Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Orbit Interview

One of the nice things Orbit UK did when they published Song of the Shiver Barrens was to include an interview with me at the back. (The other nice thing for you readers - they included the first chapter of Karen Miller's new book in the UK "Empress"!)

Here's the first part of that interview:

Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get into writing fantasy?

I grew up on a small farm in Western Australia. Playmates were few and far between, which is probably why I developed both an excessively inventive imagination and a love of all things outdoors. As a child, I read everything I could lay my hands on, including old National Geographics, and for as long as I can remember I wanted to write and to travel. I was writing fully fledged stories by the time I was eight, and as soon as I was old enough to work in my school holidays, I was saving money to travel.

I’ve been writing and travelling ever since. As well as Australia, I have lived in North Africa, continental Europe and Asia – both on the mainland and the island of Borneo. My first published works were non-fiction travel articles!

You were a teacher for many years. How do you think that affects your approach to storytelling?

Well, I was telling tales long before I was a teacher. I seem to remember enthralling my classmates back in the playground of a country elementary school on a regular basis by reading my stories to them. Perhaps the teaching that helped me most as a writer was when I taught English as a foreign language (in Malaysia, Austria and Tunisia) and gained a depth of understanding about the structure of my own language as a result.

A bit of a logistical question, but just how do you find the time to write with another career and family to visit all around the world?

I can – and do – write anywhere. Without that ability, I would never be able to submit a book on time to meet a deadline.

I now work as an environmentalist, not a teacher, and much of my work takes me into the field. I have read first proofs in a tent in the middle of the rainforest. I have dealt with copy edits while sweltering by a roadside waiting for transport. I have plugged my computer into the wall in airports, coffee shops and waiting rooms, or I’ve hooked it up to generators in muddy logging huts or rainforest research camps. I've used my laptop as long as the battery would last on buses and beaches and coral atolls, in peat swamps and on fishing boats chugging through mangrove inlets. I’ve typed while perched on gunny sacks full of coffee beans on a wharf, or on tree stumps and fallen logs in the forest, or crammed into an airplane seat for a twelve hour international flight. I’ve written by candlelight, lamplight, moonlight, torchlight, firelight, streetlights, and even headlights (waiting to be rescued from a bogged car in the middle of nowhere.) The most challenging of all, though, is to find time to write while looking after a three-year-old grandson…

How much of an influence has being a conservationist and studying the natural world been on your writing and your world building? Do you often draw inspiration from your experiences or does it make it much harder to create something new and different?

An understanding of the natural world includes seeing how everything fits together, the larger picture. A logging operation means more exposed soil upstream. Run-off means the river is brown with mud. How does a riverine kingfisher see the fish it must catch to live? It’s all about connections. What happens in a neighbouring country can affect what happens to the birds in your own.

World building is like that. You don’t create just a house and a street. You are creating a world, and it is all interconnected. You can’t have your pre-industrial townsfolk eating fresh tuna if your town is miles from the ocean. Your musician needs strings for his lute (what are they made of?), your swordsman won’t be an expert if he never practises. In a desert, no one burns firewood in their fireplaces. Of course, you don’t put everything you know about your world into your book! But you have to know it and understand how it all fits together. Only if you do, will your reader feel that when he has opened the page, he has stepped into another real place.

Because I have lived as a local within a number of different societies, I know more than the average traveller about what goes into making a culture. That gives me an edge, I feel, in creating the people and the social rules they live by within their imaginary world.

Monday, April 28, 2008

So what's next?

Book manuscript is submitted to UK and Oz publishers, awaiting the rejection or acceptance... so what's next?

Well, firstly, there's the clean-up-house project. A month away in Australia in March-April, preceded by several months of frantic manuscript rearrangement and polishing, plus writing a final work project paper, meant that the house has been neglected. [I share house with a lovely man ... but one who has not quite managed, in spite of my propaganda campaign waged over many years of marriage, to divest himself of the Asian idea that major house chores of the spring cleaning variety are a woman's domain...]

