• 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!



Farewell Diana Wynne Jones

Late on Saturday night, I saw the news that Diana Wynne Jones had died. She had been diagnosed with cancer some time ago, and her official website said that she had stopped chemotherapy, so I think all her readers knew this day would come. Over the past two weeks I’d had a nagging thought about one of her stories. Which one was it? There was a fete and a girl and a mean wizard and possibly a pig. I’d kept meaning to look it up but hadn’t. I looked it up today and it’s ‘The Fat Wizard’. Her stories have a habit of doing that, popping up and nudging you, for whatever reason. And I had reread Archer’s Goon just a couple of weeks’ ago.  I was thinking of Howard bounding up those steps and becoming seven feet tall and realising himself.

Diana taught me a number of things about writing and about life.

The thing that lingers most in my mind is Polly and Laurel in Fire and Hemlock; Polly needing to ignore her own embarrassment over her feelings for Tom in order to not forget the situation and stop being a hero. In fact, at a pivotal moment in the book, she succumbs to a perceived embarrassment over her actions.  I hadn’t thought before then that a hero must overcome their own preoccupations or sense of what is decorous. After all, most of us sit and squirm through difficult situations rather than risking standing up and speaking out, because what if we’re wrong? A true hero, a New Hero, must let the adrenalin flow and forget about going red in the face and assume they are doing the right thing as they leap into the fray.  And perhaps train by lifting up their bed every day, at least three legs off the floor.

One of the most wonderful and endearing things in Diana’s writing is that she writes the everyday and familiar but with a twist. In Archer’s Goon the Sykes family’s most pressing frustrations are the lack of electricity, lack of sleep because of noise, lack of food. The fact that megalomaniac wizardy types may be running their town takes a backseat to their everyday needs. A lot of the story circles around getting the basic necessities so they can live. And Howard, again, has moments of cringing and shame that he has to fight against to get things sorted out. Diana notes all those idiosyncrasies that make up a family, whether it’s Quentin stealing Howard’s boots or Awful salting the tea. In Castle in the Air Abdullah finds his elaborate daydreams are not so wonderful when they interfere with his everyday life, thanks to the great djinn, but he’s more annoyed by the fact that everyone seems to be getting the better of him. In Dogsbody, Sirius realises that Kathleen loved his ordinary dog-self, the creature with boundless enthusiasm and a clumsy tail, not this towering, powerful celestial being.  Diana made me realise that fantasy and magic wrap around the everyday and that the everyday likewise wraps itself around magic. You can find both things everywhere.

Diana’s writing brought magic into thousands of people’s lives, and you can see this in the outpouring of emotion that has come with the news of her death, as well as the many discussions boards and websites where readers discuss the threads running through her amazing books and characters. Thank you, Diana, for the magic that continues to live on in your writing.

I’d love to hear about how Diana has been a part of your life, please share any comments you’d like.

Natalie (Editor)

Judging the Aurealis Awards – Lynne Green

As the Aurealis Awards are coming up in just two weekend’s time – Saturday 24 January, to be precise – I thought it might be nice to hear something from one of the judges. Lynne is one of my colleagues from the Fantasy Short Story judging panel as well as a writer herself (her full bio is at the end of this post) and she kindly agreed to write about the judging for that category. Fear not, nothing is revealed … you’ll have to wait two weeks for that!

How do you become a judge? For anything?

I stumbled into judging through my university studies. One of my lecturers was a judge for the Aurealis Awards, and she suggested that being a judge was good for your own writing. You got to see everything in one area, and so would have a very good idea of what was current in that genre. As well, you were able to see what was good and bad in other people’s work, which would make you more critical of your own prose.

So, I offered to be a judge. I wasn’t expecting to be accepted, as I hadn’t been a judge before. It was exciting – and flattering – to discover I was considered knowledgeable enough to be selected for a judging panel. This year, there was even more competition for places on the judging panels. It is an honour to be selected.

Being a judge means several things, both good and bad at the same time. It means you get to read a lot, and you don’t have to pay for the privilege. Doesn’t that sound like heaven? However, you have to read everything, and by a certain date. You can’t skip the bad and the awful, as they deserve as much consideration as the well-written and original stories. Every item means a lot to their author, particularly if they have thought enough of it to nominate it for an Aurealis.

You have to read critically, which is very different for reading for enjoyment. Sometimes, it gets to the point that you can’t turn off that little critic, and even sitting down to read for entertainment becomes an exercise in grammar, voice, verisimilitude, plot, characterisation and setting, and everything else you have to consider when reading a piece for the judging. Even watching television can flip the switch, and you’ll be picking plot holes in your favourite movie without realising it. That is when it is time to give it a rest for a day or two.

As a judge, you can’t favour your favourite types of writing. If you recognise a friend, you have to switch off that recognition. I’m always scared that I will go harder on anyone I know, so that I won’t be accused of favouritism.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge of reading work that I may never have read otherwise. My breadth and depth of knowledge has been tested. I’m amazed at how original, innovative and exciting, how talented, Australian authors are.

