Category Archives: Young Adult Books

Meet Helen Lowe Winner of the Morningstar Award…

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

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

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 Rain Wild Magic won the “previously unpublished” category of the Robbie Burns National Poetry Competition.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Follow Helen on Twitter:  @helenl0we

See Helen’s Blog

Catch up with Helen on GoodReads

Listen to the SF Signal Podcast with Helen

 

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

Meet Karen Brooks…

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 and amazingly busy female fantasy author Karen Brooks to drop by.

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

Q: Your first book published was It’s Time, Cassandra Klein, followed by The Gaze of the Gorgon, The Book of Night  and Kurs of Atlantis . The first book came out in 2001 and the most recent in this series in 2004. You were dealing with quite adult themes and you aged your main character from 13 – 16 in the course of the books. Did you publishers have any reservations about the themes or the aging of your character?
My publishers, Lothian, were really very supportive about both the ageing of the characters (the other lead character, Simon, ages from almost 15-18) and the quite adult themes. Using Greek and Roman myths (and some from other cultures as well), it’s inevitable that you strike quite complex notions and characters (the gods themselves, many of whom feature in the books, as well as a variety of heroes, were feisty, flawed and while often narcissistic, also underwent their own trials and lessons which mirror those of my protagonists), never mind the fact that the series itself dealt with a range of issues such as loss, grief, the Holocaust, and mental illness, as well as the usual suspects such as sibling rivalry, loyalty, bravery, and self-discovery. Fortunately, the readership – which was both young adult and adult – didn’t have any reservations about the themes or ageing either!

Q: The main character of this series (Cassandra Klein) is thirteen when the first book opens. Did you choose to write at the upper end of primary/lower age end of YA for a specific reason? Also, these books are written under Karen R Brooks. Did you do this to differentiate your adult fiction (Do you write adult fiction?) and non-fiction books from children’s books and what does the R stand for?  (Ruby, Rosemary, Regina?)

I did write for the upper end – not only did I age Caz Klein from 13 to almost 16 across the four books, but many of the themes and the Greek and Roman myths I retold (through her adventures) were quite adult and confronting. I also dealt with themes of loss, mental illness and grief among many others, so it was appropriate to have an older YA protagonist and target the same demographic. The books seemed to fit comfortably in that age range and many adults read them too – which was lovely.

The R in Karen R Brooks was to differentiate my adult writings from YA and also my academic work from fiction (though I now write adult fiction as Karen Brooks). It stands for Ruth and the name has a long history in my family. For as far back as we can trace ourselves (we are Mendelssohns from Germany), the eldest daughter was either called or given as her middle name, Ruth. My great-grandmother (who died in a Concentration camp) was Elsa Ruth Mendelssohn, my grandmother, Eva Ruth, mother Edna Ruth, then there’s me, and my daughter who is Caragh Louise Ruth. I used to not like Ruth – hence Caragh has two middle names, but now I love it – the history it evokes, the sense of a female line.

Q: I think we were at one of the Voices on the Coast festivals a few years ago when you were telling me about your plans for what became The Curse of the Bond Riders trilogy – a fantasy world that takes its inspiration from renaissance Venice full of magic, betrayal and mystery. Sounds fascinating. Now all three books are out, Tallow, Votive and Illumination. I understand you did a lot of research on Venice and lived in Europe for a while, travelling to Venice. (There are some lovely photos on Karen’s website which include photos from the European trip). Which comes first for you, the high concept then the research? Or does your general research on life prompt the high concept?

Wow – great question! And I do remember telling you about the trilogy and you were so encouraging! Thank you!

The high concept came first – it always does now I come to think of it! In this instance, I had the idea for a candle-maker who basically produces these marvellous scented candles. The power of our olfactory senses are such (they are our oldest memories – our sense of smell), that when the scents infused into Tallow’s (my protagonist) candles are inhaled, people can be made to do all sorts of things – good and bad – be generous, fall in love, sign a contract, murder…. The idea for an assassin who uses candles and later becomes a celebrated courtesan was born and from that, the place and time became evident. Candles were an essential item in the Renaissance – any time pre-electricity really J – but when I started to read about Venice (I have always been mad on Italy, but didn’t know much about Venice), the novels simply had to be set there – for me, it was a natural fit. I set about learning everything I could. I wrote Tallow without ever having been to Italy let alone Venice. But  before Votive (the second book) was finished, I’d been to Venice twice (I had the privilege of living and teaching in The Netherlands for a few months, so was able to “duck” over! The beauty of Europe from the perspective of an Australian – the proximity of countries and thus different cultures and cuisines to each other!), I also studied the Italian language for two years.

Q: You have a doctorate in Humanities specialising in Social Media.  You lecture at UNI in ‘… the areas of media, youth, sexuality and popular culture using a psychoanalytical model’, and travelled to Beijing (China) as the first Australian Writer in Residence at the Western Academy in 2005. In 2007 and again in 2009 you spent six weeks at Teiko University (Netherlands) where you taught. You are called on as an expert to comment on Channel 7’s Sunrise and Today/tonight. (For a list of some of  Karen’s articles see here). You’ve appeared on 60 minutes and on The Einstein Factor as part of the ‘Brains Trust’. With all this study and commentary are you tempted to write near future SF? We are currently living in ‘interesting times’ as the Chinese curse goes. Where can you see Australian/first world society going in the next ten years?

I am tempted to write sci-fi! LOL! In fact, a novel I started many years ago now (but never finished – maybe one day…) was called The Cairn Experiment and was set about three-four hundred years in the future where society has reverted to very Victorian ideals about gender and sex roles especially. Women are again oppressed and while they can operate in public space and be employed, it is always in subservient roles, as assistants etc. Men too are imprisoned by the expectations of their sex. The story follows one female who’s the assistant of a rather prudish, brutish scientist and his team, sent to a place that they only recently discovered on an old map, which is called “Cairn Island” (the “Pitt” part has been erased through age). What they find on this unchartered island is set to tear society apart.

Maybe, one-day, I’ll return to it. But I think what I am describing in that novel summarises my fears… that somehow, while we’re advancing in so many wonderful ways – science, technology, medicine – in terms of sex, gender and even the arts, there is a sense of marking time or, worse, retreating, as if we’re afraid of what we’re capable of as men, women, children. The apparent rise of a very vocal and conservative right is indicative of this and the power they have to sway political decisions and policy is alarming – and not just in first world countries either. There is also a reversion to a preference for clichéd behaviour and thoughts over originality; stereotypes masquerading as individuality and the rise of the “it’s all about me” phenomena, whether it be the narcissist unable to hold down a relationship, girls insisting on being treated like princesses and boys silly enough to attempt to do that, worrying about what “I” can get out of something instead of working towards a mutual goal… the preparedness to pepper conversations with personal pronouns…. I also worry about the notion that “fame” in and of itself (without accompanying hard work or experience) has become a desirable destination for some people, regardless of the cost; the need to be noticed. I despair that feminism is the new “f” word, that young men and women are viewed by corporations and others as consumers more than they are people and… I better stop Jsounds so pessimistic! But, I also have great hope for the future as well. We are, despite reports to the contrary and even my above observations, kinder towards each other than in the past, crime has dropped, we are able to travel and thus broaden our minds, and we’re able to debate ideas and concepts freely – at least here in Australia…. We are also critical consumers of everything, really. I just wish we’d do more of all of that. I wish we’d tolerate or at least respect difference and not be so fearful of it (I am thinking very much of gay marriage and refugees, but there are so many other issues at stake with people at the heart – I think we forget that, our humanity sometimes). Also, young people are more engaged with the world, each other and socially conscious – aware of social justice – than any generation previously. I meet some utterly fabulous young people and older ones too and, though I can despair, these people collectively give me great hope for the future.

Q: In your book Consuming Innocence you cover ‘…  the complex relationship parents, teachers and children have with popular culture – that is, advertising, sexiness, TV, computers, films, mobile phones and fashion.’ This was published in 2008 so I’m assuming it was written in 2006- 2007. Twitter didn’t exist then and not everyone was blogging, madly revealing their private fears and foibles to the world. Have you been approached to update the book for a new edition?

Simple answer – no. Everything in the book except the technology chapter (which was out of date the moment it was written for all the astute reasons you point out above) is still relevant today. Saying that, I could easily update it and include new research. I try to stay on top of things but there is so much out there. I worry it becomes like white noise. That’s why it is important to filter and distil it down to its significant essence, which is what my book tries to do.

