Category Archives: Historical Books

Juliet Marillier talks about creating Fantasy Worlds…

A whole new world?   

Ask dedicated readers of fantasy, and epic fantasy in particular, what makes a book special for them, and I’d guess a majority would place good world-building high on the list. I’m talking about novels in which the secondary world is so well realised and so expertly woven into the story that the reader becomes immersed in it within the first few pages: a world that’s convincing, consistent and fascinating. Its parameters and its quirks won’t be set out for us in long passages of descriptive exposition, but will be integral to the plot and will emerge as the story unfolds.

Many fantasy worlds are loosely based on medieval Europe – horse transport, sword fights, kings and queens. Some are more exotic, like the version of feudal Japan that provides the setting for Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori. A writer who knows her history can play boldly with it, as Jacqueline Carey does in her Kushiel’s Legacy series. Some worlds have in-built anachronisms, as in steampunk; some add extras to known history (Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series does the Napoleonic wars with dragons.) Since we’re talking fantasy, it’s often a world in which systems of magic are a key plot element – think Garth Nix’s Sabriel series or the Britain of Hogwarts.

My novels are generally classified as historical fantasy – they contain elements of the uncanny, but they are set in ‘real world’ times and places. Known world events, such as Viking voyages to the north of Scotland or merchant trading between Romania and Turkey, take place in the background while the (fictional) story of the book unfolds. I do almost as much research for each book as I would if I were writing a straight historical novel – history, geography, flora and fauna, culture, language. And most important of all, mythology and folklore, since that’s where the fantasy elements of my books begin. I’ve written eleven adult novels and two books for young adults more or less on this model.

My new novel, Shadowfell, steps outside that framework. It’s the first book I’ve chosen to set in a ‘made-up world’.

So how did I go about creating this world? You won’t need to delve too deep to work out that the uncanny characters of the Shadowfell series, the Good Folk, are based on Scottish folklore, and that the realm of Alban is an alternative, magical version of ancient Scotland. History it ain’t. It’s a Scotland that never was, in which men and women mingle with a race of magical beings who inhabit the high mountains, the lonely lochs and the deep caves; a Scotland steeped in the uncanny. The map of Alban does resemble the Great Glen area, but it’s not a perfect match by any means. The human characters’ names are a blend of Scots and Pictish; the clans of Good Folk take their names from nature so, for instance, the mountain clan are named for Scots alpine plants – Hawkbit, Woodrush, Twayblade – and the fighting clan of the north, whom we meet in the second book, have names like Stack, Grim and Scar. The Good Folk speak Scots dialect – I must have absorbed a lot of the language growing up in Dunedin, New Zealand, as those characters’ speech pretty much wrote itself.

Creating the world of Shadowfell was deeply rewarding; a bit like going home after half a lifetime away. But for me a compelling story and engaging characters are far more important than world building. In Shadowfell, I set out to write a story about being brave when your world is falling apart; about finding your strength when you are at your very lowest; about having hope when you’ve suffered more blows than you can count. The protagonist, Neryn, starts the story alone, penniless and on the run. She’s not a ballsy superwoman; she’s tired, hungry and afraid. Alban is in the grip of a tyrant. It’s a place where speaking out for justice means your door gets kicked in and your family dragged away in the middle of the night. It’s a place where a magical gift such as Neryn’s must be hidden if a person wants to survive. It takes phenomenal courage to stand up to that kind of repression. Shadowfell is about finding that kind of courage.


Juliet has a copy of Shadowfell to give-away to an Australian or New Zealand reader. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Historical Books, Writing craft

Meet Gillian Polack…

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 ferociously well-read and talented Gillian Polack to drop by.

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

Q: Your new book, Ms Cellophane has come out through Momentum. ‘Part gentle love story, part bizarre horror tale, but never, ever boring, Ms Cellophane is a revealing look at one woman’s nightmare transforming her reality in unexpectedly amusing ways.’ What prompted you to write this book?

I went through my own cellophane phase when I turned forty. I was doing a great deal of work with women’s groups at the time and I saw just how many women had to learn how not to be cellophane. I also saw how little the wider world cared. Sorting this out in my mind wasn’t immediate – it took a few years. During that time a large number of people (including myself and several friends) took redundancy packages from the public service and discovered the wonder of new lifestyles on too little money (Canberra’s new ‘genteel’). Then I turned my mind to the sad neglect of Canberra as a location for fantasy novels and I realised that I owned a mirror that had a ghost story attached. At that moment, I suffered a plague of ants. I had no option left but to write the book I wrote!

Q: You have a Doctorate in History and an MA in Medieval Studies. You teach at the Australian National University You are known as a medieval food expert. You organised authentic historical banquets for the Canberra convention, Conflux, for a number of years. I remember going to a talk at a conference where you handed out samples for us to try! What led you into history, specifically the middle ages and food?

History has been one of my passions since I was quite young. When I was eight I knew that my adult life had to include both history and the writing of fiction and that it wasn’t going to be an easy road.

My fascination with history is with people and with their lives. Not the biographies, but the daily lives. How do people think? What do they think about? What hero-tales do they know? What food do they eat? What books do they read and what songs do they sing? Do they dance in halls or in graveyards? I always have ten thousand questions I want to ask, even as I learn more and more.

