Monthly Archives: July 2012

Meet Jason Nahrung…

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 Jason Nahrung to drop by.

Jason will be in South East Queensland for the launch of his book, Salvage, soon. In the meantime, look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your novella Salvage, is coming out through Twelfth Planet Press. This is set in remote Queensland and has dark undertones. How do you bring darkness to sunny QLD and why did this story come to you in novella length?

Indeed, Salvage is available now, and I’m running some celebratory events in Queensland in August to support it (Brisbane launch. The novella was a gradually developed story – I’ve explored the slightly unusual process at my blog that came from both time and place: three writing retreats across three years, all at the same location on Bribie Island. That might’ve helped determine the length, in that I wrote about a third of the story in each retreat, and then polished it. I did wonder about expanding it into a novel-length piece – novellas aren’t the most popular format, although that does seem to be changing in line with the e-revolution – but the story is complete at this length, just under 40,000 words: why add to it unnecessarily in the pursuit of some perception of making it more marketable?

One of the reasons I began to write with a view to publication was a yearning to see the kinds of stories I loved – speculative fiction of all stripes – set in my own backyard. Why did all the aliens land in the US? Why do the English and the Americans get to go off-world? It’s been most gratifying to see the likes of Trent Jamieson and Stephen M Irwin selling their Australian-set – Brisbane-set, no less – novels overseas, with no questions asked.

Queensland, for all its beach stereotypes, has plenty of darkness, as Trent and Stephen have shown: urban back streets, rural isolation, baking plains, choking forests. The beach has its own dangers, too: sunburn, rips, sharks and stingers. True, the Gothic mode that I love so much is an awkward fit: no misty moors nor crumbling castles, for instance, but I think mirage-haunted clay pans and abandoned homesteads work just as well, especially given our own colonial unease within the landscape. The Gothic is about mood, about the uneasy past and fragile emotions, and those kinds of influences can work in most settings. At the end of the day, horror is about people: they fall short in all climates.

In Salvage, the beach is an unlikely setting for a vampire story, but I think it works thanks to that very contrast. The landscape is a limiting, isolating factor; it mirrors the threat facing the characters. And the sea is a wonderful metaphor for immortality and hunger. The vampire ecology is always demanding; in Salvage, I’ve made my own changes and taken a subtle approach: the word vampire is never used, for instance.

Q: I met Jason through the Vision Writers Group and we both did our Masters through QUT. At that time Jason was writing a book about Kev, the Vampire, transplanting the vampire mythology to an Australian setting. When I told my kids the title and the concept, they wanted to read the book. Did you eventually finish the book, Jason? Or have you moved on and put it aside until you work out how you want to tackle the concept?

Ah, dear Kev. His story’s been with me for more than 10 years – a chapter, long since discarded, was the first thing I took to the Vision writers group – and has been through four distinct iterations as I’ve tried to find the right format, the right narrative, the right characters to tell the story … and finally, I’ve done it! Called Blood and Dust, the novel will be out later this year in digital format through Sydney publisher Xoum.

Q: As I recall part of your Masters was an examination of the vampire in Australian fiction. (See here for pre 2007 OZ vampire stories, and here for Oz vampire stories post 2006). I notice there are a lot more stories, post 2006. Can you give us a glimpse of what conclusions you came to with your research?

I confess I haven’t done a good job of keeping up with Aussie vampire fiction since I finished the Masters, and there is certainly a lot of it out there. The pleasing thing, for me, is that there seems to be less disinclination to set it in Australia. I suspect cultural cringe was as much an issue as narrative concerns: a lot of the early fiction was set overseas or in geographically neutral settings. Sure, we’re a sunburnt land, but we’re also highly urbanised and geographically isolated both as an island and internally as a large land mass. Writers have increasingly seized on those characteristics, looked at how our colonial past and our successive waves of migration have opened the doors to the Gothic, and how to fit those tropes into the sprawl of modern-day Australian society. A very good example of the diversity is Dead Red Heart, an anthology of Australian vampire stories published last year by Ticonderoga Publications that covers the gamut: colonial, indigenous, outback, urban, rainforest and more.