Q: I found out Sara Douglass was ill about three weeks before she died, when I approached her for an interview for this blog. Unfortunately, the interview was more than she could manage and I was very sorry to have missed the opportunity. Sara and I had met several times over the last ten years. But you were a close friend and wrote a lovely piece, ‘Sara Douglass Remembered’ on the Voyager blog, and you gave Sara’s acceptance speech for the Norma K Hemming Award. Recently, my husband and I were trying to trace an old friend and finally ran him down via the web only to discover he’d died a couple of years ago of aids. Because of the web, people have a web-ghost who lives on after them in profiles, interviews etc, where friends and those who have just discovered their work (if they are creatives) can go and discuss their books and their lives. Have you written about the roll-on effects of web-ghosts in your field of Media Studies?

No. But I should. Before Sara died, I thought it a bit macabre to upload messages to a dead person’s site – especially from those who don’t know the person. It happens often when there’s a tragedy – a young person dying, a soldier in Afghanistan – so many people feel compelled to write something or give flowers or express their grief for someone who’s ostensibly a stranger. I understood their family and friends needing to reach out, express themselves, their pain, but not those who bore no relationship to them. I have subsequently, since Sara died, changed my mind. I have found her FaceBook page oddly reassuring, a comfort – it’s a “living” cyber-memorial even though she has died – not just for myself, but for all those whose lives she touched in some way. I have administrative control over Sara’s FaceBook page (something she granted me while still alive). When she died, I first wanted nothing to do with it (it was too painful). I posted news of her death and some updates, but had to walk away. But now, I find great comfort and delight, not only in reading posts from her fans and friends as they interact about her, her books and the joy her stories have brought and still bring, but relish her lingering presence as well. I wonder if others who have lost someone close feel the same way? But yes, by trawling through the old updates and interviews etc you do manage to get a strong sense of the person and they live on in digital form. Now I am grateful for that.

I love the idea of web-ghosts, Rowena! Thank you. And I will definitely write about it.

Q: Following on from that, I’m fascinated by creativity, where it comes from, the function it serves society. In an article on New Scientist I read that people who considered themselves creative, whether they were sewing, gardening or writing/composing/painting, the same areas of their brains light up when doing these activities. As someone who is both creative and an academic, what is your take on creativity? 

I find that creativity can take all forms. For me, being academic – whether it’s researching an article or paper for a conference or for publication in a journal is creative as well. So often, “creative” is simply regarded as something that can only happen within the broad realm of the “arts” – with fiction writers, artists, musicians, gardeners etc. yet, creativity is much broader than that and makes an enormous contribution to society. Architects, scientists, historians, technologians, mathematicians, they’re all equally creative. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have half the amazing inventions and ideas that we do – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, just like Steven Spielberg, Dr Ian Fraser, or JK Rowling, are incredibly creative and innovative.

I do approach writing fiction and non-fiction differently in that I labour over the language more with fiction, with making sure the words are just right (the options are much greater). With academic jargon, academic writing, because you are contributing to knowledge culture and joining an ongoing dialogue with ideas that can be tested and often proven, you have to be precise, so it limits your choices, and it doesn’t do you any favours to be ambiguous whereas in fiction, you can be playful and work double and more meanings into your prose.

Q: In your 2012 Snapshot Interview you say ‘… I am working on two adult novels: one a contemporary and historical fantasy (it shifts time and place) that involves witchcraft, but not as we think we know it (and yes, it is thoroughly researched ☺) and, another historical fiction with not so much fantasy, but more magic realism and then only a little, that’s set in England and Flanders in the 1400s.’ These sound like fascinating projects. When can we hope to see them?

Ahhhh… I don’t know, Rowena. I have shelved the witchcraft one for the moment and am working on the other and loving it. I am only a short way into it and am not going to rush it, but I do hope to have it finished by the end of the year. Will it see the publishing light of day? I certainly hope so.

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?

Wow – what a powerful and potentially divisive question – this could get me into trouble! I was discussing this with another writer the other day in regards to George R R Martin. She felt that he was very masculine in his style and that it was distinctive from, say, yours, mine or hers or someone like Anne McCaffrey’s. Certainly, Martin is attracting a great deal of attention with the magnificent HBO TV series based on his series, and I do love his written work – a big fan – but is his style different because he’s a man? Maybe? Does it make it better? Worse? Neither – that’s nothing to do with sex, but about the quality of the writing and story. If there is a difference between the way men and women write (and I would suggest there has to be at least a small one – eg. a woman writer can get in a woman’s head better and vice-a-versa – not that we can’t get inside the mind of the opposite sex, it’s just the same sex can do it more accurately more often. This might lead to male writers featuring main characters that are men and women writers, females more often, but, of course, the opposite happens and very well too), then it might be to do with point of view – the predominant one. But I don’t think the differences are as big as some might like to find. I am re-reading Sara Douglass at the moment and I feel she writes in a very direct, assertive way that drags you straight into the action and shocks you but also has such emotional depth. Like Martin, she doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice character for the sake of the story but he also manages to manipulate your emotions and make you care deeply. I have read other female and male fantasy writers who, from my perspective, do the same thing. They do the most wonderful job of crafting character and place – their work simply oozes personality and verisimilitude and you long to lose yourself in that space over and over. Juliet Marilliier, Jacqueline Carey, Kim Wilkins, Cory Daniells, JK Rowling, and many more, have this uncanny knack of creating simply wonderful worlds that leave you breathless and pluck at your emotions but they can also do epic or dark, or brutal too. But then, I have found the same with some male writers – examples off the top of my head are Hugh Howey, CS Lewis, Terry Brooks, Ian Irvine, Richard Harland, Antony Eaton,  (no relation) and so many more.

I do think male fantasy writers get more of a particular kind of attention (despite the incredible success of Rowling and Stephanie Meyer and others), so that folk tend to sit up and take more notice of them and that gives the impression of and contributes to the “boy’s club” notion. But, stylistically, I think if you took names off covers and gave a reader a few different authors’ works to read, it would be hard to tell the sex. Again, there are exceptions – some authors have a distinctive style, which is little do with their sex as writers – Stephen King for example, you can pick his work, likewise, Robin Hobb.

So, I guess my simple answer NOT, is yes and no!!!

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

No. Not at all.

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?

OK… I always thought I wanted to go back – you know, to ancient Greece, or Rome or Elizabethan England… but no. I want to travel into the future – at least two hundred years from now. Australia will do. I want to see if we learn the lessons of today tomorrow – I want to see what state the environment’s in, what’s our attitude to people from other cultures, is gay marriage just taken for granted in that time? Has the word “gay” disappeared from our vocabulary and we are all just humans with a sexuality? I would love to talk to people and see if their hopes and dreams are like ours now. I want to know what they think of us – how they reflect on the history we’re creating today. Do they think we’re an embarrassing blip on the history radar with our love of celebrities, Reality TV, our need to consume, or are they proud of our legacy in other ways? That we instigated changes to the way we respect the environment, that we were concerned about tolerance and acceptance, about health and ageing? How are children treated in the future? Old people? Refugees? Do they even exist? I also want to see who and what they worship (secular?) and if they’re still showing reruns of The Simpsons on what passes for TV.

Give-away Question:

If you could travel anywhere in time or space, where would you want to go, who would you most want to meet and why?

Follow Karen on Twitter: @Asprob

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Historical Books, The Writing Fraternity, Young Adult Books

Meet Simon Haynes, Hal Spacejock’s alter ego…

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 Simon Haynes to drop by.

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

Q: I discovered the first of your Hal Spacejock series  years ago and bought the whole set.  On your web page you have a list of humour SF series, Bill the Galactic Hero, Red Dwarf, Hal Spacejock, Stainless Steel Rat and Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a very small pool of really brilliant books. It is incredibly hard to write humour and then to write humorous SF makes it even harder. What’s your philosophy about humour?

First off, thanks for buying the books. If everyone did that SF Comedy wouldn’t be such a niche genre. Then again, publishers would leap on the unexpected craze and the market would be swamped. So, whatever you do, don’t buy SF Comedy!

The problem with adding humour to any novel is that the gatekeepers (editors, publishers, bean counters) have to GET it. If the style of humour doesn’t appeal to them, they can extrapolate from that and decide nobody else will enjoy it, either. There’s also that whole ‘am I the only one laughing?’ thing with humour. If you’re the only one smiling, does that mean you have a keen sense of humour, or does everyone else just have better taste for fine comedy? (It’s like sipping wine and making appreciative noises while everyone else is pulling faces and emptying their glasses into pot plants.)

Hal Spacejock contains a fair bit of geek humour, with in-jokes about operating systems and computers, and pokes at genre classics such as Star Wars and Star Trek. If that whistles past the reader, they’re left with the next layer of humour, and they might think that’s all there is.