I didn’t actually specialise in the Middle Ages until my fourth year at university. I learned Old French language and literature, but my major included Roman history and French history and pre-Classical antiquity and in Church history and in the history of magic. When I had to come up with a topic for my honours thesis, though, I realised that I had a terribly important question I needed to answer, and that the Middle Ages might have the answer.

This was 1982. Computers were changing our everyday. These days our culture has modified to encompass the process of change, but back then it was all wonderful and terrifying. I wanted to understand how societies adapted to such deep and fundamental change. I wanted to see where we were going and find mechanisms for interpreting my own changing reality.

The High Middle Ages had more books and growing literacy and, in fact, experienced this same style of change. The changes themselves were different, of course, and somewhat slower, but the effects were no less deep. Since that decision – which was made while Geoffrey Blainey and I were sitting on the floor in his office, for all his chairs were covered with paper – I’ve been in the Middle Ages.

This isn’t food, is it? These days everyone knows me for the food history. I can teach people to understand culture and society far more easily using food than using almost anything else. It’s one of the areas I’ve researched and published (obviously) but it’s never been my main preoccupation. This amuses me, because I’ve taught more about food history than about most other kinds, and I had a paid food history blog for three years. And I quite obviously love my food history! But get me started on changes in perception of historical time in the twelfth century or on the development of epic heroes in the thirteenth, or on almost anything Arthurian, or on how we interpret different kinds of evidence, and you’ll discover that the food is just one of many, many loves.

Q: I see you are running a History for Fiction Writers workshop at the ACT Writers Centre in September. Does it drive you crazy when you see fiction books with really obvious errors? What’ s the most common error that fiction writers make, when creating secondary worlds based on Europe in the middle ages?

It drives me crazy when the errors are easy to avoid and when they break the feel that the universe of the book might be real. I don’t mind errors that are entirely in keeping with the story.

The most annoying error that many writers make is to assume that people who are from certain periods (especially the Middle Ages) are particularly stupid. My assumption when a writer does that is that they’re talking about their own ancestors, for my ancestors gave rise to a highly intelligent bunch of people and so must have been pretty bright.

The most common error is in high fantasy where a Medievalish background is set up without some basics. Inns need customers and can’t be too isolated and lonely. Towns need water, otherwise they’re dead towns. If all the local peasants are murdered by the evil lord, then there’s no-one to bring in the harvest. That sort of thing.

Q: You have dedicated a lot of time to supporting feminist/social awareness initiatives, serving on the committees of: the Australian NGO Working Group, UN World Conference Against Racism; the Ministerial Advisory Council on Women, ACT; National Committee, Women’s History Month, Australia 2000-2004 and Status of Women Chair, National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (1991-1999). From this I’m guessing you feel you have to ‘give back’. You are Jewish. I had a friend who lost all of her family except for her mother and father, and I think an uncle, in the Second World War. Her father searched Europe after the war and eventually found her mother. Do your family have harrowing tales to tell? Scientists now know that the experiences of parents and grandparents can be passed down to their descendants through epi-genetics. Do you feel an echo of the events of mid-last century?

All my family was in Australia by around 1917. Some of it came out much earlier. We weren’t missed (alas) by the pogroms and, in fact, have a family story about the Kishinev pogroms. My great-great grandfather was attacked and, with his broken leg, told his children to flee. And they did. The only child who died in a concentration camp was the one who didn’t flee far enough. We were the lucky ones. On all sides of my family, we were the lucky ones. We only went through the normal Jewish suffering, not the Shoah. In fact, one of my great-uncles died fighting over France. I still think that epigenetics have affected us, because persecution didn’t start and end with Hitler, but that’s another story.

In terms of the ‘giving back’ – it’s more than that. I come from a profoundly Australian Jewish family. I was taught that it’s my obligation to make sure that the world is a better place for me being in it. How I do it is up to me, but the way I was taught to improve the world (‘tikkun olam’) was through committees and with food. If there’s a Jewish family CWA member type, it’s from our mob.

I feel really bad when I’m not doing something positive, but it doesn’t have to be activist work or charity work. It can be helping new writers or mentoring. It can be feeding the tired or cheering the miserable or creating things of beauty. I just ended up on committees (and helped found Women’s History Month in the process) because I am, unfortunately for me, good on committees.

Q: You 2002 novel, Illuminations, combines Authurian legend with modern times. I suppose as a historian you are fascinated by the glimpses we have of ‘Arthur’.

Absolutely. The type of historian I am (and Arthuriana is one of my playgrounds) adores tracing ideas and characters and seeing just who has done what with them. This is not an uncommon trait for Medievalists and I’ve noticed that, while I watch out for daft Robin Hood paraphernalia for a US scholar, a Sydney academic found me a copy of A Connecticut Fashionista in King Arthur’s Court. I’m capable of being impossibly technical and also of being impossibly silly on the subject. It’s one of my secret joys.

