• 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!

     

     

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Highlights from the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival 2012

Yes, we are both Gemini; no we didn’t ring ahead to colour coordinate! Isobelle Carmody (left) and Kim Falconer (right) at the Byron Bay Writers Festival 2012

Last year, HarperVoyager had a strong presence at the Bryon Bay Writers’ Festival. I shared the stage with Fiona McIntosh and Traci Harding, and we had the time of our lives. We enthralled audiences with talk of magic spells, quantum physics, time travel, totems and how best to portray the sounds of screams from the dungeon. With our then Voyager publisher in the audience, Stephanie Smith, we were all on fire. The memory was so buoyant, I wasn’t sure how this year’s festival would measure up.

Being the only Voyager author, I wasn’t sure who I would connect with this time around, but that all changed in a flash. There was another speculative fiction author present and when I met her I was immediately reminded of the binding tie that makes fantasy authors kindred spirits no matter what ‘house’ they hale from. Sharing the stage on topics of fantasy, creativity, dreams and the spirit of the written word was the well known and loved fantasy queen, Isobelle Carmody. I had the pleasure of being ‘in conversation’ with her to a packed house of YA fans, a most enjoyable session. I can attest without doubt, the love of speculative fiction is alive and well! What a fabulous experience.

Other highlights included Wild Things, a tribute to Maurice Sendak. His books have expanded the way we think about children’s literature and what is possible to write, treating children as ‘people’ with strong emotions, drives and desires. On similar topics were panels addressing education, literacy and the future of books. A personal favourite of mine, ‘The Perfect Pitch’ was a lively panel where publishers, including HarperCollins publishing director Shona Martyn, listen to six hopeful writers try to sell their work. Very exciting!

At the extreme end of the reality scale was the ‘Righting the World’ discussion with Australian environmentalist Ian Lowe, author Niromi De Soyza, who ran away from her family home in Sri Lanka at 17 to join the Tamil Tigers and fight for her country’s freedom; Indonesian author Andrea Hirata; and American author Katherine Boo, who is known for her works on the disadvantaged and poverty stricken. They shared horror stories but every one of them ended in hope, a most moving and uplifting panel.

I was pleased to see again this year how every session at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival began by acknowledging an empty chair. This is part of the PEN program and represents a writer who is in prison for writing what someone in power, somewhere in the world, believed is ‘off Limits’. Acknowledgement of the Pen empty chair reminds us all the freedom of expression we otherwise take for granted. Sobering.

On the nuts and bolt of writing side of things, I gave a workshop on writing, selling and promoting genre fiction. You can see the PowerPoint presentation with live links here. All in all, though I missed my Voyager sisters, it was a wonderful Byron Bay Writer’s Festival 2012.

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New free novella by Nicole Murphy!

Dream of Asarlai Book Three

Nicole Murphy has written a free novella continuing the story of her Dream of Asarlai trilogy, and she’s given us an extract  and a little intro to share with our fellow Voyagers:

It’s been twelve months since Rogue Gadda hit the shelves and the Dream of Asarlai trilogy came to an end.

It was a happily-after-ever ending. But it was never my intention for everything to go back to normal. That’s not how life works, when major events occur. Things change. We change. The fate of the world shifts and new possibilities and threats rise.

That meant that there was room for more. More about the guardians. More about the world of the gadda. More about the tension that arises from trying to keep your existence secret in a world where you’re the clear minority.

The first of those stories, answering the ‘what happens next’ question, is a novella ‘The Festival’. It was released on July 12, an auspicious date as it marks the Festival of the Star, the greatest day in the gadda calendar.

With the blessings of Voyager – I’ve self-published it and until the end of July, it’s available for free.

So if you’ve not been game to try the Dream of Asarlai trilogy – here’s a chance to do so without it costing you anything. I’m pretty confident that once you’ve read it, you’ll be running out to grab the other books and see how this story began.

***

Dream of Asarlai Book One

IT’S BEEN A YEAR SINCE ASARLAI WAS CAPTURED, BUT THINGS ARE FAR FROM SETTLED IN THE GADDA WORLD…

If you were the member of a secret magical race, how would you hide from humans?

