• 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!

     

     

Fiona McIntosh: Standing Alone

Another trilogy comes to an end ...

And so another big fantasy trilogy reaches its conclusion with the publication of the third volume, King’s Wrath and the Valisar series, which has occupied my life for a couple of years, is now behind me, but there was a time when I was unsure it would ever end.  I was writing King’s Wrath in Tasmania earlier this year and the story just refused to close.  I am a writer who works to no plan and so the tale shapes itself in a most organic style.  And, as if by magic, about 20,000 words out from when it decides that the story must finish, it appears to start narrowing itself down until I find myself in the climactic scenes wondering who will survive and who will perish.  This is how it has been for four series now and so I have learned to trust my instincts and let the book work its own structure out.

As a result of this approach to writing I never set out to leave a story open for more tales.  I rarely have much of an idea where any series will begin, certainly no inclination of where it will end – or even where each volume will close – and when it does finally finish up its book three I’m always surprised at the journey we’ve taken to get there.  So leaving an open ending is truly beyond my ability, given the curious way that I tackle the daily grind of writing.  And yet it seems that if I look at all my trilogies, each lends itself to more story and a couple of them have been all but begging me to go back and add more….particularly Trinity and The Quickening perhaps?  I wonder if readers would agree.

So far I have resisted and to be honest I have not been tempted but just recently I made the bold decision that I was unlikely to write another epic series that took three years to publish.  It feels like a milestone in my career to finally reach this mindset but while the notion of writing three books per story will no longer be my preferred structure, I also realised I wasn’t prepared to give up fantasy.  I found myself at an impasse…but only briefly.  The answer was staring right at me from my bookshelf because my favourite writer – Guy Gavriel Kay – writes most of his tales as standalone volumes.

And so next year I will be writing a standalone adult fantasy and I see no reason why an epic story with all the same qualities that readers have come to expect in my tales, can’t be delivered in one thumping book.  I know it’s not the norm but I like the idea of stepping off the traditional treadmill in terms of structure.  And increasingly I hear from audiences and individual readers that they would be as happy to read a single book as they would a trilogy.  Many have embraced the news of the standalone warmly because they genuinely welcome the idea of not having to wait three years for a story to unfold.  There’s definitely room for both formats in fantasy readers’ lives, of this I’m sure.

In a single volume I realise there won’t be a lot of time or space to build a new world and in order to make it instantly accessible to the readers who have followed me this past decade I have decided to break my own rule and return to the lands of The Quickening.  And as the landscape of that second series of mine is so easy to grasp, newcomers to this next story will also find it just as simple to leap into.

This tale will not pick up where I left volume three – Bridge of Souls.  Instead, it will be a new story in a different era of the empire, with new characters, perhaps new magic…who knows?  I suspect that freshness will make it more invigorating to read and will add a new twist on a series that had its fair share of twisty-turny pathways to its story.

I’m surprised at how excited I am to be returning to Morgravia and Briavel and while I have little more than a thin thread of a storyline idea, I know it has pleased the Voyager team worldwide and I’m delighted that this book will be released across all English speaking markets in 2012 and hopefully beyond into my foreign language markets.

Thanks to all the readers who have read my stories and I hope you will keep travelling with me, this time back into realms we know rather well.

I suppose this begs the question…a return to Pearlis to find out how Herezah and Lazar are getting on, or into Penraven and more of the Valisar legacy and its enchantments?  Well, I guess I’ve learned the lesson never to say never!

Visit Fiona McIntosh’s fabulously revamped website to find out more about her and her books. Fiona’s latest book, King’s Wrath, is now out in bookshops across Australia and New Zealand.

Review of Tyrant’s Blood

‘Epic of scale and fantastically told, this exciting second installment of the Valisar trilogy, should draw in fans of historical action as well as the traditional fantasy fan.’

Read the full review here

Browse inside Royal Exile, Valisar Book 1


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Entitled to a good title – Fiona McIntosh on naming her books and series

I’ve been asked to talk about titles of books and titles of series. Are they important?

