- THE THREE WORLDS
When is the next Three Worlds book coming, and why do we have to wait so long? You first talked about it in the year 2000.
And I said I was going to write it ‘one day’. And I have. Book 1, The Summon Stone, will be published in May 2016.
What’s the reason for this untimely delay, I hear you ask. At the end of each big fantasy series I always have a break by writing something completely different, so as to recharge my creative batteries, and to ensure that I don’t get stale and start writing the same books over and over again, as has happened to some other authors I won’t mention. And also, by the end of The Destiny of the Dead, and 2.3 million words of the Three Worlds saga, I was exhausted, creatively, and needed a long break from this story world.
I began two new series, one called Grim and Grimmer which is humorous adventure fantasy for younger readers (nine and up). These four books (The Headless Highwayman, The Grasping Goblin, The Despicable Dwarf, The Calamitous Queen) were published between May 2010 and June 2011, by Scholastic Australia.
The second series was my new epic fantasy trilogy, The Tainted Realm, Vengeance, Rebellion and Justice. The Tainted Realm is the same general kind of fantasy as my Three Worlds books, but set in a new world that I’ve spent a lot of time designing.
I’m sorry to disappoint everyone waiting impatiently for the next Three Worlds series, but when it comes it will be better than before, not just more of the same.
With the Three Worlds series, do I have to start at the beginning?
No, you can start anywhere because the three series are independent. At the beginning of each series I give all the background necessary to understand the books and the world. Having said that, you may enjoy the series better if you start at the beginning of The View from the Mirror, with A Shadow on the Glass.
I loved Karan and Llian. Why did you trash their reputations in the Song of the Tears?
I didn’t – I love them too. Certain characters with axes to grind trashed their reputations. My advice is, don’t believe everything that the characters say in my books, especially if they’re rewriting history that you know very well – trust your judgement about the heroes you know and love. And when The Fate of the Children is finally written you’ll find out the truth.
What is a ‘Darwinian Fantasy’ and why do you give the Three Worlds cycle this name?
When I began writing in 1987, Fantasy was a narrower field than it is now, and it was dominated by tales about the struggle of good vs evil – clones of clones of Tolkien’s books, for the most part. I was fed up with that theme and wanted to write something different. In the Three Worlds cycle the underlying struggle is between four different human species, each of which has an equal right to exist. Each does their best to ensure the survival of their kind, even if they drive another species to extinction. No right or wrong there, no good or evil, just survival of the fittest.
How much of the Three Worlds storyline had you planned out before you wrote the first series?
I’d done quite a bit of planning before I wrote The View from the Mirror quartet, though in the end I ended up using little of it, because somehow the storyline I’d planned didn’t mean much to me. It didn’t seem real; it felt made up; logically planned, and all wrong.
So in the end, after many false starts, I simply began with one of the characters I’d thought a bit about, Karan, put her in the bad situation I’d planned at the beginning of the storyline, then abandoned the storyline and wrote her out of trouble and into worse trouble, simply making it up as I went along. That was torment for the first fifty or sixty pages because I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t see how it could work, but after that, when I’d begun to know the characters a bit the story started to flow (and it was at that stage that I realised that I wanted to be a full-time writer).
When I got to the end of the (first) book, A Shadow on the Glass, I was amazed to discover that it ended on a cliffhanger and I didn’t have the faintest idea what was going to happen next. However, I then spent a month or two plotting out what turned out to be the remaining three books of a quartet, and I more or less followed that outline in the years that it took to get the remaining books drafted (12 years from beginning in 1987 to publication of the final book in 1999).
When that series was in publication (and after a side diversion into eco-thrillerdom – I always write something completely different at the end of a fantasy series so as to recharge the creative batteries) I began planning my second fantasy quartet, The Well of Echoes. I deliberately set it about two hundred years after the events of the first series, so as to get away from all those characters, and to distance the world and times. I wanted to make the new series grittier and harder-edged, so I set it in a world that had been at war with intelligent alien creatures from the void, the lyrinx, for two hundred years, as a result of events that had happened at the end of The View from the Mirror quartet. And, despite reshaping the world and society solely for war, humanity was losing it.
Again, with the first book, Geomancer, I wrote it organically as I went along, then planned the remaining books in greater and greater detail towards the end (as one must to ensure consistency and make sure all the plotlines are woven in).