The bardria and its guardians have decided to hide in the open by showcasing the gadda stronghold

 of Sclossin to the humans as a tourist destination, in the process proving the residents are normal.

The purists, however, believe the best solution is to remove the gadda from all contact with humans. The Festival of the Star, the biggest celebration of the year, is the perfect place to begin their campaign.

The guardians are sure they’re ready for anything the purists throw at them. But are they ready for the resurrection of an old enemy?

WARNING: The Festival contains spoilers for the Dream of Asarlia trilogy, and hot steamy sex.

***

July 11, 8pm.

It was time.

The meal had been superb. Many bottles of wine had been consumed. The atmosphere around the large table was convivial, with laughter and raised voices and the occasional thump on the wood to punctuate a story.

Councillor Robert Yarrow gestured to his butler, who left the room. The councillor stood and waited for the noise to die down and for all attention to come to him.

With every head that turned, Yarrow’s back got straighter, his shoulders more relaxed, his chin higher.

“My friends,” he said, smiling at the twenty faces that looked at him. “My most wonderful friends. Your sacrifice will be lauded for generations.”

Twenty faces took on varying hues of green and white as they recalled why they were here.

The door opened, the creak shocking in the silence. The butler came forward, bearing an ornate silver bowl on a matching tray. He placed it on the table before Yarrow and then stood at his master’s shoulder.

Yarrow lifted the lid and the rank odour assaulted his senses. He fought to maintain a stoic appearance—he wouldn’t convince anyone to eat if he showed the scent alone was this terrible.

Dream of Asarlai: Book Two

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one close enough to smell it. Lisa Jane gasped and held her napkin to her face.

“We can’t eat that,” she said.

Everyone leant forward, the people at the far end of the table standing to do so. All recoiled, although Yarrow knew they couldn’t possibly all smell it.

“I understand your concern.” As he spoke, Yarrow used a pair of tweezers to pick up one rancid piece of beef. The green coating on the meat was foul. He lay it on the pile of cheese slices that rested on the other side of the silver tray and pulled the corners of the top slice around the meat. “But we agreed that your food poisoning be natural rather than an incantation, so the guardians won’t suspect a plot.”

He rolled the morsel between his palms so the cheese encased the meat. Then he dipped the ball in a small tureen of mustard, before laying it on a small plate and handing it to the person on his left. As he made more, the plates were passed around the table until everyone had one. Meanwhile, the butler refilled the wine glasses.

All twenty of Robert’s guests stared down at the poison pill before them and their thoughts were clear on their faces—dread, fear, disgust.

“We do this to save Sclossin and all gadda,” Yarrow said quietly. “We do this to ruin the festival and so reveal how terrible the plan to invite humans into our village is. You will be revered for your actions tonight.” He lifted his glass in a toast then swallowed, both to mask the smell with the bouquet of the wine and to hide his smile. He was so glad he wouldn’t be eating the meat.

As one, his guests picked up the poison and swallowed. None chewed, and each grabbed their wine and used it to wash the horrid meat down their throat.

“Now, I suggest you all go home and make yourself as comfortable as possible. I pray that you will not suffer too much tonight.”

One by one, they transferred away, disappearing from view in the blink of an eye. Yarrow put the lid back on the silver bowl and his butler took it away to safely dispose of it. No one in the Yarrow household was to be harmed by the tainted meat.

Yarrow went to his study and sat in his armchair. His port was open, a crystal glass standing ready. He poured himself a drink and sipped it slowly, easing into the leather upholstery with a relaxed sigh.

Everything was in order. Each of his different groups had their task and combined, they were going to spell disaster for the festival tomorrow. The bardria would have to re-consider making the town of Sclossin more accessible to humans and the next step in cutting all access to humanity would be taken.

Yarrow shook his head. It astounded him that it wasn’t clear to all gadda that for the sake of their survival they needed to cut ties to the human race. At the human population bloomed and their technology improved, the chances of them discovering that in their midst lived a secret race with powers beyond imagining grew.

