Monthly Archives: July 2011

Meet M K Hume …

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

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

Q: As someone who was born in Ipswich, a country town outside of Brisbane in Australia, how did you become so obsessed with the Arthurian Legends?  (As your Phd is based on Arthurian Literature, I would call that obsessed in the nicest possible way).

Yes!  I’m obsessed with Arthur, but I think the legends have also pursued me for the larger part of my life.  I lived for many years in a suburb of Brisbane called Bracken Ridge where all the streets seemed to have been named after Arthurian characters.  In addition, I married an Arthur, and everywhere I went I seemed to be tripping over the names of characters from the legends.

But I actually started my love affair with all things Arthurian far earlier.  I recall that the poem, ‘The Lady of Shallott’, captured me when I was about eight years old.  I remember thinking at the time that Lancelot was thoroughly unpleasant in his attitudes, even though I was still very young.  At that time, I was devouring heroic themes such as ‘The Young Lochinvar’, ‘Robert the Bruce’, ‘Horatius at the Bridge’ and ‘The Relief of Lucknow’.  If the tale had heroic overtones, I fell in love with it.

But the Arthurian legends had it all for me, even when I didn’t believe they were quite real.  I came to understand that nowhere in the English language is the ethos and beliefs of Northern Peoples so encapsulated and defined for our people have become what Arthur/Artor/Arturius has made of us.

Q: I see you taught English, History and Art as a teacher.  You’ve managed to combine your love of English and History in your books based on the Arthurian legends.  Have you also managed to rekindle your love of art in some way?

Art lives in literature and I love to describe the beauty of jewellery, architecture, Welsh Interlace, sculpture, etcetera, in my work.  The complexity of Welsh Interlace, like its poetry, is very highly evolved and often underestimated, like the poetry.  Such patterning reminds me vaguely of Asian design in its highly symbolized use of linear values.  I love to study the artistic outpouring of different cultures and the Arthurian legends gave me the richness of the Dark Ages – of neolithic standing stones, the chalk giants, Roman architecture and the city of Constantinople which I use in Merlin II, (Death of an Empire) and the use of body adornment and tattoos.  To me, writing is painting in words and the Arthurian Period is so rich that I could spend a lifetime trying to capture its flavor.

On a prosaic note, I make dolls in my spare time although I find it impossible to follow the rules for constructing them.  I sew, I draw, I paint and I garden, all of which allow me to interpolate any artistic experiences I have.  I love to hang strings of beads from trees, or stained glass lighting fixtures like surprises that catch the light.  While I am enthusiastic, I’m a rule breaker which causes some of my projects to fail outright if I push the boundaries too far.

Q: You have a multiple-book deal with Headline Review to write eight (8) novels.  These include a trilogy based on King Arthur, another trilogy based on Merlin, and two further novels based on Taliessin and what happened to the Celtic Tribes after the death of King Arthur.  The books will be released at, roughly, six-monthly intervals.  Did you have the books written before your agent makes the deal, or are you just an amazingly fast writer?

I accept that I work at a very fast speed.  I write in freehand into a notebook which is then typed and returned to me as printed copy.  I keep editing and correcting until such time as I am satisfied with the finished section.  Using this technique, I find that I can easily write two books a year, and sometimes three.  I write when I’m alert, and correct the copy at times when I’m feeling a bit tired.  I really love what I do and the words just seem to flow off my pen onto the pages.  I put in about six hours a day and just love all aspects of stories, plot-lines, songs, maps and research.  Now that I’ve discovered the love of my life, I have no intentions of sitting on my hands.

While the existing contracts cover the eight novels, my publisher and agents have told me that we will be extending our agreements into the future.  Their advice to me is writing epics on historical fiction is my forte, so they are always considering the next two or three years of output.  Many of the novels we are considering cover areas that have never been considered before so there are always challenges in my writing life.

The two novels about the Twilight of the Celts that are currently being produced are strange waters indeed.  Before the time of the Venerable Bede, the Saxons, in conjunction with the Angles and Jutes and other far-northern peoples, ate away at the world of the Celts.  I wondered how a bastard son of Arthur could survive in such a world where culture-clash had to be very terrible for all concerned.

Q: I see you are currently writing a new work based on the character of Taliessin.  In your version he is the son of Merlin and Nimue.  What was it about the Taliessin character that fascinated you?

The Taliessin character has a very rich background.  Alfred Lord Tennyson was the first pet to place Taliessin in the Arthurian court, but I considered that any son of Myrddion Emrys (or Merlin) would have to be extraordinary.  The 5th century Taliessin was a poet of remarkable skill and so many legends are tied to him, including being the son of Ceridwen, possessing shape-shifting skills and having the diplomatic skills of a master statesman.

