writing

helenlowe

I discovered the work of New Zealand author Helen Lowe some six years ago, and was immediately hooked by her first book, ThornspellI later discovered and enjoyed her epic Wall of Night series, including The Heir of Night, The Gathering of the Lost and now Daughter of Blood. To celebrate the release of the latter, I invited Helen to pop by the blog and chat about all things Wall, Daughter and writing-related. Really, it was an excuse to pick Helen’s brains about the background processes that went into the creation of this novel, to hear her take on strength and strong characters, particularly strong female characters, and to hear a little about her research and world-building.

I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

MARY: Welcome to the blog, Helen. I am so pleased you were able to come by at what must be a busy time. First of all, I believe congratulations are in order for the publication of the third instalment of the Wall of Night series: Daughter of Blood. Writing a novel is often a long and lonely experience, so its publication is an occasion to celebrate both the book’s release and your own (temporary) liberation! I say temporary, because now everyone is waiting impatiently for Book Four.

I have been following the Wall books since the first instalment in your series, The Heir of Night, and discovered this newest addition with pleasure. In it we follow the continuing adventures of Malian and her group of friends, in the march towards what looks to be a seriously epic denouement between the various powers at work on Haarth. As the blurb points out: “[t]he Darkswarm is gaining strength, and time is running out—for Malian, for Kalan, and for all of Haarth…”

I must say, I really liked this third book. It gave me a more in-depth glimpse of the diverse cultures in your invented world, and was a chance to understand how the Derai tick, particularly when seen from the point of view of your Daughter of Blood. Without giving too much away, I enjoyed discovering your world through the eyes of someone who was in some ways quite “ordinary”, and lacked the grand powers associated with heroes in general. Was it your intention to approach the storytelling in that fashion, or did it happen as you went along?

HELEN: Thank you, Mary, both for the invitation to join you today but also for the congratulations on publication of Daughter of Blood. As you know well, being a writer yourself,  the process can be as exhausting, with release day celebrations, blog tours and other promotional activity, as it is — unquestionably — exhilarating, to finally see your “little story” sail off into the world. I call the process of writing the book “the loneliness of the long distance writer” because, for me anyway, completing a novel is an endurance event. But it’s also very rewarding when the story finally acquires something resembling the ‘shape’ you have always imagined. As for when it is finally an actual book in your hand, with a cover that has your name on it, well — ooh la la!

I am so glad, too, that you enjoyed the read, Mary, not least because I know you are a discerning reader but also because Daughter of Blood decided to fully live up to ‘novel writing as an endurance event.” Yet the story, or the Muse, or my authorial subsconscious (yer pays yer monies, or not, dear readers, and takes yer picks on that one 😉 ) was always right when it threw me a curved ball, cover-daughter-usaor placed an obstacle in my path that made me rethink what I was doing, or why — yes, even when the upshot was retracing my storytelling steps and finding a different path to where I wanted to go. Yet if the book reads well, then I do not regret one retraced step or rewritten word, because doing justice to the story and delivering on excellence of reader experience are what storytelling is all about — in my humble opine, anyway. (While also acknowledging that there are a tremendous range of reader preferences out there and no one book or author can hope to fulfill them all.)

To come finally to your question regarding telling the Daughter story through the eyes of someone quite “ordinary” — in the sense of not having magical powers or being a leader in either politics or war — yes, the character of Myr was present in my original vision for the story. It was always my intention, too, that she should offer a contrasting perspective on what constitutes strength, particularly when juxtaposed with characters such as Malian, the mage, former covert operative, and now emerging political leader, or Asantir, who is both a warrior-hero in her own right and a commander of armies. So I always knew that Myr would be a gentle spirit, but once I actually started telling her story, her character took off and really blossomed in terms of personal integrity and finding her own path — which was as rewarding for me, as the author, as I hope it will be for readers, sharing the journey of the book with her.

MARY: I love that definition of strength, expressed as gentleness and integrity. Absolutely! I’m glad to see an alternative to the usual, tough-as-nails fantasy female character who has to “kick ass” to be seen as strong. (Nothing against kick-ass heroines, but variety is the spice.) Myr struck me as being strong in a very different way: she had the courage to face up to more powerful adversaries and stand up for what was right. That’s difficult when you have little in the way of magic or physical brawn to fall back on… I liked her endurance and flexibility, too. To indulge in metaphor, she’s the bamboo who bends and weathers the storm while the big tree snaps.

cover-daughter-ukRegarding backtracking in writing, I’ve found personally that when that becomes necessary, it’s also a godsend. Painful to do, but the work is so much better for it.

