Becoming an artist: Jackie Randall’s historical middle grade EMELIN

Book cover in graphic novel style. Boy and girl in brown medieval robes with dark branches and white medieval city in the backgroundIf you’re an eleven-year-old girl in the middle ages, becoming an artist is almost impossible! Even when you have a special talent.

Author Jackie Randall brings the earthy but beautiful world of the middle ages to life in this story of art, theft, persistence, and friendship.

“The year is 1398. Eleven-year-old Emelin Lambert is quick-witted, mouthy, and an orphan. She also has an incredible gift for illuminating manuscripts. When her last relative is killed, Emelin must travel to Reading Abbey in search of safety when she finds herself with a manuscript belonging to Geoffrey Chaucer. Follow her dark and wintery journey through medieval England where she encounters violent thieves, a boy named Wolf and the treacherous adult world she must face alone. Can her gift ensure her survival?”

We’re so excited to chat with Australian author, Jackie Randall! Welcome to The Winged Pen!

In the beginning of the story, Emelin worries about a lost and valuable “work ticket.” As a young girl in the middle ages, could she have gotten one?

The lost work ticket belonged to Emelin’s uncle, Calibor. It was vital to him so he could legally work. I wanted to create a significant problem early on because it would help immerse the readers in the rawness of life in medieval England.

That it was Emelin’s fault the ticket was stolen helped me dig down deep into her and her thinking.

Girls in England at that time were not taught to read or write, and they could never be apprenticed in any of the trades, so a girl, like Emelin, would never have had her own work ticket.

It wasn’t considered sexist. It kept the wheels turning so civilisation could continue to exist.

Women had the ability to give birth and to nurture children. They had finer fingers for sewing and preparing food. Men were bigger and stronger than women so it made sense that they worked to bring in harvest or meat, or to build homes, boats, carts etc.

Everyone did what they could to contribute to life based on what they could do best. It wasn’t always fair, but it worked.

What surprised you most (or was most inspiring) about the research you did for this book?

I loved learning about the creation of illuminated manuscripts. As much as it was unlikely that a girl could do this in this era, it was not impossible if the right things fell into place.

The girl, Emelin, had a fierce attitude that got her on this path and kept her alive when circumstances would normally have made survival impossible.

I was most inspired by the way people had to work so hard, just to live, which is a lot like people still do today in poorer countries.

And I loved using the first person POV to get inside Emelin’s head and find out how real she was. Putting her in a male world – her uncle, the guilds, the abbey – made her a like a candle flame on a black and white photo.

Writing a novel can be like living in an imaginary country. After all the time you’ve spent writing Emelin’s world, would you like to live there? Why or why not?

I think I would have liked to live there. But life was harsh and people often lived only four or five decades. I plan on living until my ninth or tenth decade, even if it’s just to annoy my friends and family… but if I could still be writing well then, that would be great joy to me.

I love Geoffrey Chaucer’s cameo appearance in the story! It had such a fun “medieval rock star” feeling. This story is a brilliant way to introduce young readers today to the author of The Canterbury Tales. Was he well-known in his own time? Or did he become famous later?

Geoffrey Chaucer was known as a poet in his lifetime, but his fame grew gradually after his death. It was only forty or fifty years after Chaucer died that the printing press was invented and books could for the first time ever be produced without people painstakingly hand writing and decorating them.

There are a couple of versions of the hand-produced ‘The Canterbury Tales’ around. One is called the Hengwrt Manuscript and the other the Ellesmere Manuscript.

The cover is so inviting, but it also looks true to the era. Can you share the story of how it came to be?

As much as I enjoy trying to do a bit of art, I knew I didn’t have the skills for this. One of my adult sons helped me find the right person to hire to do the job.

I wanted the cover to show Emelin with the manuscript, and I really wanted the cold, harsh winter in the background. And, of course, Wolf had to be there. After a bit of tweaking, I was thrilled with the end result.

