Category Archives: Nourish the Writer

Running Away to Write

Spent the weekend at ‘Clogheen Cottage’ in northern New South Wales. Beautiful place, up an amazingly steep switch-back drive, plus it was pouring at times but this didn’t matter. The setting was magical.

We lit the fire and I curled up with my lap top to write a story for the next Legend Anthology in memory of David Gemmell (See the first one here). Felt very honoured (and slightly nervous) when the editor, Ian Whates, approached me. Luckily the setting was inspiring…

Clouds moving up the valley towards us.

Clouds moving up the valley towards us.

It’s always good to get away from normal life, helps give perspective and Mullimbimby is  a breath of fresh air after the city. Lots of alternative hippie types so we fitted right in, caught up with some friends (waves to Helen and Steve), ate in the local cafes and took time out from normal life.

I didn’t quite get the story finished but it’s there in my head now.

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Typing in the Rhythm Section

Narrelle Harris tells us about her love of writing to music.

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I like listening to music when I write. Not all the time, of course. Sometimes you need the sounds of silence so that the difficult words have somewhere to line up and make their own rhythm.  But generally, and especially during first drafts, I like building up a soundtrack to the world I’m building.

I have eclectic tastes in music: my collection contains classical, light opera and new age albums right next to alternative rock, pop punk, folk punk and the occasional heavy metal band. I like to discover new bands and new styles, though not everything is to my taste. I’m open to persuasion, though. I’m always chasing after the corollary to Sturgeons Law.

(Sturgeon’s Law being that 95% of everything is crap: the corollary therefore being that the other 5% is worth looking out for. One day I’ll find the 5% of yodelling that works for me.)

Music has been a long love of mine. I learned piano as a child, played the recorder at school and on and off over the years I’ve attempted songwriting. I co-created a Blake’s 7 filktape back in the 80s (writing lyrics mainly, though also one piece of music, and I even sang on one track.)  I’m better at lyrics than melodies, though, and sadly my vocal range is limited and kind of nasal – but the call of music is always near.

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In fact, for me, music and writing are never far apart. My crime novellas, Fly by Night and Sacrifice, are about two musicians. I’ve written lyrics for some of my stories, and music is often referenced in my books. It seems perfectly natural to me to develop a soundtrack for each book I write.

By ‘soundtrack’ I don’t mean ‘playlist’. I’ve compiled a playlist or two to accompany books I’m working on, but often once I’ve done so, I don’t listen to it. I tend to pick songs that reflect aspects of the plot or

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character development, but then I find that in the writing, things move and change; they subtly change or veer off, and songs I might have liked while I was working on the first draft of chapter five are no longer right by the time I’m at chapter 25. By the second or third rewrite they may not be relevant at all. Worse, the song might be subconsciously pushing me in a particular direction which lacks subtlety or that truthfulness which is so important and getting to the heart of the character or their story.

I suppose a playlist focuses too much on the lyrics, which can be detrimental. Soundtracks are more about the general rhythm and atmosphere of the aural landscape that contributes to the mood and setting.

So playlists don’t usually work for me – but I do definitely have soundtracks that go with my writing. When I wrote Fly By Night and Sacrifice, I spent a lot of time listening to REM and About Six Feet (my brother in law’s band – he allowed me to use the lyrics to some of the songs in the book). When I wrote Witch Honour and Witch Faith, Loreena McKennitt, Clannad and Enya got a lot of air time.

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The Opposite of Life had a more eclectic soundtrack of alternative rock, but by the time I got to Walking Shadows, I was steeped in pop punk and the likes of Fall Out Boy, though more recently the soundscape WS-Rough-front-207x300consisted of Shinedown,, The Matches and Florence and the Machine.

The artists listed for each book are of course not the only ones I listen to while working. My choices can be fairly wide-ranging and include quirky lounge music (like The Real Tuesday Weld), show tunes from Cole Porter as well as music selected for its ambience.

It’s not completely random, though. The choice of the right bands, the right kinds of songs, the right mood and tempo, can be important in getting my head into the right space.  I work full time in day jobs to pay the bills, with only ten or so hours a week to write, so choosing the right background sound can act like a mnemonic  trigger (or Pavlovian response) and switch my brain from corporate-writer-mode to creative-writer-mode faster than I can sometimes achieve on my own after a day in the office.