All right, I have another question for you about Daughter of Blood, which brings me back in part to the issue of strength. I’d have to be a dunce not to notice that you write strong female characters (you mention a few by name, above.) They are all strong in different ways. Another interesting point is that quite often, that strength is not questioned by those around them, but accepted and supported, added to, used to the full. What I mean by that is, with the exception perhaps of Myr, I have noticed that these heroines do not spend their time justifying themselves, proving their worth or trying to convince the world around them to simply give them a chance. I find that rather a relief. It seems that a fair number (though not all) of the men who encounter these strong women are able to recognize their talents and appreciate what they do.

How conscious was your desire to portray a more or less equal playing field for women, certainly women with martial or magical ability in the Derai world?

HELEN: Just reflecting a little further on Myr, I think you have arrived at the nub of what I was trying to achieve with her character, which was to explore strength of character as a concept distinct from physical prowess, or political or magical power. The exploration could also be described as a reflection on what constitutes moral fibre, if not outright moral leadership…

The matter-of-fact equality of the Derai world, at least when it comes to gender equality, was not something I consciously thought about and planned with respect to the series: it was simply the way the story, the society, and the characters deployed on the page of the first book, i.e. you might say that they wrote themselves that way. To be honest, I wasn’t even conscious of it as a distinguishing feature of my work until The Heir of Night, The Wall of Night Book One, was published and reviewers and readers commented on that aspect of the story. However, once these external observations led me to reflect further, it seemed self-evident that in a society where gender equality was an established fact, then people within that society wouldn’t comment on or angst over it, but would simply accept it, and so of course the characters would have each others’ backs, regardless of gender. For them to do otherwise would be like us questioning breathing, or whether the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, when in fact we just take it as given. That is how it is with the Derai: they just take the gender equality of their society as given, to the extent that it’s invisible to them.

By contrast, in the second novel in the series, The Gathering of the Lost, where it has become unusual (although not unprecedented) for women in the Southern Realms’ duchy of Emer to become knights, the emergence of a female knight-in-training does generate discussion among the characters. When it comes to magical ability, however, there is little or no difference between  the capabilities of Emer’s male and female adepts, which I like to think at least partly explains the Southern dukedom’s relatively equal society in gender terms.  Of course, having seen the reviews and reader commentary in respect of The Heir of Night, I was much more conscious of what I was writing, in gender terms, in the subsequent two books. This led me to think more rigorously, and consciously, about the internal consistency of the societies in this respect. Overall, I believe this is a good thing, even if the original concept of the gender-equal Derai society arose naturally through the act of storytelling, rather than by predetermined design.

MARY:  I find cover-gathering1it interesting that your default position was one of equality, adjusted later in your writing process to reflect local variants. The default position in so many fantasy stories these days is to reflect either the current struggles of women, or else a certain view of what life was like in historical contexts. I’m also very interested in the fact that Myr has an unshakeable moral core. Again, that’s quite rare in our times of “gritty” fantasy and fictional takes on realpolitik, where characters are required to betray their most deeply-held values as par for the course.

On another subject, I also enjoyed discovering the rich traditions of Derai culture for the first time in this book. Could you tell me a little about your research and what inspired the courtly and martial traditions of Blood?

HELEN: In terms of your initial observation regarding fantasy and the status of women, I am also aware of these trends but it seems to me that in writing fiction, particularly fantastic fiction, one should take the opportunity to imagine what “could be” as well as what “is” now or “was” historically — although I believe there is plenty of evidence to suggest that history was by no means as monolithic as some writers would have us believe, even in relation to the status of women.

With respect to Myr’s “unshakeable moral core”, that is certainly how her character developed and the way the story played out, although again I did not start from a point where my author’s note against Myr read as “unshakeable moral core.” Yet although The Wall of Night series is most commonly described as epic fantasy, it may also be termed “heroic fantasy”: i.e. it is a story that centres on heroes and explores what makes a person a hero (whether female or male.) In that sense it is absolutely a tale about moral cores, as well as about gritty realism and realpolitik, all of which more than play their part in Daughter of Blood. One aspect that particularly struck me when developing Myr’s character was how, given her circumstances, she would have internalized the particular values that she holds – simply because although disposition may be inborn, I suspect values are something we learn. In that sense, Myr’s relationship with Mistress Ise, as well as with the guards Dab and Taly, are all central to understanding her character.

