Posts belonging to Category author interviews

The Heroine Question(s) – Alyx Dellamonica asks some interesting things…

Regular readers will be well aware of my ongoing interest in female protagonists – as hero or villain (here and here, so when Alyx Dellamonica invited me to contribute to the ongoing discussion of heroines, over on her blog, I jumped at the chance to consider key female figures in my early reading.

I found myself searching out C.S.Lewis’s books on the old favourites’ shelf – which was not at all what I expected, since as and when the question of Lewis’s treatment of women comes up these days, I’ll generally shake my head with mingled regret and exasperation over The Susan Issue.

You’ll have to read the piece to learn which book I ended up re-reading

I also strongly recommend you read the other interviews in this series – not least because I’m by no means the only writer to look back at Narnia. scroll down after mine and you’ll find them all.

(And while you’re there, get to know Alyx and her work, if you’re not already acquainted!)

Well, if BBC Radio 4 says I’m a fantasy novelist, it must be true!

Did anyone get the memo saying this was going to be the week for folk listening to me talk? I must have missed it…

Today sees the broadcast of an episode in the BBC Radio Four ‘A History of Ideas’ series where I was invited to contribute.

Philosopher Jules Evans is exploring Jung and the shadow inside all of us. Including archive contributions from Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud; plus Mark Vernon, author of Carl Jung: How to Believe – and me.

(another nice reminder that life isn’t all EU VAT!)

The Skiffy and Fanty Show proves I am a fantasy novelist!

I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if some folk might be starting to doubt if I am actually still a fantasy novelist. Because there are days and weeks when I really do wonder amid all the VATmess stuff taking up my time, energy and word count.

But look! Here’s proof!

I had a lovely chat with the amiable and entertaining Skiffy and Fanty podcast crew at last summer’s Loncon3 WorldCon – and the episode’s just gone up.

It’s for streaming at the moment, the download will be along later.

Why the time lag? Well, I know they took full advantage of their opportunities to talk to as many writers as they could in London, so goodness knows how many hours of material they amassed from all sorts of fascinating people.

So that gives you every reason to bookmark the site and keep checking back, doesn’t it?

History & Fantasy in Bristol. A day of two halves.

Actually, the first – and really irritating – bit of my day wasn’t even in Bristol. It was in the gridlocked traffic around Swindon where I got thoroughly stuck, thanks to an accident and road closure just ahead and at a point on the route where I had no hope of escape. So I never did get there in time to chat on Ujima Radio – which just goes to show the risks of arranging single-guest events. I’m always an advocate of having at least two authors along, in case of unforeseen gremlins. And thank goodness for mobile phones – since texting from in a stationary car with the engine turned off and handbrake on doesn’t contravene the law.

Happily Cheryl Morgan and Lucienne Boyce were at Ujima to have what sounds like a fascinating conversation about what history is versus what people think it might be, touching on issues like the persistent and false belief that multi-cultural communities are a recent development in England. The briefest glance at a city like Bristol’s history shows that for the tosh that it is.

Anyway, once I got out of the traffic jam, the day improved enormously. I got to Bristol without further incident, met Cheryl for lunch and we discussed life, the universe and future plans for my writing with Wizards Tower Press, of which more news as various projects develop. Then we went to the Bristol Museum and Gallery. I love visiting local museums, especially to look at their paintings and not just for any big names like Pissarro or whoever they might have on hand. It’s the local artists I like to find and in this case, I was very interested to discover the work of Rolinda Sharples (1793-1838). She was a female artist specializing in portraits along with some larger pieces, who was good enough to be exhibited at the Royal Academy. The whole family were successful and commercial artists including her mother (unlike a good many of those big names) living at various times in England and New York. Tell me again how women didn’t get to do anything noteworthy in days of yore. And as anyone will know who’s heard me talk about using visual references, work like Rolinda’s is a source of invaluable historical detail and unexpected inspiration.

