of Fire and Ice’ is the story of Isabella, the daughter of the Portuguese King’s falconer, and the quest she must undertake in order to save her family’s lives during a particularly violent time of religious hatred.
“I’m fascinated with the parallels to our own time,” says Maitland. “Where you’ve got the rise of a lot of religious fundamentalism and people within the same religion are attacking each other and trying to force their beliefs on other people. And of course from a writer’s point of view, it makes it a very exciting time because if somebody is in danger of being arrested without trial then it really does make it a life and death situation.”
Maitland is no stranger to life and death situations. She lived in Nigeria for eighteen months, living the medieval life similar to those of her characters in a village with no running water and no sanitation. Although this must have been a life-enriching experience, having raised a duiker fawn and an orphaned bush cat, when civil war broke out life became not only extremely difficult but also incredibly terrifying.
“Human nature doesn’t change,” she says. “You see the best and the worst in people. I got caught up in bomb incidents, I got caught up in people rioting on the streets and you see that people are able to turn on a sixpence and murder their neighbours. But at the same time it also brings out the best in people. You see people risking their lives to defend and help others.”
Maitland only started to write fairly late in life, considering the amount of success she’s had. She describes herself as a ‘closet-writer’ as, when she was younger, she didn’t have the confidence to admit that writing was what she wanted to do. It was only when she went to university as a late student, studying Psycholinguistics, that she really began to gain the confidence she’d need to become a writer.
While at university, she produced a thesis on the study of the use of pronouns in speech. She discovered that everyone has their very own distinctive pronoun pattern; the way they use pronouns like ‘I’, ‘one’ and ‘we’ is unique, like a fingerprint. It is only when someone is lying, or uncomfortable, that they deviate from this distinctive pattern, as they’re so busy concentrating on the important words that they forget about the small, seemingly insignificant ones. This fascinating knowledge she has since used when writing her novels.
It is clear from spending a very short time with Karen Maitland that she is not only incredibly knowledgeable and experienced but also very passionate about that knowledge and experience. It is a wonder that all of that passion could fit inside someone so petite, and it escapes into her conversation. During her talk, in which she demonstrates the technique of a medieval falconer by brandishing a replica lure, it is impossible to look away from her or to tune out for even an instant. It is impossible to do anything except sit, transfixed, listening to anecdote after anecdote, each seemingly more interesting than the last. If this is the way Maitland writes, it is no wonder she has achieved such stupendous success.
Ellen Lavelle – Senior YJA Reporter
The Priory Academy LSST