The Museum of Thieves is a fantastic debut novel by Tasmanian author Lian Tanner that I have described several times to customers as `Margaret Atwood for kids.‘ The Museum of Thieves is the first in the Keepers trilogy, and tells the story of Goldie, a young girl who is far too impatient and bold for her own good. I chatted to Lian about writing her first novel.
When you were a child, were you also bold and impatient like Goldie?
No, I was actually a very shy child and not at all brave. I think this is why I enjoy writing about Goldie and Toadspit, because I would have loved to have been as bold as they are!
Did you have any particular country, society or historical time in mind when creating the city of Jewel, with its overbearing Guardians and oppressive rules?
I built Jewel out of a mix of times and places. It has an old-fashioned feel to it, sort of late-19th century, which is a time I enjoy reading and writing about. I was certainly inspired by the early days of Tasmania, and also by some European cities with their canals and old stone buildings. But in the end, I think, Jewel became a place in its own right.
As for the Guardians and the oppressive rules, there has been a lot of talk in Australia over the last few years about ‘bubble-wrap children’, i.e. children who are not allowed to do anything that is even slightly risky. I wanted to push this a bit further, and have a society that had become so frightened that the children were chained for their own protection. And of course when people are frightened, there is always someone (in this case the Fugleman and the Blessed Guardians) who will use that fear for their own purposes.
There are some fabulous words and names in the book - brizzlehound, Toadspit, slommerkin, and the Fugleman, to name just a few. How did you come to name people, places and things, and conjure up words for Museum of Thieves?
I love words, and I particularly like some of the words and phrases that used to be common in English but are no longer used, like slubberdegullion (a dirty, nasty person) and forswunk (worn out by hard labour). I think brizzlehound and Toadspit and slommerkin came out of the part of my mind that loves these sorts of words. I just joined things together until they sounded right! I remember laughing when I thought of Toadspit, because it was so perfect for a boy who hated his real name, and hated being treated like a baby.
Fugleman is a real word that I found in a book – it means a well-drilled soldier, or a ringleader, someone who sets an example for others to follow. Again, it had that old-fashioned sound that I like, and it set off the little zing feeling that I get when something is just right for a story, so I grabbed it.
Do you already know exactly what happens in Books Two and Three of the trilogy? Did you plan all three books from the beginning?
I didn’t plan all three books right from the beginning, mainly because Museum of Thieves was going to be a stand-alone novel when I started it. But then I liked the characters and the world so much that I decided to keep going. Once I made that decision, I had to map out the next two books so that I knew what was going to happen in them and could set those things up in the first book.
For example, I realised that swords were going to play an important part in the third book, so I had to go back to the first book and make the Fugleman a swordsman. This is one of the really interesting (and tricky!) things about writing a trilogy – everything has to connect up and you have to set things up a long way in advance, otherwise they’re not believable. You can’t just come to Book Three and say ‘Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention it earlier, but the Fugleman’s a skilled swordsman.’
Not only do authors have to set things up in advance, they also have to stay a long way ahead of the publishing schedule. So although Museum of Thieves has only just come out, I’ve already finished writing the second book, City of Lies, and now I’m halfway through the first draft of the third book, Path of Beasts. So by now I’m pretty clear on what’s happening all the way through!
What was the most enjoyable part of working on and writing Museum of Thieves?
I really enjoy playing with the characters – making them more interesting, finding out what their quirks are and how they speak and what they love and hate. I know all sorts of things about them that aren’t in the book, e.g. the Fugleman’s first word when he was a baby was ‘Mine!’ (I’ve put some of these extra things on the website.
I also really like it when I’ve almost finished the book and I can feel everything falling into place like clockwork. (It usually takes a lot of drafts to get to this point!) It’s hugely satisfying, knowing that I’ve built something out of nothing and made it work.