Category Archives: Children's Books

This one’s for Nat…

For much of Supanova it was really busy and the crowds were so thick you couldn’t hear what people were saying. But there were a couple of quiet patches where I managed to chat to people and several were aspiring writers. I promised Nat I would do a post about writing groups and resources for writers, so here it is.

If you’re based in Queensland, it is well worthwhile joining the Queensland Writers Centre. They offer a broad range of workshops including Year of the Novel (where you write a book in a year under the guidance of a published author who mentors you) and Year of the Edit (where you edit the book you wrote the previous year, again with the guidance of a published author).

QWC have paired with Hachette for the QWC/Hachette manuscript Development Program (closed for this year, but it is good to have a goal for next year).  ‘Now in its fifth year, The QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program aims to uncover and develop new emerging Australian writers. This is a fantastic opportunity for emerging fiction and non-fiction writers to work with editors from Hachette Australia and develop high-quality manuscripts. Up to ten emerging writers will work with editors from Hachette Australia, and other industry professionals, to develop their manuscript and learn about the industry over the course of four intensive days.’

If you are writing Spec Fic, I’d recommend joining a writing group who love the genre as much as you do. There is the Vision Writers Group, which meets in Brisbane on the first of the month at the State Library. They also have an on-line discussion list.

There is my own writing group, ROR, where I post about opportunities for aspiring writers like this one: Pitching your book at Conflux (the national Sf convention).

There are also non-genre specific opportunities like the Text Fiction Prize. This is for writers of Children’s books and Young Adult books.

And there is a whole list of useful posts on the craft of writing and the writing industry here.

If you persevere long enough, you’ll learn the craft and write some wonderful stories. Writing is one of those rare past times, which are their own reward.

 

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Children's Books, Conventions, Pitching your book, Publishing Industry, The Writing Fraternity, Tips for Developing Writers, Writing Groups, Young Adult Books

Meet Simon Haynes, Hal Spacejock’s alter ego…

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 Simon Haynes to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: I discovered the first of your Hal Spacejock series  years ago and bought the whole set.  On your web page you have a list of humour SF series, Bill the Galactic Hero, Red Dwarf, Hal Spacejock, Stainless Steel Rat and Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a very small pool of really brilliant books. It is incredibly hard to write humour and then to write humorous SF makes it even harder. What’s your philosophy about humour?

First off, thanks for buying the books. If everyone did that SF Comedy wouldn’t be such a niche genre. Then again, publishers would leap on the unexpected craze and the market would be swamped. So, whatever you do, don’t buy SF Comedy!

The problem with adding humour to any novel is that the gatekeepers (editors, publishers, bean counters) have to GET it. If the style of humour doesn’t appeal to them, they can extrapolate from that and decide nobody else will enjoy it, either. There’s also that whole ‘am I the only one laughing?’ thing with humour. If you’re the only one smiling, does that mean you have a keen sense of humour, or does everyone else just have better taste for fine comedy? (It’s like sipping wine and making appreciative noises while everyone else is pulling faces and emptying their glasses into pot plants.)

Hal Spacejock contains a fair bit of geek humour, with in-jokes about operating systems and computers, and pokes at genre classics such as Star Wars and Star Trek. If that whistles past the reader, they’re left with the next layer of humour, and they might think that’s all there is.

I guess this is why humorous novels polarise reviewers and readers, although it’s all too easy for authors to throw their hands up and exclaim that nobody ‘gets it’. You have to work hard to make sure as many people as possible get it, without dumbing things down.

Q: Your BIO says you… ‘returned to Curtin (University) in 1997, graduating with a degree in Computer Science two years later. An early version of Hal Spacejock was written during the lectures.’  Seriously, did you write your book during lectures? I lecture first year UNI students. I don’t think many of them are sitting up the back writing books. I think they’re texting or on Facebook.

By the time I signed up for my computing degree I’d been programming for over 15 years. The only reason I applied for the degree was because I was self-taught, and I figured the qualification wouldn’t do any harm.

A lot of the early lectures covered really basic stuff – peripherals, really trivial programming, etc – and so I sat up the back with my trusty old laptop, plotting and typing away.

Once the material moved ahead of me I put the laptop away and paid proper attention. I still managed to write most of the novel at uni though -  I used to finish work at 4-ish, go straight to Curtin and type in the library until the lectures or tutes started.

Q: I can see how Hal Junior would be heaps of fun to write. You say, ‘I drew on my childhood for inspiration. My younger brother and I grew up in a small village in rural Spain, and ‘untamed’ doesn’t cover the daily scenes of chaos and destruction.’  Do you have sons? Are they giving you grey hairs?

Two daughters, and yes ;-)  They’ve had access to a wide range of hobbies and physical activities, from archery to bike riding, martial arts to soccer, digital art to oil painting. There weren’t any frilly dresses or dollies, that’s for sure. They’re mad keen computer games, the pair of them. One’s running her own minecraft server, and the other is working on a graphic novel based on her favourite computer game.

Q: You decided to self publish your Hal Junior books. I’ve met a lot of authors who have been down the traditional publishing route and have opted for self publishing. What was your reasoning behind your decision?

There were several, and they all came to a head at once:

Fremantle Press have treated me well, so it was natural to offer them the new series first. After a couple of months they let me know they were going to pass on Hal Junior – not because it was a pile of crap, but because they felt I should take it to a bigger publisher who would be able to do it justice. This was just after several bookselling chains had folded, and Fremantle Press doesn’t have distribution into the big department stores.

So, I changed the title from ‘Hal Spacejock Junior’ to ‘Hal Junior’, and rejigged the book. I decided to change it so that it featured Hal Spacejock’s son (not Hal as a child). In June last year I sent queries off to three Aussie publishers. Honestly, it was a token effort: I would send out three queries, probably get rejected within a week, move on.

So, I started making plans to self-publish the book. I had a meeting with Fremantle Press because I wanted to discuss the Hal Spacejock ebook rights. None of the books were on Kindle, and I wanted to take them back and issue them myself. At the same meeting I confessed that all my time was going into Hal Jnr, and I didn’t feel Hal Spacejock 5 was anywhere near completion. We agreed to terminate Hal Spacjeock, and I got my Hal Spacejock e-rights back.

At this point (July), I suddenly had four new titles to self-publish, and it seemed crazy to give the Hal Junior series to another publisher instead of releasing it through my own imprint.

Then the kicker … Tehani told me Lightning Source had just set up in Australia. I checked their print prices and was instantly converted. I wrote to the Aussie publishers, who’d already had the queries for three months, and withdrew my submissions. Then I started tidying up Hal Junior for an indie release, including commissioning a cover artist and hiring an editor.

About two months after Hal Junior came out I got an email from one of the Aussie publishers expressing interest in the series and requesting a full manuscript. Oops, missed the boat, should have been quicker off the mark. (I honestly thought publishers would treat an enquiry from an established author a little quicker, but hey, it’s not my problem any more. And I’ve never really considered myself established, just perched precariously on the second rung.)

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

The finished version of any novel depends on the writer’s skill, influences, tastes and the environment they grew up, not their sex. Take one aspect: sword fighting. Imagine a male writer who has never swung a sword in anger, sitting down to write a sword fighting scene. Now imagine a female writer who is a member of SCA, or a keen fencer, sitting down to write a combat scene. I’m betting the latter will be far more authentic, and the writer’s gender has nothing to do with it.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Nope. I pick books based on recommendations, buzz, and my own taste. Most years my new book purchases are at cons, which means GOH books and those by fellow writers. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of junior (middle grade) fiction to see what I’m doing right (or wrong) in terms of tone, language, content and so on. I couldn’t tell you the gender of the authors, because I’ve been reading whatever I can lay my hands on.

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?

It would be good to go back to certain moments in my childhood so I could correct a few wrongs. I’m saying no more.

 

Giveaway Question:  If you were ten years old and you lived aboard a futuristic space station, what’s the first thing you’d do?

The winner will receive an autographed copy of Hal Junior: The Secret Signal OR Hal Junior: The Missing Case. If your idea is better than mine I’ll probably steal it for Hal Junior 27: The Stolen Idea.

 

Catch up with Hal Junior on Facebook

Catch up with Simon on Goodreads

Catch up with Simon’s blog on writing and publishing

Follow Simon on Twitter @spacejock

Check out Simon’s free writing and reading software

And finally, the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior website

 

5 Comments

Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Characterisation, Children's Books, Covers, creativity, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, Readers, Story Arc, Tips for Developing Writers, Young Adult Books

Winner Lian Tanner Book Give-away!

Lian says:

Such wonderful museum suggestions from everyone – which made it very hard to choose between them! I particularly loved Sean’s Museum of Lost Ideas, and I adored Thoraiya’s Museum of Bankrupt Theme Parks. But my favourite was Callum’s Museum of Lego People Come to Life – mainly because the lego people help you build other creations, and then one of them goes home with you, which would make life OUTSIDE the museum rather exciting.

So first prize to Callum, who can choose which he would like: either an audio book of ‘Museum of Thieves’ (Book 1 in the Keepers trilogy), or a paperback copy of the US edition of ‘Museum of Thieves’, or a hardback of the US edition of ‘City of Lies’ (Book 2).

