• 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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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.

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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!

George R.R. Martin interview with Jane Johnson – Part One

GRRM in conversation with UK publisher Jane Johnson At the Bloomsbury Theatre in London this Tuesday night, 500 George R.R. Martin fans had the opportunity to listen to the man himself in conversation with his UK editor (and Voyager Publishing Director, and successful author in her own right) Jane Johnson.  Here’s the first part of the conversation transcript!

Jane: I’ve heard you say that historical fiction and fantasy are “sisters under the skin”. Can you tell me more about what you mean by that?

George: Historical books are a little grittier, which is one of the things I wanted to do when combining the two; to take that sort of gritty realism you find in a historical novel and combine it with the imagination and wonder of Fantasy.

I have thought about writing historical fiction myself, when I interviewed Bernard Cornwell for Harper a few months ago we talked about this.  For me the frustration in writing real historical fiction is that if you know history you know how it comes out. You can write about the actual Wars of the Roses and you know what’s going to happen to those princes in the tower and you know what’s going to happen at the battle of Bosworth Field. With my books I like to keep them a little off balance. Ultimately you don’t know what’s going to happen to the kids in my books or who’s going to live or die or end up with their head on a spike.

But the reading experience can be quite similar. Jane has been reading the Accursed Kings series by the great Maurice Druon – a wonderful series of historical novels.  One of the great things for me when I read them was that I didn’t know a lot of the history. You know, French people may know all of this but for me it wasn’t something that was covered on our history courses, nor presumably, in history courses here. I didn’t know who these people were, even only the most abstract terms, or how this was going to come out. That was a very similar reading experience to a fantasy novel.

Jane: They read incredibly fresh. We’ve just bought the world rights to publish them because they’ve been out of print since the sixties, I think it’s going to be great fun to make them available to people. They read as if they were written yesterday, they’re really sharp and funny, as well.

The brothers Goncourt said: “History is a novel that has been lived…” I think that’s a really good quote but I feel also that with A Game of Thrones, you feel that every character in your books has a life that goes on behind the scenes: they’re not just walking out on stage and playing out what you want them to play out. You do see them as real people. How much of that elaboration do you have in your head before you set out writing your characters?

George: I’m not actually deluded enough to think that they are real people. I know that I’m making them up. It seems obvious but I’ve met some writers over the years that have peculiar views on the subject and seem to think they’re receiving emanations from other dimensions or something. I don’t buy into that but certainly when I’m writing these characters and living with them they achieve enormous reality to me.

You know, many years ago I wrote a short story, a novelette actually, that won the Nebula award called “Portraits of His Children”. It is about a writer and his relationship with his characters. Its sort of a cliché that characters are a writer’s children but there’s a great amount of truth to it. At least for a writer like myself; the characters I have created over the years are a part of me, are a part of my life. They are not me, but they are created by me and are a part of me. The analogy with the children has a certain apt-ness to it.

Jane: Well you’re a cruel father

George: I take after the Romans; they had the whole “paterfamilias” thing going on there. If you were a disappointing son “I’m sorry son you’re disappointing me would you please commit suicide”…“Yes dad I’d be happy to”. We’ve lost some of these traditions over the years.

Stay tuned for the rest of the interview!

AWESOME Fan-made interactive Song of Ice and Fire map

A Song of Ice and Fire & Game of Thrones fan ‘Ser Mountain Goat’ has created an amazing interactive map of the world of George RR Martin’s epic series, from the continent of Westeros to the Dothraki Sea and beyond! They’ve even made a Google-Earth style planet view (Though its a bit big for slow internet connections.)

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!

When Horror Meets Fantasy

   I was recently asked to be a guest speaker at a Hobart film festival themed around women in horror: Stranger With My Face.
I identify so strongly as a fantasy writer that I’m always surprised when I get included in discussions of the overlapping genres (like my utter astonishment the first time I was nominated for a short story award in a science fiction category).

But once I thought about it, and peeled some of my preconceptions away, I started thinking that yes, I am actually a horror writer (as well as a fantasy writer and a novel writer and a feminist writer, and so on).  It’s hard to argue with when I look at the Creature Court trilogy, which is full of blood and dark magic, obsession and addiction, cruelty and death, along with the aspects I’m better known for – like banter, frocks and steamy sex scenes.

Come to that, most fantasy does have elements of horror in it.  Lord of the Rings is not only rife with monsters and violence, but it also features one of the most iconic Dread Objects of genre fiction – the ring that destroys the souls of those who hold it.  Fritz Leiber, one of my own heroes for his funny and clever Lankhmar series, also put Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser through some deep psychological traumas and was a master at balancing the sinister with the amusing.

Urban fantasy is particularly related to horror – in fact, you could argue that the works of Laurell K Hamilton, Charlaine Harris et al. are closer in many ways to the traditions of horror than to fantasy, certainly in the way that vampires, werewolves and other Horror Movie Icons have been swept into the mainstream.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer might have served to popularise the idea of a girl hero fighting the darkness, but while that show epitomises the urban fantasy genre, it was created very much in conversation with horror movie tropes.

So what is your favourite fictional collision between horror and fantasy?