With The Song of the Tears, I’d done virtually no planning for the series before I sat down to begin the first draft. I’d deliberately not thought about it because I was so creatively exhausted by the end of Chimaera that I had to have a complete break from the Three Worlds (which I did by writing the first of my fantasies for slightly younger readers, Runcible Jones, The Gate to Nowhere).
For answers to a thousand questions about my books, please go to ‘The Three Worlds Wiki’ http://threeworlds.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page which contains more than 300 pages of detail about these books, characters, history, magic and plotlines. But be warned, it’s crammed to the brim with spoilers.
2. IAN’S OTHER BOOKS
How does writing Epic Fantasy compare with penning your ‘eco-thrillers’? Is it difficult to leave the Three Worlds, or do you find the change refreshing?
Refreshing. When The View from the Mirror quartet was finished, after twelve years, I was creatively exhausted and couldn’t wait to write something completely different. Writing these huge series takes an enormous toll and, without a thorough break in between, it’s difficult to maintain quality. It’s even more difficult to avoid the trap of writing the same tales over and over.
The first of my eco-thrillers, The Last Albatross, was a story I’d long wanted to tell, about eco-terrorism in a world being transformed by disastrous climate change. Equally importantly, I didn’t want to become ‘typecast’ as an author who could only write in a certain world and a certain style. And of course, it was nice to write shorter books which were complete in one volume.
The Last Albatross was written in a totally different style, set in our own world ten years in the future, and told first person from a woman’s viewpoint. That was hard to do, but fortunately I have five sisters and I’ve spent a good part of my life listening to women talk about things that matter to them.
Between each of my Three Worlds series I now write something different, and over the years this has changed my writing style. For example, The View from the Mirror quartet is written in an elevated, High Fantasy style compared to my later works.
3. ABOUT IAN’S WRITING
How does a marine scientist end up writing fantasy novels?
Even though I was doing interesting work and travelling all over the world, my life was missing something. I’d been wanting to write for ages, and one day the creative urge became so strong that I had to start right away, just to see if I could do it. Writing fiction was really hard, and often frustrating, but by the time I was halfway through my first fantasy novel, A Shadow on the Glass, I knew that was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. And it’s a great life and the best job in the world.
What question do readers most often ask you?
When is the next book in the series coming out? People start asking this question within 24 hours of my next book appearing, which is a little frustrating for huge books such as Chimaera and The Destiny of the Dead which have taken many months of hard labour. On the other hand, it’s wonderful that people have loved my books enough to care that much.
Has your writing style changed much since you started writing?
It’s changed dramatically. I first begun my initial fantasy quartet, The View from the Mirror quartet, back in 1987 (though the roots of its world-building go back years before that) and it’s clearly influenced by a lot of the classic fantasy novels I’d read in the preceding decade or so. In particular, it has a more elevated and remote fantasy tone than my later work, and is also more of a romance (in both the modern and classical senses).
At the end of each new fantasy series I always write something completely different, and each time I do this, it changes the way I write the next series. For example, after I wrote The View from the Mirror quartet I did the Human Rites eco-thrillers, the first book of which (The Last Albatross) is written in the first person from a woman’s point of view, and is a more hard-edged and realistic thriller. This certainly influenced the harder and grimmer fantasy series I wrote next, The Well of Echoes.
Since then I’ve been writing a lot of children’s books such as my Runcible Jones series, and also the Sorcerer’s Tower quartet for mid-primary children. The latter books were only 10,000 words each, far smaller than my fantasy novels which are in the range of 200,000 to 260,000 words each, and the full quartets 800,000 to 900,000 words. Verbal diarrhoea, some might say! Writing these small books taught me a lot about writing economically and getting to the point quickly, and this is definitely reflected in the books I have written in the years since then.
I’ve recently finished writing a quartet of humorous fantasy novels for kids (45,000 words each) in a series called Grim and Grimmer. Writing this series is the most fun I’ve ever had writing, and I learned heaps about creating interesting and unusual characters.
What are the hardest things about writing? When writing a book, what do you really struggle with?
Writing is never easy, no matter how much of it one has done, and I’m never happy with my work until the very end (and probably not even then, realistically, though I don’t read my books after they’re published). I’m most happy with the simple storytelling aspects. I think I’ve got a way to go on characterisation.
