Category Archives: Writing craft

Meet Dirk Flinthart…

I first met Dirk around 15 years ago when he turned up at a Vision Writers’ meeting bare foot talking about ley lines. I soon discovered he was a wonderfully insightful critiquer and came to value his input to our writing craft discussions. When Marianne and I formed the ROR writing group to polish our novel length work we asked Dirk to join. He lives in northern Tasmania with his GP wife and three children, and he is a genius when it comes to food!

His new book Path of Night has just been released through Fablecroft.

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Q: First of all, why ‘Dirk Flinthart’? Your pseudonym reminds me of an episode of the Elizabethan Black Adder series when Lord Flashheart appeared. Were you a fan of Black Adder? What prompted you to use Dirk Flinthart as your writing name?

 

Long, complicated tale. It started – as many things have – at university. For the student newspaper, I wrote a column parodying the US ‘survivalist’ movement, with a friend. The putative writers were Dirk “Some Refuse To Die” Flinthart and Rambo Rockharde. We had a lot of fun, got paid, got drunk, and apparently developed a fanbase. A few years later, after John Birmingham’s He Died With A Felafel In His Hand made so much money that the publisher had to find a tax sink, I got invited to write gutter-level pulp crime fiction. (Brotherly Love, under Autopsy Press, later Duffy and Snellgrove.) All of us involved in that project used pseudonyms, and Birmo suggested I use Flinthart. Then of course that swine Birmingham actually caricatured me under the name of Dirk Flinthart in his sequel to Felafel (The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco). And I wrote a backpacker’s guide to the east coast of Oz in which I was quite rude to the city where my mother lived… so Flinthart took the blame there, too. And I’ve never quite shaken the bastard off.

 

I don’t mind, really. Flinthart has become more of an alternative identity. People who know me will know exactly what I mean, and people who know Flinthart… well, they know Mister Flinthart.

 

Oh! And yes, I’m a big Blackadder fan. Who isn’t?

PathofNightCoverSMQ: According to the back cover blurb for Path of Night: ‘Medical student Michael Devlin is in trouble. With his flatmates murdered and an international cabal of legendary man-monsters on his trail, Devlin’s got nowhere to hide. His only allies are a hot-tempered Sydney cop and a mysterious monster-hunter who may be setting Devlin up for the kill. If he’s going to survive, Devlin will have to embrace his new powers and confront his hunters. But can he hold onto his humanity when he walks the Path of Night?’ I get the feeling this could be a mix of the Jim Butcher novels and Simon R Green’s Nightside series. What did you draw your inspiration from and do you envision a series for Michael Devlin?

I can’t say where the exact ‘inspiration’ came from, but I can say this is intended as a series. Look, currently I’m most of the way through a Masters’ degree in creative writing, and I’ve been studying genre fiction. (Why not?) In doing the reading, I realised something very important.

All of us here in speculative fiction – we want an audience. We want to be published. And as writers, we are conditioned to think that the only effective tool we have is our prose, so we struggle and we strive and we polish and we edit and we critique… and then Dan Brown publishes something that is truly painful to read, and draws millions of readers. (Sorry, Dan. Your writing is awful, and your storytelling makes me cringe. But you’re entertaining a lot of people, so best of luck to you.)

The quality of our prose is important, but only to a certain degree. More important is having work out there, and entertaining an audience. Big publishers are constantly looking for the book that repeats yesterday’s bestseller. Writers want to be original. But audiences? They want to enjoy their reading, and there’s a lot of scope in that.

That was the real inspiration for Path of Night, right there. Realising that I’d reached a place where I could construct a novel and that it could be enjoyed by readers, I felt that I didn’t want to struggle and strive and  have the MS looked at for the next two years by big publishers who wouldn’t take it in the end because it didn’t look like a commercial prospect. I thought I’d write a book that was fun, and interesting, and a bit different, and that I’d approach a small, agile publisher and jump straight into the e-book realms.

Hey: we all started writing because it was fun, right? We tell stories because we enjoy it. But the more we have to compromise our ideas and chase after the here-today, gone-tomorrow will-o-wisp vision of the big publishers, the less storytelling and the less FUN we have.

You want to know something cool? Writing Path of Night was a hoot. I like the main character. I like the main support character so much that I didn’t wind up killing her, and she’s going to be at least as important in the next book, or two, or three. I got a kick out of the villains. I enjoyed adding a distinctly Australian humour to it. I enjoyed the plot and the ideas, and once the ball got rolling, I had the first draft done in less than six months and it didn’t feel like work at all.

Now it’s out there, and the folks who have read it are getting back to me and saying: hey, yeah! This thing is fun! It’s interesting and entertaining!

That right there – that is the alpha and the omega of why and how I became a writer.

No, I haven’t written off the big publishers. That would be silly. But rather than chase them with ever more elegant works, I’m simply going to spend some time enjoying my writing. The challenge of writing elegant, arresting prose remains, and I’ll keep working on projects of that nature, but after the sheer pleasure I got from creating Path of Night, there’s no way I’m making the elegant, poetic stuff my only approach.

 

Q: In a blog post on Ebon Shores you say: ‘I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I figure most writers would say the same thing. I started getting paid in University, writing articles for this and that. Being paid was cool, but the point was much more about having fun. I convinced magazines to let me go to Maleny-Woodford to interview feral babes. I got myself paid to attend the National Festival of Beer. I got paid to ride around in a 4WD-converted Rolls Royce. I made money, but more: I had a lot of fun.’ Sounds like your early twenties were a hoot but it is a long way from this kind of writing to speculative fiction. Where and when did the fantasy and SF element come in?

First and foremost, of course. What do you think I read when I was growing up? Smart, isolated kid with a funny accent in Far North Queensland – yeah, I read science fiction and fantasy. I got hold of the Ancient Greek and Norse myths when I was about six. I got the Myths And Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and a huge volume of Robin Hood in faux-Elizabethan English when I was about eight. I stumbled onto the Robert Howard Conan books before I was ten, and vaulted from there to Moorcock in all his hallucinogenic glory. After that? I read anything I could find that had a speculative element. Horror. Fantasy. Lots and lots of SF, gleaned from school fetes and library sales and everywhere, anywhere at all. I read the Gormenghast books and The Master and Margharita when I was thirteen, at the same time (and from the same private library) as I found Tove Jansson’s marvellous Moomintroll stories.

Yes. I’ve written for magazines. And newspapers. I’ve written radio scripts and interviews and plays, and adapted stories for short films. I’ve published at least one peer-reviewed paper on the topic of online education in an international education journal, and I did that as Dirk Flinthart which I think is pretty funny. I’ve written a backpacker’s guide, and stuff on lifestyle and humour, and I expect I’ll write a lot more of all sorts of things before I drop dead…

…but I love telling stories. Imaginative, speculative stories. And that’s what I’m doing with Path of Night.

 

Q: Your Red Priest stories have been very successful with The Red Priest’s Homecoming appearing in The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume 2.  I know at one point you were working on a Red Priest book. Can we look forward to seeing a novel length story about the Red Priest?

Yep. Actually, I’d intended to break out with a Red Priest novel, but about halfway in I realised I was writing about more or less the end of the character’s career, and that seemed a damn’ fool way to introduce him in a big way. So I put that one on the back burner. My goal is to work through a few more quick, enjoyable books about Mick Devlin and the Night Beasts, and hopefully acquire enough of an audience that I can then turn around and introduce the Red Priest properly.

