Tara Moss is a novelist, TV presenter and journalist. Since 1999 she has written and published eight bestselling novels and been published in 18 countries in 12 languages. Her ninth novel, The Skeleton Key, was published in December 2012. Just before it was released, I sent Tara a bunch of questions – here is the result.
Pandora English is an orphan from a small town who is invited to live with her mysteriously youthful great aunt in Spektor, a fog-wreathed suburb of Manhattan that doesn’t appear on maps. Pandora has some unique supernatural abilities she was taught to ignore throughout her childhood, but now she needs every one of her strange talents. The fate of the world(s) rests on her young shoulders.The Pandora English series features a plethora of supernatural figures, with references to ancient myths and folklore, all set in an alternate New York.You should have no trouble reading the third and latest novel, The Skeleton Key, as a one off, though I hope it will make you want to go back and read the first two in the series to see how her journey unfolds. I have tried to write each of my 9 novels so far (the Mak and Pandora books) as books that can be read alone, even though they are each part of a larger series.
What’s the reaction been to the Pandora English series? Is it attracting a different group of readers than your crime novels? Why the change from police procedural? Is it temporary, or a permanent move?
After 15 years of writing the Mak Vanderwall crime series, her story is complete. I began writing the Pandora English paranormal series a few years ago because I found myself inspired once more by the things I loved as a kid. The old obsessions with ghosts, vampires and supernatural folklore came back to haunt me, and the only thing to do was to write it all down. The series is attracting a new, younger readership, but a lot of the Mak fans have also loved Pandora. I have been surprised by the amount of reader crossover between the two series.
Mak Vanderwall has featured in six of your novels and Assassin is the final in the series. What qualities do you most admire about Mak Vanderwall? Without giving anything away, will you miss her?
I will miss Mak. She has been a big part of my life for the past 15 years. She was my first publishing experience, my first series heroine. I love her and I love where the series has taken her. She is a strong, resilient survivor.
What sort of reaction do you get to your books from readers? What kind of issues resonate with them the most?
A lot of the readers of my Mak Vanderwall crime series tell me they connect with, or are inspired by, Mak’s resilience in a world that can, at time, be brutal and violent. Hers is a story of survival and tough justice.
Readers of my Pandora series tell me they love the alternate world I have created, and in particular the eccentric characters that occupy Pandora’s life in Spektor. They also love the many references to, and odd facts about, ancient mythology and folklore.
From your website bio, it’s clear that you juggle a lot of things – what’s your secret? Do you ever feel “Mummy guilt”?
I’m fortunate that I work from home as a writer most of the year. My life is very flexible and I get to do what I love for a living. My husband is also a writer, and we live a very productive life in the mountains, writing novels and enjoying being parents to our little girl.
I am not big on guilt. I’m an essentially good person and I provide well for my family. My daughter is happy, adventurous and loved. That is what matters. I think many parents are far too hard on themselves.
In your blog post, A Mother’s Fierceness, you stated: “ For me, there is a new level of engagement with the world, in part because I care deeply about what I will leave for my daughter when I pass on.” How else has motherhood changed you?
Parenthood changes different people in different ways. Motherhood has made me fiercely protective of my family and the world we live in. I care less about the little things, and more about larger social issues. Motherhood has magnified my desire for social justice, as I care deeply about the world my daughter inherits.
Tell me about your writing process. How much do you rely on research? What hurdles do you have to overcome to research your novels?
I have many more ideas than I have time to write them down, so when I fix on the idea that motivates me the most – a crime novel, a ghost story, a non-fiction piece or issue – I begin my research immediately. The research often guides me along the writing process. I use a good dose of imagination and real-life experience in my best work. Novels take a lot of time to write (one-three years on average for me) so I need to write about things I find genuinely fascinating. Luckily, life is filled with fascinating stories.
What are your three writing tips for budding writers?
#2 Read widely and often.
#3 Write. It may sound trite, but all the advice and self-analysis in the world won’t be as valuable as putting pen to page. The act of writing is the best way to learn.
You speak a fair bit about feminism. Do you think young women think feminism is irrelevant and have become complacent? If so, why do you think that is so?
Thankfully I know a lot of young women – and young men – who are very engaged with feminism at the moment, and who are aware of the remaining inequities out there, like equal pay, under-representation, sexualized violence and everyday sexism, and they want to do something about it. It is heartening to see.
Tara, you’ve been a model and at times made a living from your looks. Do you think all women have an inner need to feel beautiful? Why? And how do concepts of beauty change as women get older?
I don’t know that being born female endows a person with a biological need to feel beautiful any more than being born male does, but I do think we still have a lot of reinforcement linking a woman’s value with her physical beauty, youth and fertility. This was once a significant factor in women’s lives, of course, in that females in many cultures could not work or own property and therefore needed to attract a mate and be married in order to simply be socially accepted and to have a roof over their heads. I think it is a mistake to conflate that kind of history with biological norms. With that in mind, I think we all enjoy beauty in different ways and the things that make us feel happy are different – to feel beautiful or healthy or appreciated or creative, and so on. It’s nice to feel all of those things, but feeling beautiful certainly wouldn’t be top on that list for me.
As I’ve grown older I have become much less critical of my physical appearance. Some of that, I’m sure, comes with working as a writer and not as a model – a job where my appearance was strongly linked with my ability to pay my rent. I suspect a lot of people learn to take it a bit easier on themselves as they age.
Personally, I enjoy the beauty and style of older people, particularly older women. Some of my older female friends (50-75) have a unique personal sense of style that I adore – even envy. Perhaps there is something in the fact that they know themselves so well? There is a kind of confidence and a willingness to be different.
ook/s are you reading now?
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers and Hatshepsut: The Female Pharaoh by Joyce Tyldesley. Both are excellent reads.
Which books will you encourage your daughter Sapphira to read?
Sapphira loves books and being read to, and I imagine she will gravitate towards the books that interest her most. At the moment, that involves stories with a lot of animals and pirates.
Which five literary characters would you most like to have a dinner party with?
Lord Henry from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Sherlock Holmes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novels, Lieutenant Luke and Great Aunt Celia from my Pandora English series (Oh, to meet them outside my own head!) and Buffy The Vampire Slayer – not a literary character, per say, but fictional and kick ass.