It would be disastrous. Everyone agreed on that. Either there would be gadda who would use their power to try and rule humanity, or there would be humans who would find a way to use vulnerable gadda for their own vices.

Some people thought the answer was to hide in plain sight. Be right in amongst the humans. People wouldn’t conceive of the concept that their neighbour, workmate, friend wasn’t human.

Robert’s entire being quaked with the stupidity of that idea. The only salvation was to leave the humans to their lives, their world and hide the gadda away.

It was the right way. Tomorrow’s decimation of the festival would prove it. And the best part of his plan was the guardians couldn’t stop it.

Robert Yarrow downed the last of his port with a smile.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/181532
Thanks Nicole. You rock!

Bran the Betrayer Part 19 ( a short story by K.J. Taylor )

Here’s part 19 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy AND her brand new book, The Shadow’s Heir! Happy friday reading Voyagers!

Bran the Betrayer Pt. 19

*

Another month and a half later, when Bran had finally healed enough to walk properly and go back to some semblance of normal living, he was allowed to move into a private set of chambers in the Eyrie, with Kraeya and Laela. He spent a few nights there, getting used to taking care of himself again. By now his broken ribs and the cut from Bloodtalons’ beak had healed, and the stab-wound had begun to form into a deep pit of a scar. It still gave him pain, and he knew it always would. The arm on that side felt weak, too, and sometimes at night the wound itself would flare up. It would keep him awake at night, sweating and gritting his teeth to stop himself from crying out.

He wondered how long he would be allowed to live in the Eyrie for free, before someone forced him to find a job or leave. But so far they seemed content to look after him.

Finally, one day when he felt he had recovered as much as he ever would, a summons arrived for him to go and see the Eyrie Master.

‘Guess it’s about a job,’ said Bran. ‘Eh, Kraeya?’

She shifted uneasily. ‘Yes… we should go at once.’

‘Right.’ Bran picked up Laela. ‘All right, girl, you gotta wait here a bit. We’ll be back soon.’

But Laela clung to his arm and whimpered, and he found he couldn’t bring himself to put her into her crib.

‘All right, then,’ he said. ‘You come with us. I’m sure Ruel won’t mind.’ Since he was still considered a traitor by many people in the Eyrie, maybe the sight of Laela’s sweet face would soften the Eyrie Master’s attitude.

‘Oh yes, he wants you to bring her,’ said the servant who’d brought the summons.

Bran looked up in surprise. ‘He does?’

‘Yes. Come on now. Don’t keep him waiting.’

Bran shrugged, and left the room. His wound was hurting again and Laela was heavy, so he put her down and let her walk beside him. She toddled along, by now fairly steady on her feet, and held his hand.

Kraeya followed. ‘I do not like this,’ she said quietly.

‘It’s all right,’ said Bran. ‘I ain’t a prisoner no more. It’s over. We’re all right.’

Kraeya said nothing, but her tail twitched as she followed her human and the servant up through the Eyrie. The Eyrie Master’s quarters were at the very top. They took up the entire top level of the building, although most of that was taken up by the audience chamber that adjoined his private quarters.

Eyrie Master Ruel was there waiting, with his partner Arakae.

When Bran arrived, Kraeya went ahead and Arakae came down to meet her. The two griffins sniffed at each other, and Kraeya bowed her head politely.

Once the two of them had relaxed and stood aside, Bran could approach the Eyrie Master.

‘Yeh wanted to see me, milord?’ he said.

Lord Ruel eyed him with some interest. He was a thin man in his sixties, but his hair was still mostly brown. ‘So you’re the famous Branton Redguard?’ he said.

‘I am,’ said Bran. ‘An’ this is Kraeya, an’ this is my daughter Laela.’

‘Yes…’ Ruel looked at Laela, who was staring back at him with interest. ‘I have heard of her as well. That’s why I summoned you here today.’

Bran paused. ‘Uh… really? Why?’

Ruel pointed at Laela. ‘Remove that hood. Now.’

Bran took a step back. ‘No. I mean, why should I?’

‘Because I am your Eyrie Master and I order you to,’ Ruel said sharply.