That’s the plan, anyhow. Who knows how it will go? I also have to finish that Queen of Bedlam novel pretty soon… and the Masters Degree with it. And more short stories. And… well, hell. Is there a writer that isn’t busy?

I love the Red Priest, though. I’m definitely not done with Tomaso Dellaforte. (Currently working on a story placing him in Iceland, as a matter of interest.)

 

9781875989935Q: Going way back you co-wrote How to be a Man with John Birmingham and I see you had a book called Brotherly Love published in 1995. What genre was this and why can’t I find an image of the cover? Is it out of print?

Brotherly Love is indeed out of print. As I mentioned before, Birmingham’s “Felafel” opus kind of scared the publisher, and he needed a new project to balance his books. Michael Duffy was a man ahead of his time. He figured there was a market for novella-length crime done quick and dirty… and of course, today he’s right. The novella is emerging as a real sweet-spot length for e-publishing. But back in ’95, the cost of printing a 30,000 word book was significant, and you couldn’t really deliver a throwaway price on the things. Meanwhile, the trend was towards doorstop sized airport novels, so after a half-dozen or so books in the collection (Birmo wrote another. So did Peter Robb. I can’t recall who else was involved.) they shelved the concept.

I really enjoyed writing it, though. Thirty thousand words in two weeks, followed by a revision. I can’t believe I made it work. We all did it, though. And yeah: it was fun. A lot of fun.

 

Canterbury-2100-coverQ: A few years ago you compiled and edited a shared world anthology called Canterbury Tales 2100. In an interview on the ROR site you say: ‘Canterbury was a major challenge. It was an homage to the Canterbury Tales: a collection of oral stories by travellers on a stranded train in the year 2109, on their way to Canterbury in an England trying to recover from a century of climate change, ecodisaster, economic catastrophe, plague – a collapse of the worldwide civilisation we have today.’ This sounds fascinating. Do you have any plans to do another shared world anthology?

I adored the Canterbury idea, and I loved working on this project. I picked up very early pieces from writers including Lisa Hannett, Laura Goodin and Thoraiya Dyer, all of whom have gone from strength to strength. Cat Sparks backed me to put it together to suit myself and I remain inexpressibly grateful to her for that.

This is a book that should have gone through a big publishing firm. The idea was not so much a shared world anthology as a collection of stories from the people of a shared fictional world. As a reader, you don’t get a straightforward depiction of “the future” from this book. You get the stories that the people of that future tell each other, and you have to piece together your own image of the future that created those stories. To me, that’s the essence of good storytelling: giving readers enough that they want to create more for themselves.

Canterbury 2100 is unique. Nobody’s done anything quite like it before, or since, and come what may, the writers and I own a little piece of science fiction history for that. I am extremely proud of this collection, and it was indeed a real challenge. However, storytelling is my first love. Editing is second-best, no matter how much fun you’re having with it. If I do another shared world anthology, it will be because I’m being paid for it!

 

Q: Your Young Adult stories have been shortlisted several times for Aurealis awards and This is not my Story appeared in the Year’s Best Australian Science fiction and Fantasy Volume 5. Are you particularly drawn to YA stories and if so, why?

YA? No special appeal. But think how much speculative fiction has been more or less YA. Look at Frank Herbert’s Dune: Paul Atreides is 14 years old at the outset. And Ged, in Ursula LeGuin’s wonderful Wizard of Earthsea – a boy who becomes a very young adult over the course of the tale. Think how much YA stuff Robert Heinlein did – and Diana Wynne Jones, and oh, how many others?

There’s a reason for that, you know.

This world we’ve created does a terrible thing to children as they grow up. When you’re small, the world is full of ghosts and fairies, witches and magic, Jedi masters and superheroes and all manner of marvels and wonders. But as you get older, they take these things away from you one at a time. They kill off the Tooth Fairy, and Santa. The fairy tales become… just stories. The witches become sad, misinterpreted and persecuted women from difficult historical times. The speed of light keeps the alien invasion fleets away from Earth forever, and keeps every space-ranger and free-trader planetbound.

All this they take, and they give back nothing but wreckage. Consumerism. Climate change. Mass extinctions. Trade wars. Terrorism. It’s not an equitable exchange at all: it’s vicious, and it’s cruel.

But there’s that one last joyful period in the life of a growing, thinking person: that time when you’re old enough to comprehend and enjoy complex storytelling, yet not so beaten and defeated that all the magic has gone from the world. That, right there: that’s why so much YA fiction is also speculative fiction. The audience is still young enough and strong enough to suspend disbelief, but they’re also old enough and smart enough to handle a good, strong, twisty story with teeth.

What’s that quote from Ursula leGuin? Oh, I remember: “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” Well, that’s what good YA fiction is for – helping keep alive the child that so very much of this appalling world seems intent on killing. And speculative fiction of all sorts is for people who can suspend disbelief and play along, so of course it frequently reaches out to a younger audience.

And who knows? If we do a good enough job as writers, maybe we’ll convince some of that audience to devise truths of our myths, and the world can become a better place.

 

dirks-cover1Q: Angel Rising was published by Twelfth Planet Press. You say: ‘Gordon gets to fall in love, fight lots of bad guys, discuss Zen and ethics, and maybe save his world. Oh – and he also gets to take sides in a pitched battle between ninjas and Zen Buddhist nuns. What else could you ask for?’ Sounds like fun. Proctor General Gordon has appeared in several stories tied into the New Ceres shared world. Will you be revisiting New Ceres and Gordon?

I’d quite like to, but… it’s complicated. I’m not really sure where all the rights are, or how it all works. There were a lot of people involved with New Ceres. Still, I’ve got several thousand words in which a typically sardonic and cunning George Gordon more or less single-handedly attacks an invasion fleet… It might see the light of day at some point!

 

Q: Not long ago you were writing a libretto as part of your Masters. It was turned into an operetta called Bedlam where Mab, the Queen of the Fey, and Lord Byron collided. ‘Bedlam is a legendary place of madness, and of course, there’s a long history of association between madness and the Faery folk. To be ‘elf-shot’, for example, is an old term for being mad. And then there’s the term ‘fey’, which is often used interchangeably with faery or fairy or elf – but also means eccentric, mad, ‘doomed’, ‘fated’, and so forth. I want to say it was an easy leap from there to trap an elf-queen in Bedlam, and to put the famous Lord Byron into the role of rescuer. And why not? Club-footed Byron (obviously marked by the faery at birth!) is as fine a role-model for the elf-shot, mad, romantic hero as ever you could want.’

(See a clip here)

This takes collaboration to a whole new height, working with a songwriter, director, dancers and actors. Is it an experience you would revisit?

As it stands, the piece is designed to be an opera. The company in Brisbane – Outcast Opera – are still intent on bringing it to life, but they have to grind their way through the funding process. I really, really hope they manage it: the trailer they put together for presentation to Queensland Arts was absolutely jaw-dropping, as you can see from that clip.

Now, my part in all that visual and auditory glory was small. I just wrote some words! But oh – to see and hear those words as they come back with all that music, those voices, those phenomenal dancers! How much more could a writer ever ask for?

I’ve done this kind of thing a couple of times. There’s a short movie from Dragonwood Studios based on a story of mine, and then there’s this opera. And I honestly cannot convey just how much I have enjoyed this. Writing and storytelling – that’s one process, one dimension, one interpretation of ideas and characters. As soon as you bring in other creative people to add imagery, movement, light and colour and sound… yes, you give away ownership of the words. But you get so much back! Seeing your own dreams come back at you, reshaped and re-coloured by the imagination and creativity of others – that’s a special kind of magic.

