• 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!

     

     

Seeding the breeze with Poet Trees

It’s wonderful when fans take an idea from our books and make it real…

In my Diamond Eyes trilogy, “The Poet Trees” are a crown of old tree houses where the heroine, Mira, once lived as a child. They also symbolise the dream home she keeps alive in her mind. She hopes to escape there some day from the captivity of the Serenity Asylum, where she’s being treated for “delusions” because she can see spectres of people from history.

But the Poet Trees harbour more secrets than anyone can imagine. All of the branches have been embossed with golden braille, quoting wise words from famous books, ballads, poems and scholars. These were collected and left behind by Mira’s parents to help guide her through life – hopefully giving her a brighter future, but also to help her avoid all the “ghosts” from her past.

As the crowning glory in a field of wildflowers (surrounded by rainforest and overlooking a private cove in Moreton Bay) The Poet Trees also provide far more than tranquil hideaway for Mira after she escapes. For fans, the The Poet Trees provide some of the most memorable scenes of the series. Almost magical, the leaves seem to whisper wise words to Mira on the breeze, and each time a mysterious hero is in the shadows. Not to mention a few sinister secrets.

“Poetry, or Poet Tree?” Not much difference really.

Plato once said: Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.

Each thriller in the Diamond Eyes series features a dozen quotes from the Poet Trees – one for each major turning point in Mira’s life – in order to support one of the main themes that the more things change, the more they stay the same’,even when events seem to be spiralling totally out of control. Since Mira can actually witness past events, and can see the violence of mankind stretching back for centuries, she becomes understandably frustrated at her inability to break free of the cycles that seem to keep her locked into a frightening fate at the hands of her enemies. The ancient Athenian Phaedrus seemed sympathetic when his words echoed across time, embossed forever in braille on the tallest limb in the grove, to warn her that: the only problem with seeing too much, is that it makes you insane. Yet Plutarch warned her that: Fate leads those who follow it, and drags those who resist.

Yet, the primary inspiration for Leopard Dreaming comes from Aristotle: Hope is a waking dream.

All are wise words that have echoed down to us over the centuries, perhaps because they apply so well for so many people in so many instances. And Mira tries to see herself as no different.  As her writer, that’s how it seems, at least.

And the other day I received this picture from a fan who lives in the centre of Australia, over 3000 kilometres away, where the first real Poet Tree has sprouted up at Alice Springs! Thanks to roving reporter Janne Leddin Hardy, the braille on this tree says:
2 C is 2 KNOW… which is amazing, because that nails the motif for the whole trilogy.

And even cooler: This species of tree is a eucalypt, called a ghost gum (because they appear to glow white at night under starlight) which is also reflective of the ghostly yester-world that Mira can see as she looks back through time….

So please feel welcome to share your own favourite quotes with me on twitter @ThePoetTrees … where wisdom grows through sharing. Or at www.facebook.com/anitabell.fanpage

In a perfect world, every city in the world would have its own Poet Tree. A tree of wisdom, where all the locals could share wise words for their coming generations.

Writing the Timestalker series

People always ask me what it’s like writing the Timestalker series. It follows the adventures of a time travelling detective, Kannon Dupree, who solves exotic mysteries set in different times and places. And as the latest book in the series, Coyote, has just come out, I know I’ll need to hone my answer to that question.

But to complicate matters, each book has had its own special challenges. In the first one, Gladiatrix, Kannon journeys to Rome in 8AD and investigates the mysterious rituals performed by an Egyptian Isis-worshipping cult, which in the twenty-first century has become so powerful that it’s challenging Christianity for dominance.

That was a lot of work. I had to set up the foundation for a new series which used time travel, create an alternate present, plus do research on ancient Rome as well as mystical Egyptian cults. Then put it all together in an adventure story.

The next book, Hoodwink, is set in the golden years of Hollywood. After the body of a movie director is found covered in a Mayan occult tattoo and cemented into the floor of his own film set, Kannon Dupree is hired to discover who murdered him. Whilst on the set of Gone With The Wind she stumbles onto a mystery that stretches back to the Civil War.

My research load doubled in Hoodwink. It ranged from 1939 Hollywood, through to the Mayan civilisation via the American Civil War. And, as every good writer knows, you only ever put a fraction of the research you do into your book.

In the latest book, Coyote, Kannon is hired to find the missing diary of a Wild West hero. The chase takes her through the middle of an Indian War, via a mysterious convent of nuns banished to die in the desert and into an ancient pueblo city on a cursed mesa sacred to Coyote, the trickster god.