I guess this is why humorous novels polarise reviewers and readers, although it’s all too easy for authors to throw their hands up and exclaim that nobody ‘gets it’. You have to work hard to make sure as many people as possible get it, without dumbing things down.

Q: Your BIO says you… ‘returned to Curtin (University) in 1997, graduating with a degree in Computer Science two years later. An early version of Hal Spacejock was written during the lectures.’  Seriously, did you write your book during lectures? I lecture first year UNI students. I don’t think many of them are sitting up the back writing books. I think they’re texting or on Facebook.

By the time I signed up for my computing degree I’d been programming for over 15 years. The only reason I applied for the degree was because I was self-taught, and I figured the qualification wouldn’t do any harm.

A lot of the early lectures covered really basic stuff – peripherals, really trivial programming, etc – and so I sat up the back with my trusty old laptop, plotting and typing away.

Once the material moved ahead of me I put the laptop away and paid proper attention. I still managed to write most of the novel at uni though –  I used to finish work at 4-ish, go straight to Curtin and type in the library until the lectures or tutes started.

Q: I can see how Hal Junior would be heaps of fun to write. You say, ‘I drew on my childhood for inspiration. My younger brother and I grew up in a small village in rural Spain, and ‘untamed’ doesn’t cover the daily scenes of chaos and destruction.’  Do you have sons? Are they giving you grey hairs?

Two daughters, and yes 😉  They’ve had access to a wide range of hobbies and physical activities, from archery to bike riding, martial arts to soccer, digital art to oil painting. There weren’t any frilly dresses or dollies, that’s for sure. They’re mad keen computer games, the pair of them. One’s running her own minecraft server, and the other is working on a graphic novel based on her favourite computer game.

Q: You decided to self publish your Hal Junior books. I’ve met a lot of authors who have been down the traditional publishing route and have opted for self publishing. What was your reasoning behind your decision?

There were several, and they all came to a head at once:

Fremantle Press have treated me well, so it was natural to offer them the new series first. After a couple of months they let me know they were going to pass on Hal Junior – not because it was a pile of crap, but because they felt I should take it to a bigger publisher who would be able to do it justice. This was just after several bookselling chains had folded, and Fremantle Press doesn’t have distribution into the big department stores.

So, I changed the title from ‘Hal Spacejock Junior’ to ‘Hal Junior’, and rejigged the book. I decided to change it so that it featured Hal Spacejock’s son (not Hal as a child). In June last year I sent queries off to three Aussie publishers. Honestly, it was a token effort: I would send out three queries, probably get rejected within a week, move on.

So, I started making plans to self-publish the book. I had a meeting with Fremantle Press because I wanted to discuss the Hal Spacejock ebook rights. None of the books were on Kindle, and I wanted to take them back and issue them myself. At the same meeting I confessed that all my time was going into Hal Jnr, and I didn’t feel Hal Spacejock 5 was anywhere near completion. We agreed to terminate Hal Spacjeock, and I got my Hal Spacejock e-rights back.

At this point (July), I suddenly had four new titles to self-publish, and it seemed crazy to give the Hal Junior series to another publisher instead of releasing it through my own imprint.

Then the kicker … Tehani told me Lightning Source had just set up in Australia. I checked their print prices and was instantly converted. I wrote to the Aussie publishers, who’d already had the queries for three months, and withdrew my submissions. Then I started tidying up Hal Junior for an indie release, including commissioning a cover artist and hiring an editor.

About two months after Hal Junior came out I got an email from one of the Aussie publishers expressing interest in the series and requesting a full manuscript. Oops, missed the boat, should have been quicker off the mark. (I honestly thought publishers would treat an enquiry from an established author a little quicker, but hey, it’s not my problem any more. And I’ve never really considered myself established, just perched precariously on the second rung.)

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 finished version of any novel depends on the writer’s skill, influences, tastes and the environment they grew up, not their sex. Take one aspect: sword fighting. Imagine a male writer who has never swung a sword in anger, sitting down to write a sword fighting scene. Now imagine a female writer who is a member of SCA, or a keen fencer, sitting down to write a combat scene. I’m betting the latter will be far more authentic, and the writer’s gender has nothing to do with it.

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

Nope. I pick books based on recommendations, buzz, and my own taste. Most years my new book purchases are at cons, which means GOH books and those by fellow writers. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of junior (middle grade) fiction to see what I’m doing right (or wrong) in terms of tone, language, content and so on. I couldn’t tell you the gender of the authors, because I’ve been reading whatever I can lay my hands on.

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?

It would be good to go back to certain moments in my childhood so I could correct a few wrongs. I’m saying no more.

 

Giveaway Question:  If you were ten years old and you lived aboard a futuristic space station, what’s the first thing you’d do?

The winner will receive an autographed copy of Hal Junior: The Secret Signal OR Hal Junior: The Missing Case. If your idea is better than mine I’ll probably steal it for Hal Junior 27: The Stolen Idea.

 

Catch up with Hal Junior on Facebook

Catch up with Simon on Goodreads

Catch up with Simon’s blog on writing and publishing

Follow Simon on Twitter @spacejock

Check out Simon’s free writing and reading software

And finally, the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior website

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Characterisation, Children's Books, Covers, creativity, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, Readers, Story Arc, Tips for Developing Writers, Young Adult Books

Winner Lian Tanner Book Give-away!

Lian says:

Such wonderful museum suggestions from everyone – which made it very hard to choose between them! I particularly loved Sean’s Museum of Lost Ideas, and I adored Thoraiya’s Museum of Bankrupt Theme Parks. But my favourite was Callum’s Museum of Lego People Come to Life – mainly because the lego people help you build other creations, and then one of them goes home with you, which would make life OUTSIDE the museum rather exciting.

So first prize to Callum, who can choose which he would like: either an audio book of ‘Museum of Thieves’ (Book 1 in the Keepers trilogy), or a paperback copy of the US edition of ‘Museum of Thieves’, or a hardback of the US edition of ‘City of Lies’ (Book 2).

But I’m going to give a second prize as well, to Thoraiya for her Bankrupt Theme Parks, because it’s a place I’d particularly love to visit. Once Callum has chosen his prize, Thoraiya can choose hers from the two remaining.

Thanks so much to everyone who sent in their suggestions. Callum and Thoraiya, please email me: lian (at) liantanner (dot) com to work out which prize you want and where I should send it.

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Young Adult Books

Meet Lian Tanner…

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 Lian Tanner to drop by.

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

Q: Museum of Thieves won the Aurealis Children’s Fiction Award in 2010. (Among many other notables and awards). This must have been a real buzz for your first book.  It was going to be a stand-alone but it is now a trilogy. Did this mean a radical rethink, or did it all just flow?

A: Yes, I was so enormously pleased about the Aurealis Award. Museum had been shortlisted for a couple of things before that, and hadn’t won, and I was beginning to get that ‘always a bridesmaid’ feeling. <ahem> Not that I care about awards, you understand … <laughs>

As for the trilogy thing, I had originally intended Museum of Thieves to be a stand-alone novel, and so in my early drafts I killed off the villains at the end. When I realised that I wanted to make it the first book in a trilogy, the main thing I had to do was add a postscript, making it clear that the villains hadn’t died after all, but were still out there somewhere and would presumably be back at some stage.

Apart from that, I really didn’t change it a lot – I wanted the book to still be able to stand alone as much as possible. When I’m reading, I really hate major cliff-hangers at the end of a book. I don’t mind teasers that make me want to read the next book in a series, but I get very irritated if there’s not at least a temporary resolution of the action.

Q: There are two types of covers that I’ve been able to find the illustrated covers which are very nice and these deliberately aged books that look like they were printed in the 1960s. Have readers told you which they prefer?

A: You often hear about authors hating their covers, but I’ve been very lucky with mine so far – I’ve loved them all. The deliberately aged covers are the Australian ones (Allen & Unwin) and the illustrated ones are American (Random House). There are also some rather nice German covers (Arena Verlag) that are completely different again.

When I’m talking to groups of kids I always ask them which ones they prefer. And it seems the marketing and design departments in both Australia and the US have pretty much got it right – the Australian kids overwhelmingly prefer the Australian covers and the American overwhelmingly prefer the American covers.

Q: On your Inspiration Page you have a number of photos, quotes and a very convoluted plot map. (I keep an inspiration file for my books). Many of the writers I interview make up play lists for specific music while they write a certain book. Are you a visual person as opposed to an aural person?

A: Definitely visual rather than aural. In the past I’ve tried to write to music – mainly because I’ve seen some of those playlists and I was curious to see if it would work for me. But I found it almost impossible. Bird calls are fine, when my office window is open, and I tend to have classical music on very quietly in the background, but anything else is much too distracting.

