• 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!



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!

Clarion South: Working with the big bad bold … tutors

This post continues our series by the graduates and future students of the Clarion South Writers Workshop. There will be more from them later this year and the next Clarion South workshop is on right now!

The question: What was it like working with Jack Dann and the other tutors, all of whom are well known and successful writers?

Lee Battersby: I think if you have the opportunity to spend a week in close proximity to guys like Jack and Gardner, and you’re serious about following a writing career, it’s something to which you need to give serious consideration. These guys have seen it all and done it all, and I know that the Clarion South students I tutored came away from their time with Gardner with a massive fillip to their confidence and know how.

Angela Slatter (there right now!): At this stage, I don’t know! I’m doing Clarion in 2009, so it’s all ahead of me. I’ve worked with Jack on the Dreaming Again anthology – that was easy!

Steve Turner (hanging out with Angela at the current CS!): I am really looking forward to it – I had the first Dreaming Down Under book edited by Jack and I have always loved it, and have always enjoyed his short stories. I was already a fan of Sean Williams and have a half dozen of his books so was very excited about that. I am also a Marianne de Pierres fan and am proud of the fact that she is also from Brisbane. It’s also amazing to look at the credits of Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link and I have since read their award winning short story collections and it only makes me feel so privileged to work with World Fantasy, Ditmar, Aurealis and Nebula award winners of this calibre.
Amanda le Bas de Plumetot: I’ve actually worked with Jack in a workshop run by the Victorian Writers’ Centre a couple of years ago. I really enjoyed it. He doesn’t pull his punches and I like that in a workshopping situation.

Jess Irwin: It’s really great to get advice and insight from such prominent writers and editors – I mean, unless I kidnap her I’ll never have another week with Kelly Link devoted to the craft and industry of writing. (Don’t kidnap people, folks!) It’s okay to get nervous, but remember: if it bleeds we can kill it… um… I mean, they’re all human beings, they love speculative fiction, and they’re here to help you. They’re your peers and colleagues. You don’t need to be nervous. But playing a few rounds of Mafia is a pretty good cure, too

Helen Venn: Stimulating and a little intimidating until it sank in that they were there to help.

Christopher Green: Jack Dann, as well as the tutors of Clarion South ’07 (Rob Hood, Lee Battersby, Kelly Link (with guest appearance by Gavin J. Grant), Gardner Dozois, Margo Lanagan, and Simon Brown) are all incredible to work with. One of the main things that struck me about them was their passion. They are tireless, seeming to have limitless energy when it comes to sharing their knowledge, offering advice, etc. I was honoured.

Paul Haines: Each tutor brought something new to the table, in the way they approached stories, or how they responded to the group. Jack Dann arrived in week 5, a tough time for most of us as everything was starting to fray and exhaustion had crept in. He was invigorating for the entire class, with his approach, his ideas, and most of all his energy. David Hartwell was also interesting, in particular for letting us in on his vast experience as an editor in the business, more so than his critiquing of the work.

Deborah Kalin: I didn’t work with Jack Dann or Gardner Dozois – my tutors were Sean Williams, Michael Swanwick, Ellen Datlow, Margo Lanagan, Ian Irvine, and Scott Westerfeld. Every single one of them was inspiring, encouraging, daunting, and incisve — in short, unforgettable!

Brenn McDibble: I studied and read a few works of each tutor before I went to Clarion so it was an interesting exercise to match their advice and creative processes to their work. Maybe I figured that if I knew what made those six people tick I might figure out my own tick. It was a shock to me if one of them actually asked me to explain myself and my response was probably another exercise in creativity.

Jason Fischer: Amazing. There’s nothing quite like this course. To be given the chance to work with professionals you’ve admired for some time, with the view to becoming a professional writer yourself. Others have spoken of the “paying it forward” aspect of the SF community, and it’s alive and well in courses like Clarion South.

Check out the earlier posts about Clarion South

For a full list of the Clarion South tutors, click here

Find out more about Clarion South (intake is closed for the next Australian session, which is taking place now, in Brisbane, from Jan 4 to Feb 14)

Fallon Friday: 10 Pitfalls Waiting to Trap Potential Fantasy Writers

Not having any idea of how big a whole world is. Think for a moment about how big planet Earth is. Now, pick a hero, send him on a quest. Oh, and while you’re at it, take away all but one continent, two or three countries, all languages but one, give Earth a temperate climate all over said lonely continent, with maybe some snowy regions a few days from the one of the only three cities you have left, and populate the entire animal kingdom with only horses, dogs, the odd cow and no insects. And when you get your MS back with “thanks, but no thanks” scrawled across it, take a moment to wonder what the editor meant when they said your world building lacked “depth”?

Trying to imitate someone else’s plot. This is a double-edged sword. You can be totally unoriginal and make bucket-loads, provided you can present an old idea in a new way. It takes talent, however, to do this, so be very careful before you try it.

Trying to be too original. There’s innovation… and there’s being so far off the rails nobody but you and the three friends you were sharing the bong with when you thought up your epic storyline get what you mean. Be original, by all means, but do it sensibly.

Forgetting epic fantasy needs more than one plot. Big epic trilogies tend to need big epic plots with multiple characters and intersecting plot lines. By all means, have a major thread running through your story, but you’d better be a cross between Shakespeare and Elmore Lenard if you think you can squeeze a three book deal out of a publisher for a story about two people alone on a raft looking for the magic talisman that’s going to save the world at the end of book 3.

