This is part two of the Q&A session with Jen Minkman, author of the Tales of Skylge series. The questions here are regarding Minkman’s process of creating the Tales of Skylge. I was intrigued about the history behind the colonial tensions between the Anglian ruling class and the native Skylgers. On top of that, Sirens, a type of merfolk, play a large role in this series.
Jen Minkman was happy to answer my questions about where she got the ideas for the setting, mythology, culture, and history of the island, as well as her opinions on characters.
If you haven’t read part one, click here!
1. This is your second series (that I’ve read) that deals with two very different societies that live together on an island. What is the appeal of using an island as a setting for your worlds?
Because it’s isolated, I guess. I like solitude. I also like the sea. When I was a child, I read the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton and would be in total awe of George Kirrin, who owned her own island. That was such an awesome thing!
2. The fantasy-dystopian series is an interesting combination of genres that isn’t as often used as dystopian science fiction in young adult fiction. How did you decide to use those two genres in the Tales of Skylge series?
Because I couldn’t choose! I felt like writing a series set on one of the Dutch islands with a mystic feel to it, but I also didn’t want to go overboard with that, so I wrote most of it like it could happen in the real world (but in a sort of alternate timeline). That’s why most of the conflict in the book arises from class inequality and oppressive leadership, which also turned it into my other favorite genre to write – dystopian.
Basically, I had it easy. I visited Skylge a couple years ago on a vacation trip with my husband. I’ve always had a thing with islands, so when I was looking for a new location for one of my stories, I thought about Skylge with its Brandaris Lighthouse and its rich history of Frisian settlers, English almost-invasion in 1666, and ties with the Frisian, Groninger and German coastal towns. Enna’s house was my holiday cottage. The island capital is called West in real life, but I named it after the lighthouse and the patron saint of coastal light. The Dead Men’s Casket lake also really exists and has various local legends associated with it, of which I used a mix.
4. What’s your favorite Siren/merfolk myth/story?
I loved Disney’s rendition of The Little Mermaid, but I recently also read an alternative sort-of mermaid story called Cerulean by Anna Kyss. I offered to translate it to Dutch for her and split the royalties 50-50, because I was so impressed by it!
5. What are some of the challenges you experienced in creating this series?
The Dutch names! Initially, I wanted to keep everything the same as on the island, but foreigners have no idea how to pronounce certain diphthongs in Dutch. The music festival in Sound of Sirens (Oorol) really exists and takes place on the island every year, but the locals write it Oerol (the oe sound is like English oo). So I changed some spellings in the end. As it is, some readers were already having a hard time with all the foreign names!
6. Why did you choose to base Skylge on the Dutch island of Terschelling?
Because I’d been there and the setting inspired me to write a story. Also, I thought it was about time I set one of my books in Holland. I am from Holland, after all!
7. What is the historical inspiration/basis for the colonial relationship between the Currents/Anglian ruling class and the native Skylgers?
Because the English almost invaded Skylge in 1666. Basically, they just torched the island capital and then went on their merry way, but in my story, they stayed. Hence the alternate timeline.
8. What’s the difference between “Currents” and “Anglians” in Skylge, and how did these two names come to be?
The name ‘Currents’ is what the original Skylgers usually call the Anglians. It’s like Indians calling the European colonists ‘pale-faces’ or ‘washichu’. The Anglians themselves won’t call each other Currents, because the use of electricity is not a point of contention for them among themselves.
9. Your Island series is described as a series of novellas. In the past, novellas was a difficult format to sell—publishers would lump the novellas together in an anthology to make it a sellable “size”. Do you think digital publishing has made novellas a more commercially viable storytelling format? (How’s the relationship between digital publishing and the length of your work?) What’s your experience with digital publishing?
Yes, I definitely think that digital publishing has made the novella more accessible. Some people just want a quick but satisfying read that will allow them to read the book in one sitting. I think writing a novella is one of the hardest things to do for a writer – you have to make it long enough to give your characters a chance to breathe, but short enough to call it a novella in the first place. The 20,000 word restriction on The Island (it was written for a writing contest in Holland) taught me how to write concisely and yet tell a full story.
10. Who designed the covers?
Clarissa Yeo designed the first cover as a pre-made, and I designed the two others inspired by her first design.
11. Who is your favorite character in Skylge and why?
I think it’s Tjalling. For now. Because he’s so tragic, in a way, and so wise at the same time.
12. Do you know how many books will be in Tales of Skylge?
Yes. Three! I’m currently making a planning to wrap things up nicely in Book 3. Having said that, I’m not saying ‘no, never’ to a fourth book, but it’s not something I’m planning for.
13. Do you know what your next series will be about?
Yes. My next series will be a duology spin-off of the Island series. I plan to write the two books in Spring/early summer. After that, I have a sci-fi/dystopian romance set on Mars on the menu. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. I LOVE sci-fi and space travel.
If you haven’t read part one of the interview with Jen Minkman, click here!