Visually though I always spend a lot of time collecting photos and drawings of people, places and miscellaneous objects before I start writing. That’s pretty much a necessity for me. I like to have character pictures dotted around my office and on my desk. I also really like to find some wallpaper for my desktop and some screensaver images that relate strongly to whatever I’m working on, so I’m immersed in it while I work. Currently I’m surrounded by icebergs.

Q: In a Q& A on Readings you talk about your love of words, specifically old words like  Slubberdegullion (a dirty nasty person) and Forswunk (worn out by hard labour). Did you read a lot of Dickens when you were a kid? And do you collect words?

A: I was actually put off Dickens as a child by having to read Great Expectations at school. My teacher loved it, but I thought Pip was an irritating and ungrateful wimp, and I loathed his relationship with Estella. (I loathed Estella too.) As an adult I’ve read quite a few of Dickens’ books and discovered the value in them, but have never gotten over my dislike of Pip.

And yes, I do collect words and phrases, particularly ones that have fallen from favour. My current favourite is ‘idle-worms’, which supposedly once bred in the fingertips of lazy girls. If they existed, my fingertips would be riddled with them.

Q: You were born in Tassie and have lived there most of your life, but you did live in Papua New Guinea for three years. I see you were a teacher there. It must have been a very different world.  Have you been able to incorporate any of the things you experienced in Papua New Guinea in your books?

A: Papua New Guinea was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I was twenty-three when I went there, and had never lived outside Tasmania, so it was hugely different and very challenging. My first year I taught in a school just outside Port Moresby, run by Catholic nuns. My second and third years I was at a little bush school thirty km from Rabaul on the Gazelle Peninsula. That school had about 150 kids and three teachers when I arrived – one of those teachers had a full-time job in Rabaul and used to come down in his morning break. The principal trained the kids for interschool sports by chasing them around the oval with a whip, and quite a few of them carried serious scars from not running fast enough.

 In a lot of ways I think PNG woke my imagination from its slumbering state. I’ve incorporated some of the people I knew there in my writing – in fictional form – but have never yet used any of the events to a great degree. I will one day – there are a number of things (apart from the sports training) that have stayed in the back of my mind and are just waiting for the right vehicle to emerge.

Q: You studied drama when you were 38 and travelled around Tasmania schools playing all sorts of characters. You say you were shy as a child. What made you turn to drama?

: It was partly accidental, I think, though I always liked drama at school – it was a way of stepping past my shyness. But when I was in my late twenties and early thirties I hung around with a bunch of people who were very involved in music and political street theatre. Eventually we went from street theatre to amateur stage dramatics, and one of my friends decided to enrol in drama school to consolidate her various skills.

At that time in my life I had never really settled to anything as far as work/career was concerned, but the theatre work struck a real chord for me, and I joined my friend at drama school. It’s one of the best things I ever did. I used to write a lot as a child, but pretty much stopped in my teenage years. Drama school was the thing that got me started again, that showed me how to be creative under pressure, as well as teaching me about dialogue and character motivation and all those other useful things that translate so wonderfully from the theatre to prose.

Q: A lot of women who write for children feel that they have to have a boy as the main protagonist, otherwise boys won’t read their books. They’ll then bring a girl in as a secondary protagonist. But the main character in Museum of Thieves and City of Lies is clearly Goldie Roth, and the boy Toadspit is secondary. Was this deliberate? Were you concerned about whether boys would read your books?

A: It has always seemed to me a total cheat that, because authors assume girls will read books with boy protagonists but boys won’t read books with girl protagonists, they nearly always make their main character a boy to capture the broadest market. Where does this leave girls? Always in second place, and with no exciting role models!

Basically I write for myself when I was 11, and at that age I adored books with bold girls in them, so I was very clear right from the start that I wanted my main character to be a girl. Knowing the sort of story I was intending to write, I thought that boys would probably also enjoy the book, and I did want to have an important boy character. But my main intention was to tell Goldie’s story.

Interestingly, the boy/girl thing hasn’t really been an issue since the books came out. Girls love them and so do boys – mainly I suspect because they’re a good strong adventure series, and that appeals to both genders. Or maybe this is one of those borders that has blurred a little over the last few years – I notice that Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy seems to have almost as many male fans as it does female, and I’m sure it’s not the only example.

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?

A: For a long time I have really wanted to go back to early Hobart and walk down those dusty, smelly, noisy streets. It’s a city I love, and I would dearly love to see its beginnings. I think a lot of my writing – even though it’s fantasy – has been influenced by early Hobart, and it’s a major source of inspiration for me, so to be able to wander around and poke into the shops and talk to people in that little colonial outpost would be my idea of heaven. I’d probably stalk two of my great grandmothers while I was there too – especially the one who was a diarist and a poet.

 

Lian has a paperback copy of the US edition of Book 1, a hard back of the US edition of Book 2 or an audio book of Book 1, as read by Claudia Black. The winner can choose.

Give-away Question:.

What sort of museum would you like to invent?

 

Catch up with Lian on GoodRreads

Lian’s advice for young writers

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Young Adult Books

Meet Isobelle Carmody…

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented and incredibly popular (non-stop queues at Supanova)  Isobelle Carmody to drop by.

Q: Where to begin, Isobelle? You have four fantasy series, numerous stand alone novels, collections, short stories and picture books. You’ve been writing since you were fourteen, published since you were (19?). Your whole life seems to have revolved around writing. Not to disparage your writing achievements, but do you ever look back and think I wish I’d done veterinary science, or become an archaeologist?

No, but I wish I had worked harder at school and learned to be something else as well. A doctor or something really practical so I could sometimes do something decisively about the things that trouble me in the world. I envy Ian Irvine his marine science back and Nick Earls his ability to heal. But in truth, I am pretty happy with what I have done with my life, because I do think writing matters. It certainly mattered to me – It built me – my mind and my imagination.  It saved me…

Q: You live part of your time in Prague and part in a small township near Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. I’ve never been to Prague, but I do know the Great Ocean Road. My husband’s family come from Warrnambool. This stretch of coast, known as the shipwreck coast, is stark and beautiful. Do you find the isolation and beauty help you to focus and write?

Absolutely. Both are essential, and for me beauty is often found in starkness. I have always found really desolate places visually appealing – sandy deserts, arctic , industrial wastelands. I suspect I am attracted them because there is less or no sign of humanity- no people or shops or signs. I remember looking at a film if  beautiful. Somehow I am very attracted to wastelands- dumpsites, nuclear drop zones like Chernobyl, end of the world scenarios with a touch of dystopia. The coast along the Great Ocean Road is beauty in its wild and savage and dangerous mode. And Prague is like a fairy tale with its cobbled twisty streets and buildings.

Q: You are married to a Jazz musician from Czechoslovakia and spend half the year in Prague. (I really enjoyed the photos you posted on twitter of the snow and ice at Christmas time. We were enduring humidity and floods in Brisbane and those pictures helped me get through summer). I guess your daughter is bi-lingual. Do you find that the insight gained from living in Europe, in a society very different from Australia, has helped you create different worlds?

It is lovely here in Winter. There is a very black and white and grey poetry about the city, cloaked in snow. Not that we are having much snow this year- it is very, very mild so far. I prove what an Australian I am by wishing for it to snow when every local hopes it won’t! In some ways I think I have always felt myself to be a stranger in a strange land. I was one of those kids who was a total outsider. At least, I thought myself so, but the reality was more that I felt so out of place that I probably ensured it. I mean, to some extent we are how we see ourselves. So I felt I did not fit in and I guess a lot of my writing comes from that feeling of not fitting in. Because when you don’t fit in, the world feels alien and so it is not such a big step to create another world for characters, who, like me, often feel they don’t fit in. But they are searching pretty much always for a place they can feel ok. For me, Prague is one of those places. Because here I am truly an alien, a stranger and after all these years, I guess in a weird way THAT is what feels comfortable to me. I think it is always good for writers not to be totally comfortable with their surroundings- at least some of the time.

Q: I wasn’t aware that you were also an artist. Does this mean that you are a visual person? I’ve interviewed a lot of writers and most seem to be aural. They will make up ‘play lists’ of music for certain books to help them get in the mood. I have a background as an illustrator, so I tend to collect images to create a resonance file. Do you collect music or images when you write?