The photo of me frowning outside the town of Coyote in New Mexico, was taken when I was trying to work out where the hell to locate one of the only truly fictional places in the book – Big Sun Canyon. America’s Southwest is a patchwork of sites sacred to the local Native American nations. (The photo of mesas is from one of these sites – Monument Valley) So I had to work out how to respect their beliefs and still write an adventure story that roamed across their territory. (I’m smiling in the other photo because I’ve just worked out what to do.)

Looking at the series as a whole – all the Timestalker books are basically adventure stories where complex mysteries are solved. It takes a huge amount of planning to tell an exciting story and at the same time unveil clues along the way. Add time travel to that mystery setup and there’s another equally intricate layer of planning. You can’t turn the reader off by making them question why the mystery wasn’t solved in one quick visit to the past rather than a journey that takes around 150,000 words.

So I do the all the planning and research and then I let my imagination take over… You’ve got to love speculative fiction. It’s as exciting to write, as it is to read.

Curiosity

So you’re into sci fi? But what about sci fact? Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction…

Each month our very own Voyager Science Queen* will bring you interesting, quirky and downright bizarre tasty morsels from the world of science. And its all completely, totally, 100% true!
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Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
                                                                        Albert Einstein 

This past July and August was a very exciting time for the scientific community, with the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle and a photograph of an atom (see last month’s Science Page).  One of the high points for me was the landing of NASA’s Curiosity on Mars. I am a big fan of the rovers, but Curiosity has captured my imagination in a way the other rovers never did. I think it is the name; was ever an exploratory robot craft ever given a better title?

Curiosity has four main scientific goals:

1/ Biological – to keep looking for evidence of organic compounds and biological processes;

2/ Geological – investigate the minerals and non-organic chemicals of the Martian surface;

3/ Climatological – determine water cycle and carbon dioxide cycle in an attempt to understand the Martian atmosphere; and

4/Radiation – to record the spectrum of radiation at the Martian surface.

From my personal viewpoint, it is the hunt for biological signatures that is the most interesting. It isn’t just intelligent life that fascinates me, though a positive SETI result would thrill me beyond belief, because all the forms that life can take are complex and unique. I consider all four of Curiosity’s goals are a link back to the search for evidence there is, or was, life on Mars.

To put things into some perspective, let’s contrast the known conditions for life on Earth with the possibility of life on Mars.  Life on Earth can’t exist without water; so the theory goes that the presence of water would increase the probability of the presence of life. This meant I found the discovery of a stream bed by Curiosity very exciting. There can been evidence for free-flowing water gathered before, but it was ambiguous. Now there can be no doubt that Mars does have periods where water flows just like here on Earth.

Life went a long way to changing the face of our planet Earth. The increase in oxygen cause by the respiration of living organisms, and many new minerals were formed by the processes of oxidation. Bacteria, microbes and lichens changed the chemical composition of some types of rocks. Limestone is the remains of billions upon billions of skeletal fragments of ancient marine organisms; coal is the remains of Carboniferous-era peat bogs and forests; and oil and gas are the fossilised remains of zooplankton and algae. So, it seems self-evident that the presence of similar minerals on Mars would indicate life was present once, if lo longer, on the Red Planet.

It may seem to the observer that Mars is too hostile an environment to life, with its lack of water and atmosphere, extremes of temperature and high levels of radiation. However, here on Earth, microorganisms are found in almost every habitat present in nature. On Earth we have extremophiles; life forms that exist – nay, thrive – in the harshest and difficult environments.  The surface of Mars is comparable to some of the niches that are exploited by microorganisms here on Earth.

On the down side of discovering these tough organisms on Mars would be the risk of disease or cross-contamination if we ever send a team of astronauts to Mars. Such organisms might find our warm and watery bodies the perfect substrate for reproduction, a luscious paradise after struggling to thrive under arid conditions. Alternatively, the organisms might find our bodies too different to adapt too – instead, our own organisms might escape into the Martian environment and overwhelm the native population of organisms and create a tragedy of the scale of the introduction of smallpox to the American native peoples.

The history of exploration isn’t always a happy one.

But I am an optimist.  I hope we do find life on Mars. This would greatly increase the probability that life appears wherever possible. In our galaxy alone, that would mean thousands, maybe millions, of other planets would contain and sustain life. And I love the idea that our planet isn’t the only one to have a rich and wonderful ecology. There should be analogues to butterflies, penguins and camels on other planets … and maybe even people analogues.
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*The Voyager Science Queen is also known as Lynne Lumsden Green- find out who she is in About Our Contributors!

