• 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!

     

     

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.

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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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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.

Why you shouldn’t step in puddles in Hong Kong, or the importance of research in writing.

    I was recently with a group of my 23-year-old son’s friends, chatting about our recent trip to the UK as a fact-finding mission for my next series of novels.

‘Do you really need to do that?’ one of them asked.

Before I could say anything, my son who’d lived in Hong Kong for nearly half his life gave an excellent example of why I did need to make this trip.

‘I saw a TV show that had an episode in Hong Kong,’ he said.

‘What was wrong with it?’ I said. ‘Rickshaws and big lanterns? Coolies in conical hats?’

‘Nothing quite that bad, but they had people going to someone’s house – and it was huge. With wooden walls, and traditional Chinese windows. Nobody in Hong Kong lives in a house like that. I just laughed.’

He’s right, and it ruined the authenticity of the show for him. That’s why I had to make the trip the UK. I would never try to write about a place unless I’d visited it myself, and I would never write about living in a place until I’d lived there.

If you’ve never lived in Hong Kong, you wouldn’t be aware of day-to-day annoying issues like the chronic shortage of coins (yes, money coins) that generates a thriving market for elderly women to camp out on bank doorsteps. Or the fact that anything left in a public place for more than two minutes is public property and liable to be taken. Or that you never step in puddles on the pavement, because they indicate a dripping air conditioner overhead. Or that the red-topped mini busses that have ‘Daimaru’ as the destination actually stop at a nearby street because twenty years ago the stop was moved from the front of Daimaru – which hasn’t existed for ten years anyway.

I’m setting part of my next series inNorth Wales, specifically on Holy Island, part of Anglesey. I spent a great deal of time on Google Earth making virtual visits and checking the history, but when it came to the crunch and I was going to write about it, I had to go.

I learnt a great deal about the place that would have been impossible otherwise. Details like the local Chinese restaurant offering ‘rice or chips’ as an accompaniment to their chop suey. The fact that the shiny new Tesco’s a little out of town has killed the main street. The three-thousand-year-old standing stones, Penrhos Feilw, are in someone’s back yard, and the wind whistles across that field and it’s bitter.

The colours – the yellow of the heather that was everywhere on the island – the weather, which was windy and sometimes very cold, and the friendly laconic nature of the people, made it an experience that imprinted itself on me, and will make my descriptions of the island that much more accurate. A virtual visit to the Iron Age Hut Circles didn’t let me see the spectacular view or feel the biting cold wind that made my ears hurt – in late spring!

Now that I’ve made the visit, I’m completely prepared for the next volume in my series. And I need to make a trip to Japan, because I want to set something there!

Read more about Kylie’s inspirations and challenges in moving between countries and roles in yesterday’s SMH article:

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/living-in-two-worlds-20110827-1jf9r.html