I don’t collect music but I collect images. I always have in mind the next illustrated thing I am going to do- right now it is The Cloud Road and I know there will be clouds and mountains and maybe some kind of monkey or monkey-ish thing and cats and desert so those are the images that I am collecting. I cut pictures out of National Geographics and I take photos of things that would fit- I am also always looking for new patterns or techniques of drawing- I don’t use colour except for the front cover- I really love black and white pen and ink drawings so that is what I collect as a form, too. I listen to book tapes as much as to music when I draw, and sometimes to nothing when I am so absorbed that I just don’t notice the music stops. But it can’t be something I adore, like Nina Simone. It is too intense for me to be able to draw. It has to be something I like a lot but maybe have listened to a lot as well so it does not demand too much attention…

Q: In an interview on TLC Books you talked about fantasy as a genre. You describe fantasy as ‘conscious dreaming’. You say write fantasy:

‘…not  in order to escape vacuously, as is often the perception, but in order to think about things that matter to me. Like what it means to have free will and yet to co exist with others who also have free will that might infringe upon mine; about why some people are cruel and why some are courageous; about how it is that someone grows up to be Mother Teresa while someone else become Hitler; it is about what makes a person able to sacrifice themselves for others; about what is required of me if I want to be a friend to someone; about what the difference is between a human who is cruel and the cruelty of a cat to a mouse it has caught; about how important powerful people can make decision that a child can see will cause great harm, as if they and their children were going to be exempt from the consequences.’

To me the fantasy genre, like the science fiction genre, gives authors a chance to hold a distorted mirror up to society (sometimes distortion can help us see things more clearly).  The writer can use these genres prompt the reader to think about things that seem normal in everyday life. Terry Pratchett does this with his books by pointing out how ridiculous certain things are. From the sounds of your comment you are interested in ‘good and evil’ and the choices that we make as human beings. Is this a recurring theme in your books?

I want to say yes, but somehow talking about themes always feels as if I am planning them, like using them as the bones on which to hang my story. For me the themes usually rise out of a question I am wanting to think about- something that bothers me or has come to my attention and stuck like a burr, and finally I take it into the arena of writing, to see what I can work out. It is absolutely not ever for me, about wanting readers to think or think about anything. It is always an inward journey for me. I am not criticizing writers who set out to say something to their audience. I think a lot of good and great literature comes about by people wanting to flesh out a theme, wanting to make a point, wanting to make a statement to the world. But that is just not how it is for me. I am more self-centred as a writer. It is all about what I am thinking about and trying to figure it out. I dislike unfairness and injustice, but all too often, when I start looking into an issue, I can see mostly, how the person in the wrong has got into that position. I guess it is trying to navigate the greys.  And the reason I write fantasy is because the tools that work best for me, produce work that fits into that category.  Externally, I can see how what I write can be seen as making a statement, but the reality is that I am only trying to figure things out for myself. Then it gets published and it has this whole other life as whatever it becomes when people take it into their minds and imaginations.

Q: In the same interview you were asked ‘what is the most difficult thing about being a writer?’ and I had to smile because it is the same thing that gives me trouble. You said:

Odd as it sounds, sometimes the sitting and typing for hours. I get really sore elbows and back. I get physically bored. You are supposed to get up and move around every twenty minutes or something but I am so engrossed that I never do. Then I pay for it.’

Sometimes I wish I could do my ‘conscious dreaming’ straight into the computer. Do you do yoga or something to counteract the problems caused by spending so long at the computer?

Yeah my back and neck are killing me right now and my editor just emailed me this exercise to ease a back problem she said is so common to editors it is actually called editor’s back!

Q: In an interview on Kids Book Review you say you were ‘a bossy older sister’. This made me laugh as I was an older sister, who bossed all the local children organising concerts and long involved games. We’re the same age, when we grew up kids roamed the neighbourhood and were a lot more independent. My children have had a very different childhood and I’m guessing your daughter is in the same position. Do you think being the eldest of your family shaped the person you are today? And do you think growing up in the 60s and 70s, when children were more autonomous, gives you an advantage?

Well we, my brothers and sisters and I, were anything but autonomous. We lived this hermetically sealed life inside our house. We didn’t go to neighbors houses or mess in the street. The people I bossed were exclusively my own brothers and sisters. My daughter, on the other hand, has been catching trams, crossing busy city streets and heading off to the city with her friends since she was 11. So in a funny way she is freer than I was. She actually dreads coming back there to the ‘car culture’ where she will be forced by distances to rely on us driving her places. She hates when we visit that she is not able to be independent.

Q: You write for children, young adults and adults. In the same interview you talk about child characters in books and how a book may contain a child character but not necessarily be a children’s book.

One rule of thumb I once heard which seemed true to me was that children’s books have children in them who grow, but they do not grow up. If a child grows up that is an adult book.’

You mention To Kill a Mockingbird as an example. Another book I read which explored adult concepts through a child’s viewpoint was A High Wind in Jamaica, (book and movie). I found this book excellent for re-creating the world-view of a child and the same for the movie. Why do you think it is that child point of view characters in adult books can be so powerful?

I think we all tend to have vivid memories of childhood and adolescence when we forget what we did in all of last year. I think child characters that are well written waking that slumbering child that once was, and allows the reader to become that vulnerable, open, thin-skinned person again for a little, and it is a very strange and wonderful business to be taken back to that younger more pristine self.

Q: When we were at Supanova recently  you launched the last book in the Obernewtyn series, The Sending. Coming back to this world and these characters must be like visiting old friends. At the same time you have matured as a person and a writer. George Lucas is notorious for going back and tweaking his Star Wars movies. With the movie, Blade Runner, Ridley Scott has said Deckard isn’t a replicant, then that he is – which completely changes the dynamic between him and Rachel (a replicant). Are you ever tempted to revisit the original books of the Obernewtyn series and tweak them?

I did reedit them with the American publisher Random House. In a way it is a nightmarish thing to contemplate, but in the case of the first book, I was quite happy to be able to tidy a couple of the mistakes made by my younger self. But as a rule, I am not in favor of it. I think it takes a saint to do it well- Nadia Wheatley went back and rewrote The House that as Eureka because some new information had come to light, historically speaking, and she wanted to correct her work. But of course she is an historian as well as a writer and a real perfectionist as well as a true idealist. But my stories are all about internal worlds, really. The inside turned so that it is outside. The invisible made visible. The intangible made tangible.

Q: I notice in the Penguin Presents interview (see below) there are original artworks on the walls of your home on the Great Ocean Road. They look like you commissioned them. Who painted them? Is one of your brothers or sisters an artist? Did you paint them? They are really lovely!

The paintings are mostly by Anne Spudvilas, who is a fine artist as well as a children’s book Illustrator. In fact I knew her as a fine artist first and brought work from her in that incarnation. She did her first ever work as an illustrator for Penguin for the cover of The Gathering. She also did the wonderful picture of my daughter and I. I love her work. I love how she uses green in flesh. I also have some wonderful aquatints by Rachel Litherland who is the daughter of the British poet Jacquie Litherland – in fact I first saw her work in one of her mothers’ poetry collections. I also have a few by Jiri Novak, who is also a fine artist as well as an illustrator.

Q: You mention that your husband is a jazz saxophonist. My daughter is a jazz vocalist and has studied at the QLD conservatorium. I’ve heard that jazz musicians require a different type of mind from classical musicians because jazz is more free form. It’s a bit like writing a book, you have to trust your instincts. Do you find even though your husband is a musician and you are a writer, that the creative source in both of you is similar?

He is a writer, too. By that I mean he writes poetry – he is known as a cubist poet – and he is a very well known poetry critic here. He actually won the FX Chalda prize for criticism last year. His medal looks a lot like my Book of the year Medal. But he makes a living as a Jazz pianist. He loves modern jazz but spent a lot of years doing traditional jazz as well. I always think of his as a musician with the mind of a writer, if that makes any sense. His writing is High Art and mine is story telling. But it is lovely to have someone enjoy words as much as I do.

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?

Hmm I am not sure. I was tempted to say yes but I don’t really know. I like Charles de Lint and Guy Gavriel Kay and I love the late David Gemmell’s writing- they are all very different, and I love Sheri Tepper and Robin Hobb … and they are different too. No. Maybe what I think is that there is a difference between male and female writers of bad fantasy which tends to rely too heavily on stereotypes, and therefore is itself more likely to fall into being stereotypical.

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

No. Either I like the character and get into the book, or I don’t. A great writer can make even the most peculiar character a door you want to enter- look at China Mieville in Perdido St station! A female character with a female bottom half and the head of an ant, who makes art with spit, and you really like her.

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 go back and talk to my dad and my brother, who died ten years apart on the same road in car accidents. I’d like to tell them what happened to us all, and talk over things. I’d like to say sorry to my brother, whom I was quarrelling with when he died… I’d also like to talk to Martin Luthor King and Sapho.

 

Follow Isobelle on Twitter ISOBELLE CARMODY @FIRECATz

Listen to Isobelle talk about her love of writing and what it’s like to live between Australia and Prague.