Sometimes it’s too much. If I have a tricky scene, or something

intense, I need silence. Then the music goes off and it’s just me and the tyranny of the blank page. Often, though, the aural queue helps slot me into the imagined world I’m writing, unlocks the imagined people, and off I can go.

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I may not have pursued music through the piano (and a short lived attempt at the guitar, abandoned when I broke both bones in my forearm a month later); I may only attempt to write songs in a haphazard fashion; I may be half-hearted and fickle about the use of playlists; but music is an essential part of how I write and the worlds I create.

And I’m open to suggestions. Does anyone have any bands to recommend? After all, I do have a new book to write.

What’s your favourite vampire-related song and why?

Catch up with Narrelle on GoodReads.

Catch up with Narrelle on Twitter  @daggyvamp

Narrelle’s Web Page.

 

www.narrellemharris.com

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Filed under Australian Writers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Music and Writers, Nourish the Writer, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries

Cat claims Desk, Writer Capitulates

I came into my study to work this morning and found Sassy cat had claimed my desk.

SassyCat_DeskHere she is, sleeping on my notes. This is where I keep my maps, family trees, time lines and list of alliances. So of course that is where she sleeps. She’s keeping company with the two little cat sculptures that sleep on my desk to hold business cards in place. (Thanks Leanne, this is where they ended up!).  And she does go well with the colour scheme, even down to my current desktop theme which is castles of Europe. I use the desk top themes to help me get in the right mood to write about the world of King Rolen’s Kin, with thrones and lives at stake. (It’s pretty hard to think strategic battles and cloaks flying in the wind when it’s 38 degrees with 90% humidity).

So, seeing Sassy cat was happy, I went off to yoga and when I came back she had moved on and I could get to work. I do sometimes work with her beside me. She puts up with me sliding pages out from under her and I put up with sneezing because, wouldn’t you know it, I’m allergic to cats. For several years every time one of my daughters left home and moved into a flat she got a kitten, then she’d move back home with the cat, then she’d moves out and leave the cat with me.

Back to writing…

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My Next Big Thing…

Last week Cheryse Durant tagged me on her blog, as part of a chain of author recommendations called The Next Big Thing. Today it’s my turn to reciprocate and to pass on the torch. I’m going to answer questions about my new project King Rolen’s Kin Book Four . Then I’m going to tag some wonderful authors who will tell you about their Next Big Thing on Wednesday 12th of December. (Here are the other authors who are blogging today on their Next Big Thing: LJ Smith, Kallee BuchananChris McMahon and Keren K)

PS. Regarding my Next Big Thing.  I really had trouble deciding between the book that will be released tomorrow, The King’s Man and the book I’m currently writing. In the end I decided to talk about how writing The King’s Man influenced writing KRK4.

PPS. This blog post contains spoilers if you haven’t read the first KRK trilogy.


Q: What is the working title of your next book?

At this point Solaris Press want to call KRK4 King Breaker (or maybe King-breaker). I wanted to use words associated with kings and royalty, since this was the title theme of the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy.

Q: Where did the idea for the book come from?

I always knew there was going to be more KRK because when book three of the trilogy ended Byren had dealt with one of the Big Bads (as they’d say on Buffy) but the other villain still lived and sat on his father’s throne.

The problem was, I didn’t know how any of this was going to unfold. Then a friend* who had read KRK said to me, ‘Garzik can’t be dead. He just can’t.’ And I realised he wasn’t. And just like that I had the premise for The King’s Man ebook, released 6th December.

*The King’s Man is dedicated to: Leanne, who refused to believe that Garzik was dead.

Q: How did writing a book about Garzik help you write KRK4?

In the writing of The King’s Man I explored the larger world and having a richer world opened up more narrative possibilities. I am a voracious reader, which helps with world building.

I’ve always been fascinated by how societies evolve. What seems perfectly normal to us would be unthinkable to people at some other time, in some other place.

