Posted by: Natalie Hatch | May 27, 2011

Interview MJ Hearle – author of Winter’s Shadow

Today we are lucky to have debut writer M.J.Hearle, author of Winter’s Shadow, which has just been released here in Australia. We’ve reviewed the book a few weeks ago but I for one wanted to find out more about this cool author.

What prompted you to write Winter’s Shadow?

Turning thirty. It’s amazing what a big incentive this benchmark birthday was. I’d spent ages twenty to twenty-nine spinning my wheels, trying to be a filmmaker and not having much luck. On the eve of my thirtieth birthday, amidst much neurotic self-introspection, I had this epiphany: I wanted to be a filmmaker because I loved storytelling, why not try and write a novel? It was certainly cheaper than filmmaking and I didn’t have to rely on a bunch of other people to tell my story. Only myself. Since school, I’d been writing consistently – screenplays, short stories etc. – so I was reasonably confident in my craft, however, I’d never attempted anything as ambitious as a novel. 

First though I had to decide what I was going to write about. I’d always loved paranormal fiction, specifically YA paranormal, so it made sense to write in that genre, but I still needed a story. I found my inspiration, somewhat appropriately, in a graveyard. A few years ago I began to notice my metabolism wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping up with my love of pizza and chocolate. It was either give up the junk food or start exercising, so I began to jog. One day, my route took me through Waverly Cemetery which overlooks Sydney’s Bronte beach. I thought I was alone in the cemetery when I noticed a teenage girl photographing the tombstones. As I passed by she took a photograph of me and thus gave me the inspiration I’d been searching for. I began thinking what would happen if, when that girl had her photograph developed, there was a hint of something strange in the picture. Something supernatural. Not a ghost or a vampire or a werewolf but something infinitely more terrible and mysterious.

Three months and 100,00 words later (not to mention several new grey hairs) I had a manuscript which I dutifully sent off to a couple of agents. One of the agents signed me up and the rest, as they say, is history. Winter’s Shadow will be in bookstores on Tuesday (June 2nd) and I couldn’t be more excited.

 Were you anything like your heroine/hero when you were a teen?

Absolutely. Apart from the plumbing, Winter and I are quite similar. Just like her I was a shy, introspective and highly imaginative teenager. I didn’t fall in love with any supernatural creatures but I certainly had my fair share of heartbreak and teenage angst – all of which I poured into the book.

 What did you find hardest when you were world building?

The architectural details. When I was imagining the Dead Lands it felt like I was trying to view this strange new world through a thick veil of mist. All I could see were dark shapes and hazy outlines. Occasionally, the mist would clear and I’d see a section more clearly but it was a constant process of discovery and exploration.

Where do you write? Do you have a special place that helps your creativity more than others?

Alas I have no special place to write, only the place available to me, which is at a small desk, squashed up at the foot of my bed.

I’ve read interviews with successful authors who talk about writing in a separate cottage they’ve had built in their garden. That sounds pretty good to me. One day I would like a small garden cottage to write in, until then, I’m stuck here –

Interestingly, I find writing in a parked car sometimes beneficial. There’s absolutely no distractions and you can drive to a quiet place with a nice view.

 Is there any special time you write?

Whenever I have a spare moment. I work a full time job so I usually write in the evening when I get home. I tried getting up early to write but that wasn’t for me. I’m not a morning person, so I’d just stare groggily at my computer screen thinking about coffee and tim tams.

 Winter’s Shadow has just been released, what’s been the hardest thing as a writer so far in your road to publication?

Marketing. I was incredibly lucky getting an agent and scoring a publishing deal (see my blog for more info on this), however, now the book is coming out I’m finding marketing it a real challenge. Because I’ve created an entirely new supernatural mythology it’s not very easy explaining to people what the book’s about without going into enormous detail. I can’t just say it’s about vampires or werewolves or angels or fairies or any of the other pre-existing creatures familiar to readers. While, this makes crafting a snappy logline difficult, I’m hoping it will also be the factor that helps Winter’s Shadow stand out from the crowd. I think readers are ready for a new monster to fall in love with.

 Any advice you could give a budding YA writer?

Write and read as much as you can. The wonderful thing about reading a lot is sooner or later you’ll come across a book and think to yourself, ‘I can do better than this!’ And you will!

 Is there any YA book out there on the market that you wish you had written?

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is a small miracle. I can’t wait to be a parent so I can read it aloud to my children.

 Do you ever act out any of your scenes?

Sure, I have a red wig and dress I put on whenever I’m trying to find Winter’s voice. Seriously though, it’s incredibly beneficial saying all the dialogue aloud before writing it down. Here’s a quick tip for dialogue: people generally don’t talk in complete, well structured sentences so don’t be afraid of writing gramatically incorrect dialogue. Learn to love ellipses and em dashes. 

What’s next on your writing plate? (this is not a hint to hurry up and finish the next book at all, nope not trying to push you along here, I’ll wait, for a little bit)

Ha Ha! It’s funny you should mention that. I’m actually putting the finishing touches on the first draft of the sequel to Winter’s Shadow now. It’s called Winter’s Light (or maybe Winter’s Key? I haven’t decided yet) and takes Winter’s story in an exciting and (hopefully) unexpected new direction. I’m also toying with turning Winter’s Shadow into a TV pilot. I think the first novel would lend itself well to the hour long drama format. And then of course there’s the third novel in the Winter Saga which I’ll have to get started as well. It’s definitely going to be a busy year!

 Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a writer?

Write the first draft as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about getting every sentence perfect – that’s what the rewrite’s for – just get your story down on the page. The writing process is fraught with insecurity, the faster you write the less time you’ll have to second guess yourself. 

MJ thanks for answering our questions, can’t wait to see what book no.2 has in store for us. 



  1. Sounds wonderful. I’ll have to look out for that one. Thanks Nat.

  2. Elaine it’s great, and on sale now at Big W, Kmart, Angus+Robertson. Definitely a good read.

  3. As a latecomer to YA. I’m finding articles like this beyond value. Thanks WLYA!

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