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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed author Martha Dunlop about her book series, The Starfolk Trilogy, what inspires her writing, and her advice for other aspiring writers.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I am a story junkie, who is happiest in the worlds that exist in my head. I have rainbow coloured curtains with gauze and star cutouts in my writing room, and I love to play with tarot cards and essential oils.  And my familiar is a small, fluffy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who follows me everywhere I go and gives me stern looks when I need redirecting towards the dog treat cupboard. 

Martha Dunlop, author of The Starfolk Trilogy, interview on The Table Read
Martha Dunlop

When did you first WANT to write a book?

I remember starting a lot of stories as a child and then hitting a point where I knew I just didn’t have enough life experience to do it well. So I waited. I started again when I was older and life got tougher.  That was when I really fell in love with the process. 

When did you take a step to start writing?

I started writing on the train and in my lunch breaks when I was working in London in PR.  I had a little lap top that I carried everywhere and I used every spare minute to write.  My first book was an enormous, epic creature that will never see the light of day, but I do pinch bits from it occasionally, and I think of it fondly like an old childhood friend you like to remember, but would prefer not to bump into in the street. 

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I started writing The Starfolk Arcana, the first book in The Starfolk Trilogy during NaNoWriMo in 2016. I released it in September 2020. So it took the best part of four years.  But during that time I also wrote two other books, and by the time I published it I had all three written and in various stages of editing. The Starfolk Arcana was a real shift in pace for me. I had always dreamed big, but starting The Starfolk Arcana was the grounding moment when things got real.  That actually slowed me right down. I knew this was finally happening and that was terrifying so there was a lot of procrastination.  It was the scariest book to write because of this. 

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

Starfolk Falling, the second book of The Starfolk Trilogy, took me two years from start to publication.  So the time halved. I’m hoping the next book will be a lot faster though!  I like to build marinading time into my process.  I can see the books more clearly if I’ve had time away from them.  So I write one, put it away and work on a different project before coming back to it.  That said, I’ve learned a lot in the past year and have done a lot to streamline my processes.  So I’m hoping to bring out the final book in the trilogy next autumn. 

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Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Starfolk Trilogy?

Starfolk Falling is book two of my Starfolk Trilogy which is a story about psychics, destiny, reincarnation, tarot and living with the paranormal. I started writing back when personality cults were just starting to become more obvious, and I wanted to explore that concept. What happens when people hand over their moral compass to someone else? And what lengths could it be taken to?  For example, Amelia, my antagonist, makes some pretty outlandish claims, but people believe her because they idolise her. When I was planning the book, I went on a local ghost walk, and that also helped to create a lot of the atomsphere in the books. 

Martha Dunlop, author of The Starfolk Trilogy, interview on The Table Read
The Starfolk Trilogy by Martha Dunlop

What were your biggest challenges with writing The Starfolk Trilogy?

Amelia aims to get power over people by inspiring fear of the paranormal and presenting herself as the solution.  For a while, my main character comes under her influence and it was tough being in that fear place while I wrote and edited the book. 

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

More people than you could ever imagine have had paranormal experiences, and most keep it to themselves.  Beth has always been psychic, but always kept it hidden until she met Jonan. 

She’s invested in friendships that have always been about the other person so she didn’t have to give much away, and has built a life that is a camouflage rather than a reflection of her true self.  It was this sense of not being able to be who you are safely that inspired her.

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The Starfolk Arcana by Martha Dunlop

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

My antagonist, Amelia, was inspired by the idea of a guru or public figure who has become distracted by their own stuff, but who is pretending to only have other people’s best interest at heart. People believe everything she tells them because she is charismatic and plays well to the camera, and they don’t see that she’s lying to them.

I wanted to explore the way people in the public eye can manipulate their followers and pretend that they are not swayed by their own experiences and traumas.  Everyone has tough times, and everyone can get embroiled in their own motivations. Beth’s role here is to show people that they can be authentic and trust their own sense of right and wrong rather than following blindly.

What is the inciting incident of The Starfolk Trilogy?

Beth is given a free ticket to a TV show called Deep and Dark, where Amelia is being interviewed about an apparent paranormal attack.  Beth assumes everyone will think Amelia’s claims are ridiculous, but she is one of the only people in the audience who sees through her. When she is given the opportunity to speak to Amelia on air, the audience turns against Beth. But she does meet Jonan, the man with the violet eyes, the only other person who sees what Amelia is doing. 

What is the main conflict of The Starfolk Trilogy?

The main coflict of the series is between Amelia and Beth.  Amelia is still in love with Jonan after an afair with him years ago that tore their close-knit community apart.  Now, Jonan has found Beth, his soulmate, and Beth is stepping in to fulfil the destiny Amelia walked away from. Amelia is furious that Beth is replacing her, and she wants Jonan back.  So she decides to push them apart in any way she can. And things get pretty messy.

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Did you plot The Starfolk Trilogy in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I am a pantser at heart although I do like to have some plotting done before I start. There is always a limit to how much the story will show itself in advance though. The real magic happens when I just sit down to write, and see where my characters take me. 

Martha Dunlop, author of The Starfolk Trilogy, interview on The Table Read
Starfolk Falling by Martha Dunlop

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Starfolk Trilogy need?

My books go through both structural and copy editors.  My structural editor helps me mold the story and always comes up with wondeful ideas for how to make it better. Then after a lot more work from me, it goes to my copy editor who makes sure it is print ready.  I love working with these two wonderful women and I love how much better they make my books.  As a writer it’s so easy to get too close and miss what really needs changing. I think an expert outside eye is so valuable. 


What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Write freely with abandon. The first draft is magical and all yours.  Then edit it to within an inch of its life.  When you think it’s perfect, and ready to publish, pay for a professional critique if you can.  That way you learn so much about what you need to work on and you can make it even better.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

At the moment I’m writing the third book in the Starfolk Trilogy and I’m really excited about where this is going. It’s all a bit hush hush at the moment, but people who have read all my books so far will be in for a surprise!

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

I am proud of my accomplishments when I take the time to be. It is far too easy to just keep going to the next thing every time I finish something, but it is so important to remember to celebrate the wins and this is something I’m always trying to get better at. I also really love my characters and love exploring and spending my time with them.  

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