• 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!



Ten terrifying questions: One Traci Harding

Traci’s new book, Universe Parallel

Traci Harding answers ten terrifying questions over at the Booktopia blog, ranging from the books that inspired her most to her advice for aspiring writers.

Traci’s latest book, Universe Parallel, is out on 1 December.

Sydneysiders, don’t forget you can catch Traci along with Kim Falconer at Galaxy Bookshop (Kent St, Sydney) on 4 December at 12:30pm.

Immersion Part 3: Bringing Readers into Your World

The Spell of Rosette

Kim's book

Some authors say that readers will immerse in anything as long as it’s plausible, but I think Orson Welles already proved that wrong. Fantasy readers are not testing a story against Newtonian physics. They don’t expect it to adhere to Natural Law, but they do want it to adhere to its own laws. Ursula Le Guin reinforces this saying inner coherence, not plausibility, holds the reader enthralled. ‘Fantasy deliberately violates plausibility in the sense of congruence with the world outside the story. Only in lesser matters is realistic detail used . . . to prevent the reader from getting an overload of the improbable.’

In fantasy, we can bend time, shape-shift, talk with animals and cast spells, but only within the rules of the system we’ve created. Consistency in this sense applies to making certain a character’s eyes and hair colour do not change or that a machine that breaks the time barrier doesn’t run on corn flakes, unless previously explained. This is demonstrated in Bram Stoker’s Dracula where, contrary to folklore, we find Prince Vlad is tolerant of daylight. Stoker explains this seamlessly within the text and the readers’ immersion is not suspended, even though everyone ‘knows’ vampires must be in their coffins by day.

Twisted Citadel

Sara Douglass's latest book

Aside from inner coherence, authors like Le Guin and Sara Douglass suggest it is the intimate details of a scene and the tone, register and vernacular that supports reader immersion. Jennifer Fallon puts it like this: ‘The language and references must reflect the character, the character’s knowledge, surrounding world and the setting.’ Although she points out a blunder in The Hobbit, Tolkien took this idea to great lengths when he fashioned Middleearth. He created entire languages (Elvish and Dwarf) prior to writing LOTR. Tolkien reminds us that at no time could he recall the enjoyment of a book being dependent on the belief that such things would happen, or had happened, in ‘real’ life.

What is the formula then for creating immersive stories? Voice? Believable dialog? ‘Real’ characters? Elements of the fantastic grounded in a world consistent with itself? All of these are important as is getting the fine details right. You can’t expect your audience to stay immersed if your hero has been shot point blank but still fights on, unless (as in the Matrix) you have explained it. Nor can your heroine travelling backward and forward in time unless (as in Traci Harding’s Ancient Future Trilogy) the author has built the mechanism into the story’s universal law.

Black Madonna

Traci Harding's latest book

Break the rules, by all means, but weave the ability to do so into the narrative. Most importantly, engage in the story as you write. If you experience the participation mystique in the act of creation, your readers will in turn be affected in the same way. This is where the magic happens, where we immerse in a world co-created by author and reader. Comments most welcome.

Immersion Part 1
Immersion Part 2

Kim lives in Byron Bay with two gorgeous black cats. As well as her author website, Quantum Enchantment‚ she runs an astrology forum and alternative science sitetrains with a sword and is completing a Masters Degree. Her novel writing is done early every morning. Currently she’s working on additional volumes in the Quantum Enchantment Series.

How to finish a manuscript – Traci Harding

The final part of Traci’s three sessions on writing a manuscript.

Yes, we’ve finally reached the instalment you’ve all been waiting for.  You’ve followed through on all those plot lines and finally it’s all coming together … or is it?

‘How do I conquer the fear that it won’t all come together in the end?’

This is a very good question.  Every writer has his or her own way of writing a novel.  Ian Irvine (Science-Fantasy writer The View from the Mirror quartet and numerous other trilogies and quartets) knocks out a first draft in six weeks and then builds on the story over several drafts and many more mouths.  Kim Wilkins (Angel of Ruin, the Gina Champion young adult series, and numerous other great horror novels) will sit in a café for six weeks plotting a tale and once everything fits together, she’ll sit down and write her novel.  Myself, I get bored if I know what is going to happen, so I must trust my muse and characters are leading me to where I want to go, and this blind faith I have has never failed me.