Bran knew there was nothing he could do. If he argued he would only make the man suspicious, and it was obvious that he already knew something anyway. Reluctantly, he knelt and gently untied the strings under Laela’s chin. She looked back solemnly as he took the hood off to reveal her secret.

Ruel looked grimly at her. ‘So the report I heard was true. She is a half-breed.’

‘No she ain’t,’ said Bran. ‘She’s just got real dark hair, so I keep it covered up. Don’t want anyone makin’ that mistake, see?’ He’d prepared the lie a long time ago, in case this ever happened.

‘Her hair is black,’ said Ruel, unmoved. ‘Who was her mother?’

‘My wife,’ said Bran. ‘Lady Flell.’ That was true, at least.

‘I know of her,’ said Ruel. ‘It’s said she had pale brown hair, yes?’

‘She did,’ said Bran.

‘And your own hair is not that dark,’ said Ruel. ‘So where did your daughter inherit it?’

‘I dunno,’ Bran said lamely. ‘But she’s my daughter.’

‘She is a half-breed,’ said Ruel. ‘Is she not?’

‘She-,’ Bran began.

‘I trust you know that it is a crime to lie to your Eyrie Master?’ Ruel interrupted harshly. ‘Yes? Think of that, and then reply.’

Bran caved in. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘She’s a half-breed.’

‘And you are her father?’ said Ruel. ‘By blood?’

‘Yeah, I am,’ said Bran. That was one lie he wasn’t going to admit.

‘Then you fathered her on a Northerner,’ said Ruel. ‘Lady Flell was not her mother.’

Bran hesitated, and then stared stubbornly at the floor.

‘Very well, then,’ said Ruel. ‘I brought you here to discover whether the Master of Law’s report was true. Now I have, and I can inform you of the decision that she and I reached together.’

‘Which is?’ said Bran.

‘You’ve won your freedom and a pardon for all your crimes,’ said Ruel. ‘Therefore, you have won the right to stay here if you wish. I will give you a place in my Eyrie in return for an oath of loyalty.’

‘Thankyou, milord,’ said Bran.

‘However,’ said Ruel, ‘If you choose to stay here, you may not keep the child.’

Bran scowled. ‘No.’

‘I cannot have a half-breed living in my Eyrie,’ said Ruel. ‘And nor will it be good for you if word gets out that you fathered one. Find another home for the child, and you can stay.’

*

We’ll post up the final Part 20 next Friday 6th July!

K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy & her new book The Shadow’s Heir is in stores now!

The Dark Griffin, The Griffin’s Flight & The Griffin’s War

Bran the Betrayer Part 17 ( a short story by K.J. Taylor )

Following on perfectly from her Launch invitiation, here’s part 17 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy. Happy Friday!

Bran the Betrayer Pt. 17

Kraeya looked up at the chains that covered the pits. ‘We cannot fly from here. Come, we will walk out to where it is clear.’

Bran nodded and limped beside her away from the pit where he hand nearly died, trying to ignore the shouts from the crowd. Some shouted accusations, others congratulations. It seemed that a few of them, at least, now believed he was innocent.

Bran didn’t even look at them. He didn’t care what they thought, not any more.

Some of them, though, moved around in front of him, standing in his and Kraeya’s path.

‘Get outta the way,’ Bran growled at them.

‘They will not stand in our way for long,’ said Kraeya. She hissed at them, sending several of them scurrying.

But one of them didn’t run. He shuffled forward, detaching himself from the throng, and came toward Bran.

Bran’s eyes narrowed. ‘Anyon.’

Here in the daylight Anyon looked even worse than he had in the Eyrie. His burned face looked half melted, the eyes glazed. But his voice sounded surprisingly strong when he spoke.

‘Traitor,’ he said. ‘Murderer.’

‘I’m innocent, an’ you know it,’ Bran snapped back. ‘If I was guilty, yeh wouldn’t have had to bribe them people to make ’em lie for yeh.’

‘Murderer!’ Anyon shouted suddenly. ‘You killed my master!’