For instance, in Tibet they practice a much more varied form of marriage than we do. Two or more brothers* will marry one woman. All the children the woman has will be regarded as the children of the marriage. Because of the harsh conditions people need a certain amount of land to survive. If each of the brothers took a wife for themselves and had children, the family land would be broken up in the following generation and become non-viable. This would cause rivalry within the extended family. Their society evolved these customs over time to survive and it all seems perfectly normal to them because, for them, it is.

*This is a simple example. For more detail read Stratification, Polyandry, and Family Structure in Central Tibet by Melvin Goldstien.


Q: Speaking of world building, you explored a very differently structured society in The Outcast Chronicles and in KRK one of the central characters is gay. Were you worried that people would be offended? And why write about sexuality?

Some people were offended. There was one reviewer who said they refused to read KRK book one once they realized Orrade was gay. So far the reviews of OC have been positive, but I’m sure some people will find the way the mystics live in sisterhoods and brotherhoods confronting but just like the people of Tibet, the mystics’ society is logical for them.

And I write about sexuality (among other things) because I write about the human condition. I believe that fantasy can take a mirror and hold it to the world to make us question our assumptions.

Our world is a lot larger and more amazing than people realize, and I do my research. Things are never as simple as they first appear. For instance there are straight men go in search of gay sex* for various reasons. For one thing it is much easier than chatting up a woman, as there are no complications since both parties know what they want. For another, some men rationalize it as not cheating on their wife or girlfriend.

Sexuality and the search for love is one of our primal drives. If I avoided it, I would not be writing honestly. I would be skimming over the surface and the act of writing would feel unsatisfying for me. Besides, sometimes it is good for us to be confronted.

*For more information on this see Dr Joe Kort’s articles here.

Q: There are some confronting things in The King’s Man. How has this book been received?

The book will be officially released tomorrow but the first review is already up. I have a beta reader in one of my adult sons. He is a keen fantasy reader and he’s my target audience. If he doesn’t understand something or he wants to know more about it, I will elaborate. He reads most of my books before I send them to my publisher.

 

Q: After all that serious stuff, here’s a fun question. If you found yourself in a lift with a movie director you admire and had the chance to pitch your book to them, what would you say and who would that director be?

I’d say: I write rollicking fantasy that keeps readers up all night. But underneath all that adventure and fun King Breaker is about the price we are willing to pay to achieve our ambition and asks is it worth it?

And my dream director would be Allan Ball because of his wicked sense of humour in True Blood and Six Feet Under, or Peter Jackson because he is a consummate story teller, or Guillermo de Toro because of his lyrical vision in Pan’s Labyrinth.


Q: It’s been a busy year for you with four books coming out. How do you find the time to write?

Actually, it’s been five books this year – The Outcast Chronicles trilogy and The King’s Man, (both fantasy) and my paranormal crime, The Price of Fame. Plus I’ve been cleaning up my original trilogy, (new title The Fall of Fair Isle) to re-release it some time next year. (When I get the chance).

I’m an Associate Lecturer, we’ve been madly renovating, we have six children (the last one just finished high school) so it has been a really hectic couple of years. But the thing that keeps me sane is writing. This is what fascinates me, exploring worlds via character. If you took this person and put them in this situation what would they do? What would they learn about themselves? That is the core of why I write.

Q: When will we see King Breaker? And what will be your Next Big Thing?

I’ll hand the book into Solaris in May and it is scheduled for release late in 2013.

As to my Next Big Thing… there have been a lot of comments on my blog asking for more Outcast Chronicles and I find this series compulsive, so I will probably dive back into the OC.

 

And here are the authors I’d like to introduce. They will be blogging next Wednesday (12th December), when they talk about their Next Big Thing:

Lee Battersby, author of The Corpse-Rat King and its sequel Marching Dead, lives in Western Australia. He has had over 70 short stories published and won numerous awards.

 

 

 

AA Bell, author of the Diamond Eyes trilogy of SF & Fantasy thrillers. Twice winner of the prestigious Hemming Award for Excellence… Website and blog.

 

 

 

Glenda Larke is an Australian living in Malaysia, an rainforest environmentalist who has worked in avifaunal conservation. She’s also author of three fantasy trilogies and a standalone fantasy novel, seven of which have been shortlisted for the Aurealis Best Fantasy Novel of the Year.