Every tale has a beginning with a turning point at around the one-quarter mark in the tale.  This leads into the middle that builds to a turning point two thirds of the way through the tale.  At this stage of your story, all those threads that have been winding along their merry way through your tale should start to weave together, which naturally leads your story through the final leg of the journey to a climax, with a few anti-climaxes thrown in for good measure.  Again, I never map out this process, I am just constantly aware of where my plot is in relation to the above formula. 

Caiseal Mor (The Circle and the Cross Trilogy, The Wanders Trilogy, etc. and my personal favourite, Carolan’s Concerto) likes to speed up the scenes toward the end of a story.  This is an old Irish storytelling trick, which compels the reader towards the finish.  I do the same thing with chapters – I keep them short at the beginning (say 8-10 pages long), so the reader feels like the story is racing along.  As the story becomes more involved so to do the chapters become longer (20-30 pages long).  Then towards the end, when things are really hotting up, my chapters get shorter once again.

Should you get three-quarters of your way through a tale and find you’re lost – and I seriously doubt you will, because by this time you should be so sunk into your world and characters that you couldn’t possibly get lost!  But if you are stuck – a printout and read through is in order.  Go back to the research books and music tapes I spoke about before and muse on your original motivation for writing this piece. 

If you love the tale you’re writing then it will come together in the end, and the most important thing is that you have fun completing your project and revel in the accomplishment when you do.

So what do I do now I’m finished?

The very first thing you should do is sit and read your entire tale OUT LOUD.  It is funny how faults in wording reveal themselves when read aloud – especially dialogue.  If you can get some close friends or family to take this journey with you, then all the better.  I had several friends coming around to hear instalments of my books and, as they could never all come at the same time, I read my first tale aloud about four times.  This was incredibly helpful as my listeners would always want to know what was going to happen next, and as I would explain my vague ideas, some of them would gel and the future of the story would unfold.  Reading aloud to people you can also find whether the gags are going off as expected, if the suspense is killing the reader as hoped and so on.  You also learn who the most popular characters are and why.  What the listener wants to happen and who they want more of.  And most importantly you’ll learn what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, where the story rocks along perfectly and where it drags and seems to go on forever without anything happening.  This may be a joyous and a painful process, but it is an all important experience in order to deal with the next stage of your story’s development; for how shall you deal with feedback from an assessor, if you can’t deal with the feedback of your close friends and family? The assessor might hate your work and only a second opinion will save you from tossing that MS in the bin! Perhaps your family and friends won’t understand, and yet an assessor may see the brilliance?  You just never can tell, but as an artist it’s good to get many opinions on your work, especially if it is your first major work. All this information will be invaluable come the time to edit too.

Traci Harding: How to keep writing a manuscript

This post continues on from Traci’s post on where to start writing a manuscript

One of the biggest challenges with writing a book, is actually staying interested in the story line long enough to finish writing it. Bear in mind that writing is always a long a tiring process. Often, when you’ve rewritten the same paragraph ten times that afternoon, your back is aching from sitting in front of the computer, your eyes are going square and your body is vibrating from the electromagnetic radiation that your monitor’s emitting … you’re probably going to conclude that your paragraph reads like crap and that writing is a useless waste of time! Don’t hit that delete key! Walk away and come back to your story later – a little yoga aids with the circulation, concentration and the backache. Nine times out of ten you’ll find that your paragraph doesn’t read so badly after the creator has had a little attitude adjustment.

What if I think it’s a stupid idea?

I’ve had many things happen in tales that I thought were a bit farfetched, but one shouldn’t really judge until you find out where that farfetched idea leads. The idea of a woman being mysteriously transported back to the Dark Age seemed rather out there at the time I started my story. I had no idea that a Celtic time lord was going to make an appearance a few chapters down the road, and with the Merlin came a plausible means for Tory to have been transported through time. The point is I never would have discovered my explanation if I hadn’t followed through with my farfetched premise. It’s actually kind of fun making up extreme scenarios and then figuring out how the hell you’re going to explain it. Still, it all seems to get worked out on the journey and once all the questions are answered, you have a book.