I’d do this again in a heartbeat. Any time at all. You know what would be a real dream? Writing for animation. That would be just too damned cool.

Still. I’ll be happy if the opera gets to the stage. I’ve promised I’ll attend the premiere in a proper tuxedo… although I think I’ll have to Steampunk it up in honour of the story itself.

 

Q: Your writing background is very eclectic. Was this a deliberate choice or did the stories drive you in their own directions?

There wasn’t a choice. I’m afraid that’s just me. I have an odd kind of mind. I have an unusually retentive memory (far from photographic; I just keep oddments and facts and trivia) and an odd propensity for forming connections and patterns. I have no idea how other people create stories, and even less on how they can keep creating in a single niche. Stories are everywhere! Just… join the dots, right?

I’m not explaining this very well, am I? Probably because I cannot. I think most of us are blind to the strange wellsprings of our own creativity, and I think that’s probably a necessary thing. If we understood where it all came from, it seems likely it would vanish.

 

Q: I understand you teach Ju Jitsu, are learning Iaido, and have been known to take your bow out and shoot a wallaby to cook for dinner, as well as write. How did your degree in Entomology prepare you for this? Seriously, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

Okay, this is getting silly. Ummm… yes, to all the above. (Except bow-hunting wallabies. That’s illegal. But I own a duly licensed firearm, and occasionally I use it to reduce the plague-proportion numbers of wallabies here, and yes – they’re delicious. But I only ever shoot targets with the bow.) I also take photographs, and play the Irish whistle and flute. Doesn’t everyone?

Advice for aspiring writers is simple, though: write.

Don’t expect to publish. Just write. Write because you need to, because it’s your joy, because it gets you through the day. Write what you like writing, and enjoy the writing that you do.

Yes, your prose has to work. But there are enough highly popular, thoroughly execrable books out there to prove beyond all doubt that deathless prose isn’t the secret.

What is? Well, if I knew that I’d be parked next to Dan Brown’s yacht, wouldn’t I? But I know this: if you’re not having fun, you’re wasting your life. So write, and take pleasure in the stories you tell, and once you’ve placed a few stories and maybe won a competition or two, just take the plunge.

Let the readers decide. They’re the ones you want to reach, after all.

 

Catch up with Dirk:

Blog

Goodreads

 

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Filed under Australian Writers, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Genre, Movies & TV Shows, Readers, Script Writing, Thrillers and Crime, Tips for Developing Writers, Writing craft, Young Adult Books

Off to the National SF Con

This weekend the national Spec Fic convention, Conflux, is being held in Canberra. It’s a fun-filled long weekend for fans of the genre, where you get to talk about the genre you love with other people who share your passion. There will be a packed program with workshops, panels and events,  (see Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday here). Here is but a brief glimpse of the things on offer.

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Thursday, Richard Harland will be there with bells on running a Writing Steam punk workshop from midday until three. Richard’s had a wonderful time in France recently, promoting his Worldshaker series. As you can see, he gets right into the steam punk era.

Richard_tophat

 

At 4pm there will be a Steam Punk High Tea. What could be more delicious? And then there’s the Opening Cocktail party at 7:45pm.

Friday, 11 am Fablecroft Press will be launching One Small Step (Go Tehani). (One of my stories is in this anthology). Unfortunately, I have to work on Friday so I won’t be able to make the launch.  I’ll fly down late Friday night and stagger into my hotel room.

OneSmallStepCoverdraft

At 2:30pm there’s a Guest of Honour interview with Marc Casgione, Publishing Director of Angry Robots. (more on the GoHs down below.

And you can’t miss the Regency Gothic Banquet  starting 7pm.

Celosia Lace Fingerless Gloves - Black Deep Red Metallic Embroidered Floral - Gothic Vampire Regency Tribal Bellydance Goth Fetish Mourning

 

Gorgeous gloves from this site.

 

 

On Saturday morning I’ll be running a workshop preparing lucky authors who will pitch their books to Marc Gasciogne later the same day.

At 2:30pm there will be a Guest of Honour interview with Naolo Hopkins, writer of challenging SF.

And at 5pm the Ditmar Award Winners will be announced, along with the winner of the Hemming Award.

8pm, the attendees will let their hair down at the Junkyard Cathedral Masquerade.

 

 

Sunday there will be a panel on Book Covers, which I’ve been prepping for. And I’m sure there will be a fierce debate of the possibility of a female Dr Who at 12:30pm. (I saw plenty of female Dr Whos at Supanova).

 

Is the World ready for a Female Dr Who? by Vinne Bartilucci

 

See here for a full list of workshops, events and pitching opportunities.

 

The Guests of Honour are:

Naolo Hopkins from the other side of the Pacific. She is the author of four novels and a short story collection (Brown Girl in the Ring, Midnight Robber, The Salt Roads, The New Moon’s Arms, Skin Folk).

Marc Gasciogne, Publishing Director of Angry Robot, UK. See an interview with Marc here at Bibliophile Stalker. Marc will he hearing the pitching session . (I’ll be running a workshop on pitching to help the writers prepare).

From Australia, we have Karen Miller, author of more fantasy books than you can shake a stick at.

Fan guest of honour is Rose Mitchell, long time fan and power-house behind many conventions including  World Cons.

And special guest, Kaaron Warren, writer of challenging macabre stories and novels.

 

A great time will be had by all, four days of programming is a big task to organise. See my interview with Donna and Nicole.

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Setting a Fantasy in Australia

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 Louise Curtis to drop by.  Louise is going to tell us about the genesis of her new YA novel.

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In November 2010 I was busy. I was far, far too busy to do the National Novel Writing Month. So the beginning of November came and went with nothing but a wistful sigh on the writing front. And then I had a dream about a group of empaths that saw everything by its emotions – cars, dirt, people – to such an extent that a skilled empath could become invisible to others. And one of the empaths had turned against the rest, leaving every last one of them shattered.

My contemporary fantasy YA novel SEE THROUGH was finished three weeks later. (And by “finished” I mean the first draft was written – you’ll notice this was over two years ago.)

Canberra Yacht Club Jetty

Canberra Yacht Club Jetty

I had no time to research or design an unusual setting, so I set the story in a place I’d always meant to use for a fantasy, simply because almost no-one else had – my home town of Canberra. After an eerie night-time trip to write with other NaNoers in the small town of Collector (there was a dead rabbit just outside the door of the hall, and half the lights didn’t work) I set a vital part of the story there. The cover photo was taken in Canberra, too – from a boat on Lake Burley Griffin looking towards Rydges.

It wasn’t the first time I’d written about people with empathic ability – and I always made the skill both a gift and a curse; never something that could be switched off.

steamlouise

I know exactly why I was so fascinated with the idea of strong emotions hitting more than one person at a time. For seven years I struggled with a mental illness that fell under the category of “social anxiety”. One part of that disorder was that I felt convinced I was channelling the emotions of people around me – only negative emotions, of course – stress, anger, grief. Some of it was based on reading body language and on my knowledge of a person’s struggles or personality. But the feelings were out of control and out of proportion. It also made me a terrible friend, because if someone was upset then I was devastated – even though nothing had happened to me! Mental illness is a strange world, and I enjoyed imagining a place where the pain and uselessness I felt had an up side.

