• 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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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.

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Winter Be My Shield Launch!

photo by Sari Yong

When the characters of my series Children of the Black Sun first came to me, there was one thing about them that I knew for certain, one thing on which they all seemed to agree: they needed to live somewhere cold. The northern nation of Ricalan where Winter Be My Shield  is set is a land of Siberian cold, dominated by taiga forest where snow can fall even in summer and covers the landscape for half of each year.

Environment shapes the culture of those who live within it — it’s no coincidence that people living in the harshest environments have the strongest traditions of hospitality. The story of Winter be My Shield is tied closely to the culture of the people who live in Ricalan. It’s a society of interdependence, where one person alone has a low chance of survival and where a single misfortune could mean their death. The harsh and unforgiving landscape forces people to work together, rely on each other and find common ground — even when their goals and values put them at odds and drive them to conflict. Ricalan is a place where you have a responsibility to the welfare of the people around you, as they have a responsibility to you; a land where if you find a stranger half-frozen in the snow, you bring her into the warmth of your home, whether it be stone walls or a tent of hide and fur, because tomorrow it could be you stranded, alone and defenceless amid the elements.

When it came time to plan the book launch, I wanted a way to introduce people to the culture and the landscape of the story. In our world, our first exposure to a foreign culture is often through their food and their traditions of hospitality, and so when I wanted to introduce Ricalan to the folk who came to help celebrate the launch of my book, I decided to do it through the foods that would be familiar to the people of Ricalan. Some foods, like ramps, the tender young fronds of fiddlehead ferns, are difficult to find in Australia, but there are many things in our supermarkets that would be known to the people of the Taiga forests. At the launch we had rare roast meat with horseradish on parsnip fritters; goat’s cheese and cured pork with cherry preserves; salmon, that ancient staple of the north, smoked and served on sourdough with cultured cream; and kimchee pancakes, a version of the traditional bannock which northern travellers have eaten for centuries. To follow we had cranberry pies with fresh cream, and panna cotta tartlets sweetened with maple syrup and forest berries.

photo by Sari Yong

photo by Sari Yong

It’s an incredible feeling to walk into my regular bookshop and see Winter Be My Shield on the shelves, when for so long it’s been just a file on my desktop and words running through my head. It was amazing to see so many people come to share this latest step in a long but very rewarding journey; from friends who’ve known me since I first started to write, to folk I only met a few weeks ago. I hope I was able to give my guests a symbolic taste of the north, and that it let them feel a connection to the people and the landscape of Ricalan. It may be a harsh and dangerous land, but there are warm places hidden away from the biting cold. I hope you enjoy seeking them out as much as I have.