Q: When talking about your book, Life through Cellophane in a guest post on Mary Victoria’s blog you say: ‘ .the deeds of men are interesting and the lives of women are mundane. Women are allowed to change the world, but we’re expected to do it one cup of tea at a time . I write those cups of tea. Because I’m another of those women who find everyone’s lives fascinating and their own rather dull, and I want to show myself and the world that we’re all wrong. In finding the strangeness of mirrors and the joys of dressing up, in searching out the magic lying underneath the ordinary, I can find the glamour in lives like mine.’ Fascinating, but I still can’t tell what the book is about. (By the way, it appears to have sold out. Will there be a reprint?)

The reprint came out on 1 July!

The book was killed immediately after the first print run sold out. Borders took Eneit Press down with them. Momentum (the new PanMacmillan imprint) have taken it on and renamed it Ms Cellophane. I don’t know if they know what it’s about, either, however.

For me, it’s the story of Liz, who faces the miserable truth of cellophane, encounters magic, finds romance and has a very, very strange year.

Q: I believe you have a new book due out, The Art of Effective Dreaming. Is this a work of fiction or non-fiction? Can you tell us a little about it?

It’s my cursed novel! It’s been coming out for several years now. It has killed several computers and nearly killed my poor publisher several times. It has been hit by three hurricanes and an unknown number of earthquakes. (This description is literal – it really has experienced some interesting events.) I hope that one day the curse is overcome, for it’s a quest fantasy, with someone stepping into an alternate world and encountering a sad lady, a mysterious stranger, dead morris dancers and bizarre magic powers. It contains many folksongs.

Q: You are also an editor. You’ve edited for the Canberra SF Guild anthologies and for Eneit Press, and you work as a freelance editor. Do you find it hard to switch off the internal editor, when you write fiction?

I don’t quite edit in the way most editors do, so I don’t have that problem. Each story or novel is different and each of them needs a different approach. The question is not what I can correct or what changes I can suggest, but what tools each writer needs to bring their writing to take it where it can go. One poor writer gets a three hour phonecall, another gets coffee and cake and I whip out my whiteboard, while still another gets a chatroom and another gets lengthy discussion about white space and punctuation. One writer discovers Evil Editor, where I push harder and harder until they confront the dark stuff they need to make the story what it can be (and the writer reading this will know I’m talking about her – I was so tough on her!!). One writer in fifteen gets old-fashioned markup.

Writers tend to want to work with me again, so my system may sound a bit strange and unpredictable, but it’s effective. The range of my approaches means that it doesn’t affect my writing at all. This is a shame for there are definitely times when I could do with the Evil Editor and we all need the Great Punctuation Lecture at times.

Q: When talking about your historical research you say: A filter of our personal experience and how we interpret it applies to everything we do, and everything we select. The trouble with this cultural approach is that it opens the door to an avalanche of information. The minute you try to sort out what the filters are, you open those doors. And that is what my research is about – and what a lot of my teaching is concerned with. Sorting out that avalanche of information and making sense of it. Trying to work out how it affects our lives, and where we fit with our pasts. This sounds fascinating. Can you give us an example of what you mean?

My favourite example is when you set the table for dinner. Why the table? Why not the floor? Why those chairs? Why cutlery? Why crockery? Every single element of that set table has filters applied, and those filters are shared by most of the people likely to eat that dinner with you. If you know where those filters come from (England in the sixteenth century might have laid a similar table, for instance, but not Japan in the fourth) then you can find out more about who you are and where you come from and begin to understand things more deeply. Not the physical-you, but the cultural-you. It’s what helps shape our decisions and gives us the capacity to interpret the world.

Q: In a guest post on Sue Bursztybski’s blog talking about a short story you say: I also wanted to learn about Jewish magic. Jewish magic is considered special, historically. In the Renaissance, Jewish magicians were thought to be somehow stronger, more connected with the esoteric. I know something about Medieval*** and even Renaissance magic and I thought “What if I extrapolate? What if I bring the Jewish magic systems forward from the fifteenth century and maybe earlier and turn them into an almost-lost family tradition?” Sounds like a great premise for a book. Are you tempted to take this idea further?

I’ve taken it further. I’ve written the book. Finding it a home has not, however, quite happened. When I find a publisher for my Sydney feminist Jewish magic wielder, I’ll let you know!

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 want a time machine where I could see but not be seen. I have this deep distrust of the things! I can say this, but I don’t actually have a single particular place and time in mind. I have so many places and times I want to see and to compare and to find out about. I think I’d better make up an itinerary. A very, very long itinerary.


Gillian has some bookplates to give away, so here’s the Give-away Question:

What should Gillian put on her time travel itinerary, and why?


Follow Gillian on Twitter: @GillianPolack

See Gillian’s LJBlog

Catch up with Gillian on GoodReads

Catch up with Gillian on Linked-in


Filed under Australian Writers, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Historical Books, Writers and Redearch

Meet Karen Brooks…

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 and amazingly busy female fantasy author Karen Brooks to drop by.