Listen to an interview with Isobelle by Louise Maher.

Catch up with Isobelle on GoodReads

Catch up with Isobelle on Facebook

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Filed under Australian Writers, Children's Books, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, Covers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Music and Writers, Nourish the Writer, Readers, Resonance, The Writing Fraternity, Young Adult Books

Winner Felicity Pullman Book Give-away!

Felicity says:

First up, my apologies for taking a while to decide the winner, it’s been a frantic couple of weeks and I’m enjoying having some time just to sit and think: Jane Austen vs Charles Darwin – how tempting to meet both of them and how difficult to choose one over the other!

After a lot of thought, I’ve decided to go with CD, mainly because his research changed our whole way of seeing the world (with all the resulting fall out!) Such a significant achievement on the global scale, although I know you could argue that in her own way JA has also contributed so much to the literary scene and to readers (and film makers!)

Thank you both so much for taking the trouble to answer my question. Mary, if you can email your address to me at mpulman@bigpond.net.au I”ll post the book off to you, and I really hope you enjoy visiting the middle ages and reading about Janna’s quest!

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Meet Yvonne Navarro …

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

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

Q: You originally wanted to be an artist. I’ve done some surveys of writers and found four out of five are aural – they listen to music when writing, but the other one out of five are visually – they collect images and ideas spring from visual sources. Do you collect images that haunt you and trigger ideas? When you write a book do you collect a file of images that you associate with that book?

I did, although I currently consider myself as a “sort-of” artist now.  I’m lucky enough to be at a point in my life where I can go back and actively chase a dream that might have otherwise slipped away.  I’ve finally taken some painting classes and collected some output, and we’re perhaps a month away from me having a formal art studio in which to work.  I guess that answers your question in a roundabout way—I’m a very visual person.  As that applies to writing, you hit it on the proverbial head: I collect all kinds of images.  Sometimes the images inspire me, sometimes I seek them out to go with a work already in progress.  When I wrote Mirror Me, I had a notebook with photographs of the characters, neighbourhoods, even the kind of furniture in some of the characters’ homes.  Now that I think of it, going all the way back to my first novel, AfterAge , I did the same thing but for the city itself– I got up on Sunday mornings and went downtown in the dark so I could take photographs of a completely empty downtown and get the “feel” of what Chicago might be like if it was empty of people.

Q: You’ve written four books in the ‘Buffyverse’ and contributed to three anthologies. I know a couple of authors who write for Starwars, or Stargate, or the Buffyverse. It always strikes me as taking a lot of discipline. You must need to immerse yourself so thoroughly in the Buffyverse that writing those characters becomes instinctive. Do you do a lot of research before you start?

Actually, I’ve written seven when you include the Wicked Willow Trilogy.  It’s been awhile since I’ve written a Buffyverse book, but I can say that I did research as necessary when I was involved in the projects, specifically to make sure I kept all the details and interactions correct.  However, I was definitely immersed in the Buffy universe, in that completely geeky way that someone lives and breathes a series or movie that they absolutely adore.  (I was the same way with Babylon 5.)  I can still quote lines from Buffy shows (“Those are my chicken feet!”), just as I can from certain Aliens movies.  :o)

Q: You have an impressive list of awards and nominations to your credit. Several final-listings in the Bram Stoker Award, a win for the Women In Publishing Award and a win in the National Federation Press Women’s  Award in the Juvenile book category, to name a few. I guess the champagne corks have been popping in your house. Does it help to raise an author’s profile when they place or win in these awards?

Perhaps, although I haven’t really been aware of it.  Willow Files, Vol. 2 won the Bram Stoker Award in the category of Young Adult Fiction, and yet it was the last YA book I wrote until co‑writing a YA adventure with my husband, Weston Ochse.  I will say that it’s awfully nice to have all your hard work recognized publicly.  Hopefully there’s a certain ex out there somewhere who sees it and gets a silent moment of “She told me so.”  Oh, wait—was that my out loud voice?!

Q: You’ve also written for Species and Ultraviolet. Does this mean that you see the movie before it is released, or do you work from the script? What happens if scenes get left out on the cutting room floor?

How interesting that you chose Species and Ultraviolet, which were polar opposite experiences for me!  First off, all of the movie tie‑ins are written from the script, before the movie is released.  The object is generally to get the book out preferably before the movie is released, or at the very least, at the same time.  With Species, I worked very closely with Dennis Feldman, the scriptwriter, and we had the best time.  He actually read the manuscript and would call me directly and make comments; by the same token, I could call him anytime and ask questions.  One particularly telling question he asked me after reading the manuscript was, “What about the bus stop scene?”  To which I replied, “What bus stop scene?”  This, apparently, was something that had been added into an updated version of the script after I’d already written the first draft of the book.  That he and I were able to talk back and forth like that is a real rarity in the world of movie tie‑ins, and it really helped to make the book the best it could be.  Folks who read tie‑ins know that the best thing to do is to see the movie first, then read the book.  Invariably things are cut from the movie script because of time and money; if you read about them first and then see the movie, you’ll be disappointed that they aren’t included. If you see the movie, then read about them in the book, you’ll be delighted at the extra stuff in the book.  Which, by the way, isn’t just deleted scenes—authors often include past history, universe‑building, and detailed characterization.

Ultraviolet was interesting because I never received a single comment or change request on the manuscript.  I know I’m not a perfect writer, and that’s happened to me a couple of times (it also happened with Hellboy), but feedback is always a good thing, you know?

Q: In a review of your book Highborn, the reviewer said: ‘The term ‘Urban Fantasy’ can strike fear into the heart of many people, and not in a good way. Thankfully, this first novel in Yvonne Navarro’s Dark Redemption series (which is now followed by CONCRETE SAVIOR) is an example of the genre not only done well, but done damn near to perfection.’ They go on to say that the book is refreshing. Was it hard to come up with a fresh take on this genre?

I remember that review, and to say I feel flattered by those nice words would definitely be an understatement.  But I also have to admit that I wasn’t aiming to write an urban fantasy.  When I thought of the basis for HIGHBORN and then planned it out, it was just the book I wanted to write.  It wasn’t specifically geared to any genre, and it wasn’t until my agent sold it and the purchasing editor called it an urban fantasy that I even thought about where it might fit in terms of sales.

Q: You’ve written over a hundred short stories. It looks like you are most comfortable writing what is called Dark Fantasy now, but used to be known as horror. What’s led you down this path? Did you discover Poe when you were thirteen and have never been the same since?

My Mom and sister always liked scary stories.  I grew up watching Creature Features, reading Creepy and Eerie magazines, and looking for the spookiest fiction I could find in the library.  The first movie I remember watching was Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” at the drive-in.  I like a good, scary story because it gets your blood running and your mind working, and you don’t always know there’s going to be a happy ending.

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 people write the way they want to, and if there’s any difference, it’s because the writer does it intentionally.  There are men writing romances under pseudonyms and women writing crime thrillers using their first and middle initials whose own readers don’t realize are female.   If a woman believes she shouldn’t write about certain things because she’s a woman, she’s imposed restrictions on herself… and she’s the only person who can break those chains.  I don’t write like a woman.  I don’t write like a man.  I write like a writer.

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

No, but I know that it does for some people.

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?

Well, it’s tempting to say I’d go backward and fix a few of my bigger mistakes in life, but then I’d probably just make different ones, right?  I tend to look at that on more of a personal basis than you’re probably intending.  If I stick to the fun side of things, I think I’d like to go into the future a hundred years or so, just to see where technology has taken us.  Of course, a thousand years from now we might actually have space travel.  Hmmmm…

Give-away Question:

Who’s your favorite female movie star heroine, and from what movie?

Yvonne says: If I was to answer this, it would be a tie between Sigourney Weaver from Aliens and Kate Beckinsale from the Underworld movies.

Follow Yvonne on Twitter:  http://twitter.com/#!/YvonneNavarro

See Yvonne’s Blog and Website.

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Filed under Awards, Book Giveaway, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Genre, Movies & TV Shows, Publishing Industry, Young Adult Books

Meet Tara Moss …

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


Q: It’s funny that you should be at the women crime writers conference, then write a post about gender bias in publishing(with a follow up post), because I’ve been running a series of interviews on this topic. Were you surprised by the intensity of the reaction to your post?

I was particularly surprised by the swift reaction of Mr. Woodhead – particularly as he identified himself as a reviewer for the Age and was very quick to dismiss the blog as ‘privileged whining’. Ironically, though I do write opinion pieces, that particular post contained very little opinion. It was a casual blog, reporting statistics relevant to gender bias, the creation of the Stella Prize and info about the SheKilda crime festival I had just returned from. Honestly, I did not imagine it would cause such controversy, though I do think the responses reveal something important about the current climate surrounding gender issues.

