• 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!



Insurgent by Veronica Roth: review

Our resident YA expert Tim reviews one of the most anticipated books of the year:

I finished Divergent in one day. It was so good I couldn’t put it down. Actually, good is an understatement. Fantastic, Brilliant, Amazing. Veronica Roth was my new hero. She turned the YA genre on its head for me. Up until Divergent, I was wondering if there was nothing but the supernatural; that vampires, angels and werewolves were all that I would be reading for the next decade. After reading even just the first few chapters you can totally understand why it was a New York Times bestseller.

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to pick it up, Divergent is a story about choice. Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior lives in a world divided into five factions — Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful) and Erudite (the intelligent) — each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a ‘perfect society’.

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Perseverance Pays Off – A.A. Bell on the making of Diamond Eyes

After 10 years in development, my first fantasy crime thriller, Diamond Eyes, finally takes flight! YAY!

Initial inspiration struck me early in 1999, due to a slight vision condition which can’t be corrected fully by surgery or lenses. However, an earlier decade working in the spooky halls of a century-old mental-health sanctuary in Queensland, also provided plenty of  “juiciness” for the surreal settings.

 Although I can’t focus back through time to witness dark deeds, like my heroine, Mira Chambers, I did manage to see through a scam by a disreputable businessmen who tried to rip me off on my birthday. The title came later that year, enroute to an eye specialist when my young son asked how eyes really worked, and I used my diamond ring as an example of a crystallised lens.

 So what took so long to develop it? Diamond Eyes was 10 years in the making, due mainly to the extensive research and unusual stylistic elements involved, including a 3-year MA(Research) scholarship in advanced editing strategies (e.g. text world theory, ironic ascension and covert/overt narratology), using Diamond Eyes as the development project. Along the way, I also won Highly Commended in the 2008 FAW Jim Hamilton Awards for a shorter draft as an unpublished manuscript. However, I also spent much of my time honing my story craft skills across multiple genres by publishing over 120 spin-offs and other stories under various pen-names (many also award winners) in the genres of crime, romance, fantasy, science fiction, psychological thrillers, military action/adventures, comedy and even poetry and metaphoric songwriting – strong elements from all of which were fundamental to production of this series; Diamond Eyes (2010), Hindsight (2011) and Leopard Dreaming (2012).

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Confessions of a reluctant writer

I could always string words together as a child. Stories were as natural as breathing. English class was the easy one with a guaranteed string of A’s – so much so that I became bored with the whole affair in my later teens and determined to study something else. It simply wasn’t hard enough to do an English Lit degree, I thought, with a massive dose of youthful hubris. I wanted a challenge. (Of course at that point I hadn’t figured out just how wonderful, complex and challenging the study of literature could be. Oh, cringe-worthy adolescence.) It didn’t help that my teachers glanced at my grades and invariably said something like, “So, you’re going to study English, aren’t you?” No, no, no. I had to be different. I wasn’t going to be what people told me to be. Continue reading

Fallon Friday: The problem with writing TV Characters

Someone emailed me recently, asking why I don’t write for TV . The short answer is, nobody has asked me. The long answer is much more complex and much of the reason I don’t lose too much sleep over the fact that (in this reality, at least) I write novels and not TV episodes.

It really gets down to characterisation. A novel (and in stand-alone movies, too) characters must undergo a journey, where they start at one point and travel, be it physically or spiritually, to another point. In fact, without a significant journey, the book won’t work. Any story where the character has learned nothing by the end of the tale is going to fall flat, leaving the reader with the feeling of “well, what was the point of that?”.

Weekly TV characters, on the other hand, have to mark time. They are defined largely by their ability to repeat the same formula each week, to keep the viewers coming back. So whether they are discovering a new superpower, defeating the monster of the week, winning a court case, or solving a crime, that’s what they do and they’d better do it every week, or else. I’m not talking soap operas here. They can change characters at will, and have much larger ensemble casts to play with, and are therefore not quite as restricted as series that rely on a small number of characters (or even a single character) to carry the story.

TV characters are rarely allowed to evolve and grow, and if they do, it’s usually only in the most limited sense. Dare to deviate from this and you have either break-through TV that will make you millions and win lots of awards, or you’ll cop a lot of flack because your characters change significantly, from one season to the next.

If you want an example of this, take the X Files. Scully the sceptic and Mulder the believer were the perfect foil for each other and offered a fabulous balance that made every episode a joy. For about the first 5 seasons. And then we run up against the problem with TV land. You see, after 5 years, Scully had seen so much, and been through so much, that it was absurd to think she was still the same sceptic assigned to keep an eye on “Creepy Mulder” from season 1. But that was the formula and when they messed with it after Mulder left, the series fell in a heap because it just didn’t have the same feel.