But I’m going to give a second prize as well, to Thoraiya for her Bankrupt Theme Parks, because it’s a place I’d particularly love to visit. Once Callum has chosen his prize, Thoraiya can choose hers from the two remaining.

Thanks so much to everyone who sent in their suggestions. Callum and Thoraiya, please email me: lian (at) liantanner (dot) com to work out which prize you want and where I should send it.

1 Comment

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

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

36 Comments

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

Meet Lucy Sussex…

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the erudite and talented Lucy Sussex to drop by.

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

Q: You have a PHD and are a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne. And also lecturing at La Trobe University.

 Your PhD thesis focused on early women crime writers and you describe yourself as a ‘literary archaeologist’. What a wonderful term! Does this mean you sift through original sources in university and state libraries, looking for references to and original manuscripts by long dead authors?

That is precisely what I do…

Q: What amazing things have you discovered?

So many good writers, so undeservedly neglected! Some examples: there was a novel with three female detectives, and centred on a murder mystery, four months before Poe’s ‘The Mysteries of the Rue Morgue’, widely and wrongly regarded as the birth of the detective genre. The novel was SUSAN HOPLEY: OR, CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE, by Catherine Crowe. Or that Mary Fortune wrote 500 crime stories in the AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL, the longest known early crime series, worldwide.

I have an article in the next issue of SOUTHERLY on Agnes Murphy, best known as the first biographer of Melba, but who wrote an 1895 novel that can be best described as a lesbian MY BRILLIANT CAREER…

Q: Your speculative fiction stories have won Ditmar Awards, Aurealis Awards and the Sir Julius Vogel Award. You have judged for the James Jr. Award. Having sat on both sides of the fence what insights can you give us into award judging?

It’s a lottery. So much depends on what the judge brings to the judging table, and the method used in cutting to the chase, the really worthwhile texts. I am no respecter of literary reputation, and that a book is hyped makes me regard it with suspicion. But so many people are afraid to take a book on its own merits, without the PR framing!

The Tiptree award judging (my first major act of judging) produced a kind of group mind, in that the judges were reading the books and commenting on them over a long period of time. We had to, as we had to decide on the definition of what the award honours: fiction that explores and expands notions of gender (for this reason I regard the Norma Hemming as superfluous. Her name should have given to something else, like a drama award).  Other judging involved such things as a table full of books, and the repeated question: ‘Can we toss this book aside, or does it have any merits?’

I would also add that any judge worth their salt should consider the text, and not the writer, however obnoxious they may be.

So, in retrospect, I can say that any award that involves me is liable to come out unexpected, simply because I don’t have mainstream taste. And as for any award honouring me…well, I hope it proves that the judges showed taste and discernment!

Q: You’ve edited several anthologies, including She’s Fantastical, which was shortlisted for the World fantasy Award. Your edited works are a glimpse of the range of your interests. They include: A selection of autobiographical writing by Mary Fortune (a nineteenth century woman who wrote about the gold fields), two anthologies of Fortune’s crime short stories, a mystery book by Ellen Davitt which was first published in 1865 and would have been lost if you hadn’t recovered it, two anthologies of YA spec fic and a YA crime anthology. Plus I’ve just finished reading ‘Saltwater in the Ink’ letters and journals of people travelling between Australia and the UK in the nineteenth century. There’s a broad spectrum here. What attracts you to a certain project?

With the historical anthologies, a voice or voices that demanded to be heard anew. With the YA anthologies, because a publisher asked me to do it. I prefer anthologies of dead writers–you don’t have to write polite rejection letters.

With SALTWATER I literally sold the anthology because I was drunk and loud at a publisher’s party. I was talking to film critic Jim Schembri (a man of taste and discernment, unlike usual the ignorant yahoos infesting the film review pages) about MASTER AND COMMANDER, and mentioned I’d been reading C19th travel diaries, and how wonderful they were. An illustrator who was part of the conversation ducked off and returned with the publisher, who stood and listened, then said: ‘Can we have a proposal?’  I then had to reconstruct what the hell I had been talking about, the conversation having moved on somewhat.

As it happened, the GFC put paid to that project, but on the third attempt it found a home.Which only proves that it pays to persist.

Q: Your novels range from children’s books like The Revongnase, through YA books like Black Ice to your novel which won the Ditmar, The Scarlet Rider. Do you have another book length fiction project under development?

 I have a project to co-write, on Australian writers and journalists in London at the turn of last century (which includes Agnes Murphy). And a novel that is in limbo until I can get some uninterrupted time. There is also another anthology (of the dead) planned.

Q: You’re an award winning short story writer. (See here, here and here for anthologies of Lucy’s stories. Read a review of A Tour Guide in Utopia). I remember reading one of your stories, The Sentenielle, the year I was judging on the horror Aurealis Awards panel and was delighted when it won a Ditmar. The visuals still return to me now and then, along with a little shiver. I’m a big fan of Saki. Was there a short story writer who first inspired you?

Aha! You spotted Saki. Also James Tiptree Jr, Le Guin’s short stories,and Chekhov. It is a very hard medium to work in successfully, but when it goes right it is the happiest of literary homes.

Q: You review for the Melbourne paper, the Sunday Age. (See some of Lucy’s book reviews). Do you think reviewing is good discipline for a writer?

It gives you an understanding of the market. It gives you great joy with marvellous writers whom you have never heard of before, and despair at the crap that is so easily published, it seems.

Q: Due to your research Mary Fortune and Ellen Davitt’s original crime stories and books from the mid nineteenth century have been recovered for posterity. (See here for Lucy’s work on crime writing). You are a member of Sisters in Crime and you released a book in 2010: Women Writers and Detectives in Nineteenth Century Crime Fiction:  Mothers of the Mystery Genre. You say ‘Contrary to popular belief, Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allen Poe did not invent the crime genre.’ In a review Kate Watson said  ‘perhaps had nineteenth-century women writers been accorded the same status as male authors such as Poe – or even been acknowledged – then similar texts detailing women’s international influence might have materialised. It was not until 2010 that Sussex filled the previously unmarked space with her book.’

The point I was trying to make was that they were acclaimed and best-selling IN THEIR TIME. It was only retrospectively that they were relegated to the margins by the self-styled canon makers. Who are active in every litery genre, and should be exterminated for the vermin they are. In the 1980s there was a huge amount of research and publication done on mothers of various literary genres, from Mary Shelley to female dramatists. Crime was a gap in this genre research, due to its sheer size. It is estimated that there were 5000 crime novels in English between 1800-1900, to say nothing of works in French and the multitudinous crime short stories. I only read a fraction of the texts concerned, and there are many more mothers of crime to be rediscovered.

Q:You are also known as a feminist writer.

And proud of it!

Q: I believe you are involved in organising a new literary award for female writers. Can you tell us a little about it, or is it still hush hush?

If you mean the Stellas (to redress the appalling gender imbalance of the Miles Franklins), then that’s not me, though I support the notion.

Q: As well as being a writer of speculative fiction, you also write crime and your short story The Fountain of Justice was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award in 2010. I’ve come across quite a few spec fic authors who also write crime. Why do you think there is this cross over? Is it something about building a world and building a mystery that attracts a certain type of mind?

It has to do with narrative: both sf and crime are narrative-driven and similar in their intellectual rigour and concern with plot. They also both derive from the Gothic, that Pangaea of modern literatures.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

We have fewer rape scenes, and more convincing female characters.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

I would hope it didn’t. I nearly cheered aloud when a student told me she had got halfway through W. G. Sebald’s THE RINGS OF SATURN before realising the author was a man.

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?

Babylon in the Akkadian era, to meet Tapputi, the first woman chemist (and perfumier), who figures in my story ‘Alchemy’. Or to a party given by C19th crime writer Mary Braddon, who was not only a great writer and great company, but pals with the likes of Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde.

Lucy has a copy of either ‘She’s Fantastical’ or ‘Saltwater in the Ink’  to give-away.

Give-away Question:

If you could have a dinner party to meet your favourite writers from the past, who would you invite? And what would you serve them?

Lucy’s Blog.  On my webpage, which needs updating

Catch up with Lucy GoodReads

6 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Historical Books, Obscure and Interesting, Publishing Industry, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Writers and Redearch

Meet Isobelle Carmody…

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented and incredibly popular (non-stop queues at Supanova)  Isobelle Carmody to drop by.

Q: Where to begin, Isobelle? You have four fantasy series, numerous stand alone novels, collections, short stories and picture books. You’ve been writing since you were fourteen, published since you were (19?). Your whole life seems to have revolved around writing. Not to disparage your writing achievements, but do you ever look back and think I wish I’d done veterinary science, or become an archaeologist?

No, but I wish I had worked harder at school and learned to be something else as well. A doctor or something really practical so I could sometimes do something decisively about the things that trouble me in the world. I envy Ian Irvine his marine science back and Nick Earls his ability to heal. But in truth, I am pretty happy with what I have done with my life, because I do think writing matters. It certainly mattered to me – It built me – my mind and my imagination.  It saved me…

Q: You live part of your time in Prague and part in a small township near Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. I’ve never been to Prague, but I do know the Great Ocean Road. My husband’s family come from Warrnambool. This stretch of coast, known as the shipwreck coast, is stark and beautiful. Do you find the isolation and beauty help you to focus and write?