‘I didn’t,’ said Bran. ‘Get outta my way. I’ll see yeh thrown in prison for what you did.’

Anyon didn’t seem to hear him. He stepped forward, drawing a long dagger. ‘Gryphus burn thee, Arren Cardockson,’ he said, and stabbed Bran in the chest.

Too late, Kraeya reared up. Too late, she lashed out with her talons. Too late, she hurled Anyon to the ground where he jerked and died.

Bran fell to his knees, both hands clutching at the dagger still stuck in him. ‘No-,’

‘Bran!’ Kraeya stood over him, trying to support him. ‘Bran, no!’

Bran could feel blood welling up around the dagger. His vision began to darken around the edges. ‘Laela,’ he mumbled, and fell.

*

Far away in the cell under the Eyrie, as if sensing what had happened, Laela started to cry.

*

Talmon and Nerris tried to care for Bran. Talmon held the crowd at bay with Kraeya’s help, while Nerris ran to find a healer. Luckily there were several working at the fighting pits, and one soon came running.

She rolled Bran onto his back. He flopped down, his arms falling limply away from where they had clutched at the dagger. His eyes had slid closed.

The healer touched his neck. ‘His heart’s still beating. Quickly, get him back to the Eyrie. He needs a better healer than me.’

‘Ain’t you gonna take that dagger out of him?’ Nerris asked.

‘No. If I did, he’d bleed to death. Help me.’

The healer had brought a stretcher, and with Talomon and Nerris’ help she slid Bran onto it. Together, she and Nerris lifted the stretcher and carried it out of the fighting pits. Kraeya went ahead, and Isleen and Arak took up the rear. The crowd moved out of the way, quiet now.

Together, they took Bran back to the Eyrie and up the ramps inside to the infirmary where griffiners were cared for. There they put him on a bed, and made him as comfortable as they could.

‘He’ll get the best treatment Withypool has to offer here,’ said the healer, while her fellow healers gathered around. ‘The Master of Healing herself will treat him.’

Isleen nodded briefly. ‘I’ll go and fetch the child. She should be up here with him.’

She left, along with her partner. Talmon and Nerris went with her. Only Kraeya stayed. The infirmary had been built big enough for griffins to keep watch over their partners, and the red griffin lay down quietly by Bran’s bedside and waited.

Bran didn’t notice any of it. He lay still on his back, scarcely breathing.

‘Do not die,’ Kraeya said softly. ‘Please, Bran. You cannot die…’

A short time later, the Master of Healing arrived. She swore softly in griffish when she saw the dagger.

Kraeya stood up. ‘Save him,’ she commanded. ‘You must heal him.’

The Master of Healing looked up at her. ‘I’ll do my best, but I can’t make any promises. If that dagger has pierced his heart, then he has no chance. Even if it hasn’t, he may well still die.’

‘Save him,’ Kraeya repeated.

The Master of Healing nodded silently, and went to work. She poured a medicine of some kind down Bran’s throat, and once she had prepared a strong-smelling paste she removed the dagger and quickly covered the wound with it. The paste hardened in moments, sealing the blood away inside Bran’s body, and once it had the Master of Healing covered it with bandages.

‘That’s all I can do for now,’ she said. ‘Now all we can do is hope the paste holds, and see if he wakes up.’

Kraeya huffed softly.

‘Don’t worry,’ the Master of Healing smiled to reassure her. ‘He survived the fight today, didn’t he? I think it’s clear that Gryphus wants him to live.’

‘He must live,’ was all Kraeya said.

Not long afterward, Isleen returned. She had a crying Laela in her arms. ‘How is he?’ she asked.

The Master of Healing shook her head. ‘Still holding on, but it’s too early to be certain of anything. Whose child is that?’

‘His,’ said Isleen. ‘I brought her up to be with him; he insisted that she stay with him at all times.’ She rocked Laela gently, and patted her on the back. ‘There, there, little one; it’s all right. I’ve brought you to your father now.’

Laela, though, kept on crying.

‘I’m not sure what’s wrong,’ Isleen said uncomfortably. ‘She’s not hungry and she doesn’t need changing, but she won’t stop crying.’