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

Q: Your first book published was It’s Time, Cassandra Klein, followed by The Gaze of the Gorgon, The Book of Night  and Kurs of Atlantis . The first book came out in 2001 and the most recent in this series in 2004. You were dealing with quite adult themes and you aged your main character from 13 – 16 in the course of the books. Did you publishers have any reservations about the themes or the aging of your character?
My publishers, Lothian, were really very supportive about both the ageing of the characters (the other lead character, Simon, ages from almost 15-18) and the quite adult themes. Using Greek and Roman myths (and some from other cultures as well), it’s inevitable that you strike quite complex notions and characters (the gods themselves, many of whom feature in the books, as well as a variety of heroes, were feisty, flawed and while often narcissistic, also underwent their own trials and lessons which mirror those of my protagonists), never mind the fact that the series itself dealt with a range of issues such as loss, grief, the Holocaust, and mental illness, as well as the usual suspects such as sibling rivalry, loyalty, bravery, and self-discovery. Fortunately, the readership – which was both young adult and adult – didn’t have any reservations about the themes or ageing either!

Q: The main character of this series (Cassandra Klein) is thirteen when the first book opens. Did you choose to write at the upper end of primary/lower age end of YA for a specific reason? Also, these books are written under Karen R Brooks. Did you do this to differentiate your adult fiction (Do you write adult fiction?) and non-fiction books from children’s books and what does the R stand for?  (Ruby, Rosemary, Regina?)

I did write for the upper end – not only did I age Caz Klein from 13 to almost 16 across the four books, but many of the themes and the Greek and Roman myths I retold (through her adventures) were quite adult and confronting. I also dealt with themes of loss, mental illness and grief among many others, so it was appropriate to have an older YA protagonist and target the same demographic. The books seemed to fit comfortably in that age range and many adults read them too – which was lovely.

The R in Karen R Brooks was to differentiate my adult writings from YA and also my academic work from fiction (though I now write adult fiction as Karen Brooks). It stands for Ruth and the name has a long history in my family. For as far back as we can trace ourselves (we are Mendelssohns from Germany), the eldest daughter was either called or given as her middle name, Ruth. My great-grandmother (who died in a Concentration camp) was Elsa Ruth Mendelssohn, my grandmother, Eva Ruth, mother Edna Ruth, then there’s me, and my daughter who is Caragh Louise Ruth. I used to not like Ruth – hence Caragh has two middle names, but now I love it – the history it evokes, the sense of a female line.

Q: I think we were at one of the Voices on the Coast festivals a few years ago when you were telling me about your plans for what became The Curse of the Bond Riders trilogy – a fantasy world that takes its inspiration from renaissance Venice full of magic, betrayal and mystery. Sounds fascinating. Now all three books are out, Tallow, Votive and Illumination. I understand you did a lot of research on Venice and lived in Europe for a while, travelling to Venice. (There are some lovely photos on Karen’s website which include photos from the European trip). Which comes first for you, the high concept then the research? Or does your general research on life prompt the high concept?

Wow – great question! And I do remember telling you about the trilogy and you were so encouraging! Thank you!

The high concept came first – it always does now I come to think of it! In this instance, I had the idea for a candle-maker who basically produces these marvellous scented candles. The power of our olfactory senses are such (they are our oldest memories – our sense of smell), that when the scents infused into Tallow’s (my protagonist) candles are inhaled, people can be made to do all sorts of things – good and bad – be generous, fall in love, sign a contract, murder…. The idea for an assassin who uses candles and later becomes a celebrated courtesan was born and from that, the place and time became evident. Candles were an essential item in the Renaissance – any time pre-electricity really J – but when I started to read about Venice (I have always been mad on Italy, but didn’t know much about Venice), the novels simply had to be set there – for me, it was a natural fit. I set about learning everything I could. I wrote Tallow without ever having been to Italy let alone Venice. But  before Votive (the second book) was finished, I’d been to Venice twice (I had the privilege of living and teaching in The Netherlands for a few months, so was able to “duck” over! The beauty of Europe from the perspective of an Australian – the proximity of countries and thus different cultures and cuisines to each other!), I also studied the Italian language for two years.

Q: You have a doctorate in Humanities specialising in Social Media.  You lecture at UNI in ‘… the areas of media, youth, sexuality and popular culture using a psychoanalytical model’, and travelled to Beijing (China) as the first Australian Writer in Residence at the Western Academy in 2005. In 2007 and again in 2009 you spent six weeks at Teiko University (Netherlands) where you taught. You are called on as an expert to comment on Channel 7’s Sunrise and Today/tonight. (For a list of some of  Karen’s articles see here). You’ve appeared on 60 minutes and on The Einstein Factor as part of the ‘Brains Trust’. With all this study and commentary are you tempted to write near future SF? We are currently living in ‘interesting times’ as the Chinese curse goes. Where can you see Australian/first world society going in the next ten years?

I am tempted to write sci-fi! LOL! In fact, a novel I started many years ago now (but never finished – maybe one day…) was called The Cairn Experiment and was set about three-four hundred years in the future where society has reverted to very Victorian ideals about gender and sex roles especially. Women are again oppressed and while they can operate in public space and be employed, it is always in subservient roles, as assistants etc. Men too are imprisoned by the expectations of their sex. The story follows one female who’s the assistant of a rather prudish, brutish scientist and his team, sent to a place that they only recently discovered on an old map, which is called “Cairn Island” (the “Pitt” part has been erased through age). What they find on this unchartered island is set to tear society apart.