This kind of house neglect might not mean much in a temperate climate. In the tropics it's an invitation for every kind of wildlife and plant form to take up residence, thank you very much.

So I have decided a major war on intruding flora and fauna and dust is in order to clear the way for the coming frontal assault on the next book, plus the next work project, all of which will be accompanied by another period of neglect.

No idea when the work project will start, but it could be very soon. And I am nervous about writing book 2 of a trilogy without a contract; I've never done that before because it is such a gamble. Writing one book and failing is all very well - just a year down the tubes - but writing a second book to follow it into oblivion is rather sticking one's neck out. Better to try something else, one would think.

However, I have in fact already done quite a bit of Book 2, so I will continue and keep all fingers crossed (when I am not actually typing) that someone somewhere will love the story of a rogue rainlord who steals rain and thus mucks up a whole nation and begins a war - and that's just for starters...

So here's a look at the picometer status of Book 2 - which I am very provisionally calling Stormshifter.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Where do you get your ideas from?

Every writer dreads that question, because we know that if someone had to ask it, they don't get the way a writer's mind works. Our problem is never ideas - but the writing. We trip over ideas all the time.

To explain. These are more photos taken around Esperance, Western Australia. Lucky Bay to be exact.

I was walking down the steps in the first picture when I looked to my left - and snapped picture 2 as a result. Look closely. What can you see? Anything that suggests an idea for a book? Yes, they are just rocks, but...

Look a bit closer. And if there's not a rock there that doesn't give you an idea or two, believe me, you are not a fantasy writer!!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Denvention - Denver 2008, here I come

Over on the Denvention3 webpage for the Denver Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention to be held this August), they have started to put up the bios of participants.

Oooo - I love this. All those great names: Lois McMaster Bujold is the Guest of Honour. Then there's Carol Berg, David Brin, Joe Haldeman, Phyllis Eisenstein, Robert Silverberg, Jay Lake, Kay Kenyon, Nancy Kress, Robert Silverberg, Steve Miller, Sharon Lee...and so many more.

And me. Yes, me. See here. I feel like a mouse in the shadow of so many talented writers.

And seeing as I am feeling all nostalgic after yesterday's post, here's another dollop of nostalgia. A photo take of our family back in 1989 in Alice Springs. Selina, aged 17, had just learned that she had been accepted at Oxford University. Nashii, the one on the right (then known as Tasha!), was 14.

Friday, April 25, 2008


My husband just came home from Vienna.

And brought lots of nostalgia home with him.

The Graben. God, how I loved that city.
That was his office up there... 11th floorAnd that's the house we lived on from 1986 to 1991, just off Beethovengang - we used to walk on up to the Vienna Woods every weekend. You entered the house from the street, but that's really the back of the house. The front looked out on to a garden with a birch tree. Ah...



For those folk in UK about to buy Song of the Shiver Barrens - yes, it is Book 3 of the Mirage Makers, not Book Two as the title page says!

You know, no matter how many times a book is read and reread by countless people, there always seems to be some mistakes that slip by. At least it says Book 3 on the cover.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Weird stuff

There is an ongoing High Court case here about whether a Catholic weekly has the right to call their deity "Allah."

The weekly was prohibited from using the word "Allah" by the Home Ministry, and the Catholics are appealing.

How bizarre is that?

I have visions of the deity up there in heaven (whatever s/he is called) scratching their head over this one. The world price of rice has doubled in 5 weeks, someone stole the metal in a pylon and blacked out almost the entire state of Sabah when the pylon collapsed, stories of pollution and corruption dominate the newspapers, a couple of young kids - evidently kidnapped by paedophiles - are still missing ... and this is what the High Court and the Catholic weekly and the Home Ministry worry about?

In the name of God, let's have some sense.

Pix: an Australian country road (between Esperance and Stokes...)

Tortured again

I spent an hours this morning on the rack, tied down and tortured. Yep, that's right - another MRI, of the elbow this time. Honestly, having to spend 60 minutes motionless in an awkward position is murder for someone with arthritis.