Absolutely. Both are essential, and for me beauty is often found in starkness. I have always found really desolate places visually appealing – sandy deserts, arctic , industrial wastelands. I suspect I am attracted them because there is less or no sign of humanity- no people or shops or signs. I remember looking at a film if  beautiful. Somehow I am very attracted to wastelands- dumpsites, nuclear drop zones like Chernobyl, end of the world scenarios with a touch of dystopia. The coast along the Great Ocean Road is beauty in its wild and savage and dangerous mode. And Prague is like a fairy tale with its cobbled twisty streets and buildings.

Q: You are married to a Jazz musician from Czechoslovakia and spend half the year in Prague. (I really enjoyed the photos you posted on twitter of the snow and ice at Christmas time. We were enduring humidity and floods in Brisbane and those pictures helped me get through summer). I guess your daughter is bi-lingual. Do you find that the insight gained from living in Europe, in a society very different from Australia, has helped you create different worlds?

It is lovely here in Winter. There is a very black and white and grey poetry about the city, cloaked in snow. Not that we are having much snow this year- it is very, very mild so far. I prove what an Australian I am by wishing for it to snow when every local hopes it won’t! In some ways I think I have always felt myself to be a stranger in a strange land. I was one of those kids who was a total outsider. At least, I thought myself so, but the reality was more that I felt so out of place that I probably ensured it. I mean, to some extent we are how we see ourselves. So I felt I did not fit in and I guess a lot of my writing comes from that feeling of not fitting in. Because when you don’t fit in, the world feels alien and so it is not such a big step to create another world for characters, who, like me, often feel they don’t fit in. But they are searching pretty much always for a place they can feel ok. For me, Prague is one of those places. Because here I am truly an alien, a stranger and after all these years, I guess in a weird way THAT is what feels comfortable to me. I think it is always good for writers not to be totally comfortable with their surroundings- at least some of the time.

Q: I wasn’t aware that you were also an artist. Does this mean that you are a visual person? I’ve interviewed a lot of writers and most seem to be aural. They will make up ‘play lists’ of music for certain books to help them get in the mood. I have a background as an illustrator, so I tend to collect images to create a resonance file. Do you collect music or images when you write?

I don’t collect music but I collect images. I always have in mind the next illustrated thing I am going to do- right now it is The Cloud Road and I know there will be clouds and mountains and maybe some kind of monkey or monkey-ish thing and cats and desert so those are the images that I am collecting. I cut pictures out of National Geographics and I take photos of things that would fit- I am also always looking for new patterns or techniques of drawing- I don’t use colour except for the front cover- I really love black and white pen and ink drawings so that is what I collect as a form, too. I listen to book tapes as much as to music when I draw, and sometimes to nothing when I am so absorbed that I just don’t notice the music stops. But it can’t be something I adore, like Nina Simone. It is too intense for me to be able to draw. It has to be something I like a lot but maybe have listened to a lot as well so it does not demand too much attention…

Q: In an interview on TLC Books you talked about fantasy as a genre. You describe fantasy as ‘conscious dreaming’. You say write fantasy:

‘…not  in order to escape vacuously, as is often the perception, but in order to think about things that matter to me. Like what it means to have free will and yet to co exist with others who also have free will that might infringe upon mine; about why some people are cruel and why some are courageous; about how it is that someone grows up to be Mother Teresa while someone else become Hitler; it is about what makes a person able to sacrifice themselves for others; about what is required of me if I want to be a friend to someone; about what the difference is between a human who is cruel and the cruelty of a cat to a mouse it has caught; about how important powerful people can make decision that a child can see will cause great harm, as if they and their children were going to be exempt from the consequences.’

To me the fantasy genre, like the science fiction genre, gives authors a chance to hold a distorted mirror up to society (sometimes distortion can help us see things more clearly).  The writer can use these genres prompt the reader to think about things that seem normal in everyday life. Terry Pratchett does this with his books by pointing out how ridiculous certain things are. From the sounds of your comment you are interested in ‘good and evil’ and the choices that we make as human beings. Is this a recurring theme in your books?

I want to say yes, but somehow talking about themes always feels as if I am planning them, like using them as the bones on which to hang my story. For me the themes usually rise out of a question I am wanting to think about- something that bothers me or has come to my attention and stuck like a burr, and finally I take it into the arena of writing, to see what I can work out. It is absolutely not ever for me, about wanting readers to think or think about anything. It is always an inward journey for me. I am not criticizing writers who set out to say something to their audience. I think a lot of good and great literature comes about by people wanting to flesh out a theme, wanting to make a point, wanting to make a statement to the world. But that is just not how it is for me. I am more self-centred as a writer. It is all about what I am thinking about and trying to figure it out. I dislike unfairness and injustice, but all too often, when I start looking into an issue, I can see mostly, how the person in the wrong has got into that position. I guess it is trying to navigate the greys.  And the reason I write fantasy is because the tools that work best for me, produce work that fits into that category.  Externally, I can see how what I write can be seen as making a statement, but the reality is that I am only trying to figure things out for myself. Then it gets published and it has this whole other life as whatever it becomes when people take it into their minds and imaginations.

Q: In the same interview you were asked ‘what is the most difficult thing about being a writer?’ and I had to smile because it is the same thing that gives me trouble. You said:

Odd as it sounds, sometimes the sitting and typing for hours. I get really sore elbows and back. I get physically bored. You are supposed to get up and move around every twenty minutes or something but I am so engrossed that I never do. Then I pay for it.’

Sometimes I wish I could do my ‘conscious dreaming’ straight into the computer. Do you do yoga or something to counteract the problems caused by spending so long at the computer?

Yeah my back and neck are killing me right now and my editor just emailed me this exercise to ease a back problem she said is so common to editors it is actually called editor’s back!

Q: In an interview on Kids Book Review you say you were ‘a bossy older sister’. This made me laugh as I was an older sister, who bossed all the local children organising concerts and long involved games. We’re the same age, when we grew up kids roamed the neighbourhood and were a lot more independent. My children have had a very different childhood and I’m guessing your daughter is in the same position. Do you think being the eldest of your family shaped the person you are today? And do you think growing up in the 60s and 70s, when children were more autonomous, gives you an advantage?

Well we, my brothers and sisters and I, were anything but autonomous. We lived this hermetically sealed life inside our house. We didn’t go to neighbors houses or mess in the street. The people I bossed were exclusively my own brothers and sisters. My daughter, on the other hand, has been catching trams, crossing busy city streets and heading off to the city with her friends since she was 11. So in a funny way she is freer than I was. She actually dreads coming back there to the ‘car culture’ where she will be forced by distances to rely on us driving her places. She hates when we visit that she is not able to be independent.

Q: You write for children, young adults and adults. In the same interview you talk about child characters in books and how a book may contain a child character but not necessarily be a children’s book.

One rule of thumb I once heard which seemed true to me was that children’s books have children in them who grow, but they do not grow up. If a child grows up that is an adult book.’

You mention To Kill a Mockingbird as an example. Another book I read which explored adult concepts through a child’s viewpoint was A High Wind in Jamaica, (book and movie). I found this book excellent for re-creating the world-view of a child and the same for the movie. Why do you think it is that child point of view characters in adult books can be so powerful?

I think we all tend to have vivid memories of childhood and adolescence when we forget what we did in all of last year. I think child characters that are well written waking that slumbering child that once was, and allows the reader to become that vulnerable, open, thin-skinned person again for a little, and it is a very strange and wonderful business to be taken back to that younger more pristine self.

Q: When we were at Supanova recently  you launched the last book in the Obernewtyn series, The Sending. Coming back to this world and these characters must be like visiting old friends. At the same time you have matured as a person and a writer. George Lucas is notorious for going back and tweaking his Star Wars movies. With the movie, Blade Runner, Ridley Scott has said Deckard isn’t a replicant, then that he is – which completely changes the dynamic between him and Rachel (a replicant). Are you ever tempted to revisit the original books of the Obernewtyn series and tweak them?

I did reedit them with the American publisher Random House. In a way it is a nightmarish thing to contemplate, but in the case of the first book, I was quite happy to be able to tidy a couple of the mistakes made by my younger self. But as a rule, I am not in favor of it. I think it takes a saint to do it well- Nadia Wheatley went back and rewrote The House that as Eureka because some new information had come to light, historically speaking, and she wanted to correct her work. But of course she is an historian as well as a writer and a real perfectionist as well as a true idealist. But my stories are all about internal worlds, really. The inside turned so that it is outside. The invisible made visible. The intangible made tangible.