Then we headed to Foyles in Cabot Circus, and that’s a lovely bookshop with great staff, well worth checking out if you’re in the area. It was a pleasure to meet Helen Hollick and Jack Wolf, along with Lucienne and we sat down with Cheryl to discuss the relationships between history and fantasy. We touched on what does or does not constitute ‘accuracy’, and the challenges of making the past accessible without obscuring the very real differences in how people thought and felt – and those are important, especially if we’re hoping our writing will make readers think (as well as enjoying an engaging, exciting read), whether it’s fantasy or history or as was apparent for us all, somewhere between. We talked about the challenges of the correct versus the appropriate language in our writing, in using real people and real events – and not for the first time, it was soon apparent that formal, academic education is in no sense required for an author to do solid research to underpin their work. All that’s needed is the curiosity and the common sense to spot what assumptions or agenda might lie behind a source.

We had a good audience, in terms of numbers and most importantly, in terms of people keen to listen and think and ask questions and discuss. Oh and a handful of local steampunk fans turned up in splendid costumes which added a further dimension to chatting about the relationship of history and the modern day. As with all good events, we could have gone on talking as a panel and then informally afterwards for hours. As it was, we writers headed out for a meal before we went our separate ways, and yes, the conversation did continue round the table in many, varied and fascinating directions.

I had an entirely uneventful trip home, so a day that started mired in frustration got better and better and now I have three new-to-me authors to add to my Must Read list.

What’s in a Name?

Something about names is on just about every writer’s FAQ, regardless of genre. It never fails to surprise me at a convention or literary festival, when someone sticks up their hand and asks the ‘where do you get character names from?’ clearly thinking they’ve just asked something unexpected and original.

The thing is though, as with so much about writing, no writer works in exactly the same way, or thinks the same about something, and names are no exception. As with much else, there are broad similarities across the spectrum but even two writers taking much the same approach can come up with some different and interesting observations or thought provoking comments.

So the “Names: A New Perspective” blogposts gathered together by Abhinav Jain promise some fascinating reading. He’s garnered posts from a goodly number of writers – my own contribution will come along in a few weeks. Meantime, let’s see what other folk have to say, shall we?

You can find the first post by Patty Jansen here

Who Gets to Escape? Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown ask a fascinating question.

These two extremely talented authors are currently working on Kaleidoscope – an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy. This is a crowd-funded project, or hopefully it soon will be. Click that link to get involved.

Meantime, Sherwood and Rachel have written a thought-provoking post considering the nature of protagonists in fantasy fiction, taking a quotation from Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories” as a starting point.(Longer than my excerpt here)

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories . . . Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls?

The key word here is ‘he’…

As the post goes on to say –

While it is not difficult to find excellent novels about homophobia and coming out, it is much harder to find books in which, for example, a teenage, Hispanic lesbian discovers that she has inherited magical powers—a plot trope for which hundreds, if not thousands, of books exist for straight, white heroines. You can substitute any social minority in American society, and similar issues apply. If you’re not part of the ruling class, you don’t get to escape.

Furthermore –

…the male heroes of fantasy novels are not average people, and do not have average lives. They are not merely the heroes of the genre of fantasy, but heroes of fantasies—heroes of escapist imagination.

These male heroes were not written to be average examples of their demographic, and we’ve never seen anyone make the argument that they should be. But that argument is applied to female characters constantly, to make the case that they should be average and demographically representative. It is a case for denying women escapism while lavishing it on men.

I urge you to read the whole piece, and you’ll see why this has particularly struck me, especially at the moment when the focus on epic fantasy seems to be defaulting to male writers and male stories for no good reason at all. This has been particularly notable in some conversations I have had about The Hadrumal Crisis, a trilogy where two of the three main point of view characters are women and yet interviewers ask me about ‘the hero’ Corrain. While they recognise how flawed he is as a hero, that’s apparently still his default designation.