Maybe, one-day, I’ll return to it. But I think what I am describing in that novel summarises my fears… that somehow, while we’re advancing in so many wonderful ways – science, technology, medicine – in terms of sex, gender and even the arts, there is a sense of marking time or, worse, retreating, as if we’re afraid of what we’re capable of as men, women, children. The apparent rise of a very vocal and conservative right is indicative of this and the power they have to sway political decisions and policy is alarming – and not just in first world countries either. There is also a reversion to a preference for clichéd behaviour and thoughts over originality; stereotypes masquerading as individuality and the rise of the “it’s all about me” phenomena, whether it be the narcissist unable to hold down a relationship, girls insisting on being treated like princesses and boys silly enough to attempt to do that, worrying about what “I” can get out of something instead of working towards a mutual goal… the preparedness to pepper conversations with personal pronouns…. I also worry about the notion that “fame” in and of itself (without accompanying hard work or experience) has become a desirable destination for some people, regardless of the cost; the need to be noticed. I despair that feminism is the new “f” word, that young men and women are viewed by corporations and others as consumers more than they are people and… I better stop Jsounds so pessimistic! But, I also have great hope for the future as well. We are, despite reports to the contrary and even my above observations, kinder towards each other than in the past, crime has dropped, we are able to travel and thus broaden our minds, and we’re able to debate ideas and concepts freely – at least here in Australia…. We are also critical consumers of everything, really. I just wish we’d do more of all of that. I wish we’d tolerate or at least respect difference and not be so fearful of it (I am thinking very much of gay marriage and refugees, but there are so many other issues at stake with people at the heart – I think we forget that, our humanity sometimes). Also, young people are more engaged with the world, each other and socially conscious – aware of social justice – than any generation previously. I meet some utterly fabulous young people and older ones too and, though I can despair, these people collectively give me great hope for the future.

Q: In your book Consuming Innocence you cover ‘…  the complex relationship parents, teachers and children have with popular culture – that is, advertising, sexiness, TV, computers, films, mobile phones and fashion.’ This was published in 2008 so I’m assuming it was written in 2006- 2007. Twitter didn’t exist then and not everyone was blogging, madly revealing their private fears and foibles to the world. Have you been approached to update the book for a new edition?

Simple answer – no. Everything in the book except the technology chapter (which was out of date the moment it was written for all the astute reasons you point out above) is still relevant today. Saying that, I could easily update it and include new research. I try to stay on top of things but there is so much out there. I worry it becomes like white noise. That’s why it is important to filter and distil it down to its significant essence, which is what my book tries to do.

Q: I found out Sara Douglass was ill about three weeks before she died, when I approached her for an interview for this blog. Unfortunately, the interview was more than she could manage and I was very sorry to have missed the opportunity. Sara and I had met several times over the last ten years. But you were a close friend and wrote a lovely piece, ‘Sara Douglass Remembered’ on the Voyager blog, and you gave Sara’s acceptance speech for the Norma K Hemming Award. Recently, my husband and I were trying to trace an old friend and finally ran him down via the web only to discover he’d died a couple of years ago of aids. Because of the web, people have a web-ghost who lives on after them in profiles, interviews etc, where friends and those who have just discovered their work (if they are creatives) can go and discuss their books and their lives. Have you written about the roll-on effects of web-ghosts in your field of Media Studies?

No. But I should. Before Sara died, I thought it a bit macabre to upload messages to a dead person’s site – especially from those who don’t know the person. It happens often when there’s a tragedy – a young person dying, a soldier in Afghanistan – so many people feel compelled to write something or give flowers or express their grief for someone who’s ostensibly a stranger. I understood their family and friends needing to reach out, express themselves, their pain, but not those who bore no relationship to them. I have subsequently, since Sara died, changed my mind. I have found her FaceBook page oddly reassuring, a comfort – it’s a “living” cyber-memorial even though she has died – not just for myself, but for all those whose lives she touched in some way. I have administrative control over Sara’s FaceBook page (something she granted me while still alive). When she died, I first wanted nothing to do with it (it was too painful). I posted news of her death and some updates, but had to walk away. But now, I find great comfort and delight, not only in reading posts from her fans and friends as they interact about her, her books and the joy her stories have brought and still bring, but relish her lingering presence as well. I wonder if others who have lost someone close feel the same way? But yes, by trawling through the old updates and interviews etc you do manage to get a strong sense of the person and they live on in digital form. Now I am grateful for that.

I love the idea of web-ghosts, Rowena! Thank you. And I will definitely write about it.

Q: Following on from that, I’m fascinated by creativity, where it comes from, the function it serves society. In an article on New Scientist I read that people who considered themselves creative, whether they were sewing, gardening or writing/composing/painting, the same areas of their brains light up when doing these activities. As someone who is both creative and an academic, what is your take on creativity? 

I find that creativity can take all forms. For me, being academic – whether it’s researching an article or paper for a conference or for publication in a journal is creative as well. So often, “creative” is simply regarded as something that can only happen within the broad realm of the “arts” – with fiction writers, artists, musicians, gardeners etc. yet, creativity is much broader than that and makes an enormous contribution to society. Architects, scientists, historians, technologians, mathematicians, they’re all equally creative. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have half the amazing inventions and ideas that we do – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, just like Steven Spielberg, Dr Ian Fraser, or JK Rowling, are incredibly creative and innovative.