Q: I notice in the Penguin Presents interview (see below) there are original artworks on the walls of your home on the Great Ocean Road. They look like you commissioned them. Who painted them? Is one of your brothers or sisters an artist? Did you paint them? They are really lovely!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsKZow5ZBSE]

The paintings are mostly by Anne Spudvilas, who is a fine artist as well as a children’s book Illustrator. In fact I knew her as a fine artist first and brought work from her in that incarnation. She did her first ever work as an illustrator for Penguin for the cover of The Gathering. She also did the wonderful picture of my daughter and I. I love her work. I love how she uses green in flesh. I also have some wonderful aquatints by Rachel Litherland who is the daughter of the British poet Jacquie Litherland – in fact I first saw her work in one of her mothers’ poetry collections. I also have a few by Jiri Novak, who is also a fine artist as well as an illustrator.

Q: You mention that your husband is a jazz saxophonist. My daughter is a jazz vocalist and has studied at the QLD conservatorium. I’ve heard that jazz musicians require a different type of mind from classical musicians because jazz is more free form. It’s a bit like writing a book, you have to trust your instincts. Do you find even though your husband is a musician and you are a writer, that the creative source in both of you is similar?

He is a writer, too. By that I mean he writes poetry – he is known as a cubist poet – and he is a very well known poetry critic here. He actually won the FX Chalda prize for criticism last year. His medal looks a lot like my Book of the year Medal. But he makes a living as a Jazz pianist. He loves modern jazz but spent a lot of years doing traditional jazz as well. I always think of his as a musician with the mind of a writer, if that makes any sense. His writing is High Art and mine is story telling. But it is lovely to have someone enjoy words as much as I do.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Hmm I am not sure. I was tempted to say yes but I don’t really know. I like Charles de Lint and Guy Gavriel Kay and I love the late David Gemmell’s writing- they are all very different, and I love Sheri Tepper and Robin Hobb … and they are different too. No. Maybe what I think is that there is a difference between male and female writers of bad fantasy which tends to rely too heavily on stereotypes, and therefore is itself more likely to fall into being stereotypical.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

No. Either I like the character and get into the book, or I don’t. A great writer can make even the most peculiar character a door you want to enter- look at China Mieville in Perdido St station! A female character with a female bottom half and the head of an ant, who makes art with spit, and you really like her.

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?

I’d go back and talk to my dad and my brother, who died ten years apart on the same road in car accidents. I’d like to tell them what happened to us all, and talk over things. I’d like to say sorry to my brother, whom I was quarrelling with when he died… I’d also like to talk to Martin Luthor King and Sapho.

 

Follow Isobelle on Twitter ISOBELLE CARMODY @FIRECATz

Listen to Isobelle talk about her love of writing and what it’s like to live between Australia and Prague.

Listen to an interview with Isobelle by Louise Maher.

Catch up with Isobelle on GoodReads

Catch up with Isobelle on Facebook

7 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Children's Books, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, Covers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Music and Writers, Nourish the Writer, Readers, Resonance, The Writing Fraternity, Young Adult Books

Meet Douglas Holgate…

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Douglas Holgate to drop by.

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

Q: We met at Supanova and hung out at the cocktail party. Do you get to many of the Supanovas? Is it fun to mix with other illustrators and talk shop?

Doug with Skye, one of the Amazing Supanova Team

I’ve been to Supanova on the east coast fairly consistently over the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve yet to make the trek to Perth but I’m keen (and not just because I’ve never been to Perth).

Absolutely one of the best parts of the shows is mixing with peers, it’s always great to catch up, especially with people out of state and while the internet keeps us all up to date on what we’re up to it’s not a substitute for a drink and chat. I’ve found of late though I actually really like meeting and talking shop with people NOT doing what I’m doing…but working in similar creative fields. I had a ball talking to all the writers just recently at the Brisbane show (where we met), and came away with different perspectives, work ethics and ideas around publishing and the like.

Q: Back in the 80s when I was working as an illustrator in Melbourne we used to have to make appointments with the art directors of publishing houses, lug our folios in and be interviewed in hope that they’d send us work. Now artists have pages on all sorts of sites, as well as their own blog sites, to promote their artwork. (eg. The Loop. Illustrators Australia). Do you still have to do the ‘meet and greet’ with art directors or is it all done over the internet now?

I was saying to someone the other week that I have no idea how I’d work if I didn’t have a scanner, a computer and email. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to navigate the creative process via the postal system. I do a lot of work for the US market so predominantly I work exclusively with them via the likes of email and sometimes skype. Local clients I do like to try and get a face to face with at some point. It’s nice to put a face and a voice to a name.

As for approaching clients for potential work, when I first started freelancing about 10 years ago it was still a phone call to the AD and physical hard copies of my folio sent to them if they were keen to see it. Now though…it’s pretty much all email and the internet. Which I think is good for ease of breaching that inner sanctum (It makes it less intimidating), and promotion wise you can have global reach instantly. But there is still something about even just talking to someone on the phone and a physical copy of your work in that person’s hands which can’t be replaced (Though I am a bit of a sucker for beautiful printed objects).

Q: You illustrated the Zack Proton (genuine intergalactic hero) books. Was this a chance to let your ‘inner kid’ loose? And how did you hook up with the writer, Brian Anderson, (I see he lives in Austen, Texas)?

I have such a soft spot for Zack proton. Not just a ridiculous, over the top, irreverent and just plain FUN series but also my first big time published work in the US.

All set up through my agent. The way it works is a publisher has a project, they approach my agent and ask if I’m free to work on the series and if I’d like to…and then I (always) say yes.

I then will back and forth with the publishers art director, receive a manuscript, any art direction they’re keen on, cover concepts, internal illustrations etc.

It’s very very rare that I’ll actually talk to the writer at all, especially during the process of putting the books together. This seems to be standard in the industry, which is a bit of a shame…but I can understand it from the publisher’s perspective, they want control of the books and don’t want creative decisions made without being in the loop.

I did however end up after the series was published getting in touch with Brian and we’ve stayed in touch every since, which is great!

Q: You worked on The Amazing Joy Buzzards from Image Comics, which is about an adventure rock-and-roll band. Look like lots of fun. When you work on a project like this how closely do you collaborate with the writer? Are there really tight deadlines?

I sort of already answered this one, but there are always exceptions to the rule. For original material I’m generating with writers to pitch, or self publish then absolutely it’s a complete collaboration.

Of course every writer is different and in some cases they’re happy to let me go away and work on the visual design of these things with minimal guidance. Others I’ve worked with have a strong vision and want to see it realised, from character design and aesthetic through to direction of what is happening specifically in a given scene. Writers like Alan Moore (whom I’ve not worked with) are notoriously specific about their art direction that in some cases almost becomes a novel in itself.

I do like a middle ground though. And there is nothing quite like brainstorming, back and forthing with someone and creating worlds and plots and characters from scratch.

For things like Joy Buzzards there was already an established universe that I was coming in to play around in. So the main characters and the like had pretty much already been fully realised. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have any creative input, it’s just a different challenge to say something original with someone else’s characters.

Q: And you worked on Super Chicken Nugget boy. When you were doing your Post Graduate Degree in Illustration at the University of Newcastle did you think you’d end up drawing animated chicken nuggets? LOL Do you have a personal project that you are madly working on in your spare time?

Haha! YES! Well…sort of. Maybe not chicken nuggets, but certainly I was aiming my sights on comics and material for kids and younger readers. There was a small group of us who were constantly getting in strife with the lecturers for pushing our project work in the comic book, cartooning direction. We were repeatedly told there was no future in it. Ironically I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones from our graduating class now working fulltime as artists and designers.

And I’ve got a list as long as eternity of personal projects. It’s one of the things that frustrates me some about what I do. IT TAKES SO LONG! If only I could snap my fingers, get that thing that’s gnawing at the back of my head DONE and then move onto the next thing. OH…and be paid a gazillion dollars for it…that would seriously not only make me happy but the world!

But yes. Right now I’ve got a couple of things in the works that I’m really excited about. The main one taking up all my time (When I get it) is an all ages graphic novel with a fantastic local Melbourne (though she’s been swanning about the streets of New York for the last 12 months) kids comic writer, Jen Breach.

Q: On Twitter we were talking about fantasy movies we loved like Mystery Men. “We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering.” What were your biggest influences when you were growing up?

Oh, you mean the list of things that never seems to end? It’s funny, it’s only in the last couple of years since I’ve had a little boy that I’m rediscovering things that I used to love and adore as a kid…and I realise are a direct influence on what I’m doing right now. They’re obviously always in the back of your head, consciously or unconsciously, but tracking down vintage copies of Richard Scarry’s busy town series to introduce to him, looking at them and having this epiphany that he is a major influence is pretty wild. I spent some formative years in the UK and was obsessed with weekly kids comics magazines like Beano and Dennis The Menace. A lot of annuals like Eagle. Was a big fan of Roald Dahl and CS Lewis. And long form comics wise I was reading things like Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke a long time before I discovered American comics. Herge and Uderzo definitely are the two seminal influences though. Relatively strict realism of form with a cartoon sensibility inhabiting that world.

Q: If you could go back and give that starry-eyed kid advice, what would it be?

Get serious sooner. YOU’RE WASTING TIME!

