• 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!

     

     

How to Write What You -Don’t- Know

Monster Dragon from How to Train Your Dragon

The adage write what you know works well for how-to manuals, cookbooks, auto repair guides or medical text. With such topics, writers need a certain level of expertise. When it comes to speculative fiction, however, it’s another story. No one on Earth can know what a were-beast, off world portal or post apocalyptic witch is really like until the author creates it from the blank page. Sometimes that process can be a challenge so I’ve put together four quick tips for writing what you don’t know.

Tip #1: Research. If you have a world that is primarily desert, you don’t have to live in the Sahara to write it convincingly (just ask Glenda Larke!). You do have to ‘know’ what it is like to have three millimetres of rain a year and dust storms so blinding you can get lost between your camel and your tent. In other words, research the ecology of desert life. You can’t have bright green grass and furry platypuses, unless you explain a turf that goes eleven and a half months without water and a river mammal that swims in sand.

Tip #2: Savvy proofreaders. Research can take the place of direct experience, especially in world building, but there are exceptions. Horses are one. If you don’t know horses, you can learn about them, but if they are going to do more than graze in the paddock, you’ll need a proof-reader with horse sense to check your work. Readers who are also riders will spot ineptitude a mile away. Jolt! If it’s going to be a feature in your novel, get an expert to proof and/or offer technical advice.

Tip #3: Hands on. If you’re going to give some art, animal, dance, ritual, music or machine a big role in your script, immerse in it, hands on! As a bonus, your life will become richer for the experience. In my first two series, I researched quantum computing, physics theory, geo-engineering, bio-engineering and were-animal mythologies. I joined a local dojo and learned to wield a sword. Already on board were things like felines, horses, witchcraft, magic, astrology, gender studies and astral travel. I wove together the elements that were second nature to me with the ones I studied and learned. Anything else, like falconry, was proofread by an expert in the field.

Tip #4: Start with a grain of truth. No matter how wild and farfetched your story becomes, that grain of truth is what you build on and what will give your prose more weight. In my most recent series, Quantum Encryption, a main character takes my love of the Gray Wolf, an endangered species, and comes up with a solution to their looming extinction. I also look at possible results from geo-engineering projects that might do more harm than good. It’s all about the speculation, but begin with something real.

Any other tips? Favourite fantasy worlds or beings? I’d love to hear about them. Comments always welcome.

Kim Falconer is the author of the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption trilogies, set in the worlds of Gaela and Earth and exploring all manner of ideas, people and places. The latest in the series is Road to the Soul, which will be published 1 March. Visit Kim’s website and find out more about Kim and her books!

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8 Responses

  1. Love the concept art! Loved the movie, too.

    Research is important, definitely. I’ve had to look up everything from how long it takes broken ribs to heal, to how eggs are laid. Wouldn’t want to get caught out!

    For me, generally speaking, the first and foremost thing that I draw on is logic. Just thinking things through objectively and sensibly is a good place to start. For example, I didn’t look up anything about wingspan to bodyweight ratios, etc., but I thought: Does it make sense for a griffin to be able to fly all day without resting, while carrying a rider? The answer was obviously no, and I was inspired to ask it after reading criticisms of, uh, less well-thought-out fantasy novels where horses can gallop all night without dropping dead.

    Just thinking things through sensibly makes a big difference, especially when you’re dealing with the fantastic and face the temptation to just bullsh*t your way out of a corner. Pardon my Amorani.

    • Your Amorani is pardoned, and seconded!

      Logic is important. I hate it when non-supernatural beings do supernatural things, like gallop all night without water or rest. If anyone’s every been on an endurance ride, they know what the equine limitations are. When in doubt, turn to the WWW, or the local library.

      Yes, egg laying creatures have some commonality be they birds, turtles, snakes or ants. I actually find research one of the most rewarding and stimulating part of the writing process. Do you?

      Thanks for dropping in. 🙂

      • Hm. No, I generally do research out of necessity. The part of writing I enjoy most is the writing itself. I love the way the story and the words just flow out of me. At its best, writing makes me feel completely at peace with myself.

        …okay, that settles it. Writing session tonight.

        But research is still interesting and stimulating. The egg thing was a bit of a hurdle for me; my American agent, who’s a bit of an oddball, went on and on about how since griffins have mammalian hindquarters, they should give birth to live young, etc. He kept debating it long after I’d lost interest, and eventually decided that despite the leonine nether regions, the internal plumbing could be whatever the author decided.

        Unfortunately one of my readers is a bird enthusiast, and she also remarked on the technicalities of griffin egg-laying. It was somewhat embarrassing; clearly, I should have done some reading up first. Ah well.

        But doesn’t it bug you a bit when people start expecting too much realism? I’m all for being sensible and not just pulling stuff out of your, ahem, bottom, but sometimes you just wind up having to say something on the lines of “because I said so, okay??” I always feel like a bit of a jerk when I say that, but sometimes there’s no other option.

      • Because I said so! I love that. It reminds me of my dad 🙂

        I laughed when you said your USA agent was a bit of an oddball. Next time we meet, we can swap stories! But I would have pointed out as a reference to both agent and reader, the platypus. I mean, my gods and demons, there’s a creature–egg laying, milk lapping, mud sifting aquatic monotreme! A perfect model for the griffin, I would think!

        An yes, how wonderful is the writing experience when the words and images just flow out of you? I LOVE that too!

  2. Behind every story, behind every legend, there is an element of fact. But over time and because stories were told be word of mouth, the facts have been clouded over. So much science fiction has become science fact that makes you wonder just where the ideas came from in the first place.
    When a book is written, the author creates a scene that takes a person on a journey that they could not possibly go on in real life. The author creates a world within the world they live in. As they write it, they must feel as though they are living it.

    • Amen, brother! Testify!

      I tried to weave in something of that particular truth in my own stories; over time, certain events from earlier on in the series enter popular myth and become exaggerated or twisted. People distort what really happened according to what suits them, and eventually, some things which are completely false become accepted as undisputed fact.

      Also place names change (eg. a couple of centuries on, the village called Wolf’s Town becomes a city called Wolfton). But that’s another story.

      • It IS another story and so interesting. I just used a name change within the story as a major plot element. It really has my characters jumping!

    • When a book is written, the author creates a scene that takes a person on a journey that they could not possibly go on in real life.

      Beautifully put, Stephen, thank you! I think that’s what it’s all about–a share journey between author and reader. 🙂

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