I think I had some of my writing skills when I began, from my vast reading before beginning to write seriously in my mid-thirties, or perhaps it was innate. But I think most of my abilities simply came from writing an awful lot. By the time my first book was accepted I’d done nearly 10,000 hours of writing, which is the equivalent of five plus years full time, and I did 22 rigorous drafts of my first book, which was my writing apprenticeship.
Because I’ve written so many books, and many of them big ones, I’ve used up an awful lot of characters, settings and conflicts. What I find hardest now is remaining original, and to this end I now plan my stories in great detail. I then analyse the plan and change all the characters, settings and scenes that seem like ones I’ve written about previously.
Do you ever do book tours?
Sadly, my publishers haven’t sent me on any so far. I do signings from time to time, though mainly at conventions. Sometimes I just drop into a big bookstore and sign a whole lot of books, so it’s always worth checking there.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Life, work, experience, travel, reading. Every time I read the paper, or a magazine, or something on the net, I get ideas, and in fact my problem as a writer is having too many of them. It helps to have had a lot of life experiences. I’ve travelled to many countries and worked in twelve, so I’ve seen lots of interesting things and met all kinds of people, and all that goes into the mind’s mixing bowl and comes out as a good idea years later.
You write vast stories with lots of characters. How do you keep track of everything?
I make lots of notes (though not as many as I should), plus timelines, lists, charts, maps and locality sketches. And then I reread constantly, and do heaps of drafts. I did 22 drafts for A Shadow on the Glass, and these days, no less than 7 or 8 drafts of every book, until I can’t bear to ever see them again. And still I make mistakes!
You’ve often said that you wanted to write different fantasy to the norm? What do you mean by that?
I’ve always thought of my earlier fantasies as ‘Darwinian’, in that they’re not about the struggle of good vs evil, or greed, revenge, lust for power or similar overworked fantasy themes, but about the struggle for existence of several different intelligent species each of which has their own nobility (and baseness), and has the perfect right to fight for the survival of their kind.
Other differences are that I don’t use the traditional fantasy settings, eg analogues of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, or other settings borrowed from Earth’s history or myth; I create my own worlds and my own societies and cultures, and adventures are more likely to take place in the tar pits of Snizort than in some vast oak forest. Nor do I rely on stereotypical historical roles, eg in general, women are as free as men, and go off and have just as many adventures as men, but they’re always feminine rather than women acting like men.
What are you writing now?
Book 2 of The Gates of Good and Evil, The Fatal Gate. It’ll be published in May 2017.
Where do you get your characters’ names from?
Sometimes they just appear on the page out of nowhere, like Xervish Flydd in the Three Worlds, or Fluffia Tra-la-lee or the demon Spleen in Grim and Grimmer. At other times I have to change them many times before I get a name that sounds right for the character, and also fits the race or species or nationality the character comes from.
Through your scientific work, you have been to amazing locations such as Mauritius, Sumatra, Bali, Fiji and Tonga. You also mention visiting ‘the bottom of every scummy, festering harbour in between’ …! Have these experiences helped you shape your Fantasy landscapes?
Some of the grimmer ones, definitely. E.g., in the early eighties I led an environmental survey team on two disastrous expeditions to northern Sumatra. The first went wrong because we hired a survey ship, in good faith, which turned out to be on an Interpol black list on account of criminal activities by a previous owner. Then we ran aground, were nearly killed by our mad Burmese cook, were ripped off by an unscrupulous local agent, and so the catastrophe rolled on.
The second expedition was even worse – our captain so offended the local authorities that our new ship was impounded for months, along with all the crew, and we had to complete the survey in a rude native fishing boat, living on coconuts and mud lobsters. On my bio page there’s a photo of me wading through the mangroves. Fortunately we were in no danger from the Sumatran tigers – the crocodiles had eaten them all!
How much research do you do for your books?
I do a lot for my eco-thrillers, as they’re set in our world and there’s a lot of science to be understood, details to be checked etc. I do a lot of planning and analysis work for my fantasy novels, including world-building, design of ‘magical systems’, alternative technologies etc etc though I wouldn’t really call it research.
How long have you been writing, what have you written and how successful have they been?
I’ve been writing for 28 years. I’ve written 15 very long fantasy novels (each 200,000 words plus) in The View from the Mirror Quartet, The Well of Echoes Quartet, The Song of the Tears Trilogy and the Tainted Realm trilogy, plus book 1 of The Gates of Good and Evil.