My very obvious reference to the Stolen Generation in the prologue (a child is taken from her natural parents by law) was

completely unconscious. I’m glad (though a little scared) that it’s there. It’s a fitting part of an Australian fantasy novel. You can read the prologue for free, incidentally (here), and it can stand alone as a short story.

The book goes on to explore some of the different ways minority and majority groups in Australia see each other, and negotiate the difficult path to peaceful co-existence. There aren’t any easy answers in real life or the book: it is always simply hard work and careful kindness.

Cover

 

SEE THROUGH by Louise Curtis

Amy is a young empath stolen from her Normal parents by law on her fifth birthday – with deadly consequences. Her carefully constructed serenity is ripped away a second time when her empath community is attacked from within.

 

Louise writes about writing, steampunk, and her one-year old daughter on her blog. She has no superpowers that she cares to disclose at this time.

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Filed under Australian Writers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Writing craft, Young Adult Books

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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Filed under Australian Writers, Cats, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Inspiring Art, Nourish the Writer, Writing craft

Dynamic Duo run National SF Con (Conflux 9)and have new books out…

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 Dynamic Duo, Donna Hanson and Nicole Murphy who are co-chairs of the Australian National SF Convention, Conflux 9 and who both happen to have a book coming out this year. They are proof that you can be creative and successful, and give back to your community.

 

Donna and Nicole

Donna and Nicole

Q: Both of you have work and families, you are part of a writing group (the Canberra SF Guild and part of Fantasy Writers on Retreat), you’re published and you both have books coming out this year (more later), on top of all this, you put your hands up to be co-chairs of Conflux 9. Tell me honestly, when you came home from that meeting and told your significant others that you’d volunteered to run the Nat Con, what did they say? (From the photo it looks like you might have had one glass to many).

Donna

Well that photo on the website was my birthday shot ( a High Tea)  so I’m not sure we’d dived into the champers at that time. We think we’re insane and I think our partners know it. Matthew (Farrer) my partner has this wide-eyed stare every time we talk Conflux 9. The worried frown sort of says-‘she’s going to rope me in?’ And just last weekend I did too, do a couple of panels. It’s the power of the inevitable. However, this is definitely my last con.

 

Nicole

I dreaded telling my husband, Tim, cause he really didn’t like the time it took from me when I chaired Conflux 4. But the fact that a) it was with Donna, so the workload wouldn’t be as bad and b) I love doing this meant he was fine with it. However, we’re both swearing that this will be the last time we organise a con and hoping our partners will keep us to that. Not that that means it’s the last thing we’ll do for the community. We have ideas. One that keeps popping up in particular (you know what I mean, Donna).

 

Donna

Nicole do not go there. Do not pass go and do not collect $200. Think of the work involved. You’re insane.

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Q: Not only are you doing all of the above, but Nicole, you’re teaching Year of the Novel with the QLD Writing Centre and the ACT Writers Centre, and Donna you are doing a Masters in Creative Writing, and a course in Millinery (hat making). Is there a point where you think, I can’t take on one more thing? Or is your philosophy, the more I take on the stimulating life is and it’s just as well I’m really good at juggling?

 

Donna

I have my limits. Like if I sold a trilogy I’d probably have massive brain melt. But that’s not going to happen in the next 3 months. I’d like it but you know gee a girl can only do so much. Ironically, I do find the more I have on the more productive I get. RSI stymies me a little. I guess it’s a matter of stacking. Conflux is over at the end of April. Things are hotting up now with Conflux so I ease off on the writing. The Masters starts soon, but I’m taking all of April off to get the Conflux thing done and uni if needs me. Millinery if the course goes ahead (they need a minimum number) will be my time out. I have arthritis in the neck and one day I’m not going to be a happy camper so I do have this philosophy of doing as much as I can now rather than waiting until I retire or something. And to ease the pressure in my writing gears and cogs, I wrote two novels in the last half of 2012 and I just have to polish them and send them out this year. The pressure to write has eased a bit.

 

Nicole

There is no doubt in my mind that I am quite, quite mad. However, there’s nothing that annoys me more than being bored, and this year there’s little chance of that happening! The two Year of the Novel courses were important to me because I love teaching and helping people – I get as much satisfaction from seeing friends and those I’m mentored and taught succeed as I do from my own success. More, even, cause I don’t have to deal with the worry and fretting and constant fear of bad sales figures J And as Donna said Conflux is over is just over three months (eep, eep, eep!) and I’m going easy on myself on the writing front in order to keep things under control. That said – I’ve got two books coming out between now and then, one of which I’m editing and publishing, so… Back to the comment about being mad.

Marc Gascoigne

Marc Gascoigne

Q: You’ve been involved in running other Confluxes and other events like the World SF Con 2010. How did you get involved in running events? Was it overwhelming the first time? I know Conflux 9 is running a pitching opportunity with Marc Gascoigne from Angry Robot. Nalo Hopkins is the International writer GOH, Karen Miller is the Australian GOH writer and Kaaron Warren is the Special Guest writer, (see here for details), so you get to meet cool writers and editors. Are there other benefits to running a Con and is it something you’d recommend to people wanting to become writers? (For information on the pitching opportunity see here).

 

Nalo Hopkins (Photo David Findlay, 2007)

Nalo Hopkins (Photo David Findlay, 2007)

Donna

Nicole will tell you I roped her in. I’ll blame Maxine McArthur because I’d never heard of SF cons (well I had been to a Star Trek convention and knew about those but not fan run lit cons). I ended up being the Chair of Conflux (number 1) but I was just helping out on the committee (cough because Maxine gave me strong hints that I should) and then I ended up being the chair. I did the next one and then scaled down my activities to focus on writing.

I did make a lot of contacts and made many friends as a result. In those early days I was very enthusiastic and networked a lot and I guess brought in other writers to the fan scene. The rest is history. For that first con though I had 10 months off work and I didn’t write much either. I think I did other things like edit anthologies.

I do recommend getting involved with organising these conventions and helping out. It’s a good experience and you make great contacts. However, I do recommend a little balancing between your activities. I got invited to help out with worldcon because I got noticed doing the Conflux convention running. It can be addictive. Worldcons are great fun (going to them and being involved).

 

Karen Miller (Photo Mary CT Webber)

Karen Miller (Photo Mary CT Webber)

Kaaron Warren

Kaaron Warren

 

 

 

Nicole

Yes, it’s all Donna’s fault. She asked me to run the short story competition at the first Conflux. I wasn’t totally happy with my work on that, so I decided to work on the next convention to prove I could do it. And then the next convention. And then I chaired one. And then. And then…

And now, thanks to Conflux, I work full-time as a professional conference organiser. So yeah, I love them.

I’m not sure I’d recommend it to other writers, because it is very time consuming. That said, if you’re not good at networking (like me, I’m atrocious at it, unlike Donna who is an absolute marvel at it), then getting involved in convention organising is a great idea because you have to meet and interact with these people. I’ve not doubt that my work with Conflux helped me get my foot in the door with Harper Collins. Didn’t get me published – it was the fact the company loved the books that did that, but it helped.

So balance it up – the time it takes versus the fact it can be very beneficial. And fun. And you get to meet the coolest people, and often they’ll stay friends for a long time after.

rayessa-and-the-space-pirates_cvr

Q: Donna your book Rayessa the Space Pirate is available from Escape Publishing. You edited the Australian Speculative Fiction: Genre Overview, which was published in 2005. You’ve had a lot of short stories published which range from fantasy, through erotic horror, to SF (is this right?), yet Rayessa the Space Pirate is a rollicking Space Opera, which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Was it a relief to let your hair down and write for the fun of it?

