• 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!

     

     

All Dwarves are Scottish

Our inhouse Voyager reading club recently decided to go back and re-read ( or read for the first time- *gasp!* ) Raymond E. Feist’s original classic fantasy epic Magician, published in 1982. Upon reaching the introduction of Feist’s Dwarves, and the character Dolgan in particular, it struck me that I assumed the ‘deep, rolling burr’ of the Dwarven accent was Scottish. The names of their mines ( “Mac Mordain Cadal”), Dolgan’s frequent use of ‘lad’ & organisation into clans didn’t help either.

So I got to thinking: when, exactly, did the Dwarf become synonymous with Scotland? Despite being responsible for much of the modern fantasy concept of Dwarves as an imagined race, Tolkien never gave them any distinctively Scottish traits. They were based much more on nordic myth I thought. One of our Sales Managers pointed out that a possible source for aspects of dwarvish culture for Tolkien may have been the archetype of the “rough & hearty” working class miners of Cornwall or Wales, which would certainly fit with his stated goals of creating a modern mythology for the British Isles.

Wikipedia argues that the modern version of the ‘Scottish Dwarf’ originates from the book Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson (published in 1961, but originally a novella from 1953 ) which featured a Dwarf named Hugi with a Scottish accent and a man transported from WWII to a parallel world under attack by Faerie. The book was a major influence on Dungeons & Dragons, which introduced Dwarves as playable race in 1974 and helped disseminate a “standard” idea of what Dwarves were like.

From there it seemed to become a self-perpetuating idea. The parallels between the bearded Dwarves as warlike mountain dwellers and long-haired Scottish Highland warriors are fairly obvious, and perhaps this was Anderson’s starting point too. The love of drinking, feasting and fighting has perhaps more Viking or sterotypical “working class miner” associations. A recent animated film, How to Train Your Dragon ( based on a children’s book of the same name ) features Vikings with scottish accents ( though all the children & teenagers mysteriously have American accents ) who also look a lot like oversized Dwarves. The enormously popular Warcraft universe has steampunk Dwarves with Scottish accents.

It all came full circle with the film version of The Lord of the Rings having Gimli sport a very Scottish accent. It will be interesting to see how far they take this with The Hobbit film though. From the little we’ve heard in the trailers they don’t seem particularly Scottish, but time will tell …! What do think? Do you usually associate dwarves with Scotland or is it just me?

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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.

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.

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.