 

 

Gail Z. Martin is the author of Ice Forged in her new The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen ) and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn  and The Dread).  Gail blogs at www.DisquietingVisions.com, and her web site in www.AscendantKingdoms.com.

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Gold Coast Writers Festival

Coming up soon is the GOLD COAST WRITERS FESTIVAL 26 – 28th October, which promises to be heaps of fun. Not only is it held in my old stomping ground – I grew up on the Gold Coast back when it was fibro shacks, sand and surf – but there’s a bunch of great writers who will be talking about books and writing. My idea of a good day out. It will be held (mostly) at the Robina Commuity Centre.  Here’s the program.

Saturday, 27th October, at 10am I’m on a Crime and Thriller panel with Sandy CurtisTony Cavanaugh and Meg Vann (chair).

The Thrill of the Chase – will be about writing crime and thrillers. You don’t have to commit a murder to write about it, but how do crime and mystery writers writers research?

 

At 4pm Fantasy and Sci-Fi panel with Anita BellJill Smith and Angelika Heurich (chair).

Fantasy and Sci-Fi – we’ll be talking about the relevance of this genre, its popularity and the challenge of researching invented worlds.

Me when I was 7 with my cat, Zorro. (Yes, I was a hopeless romantic adventurer even then)

I must admit, when I think of the sunburnt girl who grew up on the Gold Coast, loved reading books and dreaming of amazing adventures, I wish I could go back and tell her, believe in yourself, one day you’ll be a published writer, invited to appear at literary events. She would never have believed me. We had one bookshelf in the whole house and it held, maybe a dozen books. I remember being desperate for things to read… Now I can open my Nexus, put in an author’s name and download their latest book in a matter of seconds. Wow… I’m living in the future!

If you live in south east Queensland or  northern NSW come along to the Gold Coast Writers Festival and say Hi.

 

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Busy writer has been busy…

Just one more blog post…

Here’s a round up of recent posts.

Fantasy Book Critic: The Power of Story

Louise Cusack’s Workshop Wednesday: Worldbuilding – you need a flypaper mind.

Over on Book Chick City: Writing, Parting Inspiration, Part Perspiration

On the Galaxy blog I ask: Is Fantasy Evolving?

On Narrelle Harris (The Daggy Vamp) I’m interviewed about The Price of Fame, Punk Rock, Street Kids and Music.

Mervi’s Book Reviews: Are we Hardwired for Violence?

Guest post Falcata Times: Setting Stories Free of Genre

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Jo Anderton talks about the darkness within all of us…

Following on from the success of her debut novel, Debris, Jo Anderton‘s new book Suited has been released into the wilds. She’s dropped by today to talk about ‘the suit’ which inspired the book.

 

The story behind the suit

The first time Tanyana saw a debris collecting suit, she mistook it for jewellery. It was, after all, a thick silver bracelet, intricately inscribed with arcane symbols and glowing faintly. That was before one was forcefully drilled into her body, of course. Before she learned that there was much more to it than the bright silver bands — attached to her ankles, wrists, waist and neck — and that it went deep beneath her skin, bound to her nervous system and anchored in her bones.

This debris collecting suit was the catalyst for everything that happened to Tanyana in Debris. And, as you might have guessed from the title and the cover image, it becomes even more important in book two, Suited.

So what is the suit? And what inspired it?

Tanyana’s world is full of pions — semi-sentient sub atomic particles that can be persuaded to rearrange matter. The better you are at directing them, the more powerful you can become. Before the accident that stripped Tanyana of her powers in the beginning of Debris, she was a highly skilled binder and architect, able to command vast numbers of pions. Everything in her world is built with these particles, from something as mundane as a sewerage system, to the might of the military machine. But all this power comes at a cost. Pion manipulation generates a waste product — debris. The more you manipulate, the more debris you create. And debris can be a serious problem, because it destabilises pion systems and can, if left unchecked, completely undo their bonds. For a city built on pions, debris is a real threat.