I’ve also written four long (105,000 words each) fantasy novels for younger readers (9+) in the Runcible Jones series, plus four mid-sized (45,000 words each) books in the Grim and Grimmer series, a single kid’s novel of ~40,000 words and four short (10,000 words), illustrated kids’ novels in the Sorcerer’s Tower series.
And I’ve written three futuristic eco-thrillers set in a world of catastrophic global climate change – the Human Rites Trilogy – The Last Albatross, Terminator Gene and The Life Lottery, which have recently been republished in revised and updated 3rd Editions.
And I’ve got another two books contracted. My books have sold well over a million copies and have been published in 12 countries.
4. ABOUT IAN
Tell us about yourself, and how you got into writing fantasy.
I grew up in a forest where my dad was the head ranger, and I spent most of my childhood reading books (interspersed with wandering through the bush or climbing trees). We didn’t even have a TV; oh what cruel parents I had!
I was never the least bit interested in writing, then (this was the late Sixties). It didn’t even occur to me that people made a living out of writing books, and I wanted to be a scientist anyway. So I went to uni and studied science (geology and chemistry mainly), though I was more fascinated in the spectacular bits, like explosions and volcanoes and stuff, than I was in knuckling down to the real science.
But I was always interested in the environment (a new thing back then) and I got the chance to do research into pollution in Sydney Harbour, which really suited me, diving down to the bottom of mucky holes that were like diving in a cup of coffee – couldn’t see a thing! – and hammering tubes into the mud with a sledgehammer to get cores I could measure how much of the various heavy metals was in the harbour sediments. You can imagine what it was like, totally black and smelly, with foul bubbles wobbling up past me, and falling prey to all kinds of fears about creatures from the deep taking a bite out of me in the gloom.
But it’s been a great career. I’ve travelled all over the world doing my scientific work, including such great places as Bali, Fiji, Western Samoa and Mauritius (and other places that weren’t so nice), meeting interesting people and doing different jobs all the time.
But somehow, it wasn’t enough. I guess I had this frustrated creative urge about writing, and it kept growing and growing until one day (23 years ago now) I just had to start writing a novel to see if I could do it. And so I began on a book called A Shadow on the Glass, which became the first book of The View from the Mirror quartet, and finally, after years of struggle and rejection, and more than 20 revisions, The View from the Mirror quartet was finally published. That was just about the best time of my life.
How do you write? And why?
It’s different for each book. With The Torments of the Traitor, book 1 of The Song of the Tears, I began with an idea, wrote a brief synopsis, rewrote it many times, expanding and developing it, wrote chapters 1 and 2, which introduce the two protagonists, rewrote the synopsis a few more times, did a variety of analyses of the story and wrote a couple more chapters, then wrote a synopsis of the remaining two volumes. All this took months, but then, when I finally had the whole story clearly in my mind, I wrote the rest of the first draft (150,000 words) in a little over a month.
I like to write first drafts quickly as it turns off the critic (left brain) during the initial creative process. I then analysed the mss and did three more hard drafts, then sent it off for the structural edit. I did a few more weeks on it before I got the editor’s comments, then another six weeks doing a couple more drafts after that, then another week or two after I got the line edit. Total time, full time, about 7 months or ~ 1500 hours.
I’ve experimented with various ways of writing, but the one that works best for me is to do a couple of weeks of planning, then write the entire first draft in a furious burst of creativity over 4-6 weeks, then spend about 5-6 months revising it many times. It’s also the process I enjoy most.
My smaller books I tend to write a bit differently, perhaps because they have few characters and simpler storylines and it’s easier to keep the whole book in mind at once. With The Calamitous Queen, book 4 of Grim and Grimmer, I spent 6 days doing a detailed plan, then wrote the first draft (45,000 words) in another 6 days of 12-hour days. I then spent three days doing the second draft, another three doing the third draft, then sent it off to editing. So, 19 days all up, and yet it’s the best and funniest book of the four, probably because I was working on it so intensively that I was always ‘in the zone’.
Do you have a set writing routine and if so, what is it?
I start writing at around 7 am, most days, and write till lunch time. Then I’ll often have a brief nap and continue writing until 6-6.30 pm. However if I’m really pushing up against a deadline I’ll start at about 5.30 am, and do some writing in the evening as well.
But of course, in my career I’ve had all the other commitments that everyone with a family has, so I haven’t written this intensively all the time.