I’ve also used ideas that I know have been done before, but given a different twist they do take on a life all their own and usually outgrow the original idea.

Still, if you really think your idea is stupid, then ask yourself why? Can you alter the premise somehow to make it more feasible?

Also, don’t fall into the trap of trying to write what you expect others might want to read. I’ve only ever written for my own pleasure, and in my experience I have found that if I am enjoying and learning from what I’m writing, my readers do too. So be sure that you’re not allowing the fear of someone else thinking your idea is stupid, stop you from exploring your premise further. Write about what excites and interests you, and you can’t go far wrong.

What do I use to stimulate my imagination and get over writer’s block?

Usually I get blocked when I’m missing a fragment of the story, sometimes I don’t even know what’s missing and the answer can come from one of many sources.

I find Music is good to get you into the vibe of your story and set the mood. I always make a mixed tape of whatever music is going to take you where you want to go – like Celtic music for the Dark Ages – Middle Eastern music for Atlantis – Modern Chill & Ambient music for the space age and the future. Music creates a kind of montage in my mind – I see fleeting images of the tale ahead, all of which I won’t recall with the first play through, but I do recall those images that are relevant to the beginning of my story. The images will become clearer the more I listen to the CD, and if I forget where the hell I was going, the soundtrack will usually put me back on track.

Sometimes sitting and chatting with one or more or your characters will reveal what it is that is missing, or a hint of something you hadn’t suspected.

Go back over your Research and search for clues.

When none of above works, I just walk away from the tale and within a few days, I’ll have an experience whereby someone will mention something or I’ll see a report on TV that will spark an idea. The Muse is everywhere and can be encountered in the most unexpected places.

I get halfway into a story and I lose the plot – or get bored.

If you find this is the case then you’ve missed some vital clue, which would have kept the story intriguing for you. My advice is print out your tale and read through it on paper and as you read allow your mind to drift off on little tangents. I find these little side thoughts often lead to big subplots. Should you find one of these side plots then go back, fill in that which is missing and be on your merry way.

I suggest printing out your script to read through the text because you’ll spot mistakes more easily and you can write notes around the text.

Your tale may also have headed off in the wrong direction – in which case print out, read through and discover where your story went sour for you. I have erased entire scenes, even chapters! This is very painful of course, but it proves rewarding in the long run when you find yourself speeding along in a new and exciting direction.

The other reason you may have lost interest is that you feel your story lacks depth, in which case you have not done your groundwork properly. There was something that sparked the desire within you to write this piece, this was something you felt passionate about. Remember the cause of your original inspiration? Go back to the research books and getting chatting with your characters.

I find it very difficult to leave a story unfinished if I am very close to the characters. I feel I owe them the courtesy of finishing their tale, being that they went to all the trouble of musing me in the first place. If you do not feel allegiance to the people in the world you are writing about, then you don’t know the locals anywhere near well enough. You can’t expect to discover the inner workings of a world, if you never really bother getting know anyone who lives there. If your imagination is not yet up to this challenge then just study the people around you – the cause and effect in their lives and how their history has contributed to their personality. Their reactions to situations should become predictable to you. ‘He won’t like that,’ you’ll find yourself saying – this is how well you must know all your characters. If your hero/heroine is not your best buddy that you’d route for through thick and thin, then your readers are not going to be rooting for the character either. If you’re bad guy lacks motive than no one is going to believe in his schemes.

Depth of story is something that is developed with practice, so just because the first manuscript you ever write isn’t a masterpiece that everyone is raving about, that doesn’t mean you’ll never write a bestseller. Buy the time I finish writing one book I’ve already got the plot lines for the next one in my head – they will have been taking form for months. I’m so eager to get into the new adventure that the completion of a novel just means that I can finally get started on that new idea. I might add that I was like this before I got published as well. Everyone dreams of being published, but if you do it just for the fame and money, you’re bound to be disappointed. Science-Fantasy is about the least sellable genre to the media. The good news is that it sells largely through word of mouth, so new authors stand as good a chance as the more established talent. Still, if writing is not what drives your creative existence, then being an author would just be a job, instead of a dream come true.