‘Perhaps she’s overheated,’ the Master of Healing suggested. ‘With that hood on.’

‘Are you too hot?’ Isleen touched Laela’s cheeks. ‘You feel hot. Here, let me help you-,’

‘No!’ Kraeya said sharply.

But Isleen ignored her. She untied the hood and pulled it away. ‘There, is that better-?’ she began.

The hood came off, and Laela’s thin, curly black hair puffed up, finally free of its prison.

Isleen and the Master of Healing froze.

‘No,’ Kraeya said again. ‘Put the hood back on. You must not remove it.’

It was already far too late.

Isleen touched Laela’s wispy hair. ‘It’s black,’ she said. ‘Holy Gryphus, is she…?’

‘That’s a half-breed,’ said the Master of Healing.

‘A half-breed!’ Isleen held Laela away from herself, staring at her in bewilderment and then, soon afterward, disgust. She looked at Bran. ‘So that’s why he wouldn’t let anyone take her away from him. That’s why he kept her head covered. He fathered a half-breed.’

The Master of Healing looked at the whimpering Laela. ‘Poor little thing. How could he do this to her?’ She glanced sharply at Isleen. ‘Put the hood back on her. We can’t let this get out.’

‘What does it matter?’ asked Isleen. ‘We had nothing to do with it.’

‘She’s only a child, Isleen,’ said the Master of Healing. ‘It’s not her fault that her father bedded a Northerner. If he ever recovers, we’ll confront him about it and leave it to him to deal with. If not… we’ll decide then.’

‘All right.’ Isleen put Laela down by Bran’s side, and put the hood back on her. ‘You look after her, then, if you care so much. As for me, I shall go back and report to my master. But I’ll say nothing about the child. Let him decide. Or, if not him, you.’

The Master of Healing nodded. ‘Thankyou. I’ll send word once I have it.’

Isleen left with a curt nod of her own, and the Master of Healing turned to Kraeya.

‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘I’ll keep this to myself.’

‘You should not have done that,’ Kraeya hissed. ‘My human’s secrets are his own.’

‘Yes.’ The Master of Healing looked down at the silent Bran. ‘And if he ever wakes up, he’ll have to face the consequences. Whatever they might be.’

*

We’ll post up Part 18 next Friday 22nd June!

K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy & her new book The Shadow’s Heir will be out in July!

The Dark Griffin, The Griffin’s Flight & The Griffin’s War

Jo Spurrier on research

Let me say first of all that I love research. It’s just as well, really, because this book needed a great deal of it. A project like Winter Be My Shield is a bit like an iceberg — only about 10% of the research actually makes it into the story. The rest is a huge groaning mass of background information bobbing about in the writer’s head, threatening to spill over whenever an unsuspecting conversationalist ventures too close to the subject of the moment.

Once I realised my characters needed to live somewhere extreme, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I’ve never lived anywhere cold enough to snow, and most travel has taken me to places that are arid and hot, rather than cold and wet.

    I started by hunting down books about winter camping and read them obsessively, until I was dreaming about tramping through the snow beside an open lead of ink-black water. I sought out memoirs from the Canadian fur trade, trawled for books written by folk who ran away to the wilderness and read the story of a nineteen-year-old college student who spent seven months in a tent over winter to babysit millions of salmon eggs. I hunted for information about native peoples in boreal forests around the world, their folklore and their way of life, and learned of the sound that breath makes when moisture freezes in the air. I read about the horse snowshoes that have been used in northern Europe for at least 700 years, which could have saved Scott’s Antarctic expedition and which were used by the rescue party who found the bodies of Scott and his men. I devoured the tales of men tasked with protecting Russia’s remaining wild tigers, and what happens when one of their charges become a man-eater, stalking them through the heart of Mother Taiga. One of the phrases my characters use, no-one’s dead until they’re warm and dead, is a mainstay of cold-climate search and rescue, where the cold draws a fine line between preservation and destruction.