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

Not really no. I’d argue that illustration is actually a pretty even spread, in my experience anyway. There are as many female illustrators (if not more) whom I know and love working fulltime and being consistently published by major publishers. Also the majority of art directors I’ve worked with at the major US and Australian publishers have been women.

I’m a little torn on the issue of women in comics. On one hand I think that It’s pretty well established that there is indeed a boys club at the upper echelons of the likes of the major publishers, and obviously being a man I have no idea what that boys club mentality would be like to breach being a female creator. Not to mention the weird curtain wall of fandom thing you have to scale before even making your way to the keep.

But I also think that now is probably the best time in the history of comics for women. I can name you dozens who might not be published by the likes of DC or Marvel but they’re making original comics that are above and beyond in creativity, aesthetic, storytelling and vision than any run of the mill churned out monthly.

The push by established book publishers such as Random House and Scholastic into graphic novels, Independent comics publishers like IDW, First Second and Adhouse, the rise and rise of webcomics, artist sites like Deviant Art, Concept Art and the growing tendency for a lot of animators dipping their toes into comics making are all being driven by some incredible amazingly talented female cartoonists. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

This can’t help but change attitudes eventually at the dinosaurs. You know…if working on spiderman is something that you really want to do.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No not at all. If it’s well written, drawn, crafted and published I’m all over it. You know…I read my first babysitters club a few years ago and LOVED it, all because it was adapted by one of my favourite cartoonists (Raina Telgemeier) into a brilliant graphic novel.

There are as many male creators I like and don’t like as female. And none of that is based on gender it’s just about the work they create.

I don’t go into a movie or a novel thinking “oh it’s directed or written by a woman therefore it’s going to be formula X.”

Certainly there are directors and writers and creators who work in specific genres so you’re going to consume that material based on that. But that has little to do with gender and more to do with the genre’s I appreciate.

I think if a creator is specifically broaching topics of gender or social acceptance or struggle and it’s a key part of their approach or the material they’re producing then absolutely you view that work with that in mind. And that’s probably why you’re reading or watching it in the first place.

At the end of the day it should be about creating the best material you can, and letting your story speak for itself regardless of gender.

The best work always will.

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?

Rowena, this isn’t the fun question, this is the HARD question! I’m a pretty mad history buff…can I go EVERYWHERE?!

God…just one?

I love pre history…but I’m not sure I’d want to get eaten by a giant mosquito (It’s not the dino’s you’ve got to watch out for).

Adore American history…from Revolution, The Westward push to Civil war to Cold War and modern politics.

I’m doing a lot of reading and playing around with  Gallo/Romano Britain at the moment for a project. So I’m a little obsessed with that. And Roman history in particular…so maybe Ancient Rome?

Do I really want to gad about in tartan and blue body paint screaming murder at Roman legionaries in their incredibly well drilled formations? Yes…probably. So I think I’ll go there. But only if I can use the time machine again to scoot to medieval England for lunch, then shoot to Aztec south America for a couple of days and then over to Ancient China for tea and then take a break on a circumnavigation of the globe with Magellan, back in time for dinner with Caravaggio.

(And then wake up in WWII occupied France.)

To win a copy of Zinc Alloy and Super Chicken Nugget Boy here’s the give-away Question:

 What was your favourite comic book character when you were growing up?

 

Follow Doug on Twitter: @douglasbot

See Doug’s Blog

My folio is here - http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/sets/72157627375431276/with/3265305994/

But some of my favourite (read, newer) images are at these links -

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5830416545/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/6304341159/in/photostream

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5239949004/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5308333564/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4673721219/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4884587173/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/2208125088/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/3265305994/in/set-72157627375431276

8 Comments

Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Genre, Inspiring Art, Movies & TV Shows, Tips for Developing Artists

Meet Fiona McIntosh …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has moprhedinto interesting people in the speculative fiction genre. Today I’ve invited the talented cross-genre author, Fiona McIntosh, to drop by.

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

Q: You are well known for your fantasy novels with four trilogies, Valisar, Percheron, The Quickening and Trinity, plus a children’s fantasy, Whisperer. You cut your teeth on big fat fantasies. Do you keep a flow-chart to keep track of all the characters, the relationships, the timelines and the festivals of your invented worlds?

I wish I did.  No, I’m a vicious freefaller.  My reality as a writer is that no matter how hard I try to plan, my subconscious refuses to play along.  Even glossaries are beyond me and while the notion of a document on my desktop filled with lots of helpful facts about my own story and its characters makes such perfect sense, I fail miserably at it. Given that in between volumes of fantasy I’m working on other books, you’d think a plan would be vital…at the very least a working file but no.  My consolation is that I’ve now written 22 novels in this manner and it just seems to work for me.  If you’re wired similarly…it’s hard to change – but for those of you nodding your head take heart, it does have some advantages.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1xZ1fw8KkU&feature=related]

Q: I attended Shekilda the Sisters in Crime conference a few weeks ago and met many wonderful crime writers, all smart articulate women. Now I discover you write crime as well. There’s your DCI Jack Hawksworth books Bye Bye Baby and Beautiful Death. Many of the fantasy writers I’ve met also write crime. Why do you think this is?

Crime is a genre that just about everyone reads at one time or another and also the sort of stories that most people pepper through their reading year even if they’re not committed fans of the genre that reads their way through various writers’ bookshelves.  It can harmoniously blend into mainstream because of that wide appeal so I think many of us are likely writing it because we enjoy reading a good crime novel and thus understand the expectations of readers.  I also believe that crime writing is a fantastic counterbalance to fantasy writing.  Fantasy is all about how far can you push your own creative/imaginative powers and ideas.  With crime it’s grounded in reality – so for me it’s the two opposing poles of the storytelling world and I like playing with characters in both.  I guess it must be the same for other fantasy writers who, like me, enjoy the mix up of genres.  Keeps us sharp in each area!

Q: You say you research extensively for your crime novels, going to London and walking the streets where you set the books. You used to work in the travel industry and I know you travel a lot. Does this mean you can write your trips off your tax? And having been born in Britain, does it feel like home to you when you go back there?

I have been a traveller all of my life.  As a child I travelled with my father’s work, as soon as I was old enough to fly the nest I was heading off to France and then further afield to Australia, arriving here at 20.  I deliberately made a beeline for the travel industry, working for a tourism authority, an international airline and ultimately with my husband in our own travel publication.  I left the magazine to write books but I’ve never lost my joy of travel and it’s true that all of my books tend to be Euro-centric because I do believe we’re all mostly a product of our upbringing and I was raised on the other side of the world.  And so because my historical sagas have a broad international focus, my crime is British based, my fantasy has a faux European medieval world, it does mean I’m usually heading off on a plane somewhere to gather up the research material.   Does Britain feel like home?  Yes and no.  I’m one of those people for who home is where my closest loved ones are and so my heart is definitely in Australia with my immediate family, all Aussies and fortunately my parents and brother emigrated out here too.  However, I think there’s such a thing as a ‘soul home’ and for me that’s Britain.  When you spend 20 years of your life growing up somewhere, you can’t pretend that it isn’t imprinted on your soul.  That doesn’t mean I prefer it or necessarily want to live there – I’m happy to visit but I do like to get my fix.  Let me assure your readers that because I travel the world extensively and always have, I can confidently say we all live in the best country on the planet.  Anyway, I do love to get back to London regularly and particularly to Sussex where I was born.  I have lots of lovely family still in the UK so that’s the major drawcard…and Colin Firth, of course.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hasKmDr1yrA]

Q: Not only do you write crime and fantasy, but also write historical fiction in Fields of Gold, which is set in India in the 1920s. Historical fiction is another area that is dear to many of the fantasy authors I interview. I see you based this book on a fictionalised account of your two grandfathers with a bit of poetic licence. Was it fun doing the research?

I love history so digging around in the past is pure pleasure.  But to be digging around in my family’s past was fun but also confronting at times.  I learned plenty that we didn’t know about, some of it painful.  I was able to walk in the footsteps of my four grandparents in places like Cornwall and Sussex in the UK as well as Myanmar and India.  I met family in India I barely knew existed and that was an emotional and unforgettable experience.  Walking the streets of Bangalore in southern India that my parents knew as children was filled with poignancy and frankly any trip to India – for whatever reason – is enriching, challenging, memorable.  I would go back in a blink…and will sometime soon.

Writing Fields of Gold showed me that historical fiction is probably the area of writing that most interests me and it’s because I am writing about a different era.  It’s likely why writing fantasy set in medieval times comes to me with a fluidity that I know wouldn’t be there if I attempted contemporary fantasy.  My next project is a WWll novel that was a joy to write because it has allowed me to set a book in France during a crisis era – learning about occupied France – and particularly Paris – has been an education and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.  It meant a tower of books to read and of course visits to the locations in the books, lots of interviews with locals and what has felt like endless research on so many small details.  It’s finally done – and in fact as I answer this question I’ve just finished reading the page proofs today so the novel is ready now and I shall set it free.  It is published in April 2012 by Penguin.  And will roll out internationally from later in 2012.  I’m writing its sequel now, set in the 50s and 60s in Britain, Australia and France.  I hope to have that finished to first draft by the end of November 2011.  This sequel required me to travel to some new destinations including Austria and Poland including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Schindler’s Factory.  Although this is not a Holocaust story, I’ve read, seen, experienced a lot about the Holocaust in a compressed period preparing for these books; I felt I needed to know far more more than I did so that I could understand better the psyche of one of my characters profoundly affected by it.  It’s been a stunningly emotional period as a result and I suspect this area of research is going to travel with me all of my life now.

