My life has been described by one of my editors as “impossibly exotic” – although really it is not my life, but me, that’s the exotic. I’m the uprooted plant, the exotic who doesn’t belong, always living in someone else’s backyard...
An Australian living in Malaysia. Writer, traveler, environmentalist. Author of The Isles of Glory trilogy (The Aware, Gilfeather, The Tainted); The Mirage Makers trilogy (Heart of the Mirage, The Shadow of Tyr, Song of the Shiver Barrens) and, writing as Glenda Noramly, a stand-alone book Havenstar. The latest trilogy is called The Watergivers in Australia and the Stormlord trilogy elsewhere: THE LAST STORMLORD, STORMLORD RISING, STORMLORD'S EXILE
Sometime in the next week, you should be able to get your hands on a copy of Stormlord's Exile, the final volume in the trilogy. That's half a million words all together by the time you arrive at the end of volume three! And Publisher's Weekly did say - twice in the same paragraph - that this last book is exciting, and so I hope you will enjoy the ride.
British edition -- Orbit
I am already getting news about readers who have got their hands on a copy already, so now I am waiting to see just who puts up the first reader review on one of the Amazon sites, or Good Reads or the Barnes and Noble. And yeah, I am one of the pathetic authors who does indeed hang around looking for reader feedback.
I first met Alma online some years ago, and then -- in the way that writers sometimes do, particularly when they like the other writer's books! -- we managed to find ourselves in the same place at the same time and were able to meet face to face. And now she has been kind enough to agree to be a guest on Tropic Temper, talking about ...well, being a writer.
And there's another very good reason too. Alma has written another book, this one:
Isn't that one gorgeous cover?
So here, from Alma:
What does “being a writer” mean?
In a now famous and much-quoted interview, Ursula le Guin’s response to the question of “What would you be if you weren’t a writer” was a trenchant and succinct, “Dead.” And Gregory Macdonald, creator of “Fletch”, had this to say on the matter: "I never wanted to be a writer. I don’t want to be one now. To me, writing is not an occupation; it’s not a job; it’s not an avocation. It’s a response to life. I’ve never understood people who say, “I decided to be a writer.” That’s like saying you want to be a pine tree. Either you are a pine tree, or you are not."
So, then. I am alive. I am a pine tree, in Macdonald’s definition of same. I am, for better or worse, a writer.
I self-identify as one. I am introduced as one to perfect strangers by people who know me. Commentary by friends to somebody else asking me if I’d been writing lately has boiled down to a snort and a trenchant, “Oh, PLEASE. Why not ask if she’s been breathing lately?”
It’s something I do. It’s something I AM.
But part of “being a writer” is having written – and part of the yardstick of measuring a writer’s success is contained in that awful response to the I’m a writer line in the cocktail party context, when someone you’re talking to in a crowded room comes back with the “Oh, anything I might have read?” inquiry. Which then leads to a discussion of publication, and how one is published, and where, and who one is published by, and whether that publication has sufficient cachet or street-cred to warrant the time and attention of your cocktail party co-conversationalist. And all this… before we dive into the murky waters of genre, and whether writing mysteries, or science fiction, or fantasy, or (saints forfend!) romance, actually qualifies you for the “writer” title at all – because everyone knows that these are not Real Literature.
So, then. What do I write, and why do I write it?
Let me begin by throwing that word at you again. Genre. Yes, genre. Go duck for cover if you need to. Still here? Good. Because my next line has caused a lot of people a lot of grief, before they’ve reluctantly come to accept that I am at least partially right:
Fantasy is Not a Subset of Literature… because All Literature Is Fantasy – By Definition.
Oh, yes, it is. It’s fiction, which is defined as being not-true, which is therefore defined as a fantasy. And no, I don’t care if it’s set in Narnia or in the Upper West Side of Manhattan – if it’s fiction, it’s lies, and the only qualification is how well the lies are told. Some fiction is good enough to make us believe in dragons, and some can’t even make you believe in a New York lawyer. The tissue of lies is different – different color, different texture, different thickness – but it’s still a tissue of lies, and it’s only a semblance of any kind of reality at all.
So, then – what kind of fantasy have I allowed myself to indulge in?
With two exceptions – one being an autographical memoir and the other a collection of non-fiction essays – my writing oeuvre has been wrapped in the Telling of Tales. One of my novels was a modern-day epistolary (written in emails, with a co-author whom I’ve since married) and dealt with contemporary and real-life issues; the rest of my published work has been, by and large, far more fantastical than that. It ranges from the high epic fantasy as showcased in what became the Changer of Days duology (in the United States, the books are known as “The Hidden Queen” and “Changer of Days”) to alternate history/historical fantasy (“Secrets of Jin Shei” and “Embers of Heaven”) to the YA fantasy world of the Worldweavers trilogy (“Gift of the Unmage”, “Spellspam”, “Cybermage”).