Kirstyn and Jason (courtesy Cat Sparks)

Q: Your partner, Kirstyn McDermott, is a fellow writer of dark fiction. Do you find this is a plus having a partner who is a fellow writer? Have you collaborated? Or do you find you can’t show each other work-in-progress because you feel too naked?

It’s a lot of fun having another writer in the house. We have conversations about semi-colons and exclamation marks, for instance; we discuss the structure of our stories, plot sticking points, character headaches, moral issues. We read each other’s work, usually once the first draft is finished, and offer feedback, and then will proofread as well. Plus, it’s nice to not feel guilty about spending time with the people in my head rather than my wife, knowing that she’s doing the same thing!

We haven’t collaborated yet, but it’s something we’d like to do in the future. We have different writing processes that should dovetail quite well. I tend not to show anyone my work in progress because it’s all fairly malleable; I have to write the story to know what the story is about, then go back and do a lot of rewriting to get it into shape Kirstyn lands her words on the page pretty much in final form, having spent a lot of time internalising and then shaping on the page during that first draft.

Q: The road to publication is rocky. Back in 2007 your book, The Darkness Within, was chosen by Hachette to launch a new line. Not long after this the line closed down and you were ‘orphaned’. What advice can you offer to fellow writers who find themselves in this position?

The Darkness Within did have a rocky start: it was picked up by Lothian as part of a new series of adult horror novels, but Lothian was bought by another company, and that company was bought by Hachette, all in short order. Hachette broke The Darkness Within out of the series and upscaled it to a trade paperback, which to be honest I never think is helpful for an unknown debut trying to compete against established authors in cheaper paperback. We did get good inclusion in catalogues and wide distribution – and a gorgeous cover!

I guess how you react to changes at that industry level is in part determined by how much control of your product you’ve got. I know some authors have been able to buy their books back to avoid having them dumped on the market, devoid of love or promotion, by an unsympathetic publisher looking to change direction and cut losses. Otherwise, you just have to do your damndest to promote the title, and make sure you get those rights back as soon as your contract allows so you can leverage that title in the future.

Q: I notice that The Darkness Within was sold as both horror and crime. Where do you think the divide exists, or have we reached a point where there is no divide in the genres?

I’m not sure where the crime angle came into it – it was quite weird to see it pop up on crime websites, and I imagine anyone reading it based on that presence would’ve been bitterly disappointed. Certainly, the boundaries between genres is increasingly porous – crime and horror do go together very well, and we’ve got crime blending with fantasy and science fiction; period pieces and romance adapting horror monster tropes for their own purpose; alt history using science fiction and fantasy.

The boundaries are imposed by purists and traditionalists, and to some extent by marketers trying to work out which shelf – or which meta tags – to use. The biggest divide appears to be between capital L literature, where the prose is still king, and the more narratively driven genres; between attempts to distinguish between good and bad writing, between art and commercial fiction. The fact that you find few genre authors – YA is a possible exception, its umbrella term enclosing such a wonderful diversity of genres from contemporary lit through to the wonderfully fantastic – at mainstream literary festivals illustrates that divide, I think; it’ll be interesting to see the support for GenreCon in Sydney in November, which seeks to embrace all branches of genre. Now that could be a fascinating melting pot of approaches and ideas!

I consider Salvage to be a cross-genre story: part horror/thriller, part romance, part contemporary lit. It’s made promotion a little awkward, because I don’t think it quite fits neatly into any of those categories, but draws on tropes from all of them to tell its story. There are no genre holds barred when it comes to servicing Story. If only there was a shelf for that.

Q: In 2005 you won the William Atheling JR Award for a piece you had published in the Courier-Mail, Why are Publishers Afraid of Horror? Is it possible to read this article? What did you have to say in it?

It is: the Australian Horror Writers Association has archived it at here.