Q: I find it interesting that you write the crime, historical sagas and your fantasy all under the one name Fiona McIntosh. Your first crime book appeared under Lauren Crow but you reverted to Fiona McIntosh. Why did you do this?

I always believed it was ill-advised to use a pen name.  I was thrilled when we changed back to one name across all books. In fairness to my publisher, it was only trying to protect the fantasy books, which had such a strong following.  I believed then and still do that readers are discerning creatures, more than capable of deciding to read my fantasy while not being offended that I choose to write across genres. The Lauren Crow experiment only lasted a few months I’m pleased to say but it was never my idea or desire.

Q: You say you are a person who rushes into things and in an interview on SF Site you said: ‘It’s very easy to stand back and say ‘oh that was an odd decision by Wyl’ but this is deliberately allowed by me to ensure he doesn’t always follow the ‘intelligent’ pathway that someone who is utterly objective can. Wyl is not objective most of the time. He’s never out of a bad situation in this story and constantly required to make decisions under enormous pressure not just for his own survival but for the safety of others. I like a bit of confusion — makes it more realistic because life is never straightforward.’ So your characters make mistakes. In real life we all make mistakes. Are there things that you wish you could go back and change in your life?

Decisions are presented to us everyday – sometimes they’re small, other times overwhelming. And taking the ‘right’ pathway is always going to look a lot clearer in retrospect.  I am a decision-maker.  I don’t dither and I’m always comfortable that I’m making the best decision with what I know at the time.  As the writer, it’s easy to be the puppet master and look ahead for characters – save them heartache and bad moves – but I’d rather they behaved as we all do; age, maturity, wisdom all comes into it, plus only knowing so much about a situation and basing their decisions on that.  Otherwise for me it doesn’t feel real.  Nevertheless – sigh – some reviewers still find the need to point out that some characters make odd decisions.  Yes they do…and that’s life.

On a personal note I can’t think of many poor life decisions, that would require me to time travel and re-write my own history and besides, each decision has led to the next set of circumstances and I’m pretty happy with where I am right now.  I believe in doors openings as others close and that making a decision and taking a step forward is far better than being frozen in indecision. So to answer your question, no I don’t wish to go back and change things but there are occasions I guess when I could wish to have been wiser at the time.  But, as I said, that’s life….

Q: You said in an interview on the ABC that your father (who is half Indian) didn’t come to anything at your school because he didn’t want to compromise you. ‘When I was at junior school, seven or eight years old, and there was an outbreak of lice in the school. And they just automatically blamed the Indian family. And so the health inspectors came to our house. In fact, we were the people who were bathing more than the Brits.’ Are you drawn to explore discrimination and persecution in your books?

No.  And I would never set out with any sort of agenda for my novels.  I write popular fiction and the whole point of that – for me anyway – is that my job as the writer is to be an entertainer. I’m happy to be a writer who crafts books that will keep a reader engaged and turning pages during a long flight, a tedious delay, or be that book that someone can’t wait to get back to during their lunch break. So long as my books provide that escape, I’ve done my job.  And really, if I look back over all my novels, the common theme seems to be revenge! <grin>  However, I suspect discrimination and persecution enter my stories because in the historical periods that I draw from life was not nearly so politically correct or protected.  In fact in the middle ages life was cheap and vulnerable people were persecuted daily and discrimination of all kinds was rife.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Possibly.  But these days although I’m writing it, I’m not reading enough fantasy to know.  However, I would suggest that traditionally – and here’s a huge generalisation – male writers do the whole battle thing with aplomb, while female authors really know how to plumb the emotional depths of a fantasy story.  That said, I think women have become rather adept at writing wars and bloodletting and men have wrapped their storytelling abilities very nicely around more emotional characters and storylines.  Take Guy Gavriel Kay, for instance.  I don’t think I’ve read one of his fantasy stories and not wept with or for a character.  So, I’ve not really come up with an answer for you, have I? Not wishing to fence-sit – and I could be way off – it strikes me that the male writers I meet – particularly the emerging ones, yet to crack the fabulous publishing contract – are more into the world building stuff and perhaps delivering complex worlds. There, that should have people howling for my blood!…my experience only.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not any more.  But perhaps it used to 30 years ago – men did battles, women did emotion well…that’s what I thought.  I remember reading BattleAxe when it was still in draft and feeling utterly gobsmacked to learn afterwards that it was a female author.  Similarly, I was thrilled to learn that Robin Hobb was a woman.  Both of them inspired me to give writing fantasy a go.  Over the last two decades that I’ve been focused on fantasy, gender has not been an issue for me – it’s not ever a consideration when buying a book in any genre. I’m far more intrigued by a cover, the blurb and its opening few pars than by the name on it

Q: So what’s next…more of the same? 

I enjoy writing fantasy so that’s not going to stop unless I sense that I can’t maintain a freshness in my stories any longer.  And writing historical fiction is a big personal buzz because each book’s research educates and enriches me and at the age I am now, I take great pleasure in learning new ‘stuff’, so that will continue.  I would like to craft more crime but that will depend on publishers who would probably prefer me to knuckle down and just write crime exclusively for a while but that’s unlikely given my track record. While other genre writers dabble with crime, in the main I hope it’s fair to say that crime writers have a tendency to keep writing crime exclusively.   I can’t commit wholly to one genre.  I’ve been writing some children’s fantasy, which is fun – it feels as though it has no bounds and I’ve had a good time with the characters.  I would love to write a thriller and also a big emotional romance.  I have a dream to write a cookbook and an even bigger one to write a screenplay.  I’d love to be part of a writing team that collaborates on a TV script.  So my ambitions are broadening, which is healthy I believe, and I probably take this attitude because I would hate to get stale in one area and risk losing the joy of storytelling.

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?

Blimey, there are so many eras I’d love to travel back in time to experience and so many people I would want to meet and as I thought about this it became so overwhelming with the freedom of choice you’ve given me that I couldn’t settle on one – do I meet Henry VIII? Do I drop in on Hitler’s Europe that I’ve been researching so much and try and understand that madness? Do I walk around 11th century Constantinople? Fun to eavesdrop the Romans, or meet Cleopatra!  Do I go back further still in search of some answers to big questions?  In the end I simplified it, brought it all closer to home, and as odd as it sounds I think I’d want to go back to my early childhood and be aware enough to pay more attention to it.  I have a shocking memory at the best of times so to be able to relive – as a voyeur – some of the great times of childhood would be incredible and I think to spend time again with my granny, whom I was close to and who was a tremendous influence on my life, would be exquisitely special knowing what I know now. I’d quite like to appreciate my parents as much younger people too – in their thirties – full of life and energy, dressing up and going out dancing, drinking, playing, entertaining.  We can often forget our seniors were once young, crazy and dreamy.  Although we didn’t have much money I had a busy, fun filled and happy childhood and so I’m not surprised that I find myself thinking it would be a grand romp to revisit it but as an omnipotent observer rather than a participant.

 

A copy of Royal Exile, book one of the Valisar series could be yours, dear reader, by sharing the following:

If you could be a character in any book, who would you be and why?

Follow Fiona on Facebook – I have two pages….and you are welcome to join me at either, or both:  Fiona McIntosh or at Fiona McIntosh Fans Group.

 

http://www.fionamcintosh.com

23 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Historical Books, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries

Meet Felicity Pulman …

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 Felicity Pulman to drop by.

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

Something’s gone wrong with my blog’s ability to embed videos. Here’s the link to Felciity’s great new promo for the Janna Mystery Series.

 

Q: We ran into each other at SheKilda, the women’s crime writers conference, but you write across a number of genres and ages. Your first novel (to appear under your own name) Ghost Boy was set in two timelines, the present and the past set, in part, around the small pox outbreak in 1881 when travellers were quarantined on arriving in Australia. There is a special Ghost Boy tour for school children at the Quarantine Station. It must be a real thrill to make a connection with children and bring the past to life like this. Have you been on the Ghost Boy tour and do you get a lot of emails from school children?

A: Yes and yes to both questions.  I found it very moving to watch my novel come to life up at the Quarantine Station. It’s a wonderful place to visit, very atmospheric.  It gives students a real feel for what life was like back in those times and of course they’re always sure they’re going to see a ghost!  (The guides themselves are quite sure the place is haunted!)

Q: In your Shalott Trilogy, which was inspired by Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot a group of five Australian teenagers try to rewrite the legend and save the Lady of Shalott. Have you always been fascinated by the King Arthur legends? Have you been to the UK to see Tintagel Castle?