These all self-define as fantasy for reasons which are both shared, and unique to individual projects. For instance, they’re all, by and large, immersion fantasies, set in their own particular worlds. Some (as with the Changer of Days books) wholly invented, some (the Jin Shei books) borrowed from the pages of history and alchymically changed as needed, and some (the Worldweavers books) in a world which is basically ours but with a few tweaks here and there to make it not-quite-ours, and with a hint of other worlds which are emphatically NOT our own being accessible from it with a bit of luck, knowledge, and experience.
And then… I put my writing tack on a horse of quite a different color.
“Midnight at Spanish Gardens” is… almost mainstream. If you merely glanced at it and didn’t look further, perhaps that is all that you would see – because on the face of it the story is palpably about OUR world, our REAL world, complete with the Mayan end-of the-world-in-2012 scenario built into it.
But look closer.
There is a portal.
And the portal – well – even if it appears to lead from one mundane life into another, it’s a portal, and the edges of it are glimmering with magic… and the being who ushers you through it is ageless and knowing, a creature who may or may not be a messenger, an angel.
This horse of a different color – take a closer look at it. It might look like a perfectly ordinary and perfectly mundane equine – but underneath that disquietingly disguising ordinary horse-colorr there is a shimmer of silver. Underneath its feet as they touch the ground there is a hint of light, as though those hooves are striking sparks off the ground. And if you look really carefully, if the angle of the head is just right, you can see the hint, just the hint, of a tiny nub on the horse’s blazed forehead. A nub that you almost believe that you cannot possibly have seen. A nub that hints that this horse may well live and prosper in our own world… but that its mother was without any doubt a Unicorn.
Part of the power of magic is to coat the bitter truths of our world in a layer of sweeter stuff, making them easier to swallow and to digest – and no, I am not talking about straight allegory, which is something that I have always found difficult to accept. I find allegory to be transparent, and being transparent it is unbearably preachy – because I can clearly see that clue-by-four as it is being aimed in my direction. I’ve always been a fan of subtle rather than in-your-face, and allegory – particularly when it’s done badly, which is alas so often the case with this kind of thing – is as unsubtle as it is possible to be.
But a story can be ABOUT something without hammering the concept home with a mallet.
“Midnight at Spanish Gardens” is a novel about people, at its heart – people who live their lives as best they can, people who get hurt, or bent, or broken, and who try and figure out the best way to pick up the pieces and make themselves as whole as they know how. It’s a novel with a deep emotional heart. It is also a novel of Ideas, and even Issues – the bitter little truths at the core of the sweet pills.
It deals with difficult stuff, and it is my hope that while enjoying the story in which that stuff is embedded my readers will also be moved to think more about the stuff itself, especially in the aftermath, after they have finished this book and put it down. It is my hope that there are things here that will stay in the reader’s memory, and the reader’s heart, and the reader’s thoughts and subsequent actions and perhaps attitudes, long after the book itself is done.
I am alive. I am a pine tree. I am a writer.
I hope that the things I write about, even though they are lies, are so rooted in truth that the fruit they bear is something the taste of which will remain remembered.
In closing – a few words about me, and a few more about the book -
It was raining this morning. And windy. Outside out bedroom window I could hear the baby bird yelling to be fed, non stop. After breakfast (mine) I realised it was still yelling, non-stop. I peeked into the nest from the bedroom. Empty. Just 7 full days after hatching and the parents chose an awful day to entice them out of the nest.
But something was definitely wrong. I went outside. In the street I could hear one baby bird calling and the parents. But the other was still under our window. After much, much searching, I finally found it under the grille of the drain, sitting miserably and very vocally in the water. It was mightily happy to be rescued and sat shivering in my (muddy)hand. I cupped my other hand over the top until it had warmed up, then my husband took this photo, and I placed it high on the pot-plants on our front veranda. One of the parents soon found it and it has been vocally demanding food all morning (and getting it from mum) while dad manages the other youngster further away.
You may remember the tailorbirds that built a nest under our bedroom window at home. Well they decided to do it again. Last time they didn't quite make it -- the nest fell out of the leaves, perhaps because a cat clawed it. Well, they are trying again.
Here is the nest (see the red writing) as seen from inside the bedroom.
Here below is the nest from the outside of the house. X is where I took the other photos from; y is the new nest, and z is the remains of the old nest which was occupied in February.
Photo below taken with flash. Two young, now 6 days old. When I first saw them they were nearly hatched and barely the size of the nail on my little finger. If you look carefully, you'll see that one of the leaves used has already died -- and I have stuck it to the main stalk with sticky tape in the hope that it will hold up.
The colouration of the mouth of a young bird programmes the parent to feed it. The yellow "gape" and black spots inside the mouth are part of a pattern which can vary from bird to bird. Baby cuckoos copy the patterning of the host bird's young.
I haven't managed to get the parents at the nest -- they are so quick, and I don't want to disturb them.
Let's hope the young make it to adulthood this time around!