The very simple answer is yes. They are crucial, but that also goes for naming of characters and naming of worlds.

Sometimes titles come easily; my fantasy series have been easy to name. The individual book titles have been harder and I’ve probably struggled most with the current series, Valisar, in terms of what each volume’s name should be.

There are of course practicalities to consider. Firstly, the umbrella name of the series has to be easy to remember. Ask a bookseller how many times they’ve been confronted by a question along the lines of:

“I’m looking for a fantasy novel that I think has a forest or some sort of landscape on the cover. I don’t know the author and I’m not sure of the title but it might have a woman’s name in it. I think it begins with a letter near the end of the alphabet.” And from that alone a bookseller does his or her best to swing into action and help their customer.

Odalisque

Odalisque

So, as creator, it pays to use names that are snappy, rhythmic, easy to recall and as punchy as possible. Continue reading

Evil, vile, bad, awful, mean, wonderful villains! Fiona McIntosh blogs

Royal Exile

Royal Exile

Villains are always fun to write and over the years of producing several adult fantasy trilogies I’ve learned a great deal about characterisation and none give me more pleasure to craft than the baddie. In Royal Exile it’s the barbarian warlord Loethar who grabs this role early on. He’s not powerfully built, in fact he’s lean and not especially tall, so you could almost overlook him.

Almost … because Loethar is not someone you ignore. What he lacks in physical stature he makes up for with his quiet presence that is both sinister and intriguing. I’ve decided he’s my favourite villain across all the books I’ve been involved with and this is because I realise I’ve finally achieved something with my characterisation that I haven’t been able to tap into before. Loethar has arrived complete. What he reveals as we move along is his choice but as weird as this sounds, he seems to know who he is, what is driving him, what his strengths and weaknesses are. I am the one who still has to find it all out.

This pleases me because I don’t plan!

I’m also very happy to note that the role of bad guy doesn’t fall on one person’s shoulder in this story. The ‘evil load’ is spread. I’ve only discovered this as I’m working through volume two, A Tyrant’s Blood. I really believed Loethar would shoulder that burden throughout the story but he’s been joined by a couple of new nasties.

I’m really enjoying juggling those shades of grey in personalities. When I first began writing I used to love the very clear delineation of good v bad and perhaps that speaks a lot about my own character that used to view life in definite contrasts. Either I liked something or someone, or I didn’t, for instance. As age has worn me down and children have given me a new insight, I guess I’m a lot more capable in my 40s of understanding all those shadings that live between the polar opposites of black and white. And this has helped my writing and especially assisted my understanding of writing villains. Things aren’t always what they seem and the old adage of walking in another’s shoes has become increasingly important to me as I craft these present characters from my stories. It began in Percheron where it was obvious I was really enjoying Maliz and for all his darkness I really rather liked him. He was charismatic, intelligent, witty, sharp – all those qualities that are admirable. He was also ruthless, cruel, narrow-minded, etc. It was walking between all those shadings that the intrigue of a character comes out. Heroic characters have less ability to juggle traits, which is why probably most of us enjoy the reluctant hero. I know I certainly do. That way he/she (but for me, it’s usually he) can have plenty of flaws, lots of vulnerability and less ‘heroic’ aspects.

Villains work best, of course, when we can imbue them with very credible reasons for their motivations. We can’t just put it down to poor toilet training. The reader demands an acceptable back story and it doesn’t matter how slowly we discover it, or that we can’t ever forgive them, but it makes a whole pile of difference to the punch of the story if the villain can at least justify in his or her mind why. I felt I began to really understand this with characters like Herezah and Salmeo in Percheron. I don’t condone nor forgive their actions but there were moments where I felt sympathy for what they’d survived and what drove them and by the end it helped to know this in the context of the story.

I actually don’t set out with a set of attributes that I stick to the bad guy and then go with. I usually set out on a series with little more than knowing the villain and what he’s doing. Why he’s doing it and how far he’s prepared to go to strut his evil stuff I tend to discover with the same sense of alarm and wonder as a reader.

