Meet Lian Tanner…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Lian Tanner to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: Museum of Thieves won the Aurealis Children’s Fiction Award in 2010. (Among many other notables and awards). This must have been a real buzz for your first book.  It was going to be a stand-alone but it is now a trilogy. Did this mean a radical rethink, or did it all just flow?

A: Yes, I was so enormously pleased about the Aurealis Award. Museum had been shortlisted for a couple of things before that, and hadn’t won, and I was beginning to get that ‘always a bridesmaid’ feeling. <ahem> Not that I care about awards, you understand … <laughs>

As for the trilogy thing, I had originally intended Museum of Thieves to be a stand-alone novel, and so in my early drafts I killed off the villains at the end. When I realised that I wanted to make it the first book in a trilogy, the main thing I had to do was add a postscript, making it clear that the villains hadn’t died after all, but were still out there somewhere and would presumably be back at some stage.

Apart from that, I really didn’t change it a lot – I wanted the book to still be able to stand alone as much as possible. When I’m reading, I really hate major cliff-hangers at the end of a book. I don’t mind teasers that make me want to read the next book in a series, but I get very irritated if there’s not at least a temporary resolution of the action.

Q: There are two types of covers that I’ve been able to find the illustrated covers which are very nice and these deliberately aged books that look like they were printed in the 1960s. Have readers told you which they prefer?

A: You often hear about authors hating their covers, but I’ve been very lucky with mine so far – I’ve loved them all. The deliberately aged covers are the Australian ones (Allen & Unwin) and the illustrated ones are American (Random House). There are also some rather nice German covers (Arena Verlag) that are completely different again.

When I’m talking to groups of kids I always ask them which ones they prefer. And it seems the marketing and design departments in both Australia and the US have pretty much got it right – the Australian kids overwhelmingly prefer the Australian covers and the American overwhelmingly prefer the American covers.

Q: On your Inspiration Page you have a number of photos, quotes and a very convoluted plot map. (I keep an inspiration file for my books). Many of the writers I interview make up play lists for specific music while they write a certain book. Are you a visual person as opposed to an aural person?

A: Definitely visual rather than aural. In the past I’ve tried to write to music – mainly because I’ve seen some of those playlists and I was curious to see if it would work for me. But I found it almost impossible. Bird calls are fine, when my office window is open, and I tend to have classical music on very quietly in the background, but anything else is much too distracting.

Visually though I always spend a lot of time collecting photos and drawings of people, places and miscellaneous objects before I start writing. That’s pretty much a necessity for me. I like to have character pictures dotted around my office and on my desk. I also really like to find some wallpaper for my desktop and some screensaver images that relate strongly to whatever I’m working on, so I’m immersed in it while I work. Currently I’m surrounded by icebergs.

Q: In a Q& A on Readings you talk about your love of words, specifically old words like  Slubberdegullion (a dirty nasty person) and Forswunk (worn out by hard labour). Did you read a lot of Dickens when you were a kid? And do you collect words?

A: I was actually put off Dickens as a child by having to read Great Expectations at school. My teacher loved it, but I thought Pip was an irritating and ungrateful wimp, and I loathed his relationship with Estella. (I loathed Estella too.) As an adult I’ve read quite a few of Dickens’ books and discovered the value in them, but have never gotten over my dislike of Pip.

And yes, I do collect words and phrases, particularly ones that have fallen from favour. My current favourite is ‘idle-worms’, which supposedly once bred in the fingertips of lazy girls. If they existed, my fingertips would be riddled with them.

Q: You were born in Tassie and have lived there most of your life, but you did live in Papua New Guinea for three years. I see you were a teacher there. It must have been a very different world.  Have you been able to incorporate any of the things you experienced in Papua New Guinea in your books?

A: Papua New Guinea was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I was twenty-three when I went there, and had never lived outside Tasmania, so it was hugely different and very challenging. My first year I taught in a school just outside Port Moresby, run by Catholic nuns. My second and third years I was at a little bush school thirty km from Rabaul on the Gazelle Peninsula. That school had about 150 kids and three teachers when I arrived – one of those teachers had a full-time job in Rabaul and used to come down in his morning break. The principal trained the kids for interschool sports by chasing them around the oval with a whip, and quite a few of them carried serious scars from not running fast enough.