As well as being pretty much a full-time writer, you have also had a dual career as a marine scientist for the last twenty-five years or so. How on earth have you managed it and are you still taking on consultancy jobs?
I used to write in airports, in hotel rooms in foreign countries (especially in Korea, where I spent a total of 6 months in the Nineties), while waiting for the kids at sporting events etc. And because I’ve had my own business all the time I’ve been writing, if I had no consulting work on I’d simply go to the ‘literary’ side of my office and write.
Since I became a full-time writer eleven years ago I haven’t pursued consulting work and I now only do it for long-term clients. However because the Australian economy is booming, my clients are all busy and I’ve done a lot of consulting in the past couple of years. I’ve had to work long hours to get everything done.
But my children are grown up now and moved away to live their own lives, and my wife is busy etching in her studio, so I have more time to write than I used to.
Where do you get the inspiration to conjure up such wicked villains?
From a wicked mind, ha ha. But also, the heroes of the story have to face villains who are equally strong, or preferably stronger. Readers need to worry about what will happen to their heroes, and weak villains just don’t do the job. Besides, it’s great fun to write about cunning, black-hearted scoundrels, because they’re so different and they’re not bound by the rules. They say and do what they please, and they’re never boring.
Do your stories or characters ever take on a life of their own?
It happens in every book, no matter how tightly I plot it, and the unplanned twists and turns are generally better than the plotted ones. For example, in The Well of Echoes, I knew nothing about Xervish Flydd before he appeared on the page, but the moment he did, he was so alive, commanding, irascible and lusty that he took over and transformed the series.
What messages are you trying to give your readers?
I don’t write books to give people messages or to push my own beliefs or convictions. Personally, I believe this is the death of good storytelling. However of course my stories are informed by my own views about how to live one’s life, and my characters struggle with moral ambiguities all the time. I like to write about characters who are underdogs or unlikely heroes who have to use their own wit, intelligence, courage and determination, plus whatever gifts they have, to overcome the obstacles in front of them and reach their goal.
Do you just write one book at a time?
I wish! Due to the nature of publishing and book deadlines, I’m usually planning one book while drafting another and editing or proofreading another – and writing one or more consulting reports on pollution or ecological risk assessment at the same time.
What are your writing goals for the future?
To write the best, most entertaining books I possibly can. To continue to make a living at it.
What is uniquely Australian about your writing?
Not very much, I suspect, apart from a preference for protagonists who are unusual and underdogs, and a predilection for noble failures and doomed heroes.
I dare say there are elements of the Australian character that make my works different from other writers, though I haven’t deliberately put them in. My eco-thrillers are all set (or partly in the case of books 2 and 3) in Australia and use realm settings. But basically I consider myself a world writer.
What’s your favourite of all your books?
A Shadow on the Glass is my sentimental favourite, because it was the first thing I ever wrote and because I spent so long writing it (more than 20 drafts). I think Scrutator (Vol. 3 of The Well of Echoes) is probably the best book I’ve written. However the series I’ve most enjoyed is Grim and Grimmer, which was just such fun to write. I’m sorry it’s finished.
How did you feel when you got your first book contract?
My feet didn’t touch the ground for six months. It took me seven years to get a publication offer. I had various encouraging letters from publishers over the years between 1989 and 1996, so I felt that I was getting close. In late 1996 Penguin Australia made an offer for the four books of The View from the Mirror.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Not at all. I had no interest in writing as a kid; I wanted to be a scientist. I did some writing during my undergraduate years in the early 70’s, a bit more during my Ph. D. in the late 70’s, including a lot of mapmaking and world-building, though I didn’t seriously begin to write until 1987. I’ve been writing hard since that time, and full-time since 1999.
When you were starting out, which writers did you imitate?
None. I’ve loved lots of authors and books over the years, from the Famous Five and Biggles when I was a child, on, but I’ve not tried to imitate any of my favourite authors, and I’ve actively tried not to be influenced by them or their writing styles. The only influences I’m conscious of are storytelling ones, and I consider myself to be a storyteller more than a writer. Great storytelling is my passion.
I haven’t had a writing mentor. I would have liked to, but on the other hand, I think the most important skill a writer can have is to be able to critique their own writing, and that requires a lot of solitary work.
Do you mentor other writers?