Then you have a writer like Joss Whedon, who quite deliberately evolves his characters and makes them grow, who copped quite a bit of criticism (particularly in Buffy’s 6th season) for Buffy not being the same ditzy cheerleader she was in season 1. By that time, Whedon argues quite rightly, she’d died, been resurrected and stopped half a dozen Apocalypses. That sort of thing has to leave a mark, you know.

I know this doesn’t apply to all TV shows, and the “reset to zero at the end of each episode” philosophy isn’t as prevalent as it once was, thanks to shows like Lost and Heroes . (Remember Bewitched, where Darren never changes his stance on Samantha’s use of magic to perform housework, or the neighbours who never wise up?) But if you look at the experiences of many TV characters, they go through trauma after a trauma with no apparent lasting scars. Literally. (Note… it’s perfectly all right to maim and otherwise scar supporting characters, btw.)

If you think I’m off the mark, here, tune into any episode of Law and Order (in any of its various incarnations), which you can watch out of sequence, any season, be certain you’re going to get the same thing. Law and Order has the art of marking time down to a fine art, which is why it’s so successful and will probably still be going strong in fifty years, by which time it’ll be Law and Order: Space Patrol, with our noble detectives and lawyers solving crimes in outer space.

So, despite the different characterisation requirements, would I write for TV if I had the chance? Of course, I would (although whether I would be any good at it is a different issue altogether…LOL). And I know many other writers who feel the same way (Trudi Canavan has a secret hankering to write for Charmed and make them do it “properly” hehehe).

To make characters engaging, to write consistently under extreme pressure, year after year, keeping the series fresh and enjoyable, is a true talent and I take my hat off to those writers who do it with such ease. I think they are underrated and probably not appreciated nearly enough for their skill, which is a shame, because as the recent writers’ strike in the US proved, without the writers, nobody in TV land has a job and we would be doomed to ever more dire reality TV shows. Oh dear…

Jennifer Fallon

The moment of inspiration: Fiona McIntosh guest blogs

Where did Royal Exile come from? That’s a very good question. I want to say I have no idea because instinctively that’s how I feel but ideas for books arrive for no reason and often with little warning, and always, always for me at an inconvenient time. By this I mean that an idea occurs to me when I’m halfway through book one of a brand new series. Could there be a more poorly timed moment for inspiration on another series? But many fantasy authors say the same so I am reassured. And on the plus side it’s motivating to have another story calling to you … it spurs you on to complete the current one.

I recall I was in Tasmania, working hard on Emissary I think, when this murky scene of a man, woman and child would not leave me alone. It had nothing to do with Percheron – in fact it looked in my mind’s eye as though it was from The Quickening. I kept banishing it but it nagged on the rim of my thoughts, constantly clarifying itself; the picture kept getting clearer and then I began to hear the voices of the characters and I could see their features and then I could feel their emotions. It was not a pleasant scene I might add. In fact I’d describe it as harrowing. No one was moving much in it; the three characters remained fairly static so I had very little to go on but as soon as I saw a bird in the background, I realised it was an omen. In the midst of a highly emotionally-charged scene in Emissary, I realised I was letting into my life the next adult fantasy I would write and I knew this because there is always at least one bird in my fantasy tales – don’t ask why, because I don’t know. And his presence in that brief vignette of no dialogue proved to me I needed to take notice of this scene.

I stopped writing Percheron and gave myself one hour to cobble together some thoughts and was surprised how quickly this scene yielded the very loose threads that I figured I could weave into a story that could span three books. I’ve already mentioned that I don’t write to plans and I hate to plot ahead so this synopsis – if you want to call it that – was just a few paragraphs of ramblings but I sent it off to my agent and he really liked it. He pitched it to the overseas publishers and they liked it too. HarperCollins in Australia gave me the thumbs up and Valisar, the series, was essentially in motion. I had to put it aside then and focus fully on Emissary, Goddess, The Whisperer for younger readers and another novel in a different genre.

But now Royal Exile is finished and edited and that is a wonderful feeling. I had no idea as I embarked upon it as to where this story was going and I had very little notion of where it had come from, but I rarely let those minor details trouble me. I put my faith in the characters and as I anticipated they revelled in the freedom to take the story wherever they wanted. Before I knew it I had a cast of thousands and a pile of sub plots to juggle.

It is a return to the familiar landscape of The Quickening. In fact I would say it’s set not that far from Morgravia. I will begin writing book 2 in October 2008 but in the meantime I do hope you enjoy Royal Exile when it’s released worldwide from September 1 this year.

Fiona McIntosh

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.