Some authors talk of their characters ‘surprising’ them by their actions; is this something that has happened to you?
Characters can certainly be remarkably stubborn if I ask them to do or say something out of character. They just veer off and do it their way. Sometimes I have to remind them that people can do the unexpected; mostly I give in to them. They should know best, after all.
One of the major themes of The Mirage Makers is the choice between upbringing and birthright. It's something you obviously feel strongly about as a writer - is it also the sort of theme you enjoy coming across in books as a reader?
Yes. I love writers who look at large or universal problems within the microcosm of a character. It makes themes and theoretical concepts more personal, more understandable, less black and white. One can read an essay on “Nature versus Nurture” – or read about a fictional character like Ligea facing exactly that problem in her personal history. The abstract suddenly becomes much more immediate and real, even though she is fictional.
What do you think of the packaging given to your books? Do you have any strong feelings on cover art?
I love the Orbit covers! I think both the design department and the talented Larry Rostant, the artist, have done a superb job of echoing the elements of the story.
As I write this, I haven’t yet seen the cover for Song of the Shiver Barrens, but with the Heart of the Mirage cover there’s the strangeness of the cracked pinkish sky, the importance of the translucent sword, the mysterious, shadowy people watching, waiting…are they real? Or just a mirage? And on The Shadow of Tyr cover, don’t you just love the way the spear and the Imperial symbol seem to dominate, promising war and retribution? – but then look again, and you see that the feathers on one side of the wings appear to be broken. Perhaps Tyr has a weakness, a sickness? It sends shivers down my spine. Masterful.
I must admit, I have little understanding of what cover art can do to sell – or not sell – a book, but I think both readers and authors feel short-changed when a cover portrays something that is not in the book or gives an incorrect emphasis to what the story is about. A dragon on the cover should mean there’s a dragon in the story.
In the past, I think the cover of mine which mystified me the most is one for a book in translation that appears portrays the flight deck and crew of a space ship, when the book is about a world of sailing ships and magical mayhem in an archipelago!
Although you live in Malaysia, many people still consider you an Australian author. Do you have strong ties to the Australian writing community?
I am still an Australian, that will never change. Whenever I can, I go to Australian science fiction and fantasy conventions, and of course the internet makes friendships with my fellow writers so much easier. I’ve met or corresponded with most of the Australian published fantasy novel writers, at least those who write for adults; some, such as Karen Miller, Trudi Canavan and Jenny Fallon - and Russell Kirkpatrick from New Zealand - I count as good friends. We have acted as first readers for one another, I have a place to stay when I visit their cities, they have a place in Malaysia, and yes, we are availing ourselves of one another’s hospitality! The Australian scene is large enough to be interesting and vibrant, yet small enough to be intimate and familiar, and I value my contact with wonderful writers, as well as with my Australian editors and publishers and fans.
And, lastly, for those writers who have yet to see their books appearing in the shops, how did it feel to see your first novel in print?
Disbelief was uppermost, I think! There were a good many years between the day I found an agent and the day my first book was sold, and I was ready to admit defeat several times. But my wonderful agent had faith in my writing and never gave up, so neither could I. When the first copy of my first book arrived in the mail I think I was as delighted for her as much I was for myself.