This is where the debris collectors come in. You see, most people in this world can see and manipulate pions, but they wouldn’t know debris was there if it was floating right in front of their noses (as it tends to do…) Only people who have lost their pion-sight, or were never born with it, can see debris. They are recruited by the government, fitted with suits, and sent out to collect it. Buried within the suits’ six bands is a strong but malleable metal that can expand, and morph into any shape. From delicate tweezers to great shovels or, should the need arise, a sharpened blade.

But Tanyana’s suit is different. From the start, it’s more than just a tool. It has a tendency to move on its own, protecting Tanyana, or reacting even before she has thought to do so. Not only can she use it to shape tools or weapons, but Tanyana’s suit can also spread far enough to wrap around her body, head to toe. In fact, it seems to prefer that. Sometimes it feels almost sentient. It tugs at her bones and thrills down her nerves and whispers to her, inside her. Wouldn’t it be easier to do what it says, and just give in to it’s… violence?

There are times when it’s hard to tell who’s in control: Tanyana, or her suit. And this struggle is what Suited is all about.

So what inspired it? There are a lot of anime influences in these books, and the suit is probably the strongest example. Let’s see… It’s a powerful metallic creature with a mind of its own. It tends to save Tanyana and scare her in equal measure, and its origins are shrouded in secrecy and possible-dodgyness. Well, that’s Neon Genesis Evangelion right there. But don’t worry, the suit isn’t Tanyana’s mother, I can promise you that! Also, this story has absolutely nothing to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

What about Full Metal Alchemist? Have you guys seen that? If you have, think about Edward’s metallic arm for a minute. The way he uses his alchemy to morph it into any shape, often a sword. Now that’s exactly what Tanyana’s doing with her suit — except she’s using neural connections and muscle memory, not alchemy. If you haven’t seen FMA – do so, now. New series, old series, I don’t care (I liked the old one. Yes, even the ending).

But, you know, I think there’s more to the suit than just anime. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — seriously, I’m the last person to demand deep and meaningful. Give me a good story first and foremost, the rest is just in the telling. Anyway (sorry, getting sidetracked) the suit is also the darkness inside us. It’s a rebellious body, a part that can’t be controlled, something foreign taking you over. It’s an inner violence begging to be let out, growing harder and harder to deny. And this, really, is the point of Suited. The suit, initially forced on Tanyana, is now well and truly a part of her. Through the course of Debris, she learned to control it, she found its limits and its strengths and pushed them as far as they would go. In Suited, the suit starts to push back. But, as I said, it’s a part of her now, inside and out, physically and mentally, and growing more so every day. How can Tanyana fight herself? Where’s the line between Tanyana and suit, and how long will that remain? Is it still her body, if the suit controls more and more of her? How important are our bodies to our sense of identity, and how much do we change when they do?

And hey, guess what, that’s very anime too. Couldn’t you say the same things about Evangelion, Full Metal Alchemist, Ghost in the Shell, and so many more? Maybe that’s because it’s a fundamental human conflict, made physical through the suit, or the Eva, or alchemy? And that’s why we love sci-fi, isn’t it? Because that’s what science fiction is for.

Jo has a copy of Suited to give-away. Here’s the question:

Pretend you’re at the end-game, it’s the ultimate fight with the ultimate big-bad, what would you take with you? From any book, game, movie or tv series. Do you like an old-school magical sword, or would you prefer a giant mecha? Lightsaber, or a summon? What’s the coolest weapon ever?

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Fun on Twitter

Those Hip Young Dudes at Solaris Press tweeted: To win a copy of Rowena Cory Daniells’ Outcast Chronicles trilogy, tell your followers what magical power you would like to possess!

I came back with:  Asked Teenage son what magical power he’d like. He wants 2 be able to convince people to do things. (Should be a politician!)

Here are some responses.

@SolarisBooks my magical power would be the ability to split myself into multiple entities; everything gets done, and fast, too!

@Solarisbooks The ability to break things down into their constituent atoms and reassemble them as I saw fit.

@SolarisBooks Would Love and Save count, or is that basically Rewinding Time? Whatever it is, that would be epic :))

@SolarisBooks The ability, at any time and merely by clicking my fingers, to transport myself and my wife instantly to our bedroom. Naked.

@SolarisBooks The power to ensure all that stuff you loved as a kid stayed true when you became an adult. Not just the memories.