Will Emelin and Wolf have more adventures?

I have a couple of books planned but I’m torn right now as to whether to write for the Australian market (where I live) so local publishers can market my work, or to write medieval and continue to self-publish (Australia has no medieval history as it was not discovered until after medieval was finished).

The books I’m planning about Emelin and Wolf are based first in London, then in Europe. There’s a crime to solve, a dead person who’s not dead, and someone to rescue. I’d really like to get my teeth into these stories as soon as I can.

Is Emelin your first Indie published book? Any advice for aspiring Indie authors?

Emelin is my first Indie book. I did not want to self-publish. My writing had begun to gain interest from Australian publishers, but they really wanted Australian fiction from me.

I didn’t want to bury my novel Emelin so I eventually published myself, with a lot of help from someone who understands marketing (and technology) much more than me.

My advice to Indie authors is don’t do it for the money, for now at least. Become excellent at writing. Don’t publish until you’ve had some beta readers or editors look at it, then listen to their suggestions, because if it’s not good the bad reviews will damage you and your sales.

Brace yourself for the ever-popular lightning round!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Superdooper wordsmith.

Writing implement of choice? For practical writing… my MacBook Air so I can write fast and edit later. For deep and serious wordsmithing, my Lamy fountain pen and a lined notebook.

If I have a problem sentence or paragraph, I write it out. Then I rewrite it changing a word or two, or starting from a different angle, then I rewrite it until I think I’ve got it. Then I look at it tomorrow. If I still like it, it’s in. If not, I work it again. Sometimes I delete it completely then realise I didn’t need it anyway.

Vegemite, peanut butter, or Nutella? Seeing as I’m slowly eradicating sugar, it has to be Vegemite. If I could eat anything, Nutella… preferably on a fresh, warm crepe on a sidewalk in Paris, with a good coffee (I have done this once).

Dog, cat, goldfish (or pet leech)? Small dog (wire hair fox terrier perhaps) if it doesn’t bark too much (I hate yappy dogs). Or a cat if I can’t find the quiet dog.

Thank you, Jackie, for stopping by The Winged Pen!

Where can readers find you and your work?

You can order your own paperback or e-book copy of Emelin here.

For people in Australia the pricing for the paperback is better through my website www.JackieRandall.com or on the shelves at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft.

I blog on Goodreads,

And share illuminated manuscripts and a video on Pinterest.

The Emelin book trailer is on YouTube at https://youtu.be/ZbFyYRz7aLk.

Jackie’s Facebook page.

Jackie’s Twitter.

Headshot of Jackie Randall, author of EMELINJackie has been writing for tweens and teens since 2009. She loves researching and writing historical fiction especially medieval, but is also beginning to plan some pieces of Australian fiction based anywhere between 1850–1950.

The most important aspect of writing for Jackie is developing her writing to the best possible standard.

Jackie was born in England but left there in 1967. She has been back several times and has visited many of the places she writes about, including the remains of Reading Abbey that is featured in ‘Emelin’.

She has a husband, some children and a few grandchildren.

photo of Laurel DecherLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. Find her on Twitter or her blog, This Is An Overseas Post. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale!

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3 thoughts on “Becoming an artist: Jackie Randall’s historical middle grade EMELIN

  1. Hi Carol, Thanks for dropping by! I enjoyed reading it. It’s a really fresh take on medieval manuscripts and a fun story.
    Laurel

  2. I love the sound if Jackie’s story, and how much fun it would’ve been to write. And yes, what a gorgeous cover. I love historical middle grade stories, must read this one too.
    I have a Lamy fountain pen like you, Jackie, and when it comes out for action, it means a serious first draft is on its way.
    One thing about Australian history though, we may not have had the Medieval like Europe, but we do have a storytelling history going back 80,000 years. 😊 On rock rather than paper, of course.
    Thanks for a very interesting interview. I enjoyed it.

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