Jan 23, 2015

Interview with the Sin Eater's Master

I could be wrong, but you maaay have heard of some book called The Sin Eater's Daughter. It's got this really, really pretty cover, and a lot of people want to read it (you should be one of those people). The story (which is super feelsy and a roller coaster ride worthy of many, many curse words, just so you know) was created by Melinda Salisbury, and she was so nice as to take some time out of her day and do a not-so-little interview with me. Spoiler alert: It will probably really make you want to read The Sin Eater's Daughter. So please, read away, or else a certain evil queen may wish horrible things upon you.


RachelHi, Melinda! First off, let's talk about your book The Sin Eater's Daughter. What's it about (besides a Sin Eater's daughter)?

MelindaHi Rachel!

At it's heart, it's a story about choice. Twylla has had a destiny from the day she was born, and I wanted to write about what it would mean to live with that; to have so few choices about your own path, and how overwhelming it would be to try overcome it, if it were possible at all.

I wanted to write about a girl discovering herself, and her desires, and her beliefs, all whilst living in an environment that never considered she might have thoughts of her own. She's not a fighter, or a rebel, or a hero. She has no allies, or experience in any kind of life other than those she's lived. She's isolated in so many ways. 

There have been so many incredible, important, beautiful books written over the past few years featuring tough, strong young women who know their own minds and have the courage to fight openly for what they believe in, and thankfully they've inspired countless real-life young women and men to be strong and to fight too.

But not everyone can be like that, not everyone can be that kind of hero, and I wanted to tell a story about the battles that are fought slowly, and quietly, and - a lot of the time - against yourself. Bravery isn’t just rushing at a dragon with a sword, but facing up to the truth, and working alongside it. It's choosing to be brave, and understanding that choice, and I wanted to write about that. I wanted to write a story for the quieter ones, whose courage is perhaps a little less loud, but still burns just as brightly. 

RachelWonderfully said! Now, your book has Sin Eating, a protagonist whose touch kills, a very powerful queen, a prince and a guard, a Sleeping Prince, and so much more. How did you weave all of those elements into one story, and why did you use them?

MelindaI wove them all together in the same way the guys at CERN hoped the Large Hadron Collider would prove the existence of the Higgs boson - they all spun around in my head a lot before crashing spectacularly together and making a thing.

Sin Eating came first; around four months before I started writing the book, I'd read a short story by Margaret Atwood called "The Sin Eater" and become fascinated with the idea of it. It was so repulsive to me, the idea of a living person literally consuming the sins of the dead, I couldn't get it out of my head. I Googled it, discovered it was real and then learned everything I could about it. But it wasn't enough for me, so I spent a lot of time thinking about food, and sins and all the ways it could work, and elaborating on it in my head.

When it came to using it in the book, I decided to take it away from its real-life existence as a male calling, and make it wholly female, tying it into my world's version of Original Sin, and also that fact that food and the preparation of it, have previously been considered the province of women.

When I first imagined Twylla, she was a young woman taken from a horrible life to a life at a castle to sing for the king and queen - which was a dream for her, as she loved singing. But I wanted an 'all-that-glitters' angle to it too, so naturally there had to be something awful at the palace and I knew it had to be the Queen. I knew the Queen was powerful, and beautiful, but with a strong sense of her time coming to an end, she would have seen Twylla as a rival and hated her for it. Once that was established, having a prince seemed obvious, as I knew I wanted Twylla to have to have to deal with attraction, lust and love. (I knew Twylla was straight). 

The guard was a surprise, I didn't know he was going to show up until he did (in the original draft it was much later in the story) but as soon as he did, I loved him, because he added the dynamic of freedom, choice and temptation I was looking for, in a way that would have been natural for Twylla to respond to; he's so different to anything else she's ever known.

The poison idea came later, and evolved from the growing religious aspect. Early on I knew the horrible life Twylla had left was Sin Eating, because I couldn't stop being repelled by it. But I also knew as I built the world of Lormere, that the court wouldn't allow a commoner to be pledged to the prince unless she was exceptional. So the idea of being Daunen was born, and the mythology around her voice. Initially Twylla couldn't be touched because she was holy, but after I introduced the idea of her drinking poison to prove the Gods had blessed her, the next natural step was the make her poisonous too. And after that, using her as an executioner - especially given her background in death as The Sin Eater's daughter - was so obvious I felt stupid for not having seen it before.

The whole book is a very long and elaborate game of What-If, in which I keep rolling the dice and seeing how much more awful I can make things for this young woman. It turns out quite a lot...