AustralianSpeculativeFiction

Donna

I had fun writing Rayessa and the Space Pirates. I wrote it a long time ago, when I was a fairly new writer. Even though it’s been revised, I stayed true to the character during those rewrites. She’s fun, the story is fun. But when you take in my other work, it is surely different and not what you’d expect from me. I’m very proud of it because of its lightness, its vibrancy and like you said rollicking space opera.

Many of my short stories are me flexing my writing muscles. I evolved from just writing a story to experimenting with styles and content. I do tend to go a bit dark at times. ‘Heat’ was a bit like that with the split narrative (it’s in my free fiction section on my blog-warning adult content) and in the last couple of years I’d been writing short paranormal too, just to see if I could. I’m a bit astounded that I really like writing happy ever afters just as much as the soul sucking endings. I write what is in my head, pursue ideas and go with it. Who knows what I’m going to do next.

3 books.axd

Q: Nicole you’ve had numerous short stories published, and an Urban Fantasy trilogy set in Australia called The Gadda (Harper Collins). The tag-line on your blog is: Where Fantasy and Romance Collide. So your next book’s genre is a step sideway, but not that far. Arranged to Love is written under your pseudonym, Elizabeth Dunk. (For a taste of Elizabeth Dunk’s writing style see here, Claudine’s New Adventure). What was the genesis of Nicole the fantasy writer evolving  to include Elizabeth the romance writer?

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Nicole

It all started way back when I was originally writing the first lot of Gadda books. I’d been thinking I was a straight fantasy/SF writer, but I had one of those blinding moments of inspiration where I realised I kept putting romance in as a sub-plot and I’d probably be better off pulling it to the forefront. That was the genesis of writing the Gadda books and when they were done, I kept having ideas for contemporary romances as well.

In 2011 I was at home, writing full-time, and I needed to do something apart from the Gadda books to challenge myself. So yes, I took a step sideways – a small one, but definitely still a step. My aim was to write a Mills and Boon category style romance. The only way Arranged to Love matches that is in length – otherwise it fails. But it’s a great story and it had a checkered road to publication but I’m so happy it’s there.

I’d always intended to use a pseudonym, but to be open about it because some people read only genre, some people read an author. So there will be people who will read anything I publish and there will be romance readers who won’t touch the Gadda books with a barge pole and vice versa. Here’s hoping it works.

 

donna-corset

Q: I understand there is a Steampunk High Tea is planned for Conflux 9 on the Thursday afternoon at 3pm.  (For the full program, see here). I’m guessing this mean we all get to dress up in really cool steampunk gear, sip tea and nibble cucumber sandwiches. Do you have any fashion advice for the event?

 

Donna

I think people should go with that they feel comfortable with. I’m dressing up because: hey I made a dress so I must wear it. But people can come with a bow tie, or goggles or a gun or just in day clothes. I bought Matthew a Nerf Gun. I expect him to paint it and make it look all steampunky. My son gave me a steampunk necklace for Christmas. I’m almost kitted up.

It’s a bit of fun. People can do traditional Victorian or make it up with whatever they like. I’ve seen men and women in corsets, kilts, junk, jodhpurs and google, top hats, parasols. Any and all. Just come for the fun and the high tea. I believe we get lovely sparkling wine too. Try googling steampunk clothing and you’ll be amazed at what is out there. Mind bogglingly awesome. There are some very talented and creative people out there. Just remember you have to book and pay for the high tea as it is an extra event.

 

Nicole

Can I just add – cucumber sandwiches are awesome! Honestly, you read about them and think, how old fashioned, how silly, making sandwiches with cucumber only, what a strange thing to do. But they’re great. I prefer them with a yoghurt dressing, rather than cream cheese. Take note, Rydges!

JAFA2013-small

Q: You are also staging a Regency Banquet. Does this involved getting dressed up like Elizabeth and Mr Darcy? What can people expect at a Regency banquet?

 

Donna

Yes, if you want. We ran a Regency Banquet a few years ago and we had a great turn out. A lot of people love the period and went all out. Some had period costumes, some people adapted modern wear to make it look period, some of those were very effective.

The menu for the banquet is taken from the Conflux cookbook, Five Historical Feasts, by Gillian Polack. We are re-running that. The menu was researched and put together by Gillian, who is our very own historian (she’s a Dr), with the help of a bunch of us who tested and tasted the recipes. The food was really good to eat. Not good for my waistline.

This year to spice things up we have entertainment from Earthly Delights. They are the group that run the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra the week before Conflux. (they always get TV coverage of the event). John Gardiner, his wife Aylwen Gardiner-Garden will be organising the impromptu dancing and also music. John has agreed to do a 3 hour workshop on Regency Dance and Manners on the Friday. I’m so going to that. ($45 for members) and Aylwen is bringing items of costume to do a hands on workshop on costume design ($10 for members), so we are getting into the Regency thing. I hope we get takers because the dance workshop needs 16 people to work.

 

Lewis Morely and Marilyn Pride Conflux 5 (Photo Cat Sparks)

Lewis Morely and Marilyn Pride Conflux 5 (Photo Cat Sparks)

Nicole

The original Regency banquet was run during my conference, Conflux 4 and I may be biased, but I think it was the best of the lot. Everyone really went all out with the costuming and the whole place looked wonderful. The food was overwhelming – there was very little desert eaten because it was so rich we were already full. A fabulous night.

Note that while we’ve cut a lot of allergens out of the menu (eg there’s no fish/shellfish, no nuts), there’s one thing we can’t avoid – dairy. The Regency folks were nuts for it. And butter, so forget your diet! But if you’re lactose intolerant, there’s so little food available for you that you’ve got to seriously consider if it’s worth your while.

 

Donna Hanson, Cat Sparks, Alisa Krasnostein  Conflux 4 (Photo by Cat Sparks)

Donna Hanson, Cat Sparks, Alisa Krasnostein, Conflux 5 (Photo by Cat Sparks)

 

Q: Do you have any tips for first time convention goers who are planning to come to Conflux 9? (For membership information see here)

Donna

Be prepared to meet people, have fun, be entertained, learn things, network (drink). Be prepared to be thoroughly knackered. Come to our Meet the newbie session in the bar after the steampunk high tea. You’ll get to meet seasoned con goers to find out how to make the best of your convention.

 

Adam Browne and Keith Stevenson (Photo Claire McKenna)

Adam Browne and Keith Stevenson (Photo Claire McKenna)

Nicole

Don’t be afraid to approach your favourite writer. One of the great things about our industry is that we’ve all been in the same boat – having to greet our hero for the first time. A lot of the time, we made complete and utter fools of ourselves but we’ve always survived. Australia’s SF industry is wonderfully supportive, encouraging and fabulous and generally we only bite if asked to.

If you’re coming as a writer, intending to network with editors, agents and publishers – be cool about it. For professionals, conventions are part work, part fun and hanging with friends. So be aware of the circumstances and if you are going to approach them for a chat about your work, be polite and understand if they ask you to come back another time.

And whatever you do – don’t do what some shmuck did to poor Stephen King at a convention and chase a writer/editor/agent/publisher into the toilet with your manuscript and fling it under the door to them!

That said, a lot of us are very bribable. I drink red wine :-)

 

 

Rowena thanks for the interview. You’ve done heaps of research. It is much appreciated.