Q: The SheKilda conference was run by Sisters in Crime. Even though the Australian chapter has been established 20 years and the original US chapter was established 25 years ago, there still seems to be a need for an organisation specifically to celebrate crime written by women. I have seen comments by male readers to the effect that they simply wouldn’t read a book written by a woman. When you started out writing did you consider using a gender-neutral name like T Moss?

I have never considered presenting my work as gender neutral, either in name or in style, though I don’t begrudge those who have made that choice, or who have had that choice made for them by publishers. Many of the greats, PD James, JK Rowling have made that choice. In Brazil, my novels are published under T.Moss, though that happened without my involvement and I only found out later.

Q: So many of the authors I interview write across several genres and across age groups. You have your Makedde Vanderwall crime thrillers (five so far) and the first book of your Young Adult Pandora English series has been released. I believe you have a young daughter. Are you tempted to try your hand at children’s books?

I’m writing a sixth novel in my crime series at the moment, and my second paranormal book with Pandora English will be out in a matter of weeks, so my writing schedule has been pretty packed this year, but I have had a children’s book series on the back burner for years now. Now that I am reading to my daughter each night, I may be closer to making that series a reality. Let’s just say that if I do make it happen, it won’t be about kittens with mittens.

Q: You’ve certainly immersed yourself in your research: spent time in squad cars, morgues, prisons, taken a polygraph test, shot weapons, conducted surveillance, acquired your CMAS race driver licences, been set on fire by a Hollywood stunt company and been choked unconscious by a professional fighter, all in the name of authenticity. Is there anything left that you’d still like to gain first-hand experience with? A trip to the moon perhaps?

If you have a spare ticket to the moon, I’d love to go for the ride. Truthfully, I am always looking for new opportunities to experience the world as others do, and to face my fears and push my own personal boundaries.

Q: You are a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and an ambassador for the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Blind Children. What exactly does this entail and how did it come about?

I’ve been an ambassador for the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children for over a decade now, and I am really impressed by what they do for children who are visual or hearing impaired, and their families. They help to close the learning gap and ensure a life enriched by literacy. I host their annual charity flight, which is their biggest fundraiser each year, and I lend my hand to other activities for them where I am able, whether it is visiting the schools at the institute or promoting their work.

My involvement with UNICEF began in 2007 when they appointed me a Goodwill Ambassador, and they recently gave me a larger role, appointing me UNICEF Patron for Breastfeeding for the Baby Friendly Health Initiative (BFHI) in Australia, which involves advocating for breastfeeding women in hospitals, the workforce and general community, promoting breastfeeding as the normal and healthy practice that it is, and hopefully combating some of the misinformation on the topic. BFHI is a program spearheaded by the World Health Organization and UNICEF to support mothers and babies, with the aim to hopefully raise the rate of breastfeeding in Australia to the world standard. (The exclusive breastfeeding rate here is about half the world average at the moment) I encourage expectant mothers to choose a BFHI accredited hospital if they can, or to ask for BFHI protocols in their birth plan.

(For more information see here)

Q: You lost your mother while in your teens (I can’t imagine the gap this would leave), and you now have a baby daughter. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I began to appreciate the dedication it takes to rear a child. Do you feel closer to your mother, even though she is no longer with us, now that you have a child?

My mother, Janni, passed away 21 years ago, and I still think of her every day. The evening my daughter was born was emotional for me on a number of levels. It was a beautiful time, but also bitter sweet, as I felt the loss of my mother particularly keenly that day. But I felt her presence as well. Our mothers never really leave us.

Q: You host the true crime documentary series Tough Nuts – Australia’s Hardest Criminals for the Crime and Investigation Network, and you do a series of author interviews for 13th Street Universal Channel called: Tara Moss in Conversation. This must take up a lot of your time, what with the research and the actual filming. How do you get time to write? Do you have a routine that you stick to?

I’ve always been quite self-motivated as a person but in the past couple of years I’ve had to become good at time management, particularly since giving birth to my daughter. I abhor routine, however. I love what I do and I just dive in and do it as best I can. I have a personal motto of sorts, which is that life is too short to live the same day twice. Thankfully, life holds a lot of adventure for me – if not very much sleep. I love the contrast of television work, journalism and fiction writing. Each provides a different challenge.

Q: I believe there is a new Pandora English book due out soon, The Spider Goddess. Why spiders? Are you phobic about spiders?

I am intrigued by ancient mythology and folklore, and the fable of The Spider Goddess caught my eye. As with The Blood Countess, I took truth and legend and wove it into a modern tale, set in an alternate New York. I wasn’t arachnophobic to begin with, but…

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?

Men and women don’t necessarily write fantasy differently because of gender, although more women tend to write female leads, and more men tend to write male leads. I love stories with great female characters, but I read everyone from HP Lovecraft and Neil Gaiman to Charlaine Harris and Marianne de Pierres.

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

If it does, I think that change in perception is largely unconscious.

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?

My time machine would take me to Mary Wollstonecraft’s bedside in 1797, as she gave birth to Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley. I would keep the doctor away, or teach him about disinfecting his hands, so she would not die of puerperal fever, the ‘doctor’s plague’ that killed women and children for two centuries before germ theory was better understood. I often wonder what more Wollstonecraft, the author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman, would have achieved if she hadn’t been taken from us so young.

Follow Tara on Twitter:  @Tara_Moss

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Filed under Australian Writers, Conferences and Conventions, Covers, Dark Urban Fantasy, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Paranormal_Crime, The World in all its Absurdity, The Writing Fraternity, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Young Adult Books

Meet Ian Irvine …

Today I’m interviewing Ian Irvine because someone where I work turned around this week and said, I don’t read much fantasy, but I love Ian Irvine’s books. I’m also asking Ian the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male writer.

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

Q: You have a PhD in Marine Science (plus you’ve travelled a lot in your capacity as a marine scientist). The PhD must help when you’re writing your eco-thrillers (Human Rites series), but did the scientific mind get in the way when you are writing your Three Worlds Cycle, fantasies?

I’ve been interested (indeed, fascinated) by science since an early age, and decided I wanted to be a scientist around 13 or 14. And since graduating, I’ve worked in the field for the past 30 years, as an expert on contaminated sediments in the bottom of harbours (a world-wide problem). My background was of particular help in writing the Human Rites trilogy, which is set in a near-future world of catastrophic climate change, not least because I did a research project decades ago researching ice ages over the past 5 million years, and I’ve maintained an interest in climate change ever since. My scientific experience and knowledge proved useful in trying to predict what the world of these books would really be like, and how that would affect the lives of the characters.

Actually, my scientific mind proved particularly helpful in writing my Three Worlds fantasy novels, in world-building, for instance. Because I’d studied all the major scientific disciplines, I was well-equipped to design both plausible and realistic worlds for the series, and a variety of intelligent species to inhabit these worlds.

It was also invaluable because the life experience a writer has determines the kind of books he or she writes, what he writes about and how he sees the world. For instance, Tolkien was a philologist – he studied languages – and he created the languages of Middle Earth before he wrote the stories. A lot of fantasy writers (eg George RR Martin, Sara Douglass) have studied history, and this colours the stories they write. Other fantasy writers draw inspiration from myths, legends, fairy or folk tales, ancient literatures, and so on. But I’ve never wanted to draw on history, mythology or literature for my stories, and neither did I want to write in traditional settings. I wanted to tell my own stories in my own way, in worlds I’d created myself.

Two writers I particularly enjoy who have a strong scientific background are Laura Kinsale (romance – she was a geologist) and Diana Gabaldon (genre-crossing stories – Ph.D. in marine biology). Personally, I find that my scientific background gives me a unique perspective in writing fantasy, and that’s a good thing, because it makes my writing different to other authors. For instance, if I’m describing a common fantasy phenomenon such as a portal, I imagine what it would really be like – differences in temperature, humidity, air pressure etc between the two locations could lead to a gale howling through the gate as soon as it opens, or water vapour condensing in clouds of fog etc. This kinds of realistic details help to make the story more grounded and real.

Q: You’ve written 27 books including fantasy, eco-thrillers and children’s books. Do you find readers follow you from genre to genre? Do you think kids who read your children’s books will grow up to be readers of your fantasies and/or eco-thrillers?

Most readers don’t genre hop, unfortunately, and few of my readers who are fantasy fans will ever read my eco-thrillers. I know this because both fans and booksellers have told me. For this reason, publishers don’t like their authors (especially the big name authors) writing in other genres, because they know most of their readers won’t follow. Raymond Feist once said that it took years before his publishers would agree to let him write Faerie Tale, because it was so different to his other work.

