• 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!

     

     

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Demoiselles and Beamish Boys

Natalie Costa Bir is guest-posting over at David McDonald’s blog on the topic of vocabulary, and how exactly the right word can help convey a magical (or SFnal) world to the reader.  I was chuffed to see her mention my Creature Court series and some of the word choices I made, because I put a lot of thought into the use of vocab in those books.  My biggest nightmare (ha) was the decision I made early on that I would use the word ‘nox’ instead of ‘night,’ as one of the carefully chosen differences in the way my characters spoke, and because the night was so important to the story.

But the number of times I had to check AGAIN with search and replace, only to then discover I had to think about how to represent ‘nightgowns’ and ‘nightmares’, not to mention fortnights and knights on white chargers, and so on…  I stuck to my guns, but it was trickier than I had imagined.

Mary Robinette Kowal, who writes gorgeous Regency fantasies set in the era of Jane Austen, embarked upon a project to ONLY use words in the entire text of her novels that existed at that historical time.  Which is… rather more committed than I think I would ever be to authenticity.  On the other hand, I’m the first one to wince when I think I’ve spotted an anachronism.  One of my bugbears is ‘okay’ or worse, ‘OK’ in invented worlds.

It’s hard for fantasy authors who are also word nerds because they tend to know the origins in OUR world of so many words that then feel out of place when used in Magical Universe. So it makes sense a lot of the time to replace those with made up words – but you have to make that choice judiciously or you end up with a writing technique that’s a little too close to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky (a marvellous poem, but would you want to read it as a novel?).

Names are another tricky issue.  I love naming characters and go to a lot of trouble to find the ‘right’ name for characters (that is, I get stuck on the writing until I find the right one).  But the ‘right’ name isn’t just about their character or their personality, it’s about their family, history and the world they belong to.  Why is it that we feel more relaxed about Victorian, Medieval or Ancient Roman names in fantasy worlds, but would tilt our heads at more ‘modern’ names?  You rarely find Jasons and Kylies in imaginary worlds (though Jason at least is a very old mythological name).  Can you have a fantasy queen called Wendy if you know that J.M. Barrie invented the name after a cute child lisped ‘my friend’ as ‘my fwendy?’

Then there’s the names that are ‘taken’ – you can’t write a story about an Alice without evoking Wonderland, Frodo without Lord of the Rings fans leaping for your throat, or Conan without tagging on ‘the Barbarian,’ and so on.

One of the first fantasy authors I loved was David Eddings,who we later discovered co-wrote his books with Leigh Eddings, his wife, and I liked very much the way that the names of those characters told you a lot about who they were and where they were from.  The depiction of the various countries in that world were problematic from the point of view of racial essentialism (looking back on it, I do wince a bit about how you have one country of drug addicts, one of farmers, one of thieves, one of slaves who feel empowered about being slaves, one of downtrodden slaves, one of Bad Guys, etc.) but I loved the way that you got hints of the various languages and vocabulary styles of those countries through the naming of characters.  Ce’Nedra, for instance (that’s not one you’re likely to see anyone re-using in a hurry) – as a princess, her name had been chosen in honour of their country’s god, and even the apostrophe was a common linguistic choice.  Likewise, the family of sorcerers all chose names that connected to each other with the prefix ‘Bel’ except the female Polgara – we were told ‘Pol’ was an honorific like ‘Bel’ but it was hard to tell as she didn’t share it with any one.

One of my favourite namers in all of fantasy writing is the legendary Terry Pratchett – the names he chooses come from a complex and clever cauldron of historical knowledge, metatextuality, and a tangled, inventive vocabulary.  From Rincewind the wizard to Conina the barbarian’s daughter, from Mort the apprentice of Death to Granny Weatherwax the witch, from Agnes-and-her-inner-Perdita to Magrat who was so traumatised by her own name that she ended up accidentally giving her daughter the middle names ‘Note Spelling,’ Pratchett’s names always sound absolutely right.  You can tell that Vetinari is evil and imposing, that Nanny Ogg is a salt-of-the-earth type, that there’s something very odd indeed about Moist Von Lipwig.  Pratchett’s Discworld is full of characters who not only live up to their names, but sometimes fail to live them down, or struggle to change them, or feel set on a particular destiny purely because of the syllables laid down for them at birth.  Names are important in all fantasy, but the Discworld makes them so much more!

