• 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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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.

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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.

Fiona McIntosh: The mathematics of speedy writing

I’ve been asked about how I write my books so fast.  That’s a tricky question to respond to because I really don’t know any other way or any other speed to write at.  I’ve realised that I do seem to roar through a manuscript fairly briskly but it’s also fair to say that I’m not one of these writers who pays much attention to anything but getting the bones of the story laid out on my first pass.  I never read what I wrote the day before and I simply never think to edit as I go along.  Everyone has their own style that comes naturally so I’ve stopped questioning myself about the fact that I don’t make notes, I don’t keep any sort of running document or exercise book to scribble information into.  I know I’ve forgotten more than I’ve remembered and that when I reassure myself I will recall something the next day, I usually don’t.  But, I’m not a planner when it comes to my writing.  Thinking the story out makes me feel imprisoned and I am more comfortable just leaping in and writing in an organic style, allowing the plot to shape itself as the characters make their often curious decisions.  I think it’s quite easy to sit back, with the luxury of forethought as much as reflection, and pass judgement on how characters behave.  But I am a firm believer that human beings are often erratic, frequently irrational and many of us are driven by emotions rather than maths.  A lot of us don’t work out to the nth degree what the repercussions of a decision might be – well, not until we’re our parents’ ages anyway.  And right now for me that’s early 80s!  Many of my key characters are young and so I like to give them leeway to make questionable decisions and they’re almost always in stressful situations and so they react instinctively rather than having too much time to work out the best course of action.  That makes the story rip along quite fast but it does lead the characters into some dangerous circumstances that could have been avoided if they’d thought it through more.  Younger characters are often selfish, slightly self centred and spontaneous.  To me this feels real.  And so in not trying to analyse the plot or the characters too much and just letting go and seeing where the story takes itself, I can get straight down to writing a lot faster than the writer who prefers to have a more structured, planned approach to the manuscript. 

And here’s how I set out:

I work out when I want this book finished.  Let’s say I have 18 weeks.  To me that’s 90 working days because I don’t count weekends.  And then I decide how big I want my manuscript to be – roughly.  I usually settle at around 150,000 words, give or take 10,000.    And then I divide that 150,000 words by 90 working days and I get my all- important equation, which I round up to 1700.  So that means I must write 1700 words per day, five days a week, between now and the deadline for me to produce a nice fat 150K word manuscript.  And then I double my daily word count to 3500, which I find achievable daily, and that means I can produce a manuscript in nine weeks, knowing I’ve got several more working weeks up my sleeve if I need to do some editing of another novel, or go on tour, or run a workshop or whatever.  As neat as I get my calculations, life gets in the way and by doubling my word production, I give myself a ‘life buffer’ for when things go pear-shaped because of family commitments or whatever decides to obstruct the flow of my beautiful equation.  I live by my daily word count (DWC). It becomes my master and I its slave.  It is how I keep discipline to my writing and sometimes I reach the DWC in two hours and other times it may take five.  But I always reach it and as soon as I do, I stop writing for the day….often mid sentence!  And that’s how I appear to write fast when really I’m just writing smart for someone who doesn’t plan, has children to take care of, a life to enjoy beyond the keyboard, travel to be done, and more than one book a year to write.

Fiona McIntosh’s next book will be coming out in September. Royal Exile is the first book in the new Valisar series. Watch this space as she’ll be blogging regularly in the lead up to September.

Subtext, suffering and sacrifice: Fiona McIntosh blogs

The author may insist that she writes purely for these thrills, but serious underlying themes are still embedded throughout Percheron. The main subtext focuses on the harsh consequences of doing “the right thing”: how actions that seem detrimental will actually produce huge positive kickbacks; and how the suffering and sacrifice you personally experience right now will achieve long term goals for the good of the many. — Sandy Auden, SFX Magazine

In a recent review Sandy Auden made this observation, which set me thinking. I honestly believe that when I write my fantasy stories – or indeed my crime or children’s books – I have no agenda. My creed for novels is that story is king. Everything else pays homage to that, and an addictive, unpredictable, engaging story is what I set out to deliver. It has never entered my thoughts that I might try and underpin a tale with a subtle message, so this was an intriguing observation. Do I have a subtext? I still say absolutely not … but perhaps Sandy’s point is well made that even if I don’t set out to present themes, they emerge all the same.

Royal Exile

In Royal Exile there is suffering and there is sacrifice – no doubt about it. And if I consider one of the aspects of life that always humbles me it is how some individuals during the history of the world have found the courage to make remarkable sacrifices in order for so many others to benefit.