The piece surveyed a number of writers about the genre’s standing in the Australian publishing landscape, and found little support for it in the mainstream, apparently still haunted by the pulp that came out in the 1980s. The trend, which is still continuing, was for stories that might’ve been categorised as horror, particularly of the non-creature variety, to be brought out as general literature. The horror title was eschewed because of its slasher and pulp overtones; dark fantasy was on the rise as a more palatable alternative, but even that had its limitations.

It’s worth pointing out that print on demand and digital publishing, both in e-book and online format, have helped change the landscape since the article was published; there are a bunch of small press concerns happy to fly the horror flag.

Q: You are currently editing the QWC newsletter. What fiction are you working on?

Last year was a bumper year for me in terms of short fiction, but that has dried up this year. I think that’s a function of managing paid employment, lifestyle and creative thinking space. I’m concentrating on a sequel to Blood and Dust: I’ve spent the past three months trying to imagine the story, and actually do some plotting, and now it’s time to start writing my way into the story. Exciting, frustrating times!

Q: I hear you’re flying up from Melbourne for a tour of South east Queensland. If librarians and writing groups would like to contact you for a talk, what do they do?

I’m looking forward to returning to my home state with Salvage — the story was written on Bribie Island, after all! I’m launching the book at Avid Reader on August 10 with the wonderful Kim Wilkins doing the honours. The next day, I’m joining my fellow writers from the dark side Kirstyn McDermott and Angela Slatter to discuss horror and dark fiction at the Logan North library as part of their excellent SF Month line-up. And then on Monday August 13 I’m presenting a talk about Salvage, vampires and writing — all that good stuff! — at Caloundra library, then backing up at the Noosa library on the 14th. The support from the libraries has been awesome. Full details on when, where and how to RSVP are at my website, and my contact details are there, too.

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 don’t think that perception holds much currency in Australia, which is what has made your series so interesting to follow. And fantasy is such a massive label, isn’t it? I don’t think I can say I’ve noticed a peculiar gender approach in what I’ve been reading; admittedly, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction by women, due in part to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. One thing that irritates me in any story is the presentation of women as some kind of cookie cutout: the trophy, the sack of raw emotions, the sex object, etc; I think that’s mostly a boy thing because the trope is easier than providing a well-rounded character.

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

It doesn’t; the combination of cover art and back cover blurb set my expectations. The only gender expectation I’ve noticed is that, in a first person account, the narrator has the same sex as the author until proven otherwise. I don’t know why that bias occurs, but it’s caught me out a few times.

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?

Manchester, 1979. To see Joy Division in full flight.

 

Jason has a copy of his new novella Salvage to give-away.

Giveaway Question:  What is your favourite vampire character in a movie or book?

 

 

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Filed under Australian Writers, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Publishing Industry

Meet Lee Battersby…

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 Lee Battersby to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: You’ve had over 70 short stories published, won the Aurealis Award, Australian Shadows Award (twice) and won an International Writers of the Future competition. Prime books published a collection of your short stories called Through Soft Air. Do you think the discipline of writing short fiction, helped hone your skill for novel writing?

I think my short story writing experience helped when it came to building scenes and establishing coherent lines of narrative, but I found the shift from writing the short to long form a bit dislocating in many ways. I’d probably become too entrenched in the short form way of thinking, and had to leave a lot of shorthand habits behind. It’s still a bit of a wrench to write long establishing scenes, for example, and I still absolutely hate writing long descriptions of landscape or setting—short story thinking demands I get to the bloody point now, dammit! One thing I do enjoy when writing novels is the opportunity to write increasingly complex streams of dialogue: I like the narrative cut and thrust of spoken wordplay, and the way you can reveal and hide information simultaneously. In short stories you use dialogue to reveal the narrative a little more quickly. In novels, you can be a bit richer.