The name of Taliessin was also associated with the patriotism of the Welsh people in records that date back to the 8th century, so it suits me well to combine these two traditions into one character that embellishes him as the son of Merlin.  Charles Williams, a rather strange Arthurian poet of the first half of the 20th century, describes Taliessin as being more important to the legends than Arthur himself, which is a step too far for me.  In my works, I endeavor to present the strands my way in order to amplify the nature of Artor, his bastard son and the entire world of the Dark Ages.  Taliessin is the poetic voice of the onlooker to reflect on the tragedy of invasion.  Among my books, The Bloody Cup depends on his viewpoints and the last two books of the Celtic series of will be seen through the eyes of Taliessin.

Q: In an interview on BookGeeks you say you are actively working on a new series about the Kings of Britain.  In which time period will these books be set?

The first book in this series will be set in the early16th Century during the reign of King Henry VIII.

When I was in the UK last year, I was introduced to a family whose family ancestry goes back to William the Conqueror.  Their family members have been influential with British royalty over the centuries and have played a large part in the history of Great Britain over the past 1000 years.

There is a mountain of previously un-accessed research material available to me from this family so I am very excited about the project, the details of which still have to be finalized.

Q: As a lover of literature and as an historian who has had the opportunity to travel to carry out research, which were some of your favourite places in the UK and Europe?

I absolutely loved the following places in the UK:

York is amazing.

I adored Chester too, especially when I managed to make an educated guess that it was the location of King Arthur’s Round Table.  I couldn’t believe it when I read the newspaper article about it being found and that it was a long disused Roman gladiatorial arena.

Bath is also a place that makes the heart skip a beat.

The ruined Abbey at Glastonbury is so clean and pure that my heart almost stops when I see it.  I’m certain in my own mind that Arthur’s bones really are interred in the grounds of the abbey.

I also loved Cadbury Tor.

Of course, I like London but we Australians have such difficulties with the scale of the place.  When I am there, it never seems as big as I expect it to be.

Finally, I love all of Wales.  I love the people, the customs, the places and the villages.  It will always hold a special place in my heart.

In foreign climes, who could leave out the ruins of Troy or Istanbul or Copenhagen.  Asia has its wonders as well in the ruined city with the unpronounceable name just outside of Bangkok.  Hong Kong and China are great too.

The pick of all the places I’ve seen is Glastonbury.  To stand at the bottom of the tor and look upwards at the ruins of the Church of Saint Michael is to die for.

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

I think you’ve got me on this question as I really don’t know how to answer it.  I’ve been told by some of our readers that I write like a young man which is odd I suppose.   Frankly, I don’t think gender should dictate what we think of a book in advance of reading it, and I don’t really trouble myself to think of the gender of any writer before, during or after I’ve read any book.

I love planning battles, am not afraid of death scenes or violence and I don’t flinch away from the uglier side of human nature.  I was raised with brothers and I have two sons and many male friends, so it’s possible this gives me a male perspective, but I also believe that being female permits me to empathize and be decorative even in bloody battle scenes

I really hate typecasting and my publisher told me that men and women who read my historical epics aren’t all that keen on the romanticism of women writers.  It’s strange because I find it very difficult to write a romance, whereas I have one male friend who’s a whiz at it and even uses a female nom-de-plume.

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

I don’t really expect anything from the gender of the writer but I have discovered a couple of characteristics that sometime fit my needs.  For example, women write more elaborately at times, although there’s no hard and fast rule with this. Also, a number of women are highly successful in the crime genre, but I still wouldn’t like to even suggest that women are more violent than men.

What I go on when I pick up a book is the blurb and the opening paragraph.  I love Martin Cruz Smith, John Connolly and Carol O’Connell.  They always get me because of the novelty of their plots, an uncompromising grittiness in their writing and the vivid metaphors and symbolism of their technique.  I love them all.

I want to be part of the story.  And I want to be far away in time, place or space so that the real world is the shadow and the world of the novel is real.  Tolkien did the same thing for me and, in my teens, Heinlein.   You can always recognize the writer who does these things at the beginning of the book, and you won’t particularly care about their gender.

Q: And here’s the fun question.   If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I’d have to be guaranteed a return trip because being a woman wasn’t a good idea in the times in the literary past that have fascinated me.