Having said that, children are less fixed in their reading tastes than adults. And all twelve of my kids’ books have been fantasy in one form or another, so I’m hopeful that many of those readers will read my epic fantasy stories when they’re older.

Q: Your office looks absolutely wonderful! Such a peaceful place to write. But you didn’t always have a fancy office. In an interview on Tristan Bancks blog you say: ‘I wrote the whole first draft of one of my big fantasy novels, The Way Between the Worlds, in my spare time on a consulting assignment in Fiji. I’ve also written in a sweltering mine site donga on Horn Island in Torres Strait, at the top of a mountain in Papua-New Guinea, in Mauritius, Indonesia and the Philippines, and on long jobs for the World Bank in Korea.’ Would you say if the story is compelling enough a writer can write anywhere?

I am blessed in my office; it’s where I’ve done almost all my writing for the past 20 years. Though it didn’t start out a writing office and, when it was built I couldn’t have justified the expense (being unpublished then) as a place to write. It was built as my consulting office, and it’s where I went to work every day as a marine scientist until I became a ‘full-time’ writer in 2000 (I still do quite a bit of consulting; I have 1.5 full-time jobs).

I wouldn’t say that if the story is compelling enough a writer can write anywhere. Rather, that if the urge and need to write is desperate enough, a writer can write anywhere. In those days, working as a marine scientist, I had to make use of every free second to do my writing otherwise I would never have got it done.

 

Q: You children’s series Grim and Grimmer sounds like a heap of fun. During an interview on DG Yarns you say:  “After about twenty-four hours of hard labour I came up with a great title, Grim and Grimmer, and every time I mentioned it, people smiled. See, you’re doing it now.

So I sat down, invented the silliest and most extravagant characters I could think of, then sketched out a fiendishly complicated plot where they only got out of one desperate trouble to plunge immediately into a worse one. And every time I thought, no one should ever suffer like this, I went har, har, yes they should, and thought of a hundred and three more ways to torment them, working on the principle that if the characters are having a good time, my readers aren’t.’

After your serious eco-thrillers, do you have to do anything to get into the right frame of mind to write your Grim and Grimmer books?

Not really – pain and torment does it for me every time (author sniggers at the thought). Seriously, I was overcome by the opportunity to write a kind of book I’d never written before – humorous adventure fantasy for children – and when the chance came up, I grabbed it. The only problem was that I was frantic with other deadlines and it was difficult to set aside the uninterrupted time to write and edit each book. But when I got the time, and planned the books in detail, they flowed quickly. They were the most fun I’ve ever had writing and I’m sorry the series is finished.

Q: In your Runcible Jones stories you follow the plot device of having an ordinary boy go through to another world. Were you a big fan of the Narnia books growing up?

Oddly, though I was a voracious reader from an early age, I didn’t read fantasy as a child – neither The Hobbit, the Narnia books nor any other fantasy I can remember. I don’t know why, because I loved fairy tales and mythological tales. I can only assume that those books weren’t in the school library (I went to a couple of one-teacher primary schools as a kid, where the books came in book boxes and the choice was quite limited).

I loved SF when I was at school but only discovered fantasy at uni – Tolkien, Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea series, etc. As for the Narnia books, which I also started at uni, I absolutely loathed them – perhaps one has to read them in childhood. I found them sanctimonious, moralising, sexist and thoroughly disagreeable. I think my view of characters travelling through gates or portals came from SF rather than fantasy – I guess, in particular, CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine trilogy (Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth) which I read in the late 70s.

 

Q: I like your premise for the Sorcerer’s Tower series. Your main character is ‘the only kid in the world who can’t do magic’. It immediately turns the trope of ‘the chosen one’ on its head. Do you like to play with the genre tropes?

Not deliberately. To be honest, I’m not sure I understand what a trope is. Having Tamly being the only kid who couldn’t do magic just ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’. But I hate writing stereotypical or archetypal characters – princess, magician, warrior etc. I avoid them if I can, or if I can’t, I like to twist or invert them. Hey, maybe I am playing with the genre tropes without knowing it.

Q: You’re working on a new fantasy series, the Tainted Realm, with the first book, Vengeance, due out in November 2011. Do I detect a hint of world under threat by natural disasters? Do you find your world-view as a marine scientist creeping into your writing of fantasy?

To your first question, yes. To the second, no, I don’t think so. My first degree is in geology and I think it has more to do with my fascination with geological disasters.

Earth’s history is peppered with life threatening catastrophes, whether due to earthquakes, super-volcanoes, abrupt climate change, enormous tsunamis, droughts that lasted for hundreds or thousands of years, catastrophic floods the like of which we’ve never seen, comet and meteor impacts like the one at Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908. Human civilisation has grown up in an extraordinary benign period over the last few thousand years and we assume that this is the norm. But it’s not, and disasters that could wipe out civilisation are actually extremely common in Earth’s history.

Such a disaster would make a great story setting, and that’s where the interest lies for me – telling stories in settings no one has used before.

For those who are interested in this topic I can recommend Professor Bill McGuire’s terrific little book, A Guide to the End of the World. The Armageddon Online site is also full of inspirational joy.

 

Q: Ian, you’ve been very generous in sharing your expertise. You did a great post on the ROR blog about your Adventures on Facebook and you have a whole page dedicated to Writing Tips on your blog. Do you get approached by aspiring authors at events?

It’s hard to succeed at writing and I like to help people where I can. Over the next few months I’ll be expanding the Writing section on my site to several hundred pages.

I’m approached by authors at cons and events from time to time, though I’ve invariably found them to be polite and interested rather than pushy. But the problem I have (and many other authors are the same) is that I have to say no to people who ask me to read their work, because if I said yes I wouldn’t get any of my own writing done.

Q: I see you have a competition running to Win an iPad. (Tell you what, I’d love an iPad). Do you find that running competitions like this help you reach out to readers?

I’m not sure that competitions help me to reach out to readers, but I’m convinced that social media do. The main reason I’m running the competition is to attract my existing readers to my Facebook author page. I was rather late in coming to Facebook but I’m totally converted – it’s a fantastic way to communicate with my readers, to hear what they’re interested in and create a genuine community of like-minded souls. It’s much better than email or blogging. And if I have a question, I often get dozens of great answers.

I’m also running the comps to attract new readers, of course.

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’m not aware of that perception (about a boys’ club), but I haven’t been to the US for decades, and to the UK only once in the past 30  years. And I’m not an active member of the fantasy professional community so I don’t know what people are currently talking about. Having said that, I certainly formed the view, when I was starting out in writing in the 80s, that fantasy was a boys’ club, since a majority of the big name writers were male.  I think that’s changed a lot over the past 15 years, and definitely in Australia where most of the bestselling writers (eg Sara Douglass, Kate Forsyth, Juliet Marillier, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Fiona McIntosh, Trudi Canavan, Karen Miller, Kylie Chan, Marianne de Pierres) are women. Perhaps less so overseas.

I have five sisters, and my wife has three, and I have two daughters. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why I never wanted to write macho fantasy shackled by historical stereotypes, where the blokes had all the adventures while the women did traditional women’s stuff. It’s fantasy, for God’s sake! The author can create any kind of society he or she wishes.

Back in the 70’s and 80s, when there was a fair bit of feminist fantasy around, I used to think there was a big difference between fantasy written by males and females. But now I’m not so sure. There are plenty of women writers who are writing more violent and less emotional fantasy than I do.

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

Not for me. I love Robin Hobb’s writing, and JK Rowling’s, and Lois McMaster Bujold’s (her fantasy eg The Curse of Chalion, not her SF), among many other female writers.

The only thing that changes my expectations is the author’s ‘brand’, ie the associations of what kind of a read I can expect based on the author’s name.

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?

Probably to the lottery office or the stock market. Definitely NOT to the races – I’m particular about who I hang out with.

Or to the great library at Alexandria to pick up some originals before it was burned.

Failing that, to the core of the galaxy to touch up my pallid complexion in the light of a million suns. Or back to the time of the Cambrian Explosion where there was a fantastic and never since equalled burgeoning of life of all kinds – though I’d probably be eaten by a trilobite. It would also be interesting to be on site a few minutes before the Big Bang – though I expect I’d (briefly) regret it, lol.

 

To win an advance copy of Vengeance, Book 1 of Ian’s new epic fantasy trilogy The Tainted Realm:

Giveaway Question:  Name the most irritating character in a fantasy novel. What cruelly ironic fate would you like him/her/it to suffer?

 

Ian’s website

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Follow Ian on Twitter   @ianirvineauthor

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, creativity, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Nourish the Writer, Thrillers and Crime, Young Adult Books