Predicting the future

I’ve been writing my Diamond Eyes trilogy for the last few years about a girl who is blind, but can see the past through various different shades of sunglasses, which act as filters for “slower” light frequencies. She can also glimpse the future at times, painfully through tears when she cries, so I’ve needed to research a lot about future technologies and “tomorrow” style living so I can create settings which are believable. And it’s been so interesting! Some of the gadgets I predicted now really exist, like electronic “google map sunglasses” and the talking GPS walking cane for blind people – both of which are greatly needed by two elderly members of my family.

And that’s not all. I’ve been basing the trilogy’s overall story arc on the premise of rising hostilities between China and Japan… which has become a real issue in the news this week. The third book, Leopard Dreaming, is out on October 1 and the plot twists are very close to the frightening news headlines.

This is not the first time I’ve been the victim of my own thorough research.

The last time it happened, I was writing a thriller on the premise of a massive earthquake and tsunami (after interviewing some of the world’s top geologists who advised me that the most likely place in the world for it to happen would be in the ocean trench off Aceh) and then unfortunately it really did happen.

Such things aren’t really coincidence, luck or supernatural foresight though… For Leopard Dreaming, I researched international politics well enough to set them against a believable back-drop of conspiracies. It didn’t take much research to find that China, Japan, the Soviets, Vietnam, Korea and even Indonesia have been disputing over islands in that region for over 2000 years. But the details about their amazing reasons were in the back stories, recent developments, and strategic troop movements that were much harder to find – but, after I did, it wasn’t hard to notice that certain things were likely to boil to a head. Naturally, in my thriller, I have factions working behind the scenes as well…
It saddens me that I’ve been able to see this coming for so long, and yet all of the parties involved continue to move dangerously closer to war. But hopefully, life can imitate art closely enough to aim for a peaceful resolution.

So is this just luck, coincidence or something else? The research techniques I used earlier in my life to understand the property and stockmarkets well enough to enable me to purchase my first investment as a teenager and retire within a decade are the same skills I use with every book in the Diamond Eyes series to project the future. Or, in other words, I take an educated guesstimate — simply a calculated forecast based on probability, historical trends, observations, politics, studies of human nature and good ol’ common sense.

As Mira would say; “I don’t need to see the future to know how this ends. I’ve seen all the patterns of the past and the direction it’s sweeping us.”

So I don’t believe predicting future events is an uncommon phenomenon for writers who really take their research, settings and backstories seriously, and I’d love to hear if anyone else has similar experiences.

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Writing Coyote’s Sacred Landscape

I always try to visit the landscape that my characters explore if I can. There’s nothing like filling your senses with its unique essence. What does it sound like? Is the light the same as at home? And so it goes…

So far I’ve written three of the adventures of Kannon Dupree, the time travelling detective. In Gladiatrix, Kannon paced the streets of ancient Rome investigating a shadowy Egyptian cult. In Hoodwink she lurked around glamorous Hollywood in 1939, to find out who murdered a famous movie director and why he died with a Mayan occult tattoo engraved on his chest. And in Coyote, which came out this month, Kannon is hired to find the missing diary of a Wild West hero. The chase takes her through the middle of an Indian War, via a mysterious convent of nuns banished to die in the desert and into an ancient pueblo city on a cursed mesa sacred to Coyote, the trickster god.

Without a doubt, the fieldwork I did for Coyote will always be one of my greatest adventures. Coyote is set in New Mexico, one of the states that make up the USA’s famous Southwest. It’s an arid, sparsely populated state with natural wonders around every bend, sprinkled with the mysterious ruins of ancient pueblo cities, criss-crossed by the trails of gold-hungry conquistadors and home to some of America’s largest reservations including those of the Apache and the Navaho. It’s also a landscape marked by the roughest edges of the Wild West, holding the remains of besieged forts, the tracks of dashing stagecoaches and frontier towns once ruled by the gunslinger.

Travelling the Southwest filled every sense. The rough touch of the ancient pueblo walls at Bandelier and Aztec Ruins, the gritty taste of the sandstorm that over took me near Farmington, the sight of the incredible red pinnacles of Monument Valley, the smell from the bunches of chillis hung to dry over old Spanish balconies in Santa Fe and the chillingly sweet sound of a Native American’s flute in Mesa Verde.