Results in two weeks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

When boredom means success

Sometime tomorrow I will finish yet another rewrite of Rogue Rainlord (or whatever the final title is!).

And this is absolutely the last draft.*

*{Er, well, sort of the last - there's still an editor's suggestions to be incorporated (if I ever sell the thing) and then the copy editor's corrections and then the final proofs after that... Maybe I had better say this is the last of the writer's drafts.}

I sometimes get asked: How do you know when it's ready? After two re-writes? Ten? Thirty?

The answer for me is none of the above. I know it is ready when I get bored.

It's been put away and allowed to jell several times, then re-read and found wanting. It has been rewritten and fixed and cut and added to and rearranged. It has been tightened and polished and read and corrected yet again. How many drafts? I haven't the faintest clue. Numbers mean nothing; what counts is getting it right. And until I get it right, I can't leave the darn thing alone. Some time back I got it structurally right and breathed a sigh of relief; now I have the polish right as well.

And I know that I have it about as right as it will ever be, short of having professional editorial input. How do I know? Because I am bored. Why am I bored? Because finally I can't find much to fix. This is the way it is meant to be. This is my story and it is good. I love it. And I now find myself reading it as a reader, not as a writer - but it is a book I have read so many times over the past few months that it has no surprises any more. I have reached the stage where I have to let go, move on. I've no idea how other writers arrive at this decision, but for me, boredom means success. The first goal has been reached...

{Of course, when I have editorial input, I shall get itchy fingers again and there will be lots more polishing...}

And the good news is my agent has now read it (the version before this one) and has said that she thoroughly enjoyed it, thinks it is great stuff, and still finds a certain scene shocking, even though she read it before in a still earlier version.

Yay! She has no hesitation in sending the MS off.

How's this for style? A public chess set in a cow paddock, just outside of Esperance. Love it.

Is the fence to keep the bovines from trampling the pawns or to make sure they don't dribble on the players?

I have distinct memories from my childhood of a cow called Corrie who hated kids, and me racing down the driveway with her lowered horns just inches from my behind. Pamplona and running with the bulls? Yep, been there, done that, and I was only five. I dived through the neighbour's barbed wire fence.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Recherche Archipelago, Esperance

While we were in Esperance, we took a boat trip out to the Recherche Archipelago and spend a brief time on Woody Island, the only one of the 110 or so islands that has a camping area and a building - a restaurant.

Saw lots of seals and sea lions, dolphins, gannets, cormorants and a shearwater - no albatrosses though, unfortunately. Or whales - wrong time of the year for them as they have already headed north for the winter.

The Archipelago also has about 1500 reefs which were discovered by the French in about 1800. The presence of the French was a major reason why the British decided to start a colony in Western Australia in 1826...(no one asked the locals what they thought of that, of course.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Buying Shadow of Tyr in Australia

This is by way of apology to all the people who either bought Heart of the Mirage recently in Australia as a result of meeting me at Swancon, or who received a free copy of it as a result of buying Feist's latest - and then found that Book 2 in the trilogy The Shadow of Tyr was temporarily unavailable.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed Heart of the Mirage and it distresses me that The Shadow of Tyr was allowed to go out of print at such an inopportune time. I scoured Perth while I was there in both March and Arpil, and never found a single copy on sale anywhere except the speciality shops (bless 'em). I know, I know, it was totally ridiculous to run what was in effect a marketing campaign for the book and then not have it available - but that's the kind of inanity that happens in the publishing business.

However, rest assured, The Shadow of Tyr is now in print once more and it should be back on the shelves very soon, if not already.

Here's the prologue, just to whet your appetite:

Temellin stood on the sea wall and watched the Platterfish manoeuvre through the moored fisher boats. In the windless waters of the fishing harbour, four oars stroked in unison from the lower deck, while the sail hung like a rumpled blanket from the top spar. On the top deck, a woman leant at the railing, looking back at him.