A: I wrote the Shalott trilogy because I was being bugged by the questions: why was the lady trapped in the tower, why was there a curse on her, plus the questions that followed on from that: what if it’s possible to go back in time and change history (or a legend);  what if you’re also rewriting your destiny at the same time? I didn’t know much about anything at first so it was a HUGE learning curve. I began to acquire a library of Arthuriana old and new, plus books on magic, on life in medieval time, and so on. And I went on my first research trip, following the ‘Arthurian trail’ through England, Wales, Brittany and France.  Tintagel was only one of the marvellous places I visited; other sites included Merlin’s ‘cave’ and Merlin’s ‘tomb’, Glastonbury and the Isle of Avalon, the ‘home’ of the Lady of the Lake, plus South Cadbury Castle, Caerleon and Winchester, all of which have been variously named as Arthur’s seat of power, sometimes called Camelot.

Q: Your current series The Janna Mysteries are set in England in the 1140s during the King Stephen/Queen Matilda civil war. This series contains a number of mysteries which the main character, Janna, has to solve. I think I’m seeing a theme here. You have a BA in Communication and an MA in Children’s Literature. Were you ever tempted to do further study in the area of history? (See Felicity’s Tips on Writing Historical Fiction).

A: Actually I’m a late convert to history; I found it so boring when I was at school, probably because my teacher didn’t teach it as the continuing soap opera it really is!  Those who marry – or murder for a crown, those who drive themselves to acts of great courage or bastardry for the sake of love, rivalry, power or wealth. Those idealists who dream of a brave new world, sometimes at a price too terrible to bear … the history I study is the history that informs my books. If I wasn’t so busy writing I’d love to go back to uni and immerse myself in the middle ages – or ancient Greece – or Egypt – or …? So difficult to know where to start!

Q: You wrote two of the Guinevere Jones books, based on the hit TV series. Was it hard to immerse yourself in the series and the back-story, then write creatively about characters you didn’t invent?

A:  Sophie Masson and I wrote the four books based on the series, working from notes, scripts and recorded episodes that were sent to us.  Writing the GJ books was a very different experience from anything else I’ve written.  The books also had to be written very fast so there really wasn’t a great deal of time for angst over characters and back story, we pretty much had to work with what we were given. So there wasn’t a lot of scope for imaginative input; it was more a recording of other people’s lives.  One of the things I need to do is walk the place I’m writing about, but this wasn’t possible as GJ was filmed on set in Melbourne (I live in Sydney) so I found that a real challenge – where do the characters go and what do they do once they go ‘off screen’?

Q: In an interview on Need to Read This, when talking about your new  book you say: ‘Most recently, I went to Norfolk Island. Hearts in Chains is a time-slip romance going back to the mid-19th century and the time of the brutal second penal settlement. I visited the museums, the ruins of the gaol, the houses along Military Road (now called Quality Row) and also Government House (and I am deeply grateful to the administrator and his wife for allowing me free access and even finding for me a hidey-hole for Alice to hide her diary!)  I think it’s essential for me, as an author, to walk in my characters’ footsteps, to experience the landscape and identify what he/she might have seen – wildlife, trees, flowers, buildings (or their ruins), weather and the light, etc.’ (Felicity has a whole page dedicated to research on her web site. See here). I envy you the chance to do this. Where will you be going to next to research?

A:  I loved writing the Shalott trilogy so much, and became so immersed in Arthurian legend that I’m thinking of revisiting that time and place, with hopefully the chance to explore the Arthurian trail once more.

Q: You write books with a strong historical base. In the past females had many restrictions on what they could do from the inability to own property to the choice of who they married. Do you ever worry that young readers could have trouble identifying with a female character whose life choices are limited?

A: Society might change but human nature doesn’t, so my belief is that readers identify with and feel sympathy for Janna’s predicament, left alone in a hostile world with only her skills and her courage to save her; her life constantly under threat from everything from wolves and wild boar in the forest to an assassin on a mission to silence her – quite apart from having to find such basic necessities as food and shelter to keep herself alive. And then there are the three young men in her life – who will she choose?  Readers are certainly VERY interested in that question!

Q: I’ve been interviewing quite a few authors and discovered many of them combine similar genres, mystery, fantasy and history. Why do you think these genres blend so well?

A: Good question! It’s not something I’ve considered before, but I think in my case I enjoy reading and writing all these different genres, and if you can combine them, so much the better! I particularly enjoy time-slip stories, combining history with fantasy although of course they can also encompass the future (like my favourite author Connie Willis, for example.)  Plus a mystery to solve or some sort of quest to fulfil is usually at the heart of every story, especially a fantasy.

Q: You go by the nick-name Flick. Did you have an annoying older brother who teased you and the name stuck? How did this come about?

A: I actually had an annoying older sister who called me ‘Fwiz’, which became the family nickname, while I was Fuzz (pronounced Fooz) to everyone else.  My family still call me that but anyone else does so at their peril!  I became Flick when I went to uni (in my late teens) and was christened thus by a girl in my res who subsequently became my best friend and who had known a Felicity/Flick at school.  Infinitely better than Fwiz, so I don’t mind that the name has stuck. ‘Felicity’ is far too formal.

Q: I understand you are cooking up a new project to write about. Can you share it with us?

A: It’s still in the cooking stage but, as I said earlier, it will be centred on King Arthur and Camelot, exploring in more detail some of the issues I found so fascinating while writing the Shalott trilogy – but this novel will be for adults.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

A: I don’t read ‘high fantasy’ at all, so this is not a question I can answer, except to say there do seem to be any number of wonderful women fantasy writers around so I’m surprised by your observation. Perhaps female fantasy writers need to establish a Sisters in Fantasy, the equivalent of the international Sisters in Crime movement?

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

A:  Perhaps subliminally, not consciously.  If I find an author I like I’ll keep going, in which case I know what to expect.  With a new writer, I’ll go with the blurb and whether it sounds like an interesting story rather than defining it by gender.

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: Fun??  That’s a very difficult question with so many people and places to choose from!  Backwards?  Forwards?  Decisions, decisions…and the temptation to try to change the course of history while you’re at it!  I might opt for Jerusalem at the time of Christ. I always wondered how I’d have reacted to the Messiah if I’d been around then. I’m sure it would be a very interesting time and place to visit.

Give-away Question:  Following on from the question above:  if you could meet anyone past or present, who would it be … and why?

Felicity’s Blog

Follow Felicity on Facebook

Network with Felicity on Linked-in

Catch up with Felicity on GoodReads

4 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Collaboration, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Historical Books, Movies & TV Shows, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Tips for Developing Writers

Meet Ian Irvine …

Today I’m interviewing Ian Irvine because someone where I work turned around this week and said, I don’t read much fantasy, but I love Ian Irvine’s books. I’m also asking Ian the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male writer.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: You have a PhD in Marine Science (plus you’ve travelled a lot in your capacity as a marine scientist). The PhD must help when you’re writing your eco-thrillers (Human Rites series), but did the scientific mind get in the way when you are writing your Three Worlds Cycle, fantasies?

I’ve been interested (indeed, fascinated) by science since an early age, and decided I wanted to be a scientist around 13 or 14. And since graduating, I’ve worked in the field for the past 30 years, as an expert on contaminated sediments in the bottom of harbours (a world-wide problem). My background was of particular help in writing the Human Rites trilogy, which is set in a near-future world of catastrophic climate change, not least because I did a research project decades ago researching ice ages over the past 5 million years, and I’ve maintained an interest in climate change ever since. My scientific experience and knowledge proved useful in trying to predict what the world of these books would really be like, and how that would affect the lives of the characters.

Actually, my scientific mind proved particularly helpful in writing my Three Worlds fantasy novels, in world-building, for instance. Because I’d studied all the major scientific disciplines, I was well-equipped to design both plausible and realistic worlds for the series, and a variety of intelligent species to inhabit these worlds.

It was also invaluable because the life experience a writer has determines the kind of books he or she writes, what he writes about and how he sees the world. For instance, Tolkien was a philologist – he studied languages – and he created the languages of Middle Earth before he wrote the stories. A lot of fantasy writers (eg George RR Martin, Sara Douglass) have studied history, and this colours the stories they write. Other fantasy writers draw inspiration from myths, legends, fairy or folk tales, ancient literatures, and so on. But I’ve never wanted to draw on history, mythology or literature for my stories, and neither did I want to write in traditional settings. I wanted to tell my own stories in my own way, in worlds I’d created myself.

Two writers I particularly enjoy who have a strong scientific background are Laura Kinsale (romance – she was a geologist) and Diana Gabaldon (genre-crossing stories – Ph.D. in marine biology). Personally, I find that my scientific background gives me a unique perspective in writing fantasy, and that’s a good thing, because it makes my writing different to other authors. For instance, if I’m describing a common fantasy phenomenon such as a portal, I imagine what it would really be like – differences in temperature, humidity, air pressure etc between the two locations could lead to a gale howling through the gate as soon as it opens, or water vapour condensing in clouds of fog etc. This kinds of realistic details help to make the story more grounded and real.

Q: You’ve written 27 books including fantasy, eco-thrillers and children’s books. Do you find readers follow you from genre to genre? Do you think kids who read your children’s books will grow up to be readers of your fantasies and/or eco-thrillers?