I’ve written in a myriad of forms over the years: stage plays, TV scripts, stand-up comedy, poetry… each form comes with its own rules and ways to break them, and I think the more forms you work in, the better you’re able to adapt to new disciplines. The important thing is not to become hide-bound by one form. I’ve produced the best short stories of my career over the last couple of years, without a great deal of market impact, so I’m making the transition to novels at the right time. I could have done so a couple of years ago and been a bit further along in my career plans, perhaps, but the Angry Robot Open Door success came along at exactly the necessary moment.

Q: You wrote a post for the ROR blog where you described the rollercoaster of submitting to the Angry Robot Open Submission Month. (994 manuscripts). And now your book The Corpse Rat King has been published. (Mega congratulations!)  If you could go back and give yourself some advice when you submitted that manuscript, what would it be?

Not a single thing: the novel got through the process, it was picked up, I gots me an agent. I think it pretty much ticked all the boxes!

I was fortunate in that I submitted as a reasonably experienced author, so I knew not to hang about waiting for something to happen. I was already writing another novel—I had 52k of it under my belt before the contract was signed—and was working on a bunch of other stuff while I waited. So I was quite happy with the way the whole submission process panned out: I’d been a bit moribund beforehand but it revitalised me, and got me thinking of my career in different terms, which has been refreshing.

Q: The sequel to The Corpse Rat King, Marching Dead, is due out in 2013. Has it been a very different process writing a sequel, while editing the first book? And do you have an idea for a third book in the series?

It has been different, in that I’m working to a deadline, as well as not being in the position where I can make up characters and locations from scratch. In a sense I’m much less free than I was in writing the first volume. Characters are established, distances are established, locations and levels of technology are all established. I can’t just make stuff up as I go along, so if I’ve cocked something up in creating the first book then I have to work with it and make it acceptable. That said, of course, I’m able to allow my characters to grow to a much greater extent, so it’s a lot of fun answering questions that may have arisen in volume one. And there are a few revelations along the way, too: the advantage of not working to a plan is that I can be surprised by something that pops up unbidden in the first draft and then, by the time the final draft is finished, make it look like I intended that to happen all along .

I do have a story arc worked out for the 3rd book, just in case the first two do well and Angry Robot decide to commission a third. I know the beginning, and the end point, and the Great Big Decision ™ Marius will have to make in order to reach it. Any more than that will generally work itself out in the writing. But it would be fair to say that any shit my heroes managed to pour all over themselves in the first two books would be nothing when compared to volume three!

Q: You have tutored at Clarion South and you have an article on the Australian Horror Writers Association web site Industry Advice. The industry is changing so fast. Once it was the kiss of death to self-publish, now many authors are self-publishing their back lists. Do you find yourself scrambling to keep up?

I’m not a big fan of self-publishing new pieces: to my old-fashioned way of thinking it still carries the whiff of work not good enough to attract a more traditional publisher. However, I can understand why an author who has the time and energy to do so would want to release older pieces directly to the public without any intermediary: the work has already undergone a process of third-party quality control, the dialogue between author and reader can be made more immediate, and the cash flows more directly to the writer.

I readily acknowledge that I’m a little bit behind the times in my thinking: I still adhere to a traditional publishing model for my work, and I’m comfortable with that. I see a number of authors putting their own work out via electronic self-publishing, and it seems to me a very labour intensive way to go about your business. But when it comes to the marketplace, authors have to understand that they are small business owners, and as a small business owner, you have to decide the best way to market your product and how much time you’re willing to spend in developing the means of production. My instinct has always been that I’m too time-poor to be an effective electronic self-pubber, so I’ve steered away from it: I’m not passionate about that process, I’m not an adherent of the delivery system (I don’t own an e-reader, I don’t plan to own one, etc.), and for me, what time I do have is better utilised in other ways. That’s no comment on those who do choose to go down that track, just a fairly honest assessment of where my own strengths and weaknesses lie.

