• 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!



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?

How a chemical engineer became a fantasy writer

I’ve always loved fantasy and science fiction, especially JRR Tolkien, Frank Herbert, and George Martin, and I always hoped that someday I could give back to fantasy a little bit of the joy that reading has always given me. Seven years ago on a hike in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, I realized I had enough original ideas to finally write an epic fantasy. I started writing and never stopped, finishing four manuscripts in seven years. The Steel Queen is the first of those manuscripts, the first in a five book epic fantasy saga to be published by Harper Collins.

Prior to writing, I spent over twenty years as an international business strategist for BHP. My work with BHP took me around the world and I count myself very lucky to have lived in Australia for eight years, 5 years in Melbourne, living in Brighton, and 3 years in Wollongong, on Church Street. In Melbourne I worked for BHP Petroleum, first as an engineer and later as the head of strategic planning for BHP Petroleum worldwide. After a stint in Corporate, I jumped to BHP Diamonds to develop the first gem-quality diamond mine in Canada’s arctic, then back to BHP Coal in Australia, and finally for BHP Engineering as a Vice-President. While working for BHP Coal, I lived in Wollongong for three years and managed the turn-around of an innovative coal seam gas power project while also managing a coal seam gas group located in Brisbane. I’ve traveled widely across Australia, from the craggy peaks of Tasmania to the coral reefs of Cairns, to the waterfalls of Kakadu and the endless beaches of Perth, and I’ve come to love the sunburnt land. I consider Australia as my second home.

When I am not working, I love scuba diving, snorkeling, underwater photography, kayaking, traveling, reading, painting, and doing a variety of arts and crafts. I live with my husband in Portland Oregon, in a house perched on the edge of the forest. And when I am desperate for a beach the beautiful Oregon coast is only a few hours away.

I have a degree in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University in the USA. I started as an engineer, then I became an international business strategist, and now I am a fantasy writer and it is a dream come true.

Which writers do you know who have had a strange or unusual job, before, during and after their published books?

Karen’s first book The Steel Queen will be out in February next year, but she came to Australia for a flying visit two weeks ago and kindly let us video her talking about the series and various other bits and things. Her only regret was that she wouldn’t be here for AussieCon!

How JRR Tolkien’s Modern English Helped Inspire Blake Charlton’s Spellwright

When language holds extraordinary power ... you want to get your spelling right!

Most fantasy readers know that Tolkien invented his own languages, drawing from his knowledge of Old English, Old Norse, Finnish, and Welsh. Fewer readers realize that he dreamt up his stories of Middle-earth for his languages, not the other way around.

The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows. (Letters p.219)

When I first discovered this, it made me queasy. I’d found Tolkien’s untranslated passages of Quenya or Sindarin to be beautiful, certainly. They commanded my admiration for their intricacy, beautiful calligraphy, and linguistic viability. But I loved Tolkien’s work, not for his use of invented languages, but for his use of English. It was the characters and stories as told in modern English that touched me. And yet here I had discovered that Tolkien felt that they were derivative from—and therefore seemingly less important than—his synthesized languages. That’s not to say I thought he disregarded characters or story; clearly he had a masterful control and appreciation of both. But still, that he should exalt synthetic language over character upset me. Tolkien is the Homer of our literary tradition. Would Homer have honored another language above his Greek? The more I thought about this, the more it bothered me. Continue reading

The world first publication of an unknown work by Tolkien

Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock … 🙂

Browse Inside this book

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Presented for the first time, The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún will transport readers to the heroic landscape of the nameless North of Sigurd the dragon slayer and the Völsungs, a mythic world of ancient Scandinavia, when gods walked the earth and dragons were real.

The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún, written by J.R.R. Tolkien some years before the publication of The Hobbit, was inspired by Norse legends contained within the poems of the Elder Edda and depicts drama and adventure in language only Tolkien could have written. Comprising two complete works of narrative verse, the book has been edited by Christopher Tolkien, who provides detailed commentary on the verses as well as a sketch of the complex history of the legend.

“That the ancient poetry in the Old Norse language known by the names of the Elder Edda or the Poetic Edda remained a deep if submerged force in his later life’s work is no doubt recognised. It is at any rate well-known that he derived the names of the dwarves in The Hobbit from the first of the poems in the Edda, the Völuspá. But it is certainly not well-known, indeed scarcely known at all, that he wrote two closely associated poems treating of the Völsung (or Nibelung) legend, using modern English fitted to the Old Norse metre, amounting to more than five hundred stanzas: poems that have never been published until now, nor has any line been quoted from them.” – Christopher Tolkien

The first full flourishing of a rich narrative style, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún showcases the powerful and dramatic storytelling that was destined to become famous throughout the world.