Ligea Gayed, who was also his cousin Sarana Solad. She really was leaving him, taking his unborn child with her. Nothing he’d said had persuaded her to stay, and his sense of betrayal was matched only by the intensity of his loss. She could have chosen to rule this land alone, she could have chosen to share his rule, she could have done neither and just chosen to stay anyway. Instead, she had put her own quest for revenge, justice — call it what you would — before their love.

He understood, yet was bitterly angered, but it made no difference anyway: he loved her and always would. Mirageless soul, how was he going to live a life without her now that he had known what it was like to share it with her?

As the boat slipped past the arms of the narrow entrance and out of the harbour’s embrace, the shipmaster manning the stern sweep called out something to Ligea, and indicated the limp sail. She laughed and waved at Temellin, pointing to it in turn. He knew what they were asking, and obliged because he liked the irony of it using his own power to send the woman he loved away. A breeze sprang out of nowhere to fill the flaxen squares ribbed with leather along the joins.

She raised her hand in farewell as the boat picked up speed and slid over the first of the ocean swells. Even across the distance, he felt the emotion she let free for him to sense: that mix of love and sorrow and determination that was peculiarly hers.

As he watched, he saw Brand come and stand by her side. Damn his eyes. And yet he was grateful the Altani was there for her. Gratitude and jealousy, side by side ... nothing was simple any more.

Cabochon take it, Sarana, you turn a man inside out.

A voice spoke softly from behind him, echoing his sentiments, but for a quite different reason. ‘She should not go. No Magoroth should leave Kardiastan now. Not when those murdering blond bastards walk our streets and war is coming.’

He turned to look at the speaker: a crinkle-skinned fisherman weaving closed a tear in the side of an aging lobster pot, a man too ancient to sail with the fleet any more.

‘She will still fight our battles, old man,’ he said. ‘She will be in a position to stop legionnaires from landing on our shores, one day.’

The fisherman grunted, his disbelief strong in the air. ‘How much longer, Magori?’ he asked. ‘How much longer before I don’t fear to walk me own streets again? Will these old bones last long enough for this ancient to see freedom once more, eh?’

Temellin gave a grim smile. ‘You look as tough as shleth leather. You’ll make it.’ In his heart, he wasn’t so sure. It was one thing to start a war — they could, and would, do that soon. They’d been on the way to begin when Sarana had brought the news of the Stalwarts attack across the Alps. But win? That was another matter.

Hostages, he thought as he walked back along the sea wall towards the town. The Tyranians have a land full of hostages, and they’ll use them, too. How much stomach will we have to go on fighting when they can attack the innocent?

Sands take it, maybe Sarana was right. Maybe her help in Tyr would be crucial. Maybe without it, Kardiastan would never be free, for all their Magor power. Power, he mused, his thoughts bleak, even Magor power it’s not everything. It might not even be enough.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


A minor case of being Noramlyed on the way home. I had the seat on the full plane that had no functioning video/music/reading light. Sigh.

And now it's back to getting used to:
High humidity.
That damn Koel that keeps calling outside my window before dawn.
The ergomomic keyboard. I have to learn to use it all over again.
The roof that has sprung a new leak in a new place.

Easier to dream of Esperance. Here are some photos of Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park. Some call it the prettiest beach in Australia.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Home today...

I arrive back in Kuala Lumpur at about 10 pm tonight. At 12 midnight my husband has to check in for a very early morning flight to Vienna, where he is attending an UN International Atomic Energy meeting.

Such is life.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Back home tomorrow...

All good things come to an end. Including holidays. I have been incredibly lazy since Swancon, and the shock will set in next week when work attacks me with a vengeance.

In the meantime - here are some photos of that incredibly beautiful southern coastline... California, eat your heart out.

This is Thistle Cove, Cape Le Grand National Park, somewhere east of Esperance, Western Australia.

Just one of many beaches and bays - they go on for hundreds of miles. We were there when the weather was warm (27 plus celsius, in the 80s F). See all the hordes of people...?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tiptree and gender: was it once easier?

The Tiptree Award for this year has just been announced, together with its honour list. On seeing my pal Karen Miller's books up there, I immediately dashed an email off to her, which completely bowled her over because she'd had no idea that her books were being considered.