Ultimately, the best delivery medium, and the way you promote and market yourself as an author, is decided by the overall goals you have for your career. Self-publishing doesn’t attract me because it doesn’t fit in with my strengths and it doesn’t align with the direction I want my career to take. I keep in touch with the discussions, because I think every writer should be at least passingly familiar with the trends and evolutions of their business environment. But my limited experience shows me two levels of work being pushed—electronic reprints of paper books, which any sensible author should be pursuing as a negotiable clause in their contracts anyway, and original e-only works: the literary equivalent of a straight-to-video release, with the accompanying wild variations in quality. And I’m not sure I’ve discovered an efficient-enough means of separating the wheat from the chaff to make jumping into that second category a time-effective way to spend my writing career.

There may come a time when I look at self-publishing my story backlist, but truth be told I’d be just as comfortable with a small press publisher swooping in and offering to do all the hard business stuff for me in return for a cut of the proceeds, or paying me a flat fee as per the traditional business model. That might mean a cut in my potential in-hand profit, but I make a good living so money’s not that much of an issue, and at the end of the day I like real, hold-‘em-in-your-hand dead tree books, so it’s a compromise I’m happy to make.

Q: Your wife is talented writer, Lyn Battersby. With two creative people, who happen to be creative in the same medium in the same house, do you find this is a blessing or a curse? Do you read each other’s work and give feedback? Or do you find you can’t bear to do this? Have you considered collaborating? (eg. Written by L & L Battersby).

Lyn and Lee (courtesy Cat Sparks)

Lyn and I have collaborated on one story: a post-alien invasion tale called ‘C’ that, for a number of reasons, never really satisfied either of us so never saw the light of day. We’re both gearing up to work more as full-time novelists now, so the chances of collaboration on a fiction project aren’t high. Lyn writes much more elegant and subtle prose than I do, and her subject matter tends to be far more intimate, so I think there’s probably a clash in approach that doesn’t benefit our respective strengths. Once she gets the recognition her work deserves she’s going to become far too rich and famous to suffer having me riding her coat-tails, anyway…

But it’s definitely more a blessing than a curse to be married to someone with the same career goals and aspirations, simply because of the level of understanding. One of us can call ‘writing night’ at any time and there’s no argument, and when we talk it’s in the same language. We did read each other’s work a lot more when we were less experienced, mainly, I think, as a form of reinforcement that what we were doing made sense to someone else. Now we’re fairly confident in our own abilities we tend to read each other for pleasure, and Lyn doesn’t read my long work—she wants to wait for it to come out in proper novel format. But we’re always on hand to offer instant advice or an opinion, and as we generally can’t stop talking about current projects we usually have a pretty good idea what each other is working on, where we’re at with it, where it’s going, how rich it’s going to make us… just normal, everyday, married person conversations .

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?

It’s a gross generalization to split a literary genre along gender lines, but I think you could argue that there are differences in the way males and females perceive fantasy, inasmuch as we seem to fantasize for different reasons. We’re a fairly small outpost in Australia, and I think it’s probably a bit easier to do a head-count than in the larger markets, so we’ve got a pretty good idea of our gender mix, which is increasingly healthy if not yet equitable. It helps to have good, strong publishers who understand the need for variation in theme and approach: in particular, Twelfth Planet Press and Fablecroft Publishing are two houses that are helmed by smart, high-quality editor/publishers who strive to promote a more literate, intelligent type of fantasy, which is the sort of environment where subtler forms of writing can thrive.

I think the male/female style argument is a somewhat simplistic one, and I’d like to think that as an industry we might have become a little more sophisticated than that, at least here in Australia, because I can see the Australian SF small press working hard to provide opportunities based on idea and theme rather than gender alignment, but as I said, it’s easier to look at the demographic in its entirety here, and also easy to view things from the perspective of a white middle-class male with few barriers to his career. My wife, who writes beautifully subtle and elegant works that often don’t pass through the quick-read filter, might gently intimate that I’m talking shit.

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

Not a bit. I’m utterly disinterested in the gender of the author when I pick up a book. Gender is just a description of where your dangly bits dangle from. It’s not an expression of sexual orientation, political affiliation, socio-economic outlook, or any of the umpty million psychological, societal and environmental factors that an author brings to their work. It may inform some of those factors, but what’s more interesting, from a creative point of view, is your overall worldview: the set of experiences that you, as a writer, translate into fiction. Gender is by no means the deciding, or even major, element in the translation of that mindset.

