By Cerys-Leigh Phipps.
We are very happy to welcome Jennifer Thorne to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release Lute, out on October 4th!
On the idyllic island of Lute, every seventh summer, seven people die. No more, no less.
Lute and its inhabitants are blessed, year after year, with good weather, good health, and good fortune. They live a happy, superior life, untouched by the war that rages all around them. So it’s only fair that every seven years, on the day of the tithe, the island’s gift is honored.
Nina Treadway is new to The Day. A Florida girl by birth, she became a Lady through her marriage to Lord Treadway, whose family has long protected the island. Nina’s heard about The Day, of course. Heard about the horrific tragedies, the lives lost, but she doesn’t believe in it. It’s all superstitious nonsense. Stories told to keep newcomers at bay and youngsters in line.
Then The Day begins. And it’s a day of nightmares, of grief, of reckoning. But it is also a day of community. Of survival and strength. Of love, at its most pure and untamed. When The Day ends, Nina—and Lute—will never be the same.
Hi Jennifer! Thank you so much for your time.
Although you have already written and published three pieces, Lute is your first adult novel. What are some of the biggest differences you found when writing this novel compared to your children’s books? Were there any challenges you came across during the process?
It’s actually really freeing to switch genres. I think one trap authors can fall into, particularly after having been published a few times, is trying to write to a formula. Chucking all that out the window to write the book you’ve envisioned without knowing necessarily which shelf it’ll wind up on is pretty damn cathartic! I did question myself at points—worrying that I could only write teen protagonists—before reminding myself that I am, in fact, an American adult mother of two British children, and therefore uniquely qualified to provide a voice for Nina.
Lute is described as “Wicker Man meets Final Destination”. What made you realise that you wanted to venture into the horror-fiction genre? What pieces of work inspired you to focus on the folklore/traditional horror story?
I read really widely, particularly within genre fiction, so my book ideas tend to be similarly diverse. This book idea arrived in my head almost fully-formed, but it was very fun to delve more deeply into the folklore of this region in order to inbue the history of Lute Island with an ominous, all-powerful presence. I’ve always had an affinity for folklore and the supernatural—I think deep down, I really do believe in it all!
Following on from the previous question, were there any typical folk-horror genre aspects you knew you wanted to include as a starting point, or did they come while the story was being written?
I knew that the island would have ties to pre-Christian Celtic religion and Druidism, but it was through research that I chose the Tuatha de Danaan, the Shining Ones, as the reigning deities on Lute. I’d love to write a prequel set in a period of active Celtic worship on Lute—I’ve already imagined it so vividly, it would be great fun to put it on the page.
What was the main message that you wanted to tell through the novel, if there is one at all?
There is a political message running through the book about the choice between community and conservatism. Ultimately, the people who weather the Day best are those who choose life over fear of death, who turn outward to help others rather than inward toward self-preservation. The real gift of Lute is the way the Day binds the island together in courage. It’s a little bit of an inversion of the message of a lot of other folk horror, which tends to center on the dangers of tradition.
Nina is the only character to not yet experience The Day on Lute and is also the story’s narrator. Why did you choose to tell the story through the perspective of an outsider to the island and its traditions? Would you say that she is an outsider in all aspects of her character?
I wanted to tell the story of someone being inducted into Lute’s ranks—a trial by fire. Everyone else on Lute has been shaped, to some extent, by the experience of the Day. To me, the real meat of the story was in watching that transformation occur for someone in real time. And the more of an outsider I could make Nina, the better. She’s someone who’s always felt alienated, throughout her life, until this shared experience ties her inextricably to Lute.
From reading the novel, it feels as though the island itself becomes its own character, particularly the way its inhabitants speak about Lute. What was the thought process behind its character development?
Lute certainly has a presence and a will, a spirit (or several) that inhabits it. But in a sense, Lute is a smaller version of all of life. No one is given the gifts of a life without paying the price of death in the end. All Lute does is isolate it to a single day.
The themes of superstition and tradition flow throughout this book, with John’s character noting that “Keeping up a tradition is a tradition unto itself”. In more general terms, would you argue that the “cult” belief of a superstition is what makes it so frightening? Is this the true case for the inhabitants of Lute?
Well, I wanted to subvert that a little, because, you see, John’s wrong in the end. The people of Lute are reacting as best they can to an inescapable truth, rather than maintaining a tradition. Now…they could leave. So by staying on the island, they are keeping up the old ways, and for an outsider like Nina, that is initially very frightening by virtue of how irrational it seems. But I think by the end of the novel, Nina, and the reader, may see the virtue of it rather than the danger.
If you were trapped on the island during the Day, which survival tactics would you use; or is there any chance of survival at all?
I would like to say I wouldn’t bother with survival techniques, that I’d just accept every moment as a possible last one and try my best to enjoy myself. But realistically, I think I’d avoid any possibility of being hit by a falling object! An open field. People can bring me food and I will chew it extremely slowly.
Here at The Reading Corner, we focus our features on female, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors; bringing an exposure to these pieces is at the heart of our work. What has your personal experience in the writing industry been like as a female author yourself?
It’s been nice to grow into my writing career in the YA space, which is extremely welcoming to female authors, but it’s interesting how dismissive some people are of YA as a “gendered” category. I’ve had strangers I’ve chatted with ask me if I ever planned to write a real novel, for example. Men also love to tell me immediately upon hearing I’m a published author that they also plan to write a novel. But all in all, I’ve had the glorious opportunity to work with brilliant women in publishing—from booksellers to editors and designers. It’s a wonderful, nurturing space, and I’m so proud to be part of it.
Now that Lute is so close to its release, is there anything you are excited for? Do you have any projects lined up in the future? A sequel maybe?
I have several more books coming out in the next few years, I’m happy to say! Next up is The Antiquity Affair, a feminist Indiana Jonesesque adventure set in 1907, co-written with my good friend Lee Kelly, out from Harper Muse in June. My next horror with Tor Nightfire is called Diavola, and it’s a wild ride—my current pitch is Fleabag in a haunted Tuscan vacation rental—continuing my streak of books about Americans getting into trouble abroad!
Jennifer Thorne is an American author of books for adults and young readers who writes from a nineteenth-century Cotswold cottage in the medieval market town of Minchinhampton alongside her husband, two sons, and various other animals.
Published as Jenn Marie Thorne, Jenn debuted in 2015 with The Wrong Side of Right, an acclaimed YA contemporary novel set in the world of presidential politics. Two YA novels followed, advocacy comedy The Inside of Out, and classical musician romance Night Music, as well as picture book Construction Zoo, inspired by playtimes with her two imaginative young sons.
Jennifer’s Instagram: @jennmariethorne
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