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INTERVIEW: Bianca Marais Prefers Her Characters to Lead the Way

Author Bianca Marais with dark hair and blue-green eyes

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview with Christina Boyd for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Author Bianca Marais first hit my radar two years ago while scrolling Twitter when I stumbled upon her podcast, The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, with cohosts, literary agents Carly Watters and CeCe Lyra. Since then, I have learned so much from Bianca and her cohosts on my journey to publication -- because there is "a lot of shit no one tells you about writing," and every podcast is chocked full of valuable writing and publishing industry information. Cosmopolitan magazine listed it as #4 in their Fifteen Best Podcasts of 2023, calling it the Holy Grail of publishing podcasts. And so... As an acolyte of the podcast, I looked into Bianca's books. And yup, she is a gifted storyteller, too!

CHRISTINA: What comes first, plot or characters?

blue cover with yellow text. Yellow illustrated caldron.
The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais. Published August 23, 2022

BIANCA: It’s different with every book because I firmly believe that each novel teaches you how to write it. I’m not a formulaic writer – I can’t even stick to one genre! And so, each time I approach a new project, I prepare myself to be humbled and schooled.


It used to be that characters came to me first, but with my latest novel, the premise was the first thing I thought of. I’m not big on plotting as that feels too much like building an obstacle course that I then have to manipulate my characters through. I prefer for them to lead the way, making their own mistakes and doing their own thing. I write so that they can reveal themselves to me.


CHRISTINA: It's a beautiful day when the characters show up and start talking, and you feel like you are simply taking dictation.

Do you listen to music while writing? Do you make up Playlists for your books?


BIANCA: I’m unfortunately not able to listen to music while I write. It either has to be deathly quiet, or I can listen to a sound effect that’s linked to whatever scene I’m working on. For example, while writing a scene that’s taking place during a thunderstorm, I like to listen to the sounds of a thunderstorm as it enhances the descriptions I use, etcetera.


When it comes to playlists, each book is different. I had a playlist for my debut, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, because listening to South African music helped evoke all kinds of memories and sensations of Johannesburg while I was sitting writing about it in Toronto.


I also had a badass playlist I’d listen to during my daily walks while I was writing The Witches of Moonshyne Manor. But neither my second, nor my fourth novel, demanded playlists.

CHRISTINA: I will check out your playlists. Next to "dream casting," it's one of my favorite things to couple with books. I love making playlists after the fact, but like you, I must have silence to work. And if someone asks me something while I'm writing, unless they get a verbal response with eye contact, I probably didn't hear them either.

What is your current project?


navy blue text on white with navy blue border
Publishers Marketplace deal announcement of A MOST PECULIAR TALE, INDEED by Bianca Marais

BIANCA: I’ve just submitted my latest manuscript to my editor! It’s called A Most Peculiar Tale, Indeed, and it should be coming out early-ish in 2025. It’s a closed room murder mystery with fantasy elements. We pitched it as Succession meets Knives Out, but with magical people. It’s also full of puzzles and riddles that the reader gets to solve alongside the main character.


If you’re wondering how it’s possible to write a closed room murder mystery without plotting, the answer is: with great difficulty! LOL.

CHRISTINA: Congratulations on your next book. Succession meets Knives Out but with magical people... How can I resist? Sounds delish!

Which of your own novels is your favorite?

BIANCA: Always the one that’s brewing in my mind; the one I haven’t started writing yet. That one is always utterly perfect, until I write the first word.

CHRISTINA: Do you hide any secrets in your novels only a select few might know?

BIANCA: Oh, definitely. I put all of me into all of my novels. You just need to know where to look to uncover my secrets. LOL. Those who know me very well will recognize those parts – though each of them will spot something different, of course. What I love most about fiction is how you can hide the truth in plain sight.

CHRISTINA: Ooh, what a hoot for those who know you well. I do enjoy coming across Easter eggs.

So far, what is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

BIANCA: Cheerleading other writers.

Trying to break into publishing is incredibly difficult – the journey is fraught and filled with rejection and heartache. It’s also solitary, which often leaves writers feeling alienated and alone. When I started the podcast, The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, I wanted to build community and let struggling writers out there know they weren’t on their own.

It’s been so wonderful seeing our listenership grow and expand, and to marvel at how our listeners have all come together in support of each other, whether in writing groups, beta reader groups, or as friends.

Everything is so much easier when you have people cheering you on. And nothing makes me happier than helping other writers make their literary dreams come true!

CHRISTINA: It must be such a heady feeling knowing you are helping writers' dreams come true! My novel, Woman in the Painting, was featured last summer on your podcast's Books with Hooks to critique the query letter and opening pages. I'm confident your feedback and insight has helped me improve my work for the submission process. Then in the fall, I joined the Beta Reader Matchup that you organized. I have worked with a lot of betas before, but this group you paired me with is outstanding. I think you would be proud hearing us "give good critique" in our weekly Google Meetings and how the "what worked, what didn't, what might help" is delivered. Many thanks for cheering us on.

I look forward to your next book, A Most Peculiar Tale, Indeed. And thank you for your time and verve for this interview too. You put so much positive energy out into the world; you deserve every good thing back at you.


Bianca Marais is the author of the bestselling The Witches of Moonshyne Manor, as well as the beloved Hum If You Don't Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh, and the Audible Original, The Prynne Viper.

She was awarded an Excellence in Teaching Award for Creative Writing in 2021 from the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies. 

She is the co-host of the popular podcast, The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, which is aimed at helping emerging writers become published. 

You can connect with Bianca via her website and podcast The Shit No One Tells You About Writing.


Great interview! Both The Witches of Moonshyne Manor and A Most Peculiar Tale, Indeed sound fabulous! And I have great admiration for anyone who can write a mystery without plotting it out first. I'm a pantser trying to write a mystery...and it's killing my little brain! Thanks for your insights, both of you.

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And you should follow her podcast too. So good!

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