Most readers don’t genre hop, unfortunately, and few of my readers who are fantasy fans will ever read my eco-thrillers. I know this because both fans and booksellers have told me. For this reason, publishers don’t like their authors (especially the big name authors) writing in other genres, because they know most of their readers won’t follow. Raymond Feist once said that it took years before his publishers would agree to let him write Faerie Tale, because it was so different to his other work.

Having said that, children are less fixed in their reading tastes than adults. And all twelve of my kids’ books have been fantasy in one form or another, so I’m hopeful that many of those readers will read my epic fantasy stories when they’re older.

Q: Your office looks absolutely wonderful! Such a peaceful place to write. But you didn’t always have a fancy office. In an interview on Tristan Bancks blog you say: ‘I wrote the whole first draft of one of my big fantasy novels, The Way Between the Worlds, in my spare time on a consulting assignment in Fiji. I’ve also written in a sweltering mine site donga on Horn Island in Torres Strait, at the top of a mountain in Papua-New Guinea, in Mauritius, Indonesia and the Philippines, and on long jobs for the World Bank in Korea.’ Would you say if the story is compelling enough a writer can write anywhere?

I am blessed in my office; it’s where I’ve done almost all my writing for the past 20 years. Though it didn’t start out a writing office and, when it was built I couldn’t have justified the expense (being unpublished then) as a place to write. It was built as my consulting office, and it’s where I went to work every day as a marine scientist until I became a ‘full-time’ writer in 2000 (I still do quite a bit of consulting; I have 1.5 full-time jobs).

I wouldn’t say that if the story is compelling enough a writer can write anywhere. Rather, that if the urge and need to write is desperate enough, a writer can write anywhere. In those days, working as a marine scientist, I had to make use of every free second to do my writing otherwise I would never have got it done.

 

Q: You children’s series Grim and Grimmer sounds like a heap of fun. During an interview on DG Yarns you say:  “After about twenty-four hours of hard labour I came up with a great title, Grim and Grimmer, and every time I mentioned it, people smiled. See, you’re doing it now.

So I sat down, invented the silliest and most extravagant characters I could think of, then sketched out a fiendishly complicated plot where they only got out of one desperate trouble to plunge immediately into a worse one. And every time I thought, no one should ever suffer like this, I went har, har, yes they should, and thought of a hundred and three more ways to torment them, working on the principle that if the characters are having a good time, my readers aren’t.’

After your serious eco-thrillers, do you have to do anything to get into the right frame of mind to write your Grim and Grimmer books?

Not really – pain and torment does it for me every time (author sniggers at the thought). Seriously, I was overcome by the opportunity to write a kind of book I’d never written before – humorous adventure fantasy for children – and when the chance came up, I grabbed it. The only problem was that I was frantic with other deadlines and it was difficult to set aside the uninterrupted time to write and edit each book. But when I got the time, and planned the books in detail, they flowed quickly. They were the most fun I’ve ever had writing and I’m sorry the series is finished.

Q: In your Runcible Jones stories you follow the plot device of having an ordinary boy go through to another world. Were you a big fan of the Narnia books growing up?

Oddly, though I was a voracious reader from an early age, I didn’t read fantasy as a child – neither The Hobbit, the Narnia books nor any other fantasy I can remember. I don’t know why, because I loved fairy tales and mythological tales. I can only assume that those books weren’t in the school library (I went to a couple of one-teacher primary schools as a kid, where the books came in book boxes and the choice was quite limited).

I loved SF when I was at school but only discovered fantasy at uni – Tolkien, Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea series, etc. As for the Narnia books, which I also started at uni, I absolutely loathed them – perhaps one has to read them in childhood. I found them sanctimonious, moralising, sexist and thoroughly disagreeable. I think my view of characters travelling through gates or portals came from SF rather than fantasy – I guess, in particular, CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine trilogy (Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth) which I read in the late 70s.

 

Q: I like your premise for the Sorcerer’s Tower series. Your main character is ‘the only kid in the world who can’t do magic’. It immediately turns the trope of ‘the chosen one’ on its head. Do you like to play with the genre tropes?

Not deliberately. To be honest, I’m not sure I understand what a trope is. Having Tamly being the only kid who couldn’t do magic just ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’. But I hate writing stereotypical or archetypal characters – princess, magician, warrior etc. I avoid them if I can, or if I can’t, I like to twist or invert them. Hey, maybe I am playing with the genre tropes without knowing it.

Q: You’re working on a new fantasy series, the Tainted Realm, with the first book, Vengeance, due out in November 2011. Do I detect a hint of world under threat by natural disasters? Do you find your world-view as a marine scientist creeping into your writing of fantasy?

To your first question, yes. To the second, no, I don’t think so. My first degree is in geology and I think it has more to do with my fascination with geological disasters.

Earth’s history is peppered with life threatening catastrophes, whether due to earthquakes, super-volcanoes, abrupt climate change, enormous tsunamis, droughts that lasted for hundreds or thousands of years, catastrophic floods the like of which we’ve never seen, comet and meteor impacts like the one at Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908. Human civilisation has grown up in an extraordinary benign period over the last few thousand years and we assume that this is the norm. But it’s not, and disasters that could wipe out civilisation are actually extremely common in Earth’s history.

Such a disaster would make a great story setting, and that’s where the interest lies for me – telling stories in settings no one has used before.

For those who are interested in this topic I can recommend Professor Bill McGuire’s terrific little book, A Guide to the End of the World. The Armageddon Online site is also full of inspirational joy.

 

Q: Ian, you’ve been very generous in sharing your expertise. You did a great post on the ROR blog about your Adventures on Facebook and you have a whole page dedicated to Writing Tips on your blog. Do you get approached by aspiring authors at events?

It’s hard to succeed at writing and I like to help people where I can. Over the next few months I’ll be expanding the Writing section on my site to several hundred pages.

I’m approached by authors at cons and events from time to time, though I’ve invariably found them to be polite and interested rather than pushy. But the problem I have (and many other authors are the same) is that I have to say no to people who ask me to read their work, because if I said yes I wouldn’t get any of my own writing done.

Q: I see you have a competition running to Win an iPad. (Tell you what, I’d love an iPad). Do you find that running competitions like this help you reach out to readers?

I’m not sure that competitions help me to reach out to readers, but I’m convinced that social media do. The main reason I’m running the competition is to attract my existing readers to my Facebook author page. I was rather late in coming to Facebook but I’m totally converted – it’s a fantastic way to communicate with my readers, to hear what they’re interested in and create a genuine community of like-minded souls. It’s much better than email or blogging. And if I have a question, I often get dozens of great answers.

I’m also running the comps to attract new readers, of course.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I’m not aware of that perception (about a boys’ club), but I haven’t been to the US for decades, and to the UK only once in the past 30  years. And I’m not an active member of the fantasy professional community so I don’t know what people are currently talking about. Having said that, I certainly formed the view, when I was starting out in writing in the 80s, that fantasy was a boys’ club, since a majority of the big name writers were male.  I think that’s changed a lot over the past 15 years, and definitely in Australia where most of the bestselling writers (eg Sara Douglass, Kate Forsyth, Juliet Marillier, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Fiona McIntosh, Trudi Canavan, Karen Miller, Kylie Chan, Marianne de Pierres) are women. Perhaps less so overseas.

I have five sisters, and my wife has three, and I have two daughters. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why I never wanted to write macho fantasy shackled by historical stereotypes, where the blokes had all the adventures while the women did traditional women’s stuff. It’s fantasy, for God’s sake! The author can create any kind of society he or she wishes.

Back in the 70’s and 80s, when there was a fair bit of feminist fantasy around, I used to think there was a big difference between fantasy written by males and females. But now I’m not so sure. There are plenty of women writers who are writing more violent and less emotional fantasy than I do.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not for me. I love Robin Hobb’s writing, and JK Rowling’s, and Lois McMaster Bujold’s (her fantasy eg The Curse of Chalion, not her SF), among many other female writers.

The only thing that changes my expectations is the author’s ‘brand’, ie the associations of what kind of a read I can expect based on the author’s name.

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?

Probably to the lottery office or the stock market. Definitely NOT to the races – I’m particular about who I hang out with.

Or to the great library at Alexandria to pick up some originals before it was burned.

Failing that, to the core of the galaxy to touch up my pallid complexion in the light of a million suns. Or back to the time of the Cambrian Explosion where there was a fantastic and never since equalled burgeoning of life of all kinds – though I’d probably be eaten by a trilobite. It would also be interesting to be on site a few minutes before the Big Bang – though I expect I’d (briefly) regret it, lol.

 

To win an advance copy of Vengeance, Book 1 of Ian’s new epic fantasy trilogy The Tainted Realm:

Giveaway Question:  Name the most irritating character in a fantasy novel. What cruelly ironic fate would you like him/her/it to suffer?

 

Ian’s website

Catch up with Ian on Facebook

Ian’s Books and Writing Blog

Catch up with Ian on Goodreads

Catch up with Ian on Google+.

Follow Ian on Twitter   @ianirvineauthor

14 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, creativity, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Nourish the Writer, Thrillers and Crime, Young Adult Books