As a reader, and as simplistic as it sounds, all I want is to read a good book. That’s it. I don’t care if the author is an ancient Sumerian rabbit god with a lisp, as long as the story they tell moves me, involves me, and just maybe, leaves me looking at the world through a different lens. I’m old enough to have grown up whilst it was still relatively easy to find Leigh Brackett, CL Moore, Julian May and the likes on a shelf. And whilst it was—and remains—a blight on the industry that a significant percentage of writers feel they have to conceal their gender in order to find an audience, from the perspective of my young reader-self it meant that, as I grew up, I paid attention to the name on the cover rather than the identity of the author behind them. I’ve no doubt that gender plays a part in the publishing business, which would lead me down a very different rant indeed, but once a book actually reaches the bookshelf, the gender of the author becomes a non-issue for me.

Ultimately, if the gender of the author is the sole reason you pick up a book—or worse, the reason you don’t—then you may be missing the fucking point a wee bit. Is my experience of, say, a George Eliot novel lessened because I might learn that Oor George was a woman? Could I be that simplistic a creature? And if I am, what the fuck do I do if someone hands me a Caitlin Kiernan book, or a Poppy Brite?

A book is a doorway to a shared experience, and if you’re lucky, an experience that you not only haven’t had before but could not conceive of having. If reading that book leads you to seek out information about the author, and if learning about their lives enriches your reading experience, then fantastic. But the book itself is the gift. The story within is the sole point of contact through which we, as readers, have the right to critique and analyse the author’s motive. Anything else, unless directly communicated by the author, is conjecture. To take the immortal Trillian entirely out of context: anything you still can’t cope with is, therefore, your own problem.

As an author, though, as an author: that’s a different bucket of cows. The truth is, at least within our beloved little genre, that SF remains the province of a largely masculine way of thinking, and what’s worse; it’s a masculine way of thinking that even Tony Abbott might occasionally find old-fashioned and bigoted. It is undeniably a struggle to pass a truly feminine, or transgendered, worldview through the gatekeepers of most magazines and publishers. From an editing point of view—particularly in the magazine field—we’re set up for the quick fix. It’s easier to filter for a muscular, action-driven narrative that responds well to a first reading than it is to reward a subtle, emotionally-shaded, character-driven narrative that needs two or three readings to fully unfold. To split such stories directly down that divide as typically male or female is, of course, a gross simplification in itself, but as Westerners we create a societal culture that demands women define themselves as emotional beings, and then create a genre infrastructure that makes it difficult to sell emotionally subtle stories. Is it any wonder that female authors who have the greatest success writing Spec-style novels have a tendency to either do it outside the genre or loudly disassociate themselves from it?

Of course, all comments can be filtered through my happy life as a fat, middle-class white man, and disregarded as necessary.

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 having a hard time not hearing Kryten right now: “If I could go anywhere, absolutely anywhere at all in time, I think I’d probably choose to go back to a week last Tuesday… I did all the laundry, and then we watched TV. Wow, we won’t see the like of THOSE sorts of days again.”  🙂

Dinosaurs. It’s got to be dinosaurs. Because, well… dinosaurs!

 

Giveaway Question:  “If you could go anywhere after you die, where would it be?”

 

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Publishing Industry, Tips for Developing Artists

More bookerly goodness!

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

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

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Filed under Australian Writers, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Nourish the Writer

Meet Helen Lowe Winner of the Morningstar Award…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Helen Lowe to drop by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Follow Helen on Twitter:  @helenl0we

See Helen’s Blog

Catch up with Helen on GoodReads

Listen to the SF Signal Podcast with Helen

 

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

James Maxey talks about his Inspiration for writing ‘Hush’…

Late in June, I placed the seventh novel bearing my name onto the bookcase in my living room. A few days later, a reporter from my local newspaper came by, took a photo of me standing in front of the bookcase, and asked a question that I should be a lot better at answering by now.  What inspired you?