RachelWell, since you mention what awful things you can do to Twylla...Are you a truck driver? Because I've read your book, and at one point, it's like being hit by a mack truck over and over and over again.

MelindaI think I just wasn't hugged enough as a child. I am a Slytherin, maybe I'm just playing to type :)

RachelOoh, so can we spoil part of the book and say that it's actually really cruel? It made me curse a lot. And without spoiling, what are three things about The Sin Eater's Daughter that you think will make readers either want to throw it, burn it, or hug it (and I mean all that nicely)?

MelindaHa! It's not a spoiler to say that it's cruel in places, because Lormere is a cruel kingdom. It's ruled by a woman who is utterly single minded in her goals, and who has little regard for other people's lives, so naturally poor Twylla has quite the time of it.

As for three things that might provoke reactions.... The early parts of the romance, where Twylla is opening up and realising there's a lot more to her than just her role is one of my favourite parts. She's had almost no love in her life before, she's starved of it. Everyone keeps telling her she's special, but no one ever shows her that. So when someone does demonstrate that they care, it's a hug-worthy moment. She needs a hug. Obviously you'd want to wear a Haz Mat suit if you hugged her, so definitely hug the book instead.

I suspect there will be points where people definitely want to throw it. When I first sent it to my friend Emilie, I was sending it chapter by chapter, and when she read a particular part she sent me a message that just said "F*** you," and then didn't speak to me for about four hours. I think if she'd had a physical copy she would have thrown it. I embrace that. 

RachelI think it's excellent when a book causes those kinds of reactions. It makes it fun to read, and it also makes for great entertainment when you see other people reading it. Speaking of people reading your book, it's been getting a lot of hype and many people have grabby hands for it; how does that feel?

MelindaThe hype mostly thrills, but also worries me a little; too much hype can build expectations to the point where it can become impossible for the hyped thing to live up to it. And then people are disappointed. So that worries me, that there will be people who don't enjoy it because they wanted so much and didn't get the payoff. I know that feeling, because I've picked up books, seen films, watched shows that people have told me I *have* to get involved with, and for one reason or another they haven't clicked with me. 

But I have to remember there are going to be people - maybe lots of them - that won't and wouldn't have enjoyed it anyway, that's the nature of the beast, once you put stuff out there you have to stop being precious about it, because to an extent it's not yours anymore.

Mostly though, I love the hype, because it's coming from readers. I can't get over how cool it is to have early readers tweeting at me to say they've read it and loved it, or are reading it now and are scared, or the people that find my website and leave comments there. It's the best thing, because of course I want people to like it. I want them to LOVE it and have opinions about characters and preferred ships and I want to talk to them about it. 

The whole thing is a bit surreal, this amazing once-in-a-lifetime debut novel experience is about to happen, so I'm trying to make the most of it. I have a scrapbook, where I keep some printouts of reviews, and promo stuff the publishers send me, and business cards from cafes we've occasionally met in. It sounds a bit silly, but I know this will never happen to me again. So I'm trying to make the most of it, and really revel in it.

RachelI think the scrapbook and chronicling the whole debut experience is really cool! It's like a yearbook, but for your book! What have been some of your favorite moments so far as a debut author?

MelindaI think it was seeing it for the first time as a bound book with my name on the front. I suspect that's a lot of authors' favourite moment, because that's when it becomes really real. To be able to hold a physical copy of your words - your world - is a heady, heady thing. I put a copy on my bookshelf with some others and then took loads of photos of it and sent them to people, saying 'LOOK! It looks like a real book!'. I think, possibly, maybe seeing it in bookshops might usurp that moment, and I guess I'll find out soon. I always had this little fantasy about seeing it in bookshops, which I'll share with you now. 

*Me, enters local bookshop. Spends some time perusing the other titles, trying desperately not to make a beeline for my own book. Finally meanders over, picks it up, nods thoughtfully. Reads blurb. Nods even more thoughtfully. Casually, CASUALLY takes it to the paying desk*

Mel: "I think I would like to buy this book. Thank you." *hands book over*
Assistant: "Oh - an excellent choice, for I read this book and I sure did like it."
Mel: "Is that so? That is good to know." *wink to camera two*
Assistant: "That will be some monies please."
Mel: "Let me just pay with my debit card. Here it is..." *hands it over*
Assistant: *Looks fleetingly at card. Then does a double take* "But wait... For the author's name is Melinda Salisbury and your name is also Melinda Salisbury. Is this... Did you steal this card?"
Mel: "Wait, what? NO! This isn't how this was supposed to go."
Assistant: "I'm calling the police."
Mel: "No, look. Damn it."