 In a lot of ways I think PNG woke my imagination from its slumbering state. I’ve incorporated some of the people I knew there in my writing – in fictional form – but have never yet used any of the events to a great degree. I will one day – there are a number of things (apart from the sports training) that have stayed in the back of my mind and are just waiting for the right vehicle to emerge.

Q: You studied drama when you were 38 and travelled around Tasmania schools playing all sorts of characters. You say you were shy as a child. What made you turn to drama?

: It was partly accidental, I think, though I always liked drama at school – it was a way of stepping past my shyness. But when I was in my late twenties and early thirties I hung around with a bunch of people who were very involved in music and political street theatre. Eventually we went from street theatre to amateur stage dramatics, and one of my friends decided to enrol in drama school to consolidate her various skills.

At that time in my life I had never really settled to anything as far as work/career was concerned, but the theatre work struck a real chord for me, and I joined my friend at drama school. It’s one of the best things I ever did. I used to write a lot as a child, but pretty much stopped in my teenage years. Drama school was the thing that got me started again, that showed me how to be creative under pressure, as well as teaching me about dialogue and character motivation and all those other useful things that translate so wonderfully from the theatre to prose.

Q: A lot of women who write for children feel that they have to have a boy as the main protagonist, otherwise boys won’t read their books. They’ll then bring a girl in as a secondary protagonist. But the main character in Museum of Thieves and City of Lies is clearly Goldie Roth, and the boy Toadspit is secondary. Was this deliberate? Were you concerned about whether boys would read your books?

A: It has always seemed to me a total cheat that, because authors assume girls will read books with boy protagonists but boys won’t read books with girl protagonists, they nearly always make their main character a boy to capture the broadest market. Where does this leave girls? Always in second place, and with no exciting role models!

Basically I write for myself when I was 11, and at that age I adored books with bold girls in them, so I was very clear right from the start that I wanted my main character to be a girl. Knowing the sort of story I was intending to write, I thought that boys would probably also enjoy the book, and I did want to have an important boy character. But my main intention was to tell Goldie’s story.

Interestingly, the boy/girl thing hasn’t really been an issue since the books came out. Girls love them and so do boys – mainly I suspect because they’re a good strong adventure series, and that appeals to both genders. Or maybe this is one of those borders that has blurred a little over the last few years – I notice that Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy seems to have almost as many male fans as it does female, and I’m sure it’s not the only example.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

A: For a long time I have really wanted to go back to early Hobart and walk down those dusty, smelly, noisy streets. It’s a city I love, and I would dearly love to see its beginnings. I think a lot of my writing – even though it’s fantasy – has been influenced by early Hobart, and it’s a major source of inspiration for me, so to be able to wander around and poke into the shops and talk to people in that little colonial outpost would be my idea of heaven. I’d probably stalk two of my great grandmothers while I was there too – especially the one who was a diarist and a poet.


Lian has a paperback copy of the US edition of Book 1, a hard back of the US edition of Book 2 or an audio book of Book 1, as read by Claudia Black. The winner can choose.

Give-away Question:.

What sort of museum would you like to invent?


Catch up with Lian on GoodRreads

Lian’s advice for young writers


Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Young Adult Books

36 Responses to Meet Lian Tanner…

  1. I’d like to invent a museum of spinning wheels and spindles that could be used by the visitors!

    The books sound wonderful!

  2. I love collecting odd or old words and phrases too. At work we have ‘Word Time with Lexie’ in which I write a new word on the whiteboard and we all discuss it for the day. Its fun 🙂 Forswunk will be on the list!

    And its so cool Claudia Black read the first book! We love her in my house and miss seeing her around the TV screens…

    What kind of museum…The Museum of Unusual Writing Implements. I collect pens and pencils and there are some pretty funky ones out there!

  3. I like the idea of a whiteboard with new words on it, Lexie – what a nice thing to do at work! And I would love to visit your Museum of Unusual Writing Implements – I like pens and pencils too. As for Claudia Black, she does a brilliant job of reading the books – she’s so talented.

  4. Oh, I would have a Museum of Bankrupt Theme Parks. It would be a kind of chamber of horrors with animatronic creatures, carousel horses, love tunnel swans, spangly costumes and raggedy old mascot-heads from theme parks that never made it to that next upgrade 🙂

    Great interview, thanks Lian and Rowena (who always researches her questions so that she gets things out of people that’s different to what we’ve heard before!)

    And three cheers for the bold girl protagonist!