However… As every writer will tell you, each book presents its own special difficulties. As I wandered around the Southwest, gasping in awe at the landscape and interviewing every different kind of inhabitant that would talk to me, I came to realise that I had a problem.

I could really feel just how sacred this land was.

The Southwest is sacred to many different Native American nations, some of whom have lived there since the last Ice Age, and every natural monument is part of a wealth of mythologies and religious beliefs. The more I was included in this world, the bigger the problem became. How to put an adventure story into a sacred landscape without being disrespectful of those who hold it in such reverence?

Now I’m certainly not saying that my solution is the only one, nor that it works perfectly. Just that it was right for me when I wrote Coyote. My resolution was to make the sacred location I wrote about in Coyote – Big Sun Canyon and everything in it – a fictional composite of impressions taken from different places across the Southwest.

But when I explain this to people, I’m always struck by the paradox in what I’m saying.

The nations of the Southwest hold their land as sacred, but in the end what place on our gorgeous planet shouldn’t be? I guess it all comes down to what each culture decides to hold as precious. I’d love to hear what place or landscape is sacred to each of you.

Karl and Bertha Benz

So you’re into sci fi? But what about sci fact? Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction…

Each month our very own Voyager Science Queen* will bring you interesting, quirky and downright bizarre tasty morsels from the world of science. And its all completely, totally, 100% true!

Karl Benz

Think about this name for a second:

Mercedes Benz

It is a name synonymous with style and quality – and so it should be. Karl Benz was the German counterpart to Ford. It was his genius that made the first internal combustion engine, which in turn lead to the development of the modern automobile. However, his star glowed bright thanks to the flame being fanned by the support of his wife, Bertha

Benz was born Karl Friedrich Michael Vaillant in 1844, in what is now part of modern Germany. His mother married his father, a locomotive driver, after he was born, and he was named after his father after the poor man died tragically when Karl was just two. Even with such unfortunate start to his life, he was a brilliant student of the sciences. At one point, like the great Richard Feynman, he was interested in locksmithing; however, his studies led him into locomotive engineering and eventually he gained a degree in mechanical engineering.

Even at this early stage in his career, he was focused on the concept of the horseless carriage. It has been theorized that Benz got the idea from riding his bike and from his bicycle business; I can see that, for I might fantasize about other forms of transport while riding on a wet, cold, dark day. However, I think that diminishes the accomplishments of Benz, because it infers he was trying to escape from drudgery rather than inventing the horseless carriage for its own sake. A mind that loved the complexity of locks would want to solve the puzzle of the horseless carriage.

For it was a puzzle! Benz’s first automobile did have wire wheels like a bicycle, but it was its motor that made it unique. Rather than slapping a steam-engine on a carriage or wagon, Benz had designed and developed his own four-stroke engine that ran on gasoline. At that time, gasoline was not a fuel, but a cleaning product you bought at a store. However, it was gearless and something of a bugger to steer.

Bertha Benz

At this point, I would like to introduce the peerless Bertha Benz – née Ringer –was born in Germany in 1849. She helped fund her then-fiancé’s business and his efforts into making his inventions by donating her dowry. Bertha was not a silent partner, for it was she who suggested the use of gears – to assist in controlling the vehicle. After they were married and had five children, she had a test-drive of her husband’s latest vehicle (without Karl’s knowledge) and went on to make sensible suggestions on improving the invention. She was the actual inventor of the brake lining. Bertha was also a marketing whiz, because she took her own sons along for the trip while she was making the test drive, and made sure the trip was well-publicized. It increased public interest in the invention enormously.Now, in Victorian times, a woman was still meant to be a helpmeet to her husband, but that usually meant she was confined to her home as wife, mother and hostess. I think is says a lot about both Karl and Bertha that he obviously appreciated her intelligence and independence, and had no qualms about letting society see that their marriage was a union of equals rather than a Victorian patriarchy.

Benz went on to design trucks and buses as well. He invented and patented the spark plug, the radiator, the gear-shift and clutch, the carburetor, an ignition system and a speed regulation system. Not everything he invented worked, but what did work was often adapted by other car manufacturers into their designs.

He remained married to Bertha all his life, and pre-deceased her in 1929. Bertha remained in their final marital home until her own death in 1944. But their name lives on in both their descendants and the car …
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*The Voyager Science Queen is also known as Lynne Lumsden Green- find out who she is in About Our Contributors!

The Mundaneum

So you’re into sci fi? But what about sci fact? Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction…

Each month our very own Voyager Science Queen* will bring you interesting, quirky and downright bizarre tasty morsels from the world of science. And its all completely, totally, 100% true!