Assistant: *Looks fleetingly at card. Then does a double take* "But wait… For the author’s name is Melinda Salisbury and your name is also Melinda Salisbury. What a random crazy happenstance!"
Mel: "Erm, no, see Melinda is not overly common, so if you think about it…"
Assistant: "I know! What are the chances! This is incredible!"
Mel: “…”

Assistant: *Looks fleetingly at card. Then does a double take* "But wait… For the author’s name is Melinda Salisbury and your name is also Melinda Salisbury…"
Mel: *interrupts, shouting somewhat* "YES. IT IS I. I WROTE IT. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? Just give me the book, you’ve ruined it." *leaves, crying*

This is why you never show the first draft to anyone that you don’t trust with your life. 

RachelOh my gosh, that is fantastic. Please have someone film you when you go to see your book in a store for the first time so we can all witness it. Now, I'm wondering. Twylla's mother is the Sin Eater, meaning she eats food that represent certain sins when someone dies. What would the Sin Eater eat when you die?

MelindaWell, first off, let's plate up a lot of strawberries... We're all aware of my undying devotion to one Mr. Goldblum. And then some... What can I say? I'm a healthy, red-blooded woman with appetites. There will be platters of strawberries at my wake. I'm fine with that. 

Jealousy, certainly; Add oysters to my coffin, because I've known envy. And anger, let's add some peppers. And impatience - chives. Vanity - leeks, and arrogance - peacock. And dislike - blood pudding. I'm a sinner, and I suspect the Sin Eater wouldn't be disappointed on the whole by my offerings. No crow, nothing arcane from me. My sins might be the usual, but there would be a lot of them! Sad to say I'm a standard human being with my fair share of sins. 

RachelBrilliant! Now, let's sidetrack a bit and talk about the queen. Queen's are usually prim and proper tea drinkers who guard their kings in chess and have an excellent poker face. Your queen, on the other hand...well, I ship her with the Bastard King of Adarlan from the Throne of Glass series. And that says something.

MelindaShe's not right, Queen Helewys. She's gone all kinds of wrong. Helewys is a very single-minded woman, utterly determined to have it on her terms, or none at all. She plays to win. She believes wholeheartedly that she was born to rule, second only to a goddess. She's very much a product of her time, and her heritage. Writing her is the most fun, because she's no-holds-barred awful. She doesn't care at all, which is so liberating to write. Her and HRM the King of Adarlan would make the most explosive, most awful marriage. 

RachelShe really is wretched. The Sin Eater's Daughter is the first in a trilogy, thank gosh (or not, because three books of not-nice things will be wonderfully painful). What can we expect from the rest of the series (besides lots of cruel things)?

MelindaAfter this, you can expect the introduction of more characters, and to see the world outside Lormere. The world that has opened up for Twylla involves so many more people and challenges, she's only just beginning to learn what life has in store for her, and the events from The Sin Eater's Daughter are far from behind her. But there will be cruelty, for everyone. The Sleeping Prince has no love or loyalty to the people of Lormere, and I don't plan to tell a story that holds back. People will fall. There will be blood, and horror. I promise nothing. 

RachelAnd I (and many others, I'm sure) shall be looking forward to it! And now, let's wrap this up, shall we? In the form of a gif, how friggin' excited are you for publication day?

MelindaI've never used this gif before, I've been saving it for a special occasion and I think this is it. Brace yourself:


TitleThe Sin Eater's Daughter
Author: Melinda Salisbury
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publishing Date: February 24, 2015
Pages: 320
Goodreads Amazon Barnes & Noble

Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she’s engaged to the prince, Twylla isn’t exactly a member of the court.

She’s the executioner.

As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month she’s taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla’s fatal touch, avoids her company.

But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he’s able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla’s been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen.

However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla’s problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?


Melinda Salisbury lives by the sea, somewhere in the south of 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 will be published by Scholastic in 2015. She is represented by the amazing Claire Wilson at Rogers, Coleridge and White.

She tweets. A lot.


  1. Great post! I can't wait to read this book.

  2. This whole post was loads of awesome, and I can't wait to read this book!!! I'm so glad I pre-ordered it. Loved the interview! :)

  3. LOOOOVED THIS INTERVIEW!! SO looking forward to the book!! *-*


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