Category Archives: Writers and Redearch

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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Filed under Australian Writers, creativity, Nourish the Writer, Paranormal_Crime, Promoting Friend's Books, Readers, Reviewers, The Writing Fraternity, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Tips for Developing Writers, Writers and Redearch, Writing craft

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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Filed under Australian Writers, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Nourish the Writer, Readers, The Writing Fraternity, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Tips for Developing Writers, Writers and Redearch, 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

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

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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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Nourish the Writer, Resonance, SF Books, Writers and Redearch

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?

 

 

Follow Helen on Twitter:  @helenl0we

See Helen’s Blog

Catch up with Helen on GoodReads

Listen to the SF Signal Podcast with Helen

 

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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

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

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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?

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