 

Donna Hanson

Donna Hanson

Catch up with Donna on GoodReads

Donna’s blog

Follow Donna on Twitter  @DonnaMHanson

 

 

 

 

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Catch up with Nicole on GoodReads

Nicole’s Blog

Catch up with Nicole on Facebook

Follow Nicole on Twitter  @nicole_r_murphy  

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fandom, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Indy Press, Pitching your book, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, SF Books, Specialist Bookshops, Steampunk, The Writing Fraternity, Tips for Developing Artists, Tips for Developing Writers, Workshop/s, Writing craft, Writing Groups

Meet Kirstyn McDermott…

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 Kirstyn McDermott to drop by because her new book, Perfections, has just come out. Congratulations!

 

Q: Okay, first the really important question, your twitter handle is @fearofemeralds. Why?

That question has a simple answer, but I’m afraid that I’m going to skirt around it anyway. Essentially, the phrase is part of a larger sentence that I took with me from a dream a long, long time ago. I seldom remember my dreams upon waking, but this one was vivid and had a lot of impact on me at a time when I was agonising about whether or not I had any talent as a writer at all, and whether or not I should even bother attempting a career in that field. The whole sentence now has such talismanic properties for me that I had it tattooed in mirror writing across my ribs a couple of years ago, as a permanent reminder to keep going no matter what. My earlier use of “fearofemeralds” first as an LJ name and then as a twitter handle had a similar motive, making sure it was front and centre on a regular basis. I probably don’t need that anymore, now I have the tattoo, but it’s a little late to go changing things. And no, sorry, I’m not going to reveal any more particulars of the dream or even tell you the whole sentence – which I know is a dreadful tease, but the superstitious part of me believes that the talisman will be robbed of any power if shown to the world. :-)

Q: In an interview with Lisa Hannet when talking about the horror genre you say: ‘I find myself fascinated by the monstrous– which really boils down to being anything we’re told “normal” people shouldn’t look at or think about or discuss in polite company. Taboo topics. Fringe dwellers. The black in black-and-white. I don’t believe in Evil as a manifest force. I do believe that humans are capable of doing evil things, and that a great number of humans acting in concert are capable of great evil indeed, but what interests me are the underlying reasons, motivations and causes. What makes a human being – someone similar to myself, perhaps – able to commit certain acts that I would find abhorrent, or allow others to commit them? I deeply, deeply want to understand this.’  Do you see horror as a way of making sense of the world? Do you think people who write and read horror are more troubled by the darkness both around and inside us?

I think one of the driving forces behind humans creating and partaking in art generally is an attempt to make sense of the world, and to connect with others in this endeavour, and horror fiction is certainly no different. That’s not to say that it’s the only motivator, but it is an important one, at least to me. It influences what I write and it certainly influences the types of books I like to read. I want books that make me think, that invite me to view the world differently and reconsider my preconceptions – and that are very well crafted to boot. I’ve become a highly critical reader over the past decade or so and find myself having less and less patience for fiction – horror or otherwise – that feels like it’s playing by the numbers, or is taking too many shortcuts with well-worn tropes or lazy writing.

As to the second part of your question, I don’t that “more troubled by the darkness” is necessarily true. I think we’re genuinely more fascinated by it and more inclined to dig down into the guts of it to see what makes it work, and we might even become a touch inured to some of the horrible stuff we see on the page and the screen – though not, I strongly believe, to real life horrors. But this doesn’t mean that people who don’t read/write horror are any less troubled by the bad stuff; they simply don’t wish to dwell on it when it comes to their culture or entertainment. Which is a fair enough call. Hell, I don’t partake in the romance genre to any sort of measurable extent; it simply fails to ring my bell and always has. But I don’t think that means I am in less capable of experiencing and enjoying love and romance in real life than a hardcore romance reader (or writer). Or that readers/writers of romance are somehow “lesser” than those who like horror. It pays to remember that dark doesn’t automatically translate to deep.

In my more belligerent early twenties, I did share what was relatively common attitude within the horror community, that people who refused to read horror were little more than ostriches with their heads in the sand when it came to The Truth About Life. But isn’t that kind of extremist philosophy what your early twenties are all about? Really, life and people are a lot more complicated than that. My tolerance for those who look down their nose at the genre per sae, or decide that horror readers/writers must be somehow sick or dangerous, however, remains at a critically low threshold. Because dark doesn’t automatically translate to damaged, either.

 

 Q: Since 2010, you and Ian Mond have been hosting a monthly podcast ‘devoted mostly to speculative fiction books, reviews and the odd bit of idle gossip’. The Writer and Critic won the Ditmar and Chronos Award this year. Did you have a ‘mission statement’ when you were first putting together the podcasts? What did you want to achieve with them?

Ian’s initial mission statement was something like, “Hey, podcasts are cool. Let’s do a podcast.” He came up with the idea and beat me over the head with it for a few months until I relented and we nutted out the format. We still don’t have a real mission statement, and have tweaked the structure a number of times with varying results. What we have decided is that we will only feature two books per episode from now on, as having a third title every so often when we had a guest on was really stretching our collective stamina – not to mention the recording time!

Our initial idea was to create a podcast where we could review books at length. We both really enjoy discussing interesting books that we’ve read, and sometimes pulling apart more problematic works, but finding the time to put thoughts down on the page is difficult. There’s no way I would ever be able to write the sort of in-depth critiques of books that I can have in conversation with Ian over the course of a couple of hours. Because we were coming at it from a book review standpoint, we avoided spoilers in the first couple of episodes. But this constrained discussion to a significant extent and, at the urging of a couple of our listeners, we abandoned that strategy and switched to more of a “book group” type discussion, assuming that people had already read the books, or did not care to have major plot points and even endings spoiled. It makes for a more natural conversation, I have to say, when you’re not busy worrying about whether or not the point you’d like to make will result in a spoiler.

I don’t know that we set out to achieve any more than that, to be honest. Two friends, both avid readers, recommending books to each other and then putting aside one evening a month sit around and chat about them. So I’m genuinely flattered, and quite honoured, to think that people enjoy listening in on these discussions enough to consider the podcast award-worthy!

Q: Do you and Ian get together and brain-storm goals for The Writer and Critic? If so, where would you like to take this podcast in future?

We don’t really brainstorm as such. More like, one of us will get an idea for something and email the other one, and they might say, “cool” or “meh” or “don’t be an idiot”, as the suggestion warrants. We’re still proceeding in more of a fluid/organic manner, rather than having any grand plans for the future. (Apart from reaching 100 episodes – I know Ian is very keen to get that far!)

What I am interested in doing is working out a way to bounce more ideas off listeners, and incorporate their suggestions – whether these are actual book recommendations, or structural ideas. It’s been great having Ian, and our guests, influence my reading in such a direct way over the past couple of years. I’ve read and enjoyed books I probably would never have thought to even pick up on my own. On the flipside, I’ve occasionally had to finish a book I might otherwise have flung against the wall, but this is a valuable experience in itself. Not only having to finish it, but to analyse precisely what it was I didn’t like in order to be able to talk about it for half an hour – this hones the critical skills immeasurably.

