Melinda Salisbury lives by the sea, in England. As a child she genuinely thought Roald Dahl’s Matilda was her biography, in part helped by her grandfather often mistakenly calling her Matilda, and the local library having a pretty cavalier attitude to the books she borrowed. Sadly she never manifested telekinetic powers. She likes to travel, and have adventures. She also likes medieval castles, non-medieval aquariums, Richard III, and all things Scandinavian. The Sin Eater’s Daughter is her first novel, and was published by Scholastic in 2015. She is represented by the amazing Claire Wilson at Rogers, Coleridge and White.
NAW- Please tell us about your book The Sin Eater’s Daughter. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
The Sin Eater’s Daughter is the story of a young woman named Twylla, chosen to be the living embodiment of the daughter of the gods in her kingdom. At first she was excited by the glamour and prestige she thought this would bring her, but she soon discovered her new role, though impressive, made her just as much a pariah as Sin Eating did. She lives a very lonely, and dark life, until the arrival of a new guard from a neighbouring kingdom. Lief is reckless and hot-headed and isn’t afraid of Twylla, and his stories and thoughts open her eyes to the fact her life could be more than an arranged marriage and a deadly reputation. But the cost of freedom is high, and the Queen plays to win, no matter the cost.
The first thing that came to me was the image of a red haired girl singing for a king, and it being the only thing that made her happy. The idea came from this image, I knew she was privileged and blessed, but that it wasn’t what it seemed and she was miserable because of it. From there I added in a lot of elements that I love; medieval history; old religions; death; spooky customs; food; and love, until the bones of the story were in place.
NAW- Tell us about the research you did for the book? How did you go about it?
Google was my friend! I was already a big fan of Plantagenet and early Tudor history – I’m a member of the Richard III Society – so my medieval customs knowledge like the settings, the expectations, the clothes, the governing, the hobbies, all comes from that. For Sin Eating, I looked it up online, but ultimately decided to make it female-centric for the purposes of the book, as I wanted to root it in original sin, which is of course a woman’s fault. Because I write fantasy, a lot of the detail is made up or adapted for the needs of the story, so I felt happy just skimming from facts and borrowing aspects to alter for the book. I made up the meanings of the different foods, in real Sin Eating it’s just bread and ale but I wanted it to have more weight, so I decided to have the food tell the story of the worst parts of someone’s life. The religion came from my deep love for the moon. I wanted a moon goddess, but knew she’d need a counterpart, so that of course was the sun and the gods grew from there. A lot of it is just playing a massive game of ‘What If’ with myself.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Twylla. How did you develop the character?
There has been a trend lately of heroines who are brave, and reckless, and who fight hard and constantly, and while I think it’s important for young women (and men) to know they can (and should) stand up for themselves and what they believe in, not everyone is born a hero. Most people are frightened of getting hurt, or hurting others, or shy, or simply don’t know how to and that wasn’t being represented. There are lots of different ways to be brave, it’s not always about fighting; sometimes the bravest thing you can do is walk away from something. I didn’t see characters being different kinds of brave, or learning to be brave, I only saw characters who had these souls of steel and strong moral compasses from the get go. I wanted a Neville Longbottom for teens; I wanted someone who learns to be brave and to be a badass. Twylla at the start is obedient, and naïve, and gullible. But she learns to think for herself, and to ask questions and to become brave as the story goes on. I wanted a character who would grow and alter in response to the world around them. I wanted someone uncertain. I wanted someone relatable; Twylla can be a brat, she’s proud and quite selfish and really ignorant at the start. She makes mistakes. She makes bad choices. But she learns the world is bigger than her, some things are greater than her needs or wants. I developed her with that in mind. I threw in a lot of myself and my situation when I was seventeen; she’s very like I was as a teen.
NAW- You have chosen a clichéd setting (Princess and evil Queen) for the book even though it works pretty well. What made you structure your book this way?
I wanted a world where all of the strongest characters were woman; that was very important to me. Through the entire series there a lot of very different female characters, quiet ones, loud fighty ones, angry ones, selfish ones, caring ones. I wanted to have a real range of women, not just one main woman and then her two-dimensional sidekicks or foils, but a realistic range that represents all the facets of female identity. So the natural beginning point for me was these recognisable, polarised women. Something familiar before I shake it all up.
NAW- Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming works?
I’m currently doing the very last edits on The Sleeping Prince, which is the second part of the Sin Eater Cycle, though it focusses on different characters. I’m also working on a short novella for the Letterbox Club, which is a Booktrust project which aims to get books out to children in care. The novella I’ve done will be released exclusively online to Letterbox Club members, and it was really exciting, because what I’ve written is contemporary, and middle grade, which is a new direction for me. Then I guess I should start drafting book 3 of the Sin Eater Cycle. I have a secret project I’m working on too, which is my relief from Sin Eater stuff. Whether it becomes a book or not is anyone’s guess, but I think it’s important to write for love, as well as to demand.
NAW- What do you do when you are not writing?
I work as a PA in London, part time, and I also run a costume jewellery shop on Etsy. I love to travel, almost all of my money goes on travel, seeing the world and learning about it is everything to me. I like to ride my bike and take photos of things. I sign up to free online courses about marine biology and Hans Christian Andersen stories, and the life of Richard III. I try and find seminars and classes to go to. I read. I eat. I spend time with the people I love.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey. Any advice for upcoming authors?
My publishing journey has so far been very easy, and very pleasant. I got very lucky. I submitted some work to the woman who eventually became my agent, and though she didn’t like that particular piece, she liked my style enough to want to see more. I had two agents interested in working with me, so I got to choose (and it was hard because they’re both extraordinary and gifted and I’m now friends with the one I didn’t go with. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made). I had multiple publishers interested in buying my book, I got to sign with my dream publisher in the UK, and it’s since sold in 13 other countries. A combination of luck and hard work and perseverance have made my journey lovely, and I know how rare it is, and how fortunate I am. I would advise anyone looking to publish a book to keep at it. It might be hard and it might take years and it might take lots of tries because it’s very subjective and subject to change. You have to get your work on the right desk at exactly the right time and it’s tricky. But keep at it. And listen to what you’re told. If someone says you need to edit a thing, you need to edit it. Do not think you know better. People in publishing are professionals who know what they’re about; if a plumber told you that you needed to replace a part of your sink to stop leaks, you wouldn’t question it. You’d replace it. Apply the same rules to publishing professionals, they’re the professionals for a reason. They want your book to be amazing, so listen to them.