@SolarisBooks The ability to answer other people’s questions five seconds before they answer them. Just to see their disbelief.

@SolarisBooks  I’d like the ability to absorb any knowledge and skills instantly.

@Solarisbooks the ability to destroy fifty shades of grey just by sayings its name, thus ending its tyranny.

@solarisbooks the power to grow wings like a dragon and fly

And one smart guy said:

@SolarisBooks asks what magical power I’d like to possess. Well, it’s simple: I just want to HAVE a magical power, doesn’t matter what!! :-)

Don’t know who the winner was, but I’d like to thank them all for entering!

The magical power I’d like? to be able to download stories straight from my brain without having to spend hours sitting at the keyboard!

Such a nerdy writer thing to say.

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More bookerly goodness!

I came home from marking assignments all day to discover my books had arrived.  Now I have boxes of books, including Exile! I was unpacking them and putting them on the shelf and when I turned around I discovered Monnie had climbed into one of the boxes. You know how cats love boxes.

So, all I am waiting on now, is book three and I’ll have the set!

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Meet Helen Lowe Winner of the Morningstar Award…

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 Helen Lowe to drop by.

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

Q: First of all congratulations on The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night series) winning the David Gemmell Morningstar Award. (For a full list of Helen’s awards see here). But you’re not new to winning awards. Your work has twice won the prestigious Sir Julius Vogel Award and your first win was in 2003 with a poem. Rain Wild Magic won the “previously unpublished” category of the Robbie Burns National Poetry Competition. Do you think winning awards helps writers reach readers?

Helen: Rowena, thank you regarding the Morningstar Award. Getting the news that The Heir of Night had won was quite a buzz, especially since I was “pretty sure” that it was the first Southern Hemisphere-authored book, and I was the first female writer to have won in either of the two Gemmell Award book categories. (I have since confirmed that this is in fact the case.) So it was nice to feel that The Heir of Night had managed to carry the flag through on both those fronts.

In terms of what difference winning awards makes, I don’t really know, to be honest. The Booker and Orange Prizes seem to get a fair bit of attention, both from the media and book shops, but my impression is that most other awards don’t. So I’m really “not sure” in terms of reaching out to a wider readership beyond those who are already savvy to the awards.

Q: The second book in The Wall of Night series, is The Gathering of the Lost. I see you use the word series, rather than trilogy. Does this mean that each book is self contained and you plan to write one a year (or more?).

Helen: The Wall of Night series is actually a quartet, but pretty much I am using the terms ‘quartet’ and ‘series’ interchangeably… In fact The Wall of Night (series or quartet) is one story told in four parts, rather than four self-contained stories – in much the same way, I think, that The Lord of the Rings is one story told in three parts. Having said that, each of the four parts of The Wall of Night story has a slightly different focus, as well as being part of a continuing arc, so I believe that may give each book a distinct character.

Q: You’ve been awarded the Ursula Bethell/Creative New Zealand Residency in Creative Writing 2012, University of Canterbury. This lasts from January to June. What exactly does it entail? Do you write madly for six months? Do you teach as well?

Helen: The main idea is that I write madly for six months, which is what I have been doing – and get paid to do so, which as other writers out there will know is a pretty amazing feeling! There is no specific teaching requirement, but I have run three sessions for creative writing students focusing on my practical experience of “being a writer.” I will also do a seminar for the College of Arts’ scholarship students before I complete my term.

Q: Thornspell is your retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the prince’s point of view. What intrigued you about the prince’s side of the story?

Helen: The idea for the story first came to me when I was at a performance of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ ballet. I recall the moment when the prince first leapt onto the stage and I sat up in my seat and thought: “What about the prince? What’s his story?” The main character of Sigismund (the prince), the world, and the central thrust of the story all flashed into my head in that instant. But I think the main ‘hook’ was that first moment of realising that no one had ever told the prince’s story before, that he is mostly a deus ex machina to the traditional tale.

I subsequently learned that Orson Scott Card had written a novel, Enchantment, that is partly based on Sleeping Beauty and told from a male perspective – but it is tied in with several Russian folk stories and much less recognisably Sleeping Beauty, I feel.

