• 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!

     

     

Demoiselles and Beamish Boys

Natalie Costa Bir is guest-posting over at David McDonald’s blog on the topic of vocabulary, and how exactly the right word can help convey a magical (or SFnal) world to the reader.  I was chuffed to see her mention my Creature Court series and some of the word choices I made, because I put a lot of thought into the use of vocab in those books.  My biggest nightmare (ha) was the decision I made early on that I would use the word ‘nox’ instead of ‘night,’ as one of the carefully chosen differences in the way my characters spoke, and because the night was so important to the story.

But the number of times I had to check AGAIN with search and replace, only to then discover I had to think about how to represent ‘nightgowns’ and ‘nightmares’, not to mention fortnights and knights on white chargers, and so on…  I stuck to my guns, but it was trickier than I had imagined.

Mary Robinette Kowal, who writes gorgeous Regency fantasies set in the era of Jane Austen, embarked upon a project to ONLY use words in the entire text of her novels that existed at that historical time.  Which is… rather more committed than I think I would ever be to authenticity.  On the other hand, I’m the first one to wince when I think I’ve spotted an anachronism.  One of my bugbears is ‘okay’ or worse, ‘OK’ in invented worlds.

It’s hard for fantasy authors who are also word nerds because they tend to know the origins in OUR world of so many words that then feel out of place when used in Magical Universe. So it makes sense a lot of the time to replace those with made up words – but you have to make that choice judiciously or you end up with a writing technique that’s a little too close to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky (a marvellous poem, but would you want to read it as a novel?).

Names are another tricky issue.  I love naming characters and go to a lot of trouble to find the ‘right’ name for characters (that is, I get stuck on the writing until I find the right one).  But the ‘right’ name isn’t just about their character or their personality, it’s about their family, history and the world they belong to.  Why is it that we feel more relaxed about Victorian, Medieval or Ancient Roman names in fantasy worlds, but would tilt our heads at more ‘modern’ names?  You rarely find Jasons and Kylies in imaginary worlds (though Jason at least is a very old mythological name).  Can you have a fantasy queen called Wendy if you know that J.M. Barrie invented the name after a cute child lisped ‘my friend’ as ‘my fwendy?’

Then there’s the names that are ‘taken’ – you can’t write a story about an Alice without evoking Wonderland, Frodo without Lord of the Rings fans leaping for your throat, or Conan without tagging on ‘the Barbarian,’ and so on.

One of the first fantasy authors I loved was David Eddings,who we later discovered co-wrote his books with Leigh Eddings, his wife, and I liked very much the way that the names of those characters told you a lot about who they were and where they were from.  The depiction of the various countries in that world were problematic from the point of view of racial essentialism (looking back on it, I do wince a bit about how you have one country of drug addicts, one of farmers, one of thieves, one of slaves who feel empowered about being slaves, one of downtrodden slaves, one of Bad Guys, etc.) but I loved the way that you got hints of the various languages and vocabulary styles of those countries through the naming of characters.  Ce’Nedra, for instance (that’s not one you’re likely to see anyone re-using in a hurry) – as a princess, her name had been chosen in honour of their country’s god, and even the apostrophe was a common linguistic choice.  Likewise, the family of sorcerers all chose names that connected to each other with the prefix ‘Bel’ except the female Polgara – we were told ‘Pol’ was an honorific like ‘Bel’ but it was hard to tell as she didn’t share it with any one.

One of my favourite namers in all of fantasy writing is the legendary Terry Pratchett – the names he chooses come from a complex and clever cauldron of historical knowledge, metatextuality, and a tangled, inventive vocabulary.  From Rincewind the wizard to Conina the barbarian’s daughter, from Mort the apprentice of Death to Granny Weatherwax the witch, from Agnes-and-her-inner-Perdita to Magrat who was so traumatised by her own name that she ended up accidentally giving her daughter the middle names ‘Note Spelling,’ Pratchett’s names always sound absolutely right.  You can tell that Vetinari is evil and imposing, that Nanny Ogg is a salt-of-the-earth type, that there’s something very odd indeed about Moist Von Lipwig.  Pratchett’s Discworld is full of characters who not only live up to their names, but sometimes fail to live them down, or struggle to change them, or feel set on a particular destiny purely because of the syllables laid down for them at birth.  Names are important in all fantasy, but the Discworld makes them so much more!