That’s what makes crafting him fun.

Fiona McIntosh’s latest book, Royal Exile, Valisar Book One, is now out.

Click here to visit Fiona’s website.

September brings a Royal Exile to your hands …

 

Royal Exile

Royal Exile

 

At last! September is here and with it the new series from Fiona McIntosh, starting with Royal Exile.

 The Specusphere has a fantastic interview up with Fiona McIntosh, talking about her latest book, Royal Exile, including insights into her characters, her love of villains, and much more!

You’ll also find another broad interview with Fiona on A Boy Goes on a Journey, with Fiona talking about the more technical aspects of her writing.

Watch this space for more on Fiona’s latest!

The obstacle course of writing … Fiona McIntosh blogs

Hello everyone – I’ve been asked to comment on writer’s block and what other obstacles I might have faced when getting down to the business of writing.

Now my response here is very personal and I imagine if you gathered up 25 writers in a room and asked them the same question we’d all come up with 25 very different replies. There are no rules to writing. And like any artistic expression it is a very personal journey with unique characteristics because of the individual on that journey. However, there are certainly some common obstacles that all writers face in their craft – how we deal with those hurdles might well be what sets apart the successfully published authors from those still aspiring to be published.
OdalisqueFirstly, let me say that I don’t believe in writer’s block. It doesn’t exist for me because from my perspective it’s simply a state of mind, rather than something tangible. I took a long time to get around to writing creatively. My first attempt was in 2000 and that same year the same manuscript was accepted and bought by HarperCollins. Since the publication of that first novel in 2001 I have not stopped writing. The floodgates were opened and the torrent erupted. I now have 15 novels published, another two written and in their editorial process for publication in 2009. However, I genuinely accept that other writers believe in this phenomenon, may well have experienced a horrible period of simply not being able to know what to write. I sympathise but I have no experience of it.

Obstacles to writing are likely, for the most part, self inflicted. I sense that they usually come from within and are connected with a fear of failure, fear of humiliation – a sense of anxiety, often inferiority regarding our work. Many of us feel like frauds waiting to be found out. And to write is to make yourself bare because writers draw deeply on their own psyches, emotions and fears. Laying oneself naked, and thus vulnerable to rejection and criticism takes enormous courage and resilience. And all those armchair critics who love to snipe online about this book or that, might well consider how brave a writer is to simply finish a manuscript and make it available for consideration. The fear of rejection, criticism, humiliation, etc, can be crippling. The trick, I’ve found, is to resist reading reviews as best I can – for new writers this is especially wise in the early days when you’ve not fully developed the hide of a rhino and are still in that starry-eyed cosmos of being dazzled by the brightness of seeing one’s name in lights, so to speak. And should you accidentally google your own name, and inadvertently spot a comment about your new book, and then by some mishap click through and read with sickening horror as the critique shreds your precious work as pointless piffle … learn not to take it all too seriously. We write books. We are not saving the world. It doesn’t matter if someone – and it is only one reviewer, possibly a reader of fantasy but not someone credited as a journalist whose specialty is to review genre fiction – doesn’t like your work. Rarely is it personal. And if it is, all the more reason to dismiss it. You have to learn from the outset – and this applies to submitting manuscripts for consideration by commissioning editors – that you cannot please everyone. You are going to come across people who hate your work, I mean really despise it, and you must not feel wounded by that. The Net allows every man and his dog to comment and you have no way to defend yourself. Move on.
Myrren's Gift
More importantly, the fact that an editor doesn’t want to buy your blood, sweat and tears, is not a reflection of who you are. That editor simply couldn’t see how the manuscript fitted into his or her stable, or felt it needed too much work at this point and they didn’t have the time or money to invest in it at this stage, or your writing needed a bit more polish, or they simply weren’t buying during the month your ms lobbed. You know sometimes a work is not picked up for the most banal reasons: editor is moving jobs and doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to buy a manuscript – even though she loved it – on behalf of the soon to be ex-employer. That’s happened to me. It’s life.