I’d also like to hit the road with a travelling podcast at some point, if Ian and I can work out the logistics. We always like to record in person, rather than resort to Skype or similar remote technology, so that does limit the guests we can have on to those in close geographical proximity. I’m pushing for a Grand Tasmanian W&C Tour, but still need to convince Ian. Mind you, I’m sure his wonderful wife would love a Tassie holiday …

 

SouthernBlood

Q: Your first short story was published in 1993. In 2003 your short story The Truth About Pug Roberts was nominated for a Ditmar and your story, Painless, won an Aurealis Award in 2008. (For a full list of Kirstyn’s fiction see here). This helped to establish your reputation as a writer. Did you find the publications and award wins helped you sell your first book? And do you recommend aspiring writers polish their writing craft with short fiction before jumping into novels?
I’m not sure how much the awards mattered – although they mattered a hell of a lot to me! – but having short fiction published definitely helped sell my first novel. My soon-to-be publisher actually tracked me down and sent an email asking to see my manuscript after having read a couple of my stories in literary journals. The novel, of course, then had to sell itself but the short fiction is how I was noticed in the first place. I’m not sure how common this type of story is anymore, but in my case it wasn’t apocryphal and, being a short story writer at heart, it pleases me immensely to think there is still a valuable place for this form.

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That said, I don’t think that all aspiring writers should necessarily start with short fiction, or use it as a testing ground. Writing an accomplished short story is quite different to writing an accomplished novel and, although there is obviously some overlap, the skill sets required are significantly different. Just because you get good at one form, it doesn’t mean you will be able to transfer your skills to the other. I know a number of authors who have only written novels (or only series/trilogies even), or else did not try their hand at short fiction until well into their career. So it’s not an automatic stepping stone, and short does not always mean easier, or easier to publish.

If you like the short form, enjoy writing within the confines of modest word counts, and have story ideas that suit, then go for it. But for some writers, the ideas are always going to be big and sprawling, and will never be able to pared down to 5,000 words, or even 20,000 words. And that’s fine as well.  Marathonrunners aren’t likely to need to hone their sprinting skills, after all! Just write the stories that are inside you, in whatever form and length that they need to take, and write them as well as you can. Then rinse and repeat. Over and over again. That’s really the best advice I have for any aspiring writer.

Q: Your first novel, Madigan Mine, was published by Picador in 2010. (Gorgeous cover, by the way). Without giving too much away, the story is told from a male perspective about the love of his life who is also his nemesis. Was there ever any question in your mind that the narrative Point of View had to be male? And did you find it easy to slip into his view point?

Even though Madigan was the character I found first, I always knew that her story needed to be told from the point of view of her lover. And, in this particular story, certain plot points required that lover to be male, so the gender choice was very easy and not one I ever veered away from. The hardest about writing Alex wasn’t the fact that he was male; it was that he was so damn passive. Trying to maintain pacing, suspense and interest in a character who, for greater part of the story, remained almost completely reactive proved to be the most challenging aspect of writing Madigan Mine.

To be honest, I don’t find writing from the male point of view all that arduous. I have been an avid reader my entire life, often in traditionally male-heavy genres such as Horror and Science Fiction, as well as Literary Fiction (a genre unto itself). Which means that I have spent the majority of my intellectual life immersed in the male voice and point of the view, the intricacies of the male subconscious, the particularities of male physicality, and so on, all presented with an innate assumption of male authorial authority. Which of course extends to the perception and representation of the female and the feminine.

So, personally, I find it easier to write from a male point of view because I have encountered so many diverse and nuanced cultural representations of men – or, at least, white western men. Such exposure gives me a better “feel” for a male character, where he might fit in the vast (male) cultural spectrum, where he falls short. Sadly, by contrast, I am often daunted and doubtful when writing the female point of view, because I feel I have less of a cultural sample set, to speak. The feminine is not as well charted, the ground less sure. Which is probably why I am far more interested in writing, and writing about, women these days. I like the challenge, and I like helping to build a more complex, richer and multi-faceted social construct of what “woman” and “girl” and “female” actually mean and how those concepts map to reality.

 

Q: In your 2012 Snapshot interview you said: ‘I did finally manage to finish what I have come to think of as My Difficult Second Novel, and am right about to start the edits on that. Its real name is Perfections and I don’t think I have ever hated writing anything so much as I hated writing that book for the longest, longest time.’ Having won an Aurealis Award and critical acclaim for your first book, Madigan Mine, you must have felt the pressure to top this success with your second novel. How did you come to terms with this and what can we expect from Perfections? (Is that title a Freudian slip, are you a perfectionist?)

perfections_coverWhy, yes, I am somewhat of a perfectionist, although the title refers to a different type of perfection that that. But you’ll have to read the novel to find out exactly what :-)

It wasn’t so much pressure to top Madigan Mine – for a long time, I just thought of that as my little first novel, which I’d gotten nicely out of the way before moving onto other things; it took a while for the fact that other people liked it, really liked it, to properly sink in. Also, like many perfectionist writers, I excel at dismissing the merit of my own work. Especially once it’s published.

The problem with Perfections was that it consistently refused to be the book I thought I was writing, and kept insisting on being this other book that I kept fighting against. That’s never going to end well, is it? Still, it took me a long, stubborn time to come to terms with the story as it needed to be told, as it deserved to be told, and trust that I was the writer to tell it. Perhaps, as it’s a narrative about two sisters, told equally from their points of view, my inherent doubts about successfully writing diverse female points of view became part of the problem. As was the notion, which I only unpacked and banished towards the very end of the writing, that the story was “too girlie” and “unimportant”. But it’s neither. It’s complex and layered and it happens to feature two women as the co-protagonists, with love and relationships as the central theme. All of which says something disturbing about the types of narratives that we choose to privilege and deem significant in our culture, and how these choices seep into our psyches no matter what.

That said, Perfections did turn out to be a lot darker and nastier than I originally thought it might, so it seems I was worried for no reason on that score. I still don’t know where the novel fits, genre wise, but I’m keen to see what people think of it. To me, it’s absolutely a Modern Urban Gothic, a descriptor with which a friend tagged my work some years ago, and one I’m happy to wear. I love the high stakes, high emotion, haunted and fraught narratives of Gothic fiction, as well as its capacity for subtext and symbolism. It’s a palette I don’t think I’ll ever tire of playing with.

 

Q: I understand you have a collection of short stories coming our through Twelfth Planet Press soon. Are these reprints or new stories? Have you written to the theme?

My collection is part of the Twelves Planets series, so the four stories will be all new and original works. They’re not explicitly interconnected as some of the collections, like Sue Isle’s, Tansy Rayner Roberts’ and Deb Biancotti’s, have been, but I consider them to be linked – or perhaps “harmonised” is a better word – by tone. I started out with the idea that I would write a collection of ghost stories, because I was on a bit of ghost story kick when I pitched the book to Alisa, but that didn’t quite come to pass. They’re all stories of haunted people, though, even it’s not a traditional “ghost” doing the haunting. It’s my Gothic side coming out again, I guess, but the symbolism inherent in haunted stories is something to which I find myself being constantly drawn, as both a writer and a reader.

 

Q: I read your commentary on Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods and really enjoyed it. (I’ve seen all of Firefly, Serenity, Buffy and Dollhouse. Firefly, several times). Firefly was the most sophisticated of Joss’s series and the most ambitious, but the least commercially successful (yet it has a very strong following amongst the fans). While there is a growing sophistication in the audience, the mainstream TV and Movie makes seem to be going for Blander and Dumber. Do you find it hard to discover TV series and movies that are compelling and challenging? Have you seen The Fades, the UK version of Being Human? Can you recommend some interesting and challenging movie/TV series?