Of all of his names, though, perhaps ‘Susan’ is the cleverest.  Death’s grand-daughter, destined for great and terrible things – but as Death himself noted when he first set eyes on her, the name ‘Susan’ (in a world where people are generally called things like Mustrum and Esmeralda) tells us that her parents wanted something normal and safe and ordinary for her.  Funnily enough, though, when you have ‘Death’ as a surname, no one’s ever going to think you’re ordinary!

Tansy Rayner Roberts is the Voyager author of the Creature Court series. Check out her blog here!

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4 Responses

  1. I enjoy a good fantasy where there seems to be a logic/and or history to the language and naming probably a result of having read Tolkien in my formative years.

  2. Now this is an interesting one!
    When it comes to vocabulary, I tend to use the word that sounds right, which is usually the first one that springs to mind, and I try and avoid anything that might date it – but I also avoid using anything too self-consciously “old timey”. I only use words I know – no thesauruses for me! (Or is it Thesauri?).

    Also, for some reason, my eye starts twitching when anyone uses “ever” instead of “always”. As in “it has ever been right”. I guess it just strikes me as trying too hard or something, though of course some people have pulled it off. Not planning to try it myself, though.

    Character names can be really hard, too. Mostly I use real ones I get off baby naming sites, so they fit a consistent cultural pattern. Others I make up to sound right (for instance, “Arenadd” is one I made up. I actually started out with “Arren” and then thought “okay, what might that be short for?”), but occasionally I find one elsewhere.

    For example, a while ago I accidentally bought a second copy of the Twilight soundtrack (I collect soundtracks, and Carter Burwell is awesome, okay?). I ended up selling the extra copy on eBay to a girl named Teressa, and I liked her name so much that I used it in the book I’m writing right now. I just hope she doesn’t come complaining if the book ever gets published!

    It can be really annoying when you’ve got a great name that turns out to have been already taken, too. I was looking for a good name in a list of Welsh names, and I picked out Cadfael because it sounded really good and fit the character. Then later on I found out about the “Cadfael” series, about a crime-solving monk (which looks really good, actually).

    But you know what? To heck with it – I’m gonna use the name anyway unless my editor says otherwise. Humph!

  3. Hi Tansy,

    Great post – I hope this topic spawns many other posts from writers! Terry Pratchett’s character names are an excellent example and I love it when there’s a hidden message in a name. For example, in AA Bell’s Hindsight, the main character is blind and her name is Mira, which means ‘see’ in Spanish. And Mira is able to see – just not in the same way that most of us use our eyes. Of course sometimes such messages can be too blatant, especially if you have a good knowledge of language/word roots. It depends on your audience.

    I agree that 20th century words jar when you come across them in other places – much like ‘military speak’ in medieval times does. I have read books where characters jokingly say ‘yes, sarge’ or talk about being ‘AWOL’ completely outside of any army-like context and it feels wrong.

    I think the name association thing is interesting too … which Katie’s just brought up as well. I once wrote a story in which the heir to the throne was called the ‘Aurealius’ and then named him Marcus, and everyone in my uni writing group (this was ages ago) baulked (rightly so) because it was far too closely associated with Marcus Aurelius. Sometimes you only realise these things when someone else points them out.

    Very much enjoyed reading this!
    Nat

    • Thanks Nat! Anachronistic language really bothers me as well; it undermines the narrative and takes me out of the world. A good writer should try to write from within their characters’ minds and the world of the story and as such should use appropriate language.
      I love a well thought out language/naming convention if it adds to the cultural depth of a created world too.

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