Forgetting pack/transport animals need to eat, drink, and rest occasionally. Trust me, even if you manage to get this past an editor, you will not get it past the various animal experts out there that populate the world of fantasy readers. They will know. And they will scoff at your ignorance. Loudly. On their blogs. And to everyone they meet.

Assuming everything you see in the movies is true. I had a young writer assure me once that you could knock a person unconscious by simply tapping them on the head because that’s what they do in movies. Let me assure you this is not the case. I know this because I once (accidentally, of course) dropped a 15lb bowling ball on my ex’s head from about 6′ off the ground and it didn’t even crack his skull, let alone knock him out. Nor do people ride at a gallop for miles with a bullet wound in their leg, win a fist fight after being shot in the shoulder, or solve complex mathematical problems in their head, ten minutes after being brought back from the dead. Physical violence has consequences. And not just bad guys die from it.

Thinking that because fantasy is all you read, you’ll be able to write it, too. I was asked once, at a con, what was the best thing a fantasy writer can read to help them write better fantasy. My answer was: a newspaper. Sad, but true, kiddies. How can you write a convincing imaginary world, if you have no idea what makes the one you live in work? Without exception, all the successful fantasy writers I have ever met are grounded, practical people capable of holding a conversation just as easily about politics, religion or current affairs as they are about magic. In fact, most of them prefer to discuss politics, religion or current affairs (except Trudi Canavan who prefers to talk about knitting). And not a single one of them believes in magic. But damn, they can write about it well.

Breaking your own rules. In its own way, magic is a force like any other. It has certain rules and you have to stick to them, even if you’re the one making up the rules. If your magic is lunar, then you’d better not have anyone working it by day. If you’ve said it’s impossible to make pigs fly in chapter 1, you’d better not have your enemies launch an airborne pig attack in chapter 57. Make up your own magic rules, by all means, but don’t go changing them half way through the story because you’d discovered flying porkers would be handy, after all.

Stereotyping. JK Rowling has made poo-loads of money writing what is, essentially, a story about a kid in boarding school. What separates her bank account from the wannabe’s is that she found a way to make her hero different. Isn’t her first chapter of Book 1 titled “The Boy who Lived”? Enid Blyton never thought that one up. Fantasy with a drop-dead gorgeous virgin princess who needs rescuing from an evil sorcerer by a handsome goat-herder (who is really a lost prince) and his amusing sidekick will get you nowhere. It’s not that you can’t use the plot, but you’d be better off with the amusing princess and her drop-dead gorgeous sidekick rescuing the evil sorcerer from the psychotic goat-herder… you get the idea? It’s not the plot, it’s the woefully written characters that’ll kill your epic every single time…

Overwriting. There is absolutely no need to ever use the words “very”, “really” or “suddenly” in your narrative (you can use them sparingly in dialogue if you promise to be careful). Nor should you need to qualify your dialogue with adverbs. In fact, try not to use anything other than “said”. And watch out for redundant writing. Things like ‘the end result” or “hesitating for a moment”. And read every single sentence with the word “that” in it. And then read it again leaving out the “that”. You will be amazed.

Jennifer Fallon shares her tips on writing every Friday and she is -not- a potential fantasy writer, having thirteen fantasy novels published with Voyager! Her latest book is The Chaos Crystal and it’s available across Australia, right now!

Fallon Friday: Implausable Trinity Syndrome

It’s scary how many writers submit works that involve worlds (countries/alien hives/etc) consisting of millions of citizens ruled by a king, his trusty scribe and a competent general (who often wears black, and comes in two versions – with or without a conscience – depending on whether or not you need him to betray the king at a later date).

I have dubbed this the Implausible Trinity Syndrome.

To test if your world suffers from Implausible Trinity Syndrome, see if you can answer these questions about your world…

How is it governed?

  • Chiefdom (ruled by, well, a chief)
  • Kingdom (most of the countries on Amyrantha)
  • Republic (usually has elected Head of State)
  • Dictator (Julius Caesar’s title was Dictator for Life, but there’s plenty of others)
  • Democracy (Start in ancient Greece and work your way forward if you want an example)
  • Religious (Second Sons, The Vatican)
  • Communism (eg, South Pacific island villagers, Israeli kibbutz, USSR)
  • Military (eg Captain Sheridan on Babylon 5 was the military governor. Deep
  • Space Nine is another example of military rule.)
  • Genetic Hegemony (eg Sonny Whitelaw’s Stargate SG-1: The Chosen)

Who actually does the work?

  • Who makes the laws?
  • Who enforces them?
  • How do your laws differ to those of another country/planet?
  • What happens at the borders?
  • How is the bureaucracy structured?
  • Who controls transport?
  • Who controls industry? Guilds?
  • Who provides public works (eg, do Trolls control bridges)?
  • Public health (epidemics)?
  • Private medical care (doctors, dentists)?
  • What’s the education system? Who are entitled?
  • Who controls land use?
  • Who owns land?

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. So take a look at your world.
Check if it you’re suffering from the Implausible Trinity Syndrome and fix it.

Jennifer Fallon is the author of 12 published fantasy novel, with number 13 set to come out this Christmas. Visit her website for more information at www.jenniferfallon.com