At the same time, reader and reviewer reactions to Lady Zurenne, a woman whose story is driven by the fact that she cannot escape, are varied to say the least. Patrick Mahon’s joint review of Dangerous Waters and Darkening Skies in the latest BSFA’s ‘Vector’ magazine describes her as ‘manipulative and calculating’. Just to be clear, I’m not arguing with this review – it’s a thorough and thoughtful analysis of those books which I’m delighted to see – and he’s not wrong. He also sees why she acts as she does, going on to say ‘- although this is to some extent understandable, given her need to secure the future of her two daughters…’

The thing is though, I’ve spoken to readers and seen comments from men and women alike who have even less sympathy for Zurenne, while they’re able to give Corrain much more leeway when his attempts at manly heroics don’t succeed. And again, just to be clear, I’m not arguing with those readers’ reactions. I don’t get to dictate those, writer or not and none of those folk I’ve spoken to are making unfounded assumptions based on anything other than the story in hand. From the books as written, that is an entirely valid response.

Yes, I’ve been a little surprised, since that’s not what I expected – but it doesn’t bother me, since there are plenty of other readers with immense sympathy for Zurenne. I am certainly intrigued though, wondering why this might be so. And I think this question ‘Who Gets To Escape?’ may well hold some element of the answer.

Definitely something to think on.

Eastercon down, Clarke Award to go… meantime, here’s something to read.

So, that was a tremendously successful Eastercon, thanks to the dedication and hard work of a great many people before and during the weekend. I will write more fully about it all later – when I have completely got rid of the truly vile cold that I came down with last Friday. I’m over the worst but the post-viral fatigue is proving particularly vicious. Fortunately my main responsibilities this week have been addressing the Clarke Award shortlist and that can be done from the sofa without too much physical exertion. The cat approves.

Meantime, you will recall me mentioning Aethernet, the ebook serial fiction magazine I’m writing a story for. That was successfully launched at Eastercon and you can get a taste of the story which Adrian Tchaikovsky is writing here. Er, unless you’re an arachnophobe – it is called Spiderlight…

You can also read interviews with and extracts from the stories by other contributors – and there’ll be something from me coming soon.

It’s Midwinter in Caladhria – and pretty chilly in the Cotswolds as it happens

“SHE STOOD AMID the silent statues and contemplated the crystal urn holding her husband’s ashes; footed with silver leaves and crowned with a five-petalled flower sparkling in the light of the shrine’s candles.”

Those of you in the UK picking up a copy of Defiant Peaks (published today!) will now discover that this story opens at the Solstice celebrations in Halferan Manor, Caladhria. Midwinter in Einarinn is Souls’ Ease Night and Lady Zurenne is taking a private moment in the manor’s shrine before guiding Lady Ilysh through her duties accepting seasonal tithes from their tenantry in the great hall and leading the celebrations afterwards. Meanwhile Corrain is attending the quarterly parliament where the country’s nervous noblemen are debating new laws to forbid anyone having dealings with wizards, after seeing just what havoc Planir and Hadrumal’s senior mages can wreak when they put their mind to it. Magewoman Jilseth is spending the festival in Relshaz, paying little heed to mainland politics or religious observance. She’s more concerned with keeping a weather eye on the Aldabreshin Archipelago after recent events, as well as lending her talents to fathoming the secrets of the ensorcelled artefacts which the Archmage has now acquired.

So everyone’s set fair for a peaceful and prosperous new year? Not exactly…

Naturally, you won’t be surprised that we decided against using ‘Winter is coming’ on the back cover copy. The thing is though, there are a goodly number of fantasy books which aren’t set in Westeros with winter as a theme or a thread, as the latest SF Signal Mind Meld makes plain. As always, I find the other authors’ answers as fascinating as thinking about the original question. Do check out all the suggestions – and comments – and find out why my pick is Barbara Hambly’s ‘Darwath Trilogy’.

The Next Big Thing – Defiant Peaks

I am loving the story-prompts from the previous post/competition. The challenge is going to be not writing a whole paragraph… Keep the suggestions coming!

