Place as Person – Sue Bursztynski

Today’s Place as Person poster is Sue Bursztynski. I first met Sue signing books at Aussiecon in 2010, and immediately noticed the cover art of her novel, ‘Wolfborn’. Isn’t it gorgeous? What a place, and story, it evokes…

Thanks for joining us, Sue.



Thanks for inviting me to post here!

Most YA paranormal, which seems to be what I’m reading these days, has landscape as background to the heroine yearning for the gorgeous, brooding male, but not necessarily as a strong feature of the story.

Most recently, though, I’ve read Melina Marchetta’s YA fantasy novel Froi of the Exiles, in which we meet the Citavita, a city over a gravina (ravine). The Citavita is high and steep and often the only way to get from one huge building to another is to leap. It’s beautiful but scary. You’re never safe in the Citavita, whether it’s because of the steepness or the people lurking in those dangerous streets. But here’s the thing: anyone reading the book can’t get away from that landscape. Whatever is happening in the story, the Citavita is there in your mind. It’s based on a number of real places in our world, so it’s believable.

Another of my favourite novels for strong landscapes is The Lord Of The Rings. No matter where you are in Middle-Earth, the landscape is watching you, whether it’s the journey through landscapes that don’t want you there, such as the Old Forest, the terror of Moria, the overwhelming beauty of Lothlorien or the evil of Mordor. Mordor is especially powerful. It isn’t just that it’s ugly and smelly and you can’t eat or drink anything there. It isn’t even just that the Eye of Sauron is on the lookout for you all the way.  It’s the landscape itself. Frodo and Sam have to fight their way through to Mount Doom, whether they’re being attacked by Orcs or not. I believe that landscape derived its power from the reality of World War I battlefields.

In my YA novel, Wolfborn, the landscape-character is the forest.

Here’s the story in brief: Etienne, a young noble, is doing his time as a page at the home of his father’s lord, Geraint. He soon realises that Geraint is a born werewolf, who goes into the forest regularly. Without too many spoilers, Geraint is betrayed and stranded in wolf shape and Etienne must leave the castle to search for his master, with the help of the local wise-woman, Sylvie, and her daughter Jeanne, who have their own secrets. Once out of the castle, Etienne and his friends are in the forest for most of the book.

The forest of Wolfborn is scary. You might meet anything or anyone in there. Gods? Fairies? The odd werewolf? Sure! And if you’re unlucky, you may find yourself suddenly running through the Faerie forest which is just on the other side of a thin barrier between the human world and the Otherworld.

On the other hand, for some characters, the forest is home. Jeanne has lived there with her mother for her entire life. She fears the idea of being trapped behind stone walls, away from the freedom and wildness of the forest. Jeanne and Sylvie know the place blindfolded. It feeds them and helps them make their living as herbalists. When Etienne and his friends flee their enemies and Lord Geraint’s, the forest is their refuge, even if it’s also hiding Geraint from them. Later in the book, when Etienne has another quest to undertake, the forest has become his home too – but it still has its mysteries and its magic, and he is just as likely as ever to stumble off the familiar paths into the realm of the gods.

My forest isn’t just a background for the characters to have adventures in. It is, and is intended to be, a character in its own right.


Sue Bursztynski grew up in the beachside suburbs of Melbourne, where she still lives, after some time overseas. She is the author of ten books for young readers, two of which have been Notable Books in the Australian Children’s Book Council Awards, including her most recent book, a YA novel, ‘Wolfborn’, published by Woolshed Press, an imprint of Random House Australia at the end of 2010. Sue has a passion for mediaeval romances, history and historical research, as well as folklore and mythology.  She is a member of the Andromeda Spaceways co-operative, which publishes Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Sue blogs at Livejournal, as well as her YA and speculative fiction book blog The Great Raven

There will be a story set in the Wolfborn universe in Andromeda Spaceways #54.


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1 Response to Place as Person – Sue Bursztynski

  1. Gillian says:

    Forest is wonderful for a setting – you can go in so many different directions and they all have that underpinning that is place as person.

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