I started to watch The Fades after a couple of people recommended it to me, but I really couldn’t get into it at all. It seemed simplistic and overly reliant on convenient (but nonsensical) plotting and conventional character types. I much preferred the original UK version of Being Human (haven’t seen the US remake) and the UK series Misfits to The Fades – although I’m yet to watch the final seasons of either. I have slightly more patience for television shows than I do for books, mostly because I am usually multi-tasking something else while watching them. Movies, on the other hand, especially ones I’ve gone to the theatre to see, have a tremendous capacity to irritate me – Prometheus, Dark Knight Rises, I’m looking at you – again because of the time I’ve devoted to them. Time is my most precious commodity. I don’t have enough of it, and can never get any more of it, so if I feel it’s been wasted … grrrrr. If you’re wanting recommendations, two exceptional films I’ve seen this year have been Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy and the Fincher remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Unfortunately, a lot of the TV shows I begin watching, often with great enthusiasm, tend to go off the boil. Or else I just get tired of them. Long seasons and open-ended narrative arcs that go on forever require tremendous stamina on the part of both the producers and the audience, and rarely does that seem to pay off for me. I really liked Dexter to begin with, for example, as well as True Blood, Battlestar Galactica and Fringe (once I got through the problematic first season), but pretty much abandoned them all. I get bored easily I guess, and simply amping up the (often artificial) mystery and melodrama isn’t going to keep my attention. Personal taste plays a strong part in this, of course, as I don’t tend to read a lot of series or trilogies either. Whether they’re on the page or on the screen, I tend to prefer my stories discrete and self-contained; stories I can read/watch fairly quickly and then continue on to something new and often different. Hence my favourite TV shows are usually those with fewer episodes and/or seasons, or self-contained episodic or seasonal stories. Some I would recommend would be Black Mirror, Dead Set, Afterlife, Luther, American Horror Story, The Wire, and Treme. Oh, and Black Books for comic relief, of course. I manage to re-watch that at least once a year.

 

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy? The same could probably be said for horror. What is your take on this?

I do think there’s a difference in the way men and women write all sorts of things, fantasy and horror definitely included. This most likely comes down to gender socialisation and cultural issues, rather than biology, although it’s all interwoven to some extent. That’s not to say that it’s always, or even often, possible to pick the gender of an author from the works they have written, but generally speaking there are distinct differences. Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy in many ways: in the types of writing publishers and readers expect from different genders; in the allowances and authority that will be granted to one gender over another depending on genre, theme, character, subject matter, etc; and in the ways that writers of different genders shape their own work, consciously or otherwise, to suit (or counter) such expectations.

It’s complicated, and problematic, and not an issue that’s likely to be resolved any time soon. And the fact that it needs to be resolved is salient in itself. If we were dealing with a simple observation or acknowledgement that men and women (let alone more fluid gender identities) write differently, then okay, fine, whatever. The greater problem is with the values and judgements that then become associated with the perception (valid or otherwise) of this difference. And the number of surveys, and studies, and statistical analyses that have been published recently do appear to support the argument that women writers, and genres in which women writers comprise the majority voice, are still considered lesser than their male counterparts. (And it’s much worse when it comes to matters of race and culture, let’s not forget that.)

The Horror genre undoubtedly has an image problem. Part of that is the large amount of bad – and badly written/produced – books and movies that focus on, shall we say, the more gratuitous and misanthropic, if not downright misogynistic, end of the genre. That’s not for everyone, granted, although there is some very fine work being done in these areas that tends to be overlooked among the chaff. But perhaps the real problem is a definitional one, and the narrowing effect that the genre is suffering right now. After all, if you decide that all the interesting, challenging, intelligent and well-written books are “too good” to be called Horror, and that Horror is merely a genre made of stories where women are raped, tortured or killed, then of course Horror is going to be maligned, derided and snubbed. And a lot of female writers are probably going to decide that such a genre is not for them, or at least that what they write isn’t Horror. QED.

Horror is a broad and slippery genre that gets its, ahem, tentacles into everything. It isn’t just tortureporn or splatterpunk, and never was; these are just two or many subgenres that Horror has the capacity to contain if it is allowed to. It’s written by men and it’s written by women, and it’s a stronger, more nuanced genre for it. After all, a significant portion of what human beings find horrific, terrifying or dread-inspiring, is gender specific. We need all these stories, and we need to acknowledge them as Horror – no matter which subgenre they inhabit along the way. A little more racial/cultural diversity wouldn’t hurt either, not-so-quietly speaking.

 

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

It almost certainly does, and probably in ways of which I’m not entirely conscious, especially when it’s an author I’m unfamiliar with. Specifically, I know I generally feel like I’ll have a better time with female characters in a book if it’s been written by a woman. Of course, this isn’t always the case and women are more than capable of writing awful, stereotypical, angry-making representations of their own gender. But the expectation is there, to be fulfilled or otherwise depending on the quality of the book.

I’m sure there are many more unacknowledged expectations I have in regards to the author’s gender, but other preconceptions are often more prominent in my mind. What genre it falls into, what I’ve been told about it in advance – it’s very rare for me to pick up a book completely on spec these days – and even why I’ve decided to read it in the first place, which might actually include the author’s gender as a motivating factor.

Actually, there’s one more very specific thing of which I’ve become keenly aware – with a first person narrative, especially if it’s a short story in an anthology, these days I will tend to automatically gender the narrator in line with the author. It’s an improvement of sorts from when I was in my teens and twenties and would find myself automatically defaulting male in any first person narrative – a by product of my heavily male-oriented literary diet back then, no doubt. But it’s interesting, if a little depressing, to find that assigning gender to a character straight out of the gate is still something that my mind obviously demands. Then again, English is a highly gendered language, as is our culture, and gender often is the first marker we  seek in our interactions with each other. We really, really need a good quality set of gender neutral pronouns, don’t we?

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’m going to sound a little boring here, but I honestly wouldn’t book any kind of trip in a time machine. It’s far too dangerous to go into the past and accidentally mess things up, and I don’t think I really want to know exactly what the future holds. It’s more fun to find out the old fashioned way, by living through it.

Unless, wait … how about I keep my free ticket on hand for those awful times when you say or do something you immediately wish you could undo. Like having a “restore saved game” function for real life. That’d be neat. But, again, I’d have to use it as soon as I wanted to reset something or else, you know, that whole messing with the past thing. I’ve read the books, and seen the movies. That never ends well!

Look out for Kirstyn’s new book Perfections .

perfections_cover

 

 

Catch up with Kirstyn and Ian’s Podcasts here

Catch up with Kirstyn on GoodReads

Catch up at Kirstyn’s blog

Catch up with Kirstyn on Twitter @fearofemeralds

 

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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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Fan-girl Squeee

This weekend I’m going to Genre Con, which is a wonderful excuse to catch up with my writing friend and talk about the craft of writing.

There’s Pitching Opportunities. And here’s a link with info about the program. But the reason I’m doing a Fan-girl Squee is because I’m chairing a panel with Special Guests Anna Campbell, PM Newton and Joe Abercrombie. And Joe Abercrombie just emailed me!

Somehow I must maintain my cool, be very professional and chair a great panel on World Building. To prepare for the panel in the last few weeks I’ve read  Anna Campbell’s My Reckless Surrender (historical romance), PM Newton’s The Old School (crime) and I’ve just downloaded Joe Abercombie’s Red Country (dark fantasy meets western).

 

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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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Juliet Marillier talks about creating Fantasy Worlds…

A whole new world?   

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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