I’ve mentored about 10 other writers, either through the NSW Writer’s Centre, or students doing their major work writing project in Extension 2 English in the NSW school leaving exams, or writers I know. It’s a matter of critically reading their work and providing detailed (but sensitive) comments, plus marked up examples of problems in it, and handing it back to them to revise, revise, revise. I’ve also given talks on writing to Year 12 Advanced English students in a number of NSW schools, and was a tutor at one of the Clarion South writing workshops.
Do you write full-time?
Yes, I normally write every day unless I’m doing a consulting job or away on holidays with my family. I do writing-related work for at least fifty hours a week and when I’m working to a tight deadline it can be seventy hours.
What did you do before you were a published author?
I was a scientist working on the effects of pollution on the environment (mainly on the sea) and how it can be prevented. I still do this work, when I have free time from writing books.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I read books, wander around the garden looking at the weeds and think I should pull some of them out, listen to music, mainly classical.
Why fantasy? Why don’t you write proper books?
I write because I must (ie because of a creative urge that is so overpowering that I go a bit spare when other responsibilities prevent me from doing it). I write fantasy because some of the most enjoyable moments of my life have been reading great works of fantasy, so that’s what I naturally incline to write. And also, let it be said, because my fantasy books sell well and I can make a decent living doing it.
My motivation is to write the best, most entertaining stories I possibly can, for general readers. I consider myself an entertainer and a storyteller and don’t have any particular aim to write literary works, though I do want to write fantasy that is different from the great bulk of epic fantasy being published today, which tends to be very derivative. I want to create my own worlds and take my readers to places they’ve never been to in fantasy.
How is your work different to other writers’?
The settings, which come out of my imagination and my work as a scientist, rather than being influenced by the traditional medieval and European settings of many other popular fantasy writers. The preoccupations, which have nothing to do with good vs evil or other common themes, but more with the struggle between species and peoples for day to day survival in hostile worlds. The people, who are a bit different to the stock characters of traditional fantasy and are portrayed warts and all.
Having spent my life as a scientist working on problems like marine pollution, where it’s necessary to understand how the physical and biological worlds work, I’m sure I see the world quite differently to people who have less analytical backgrounds. I believe this comes across in my writing, particularly in the realism and credibility with which I create fantasy worlds, but also in the way I’ve written about our real world (well, slightly in the future) in my Human Rites eco-thrillers about global warming and catastrophic climate change. In these books I didn’t want to create new worlds, but rather to credibly extend trends in the world of the present into a darker future.
What kind of books do you read?
These days I’m not sure I have a favourite book. I read widely, and a lot of non-fiction as well as fiction. Lately I’ve enjoyed the fantasy novels of Lois McMaster Bujold, such as The Curse of Chalion, Jasper Fforde’s zany novels of a fantasy bookworld (The Eyre Affair, etc) and Max Barry’s satirical future world in Jennifer Government. Also Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe and Matt Ridley’s Genome.
Who are your favourite writers?
I’ve been reading a lot of kids’ books lately and here are some of my favourites.
Sabriel and The Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix
Monster Blood Tattoo series by DM Cornish
Worldshaker by Richard Harland
Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
The Laws of Magic series by Michael Pryor
The Spook series by Joseph Delaney
The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.
Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman.
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve.
The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.
The Earthsea series by Ursula le Guin.
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.
I also enjoy the books of Tad Williams, Jack Vance, George RR Martin, Lois McMaster Bujold (the fantasy novels) and Robin Hobb, among many others.
Who are your favourite characters from your books?
It changes all the time, according to what I’ve written most recently. At the moment, Maelys from The Song of the Tears is probably my favourite because she has so few natural advantages to be a hero (she’s small, demure, well-brought-up, and prefers reading to action) and yet she’s such a fighter. She never gives up and she nearly always finds a way out.
I’m also very fond of Ike from Grim and Grimmer, because he’s not really good at anything except drawing, he’s clumsy and awkward and makes lots of disastrous mistakes, but at the same time he’s good hearted and determined.
And not forgetting Karan and Llian from The View from the Mirror quartet, sentimental favourites because they were the first characters I created and the ones I worked longest on.
I’m writing (or have written) a novel. Will you critique it for me?
Sorry, but I’m so busy I’m struggling to get my own editing done. However, every town has writer’s groups, and there are also lots of regional and state writer’s centres. If you join one of these you’ll find lots of people willing to critique your work.
Why haven’t you replied to my email?