  1. I’d like to have been at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains near Chalons in France that took place in 451ad.  The protagonists in the battle were a half million strong army under the command of Attila the Hun and a combined force of Franks, Visigoths and Roman mercenaries under the command of Flavius Aetius, the last of the great Roman generals.  It was one of the 15 greatest battles of all time, yet few people are aware of it;
  2. I’d love to have been present when Knossos fell to the barbarian Dorics of Greece;
  3. I’d love to have been present at the fall of Troy or Ilion; but most of all,
  4. I’d like to meet Imhotep who built the first pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Djoser and was subsequently made a god.

There are so many fascinating times and places.   Oddly, I have no desire to go forward in time unless I leave the earth behind and travel to one of the far stars.  But I guess I would like to have my questions about the past answered first.

The past, to me, is real and it is poignant.  I distrust the patterns of history because the victors always call the tune, so I’ve learned to distrust what everybody accepts as true.  Yet I love the truth in the ways that people act, even if we can’t be sure of exact dates or places.  For example, the Round Table is a great example of quasi-truth.  I never believed that it would be a real table, but it had to be symbol of something else.  My guess was that it would be a round building used to hold meetings between the kings and their retinues as such men never would consider sitting down without their guards to protect them.  I reasoned that the site of the Round Table had to be central to a place of Roman Celtic importance such as Chester/Deva.

How wonderful then that archeologists and historians announced last year that a small Roman amphitheatre in Chester had been roofed and walled in the 5th and 6th century by some anonymous Celtic chief.  Ergo, the Round Table of King Arthur.

I love that kind of truth where legend and fact have come together to make something fresh.  I guess that’s why we write, because we’re all looking for something new.

MK Has a copy of her new book Prphecy: Clash of Kings to give-away. It’s the first book in the Merlin series. The give-away question is:

Why do you think King Arthur and the Arthurian legends are still so popular after 1500 years?

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Winner Juliet Marillier Give-away!

Juliet writes:
What a great set of recommendations! In fact I’ve already read and enjoyed many of these: Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, Lian Hearn’s Otori series, and most of Terry Pratchett. There are also a few authors among the recommendations whose work I already know I don’t like, though others do.

So what’s going on my ‘to read’ list? Anne Bishop for a start, since so many people tell me I would like her work. Lynn Flewelling’s The Bone Doll’s Twin. Naomi Novik, whose books I feel I should have tried. Lois McMaster Bujold, ditto. Maybe Brandon Sanderson or Brent Weeks, so nobody can accuse me of choosing 100% female authors! If I get through all those, I’ll start on the rest.

But there can only be one winner. The signed book goes to Lexie for recommending the Secret Country trilogy by Pamela Dean. Lexie can’t have known that Dean’s Tam Lin is one of my favourite books of all time. I was thrilled to be reminded that this author wrote other titles and will hunt them down – seems only one book of her trilogy is still in print.

Lexie, contact me on juliet(at)julietmarillier(dot)com and we can discuss getting the book to you.

(Note: This is just one of Juliet’s book covers as I don’t know which one Lexie will choose).

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Big Girl Squee!

I’ve been sitting on this news for a while and now I can finally tell the world. Just as readers don’t only read in one genre, writers don’t only write in one genre.

I’ve been a fan of the crime thriller with paranormal elements for many years. I loved Laurell K Hamilton’s early Anita Blake books. I devoured Simon R Green’s Nightside series and I’ve always admired Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books.

I’m delighted to announce that  Clandestine Press  will be releasing The Price of Fame (approx March 2012). This is particularly thrilling for me because the publisher, Lindy Cameron,  is an award winning author in in her right and a founding member of Sister in Crime.

Lindy will be one of the Australian Guests of Honour at SheKilda, held in Melbourne, 7-9th October. Kudos to Lindy for starting her Indy Press Genre publishing house, Clandestine Press.

For more on The Price of Fame see here.

 

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Winner Kim Westwood Give-away!

Kim says:

Thanks to all for the interesting choices. I like Richard’s message in reverse, and Cecelia’s right about the little everyday things getting lost to time. The big mac…let me think…eeeeew, Belinda, eeeeew! Why not write a very long note to self, Sean, and in ten years time publish it as a book? But it’s Bren’s choices that win for me: anti-pitfall warnings followed by HP1-7 and a typewriter? Heaven.

So Bren, email Kim on:   kim(at)kimwestwood(dot)com

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Meet Juliet Marillier …

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

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

Q: You started out writing for adults, but I see your recent books, Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret are Young Adult. (Cybele’s Secret won the 2008 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best YA Novel).  What led you to veer into Young Adult books?