I do approach writing fiction and non-fiction differently in that I labour over the language more with fiction, with making sure the words are just right (the options are much greater). With academic jargon, academic writing, because you are contributing to knowledge culture and joining an ongoing dialogue with ideas that can be tested and often proven, you have to be precise, so it limits your choices, and it doesn’t do you any favours to be ambiguous whereas in fiction, you can be playful and work double and more meanings into your prose.

Q: In your 2012 Snapshot Interview you say ‘… I am working on two adult novels: one a contemporary and historical fantasy (it shifts time and place) that involves witchcraft, but not as we think we know it (and yes, it is thoroughly researched ☺) and, another historical fiction with not so much fantasy, but more magic realism and then only a little, that’s set in England and Flanders in the 1400s.’ These sound like fascinating projects. When can we hope to see them?

Ahhhh… I don’t know, Rowena. I have shelved the witchcraft one for the moment and am working on the other and loving it. I am only a short way into it and am not going to rush it, but I do hope to have it finished by the end of the year. Will it see the publishing light of day? I certainly hope so.

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?

Wow – what a powerful and potentially divisive question – this could get me into trouble! I was discussing this with another writer the other day in regards to George R R Martin. She felt that he was very masculine in his style and that it was distinctive from, say, yours, mine or hers or someone like Anne McCaffrey’s. Certainly, Martin is attracting a great deal of attention with the magnificent HBO TV series based on his series, and I do love his written work – a big fan – but is his style different because he’s a man? Maybe? Does it make it better? Worse? Neither – that’s nothing to do with sex, but about the quality of the writing and story. If there is a difference between the way men and women write (and I would suggest there has to be at least a small one – eg. a woman writer can get in a woman’s head better and vice-a-versa – not that we can’t get inside the mind of the opposite sex, it’s just the same sex can do it more accurately more often. This might lead to male writers featuring main characters that are men and women writers, females more often, but, of course, the opposite happens and very well too), then it might be to do with point of view – the predominant one. But I don’t think the differences are as big as some might like to find. I am re-reading Sara Douglass at the moment and I feel she writes in a very direct, assertive way that drags you straight into the action and shocks you but also has such emotional depth. Like Martin, she doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice character for the sake of the story but he also manages to manipulate your emotions and make you care deeply. I have read other female and male fantasy writers who, from my perspective, do the same thing. They do the most wonderful job of crafting character and place – their work simply oozes personality and verisimilitude and you long to lose yourself in that space over and over. Juliet Marilliier, Jacqueline Carey, Kim Wilkins, Cory Daniells, JK Rowling, and many more, have this uncanny knack of creating simply wonderful worlds that leave you breathless and pluck at your emotions but they can also do epic or dark, or brutal too. But then, I have found the same with some male writers – examples off the top of my head are Hugh Howey, CS Lewis, Terry Brooks, Ian Irvine, Richard Harland, Antony Eaton,  (no relation) and so many more.

I do think male fantasy writers get more of a particular kind of attention (despite the incredible success of Rowling and Stephanie Meyer and others), so that folk tend to sit up and take more notice of them and that gives the impression of and contributes to the “boy’s club” notion. But, stylistically, I think if you took names off covers and gave a reader a few different authors’ works to read, it would be hard to tell the sex. Again, there are exceptions – some authors have a distinctive style, which is little do with their sex as writers – Stephen King for example, you can pick his work, likewise, Robin Hobb.

So, I guess my simple answer NOT, is yes and no!!!

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

No. Not at all.

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?

OK… I always thought I wanted to go back – you know, to ancient Greece, or Rome or Elizabethan England… but no. I want to travel into the future – at least two hundred years from now. Australia will do. I want to see if we learn the lessons of today tomorrow – I want to see what state the environment’s in, what’s our attitude to people from other cultures, is gay marriage just taken for granted in that time? Has the word “gay” disappeared from our vocabulary and we are all just humans with a sexuality? I would love to talk to people and see if their hopes and dreams are like ours now. I want to know what they think of us – how they reflect on the history we’re creating today. Do they think we’re an embarrassing blip on the history radar with our love of celebrities, Reality TV, our need to consume, or are they proud of our legacy in other ways? That we instigated changes to the way we respect the environment, that we were concerned about tolerance and acceptance, about health and ageing? How are children treated in the future? Old people? Refugees? Do they even exist? I also want to see who and what they worship (secular?) and if they’re still showing reruns of The Simpsons on what passes for TV.

Give-away Question:

If you could travel anywhere in time or space, where would you want to go, who would you most want to meet and why?

Follow Karen on Twitter: @Asprob

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Historical Books, The Writing Fraternity, 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


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

Rhonda Roberts’ Time Travelling Detective visits Holllywood in the glamorous 30s

This week we welcome back Rhonda Roberts with her new book Hoodwink.

I know I must’ve been a chain smoking binge drinker in a past life because in this one I throw up whenever I drink wine and faint dead away if I have even a puff of a cigarette. As you can imagine my experimental teenage years were a series of memorably messy incidents.

That said I must’ve done something good some time (I have no idea what) because I now have the arduous job of carefully selecting and scheduling my holiday destinations for the next decade.