The novel in question is Hush, the second book in my Dragon Apocalypse series from Solaris Books. I was tempted to explain my inspiration on most crass level, explaining that I wrote it to make money! I signed a contract with Solaris to write them three novels in exchange for some dough. I like to keep keep my promises.

But, there are lots of ways to make money. And, a nearly infinite number of possible books to write. So why Hush?

My second inspiration for Hush was to write a book unlike anything else I’d ever tackled before. This was a tough goal. As the second book of a series, Hush featured the same protagonist, the same narrator, and the same fictional universe as Greatshadow. The first book built up to a big fight with a dragon; the second book builds to a big fight with a couple of dragons.

Knowing that I was constrained by these structural similarities, I decided to keep things fresh by writing way, way outside my comfort zone. For Hush, I decided that reality was a crutch for those who can’t handle fantasy and decided that, if I were going to write in a fantasy universe, I’d write in a world defined by myth rather than bland and neutral laws of physics. In our world, the sun is a giant ball of gas that appears to cross our sky because our planet spins. In the world of Hush, the sun is a big-ass dragon living inside a giant, glowing pearl that sails across the blue waters of the Great Sea Above. At night, when the dragon rests, the dark sea begins to freeze. The stars are merely ice floes drifting in the currents of the ocean overhead.

The sun-dragon, Glorious, makes his journey across the heavens on a regular schedule because he’s something of an obsessive-compulsive. He was born into a world where the sun was an untamed thing that would drift across the sky at random intervals. There was no such thing as time. Glorious looked at the chaotic world that surrounded him, a world lacking predictable patterns of night and day and seasons, and thought that it would much easier to organize his thoughts if the movements of the sun could be made to follow a schedule. So, he flew from the material world to the Great Sea Above where he took up residence inside the pearl, steering it onto a predictable path and pace to satisfy his longing for order. In doing so, he accidentally created human civilization, since the ape-like creatures that once hunted and gathered in the timeless world discovered that, in a world with set day lengths and predictable seasons, it was easier to grow food than to hunt for it.

Alas, one dragon who wasn’t happy about Glorious flying off to live in the sky was Hush, who was deeply in love. Her affection for Glorious was unrequited, however, and when he abandoned the world her heart shattered. Bitter cold filled the void where her heart had once been, and she became the primal dragon of cold. Each year, she grows angry with Glorious as he warms the earth to the point that nearly all ice begins to melt. In her wrath, she begins to chase the sun as he crosses the sky, leading to shorter and colder days, weakening Glorious to the point that, in the northern realms, he disappears from the sky completely. With her wrath abated for the moment, Hush returns to her abode to rest, allowing Glorious to timidly return to sky, regaining his strength until it’s once again summer, and Hush’s hatred once more drives her to pursue him.

I was inspired to create this myth by the very roots of fantasy, the various mythologies—Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Asian—that form the foundations of our shared literature and also much of our shared morality. From our modern perspective, the material world may be understandable, but it’s under no obligation to make sense or have meaning. There’s not a lot of moral knowledge to be gained from knowing that the sun and stars are distant balls of hot gas. The idea that the heavens were the abode of gods, and that we might learn from their stories, now seems quaint. But, these myths continue to resonate on an emotional level. There’s something deeply satisfying about looking at a night sky and thinking of it as a canvas for sagas of love and betrayal, cowardice and courage. I’m hoping to capture a bit of this mythic grandeur in my tale of dueling dragons and the humans swept up in their battles.

Why do myths have such a hold on my imagination? Remember that bookcase I was standing in front of? If my novels were the only books it held, the shelves would be pretty empty. Instead, they’re packed, with Poe and Pratchett, Bullfinch and Burroughs, Sagan and Segar. While the middle shelves are full of hardcovers, the highest shelf I’ve reserved for old, dusty paperbacks, many rescued from my grandfather’s porch. He was a voracious reader who fed his appetites by scouring thrift stores and yard sales and buying paperbacks for pennies. His collection spilled out of his house and onto his porch, where I would spend much of my childhood digging among these yellowed pages looking for science fiction and fantasy novels.