Q: In an interview on the Pulse, you say the world of Thornspell ‘is loosely based on the Holy Roman Empire during the Renaissance / early Reformation period – not in terms of events, but in terms of cultural geography and technology, such as how people lived, clothes, weapons, tools, and learning. I think that helps to “ground” the story for the reader’. Are you a big fan of history? Do you travel to real places to get the feel of them and walk through restored castles?

Helen: Rowena,I love history and read non-fiction history as well as historical novels. And yes, I do love visiting cultural and historic heritage sites when I travel, and to date have visited castles and similar in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and Japan. But while visiting sites can give you historical ‘flavour’, which is important, I also draw on primary and secondary accounts and research as required, which I feel can be just as important for authenticity. Another important element for me is the literature of the times, which helps give a feeling for what contemporary people thought and felt was important – for example works like the Anglo Saxon Beowulf, or the medieval Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or going further back, the Greek tragedies, or The Iliad.

Q: Thornspell is a Young Adult book. Did you set out to write a YA story, it did it just develop this way?

Helen: You know, I really didn’t. I tend to just write the stories “as they come” – but having said that, the ‘shape’ of the story did come clear fairly quickly. I would say that by the end of the first chapter I knew that it was “Kid’s/YA.”

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?

Helen: If that is so, regarding the boys’ club perception, then I have to say I believe it is a completely false premise. In my experience, just as many women read Fantasy (and Science Fiction) as men, and what most men and women I know are reading overlaps to at least 80% – maybe even 90%.

In terms of my judgement as to whether there is a difference between the way women and men write Fantasy… I have never really analysed this so I have to go off ‘what I personally read and like’ and my feeling is that I can’t point to any substantive differences… For example, I love richly written, High Romantic Fantasy and both Patricia McKillip and Guy Gavriel Kay equally tick that box. I also like intricately plotted works that twist and turn, but can I pick between CJ Cherryh and Patrick Rothfuss? For character-driven storytelling: Daniel Abraham or Ursula K Le Guin? For adventurous storytelling: Barbara Hambly or Tim Powers? Even with gritty realism, sure there’s George RR Martin, but there is also Robin Hobb with her “Assassin” series. And although one may point to China Miéville for sheer imagination, the same applies to Elizabeth Knox with her “Dreamhunter / Dreamquake” duology.

Thinking as I go along here, if there is one difference that I might possibly point to – and without doing an exhaustive survey I can’t be sure – I suspect female authors “might” be found to use the first person point of view more. But it’s by no means an exclusive preserve!

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

Helen: No, absolutely not. I make my ad hoc reading choices (as opposed to books sent to me for review/interview) on the basis of three criteria: i) does the cover speak to me ‘across a crowded bookshop’ and draw me in? ii) Does the back cover blurb appeal? iii) When I read the first few paragraphs to pages, am I hooked enough to either buy the book or check it out of the library (depending on my locale at the time)? And that’s it. I pay very little regard to who the author is (except of course for when I’m looking for the ‘next’ book by an author I already follow) or to “quotes” by other writers or reviewers.

In terms of prejudging a book by the sex of the author, I really do think that’s a fairly foolish approach given the number of authors who write under pseudonyms. And even if I had been inclined that way, I think discovering that one of my favourite authors of “women’s historical romantic fiction” when I was a teen, Madeleine Brent, was in fact a man, would have cured me of it!

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?

Helen: That’s an interesting question… You know, I think I might try for something like five hundred years in the future, just to see how we’ve evolved – whether we’ve managed to turn around what appears to be our current desire as a species to ‘trash’ our own planet, which in universe terms does appear to be something of an ark. And if so, how we’ve done it. As well as whether we have managed to get off-planet in any significant way. In other words, that good old spec-fic fall back: I want to check out the space travel!

Give-away Question: Helen: OK, given we’ve talked about The Heir of Night winning the Gemmell Morningstar Award, I have a copy of the book to give away, to be drawn from commenters who respond to this question:

On your voyage to Mars, what three Fantasy novels would you absolutely not be without – and why?

 

 

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Filed under Australian Writers, Awards, Book Giveaway, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Nourish the Writer, Writers and Redearch, Young Adult Books