    • Yes, I was impressed by the questions. People tend to ask the same ones over and over, but these were quite different, which made them much more interesting to answer. And I am DEFINITELY coming to visit your Museum of Bankrupt Theme Parks! 😀

  5. I’d like to see/devise up the Museum of Living Art. The Art is contrary to what normal paintings, sculpture, pottery, etc. would do. Sculpture would move around and interact. The paintings also to would move talk and the viewers could travel into the paintings’ settings too. The art would be alive!

  6. Tom Barnett

    A toy dinosaur museum.

  7. Callum Daberkow

    I would like to see a museum of lego people coming to life, and they would do everything with you, talk to you, help you build creations, etc. One of them would go home with you when you leave the museum.

  8. Awesome interview!

    My museum would be huge with many different rooms- each would be totally full of plants and different species of animal, paths interwinding throughout them to lead anyone interested through the various rooms… I think it would be pretty terrific to have so much nature around you indoors!

  9. Just had The Museum of Lost Ideas pop into my head. A place where those great ideas go unless the are written down. Possibly related to the Museum of Lost Socks. And I can tell you now losing one sock can almost be as frustrating as knowing that one of those brilliant story ideas has disappeared into the ether.

  10. Midhat

    If I’d been given a chance to make a museum, I’d make it of people with a history of wierd and very rare psychological disorders,how they coped with it and all. This way people would visit the museum and learn and be aware of such disorders. 😀
    P.S I would preserve the people,just their photos 😛

  11. Melissa May

    i would love a Museum of Fantasy and Science fiction devoted to strong female character`s . Authors could be pictured with there books, even some audio if a button is pressed with a chapter of the book being read . The Museum would have a great Cafe beautiful court yard gardens .Artwork displayed would be illustrations from the books on display. People visiting would be enouraged to write there own stories to leave in the visitors book ,or budding artist leave an piece of artwork that relates to a book . Rowena would have her own book room.

  12. Mary Preston

    I’ve been watching the new SHERLOCK HOLMES mysteries on television, so my mind immediately went to dastardly villains & genius sleuths. Do I really want to see the ‘tools’ of the trade? Perhaps, but more than that I want to learn about the thinking behind the deeds & capture. A museum think tank of all that is criminal. I do not intend for it to become a HOW TO MANUAL for aspiring ill-doers. Although!!

    • Isn’t it a brilliant interpretation of Sherlock Holmes? Whoever came up with it should have a museum of their very own, I suspect. Failing that, yes, I agree, a criminal museum, with all the interesting bits we don’t usually learn, is an appealing notion.

  13. Georgia

    i would create the Museum of Bubblish Delights. each room would have endless bubbles floating in it, the colour depending on the room, and each time a bubble pops something related to the room falls out.

    Awesome Interview!!!:D

    • This is such a gorgeous idea. People would be going round popping bubbles all over the place. Presumably the bubbles would grow again at night, so there were a whole lot of new ones to pop next morning.

  14. paddo

    Woks and Minervas
    with caverns of precious stones – rubies, emeralds, sapphires, opals and jade, metallic crystals – peacock ore, stupendite and unobtainium, veins of gold and silver, rivers of mercury and pits of tar, with live in goblin miners and trolls – the oppressive overseers.
    There is a rumour that a natural museum was discovered in a secret but now flooded mine deep in the rainforests of south west Tasmania.

  15. Roan

    I would like to invent a museum I’d call “The Museum of Looking Back”. This is an experience where a person will enter the rooms and each rooms will remind him of his memories. He’ll see flash backs of his past virtually playing in front of him. This will be very emotional for some 🙂

    I enjoyed this interview very much! 😀

    • Very emotional, and both sad and happy, I would think. It’s the sort of museum where you’d bump into people laughing and crying around every corner. Great idea, Roan!

  16. Chari Jolly

    I think a Museum of Fear would be an interesting concept. In it, the protagonists would need to learn to distinguish between their own intuition and valid anxieties and the fears imposed on them by the Museum.

  17. Jenny Stubbs

    My museum would be a Children’s book museum with exhibitions, sets and characters brought to life but not static…interactive and ever changing.. I’ve seen some great ideas in places like Seven Stories in Newcastle UK and the Discover Centre in London. I ahven’t been to the Roald Dahl Museum but hear it’s wonderful.

  18. Sarah

    I would love a museum that displayed a real scaled verson of london during the Victorian period with exhibitions on how the different social casts were. I find it extremly interesting and a time in history that many people aren’t interested in because they don’t have a way to identify with it.

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