You see I write the Timestalker series about a time travelling detective called Kannon Dupree. (She’s named after Kannon, the Japanese Bodhisattva of Compassion aka ‘she who hears all cries for help’.) The first book, Gladiatrix (2009) was set in ancient Rome, while the second, Hoodwink (out now) is set in Hollywood in 1939. Each book in the series solves a mystery set in a different time and place.

And here’s where the strangely good karma bit comes in… I have a filing cabinet full of cases lined up for Kannon to handle – and boy does she travel around! So I do too…

Well I have to do research don’t I?

I treat all my research trips like full on anthropological expeditions, including camels and pith helmets if necessary. I go prepared for anything and everything and expect it all to go wrong. And it usually does – but as I’m peering out from the midst of the rumble something truly spectacular rises up like a phoenix…and gives me the key to Kannon’s next adventure.

Leonard Cohen has a song called Anthem, which is one of my all times favourites. One segment goes: ‘Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ Well I’ve found that it’s the unexpected twist in the path that takes me round a corner to the spectacular view.

And believe me I’d experienced a few twists in that path. I’m writing Book 4 now and in the past few years I’ve been stuck up a shaky ladder in an ancient cliff top pueblo city with a 200 metre drop below, stumbled across a horny male crocodile on his way to his girlfriend’s love nest, been caught in a sand storm on a non existent road through the desert and been threatened by three furious (and gargantuan!) armed guards at an LA studio who mistook me for a member of the paparazzi.

Speaking of which leads me to doing the research for Hoodwink, which has just hit the bookshops….

Hoodwink starts with a body covered in a Mayan occult tattoo being discovered cemented into the floor of a Hollywood film set. It’s the body of a famous film director who went missing in 1939. Kannon is hired to return to 1939 to find out who killed him. While on the set of Gone With The Wind, mixing with the big stars of Hollywood, she stumbles onto a mystery that stretches back to the Civil War…

Why Gone With The Wind?’ you might say. ‘Isn’t that just some old film about a Southern woman’s determination to survive the American Civil War and its aftermath?’

Yep it is that…plus a lot more. (The sound of chuckling) Trust me…what happened during the making of that film is more fantastic than anything I could possibly make up!

Anyway…I wanted to write about a murder on a film set in 1939, the most glamorous period in the Golden Years of Hollywood. So I had to choose a movie that’d give me the maximum room to explore the feeling of the 1930s as well as yield some interesting plot points I could play with. Gone With The Wind fitted that bill plus some!

So now to do some research on old Hollywood…in new LA!

Well I did a whole lot of research before I left our eucalyptus-lined shores and arranged appointments in Los Angeles where I could. And I was lucky enough to get permission to visit the famous Culver Studios, which is where Gone With The Wind (as well as Citizen Kane, two of Hitchcock’s most famous films and some episodes of Star Trek) was filmed. The CEO was very friendly and arranged for the stage manager to take me on a three hour tour of the place. I saw the historic bungalows that Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable used, the main GWTW sound stage as well as many other places of interest. It was amazing.

The rest of the time I wandered around Los Angeles searching for locations to use in Hoodwink. I trudged around Beverly Hills carrying a map to the homes of the old movie stars, hiked around Griffith Park looking for a place to stick my Temple of Lost Souls, walked along the famous canals of Venice searching for a place to hide a suitcase full of money, studied the Mayan statues in the garden at the Forrest Lawn Cemetery wondering how the hell they fitted into the puzzle…

And all the time I was still waiting for that epiphany, that precious moment when I’d know what Hoodwink was really about…when I’d get a glimpse of its soul.

Then I ended up at Hollyhock House, which became the inspiration for Ceiba House…the home of my murder victim.

Now some places are amazing. We all have memories of the first time we walked into a particular space. It could be a cathedral, a temple, Uluru, whatever…

To me, Hollyhock House is one such space.

Frank Lloyd Wright, one of America’s most famous architects, built several stunning Mayan-inspired houses in Los Angeles during the 1920s. The most beautiful is Hollyhock House in East Hollywood. It’s modeled on the ancient Mayan city-state of Palenque in southern Mexico and covered in highly stylized hollyhocks. They decorate the whole house, appearing in stonework, windows and wooden furniture.

And the first thing I saw when I walked into this amazing temple to grace and beauty was a big statue of Kwan Yin… Or as she is known in Japan – Kannon the Bodhisattva of Compassion. She who hears all cries for help.

She stands in the foyer of Hollyhock House welcoming all with a warm smile full of peace and compassion…a heavenly sign of hope for all humanity.

And in that moment I knew the key to writing Hoodwink.

Give away question:

I love festivals and think that Australia doesn’t have enough of them. When I lived in Japan there seemed to be a new one on every week – everything from fertility festivals to welcoming the dead back home for a night.

If you could introduce a new festival to Australia what would it celebrate and how?


Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Historical Books, Movies & TV Shows, Obscure and Interesting, Resonance, Writers and Redearch

Winner Felicity Pullman Book Give-away!

Felicity says:

First up, my apologies for taking a while to decide the winner, it’s been a frantic couple of weeks and I’m enjoying having some time just to sit and think: Jane Austen vs Charles Darwin – how tempting to meet both of them and how difficult to choose one over the other!