I was persuaded in that direction by a publisher. I already had a good cross-over audience for some of my adult novels, the Sevenwaters series in particular. I’m sure that is partly because they have youngish protagonists, though I didn’t make it so in order to attract YA readers – in the early medieval period, people led shorter lives and were mothers, craftspeople, farmers or fighters during their teenage years. Those who didn’t die in childbirth or get killed in a fight or a nasty accident might then live into their forties, fifties or even older. That makes it realistic for the protagonists to be in the 15-25 age group. My readership for those adult books starts at about age 13 and goes up to folk in their nineties, including one visually impaired friend to whom I’ve read most of my novels aloud! I currently have both a YA series (Shadowfell) and an adult series on the go.

Q: I see you were a music teacher. What was your instrument? I know some writers who make up a ‘play list’ specific to each book they write. Do you write, while listening to music?

Violin, oboe, voice, in that order, with singing being my main area of performance. Generally I don’t listen to music when I write, especially not anything with lyrics, as I find that too distracting. For certain books I did listen to particular styles of music. I’m very keen on folk music these days, especially Celtic and Galician music. My favourite group is the Scottish band Runrig. When I was in the Highlands doing my research for the Bridei Chronicles I would play their music very loudly in the car as I drove along those wee one-way roads. For Wildwood Dancing, set in Transylvania, I listened to Australian gypsy band Doch.

Q: You were born in New Zealand and grew up there, but your family are from Scotland and Ireland and you grew up hearing Celtic music and stories. Have you travelled back to Europe to research your roots?

I have travelled back there for general research, but I haven’t done specific research into my family history – I have more of a passion for the physical landscape and the stories of my ancestral culture (mostly Scots, a bit of Irish) than the urge to seek out the specific details of my own family. I do know a fair amount about the last few generations. And thanks to a comprehensive book about the Pringle family, on my mother’s side, I know I have a wrong-side-of-the-blanket connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Q: The Sevenwaters Trilogy (which seems to contain five books LOL) has a big gap of eight years between books three and four. When you came back to writing in this world was it like visiting old friends?

Yes, and that surprised me. There was an eight year writing gap between Child of the Prophecy, final book of the original trilogy, and Heir to Sevenwaters, the first of the follow-ups. It’s not really a trilogy of five books (with a sixth to come) but a trilogy plus three later stand-alone novels with the same settings and some of the same characters. Again, this was something I was encouraged to do by a publisher, because the first three books were so well-loved. I had some misgivings because I had not intended to write any more in that series or in that style. I would never write a book solely because it was likely to be commercially successful. So I had to make the new project into something I could feel passionately about. That turned out not to be difficult, as I realised there was a heap more I could do with the Sevenwaters characters.

Q: I’m a big fan of the Pre-Raphaelites. I notice that some of your covers feature artwork which has a strong pre-Raphaelite look. (Heart’s Blood and the Australian editions of the Sevenwaters books.) Did you have any say in the covers?

For the Australian editions, yes. I asked if Pan Macmillan would commission a cover for Heir to Sevenwaters from Australian painter Kim Nelson, whose work I really love. At the same time as producing that cover art, Kim designed the covers for the new editions of the Sevenwaters trilogy, using paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artist J W Waterhouse. A painting by Waterhouse was also used for Heart’s Blood. I was consulted extensively right through the design process, which was wonderful. It’s not so with many of the overseas publishers. Often something extremely weird and inappropriate will go on the cover and I won’t get to see it until it’s finalised. But I have been very lucky, with wonderful artists like Kinuko Y Craft, Jon Sullivan and John Jude Palencar commissioned to do covers for US and UK editions.

Q: The Saga of the Light Isles is about a Viking farm boy, Eyvind who dreams of becoming one of the Jarl’s elite warriors. Were you always interested in Norse mythology?

 

I’ve always been interested in all kinds of mythology, legends, fairy tales and folklore. It comes of being brought up on Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books and by parents who loved storytelling. My particular interest in Norse history and mythology came about when I read a book on Viking warfare and started thinking about what kind of men berserk warriors would have to be – on one hand, crazy killing machines dedicated to a god of war; on the other hand, dutiful sons who went home to help Mum on the farm in between raiding voyages. The Icelandic sagas actually describe this dichotomy. That fascinated me, hence Wolfskin, my book about the making (and unmaking) of a berserker.

Q: The Bridei Chronicles is based loosely on real history. We were on a panel together at World Con in Melbourne 2010, where you said (I’m paraphrasing) that when not a lot is known about a time, the writer is able to extrapolate and invent. Do you find your general knowledge has helped you fill in the gaps about what is known of the Picts?

Definitely. It’s certainly not a case of, if you don’t know it, make it up! The writer needs to research pretty thoroughly and be familiar with what is known, even if that isn’t much. And when you do venture into informed guesswork, what you create should at least be possible within what is known of that culture. It helps to look at other, similar cultures of the time that may have more contemporary documents.