It was the beginning of a lifelong love of words. It’s fun to see my books in bookstores, but some of my best experiences as an author have come when I discover used copies of my books in second hand stores. I remember the first time I found a copy of Bitterwood for sale in a thrift store, with a broken spine and dog-eared pages, waiting for some cheap but voracious reader to pick it up for a couple of quarters. There’s nothing wrong with loving books as objects, collecting hard covers still in their original jackets for prominent display in your living room, a monument to a work of literature that was important to you. But, for me, the most beautiful books have torn covers and browning paper, worn from having been read and reread by multiple readers. The pages may be half way to dust, but the words lived for a moment, at least, in someone’s memory.

And ultimately, that’s my inspiration for writing books. Seeing them in bookstores is fine. But, I still dream that, one day, some bookish kid might be digging through a stack of dusty paperbacks on his grandfather’s porch and find a book of mine, and bring the words inside to life once more.

 

James is giving away a copy of Hush.

What is your favourite Greek Myth

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Filed under Book Giveaway, creativity, Nourish the Writer, Tips for Developing Writers

The Eagle Has Landed!

My copies of Beseiged have arrived!

Why is it that books only seem real when you hold them in your hand? Besieged is bigger than I expected. The cover looks lovely. Solaris have done something with the figure on the front so that it is shiny on a matt background.

Here are the books on the kitchen bench, leaning up against the retro toaster and kettle, the kids bought me for my birthday.  The ‘ghost who walks’ is Monie. He’s part Russian blue and and likes to inspect things. Just as I took the picture he heard a noise by the door.

And here are the books on my office shelf with King Rolen’s Kin. But I think I’ll move them down a row,when I get the other two Outcast Chronicle books, so I can put all three books in a line.

That’s my news for today. Now I have to package up the books to send off to reviewers and people who have won give-away competitions. In no time at all they’ll be gone – hopefully to people who will enjoy them!

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Filed under Australian Writers, Covers, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book

Trent Jamieson’s Book Launch for ‘Night’s Engines’. (Book 2 of the Nightbound Land)

Back in 2003 the ROR group went to Varuna to critiue our books in progress. Oh my, we all look so young! (Tansy, Marianne, Trent, Maxine and me). Trent put in a book which would later be developed into the Nightbound Land duology. I remember being in awe of his vision for this world, so different and inventive. And Margaret, would she escape…

Flash foward to 2012 and the second book of the Nightbound land is about to be released. Yay!

Trent says:

The Nightbound Land was inspired by my love of monsters and Steampunk. I wanted to write a big secondary world science fantasy filled with steam engines, mad men, and creatures out of nightmare, and the world of Shale was the perfect canvas for my obsessions. It’s everything I love about fantasy bound up in tooth and claw and clockwork machines. I only hope that it’s as fun to read as it was to write.

AVID READER (in Westend,brisbane) are holding a “Night’s Engines” evening, where they’ll celebrate a stella year of writing and publishing books!
Thursday 19th July
6pm for a 6.30pm start
Free event but RSVP essential
RSVP to events@avidreader.com.au 38463422
Trent Jamieson must be the hardest working writer in Australia. We have had book launches for 5 Jamieson books in the past two years and we are SO PROUD! To celebrate publication of the second book in his Nightbound Land series we are holding our first ever dress up party. Come as Trent Jamieson means obligatory moustaches, beards and/or glasses. Dress up and have some fun or just come on down and celebrate with us in the traditional un-hirsute manner.
So, here’s wishing Trent, all the best with this duology. I’ll be coming along to the launch, although I won’t be in steam punk costume. (Haven’t got anything suitable).

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book trailers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Promoting Friend's Books, Steampunk