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Interview: Raewyn Dawson talks about Slave Power

Raewyn Dawson is a recognised poet, award-winning public speaker, previous Classical Studies teacher and pianist. Born in Wellington, she is one of seven children brought up in harsh conditions on a pig farm in Dunedin. She has lived and worked in the Pacific, and now lives in Christchurch with her husband. She talks to NZ Booklovers about her book Slave Power, which is the start of a new series.

Tell us a little about Slave Power.

‘Slave Power’ is set in about 300 BC in what is now northern Turkey and western Russia around the Black Sea. The reader becomes involved in the conflict and struggles of captives, slave sellers and Amazon women warriors. The slaves, including children, are the main agents of courageous change. The heroine, Melo, is fifteen years old.

What inspired you to write this book?

I have an adopted Caribbean daughter who shared with me her hatred of the historical injustice of slavery in that area. I started growing more passionate against it as I realised how enormously widespread and profitable it is today.

What research was involved?

I taught Classical Studies for three years and became first informed and then deeply impressed by the achievements of Alexander the Great and his era. For this novel I updated my knowledge by intensively studying Adrienne Mayor’s ‘The Amazons – Lives and legends of Warrior Women across the ancient world’ (2014) – a superb, factually-based research tool.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I gradually developed a discipline of writing on my laptop in bed from 5.00am to 8.00am six days a week. That’s the only time I am assured of no interruptions. Every chapter was read again and again, as the story grew. My aim was 1000 words a day of good writing. So I started it in March 2016 and finished on schedule in July 2016, with over 100,000 words. Huge amounts of the book were deleted in the process.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Some of my long-time favourites – Blair Douglas’s ‘Nelson Mandela’s Welcome to the City of Glasgow;’ Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ perhaps sung by k.d.lang; ‘Joy to the World’ from Three Dog Night and Vanessa Mae’s instrumental ‘I’m a-doun for lack o’Johnnie’.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

Probably new actors, as the characters are mostly too young for recognised faces. Heroine Melo should have someone like Jennifer Lawrence; Jennifer Lawrence herself could be Queen Aakhan; the villain Mithrida – Julia Garner, and Mati the fisherman, Melo’s love interest – someone like Matt Damon! Sofia could be someone like Summer Glau. A fun question.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

I enjoyed meeting the characters and giving them the power to move in unexpected ways. Also, my finding and my publisher buying of the cover picture. I love it!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I went out with my husband for dinner and then moved house. Unusual but a great year in every way.

What is your favourite book so far this year and why?

I re-read the first two of Robin Hobb’s ‘Fitz and the Fool’ fantasy trilogy and have been waiting impatiently for the third book to arrive. It’ll be a ‘drop everything else’ day when it comes. She’s my all-time favourite writer.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Finish Book Two of the Amazon Series – ‘Child Power’. Nearly finished, and aim is for it to be published by July next year.

Karen McKenzie


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