Maria Turtschaninoff on Writing Naondel
Maria Turtschaninoff is the author of The Red Abbey Chronicles, a dark and exciting YA series exploring a young girl's struggle to fight against a patriarchal society. The first book, Maresi, combines a deep exploration of feminism with a fast-paced and exciting plot, and has picked up a huge audience across the globe. In this interview, Maria talks about writing Naondel, the second book in the series.
What gave you the idea for the Red Abbey?
Many years ago I visited a photo exhibition with beautiful and evocative black-and-white photographs from the Orthodox monastic community on the island of Athos. The monasteries on the peninsula are over a thousand years old, and the environment is stark and forbidding. Today the island draws 80, 000 pilgrims annually – but only men get to step ashore. Women must take a boat tour around the island, as women are still forbidden to set foot on the island. And I thought – what would happen if I reversed this? If there was an island, and an Abbey, but only women were allowed? And since I write fantasy, there would be an actual reason for men being forbidden.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters and story of Naondel?
I originally began a completely different story, but the First Sisters wouldn’t leave me alone
Naondel is the story of how the Red Abbey came to be founded by the First Sisters. They are briefly mentioned in Maresi, and as soon as I wrote about them I knew I wanted to know more. Why did they leave everything they knew and everyone they loved behind forever, and how did they end up on the island of Menos? What secret knowledge (alluded to in Maresi) did they carry with them, and who was the man who tried to hunt them down?
Naondel is seen as the prequel to Maresi. What made you decide to write the books in this order?
Well, I tend to simply go where the next story leads me. I wasn’t supposed to write Naondel at all, originally. I began a completely different story. But the First Sisters wouldn’t leave me alone. In the end, I had to switch projects!
Do you find yourself identifying with any of your characters? To what extent does personal experience find its way into your writing?
Well, in the end everything I write must come from me. I am the only tool I have. This mostly comes into play when it comes to things like emotions. In order to describe them convincingly, accurately, I draw from how I myself have felt at different times.
Maresi was my fifth novel, and Maresi as a character is closer to me than any protagonist I have written before her. But it took me a long time to see that! In Naondel, no-one is particularly similar to me, but I feel most for Kabira, the character who bookends the story. She came to me first, and she loses so much during the novel. When it begins she is a young, naïve girl, and when it ends she is old, bitter, yet resigned. She has found some sense of peace.
Naondel could be seen as a cross over novel for adults, was that a conscious decision to write for older readers?
When I started writing in earnest myself, I learned the most from writers such as Ursula Le Guin and her masterful use of language in creating other worlds
As I said earlier, I am not that conscious of a writer. I go where the story takes me. Writing for a young readership has not been a conscious decision before Naondel: I have simply written young protagonists and thus been classified as a YA writer. In Naondel the characters start off young, but as the story unfolds they age and are old women when it ends. They also for the most part tell their stories from a perspective of old age, thus Naondel isn’t technically a YA at all. But as goes for all good fantasy, Naondel is a story for readers of all ages. I strongly believe that is the strength of fantasy: it crosses artificial boundaries of age, gender, religion and race effortlessly.
Will there be more stories in the Red Abbey Chronicles?
At least one! I am currently working on the third book, with the working title Letters from Maresi. After that, who knows! It depends on what story tugs hardest at my sleeve.
What different literary influences do you bring to your writing?
That’s an interesting question! I read widely as a child, both contemporary children’s literature but also much older stuff: I had all my mother’s and grandmother’s and father’s childhood books, too. I grew up on a heterogeneous and healthy diet of fairy and folk tales, Tove Jansson’s Moomins, a lot of Enid Blyton and her contemporaries, but also E. Nesbitt, Jules Verne and Louisa May Alcott. One of my best friends was Anne of Green Gables. I loved writers such as Michael Ende and Diana Wynne Jones, I cried rivers over Black Beauty and the Prydain Chronicles and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. Finnish writer Irmelin Sandman Lilius showed me that you can write fantasy in Swedish (I belong to Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority), and it can be about girls, and it can be set in Finland.
When I started writing in earnest myself I learned the most from writers such as Ursula Le Guin and her masterful use of language in creating other worlds.
When you're finished with The Red Abbey Chronicles books and waiting for the third one, why not check out some of the recommendations on our Fiction for Young Feminists book list?