Of all of his names, though, perhaps ‘Susan’ is the cleverest.  Death’s grand-daughter, destined for great and terrible things – but as Death himself noted when he first set eyes on her, the name ‘Susan’ (in a world where people are generally called things like Mustrum and Esmeralda) tells us that her parents wanted something normal and safe and ordinary for her.  Funnily enough, though, when you have ‘Death’ as a surname, no one’s ever going to think you’re ordinary!

Tansy Rayner Roberts is the Voyager author of the Creature Court series. Check out her blog here!

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The Aust Spec Fic Blog Carnival for January 2009!

In a homage to rhyming, bad poetry and a certain sing-a-long blog
The Spec Fic Blog Carnival has been forced into verse and may leave you agog
With horror, but believe me, it hurt me more than anyone to rhyme.
Anyway, here’s the list of new things in publishing – have a good time!

*quality of starting verse may prepare you for what is to come.

Let’s start with Satima on the Specusphere, latest edition now out!
Followed by the Overlord on OneDollarOrbit – it’s a $1 Shout!
Then comes Simon Haynes interviewing Jim Hines on the Stepsister Scheme
And Simon also achieved his Hal Spacejock e-book dream.

Jennifer Fallon asked: Is epic fantasy on the wane?
Glenda Larke and Neil Gaiman wondered if a judge was insane …. (I think so)
Josh Palmatier was interviewed by Simon Haynes on The Vacant Throne
And Josh was admired by Glenda Larke and many others (they aren’t alone).

The AHWA looked back at 2008 and chose the best dark stories
While ROR (Writers on the Rise) reflected on their shared glories
And look out for Christmas Down Under – submit your story to Festive Fear
Plus Juliet Marillier discusses editing, and sheds blood, sweat and more than one tear.

Import and be damned, said the AWM of parallel importation
On the same topic, Michael Gerard Bauer talked of what is lost in translation.
Brendan Podger thinks fantasy books are getting too big for their boots
And HarperCollins picked up a new division, meaning ABC Books uproots …

Shane Jiraiya Cummings offered fiction for free on his website
Keri Arthur talked about her next release, Deadly Desire … that’s right …
And the search for 10 culture critics on literary cultures now starts,
While the David Gemmell Legend Award captures hearts.

The Aus Writers’ Guild National Screenwriters Conference takes place in Feb
Ticonderoga Online went up in a new format on the web.

That was exhausting, so, in related news, let’s get to a topic that can be really exhausting, because it’s hard work: writing.

Glenda Larke talked about how she writes her books – from the first draft to the last,
Justine Larbalestier gave away a ton of know-how (you won’t get through this fast):
characterisation, getting published, getting unstuck, generating ideas, choosing POVs, NOT writing on what you know!
The Sirens put out their first newsletter of the year
And the AHWA roll out a flash short story comp – get your writing into gear!

Simon Haynes tries to distil his writing into two pages.
Cat Sparks finds the gloom on the web sent her writing through several stages.
Tansy Rayner Roberts responded to Lilith Saintcrow on angry chicks in leather,
And also enjoyed Russell T Davies talking about our generation typing at each other.

Jennifer Fallon helped lazy writers unite,
And Kim Falconer talked of the hero’s fight

Just for fun … and let’s call this freeform because if I see another rhyme … I might become the Hulk.

Why you don’t want a LOLcat as your editor
The wonderful Jason Fischer puts out a new (and free!) story.
Would you answer this ad? Cat Sparks contemplates time travel
AussieCon 4 offers t-shirts – bring on Melbourne September 2010!

And finally …
Karen Miller discusses the new, young Dr Who
That’s Sir Terry to you: Sir Terry Pratchett is awarded a well-deserved knighthood!
We hear more from the Clarion South brigade – this time on their tutors.
Cory Doctorow tells us to watch out for surveillance on New Year’s Day (yikes)
Phil Berrie talks about the pros and cons of Authonomy
And Australian Speculative Fiction Blog Carnival Host is not made poet laureate.

Late breaking news: The Great Gender Debate 09

Alisa Krasnostein on the 25% female authorship
Tansy Rayner Roberts on why it matters
An editor’s genuine opinion – Russell B Farr of Ticonderoga
Girlie Jones looking deeper at gender
Ben Peek writes a letter
Some useful answers to questions about gender inequality

Articles on the subject:
Girls vs Boys as readers by Sherwood Smith
Girlish, moody fiction? No thanks
A Bout of Aboutness: Urban Fantasy and Sword-and-Planet

Go to the home of the Aust Spec Fic Blog Carnival – also known as A Boy Goes On a Journey, a fantastic resource for all Aust Spec Fic writers, run by Nyssa Pascoe.

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.