While I work on the queries so far, have a read of my answers to the ‘Next Big Thing’ challenge that’s been doing the round of writers lately. I was tagged by Tom Lloyd, a writer whose books sit on my TBR shelf, awaiting my release from Arthur C Clarke Award judge-duties, which is currently taking up all my reading time.

So here are the questions we’ve all been answering –

What is the working title of your next book?

My next book is ‘Defiant Peaks’, published in the US 27th November and in the UK 6th December 2012.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

So far I’ve written a dozen books in three series set in the world of Einarinn, and it’s been firmly established that wizards don’t get involved in warfare. So the idea here was… what if they do?

What genre does your book fall under?

Epic fantasy – but if you think that means simplistic swords’n’sworcery, square-jawed heroes rescuing damsels in distress, think again. These days epic fantasy is multi-layered and thought-provoking, taking on the genre’s early assumptions about heroism, politics, gender and a whole lot else, within the framework of action and adventure.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I can never answer this. Overall, I’d like to see unknowns take the lead roles, so viewers come to the characters without preconceptions, as we did with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia all those decades ago. Famous actors doing cameos for the high-level wizards? That could be a lot of fun. But the problem with me saying, ‘how about Ralph Fiennes for so-and-so, or Judi Dench for her,’ is some people will go ‘ooh yes,’ some people will go ‘oh, no’ and some people will look puzzled and go ‘Voldemort? And ‘M’?’ So I will leave that up to everyone else’s imagination. Until HBO come knocking on the door…

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

For generations the edict has held, that wizards don’t get involved in warfare, but there’s always someone who thinks the rules don’t apply to them…

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’ll be published by Solaris Books, in the UK and the US.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Six months for the first draft and then two more to turn that into the final draft sent to my editor.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Over the years, reviewers have been kind enough to compare my writing to Robin Hobb, George RR Martin, Kate Elliott, David Gemmell, Stan Nicholls and Barbara Hambly’s fantasies. We’re all looking at the core strengths and themes of our beloved genre from new perspectives.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve already mentioned the ‘what if wizards do get involved in wars?’ prompt. As to who , this trilogy has definitely been inspired by my readers. A good many have been asking for a story exploring elemental magic more deeply and showing more of Hadrumal, the wizard city. Quite a few have wanted to know what happened next to the characters in my short story, The Wizard’s Coming (now available as a free ebook). Those emails definitely focused my thoughts as I contemplated my options at the end of The Lescari Revolution.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Have a good look at the cover art. Just what do you think that wizard is doing? Bear in mind that he is the Archmage, most powerful of all the wizards who’ve showed just what devastation they can wreak, if they see fit, in the first two books of this trilogy…

What? No deadline? Ah, but what about this inbox…?

Good Monday morning. The sun is shining and we’re back from a much needed family holiday – our first break of the year thanks to inconvenient overlaps of my work, husband’s work and sons’ school/college timetables making any kind of getaway before now impossible. It was a good holiday – of which more later. First I really had better tackle the email and post that’s arrived in our absence.

Happily I can take my own time doing that. I delivered the final draft of Defiant Peaks, aka The Hadrumal Crisis Book 3, to my editor at Solaris the day before we went away. I await his verdict with interest. Meantime I have some short story commissions to drag forward from the back burner where they’ve been simmering for the last few months. One SF, one fantasy and one… somewhere in between.

I am also idly contemplating a few Einarinn short stories – specifically detailing events/episodes which I refer to in Defiant Peaks but where I had to resist the temptation to include them in full. Doing so would have significantly delayed and/or distracted from the main narrative thread and besides the points of view would have been all wrong. We’ll see – maybe early next year, if I can work out how to write them without being too spoilery for the novel itself.

One other thing I did just before we went away was have a chat with Sandy Auden about Defiant Peaks and that’s the basis of this interview with SFX which will hopefully whet appetites from Defiant Peaks.

Next novel project? Nothing to announce as yet – I’m having a few conversations with a few people and we shall see what we shall see.

Right, I had better get on with that email and post then.