The award is for "any work of science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender."

After reading the rather diverse list of works honoured, I began to wonder just how hard it must be to produce nowadays a work of sff which does in fact "expand or explore" in any real sense "our understanding of gender", at least when thinking in terms of traditional "either-you-are-hetero-male-or-female" notions of gender.

Back in the 1960s it would have been a cinch.

Back in the 1960s, I was teaching in a highschool in Western Australia, and earning considerably less than my male colleagues who had precisely the same academic qualifications and experience as me. That's right - same job, less pay. And that was considered perfectly acceptable because - as one of my male colleagues explained with pompous righteousness -"You don't have the responsibilities that we (males) have - we have to support our families." He genuinely couldn't see anything wrong with that statement.

I pointed out to him that I was 100% supporting my brother-in-law at the time. Paying for his accommodation, daily allowance and university fees, but I doubt I budged the man's thinking one iota.

Anyone writing a book or short story that contained a simple bit of role reversal might have expanded that man's horizons. Ursula le Guin's brilliant "Left Hand of Darkness" could blast a mindset like his to smithereens, if he was at all prepared to give it some thought.

But nowadays?
All the obvious problems of hetero gender inequality and prejudices have been written about endlessly. Strong, competent women leaders and sensitive heroes are everywhere. Idiocies with respect to gender roles have been uncovered and dissected and ridiculed. We can still write about them, of course, but whether we add anything new is debatable.

There's loads of inequality and prejudice remaining in the real here-and-now world, of course. Here in W.A. today we have recently had the consecration of a female bishop. Alas, a mob of old-fashioned bigots who have the audacity to call themselves religious leaders are refusing to recognise her new status on the grounds of her gender. I know people who won't buy a fantasy book written by a woman, on grounds of gender. Examples are endless. Malaysia is a goldmine in this respect too.

But these issues are largely piecemeal ones to do with our modern world, and are less easily explored in a sff novel set in a fantasy world or a futuristic earth, than they could be in a mainstream novel because they are so piecemeal, rather than so all-encompassing as they were back in 1965. In the 1960s it would have been so easy. Now, it's more complex, less obvious, more subtle. It's a little thing here, a little thing there - and it's all mixed up with ideas of political correctness and being nice about religious sensibilities and human rights.

Can we lambast religious gender perceptions? - after all, we might upset community X! Should we criticise such-and-such a set of cultural gender mores? - we will offend community Y! Write about those things set in a land called Amarantha, and you lose the subtleties of today's gender minefield.

I think I'm blathering. I need to think about this some more.

Anyway, congrats to you Karen. I loved being the first to tell you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Esperance - the town

We spent 6 days in Esperance, and exploring the southern coast in both directions.

To sum up: this has to be the most stunning coastline in the world. If it was in the Mediterranean or California, it would rank as having the world’s best beaches. It would become the hang-out of the rich and famous.

Luckily for us, it is largely unknown and it remains mostly deserted, pristine, undeveloped and quite, quite glorious. The Med? Forget it. Sydney? Or California? You’ve got to be kidding.

You know how you look at those brochures of beach resort in high-priced places? And you say to yourself, hey, the sea is never that colour – they must have used a polarising filter to get that…!? Well, along this coastline, the sea is that colour, all by itself. No filters or messing with photoshop needed. Translucent aquamarine in the shallows, to a deep blue in the depths, water scribbled across with the white froth of surf or the thundering foam of combers, or sometimes – in the sheltered bays, the gentle lap of laced riplets. They have it all – broad white sands, coloured rocks, island after island (105 named island in the Recherche for a start).

God, I love these southern shores. Forget Naples. See the Esperance coast and live.

Start the day at dawn with a walk along on Esperance Bay, then sit on the esplanade and have coffee overlooking the sea. Walk down the jetty and look at the sea lions basking on the water. Take a drive around the coast to look at some of the town beaches. Go out to the Recherche Archipelago and have lunch at Woody Island. Then explore the numerous nature reserves and national parks up and down the coast as we did. Walk the trails. Climb the hills. And wonder why you never came here before.