I used my general education all the time – for instance, I invented place names for many locations in the Highlands whose current names couldn’t be used because they belong to a later (Scots) period and language. To do so, I had to put together names derived from the bits and pieces of other languages that were thought to belong to the same family as the lost Pictish language of Bridei’s time. I’m sure most people who read the novels didn’t give a hoot if the names were historically probable or not, but it mattered to me! I have in the past made historical errors in my books, before I realised such things were important in fantasy, and these days I try to get things right. Being a nit-picker of this kind does sometimes spoil my enjoyment of other people’s fantasy – I can’t bear it when writers mix up ‘real world’ cultures holus bolus to create their secondary world. But I love it when writers get it right. Jacqueline Carey is a great example, with her intricately detailed alternative Renaissance Europe.

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

I think that would be too much of a generalisation. I do see a trend in the UK towards a style of fantasy that reflects a somewhat pessimistic or jaded world view and is often extremely violent and gruesome. The names that spring to mind are all male: Jesse Bullington, Joe Abercrombie, and literary writer Glen Duncan’s recent venture into fantasy, The Last Werewolf. I found Bullington’s first novel too sickening to read, but Joe Abercombie is one of my favourite writers, and the Glen Duncan novel is a striking piece of storytelling, though the subject matter is often challenging. But I don’t think this is the answer to the question. Really, fantasy writing is about individual writers, not men vs women or Americans vs Brits or redheads vs blondes. All sorts of factors influence the way a person writes; gender is only one of them. Perhaps the recent tendency to undervalue women fantasy writers is based on the massive rise in the number of paranormal romances we see in the bookshops, most of them by women – some people may be assuming that’s what we all write!

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

Difficult to answer, as the interview is based on fantasy writing, and I’m not a great fantasy reader. Within that genre I tend to stick to a few favourite writers, both male and female, and my expectations are based on their previous work. With an unknown fantasy author, I don’t think gender would change my expectations much, because there’s such a huge variety of approach within the genre. I would be influenced by the cover, the blurb, and the first few pages – perhaps also by the author bio and who published the book. The qualities I want in any novel, regardless of genre, are skilled craftsmanship and great storytelling. And originality.

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’ll go to sixth century Britain, eastern end of the Great Glen (where Inverness is now) so I can find out the answers to all those questions about the Picts and perhaps drop in at King Bridei’s court. Can I take my thermal underwear?

Give-away Question:  (win a signed copy of a JM novel of your choice)

Juliet says:
I’ve confessed that I don’t read a lot of fantasy. Recommend a fantasy novel for my reading list, and tell us why you chose it.

 

Catch up with Juliet on GoodReads

Catch up with Juliet on Facebook.

The Juliet Marillier Cafe.

Catch up with Juliet on Writer Unboxed.

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Doing the Happy Dance!

Have you ever had a day where you left home on a 7am train, worked flat out all day, got home by 7pm exhausted and drained,  and then opened your email and found this:

The King’s Bastard has gone into its 4th reprint!

No wonder I’m doing the happy dance. For those of you who might be wondering here are the KRK  covers and for more info on the trilogy see King Rolen’s Kin.

Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon and all good bookstores.

(If you live in Australia you need to go to a specialist bookstore or order it in. But then we all want to support specialist bookstores, don’t we? Makes us feel virtuous).

I’d like to send a really big thank you to the readers who’ve enjoyed KRK and told their friends. I get emails every week from people asking where KRK book 4 is or where the next KRK trilogy is. I’m in the throes of writing the new trilogy right now. Just wish I could give up the day job to concentrate on it, but then all writers feel that way.

And if that wasn’t enough there’ve been some very nice comments on the covers for The Outcast Chronicles (here, many thanks to Magemanda!). Kudos must go to Solaris for choosing Clint Langley as the artist for both these trilogies and to Clint for the amazing work he’s done.

And here they are:

All in all, this was a very nice surprise to come home to!

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Winner Pamela Freeman Giveaway!

Pamela is sick in bed with  the ‘flu, but she dragged herself out of bed to look at the comments and choose the Owl as the winner!

‘I think I’d want to be an owl. I’m a nocturnal person by nature and I’ve been fascinated by owls since I was a child and saw that Tootsie Roll commercial. Fiercely protective, intelligent hunters and just this shade of arrogant…yeah I think I could do well as an owl.’

So, Lexie, email Pamela on pamela(at)pamelafreemanbooks(dot)com  to organise the posting or your book.

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