• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



Food is more than fantasy: Historian Gillian Polack guest blogs

One of the great joys of fiction for me is reading about food.  I love the feasts Brian Jacques meticulously describes for his mice.  When my nieces were young I went through Jacques and put recipes to a dozen of his dishes and we ate them and enjoyed them.  His food is delightful because it’s possible.

One of the things I hate about some books is how very dull or how very impossible the food is.  One of the make or break elements of fantasy novels is how small details bring a world to life or kill it dead.  In fantasy novels where the voyage is great and arduous, the food is more likely to kill it dead than bring it to life. 

This is where consulting a food historian can make a difference.  Since I’m the only food historian at this computer (actually, I’m a cultural historian with most of my research being medieval, but I teach and write about food history for the same reason I love reading about food in novels and for exactly the same reason I have a stash of chocolate in my cupboard) and since I’ve been asked about this over and over, here are a few ideas to keep in mind when you’re penning your Great Fantasy Travel Masterpiece.

1.  If you need equipment for cooking, someone has to carry it.  In The Lord of the Rings, this was Sam’s job.  There was a reason he got on well with the packhorse. 

Pity there was no space in his massive post-packhorse backpack for liniment for his strained shoulders.  I expect that’s why he’s such a stoic character.  Carrying pans will create stoicism, every time.  Well, almost every time.  When it doesn’t create stoicism, the saucepans are thrown or dumped.  In which case the cooking solution is lost.  I’ve often wondered why more characters don’t starve to death en route.  Maybe more writers need to study the sad history of Burke and Wills?

2.  If you need ingredients for cooking someone has to carry them.  Or buy them.  Or buy them and carry them.  Or hunt/wild harvest/steal them and carry them. 

Not only can this lead to sore shoulders and frayed tempers (“You’re the one who said potatoes were good journey food, why do I have to carry the d* things!”), but it really delays travel.  If your travelers are nature-loving elves who live off the land, they either need an amazing capacity to digest the inedible or vast tracts of their long lives to find food.  Or maybe the trusty servant (Sam, again) has the capacity to see farmhouses and negotiate good prices for chickens (“Give me this and I won’t break your arm.”) Your historical example for this one is the armies in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. 

3.  Staying at pubs is good.  Inns are very plausible and sensible.  Rich and good food, ready when your voyagers are.  Perfect.  Except where your travellers are going through the wilderness.  Cooked food (and beds) are a product of civilisation. 

Now, I do understand the temptation to have epic travelers journey to a town each night and stay there.  It might be related to the English roots of modern fantasy (and the socio-economic reasons behind Sam carrying saucepans comes into this too) but unless your climate and mountains and other cool-looking things resemble the south of England and you have the population density to match, it just can’t happen. 

There is unlikely to be hot stew waiting at happy inns (or dark and dangerous inns) in desolate regions.  Why?  Because the innkeeper would go out of business in three months, tops.  Inns needs supplies and they need daily custom, not just occasion epic travellers.  They’re on busy roads and in busy regions and usually in towns, not in the lorn wilderness.  This makes gentle travel terrific for some novels and rather less terrific for others.

4.  Real-life epic travelers in the wild used to prepare majorly for their journeys.  They didn’t just take off.  They couldn’t.  For one thing, they couldn’t trust to their faithful mobile phone (or fantasy equivalent) to get them out of trouble (the ‘ring a friend’ solution to big fat problems). 

 One of the things they prepared was travel food.  There are guidelines you can get hold of from explorations in the nineteenth century and those guidelines will give you a very good idea of what sort of equipment your people can realistically take with them and, more importantly, what sort of food. 

My favourite authentic travel food is a soup that’s so rich that it could be cut into squares.  All you need to do is heat some water (boil it if you want to be safe from odd gastric illnesses) and then you have a meal*.

Compare this with the standard stew that travelers eat in fantasy novels.

Big equipment, big preparation and even bigger cooking time.  If you can’t have soup, then at least you can have Johnny cakes, which was classic swaggie food until quite recently.  A bit of flour, a twist of salt and a small pan and you were right as rain for travel.  Bored, badly nourished, but right as rain.

One day I might write a story where epic travellers insist on carrying their equipment and wild harvesting and eating stew and being truly colourful and properly epic.  The end of the world will have come well before they reach their destination, of course, but they won’t care.  This is because that big pot and the dishes they eat out of and the amount of cooking they have to do will wear them out well before then. 


*I have a recipe for this soup.  Seriously.  If you want it, come and visit at my regular blog or my food history blog and ask politely. 

Gillian Polack is a historian, a writer and an educator. She’s also a regular at the Voyager Message Board.

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