In a day or two I will post some photos of those brilliant beaches that will make you drool.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Song of Shiver Barrens: out soon in UK

For you UK folk - the final book of the Mirage Makers trilogy is due out on the 1st of May.

Another gorgeous Larry Rostant cover from Orbit.

My thanks to Karen Miller and Kate Elliott for the cover comments. It means a lot to me to have sincere praise from such talented writers - and it leaves me humbled.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

From Eyre to Esperance: 650 kms in a day

Pix 1 & 2 : remains of a pioneering homestead and the vegetable/ chicken run. Note the remains of flattened kerosene tin walls.

This was not the day we planned to have.

We began by taking a drive down a track on our way out of Eyre to look at an old abandoned farm settlement at the foot of the escarpment (photo 3) . The walls were made of flattened kerosene tins, a not uncommon form of recycling once upon a time.

Photo 3: the escarpment in the distance.

Photo 4 & 5: the old farm well. The walls of the well are made of wood.

After poking around the farm we set off for Norseman. Then we headed down the unsurfaced Norseman Road direct to Esperance, which perhaps was not a good idea. It is a shortcut – but a rather bad one. We ended up taking almost 4 hours, arriving well after dark, a journey during which we saw not a single vehicle in either direction until we were close to Esperance, nor any other sign of human life. Not a person, a house, a light, any sound – nothing. You know how unnerving that is as it gets darker and darker, the road rougher, the corrugations and stony outcrops harder to see…? And of course, the kangaroos start jumping out at you without warning.

Well, we did see those two gates, I suppose…in the middle of nowhere, performing no known purpose any more. Click on them to enlarge - so you can see what decorates them!

We made one wrong turn, which took us at dusk to a rather pleasant abandoned farmhouse of a bygone area. If we’d had any sense we would have pitched the tent there. Instead we pushed on, fingers crossed.

Esperance on a Friday night…was dead. And buried. Caravan Parks apparently close their offices at seven p.m. So, it seems, do motels. That’s right – it’s damned hard to procure a camping space, let alone a room after seven p.m.! We finally managed to get the last room in a very pleasant motel - after an hour of wandering around the town from one place to another, pounding on silent doors.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A French Review of Clairvoyante

At Khimaira, an online sff magazine, you can read a review in French of Clairvoyante (that is, The Aware in its French translation) by Christophe Sambre.

He concludes by saying:

En matière de fantasy, par les temps qui courent, trouver une œuvre intelligente, innovante et passionnante à la fois relève du plus risqué des défis… Et pourtant, voici que J’ai Lu, dans sa toute nouvelle collection Fantasy Grand Format, nous gratifie du meilleur et du plus surprenant. Car ce livre, premier opus d’une trilogie qu’on devine bientôt rangée parmi les incontournables, loin de s’embourber dans la vase nauséeuse des poncifs du genre, nous promène sur les îles escarpées d’un univers d’une fabuleuse richesse, où, guidés par des personnages puissants mais aussi fragiles, porteurs de violentes brisures intérieurs et d’une subtile sensualité, le lecteur frémit, sourit et se délecte d’une intrigue sans faille ni lourdeur.

Née au pays des kangourous, Glenda Larke est sans aucun doute l’une des actrices majeures du renouveau de la fantasy… Que voilà une bien bonne nouvelle.

Which is lovely of him. (Merci, Christophe!)

And just in case you missed the last bit, my translation is: "Born in the land of kangaroos, Glenda Larke is without a doubt one of the major exponents of the renewal* of fantasy... This is good news indeed."

Having just got back from a trip where we had kangaroos bounding out of the bushes bent on mass suicide - and possibly homicide and vehicular mayhem as well - I am inclined to think that, yep, this is indeed a land of kangaroos, as well as good fantasy (heh).

I even got a photograph to prove it.

*(Possibly referring to the new large format collection of the publisher J'ai Lu)