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An Interview with Janet Duignan, Author of Princess Turandot and the Monkey King and Troglodytes

Duignan 1

Janet had her first film script optioned by Producer Steve Chicorel of Los Angeles-Beijing Studios. She has collaborated on two film scripts and a treatment of a TV drama feature for South Korea-based Cilium Film. She has adapted a Victorian melodrama for the screen, which has yet to be optioned.

While living in Argentina in her twenties, Janet studied acting, directing, and writing under several renowned directors/writers. She has a postgraduate diploma in Arts Administration.

Janet is a freelance writer in both fiction and non-fiction. Her non-fiction articles have been printed in various magazines, including The Oldie, Leather, and Backpass in the UK. While living in France, she has been published in e-zines Good Life France, France Revisited, and a short story in Forever with Pride. Two of her articles were published in France Revisited in 2014, the year that it won the Silver Award as first runner-up in the North American Travel Journalists Association Awards Competition which honours the “best of the best” in travel writing.

She was shortlisted for the Fish Short Memoir Prize and long-listed for the Mslexia Memoir Competition. Her play My Baby was selected for the Short+Sweet drama festival in Australia, performed in Perth in 2022 and to be performed in Sydney.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I can’t decide which book to answer this interview with, so I am writing for both.

1. Princess Turandot and the Monkey King: I first wrote this story as a movie script that was optioned by Los Angeles-Beijing Studios. When the funding fell through, the producer suggested I turn it into an animation for a family audience, which also failed to get funding. I thought it would make a good book for young adults in the vein of Mulan.

2: Troglodytes: I have written about a third of this book. It was inspired by the houses built into the rock walls of the southwest area of France where I live.

Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

1. It was an obvious choice, given that I merged the story of Turandot with the fabled Monkey King.

2. Troglodyte means Cave Dweller and my heroine has the surname Wren (the bird’s name in Latin in troglodytes troglodytes). It was an easy choice.

Describe your dream book cover.

1. From the start of the book: the scene where there is a pillar lit in flickering torchlight showing the three mythical characters carved onto it, with two shadow figures fighting with staves behind it.

2. A drawing of a French cave house.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

1. Some of the music from Puccini’s opera, Turandot.

2. Music from the French group Cats on Trees.

What books are you reading (for research or comfort) as you continue the writing process?

Research: The original story of Khalaf and the Princess of China is one of the stories in the book The Thousand and One Days (a companion to Thousand and One Nights) by François Pétis de la Croix (1710).

Comfort: Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game which is comfort only in the sense that Stephen King is an exceptional writer and always worth reading.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I worked in marketing for English Language teaching books in Argentina and the UK, then document quality control and later knowledge management for international consultants. I have also worked briefly in the USA and Greece. I now live in France with my husband.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

At school, I was pushed to study sciences when I really wanted to do English. I have been an avid reader since I was a child. I started writing articles when I lived in Argentina for English magazines. My tastes are too eclectic to choose a particular writer or genre.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I am lucky because I have my own room where I write. It is also full of crafting materials, which is my ‘hobby,’ although I swap from one craft to another. A bit like my writing as I have just finished another script, adapted from a Victorian melodrama, I’m in the finishing stages of my memoir, and I have another two scripts I want to write, plus another book or script based on an English fairy story.

Do you have any writing rituals?

No. But we have two cats and the female usually sleeps next to me as I type.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

1. I would like readers to explore more myth and fable. In every culture there is so much more than the sanitised Disney versions. My perfect reader would be me at a young age, my only worry being that I would never live long enough to read all the books.

2. I would like the reader to have been entertained and to want to investigate France’s prehistoric sites.

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