While I am reading my way through the nominations, I fill out a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is supplied by the convenor of the judging panel, and contains a list of the virtues we are to consider for judging. This way, nobody gets lost among the many fine entries, and great stuff I read at the start of the year isn’t forgotten before the end of the year. I reread all the best entries, while trying to study for my end-of-year exams.

At this point, the real judging occurs. Everyone on your panel suggests a shortlist. Now, I have been very lucky with my panels. The teamwork needed to come up with a shortlist has always been superb. Often, the same titles will appear on everyone’s suggested shortlist, though not in the same order.

And there is the shortlist. So…who wins? This year, the spreadsheet system was priceless. Each judge’s nominations were tallied, with each nomination weighted for where it fell in the individual shortlists. The story that received the most points was the outright winner.

This is a very fair system. By having a panel of judges, it cuts down on possibility of subjective choices. I must admit, knowing that the other judges had chosen the same stories as I favoured was a relief. It meant that I had been making consistent choices, which can be hard when you are reading over a period of months.
I always tried to spend one day a week working on my readings and updating the spreadsheet. Towards the end of the judging period, I wasn’t as diligent as I had been (due to university commitments), and I had to make up the work in larger time blocks. If I am selected to be a judge next year, I will again put aside a set amount of time each week. Letting the readings build up might be a tragic mistake…particularly near the end of the judging period when the scattered showers of nominations became a deluge.

Even though being a judge is time consuming, it is very rewarding. At the end of the year, I always sit back and feel I’ve made a real contribution to the writing community. Who knows, maybe we’ve been lucky enough to encourage some talented people, and reward them for their efforts with the recognition they deserve.

Lynne Green writes under her own name, as the Voyager Science Queen, and under the pen name of Lynne Lumsden Green for everything else. Though she already has a B. Sc. in zoology, she is currently studying Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Her long term goal is to become a respected writer and academic in the fields of Fantasy, Popular Science Fact, and Science Fiction. Her favourite authors are Diana Wynne Jones, Isaac Asimov, Neil Gaiman, and all of the Voyager authors, with Terry Pratchett as her personal hero. Recently, Lynne has had some quiet success with her short stories, and hopes this will lead to her ultimate domination the world.

See the Aurealis shortlist

Learn more about the Aurealis Awards

There are still tickets available for the ceremony, which is in Brisbane on Saturday evening, 24 January – it’s a good excuse for a long weekend break, as it’s also the Australia Day long weekend so Monday is a public holiday! AND The State Library of Queensland has a fantastic expo on video gaming called GAME ON.

Is it okay to make fun of fantasy?

Where did this topic come up? There was a discussion on the message boards about maps and I mentioned Diana Wynne Jones’ well-known work ‘The Tought Guide to Fantasyland’. I was tremendously surprised to see some negative comments about this work, mainly because I laughed very hard over the book, seeing alot of truth in what was written in it – this is the Amazon summary for the book:

Diana Wynne Jones describes (starting, of course, with a map) every sword-and-sorcery cliché in wickedly accurate detail, arranged alphabetically. Elves sing in beautiful, unearthly voices about how much better things used to be. Swords with Runes may kill dragons or demons, or have powers like storm-raising, but they are not much use when you’re attacked by bandits. You can only have an Axe if you’re a Northern Barbarian, a Dwarf, or a Blacksmith. Jones also tackles hard-hitting questions: how does Fantasyland’s ecology work when there are few or no bacteria and insects and vast tracts of magically irradiated wastelands? Why doesn’t the economy collapse when pirates and bandits are so active and there is no perceptible industry?

I suppose I was surprised at the negative feedback (suggesting that DWJ is in some ways spurning the industry that has brought her up) because I don’t feel that DWJ portrays fantasy in a bad light, but rather attempts to showcase some of the cliche that feature heavily in much fantasy – whether that be good or bad fantasy (also a debatable topic). I feel that if more fantasy authors read the Tough Guide, they might actually avoid some of the pitfalls that appear in written fantasy – so they might actually build a world that is believable, full and can be built on further in later books. I agree that when you read fantasy, you are suspending disbelief in many ways, but I do think some things should be properly documented, and that character’s reactions to certain situations should be drawn relatively realistically. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed fantasy that panders to the cliche – the Wheel of Time for once, but eventually I got sick of Nynaeve tugging her skirt, or checking her hemline or whatever it was, and of Mat, Perrin and Rand all thinking, “If only Rand/Mat/Perrin was here, he’d know how to deal with women” – ie. tired dialogue. And I can certainly say that I have read all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books and only disliked one (A Sudden Wild Magic). What interested me most was that people don’t really make the same criticisms of Terry Pratchett, and he does exactly what DWJ does in the Tough Guide, which is to take stereotypes and show the humorous side of them, turning them upside down as it were.

I suppose it is obvious that I think it is okay to make fun of fantasy – if done properly and accurately. But I am not a fantasy writer and therefore am quite thick skinned on this one.