Ikarie – The Czech Republic’s SF&F Magazine

How did you become a writer?

I have always loved making up stories. I used to tell them to my brother when we were small and I loved writing them at school. Becoming a professional, published author is different. I learned a great deal about the publishing industry while I worked in a book shop. So when I found myself at home with two small children, I knew what I needed to do. I had to write the very best possible story that I could. I had to look for honest criticism and make it still better. And I had to write a story that brought something new and different to the fantasy genre.

What does writing mean for you? What does this work give you?

Writing means I can work from home, choosing my own hours to fit around my sons’ school days. It gives me a reasonable income. My husband can’t afford to give up work but my writing brings in enough to pay for nice holidays and family luxuries. Most importantly, it’s a job that I simply love doing.

Could you say what fascinates you in the fantasy genre?

It’s the endless possibilities. You can find everything in fantasy writing that you find in other books; romance, danger, puzzles, even social and political comment. Then you get so much more; new worlds where magic is a reality, strange people whose lives are nothing like our own, and fabulous creatures like dragons.

What were your first steps towards professional writing?

The first and most important step was actually writing a whole novel. It was huge, detailed, complex, with lots of characters and endless detail about everything. That was turned down by all the agents and publishers I sent it to. One publisher sent me the readers’ reports on that book which told me all the things that were wrong with it. That showed me how to write a much better book that was good enough to be published.

Is it difficult to get a book from manuscript to publication?

Yes, for two reasons. Firstly, you have to get your manuscript as close to perfect as you can, when you’re still working without professional editorial advice. Fortunately there are many generous writers who will share their experiences with you without expecting you to pay them. All aspiring writers should be very cautious of anyone who tries to take their money by promising they can get them published. Secondly, your manuscript has to land on the right editor’s desk at the right time. Editors’ tastes vary, the same as every reader’s, and there are only a limited number of opportunities for new books each year. So you have to be persistent and patient, and carry on learning everything you can that might improve your writing while you’re waiting.

Can you remember how the idea of the Einarinn stories came into your head?

The characters grew out of a table-top role-playing game that I was doing with some very good friends. They soon became people living on the edges of the law. At the same time, I was learning that publishers want books that are “the same but different”. So I began to think about adventures in a traditional fantasy world, where the people were not at all the usual kind of heroes, living lives outside the castles and royal palaces.

One of main heroes of Einarinn is Livak. How was this character created? What do you feel about this girl?

While I was thinking about unusual heroes for a fantasy tale, I was reading a lot of crime fiction. There are some excellent female private investigator heroines in mystery thrillers. So I began to see Livak as a similar character living in a fantasy world. Then I added some of the best characteristics of my closest female friends, and a few of all our flaws. I’m very fond of Livak, though I think she would be a rather risky person to know.

One of main male characters in your books is Ryshad. Was it harder for you to create Livak as a female hero or Ryshad as male hero? Where do you see differences are in writing women?

I think it’s easier for me to write women because I am a woman. I just have to look inside myself or remember conversations with my best friends when dealing with something. When it comes to writing from a male point of view, I’m lucky in having close male friends whom I’ve known for many years. I could draw on my observations of them to make Ryshad a convincing man. These friends, and my husband, were also happy to read early drafts and talk to me about how realistic they found Ryshad’s actions and reactions. It also helped if I bought them plenty of beer while we talked.

What must main characters have to captivate readers?

Main characters must be people that readers can relate to. They must be consistent in themselves and fit into the world where they live. Readers need not necessarily like characters, though that does help. Readers need not agree with what characters are thinking or doing, but they do need to understand why these people are behaving in a particular way. To really captivate a reader, a main character must have a strong personality that comes across in everything they say and in everything that they do. Ideally, the character should still have a hold on the reader’s imagination after they have finished the book.

Your Einarin world is very carefully created and elaborated with love. Could you tell something about its creation? What must a writer include in the creation of new world?