Television was useful, too — anything mentioning Siberia, Canada or Alaska would have me glued to the screen. Just be warned, these methods are likely to result in shouting at Bear Grylls when he’s slogging through thigh-deep snow past trees that would give him perfectly good make-shift snowshoes, and demanding to know how he’s going to catch anything with snares covered with scent from his bare hands. On YouTube I watched videos of frazil ice and frozen rivers breaking up in the spring, and, when Eyjafjallajokull blew her top, I heard the sound a lava flow makes (for the record, it sounds like glass being crushed beneath a giant roller.)

Writing these books has been a labour of love, and it is truly love, for though the world of Winter Be My Shield is harsh and unforgiving, it’s sunk so deeply into me that part of me will never leave it — I think I’ll always have a little bit of ice and some scraps of fur around my bones. So come with me, here where the air is so cold that it bites and the falling snow muffles all sound; and seek out a tiny, warm tent full of the scent of wood-smoke and spruce, with a fire crackling in the stove and a kettle simmering on the hob. It’s a dangerous place, but it’s worth it. I promise.

Winter Be My Shield Launch!

photo by Sari Yong

When the characters of my series Children of the Black Sun first came to me, there was one thing about them that I knew for certain, one thing on which they all seemed to agree: they needed to live somewhere cold. The northern nation of Ricalan where Winter Be My Shield  is set is a land of Siberian cold, dominated by taiga forest where snow can fall even in summer and covers the landscape for half of each year.

Environment shapes the culture of those who live within it — it’s no coincidence that people living in the harshest environments have the strongest traditions of hospitality. The story of Winter be My Shield is tied closely to the culture of the people who live in Ricalan. It’s a society of interdependence, where one person alone has a low chance of survival and where a single misfortune could mean their death. The harsh and unforgiving landscape forces people to work together, rely on each other and find common ground — even when their goals and values put them at odds and drive them to conflict. Ricalan is a place where you have a responsibility to the welfare of the people around you, as they have a responsibility to you; a land where if you find a stranger half-frozen in the snow, you bring her into the warmth of your home, whether it be stone walls or a tent of hide and fur, because tomorrow it could be you stranded, alone and defenceless amid the elements.

When it came time to plan the book launch, I wanted a way to introduce people to the culture and the landscape of the story. In our world, our first exposure to a foreign culture is often through their food and their traditions of hospitality, and so when I wanted to introduce Ricalan to the folk who came to help celebrate the launch of my book, I decided to do it through the foods that would be familiar to the people of Ricalan. Some foods, like ramps, the tender young fronds of fiddlehead ferns, are difficult to find in Australia, but there are many things in our supermarkets that would be known to the people of the Taiga forests. At the launch we had rare roast meat with horseradish on parsnip fritters; goat’s cheese and cured pork with cherry preserves; salmon, that ancient staple of the north, smoked and served on sourdough with cultured cream; and kimchee pancakes, a version of the traditional bannock which northern travellers have eaten for centuries. To follow we had cranberry pies with fresh cream, and panna cotta tartlets sweetened with maple syrup and forest berries.

photo by Sari Yong

photo by Sari Yong

It’s an incredible feeling to walk into my regular bookshop and see Winter Be My Shield on the shelves, when for so long it’s been just a file on my desktop and words running through my head. It was amazing to see so many people come to share this latest step in a long but very rewarding journey; from friends who’ve known me since I first started to write, to folk I only met a few weeks ago. I hope I was able to give my guests a symbolic taste of the north, and that it let them feel a connection to the people and the landscape of Ricalan. It may be a harsh and dangerous land, but there are warm places hidden away from the biting cold. I hope you enjoy seeking them out as much as I have.

UnConventional & the full Sir Julius Vogel Awards Wrap-up

Via Mary Victoria’s own site: http://maryvictoria.net/

Well, now that I’m home and have emerged from under a pile of unanswered email and unwashed laundry (or is it the reverse?) I can finally give you the promised Con report.

This was my first real experience of a New Zealand fantasy and science fiction convention and I must say, it was lovely. The panel discussions were engaging, the company excellent (of course) and the turn-out and interest high. We could barely all fit into the main hall when everyone gathered together. I’m happy to report that NZ fandom is alive, kicking, and often fetchingly dressed in steampunk finery.