I often believe that very little separates me as a published writer from an aspiring one. But that gap – I feel – is all about our approach to writing. I am not necessarily a more talented writer than you or a better storyteller but I am someone who can be very disciplined with my writing and I will always finish a manuscript and to deadline. Too many hopefuls that I talk to admit to working on the same manuscript for endless months – sometimes years … what? – constantly editing and re-writing and not actually finishing and sending it off for consideration. Perfection or constantly tinkering is a real obstacle for some. When you get in to the habit of setting deadlines, achieving them and finishing your manucripts, one of the major obstacles to being successful at writing has been overcome. And the more you write and finish, the more you’ll keep improving. If you keep persisting, the odds are that the increasing quality and the repetition of your submissions are going to work in your favour.

The other obstacle we all face and which my experience has taught me will never fade is the familiar worry that your work is not good enough to stand alongside other authors, especially those big name best sellers. You convince yourself that your work is inferior. This is an easy trap to fall into and the more you permit it, the higher that obstacle becomes in your mind. Ignore it. Accept that your work is valid and let an agent and/or publisher decide whether it’s commercial enough to invest in it. It’s not your call. But make sure you do your homework. A pitfall is not having a grasp of what the market wants or where its tastes might go. It is no surprise that Stephenie Meyer’s work is being lapped up by YA readers globally. The trend began two or three years ago when vampires were suddenly the in-thing for fantasy reading, not that vampires haven’t always been popular for fantasy but they were considered a more horror-style character. Anne Rice gave them personality and elegance a while back and then writers like Laurell K Hamilton made them instantly more accessible to the wider public and so it was simply a matter of time before a writer such as Meyer came along with a great tale and some fabulous characters that were going to appeal on such a mass level. So start to understand the market and its trends. See what is pleasing people; what they’re watching on television will often march into books and vice versa. Right now something like Dexter is hot, hot, hot; so villains have arrived that are ‘cool’ and they can be charismatic and have redeeming qualities. Hannibal Lecter was one of those – I can remember thinking when I first read Silence of the Lambs all those years ago that I wanted to write a villain like Lecter, where you can’t help but like him and want him to win.
Royal Exile
So far I’ve suggested sneering into the face of writer’s block if it visits, discipline, persistence, doing solid homework and ignoring detractors, as ways to leap across the most common obstacles that writers face. Poverty is a real problem to overcome and the best way to do that, if you’re a writer, is to work out a routine whereby you can hold down a job that keeps a roof over your head and food on your table but also gives you writing time. This actually comes back full circle to discipline if I’m really honest. I wrote my first novel while working full time in my own business, raising twins and having to travel constantly. I made time at the end of the day, stealing only from my own sleep, to write Betrayal. That way, no one else but me suffered. And I was strict about the times and especially what I did with that time. I never read back what was written; I used the time only to push the story forward. You need to tell the people around you what you’re doing, get them on side and working as your cheering squad. And then you have to make the time, whatever works for your life, to write. For some with full time jobs and children, it might only be half an hour a day. But in that half hour, make sure you take the story forward. Even 500 words a day will give you a decent sized fantasy manuscript within a year. Writing daily is achievable for all of us, no matter how busy we are. If you want to be a writer of fiction and see your books on the commercial bookshelves, then you have to take the business of writing seriously. You have to write daily and if you’re making excuses – I’m too busy, I have a bad cold, I’ve had a mad social calendar, I can’t tear myself away from So You Think You Can Dance … then you’re not really serious yet about the craft.

There are distractions everywhere, determined to drag you from your writing time. So the key is making a commitment to yourself and that manuscript – and then being disciplined. And if you write yourself into a corner by the way… just write yourself straight back out of it! It’s easy with fantasy…because it’s all made up anyway!

Fiona’s latest book Royal Exile is out in just a few days!

Visit Fiona’s website.