Paul Cartledge’s book Thermopylae is one of those utterly compelling accounts of ancient times where a very few made a difference and changed the course of history. Whether the Persians ruling the world – because they’d crushed Greece and essentially the west – would have been a bad thing, is another debate. But 300 Spartans held off the might of the Persian Empire and their unflinching courage gave Greece the time to rally its forces to ultimately send Emperor Xerxes packing. All but two of the spartans perished. This is made all the more poignant because the 300 men knew they were sacrificing their lives before they even marched to that tiny pass to engage the enemy. But they were prepared to die in battle for the greater good.

As I was reading this fabulously addictive book, I couldn’t help but think about their wives, mothers, sisters. I think over the centuries a lot of the greatest grief, deepest courage and most intense sacrifices have been made by mothers. Until you are a mother, it’s really very hard to understand why your own mum worries so much about you. It always seems like she’s just fussing; then you become one and you begin to understand the essence of fear. I could be wrong but I believe it’s the defining moment for adults – when you become a parent, life is no longer selfish and suddenly someone far more important than you or your lover actually matters.

I think it’s only when you can feel anxiety on behalf of others that humanity shows its true colours and nowhere is this more openly displayed than how a mother feels about her child. In general, there is nothing she would not do to ensure that child’s wellbeing. Nothing. (I’m sure the same could be said for fathers. I’m using mothers as my example)

I am not a ‘natural’ mum. I don’t go gooey over other people’s babies, I don’t have an instinctive nurturing instinct and I am far from the clingy mother. Along came a pair of sons – at the same time – and I have never in my life felt like I did the moment I clapped eyes on my children. There was this deep and immense swell of something. I don’t want to call it love – because that’s too simple and you can fall out of love as easily as you fall into love. No, this was so much more because it seemed to occur deep in my soul. In fact no one else at that moment could experience what I was experiencing in that delivery theatre because I was undergoing a life-altering event. From the second I held those two bundles, my life had changed. Suddenly nothing….and I seriously mean nothing could ever matter to me so much as they did. It was chemical as much as physical. I had no control over it. Now that sounds obvious, I suppose, but you need to go through it, and most of us girls will, to understand the implications and repercussions of what this all means. If you’re a mum, you already know.

And in considering this aspect of being a woman, I guess I always knew what motivated Herezah in Percheron for instance. Yes, she was conniving, controlling, cruel, but I did understand her. She could have been a better woman but I certainly understood what was driving her. At the very core of Herezah was a mother doing whatever it took to protect her son, firstly from death and then from exterior forces/control. And she was doing this from the smothering prison of a harem. I rather admired her, despite all of her terrible actions. And in Royal Exile we see a similar situation of the suffering of parents – a mother in particular – in order to protect her young. Queen Iselda is extremely brave despite extraordinary pressures and cruelty. And the only reason she can rise above that despair is her need to ensure her children survive her. Whatever it takes.

This notion of ‘for the better good’ that Sandy refers to is probably best captivated, however, in a single character in Royal Exile. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone so I won’t name that character yet but this person has to deal with considerable heartache, constant fear and personal loathing as much as everyone else’s hate, because he/she knows that what he/she is doing may kill a few along the way but ultimately will save thousands and thousands of innocents. There is one particularly shocking scene where the despair of sacrifice of one is so hideous to contemplate but as a reader you can see why that one death is so necessary. It was ghastly to write. I don’t like to use the word ‘device’ because I don’t plan my books at all so I’m not that well prepared to have a device that might get me over a hurdle or adroitly move the readership from one part of the story to the next. I’m just not that organised! My books are bit like life – what happens, happens. Yes, I get a chance to go over and re-write parts but my editor will tell you, we haven’t actually changed a plot twist in any book other than Bridge of Souls. I don’t actually set out to punish any character. It happens. And I guess in this regard it is a lot like life and although I have never thought about having underlying themes in my tales, Sandy has pinpointed that no writer – even those of us crafting popular fiction – can escape the fact that our stories do still reflect life….even though it’s often somewhat larger than life.

Writers constantly draw on their own experiences. And the deeper a writer plumbs their own emotions and subconscious, the richer the experience is for the reader. I am a mother. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my children. And on a wider perspective, I suspect there are very few sacrifices I wouldn’t be prepared to make to protect anyone I loved. I think we all share this trait because we’re human.

And really … that’s essentially what all of my books are about. Being human, with all of the frailties but also the strengths that make stories of human struggle so compelling. Royal Exile is human struggle from start to finish and no doubt echoes stories from the history of civilisation. Perhaps after all, there is a subtext.

Hope you enjoy it. F

For the full review by Sandy Auden, please click here.