After a lot of thought, I’ve decided to go with CD, mainly because his research changed our whole way of seeing the world (with all the resulting fall out!) Such a significant achievement on the global scale, although I know you could argue that in her own way JA has also contributed so much to the literary scene and to readers (and film makers!)

Thank you both so much for taking the trouble to answer my question. Mary, if you can email your address to me at I”ll post the book off to you, and I really hope you enjoy visiting the middle ages and reading about Janna’s quest!

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Historical Books, Paranormal_Crime, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Young Adult Books

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.


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.


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?

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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

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Meet Kim Wilkins …

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

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

Q: I once heard you describe yourself as a girl from an average family in Redcliffe (a bayside suburb of Brisbane). For someone who won the University of Queensland Medal for Academic Achievement and went on to do a PHD, this is a long way from the long hot summers of your childhood. If you could go back to that little girl and give her one piece of advice, what would it be?

Chillax, little girl. I grew up with an alcoholic dad, we never had money, I was unpopular at school, so all I ever did was fantasise about escape. I was drawn to books because I could disappear into them, and found the disappearing act was a billion times more brilliant if I was writing the story instead of reading it. I was so desperate to get away from that horrid life, and I worked so hard to be free of it. I still have a tiger on my tail, and still wish I could chillax even as a grown-up.

Q: Your first book The Infernal won the 1997 horror and fantasy awards. In an interview on Tablua Rassa you said: ‘I’m still waiting for someone to describe my work as Stephen King collaborating with the Brontë sisters. There’s such a strong feminine element, and often a strong historical element, and horror as a term isn’t elastic enough to cope with those extra elements.’ I love the description f Stephen King collaborating with the Bronte sisters. With your love of history and literature were you ever tempted to take the Bronte sisters and give them a more exciting life? (I’m thinking what you did in Angel of Ruin with the Great Fire of London and Milton’s daughters).

I was tempted, yes, but then somebody did a similar story (something about Charlotte being a murderer?) and I’ve never been all that interested in writing about the 19th century. I’d already written Grimoire, which was partly set in that period, and that had scratched the itch sufficiently. I tend not to go back to a historical period twice without a compelling reason. That would be like going to the same place over and over on holidays.



Q: You wrote 7 dark fantasy books in 8 years. Since Rosa and The Veil of Gold came out you haven’t written another adult dark fantasy. Have you been letting the ground like fallow so that when you come back to the genre you’ll feel refreshed?

I started writing another, but every time I sat down to work out how it might end, or what kinds of events might structure it, I kept repeating myself. I found this utterly dismaying and lost my confidence and hid in my bed for a while. Then I came out and said to my agent that I wanted to do something else for a while. That’s when I started writing the Kimberley Freeman books, which are epic romances, I guess, or adventure books for women. The problem (if it can be called that) was that Kimberley Freeman has done very well, so I was signed up for more of those. But I have recently finished a novel, a straight-up historical fantasy (nothing dark or urban). I published a novella that is kind of a prequel in 2010’s “Legends of Australian Fantasy”. I would like to write at least one more book set in that world. I still think I might come back to my original dark fantasy idea, but we’ll see where life takes me.

One thing that does annoy me is when people say, “you ought to write a book with angels in it” or the like. I have to say, “I already did.”

Q: You write for both Children and Young Adults. Your stand alone YA book The Pearl Hunters is set in 1799. I know have a deep love of history. In your YA series The Sunken Kingdom there are castles and ships and children in peril. Does having a good grounding in history help you produce well rounded fantasy worlds?

I’m just too lazy to create fantasy worlds from nothing. Seriously. The thought makes me feel completely drained. So I find a historical period and add magic. I find historical research easy and stimulating, and it makes me great at Trivial Pursuit.

Q: The Gina Champion Mysteries were contemporary YA with a supernatural twist. ‘From witchcraft to ghosts, from curses to spirit possession, the Gina Champion books are smart, sassy, and very scary.’ There were five books in the series and the last one came out in 2006. Are you tempted to dip into Gina’s world again?

No. I’m too busy. Too busy. I work at UQ, I teach at QWC, I am two authors. I can’t write for children as well. I feel as though I have the brakes on when writing for children or young adults. I find it very stifling.

Q: You also write women’s fiction as Kimberley Freeman. That’s a big leap from horror and YA paranormal-crime. Do you feel like you have to think yourself into a different head-space to write the Kimberley Freeman books?

Yes and no. Wildflower Hill is just The Resurrectionists without ghosts. The stories are very similar, just some of the conventions are different. I love being Kimberley Freeman some days, and other days I want to kill her. But it’s still writing; it’s still that immense pleasure of making up stories that I have adored for as long as I can remember. There doesn’t always have to be dragons.

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 couldn’t say with any confidence. I don’t think fantasy is a boys’ club by any stretch of the imagination. When I think of contemporary fantasy writers, the first 10 names that pop into my head are women.

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

It’s nothing to do with the writer. It’s to do with whether the book has a female lead. I have to have a female lead. Women generally write better about women. So in a roundabout way, maybe the answer is yes.

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?

England, 8th century. But just for a few days.

Kim has a copy of Rosa and The Veil of Gold to give-away. The Give-away Question is: If you could meet one of the Bronte sisters,  Jane Austen or Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who would it be and why?


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