Interview with JJA HARWOOD (THE THORNS REMAIN)
JJA Harwood is an author, editor and blogger. She grew up in Norfolk, read History at the University of Warwick and eventually found her way to London, which is still something of a shock for somebody used to so many fields. Her first novel, The Shadow in the Glass, was released in March 2021, debuted onto the Sunday Times bestseller list, and was a Barnes & Noble Speculative Fiction Pick of the Month.
When not writing, she can be found learning languages, cooking with more enthusiasm than skill, wandering off into clearly haunted houses and making friends with stray cats.
Welcome to the Hive, Jo! Congratulations on your latest release THE THORNS REMAIN. Firstly, can you tell us what readers can expect?
The Thorns Remain is my second novel and I’m so proud of it. If you’re looking for a book full of spooky forests, things lurking between the trees, and unwise bargains, then this is the book for you. It also has a lot of strange things with antlers, an enemies to lovers arc where it’s probably better if they stayed enemies, and a shapeshifting villain that all my friends fancy.
How different would you say this book is from your debut, The Shadow in the Glass?
There’s definitely similarities between the two, but I think they go in different directions. I’m very drawn to the idea of a bargain between the human and supernatural worlds and that pops up in both books, albeit in slightly different ways. Visually, the two books are very different: Shadow was set in crowded, smoky Victorian London, but Thorns is in a remote Cairngorms village right after World War One. I get to have a lot of fun with spooky forest shenanigans which I’m right at home with! My two leads are very different too – whereas Eleanor was a prim and proper schemer, Moira Jean is much more relaxed and much less patient.
Can you tell us a bit about your worldbuilding in The Thorns Remain? What kind of role does folklore play within your narrative?
Worldbuilding was probably my favourite part of the process when I was writing Thorns –Scottish myths and legends are utterly fascinating and a really rich body of folklore to dig into. Both the rules that govern the fae and the folkloric creatures themselves are all drawn from Scottish folklore. I got really stuck into the folkloric elements of the worldbuilding because I wanted to create the impression that there was this whole other world bubbling under the surface of Brudonnock, but it had to feel like it belonged there. Luckily for me, I was able to get my hands on some really excellent source materials from the Cairngorms region in particular, which I absolutely loved reading!
Let’s discuss your characters! Can you tell us more about Moira Jean, how would you best describe her?
I really enjoyed writing Moira Jean – she was so much fun! She’s a farm labourer in a very remote village up in the Scottish Highlands. Flirting is a defence mechanism for her and she’s completely unable to resist the lure of a good pun. She’s proud, hard-working, and still reeling from a recent loss, but she’s very much one of those people who runs at life head-first.
And the race of fae? What can readers expect from them?
There’s a lot of different types of fae in Thorns, most of which are drawn from Scottish folklore. As such they’re a pretty varied bunch, although some of them get along with humans much better than others. They sit alongside humanity, observing it but not understanding it, and let’s just say that when the two worlds come into contact, it doesn’t always go well.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
I usually come up with my ideas pretty far in advance and mull things over for a year or two before I actually start putting anything down. But this works out pretty well for me, because that gives me time to start my research, and considering I’ve done a few historical settings time hitting the books is really important! After that, for me it’s all about regular progress, and the ten thousand planning and research docs I always end up making (plus the Pinterest board of very serious reference images). I’m quite fussy about what I listen to when I’m writing: it can’t have any words in because I end up writing down the lyrics, but it’s also got to match the vibe of the scene I’m trying to write. Putting it down like that, I realise I’m actually much pickier than I thought!
We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying?
I’m an editor by trade so for me, being edited comes with a certain amount of professional interest. It’s a little weird being on the other side of the table sometimes, but in a lot of ways I find it really rewarding. It’s honestly very flattering having someone dig into the themes of the story, and having someone with an eye for details monitoring what your characters are doing with their hands and props is really helpful. A good editor will engage with your text on all kinds of levels and luckily for me, my editor is excellent!
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover and yours seems to capture a whimsical aesthetic perfectly! Was this the aesthetic you hoped they’d portray? How involved in the process were you?
I love the cover SO MUCH. It’s gorgeous, I can’t stop staring at it! The design team completely blew me away, I couldn’t ask for a better cover. I actually wasn’t involved in the process at all, which I really like. Visual stuff isn’t really my area of expertise, so I’m very happy to leave cover design to the professionals, and it was absolutely lovely to see such a gorgeous surprise in my inbox!
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
I’m one of nature’s rogues, so for me it’s all about staying out of range of the melee and dealing long-range damage. (Yes, I do play D&D.) For that reason I’ve got to go for something with wings, and luckily for me, I’m not afraid of heights. I’m not really a horse girl but I would want something I could pet, because to be perfectly honest with you I am more likely to run away from a battle than to run into one, so I think it’s going to have to be something like the aq bars, which is a winged snow leopard from Turkic and Bulgar mythology.
Jo, can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress? What can we expect next from you?
I’m afraid what I’m working on at the minute is very much under wraps! I’m having a lot of fun with it and I’m excited to share when I can, but for now I’ll keep my secrets!
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
That’s a really good question! I guess the one thing I would hope that readers take away from my writing is that ordinary people are just as interesting as the kind of people you’d read about in history books. My books are historical fantasy, but I always make a point of making most of my characters as “normal” as I can. There’s a tendency in both historical fiction and fantasy to put your leads in positions of privilege, whether that’s because they are in proximity to power or because they are the secret chosen one or something. I’d much rather read about someone whose choices are what really drives the narrative, rather than their social position at the beginning of the story. It’s much more interesting!
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thank you for having me!
The Thorns Remain is expected for release on 16th February. Order your copy HERE