Read an interview with Fiona and a review of Royal Exile at A Boy Goes On a Journey

It’s all about chocolate! Fiona McIntosh blogs on changing plot twists

Bridge of Souls

I’ve been asked to talk about why I changed a plot twist in The Quickening. I’ve been very fortunate with my stories that, although my editors have worked hard to help me turn the books into the best they can be, we haven’t actually had to do a lot of re-writing. For the most part we’re simply polishing every inch of it, scrutinising character motivations, ensuring there are no ‘plot holes’ and so on. I am quite often asked to add some editorial but in terms of savaging or re-writing scenes entirely, I’ve been luckily left without wounds to lick.

However, there were two occasions that do stand out. Both occurred in The Quickening. The first was a near 30,000 word cut. Now I know that horrifies some readers because they feel cheated out of those words, and aspiring writers pale when I mention it, but it was a sane move by my editor and for good reason. Let me explain.

For those of you who have read Blood and Memory, you may recall the scene when Ylena escapes the Rittylworth monastery, which is under attack from the King’s men? Originally, this scene belonged to a different female character. Originally she was going to play a much bigger role in the story and take it in a new direction. I had a huge and harrowing chapter or two that involved her to kick off this involvement. As much as we all liked this new part of the story, I agreed with my editor that it was dragging the reader away from Wyl Thirsk for too long….or rather away from the main thrust of the story. And in using these chapters I was asking the reader to get deeply involved in another three characters that complicated the tale. I didn’t find it hard to see how to make it work without her and we simply hacked off that 30,000 words and re-worked it so that Ylena took up the thread. It wasn’t hard to do and it wasn’t hard to let go of that passage or all that work. Editing is where the book is made … where all the shine is added. As a writer it’s important to be flexible and open to these sorts of editorial situations and to be eager to find solutions and not try and cling to those hard won words. Fortunately I am not precious about my work and just shrug and move on.

And then the other occasion – one I felt a little more strongly about and took a day to really think it through – was the ending of Bridge of Souls. This was the culmination of an epic story that had required readers to not only constantly grieve but the main characters were punished over and over. Poor Wyl Thirsk. He had a very tough run. And because, as I’ve explained previously, I don’t plan anything, by the time I neared the final chapters I realised with a sense of chill, that the characters were not going to allow a happy ending for Wyl and Valentyna. After all the struggle, there wasn’t going to be a chance for them. And as I was writing I can clearly remember getting all teary as the worst possible scenario began to unfold. I couldn’t stop her. Valentyna decides to put her beloved King Cailech out of his misery rather than wait for an executioner to do the killing. She has no idea of how Myrren’s Gift works but of course the reader does, and so does Wyl Thirsk, trapped within Cailech. Wyl loves Valentyna more than his own life and we share his deep despair as we watch through his eyes, her actions. It’s a very sad part of the story. And although the series ends with a scene that is filled with hope for the three realms, there is no doubt that readers would have been left feeling drained and somewhat hollow because of the dark finish. I really liked it. But my editor was extremely concerned that readers deserved an ending that delivered a sense of closure to Wyl Thirsk’s struggles. My choice of ending left him more traumatised than ever, trapped in a body he knew he would despise every day of his future life because it was the final change for him. There would be no escape from this guise. The curse that was Myrren’s Gift had come full circle – its demands had been fulfilled. But Wyl was essentially left in a state of despair and the body count was awfully high. My editor asked me to seriously consider giving the reader a chance to celebrate rather than close the final book on such grief.

I wasn’t happy especially as I couldn’t see my way around the final outcome, but after sleeping on it I decided to take her advice and reconsider the final chapters. Fortunately once I’d reached this decision I was surprised that ideas began to flow on how I could change the ending to reflect a less traumatic outcome.

But so far those are the only two occasions in 10 adult fantasy novels that I’ve had to seriously consider re-writing the plot. Deep down I still favour bittersweet over sweet endings as you’ll see from Trinity and even Percheron and probably Valisar will ultimately go the same way, and in some homespun psychology, I’ve decided that I now firmly believe this trait has a lot do with my favouring bittersweet chocolate over milk or – ugh – white!

Fiona McIntosh’s latest book, Royal Exile (Valisar Book One), will be out in September.

Click here to visit Fiona’s website.