This article originally appeared in the Traci Harding Community newsletter a few years back, and had been reproduced with Traci’s permission.

Where to start writing a manuscript – Traci Harding

This has to be one of the most commonly asked questions both on the message board and on my email, thus here I would like to lay down a few of my tricks, thoughts and advice.

“I want to write something but I can’t think of a good plot.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this and I actually find this surprising as I seem to find a story in everything. Truly people, there are so many stories just begging to be written and remember that in Fantasy the sky’s not even the limit! Your imagination is the only limit here. If you are wanting for ideas, and I have recommended this text on the board before, find a copy of ‘The Donning International Encyclopedic Psychic Dictionary’ by June G. Bletzer Ph.D.

1) Because it is an amazing reference for just about anything not in a normal dictionary and

2) because there are a million story ideas contained in just this one book. This text has been with me through my whole career and is definitely the most used reference book I have. The definitions are fairly short, but they are enough to spark an idea and give you a clue as to the kind research books you’re going to need now that you’ve found a premise, era, myth, concept etc. that interests you.

Where do I find research books? I always do my book shopping at the Adyar Bookstore in Clarence Street Sydney (right next door to the Galaxy bookstore). Adyar are also online (for those who live interstate). I usually browse for research books at their Internet site and then order them over the phone with a credit card – a few days later they’re in my mailbox. Their staff are very efficient, reliable and helpful. If you’re not too sure what you’re after, tell them you’re looking for a book depicting the Seals of Solomon, or a book on Nature Elementals, Curses, Celtic Ritual, Shamanism, Black Magic, whatever; they’ve heard it all and they know their stuff. A good research book will pull you from the deep, dark, frustrating depths of writer’s block and launch you headlong into the guts of your story, thus I consider this part of the prep work for my books to be very important indeed. Not to mention that all research books are tax deductible for a writer.

How do I get to know my characters? I spend a lot of time chatting with my characters. These conversations take place in my head mostly – sometimes out loud, if I’m working home alone. It’s amazing what you can learn from your characters if you ask them the right questions. I like getting into the nitty-gritty of why characters are the way they are? Your characters can send your story off in all kinds of unexpected directions, if you just give them a little scope and don’t be too ridged about dictating what you think is going to happen. My characters are constantly surprising me with their responses – making me laugh, cry, gasp! If your characters don’t do this to you then your readers probably won’t be charmed or surprised either. This is why it’s important to take the time to get to know your characters or you won’t know a character’s predicable response to a particular situation or comment … weather they will or won’t like what’s taking place and why.

Between my family, my friends and the zillions of characters I perfected during my teenage years of telling stories, I have a wide selection of characters to draw on for my tales, and lending character traits from people you know, can be very helpful for the author/character relationship too. My book ‘Ghostwriting’ demonstrates how I do this, as I take the person the tale is dedicated to, give you the run down on them and then stick bits of their character into heroine of the tale.

If you are a visual kind of person, watch your characters as they go about their business in your tale and note any peculiarities about how they walk, dress, act, hold themselves – it all adds up to depth of character.

Traci Harding

This article originally appeared in the Traci Harding Community newsletter a few years back, and had been reproduced with Traci’s permission. To win a copy of Traci’s latest book, The Black Madonna, before anyone else gets their hands on it, have a look below.

WIN a copy of THE BLACK MADONNA by Traci Harding

The Black Madonna, the final book in Traci Harding’s Mystique trilogy is almost here … and we bet there are plenty of fans out there who can’t wait to get a copy! So – if you want to win one of five advance copies answer the following questions in 50 words or less:

What do you want to happen in The Black Madonna? Why?

Which character in the Mystique trilogy would you most like to be? Why?

Five lucky people will get The Black Madonna sent out to them on Friday.

This competition is now closed.


Traci will be doing a signing at Camden Library, John St, Camden on Saturday 19 July. Entry cost is $5 to cover tea/coffee and a light lunch. To book, you can call Tricia or Michelle on (02) 46559275 (bookings essential). Copies of all Traci’s books will be available to buy.