My world grew out of my love of history, and out of the gaps that I found in a lot of fantasy worlds that I was reading about. I grew dissatisfied with worlds where nothing changed for thousands of years, where I couldn’t see how the commerce and agriculture worked, where one or two events dominated everyone’s lives, from the noblest lords to the lowest peasants. Real life is so much more complicated than that. So I began building a world with different levels of society, with different countries and political systems that all had to work together. Then I looked for realistic responses from kings and commoners alike to fantasy adventures like quests and magical conflict. I certainly think a good general historical knowledge is important for building a fantasy world. The most crucial thing is making sure the internal logic is worked out, and is strong enough to withstand close examination.

Do you plan any continuation of Livak’s adventures?

I am writing a few short stories about her that will appear in PS Publishing’s PostScripts magazine later in 2005 and in 2006. But at the moment I don’t have a story in my mind that would make a full novel and I don’t want to write something that would be rather half-hearted.

Could you introduce your next series Aldabreshin Compass?

This series is set in Aldabreshin Archipelago, first seen in The Swordsman’s Oath. This is a society absolutely opposed to magic, in a world where magic undeniably exists. I wanted to see what might happen when magic arrived to threaten these people. This is a society where an individual’s role in life is governed far more by their rank at birth than by their individual abilities. I wanted to see how a ruler with all the burdens of power would cope with such a magical attack. He couldn’t just walk away, in the way that Livak could since she would have no rank or responsibilities. I found that Daish Kheda, the warlord at the centre of the story faces all manner of challenges, not least because finding a way of combating magic means he must deal with other wizards, whom he’s always been taught are wholly evil.

Sea and ships are one from part of your stories. Could you disclose what you envision behind these words – SEA and SHIP?

My friends find it very funny that I write so much about ships and the sea because I am someone who hates sailing and gets very seasick. I suppose that’s why I see the sea as potentially dangerous, a source of unexpected danger. It’s also a barrier, or a trial that must be overcome. Ships aren’t necessarily safe either, but they are a necessary evil, so we can cross the waters and reach the good things on the other side.

Where do you obtain inspiration for new books?

I read all sorts of books; historical, popular science, popular fiction. I read newspapers and magazines like National Geographic, and listen to the radio. I watch television, for documentaries and also science fiction and detective drama series. Ideas come from all directions and I note down the really interesting ones until enough of them come together to form a critical mass that generates a story.

How does your work day look?

I get up, I get my sons out of bed. We all have breakfast and get things ready for school. Once they have left the house, I answer email and deal with letters once the post has arrived. Then I begin writing by reading over what I have written the day before and carrying on from there. I grab a quick sandwich for lunch and keep on writing. When the boys come back from school, I may do some domestic chores like the laundry or do some of the non-writing work that every author has. Sometimes that’s boring, like doing accounts; sometimes it’s fun like reading a book to review it or answering interview questions like these. When my husband comes home from work, I cook dinner and we eat together as a family. Then I make sure the boys are doing any homework they might have and we can all relax for the evening.

What you must have prepared before you start writing a new story? Have you prepared the whole plot, characters, conflicts and details or do you only know roughly how it will end?

Some writers can work with only a general idea of their story. I’m not one of those. I start with a detailed plot outline, and by making notes on people and places. Doing that shows me what other background information I will need so I spend a few weeks researching. Things that I discover in my reading change my ideas on characters, the conflicts and details, so I change bits of my original outline. Then I begin writing, and as the story always develops in unexpected ways, other things will change along the way. We will reach the end I first wrote down, just not necessarily by the exact route I imagined.

What does contact with readers of your books mean for you?

I love hearing from my readers. For one thing, it means I’m doing this right. Sitting at a computer alone, it’s too easy to begin wondering and even doubting yourself and your story. Having readers contact me to tell me they’re enjoying the books gives me the confidence to carry on. I also get some interesting ideas, when readers ask me questions about something in a book that I haven’t considered in detail before.

What do you do when you don’t write? How do you relax?

I read a lot of mystery and crime fiction. I watch television, especially SF shows and police dramas. Sometimes I play computer games, mostly simulations like Industry Giant or Sim City, and sometimes ones derived from television series like CSI. A couple of times a week I go to the gym to make sure I keep reasonably fit, and I practise a martial art called Aikido. We spend time with our friends and go to the cinema or on trips as a family. It’s important to get away from writing so I don’t run out of ideas or enthusiasm.

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