At the moment I’m so busy I’m having trouble even reading all my mail, much less replying to it. I do try to get through all my email but I’m often months behind. However if you have a general question, it’s probably answered somewhere in these FAQs. You can also post a message on my Facebook wall and I’ll do my best to reply if it’s not answered in these FAQs.
What advice would you give to people who want to write?
You need talent, first of all, but it’s not enough. Thousands of people can write well, but not many of them ever get published. What you need most of all is the determination to keep going no matter how many knock-backs you get, and to learn your craft no matter how long it takes.
But if you can write a great story, with real characters that your readers can empathise with, you’ll get there in the end. That’s what most readers are looking for – not beautiful writing, but great storytelling.
There’s heaps more about writing on my website, particularly in my long article, The Truth about Publishing, which aims to tell beginning writers almost everything they need to know about the world of writing and publishing.And all the other articles in my Writing section.
Why is fantasy so popular?
People no longer believe that science has the answers; besides, SF has largely polarised into a literary side, rarely of mass appeal, and a popular side mainly consisting of the franchises like Star Wars, Dr Who etc. And because our lives are ever more frantic and out of our control, contemporary fiction has lost its appeal as well – there are more than enough horrors on the nightly news.
Fantasy offers an escape from a corrupt, controlled and degraded world to a simpler and more comprehensible place where ordinary people can make a difference. Where small, flawed but ultimately admirable heroes like Maelys or Ike or Runcible Jones, who are brave, steadfast, noble (or whatever), will fight on, no matter the odds, for what they believe in. And we read fantasy because that’s the way we would like to be. We see a small, frightened but heroic part of ourselves in these heroes.
What do you hope readers get out of your books?
I’m just a storyteller, so my main aim is to tell the best story I can. To take my readers out of their lives for a day or two, to places they’ve never been before, and to meet characters unlike the ones they’ve been reading about in other books. But if some readers are inspired by the way Runcie and Mariam face terrible dangers and overcome them in the Runcible Jones books, or Ike and Mellie in Grim and Grimmer, or Tali in The Tainted Realm, and end up changed for the better, that would be good too.
Do you identify with any of the characters you write about?
I identify with every character I’m writing about in some way or other, even the bad ones. A writer has to identify with all their characters, to some degree, to truly know what makes them tick. So even if I’m writing about a really nasty character, I have to try and get inside their heads to find out their deepest desires and greatest fears, so I can understand why they do the wicked things they do. And also to find out something likeable, appealing or admirable about them to give them more depth. No character should be utterly evil with no redeeming features.
Do you think speculative fiction is taken seriously, or is it still marginalised?
No, not seriously at all, even though at least 15% of all novels sold are fantasy, SF or horror. For example, as far as I can remember, there hasn’t been an SF or fantasy author invited to the Sydney Writer’s Festival in the past three years, and the other big writer’s festivals aren’t much better (even though they usually have a couple of hundred writers there). Our books hardly ever get reviewed in the main newspapers, either.
And that’s curious, because SF, at least, often deals with issues that are vital to humanity’s future. For example, in my Human Rites eco-thrillers set in the near future, I tried to show what it would really be like in a global-warming world. In Terminator Gene, New Orleans was wiped out by a hurricane several years before that actually happened. Some of my other forecasts from the Human Rites series have also come true already, which is pretty worrying.
Why is it so hard to get your books in the US?
Only The View from the Mirror Quartet has been published in the US, way back in 2001 and 2002, and the Tainted Realm trilogy in 2011-2013. These series are available in print and Ebooks from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others, and the Audiobook edition is also available from Audible.com and iTunes. The rest of the Three Worlds series is available in book form from Amazon.ca, as the UK edition was distributed in Canada, and also from Amazon.co.uk or from Australian online booksellers.
Are your books available online as Ebooks?
All my books are available as Ebooks except for the Sorcerer’s Tower series (which will be available soon) and the Grim and Grimmer series (which won’t be available as an ebook for some time). Due to copyright restrictions not all of these books may be available in all countries.
Are any of your books being made into movies? If not, why not?
Unfortunately, no. It costs less than $50,000 to publish and print a book, and more than 200,000 book titles are published in English a year.
It costs at least $100 million to make a fantasy movie, and only a handful are made each year, almost always from books that have sold countless millions of copies. My books have sold well, but not that well, and it’s unlikely that any of them will ever be made into movies. Sadly.