I arrived on Saturday after a short delay to my flight, just in time for my first panel, ‘Women in SFF.’ Trudi Canavan, Helen Lowe, Lyn McConchie and I yakked for an hour or so on subjects ranging from how to define strength of character to the vexed issue of chainmail bikinis… I could see some audience members gazing at us quizzically, perhaps asking themselves what we had against chainmail bikinis. I mean, all the vital bits are covered, right?

Saturday evening was about unwinding a little, catching up with friends and a sumptuous Indian dinner! I didn’t make it to the zombie ball but did dodge many of the undead on my way to bed.

     Sunday dawned uncomfortably early (and perhaps may be termed a Dawn of the Dead without inviting too much heckling…) with a 9am panel on the subject of ‘Armageddon as Allegory.’ I took one look at the faces of my fellow panelists gathered in the cafe – Darusha Wehm, Simon Petrie, Beaulah Pragg and Phil Simpson – and thought, “yes, I know exactly how you feel.” But despite our need for sleep and largely due to the valient efforts of Simon as panel chair, we actually came up with a game plan for the discussion! It turned into a fantastic one – I think my favourite panel of the lot. We talked about the different approaches to ‘end of world’ scenarios in fantasy and science fiction, collective responsability vs. the mechanism of a Dark Lord and other interesting subjects.

By two o’clock, it was time to head back to the trenches at a ‘Geography in SFF’ panel with Russell Kirkpatrick, Trudi Canavan, Stephen Minchin and myself debating the merits of fantasy maps. Trudi and Russell both had some slides to show of maps in their own books, as well as some older efforts. The audience seemed passionate on the subject, with most falling in the ‘we love maps’ category but a vocal minority standing up for themselves in the opposite camp. We talked physical geography, geography as an influence on society and finally mental or idea maps… we could have gone on for twice as long, I think.

But all good things come to an end and thereafter it was signing and reading time. I read from ‘Samiha’s Song’ and Alma Alexander’s ‘River’ for a very appreciative audience sitting in leather armchairs. That’s the way to do it.

Sunday evening rolled around and it was time for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards. These were presented with great flair – Kiwis have style! – by the Con organisers, Trudi Canavan and Helen Lowe. Trudi was channeling some great 1940′s Jessica Rabbit style with her cropped jacket and black gloves. As for me, I arrived at the ceremony somewhat flummoxed as I’d just heard my daughter was running a 40 degree fever (she has since recovered, never fear.) I had all the maternal angst and distraction going, therefore, and was totally unprepared when they announced ‘Samiha’s Song’ had won Best Novel…

Well, I’m afraid I lost it. I managed to say something resembling ‘thank you’ when collecting the statue but waterworks were threatening. In order to avoid general embarrassment I hightailed it back to my chair as soon as possible – only to have to come forward again to collect Frank’s award for artwork!

So if I look a little odd in these photos, forgive me. But it was an absolute joy to congratulate my fellow winners. They are, from left to right, below:

Kevin Berry for New Talent, and after Trudi, Lee Murray for Best YA Novel, yours truly for Best Novel (Adult) and Alicia Ponder for Best Short Story. (For some reason Anna Caro wasn’t in this photo with us but I was stoked to see her and Cassie Hart take away the award for Best Collection for ‘Tales For Canterbury’.)

The full list of all winners including fan categories can be found on the SFFANZ website.

So there we are! I’m home now, with a convalescing daughter and two spiky awards. I can’t tell you how happy and proud this makes me… the ‘Chronicles of the Tree’ were a NZ endeavour, very much inspired by the vegetation and landscape in New Zealand, so it’s doubly satisfying for me to strike a chord with Kiwi readers.

As to the artist who won a well-deserved award for his artwork on ‘Oracle’s Fire’ – he was suitably appreciative. I think he found the button to turn the award on, too. He looks evil in this photo – Frank, have you discovered a way to end the world, again?

Via Mary’s own site: http://maryvictoria.net/ Check it Out!