• 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?

Tolkien Week & Hobbit Day roundup

Last week was officially Tolkien Week foy Harper Voyager! On Friday the 21st we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the first publication of The Hobbit in 1937 and participated in the global Second Breakfast party. We had Tea, Scones, Pikelets, jam & cream (The bakery were out of seed cakes and the building folk wouldn’t let us light up our pipe weed!), not to mention a few rounds of Hobbit & Tolkien trivia.

Peter Jackson then announced the release of a brand new full length trailer for the first Hobbit movie!

Then on Saturday it was Hobbit Day, otherwise known as both Bilbo & Frodo Baggins’ birthday! Our UK colleagues posted up some fantastic images of Hobbit Day festivities in the UK on their site here: http://www.hobbitsecondbreakfast.com/oats-and-ounces/ Did you get up to anything? We’d love to hear about how you celebrated! It truly is a landmark book, practically responsible for the creation of fantasy as a literary genre and introducing generations of children and adults alike to an imagined world like no other. How many  times have you read The Hobbit?

The three most frustrating words for any Fantasy Reader – to be continued…

Nazgul!Just picture this – you are loving what you are reading and haven’t been able to put it down and so, despite the 7am meeting in the morning you are still reading at 2am to get to the end of the story but you are starting to get that sense of dread (similar to the approach of a Nazgul) because there don’t seem to be many pages left in the book and the story doesn’t seem to be winding down – and then you see those horror words:


I have long considered this to be one of the most frustrating things about modern fantasy – the increasingly rare published stand-alone book. I was on my soapbox preaching this to some friends on the weekend when (I think as they were tired of hearing about for this for the 1 billionth time and were seriously starting to consider if I was caught in some sort of time paradox doomed to repeat the same problem every time I had an alcoholic beverage) they pointed out to me the flaws in my arguments which I thought were worth sharing:

  1. Its not just modern fantasy

The Grandfather of them all – Lord of the Rings – is a trilogy (plus the extra books like the Hobbit in the same world) and as we know in the commercial world that we live in – as soon as something makes money the word sequel get’s bandied about – in the movie business we can take the example of Transformers 1, 2 & 3 (and I believe 4 is going in production now) so the concept of a standalone hasn’t existed in movies, film or tv for quite some time (if ever)

      2.  You like revisiting the same world.

 It’s true – I really do. I loved Kylie Chan’s books and the vivid world she has created and each new book is a new opportunity to immerse myself in the incredible worlds she creates. I have been reading Robert Jordan & George R Martin’s respective Wheel of Time & A Song of Ice and Fire series for over 10 years now – and I’m still waiting in line to be first when a new book comes out.

       3.   If you don’t like it – why don’t you wait till the whole series comes out before you start reading.

That’s fair – and sometimes I do – having said that if I followed that rule then I would never have read either Martin or Jordan yet and that is a horror not worth contemplating.  

 So in summary I don’t think there is any great insight except that I have to stop bemoaning the loss of the standalone book (which may have never existed as a fantasy genre except as a fiction in my head) as I do really want to read series – I just hate the wait between books and can’t wait for the next one!

by guest blogger and sometime HR manager Jonathan Connolly

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.

Immersion Part 2: Participation in Another World – Kim Falconer blogs

Rosette is more coveted than the seasonal fruit

The willing suspension of disbelief—the idea that we can immerse in a story because we will ourselves to overlook elements that are not plausible—is a flimsy explanation for reader immersion. Just think about that word willing. It implies an effort on our part, a conscious act, and anyone who has ever been immersed in a novel can attest, it takes no effort at all. You just fall.

One of my readers told me she read a pre-release copy of The Spell of Rosette in two days. She was supposed to be visiting a friend (whom she ignored the whole weekend). It was not her intention, and certainly not her will power, that turned the pages. She was trying to will herself to close the book. But she couldn’t. The spell had her and she was swept away, Alice down the rabbit hole, swallowing the blue pill, not the red. There was no willing suspension of disbelief going on. There was participation in another world.

I’m in good company when I reject the willing suspension of disbelief as an explanation for reader immersion. In his essay On Fairy Stories, JRR Tolkien suggests we enter a secondary world, a space created by the writer that allows the reader to participate with the story. For him, it’s not a matter of believing in something that we know isn’t true. It’s a matter of going to the place were it is true.

‘(The writer) makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside. If you are obliged, by kindliness or circumstance, to stay, then disbelief must be suspended (or stifled), otherwise listening and looking would become intolerable.’ –Tolkien 1966.

Immersion in Tolkien’s Secondary World is what I call the participation mystique—the mysterious act of entering the co-creation, the story’s world, written by the author and interpreted by the reader. You don’t get there through a willing suspension of disbelief. That would be a substitute for the real thing—being in the story. Tolkien said that if we must engage the willing suspension of disbelief, the art has failed—we are no longer immersed.

Regardless of how we understand the mechanisms of reader immersion, we can all agree that authors want to write immersive works and readers want to read them. How do we do that? Is there a formula for writing stories that grab readers from the start and keep them in the participation mystique until the end? In the final blog on this topic, I’ll discuss ways to write stories that keep reader in that ‘other world.’ Comments welcome!

Read Immersion Part I

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.