Feb 23, 2008

Interview with T.A. Barron

Very recently I had the honor of interviewing one of my favorite authors, T.A. Barron. Barron is the author of the young adult series The Lost Years of Merlin, along with The Great Tree of Avalon series and the Heartlight series. He's also the author of children's picture books and other novels such as The Hero's Trail and Tree Girl.

Welcome to WORD for Teens, Mr. Barron! What inspired you to write about Merlin?

Ever since my days as a student at Oxford, I have loved the character Merlin-his richness, his depth, his appreciation for both the weaknesses and virtues of humanity. And his love for Nature, his greatest teacher. When I was researching Arthurian lore to write Kate's undersea adventure, The Merlin Effect, I was struck by the fact that of all the thousands of stories about Merlin written over the past 1500 years, almost none are about his youth. He is the ancient wizard, the mentor of King Arthur, the co-creator of Camelot. But where did he come from? And what made it possible for him to become the greatest wizard of all times? That mystery got me going-although when I started out trying to fill in the gap of Merlin's lost years, I had no idea what a big project it would be. Here you had this wondrous tapestry of myth about him, woven over fifteen centuries, and it had a big, gaping hole: Merlin's lost youth. But the weaving needed to be delicate as well as bold; honoring tradition as well as original.

To make things even more challenging, I started out with a boy who washes ashore, with no home and no memory-the absolute opposite of a great, exalted wizard. For Merlin to grow in a believable way, from that humble beginning to his glorious destiny, required more than just three books. That's why my original plan of a trilogy swelled to five books. And that's also why it took me almost a full decade to write the five books of The Lost Years of Merlin.

I'm very glad it swelled to five books, they're all wonderful! Which character in the series could you most relate to? I see myself most like Rhia, but that might just be because I’ve fallen in love with her name.

My writing incorporates the subtleties of my own nature so, in some way, I relate to each character.

Making characters come alive is one of the trickiest, but most important elements of writing. I usually take extensive notes about each character before I start to write, then expand that description as I get to know them better with every draft. When you see how they look in your mind, and can hear their voice echoing, then you've begun to know who they are. But it's not until they lean close and whisper to you their innermost secrets—their deepest fears, their highest hopes, and their innermost longings—that they are truly real.

And if they are fully real for you, as the writer, they will also be real for your reader.
Would you rather turn into a deer, like Hallia, sprout wings, like Rhia, or ‘grow as tall as the highlyest tree’, like Shim?

All of them!

Nice answer. ^^ The description in your novels is so vivid I can picture Druma Wood, the talking sea shells, even Arbassa! Where did you get the inspiration for the appearance of Fincyara?

To answer your question about Fincayra, it is a place I made up. But I wanted it to have an authentic Celtic feeling, since Merlin's origins are from Celtic myth. So I chose Fincayra, whose name I found in a 12th century ballad, to be the place where Merlin would grow to be the greatest wizard of all times. As you know, Fincayra is part mortal and part immortal: just the right place for a young wizard.

I want to live in Fincayra. -sigh- I have a strong belief that half of the things my ELA teacher reads into the novel for literary elements – her favorite being symbolism – the author didn’t intend at all. (Like reading into the fact that there was hay in a barn in Of Mice and Men) Did you intentionally throw literary elements into your book or did those occur by accident?

They are intentional. Symbolism is an important part of story telling.

I don't think hay counts. ^^ Your books are some of my favorites right now, right up there with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and Erin Hunter’s Warriors series. What were some of your favorite novels when you were a teenager?

Books allow you to travel wherever you like. And no ticket is required. No toothbrush, even. Just pick your century, your continent, your character—and go. I read avidly. As a boy, I enjoyed reading the Greek and Norse myths; great sports stories; biographies of Abraham Lincoln or Helen Keller or Albert Einstein; Anne Frank's diary; moral philosophy by people like Socrates and John Stuart Mill; the poetry of Wordsworth, Frost, Keats, and Dickinson; and nature writing by Thoreau, Carlson, and Muir. I never read science-fiction or fantasy until college. Then I encountered Tolkien, and a new world opened before my eyes.
I loved Anne Frank's diary! I still haven't read Tolkien... If you could team up with any author to write a novel now, living or dead, who would it be?

Could I name three? (1) J.R.R. Tolkien; (2) Madeleine L’Engle; (3) my ten-year-old daughter Larkin.
I loved Madeleine's books, and to write a novel with your daughter is so sweet! I hear that you wallpapered your bathroom at Oxford with your rejection letters. Forty two rejection letters make great wallpaper, I guess, but what possessed you to do that?

That gave me a way to laugh. Rejections hurt. They are always painful. By turning them into wallpaper (in that particular place), I was able to give them all the dignity they deserved!

Thank you for your time, Mr. Barron! ^^ It was so much fun to interview him, and it's just as much fun to read his books. To check out my review on the first novel in The Lost Years of Merlin series, click here.

Happy reading!



  1. Karma Wilson2/23/2008 11:46 PM

    Great interview, Nicole!

    I think you were both right about symbolism. Authors usually include it, then the world mucks up why, what are when it was included (or all three). :)


  2. Thanks, Karma. ^^

    In my mind, teachers find symbolism in things that weren't intended and skip the things they were intended in. x_x

  3. Great interview! Is it your first?

  4. Wonderful interview (and you were awesome in your radio interviews, too! You sounded so confident and relaxed). I used to think the same thing you did about teachers reading way too much into certain books. I think you and Karma are right on, that things often get misinterpreted (or perhaps OVER-interpreted) a lot (and not just by teachers!). Of course, that's part of the fun of reading--everyone can see whatever they want to see (which is why I hope teachers don't force only one interpretation on students!).

  5. Felicity: Yes, it's my first. -sheepish grin-

    Alexa: Most teachers don't (though I know some teachers who have - those are the ones I didn't like, lol.) Thanks for the compliments. ^^ -preens-


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