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This is one for the ‘I can’t make up stuff this great’ files. Back in the last throes of the Victorian era, the field of information science was already well developed. Forget Google. Forget Wikipedia. Before all that, and the Internet, was the Mundaneum. The Mundaneum was the proto-World Wide Web.

A normal day at the Mundaneum

A normal day at the Mundaneum. Photos via the Mundaneum Museum

It was first conceived and co-founded in 1895, by two Belgian gentlemen lawyers: Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine. It started existence as the Institut International de Bibliographie, in Brussels.  Otlet and La Fontaine began with a collection of index cards, with the intention of cataloguing facts, all the facts … they meant to record and file every fact in the world. They had over 400,000 entries by the end of 1895. By 1937, it was estimated there were over 15 million index cards, housed in a left wing of the Palais du Cinquantenaire, Brussels, and staffed by librarians. Otlet and La Fontaine convinced the Belgian government to support the creation and running of  the Mundaneum for most of the first four decades of the Twentieth century.

Imagine the thousands of drawers that would be required to file so many millions of three inch by five inch index cards. Those librarians were made of stern stuff.

The stated goal of Otlet and La Fontaine was to gather together all the world’s knowledge, and then classify and catalogue it according to a bibliographic and library classification system they developed called the Universal Decimal System – it was based on the Dewey Decimal Classification system. This system meant that retrieval of the facts was relatively straight forward, even from such an enormous data base. The system allowed (and still allows) related fields of knowledge – such as text, maps, charts – to be linked and so form a coherent whole. Now, this is where the Mundaneum started to really resemble the modern construct of the World Wide Web.

From 1896, people could apply – by mail or telegraph – to the staff of the Mundaneum for answers to specific questions. Otlet set this function up as a fee-based service, to help cover the costs of running the service and continue funding the collection of facts. By 1912, this service was answering around four or five queries a day, or the equivalent of 1500 queries a year.

Paul Otlet hoped to see a ‘city of knowledge’ (as he nicknamed the Mundaneum) in each major city around the world, with Brussels holding the master copy. The attempt was made to make this a reality, but the sheer size of the project created problems in duplicating the collection.  But this isn’t to say La Fontaine wasn’t a dreamer too; both men hoped to help create a world with information available to all and education provided to men and women; both men proposed and supported the idea of organizations such as a world school and university, and a world parliament. Henri La Fontaine went on to win the Nobel Prize for Peace, partially due to his support for these ideals.

Unfortunately, even though the founders of the Mundaneum were men of peace, it was WWII that derailed their great project. The Belgian government withdrew their funding and support as the 1930s drew to a close and war loomed. The Mundaneum had to be moved to smaller, less suitable quarters.  The amount of index cards, even with the brilliant classification system, was unworkable at the new site; if only the system had been able to use computer storage systems like we have today. Then, when Brussels was invaded in 1939, the Nazis destroyed many of the boxes of index cards. To be fair, they destroyed the index cards not so much out of malice as from a lack of understanding of the files’ true value. After the war, with files in disorder and no chance of funding, the Mundaneum was all but forgotten.

The Mundaneum was allowed to moulder until 1968, when a student named W. Boyd Rayward rediscovered the remnants of the index cards and created a renewed interest in what the project had achieved. Eventually, what remained of the project was housed in the Mundaneum museum in Mons. In a twist that astounds and thrills me, Google is talking about funding a travelling Mundaneum exhibit. If it makes it to Australia, I’ll be one of the first in line to see it.

Photographic portrait of Paul Otlet and his surviving files from the Mundaneum

Photographic portrait of Paul Otlet and his surviving files from the Mundaneum
Photos via the Mundaneum Museum

The whole concept of the Mundaneum fascinates me. Unlike Babbage’s Difference Engine and Analytical Engine, the Mundaneum was an intellectual dream that saw the light of day and had an actual useful existence for over forty years. Not to denigrate Charles Babbage – we all know how much I adore the man – but Otlet and La Fontaine were able to see the fruits of their ideals blossom and thrive. Sadly, Paul Otlet died in relative obscurity, and it is only recently that he has gained recognition as a visionary and the father of information science. He died in 1944, and Henri La Fontaine died in 1943, so neither of them lived to see the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web. More’s the pity. They would have loved the Information Age.
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*The Voyager Science Queen is also known as Lynne Lumsden Green- find out who she is in About Our Contributors!