Available NOW

Talking all that Tolkien – Richard K Morgan

For all you fans (or non-fans) of Tolkien, author Richard K Morgan has written a very interesting  (and perhaps provocative for die-hard fans) essay on The Lords of the Rings, and the parts/characters/things that, although he may not love Tolkien’s work, he did love about it. It’s started joyueous debate (LOTS of debate!) storming around the internet.

What’s very lovely about the essay is that RKM has found parts of Tolkien’s work that he really engages with, like little jewels in the er … mud, not that I think LOTR or any of Tolkien’s work is mud or related substances, and wishes that Tolkien had focused on these parts and drawn them out for what they signify. Lovely because these characters are the orcs. Not traditionally thought of as the nicest creeturs in the world – but that’s what he likes. They aren’t nice, but that makes them very human. I think more and more people identify with characters with bad intent in them, not because we’re all evil murderers at heart, but we aren’t infallible and it’s good to know we’re not the only ones. That’s why I like George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, because the characters are as ‘shades of grey’ as any one of us. I’d never have the guts to go on a quest beyond all I know to confront the heart of evil, I don’t think … and even if I did, I’d complain and whinge and think ‘Why me?’. But I still like to read about people who would. But I like it even better when they complain – like Eustace in The Voyager of the Dawn Treader before he became all born again.

Haven’t you ever read an author’s work and wished they had developed a character more, one that you feel you could really relate to or want to know more about? When I read Diana Wynne Jones’ ‘Dragon Reserve, Home Eight’ – a short story, I longed to read more about the characters in it, a girl whose world is suddenly invaded by horrible creatures who, through invasion, have unwittingly saved her from a death order. Of course, wanting a longer novel from a short story is a fairly common urge from readers, I believe, whereas if it’s about characters in an epic novel, it’s a bit different. What do you think? Have you experienced this?

Go and read the essay, which is posted at Random House’s Suduvu blog.

The Captain (now off for a blissful weekend and going to watch Watchmen at IMAX)

Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? Part II Tips for Writing Non-human Sentience

Sentient non-humans are like people dressed up in fur or circuitry, right? Not quite. They are in non-human bodies for a reason and the non-humanness will have its impact. JARROD in The Spell of Rosette is a quantum computer that attracts consciousness. He has human traits—programmed as an Aries, he’s fiery, assertive, inventive and brave. He’s also virtually enlightened, considering the speed at which his cognition is running, so there are some differences between him and the boy next door. For one, it’s hard to surprise him. He doesn’t get lonely and his perspective is vast – think galaxies and millenniums. Still, he has the human touch.

Rakka, Kim's Torresian Crow, a sentient being

Rakka, Kim's Torresian Crow, as a bird, he has a unique view and angle on life

Writing a sentient being that can relate to people means giving it one or more of the five senses—sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Remember C-3PO and his relationship to oil? If the character is a dog, think about where dogs have the edge on humans—like their acute sense of smell. Birds have uncanny navigational and migratory skills and there is also that ‘bird’s eye view.’ Taking these attributes into consideration when writing non-human intelligence means building authentic characters.

Kim's granddaughter Kayla communing with the plants

Kim's granddaughter Kayla communing with the plants

The same goes for sentient plants. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy gets a slap when she tries to pick fruit from a talking tree. In Tolkien’s LOTR we encounter Old Man Willow, who uses what he has (roots, soil, crevasses) to ensnare the Hobbits. The trick in writing non-human sentience is observation. Think about what is important to their survival. What motivates them? What frightens them? What makes them unique? A computer may be less aware of the environment than a horse but it probably talks faster than a carrot. A snake would make reference to surface textures and vibrations in the ground; a crow might talk about the prevailing wind or the nearest eatable carrion.

Using a technique borrowed from Psych-K, 4 questions 3 answers, can help writers get into the non-human mind. If writing a sentient horse I might ask:

1. What would I see?

a. Auras
b. Body language
c. Far into the distance

2. What would I hear?

a. Meaning in birdcalls
b. Other horses’ thoughts
c. Beyond human frequencies

3. What would I say?

a. Ideas my human companion hasn’t thought of
b. Premonitions, prophecy
c. The scent of water

4. What would I feel?

a. The earth as I roll in the sand
b. Whole apples crushed to juice in my jaws
c. Endurance, power, speed

Each sentient being has a unique perspective that can move the story forward, add insights and also connect the readers to life in a new way. What are some of your favorite SF/F non-humans? What makes them appealing? How do they think in ways that are different to people? Comments welcome.

Read Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? Part I

Read more posts by Kim Falconer

Kim Falconer is the author of The Spell of Rosette (Quantum Enchantment Book 1), which was published in January by HarperVoyager. Kim lives in Byron Bay and runs the website Falcon’s Astrology as well as a website dedicated to the Quantum Enchantment series.

Read the Australian Bookseller & Publisher review of The Spell of Rosette.

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.