To come (finally!) to your question, I didn’t really research culture in terms of the Derai. My specific research for Daughter of Blood centred on sieges and related matters such as disease and medicine, rather than culture. However, I have a strong interest in history, and read historical non-fiction as well as fiction, as well as having travelled reasonably widely both through my reading and in fact. So it may be that my exposure to both historical and contemporary cultures has imbued the development of the Derai society — particularly in terms of the logical progression that any society that has been a “people under arms” for not just millennia, but aeons, is going to have a deeply inculcated martial culture. In terms of some of the historical cultures that might have influenced my thinking around the Derai, those where I have read more widely include the Spartans, the Macedonian armies of Philip II and then Alexander the Great, and the Romans, including the Republican and earlier and later (Western and Eastern) Empire periods. I have also read a reasonable amount about different cover-yellowperiods in Chinese history and Japan in both the pre-Shogunate and Shogunate eras. In The Gathering of the Lost, however, I can tell you that Emerian society is informed by, without being in any way a direct replica of, the Burgundian knights in the heyday of their power. I understand the armoured “knights” of medieval Korean society also trained in similar ways, although I’m far less familiar with their society and history.

MARY:  I love the Spartan and Macedonian connection, and read much Mary Renault as a child for similar reasons… 🙂 I did indeed feel the siege and medical knowledge coming through in the book. It felt grounded in the possible, in a world very much like our own.

One last question, Helen. Can you give us a glimpse of what to look forward to in Book Four, and a rough idea of when the book might be out?

HELEN: Ah, the mighty Mary Renault. Her Athenian trilogy is one of my favourite historical sequences — and come to think of it, her children’s book, The Lion in the Gateway, was probably a formative influence, although Rosemary Sutcliff is also very much present in the historical fiction mix.

I am glad you felt Daughter of Blood was grounded in the possible, because making the world feel real is as important to me as the “strange magic” of my particular style of fantasy — although the magical and fantastic elements are very important, too. To hark back to an earlier point, I think speculative fiction is short-changing itself — and readers — if it doesn’t strive to explore something beyond the square of what we already know and to consider what “what if” and “other” could mean. In that sense, although your Chronicles of the Tree is a very different story on the surface, I think the subsurface exploration of “otherness” is an element the two series have in common.

Ah, Book Four… Well, the working title is The Chaos Gate and I can tell you that it is definitely the last book in the series. As for what is in it, I am something of a Taoist in my writing approach in that I find “the book that can be spoken of is not the book.” Plus I don’t want to jinx anything so I shall say no more than: “last book, which will complete the series” and last but not least, “working on it!”

Thank you very much for inviting me to do this interview, Mary. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.

MARY:  It’s my pleasure! I’m always thrilled to be allowed pick authors’ brains, and find out more about what makes them and their characters tick. And I do agree, the exploration of “otherness”, and more specifically the dismantling of concepts of “us” and “them”, is the key to many a good tale.

But that is a (long) discussion for another time, I hope. Meanwhile, those who wish to buy The Wall of Night series in the UK can do so here: Tcover-heir-usahe Wall of Night on Amazon UK. US readers can look here: The Wall of Night on Amazon US and Aus/NZ can find the series here: The Wall of Night on Fishpond.

Thank you for joining me today, Helen.

Helen’s first novel Thornspell, (Knopf) was published to critical praise in 2008, and in 2012 The Heir Of Night, The Wall Of Night Book One, won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Newcomer. The Gathering of The Lost, (The Wall Of Night Book Two), was shortlisted for the David Gemmell Legend Award in 2013.

She posts regularly on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground, and occasionally on SF Signal.

She is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.

Gillian1

Gillian signing ‘Life Through Cellophane’

I first met Gillian Polack at Worldcon 2010, in Melbourne, where she impressed me with her knowledge of medieval history and seemingly endless store of chocolate. I later had the pleasure of discovering her speculative fiction, which turned out to be just as rewarding. Her writing manages to imbue the mundane with troubling significance: in her world, ordinary household items are cursed, cups of tea subtly magical and the private lives of less than glamorous subjects explored. No need here for a feisty young Chosen One with awesome abilities to take on the evil empire. Dr Polack’s protagonists are older women, people traditionally invisible in wider society, or those seen as ‘failures’. The evil empire is all too recognizable and consists of mean-spirited work colleagues, prejudice or the consequences of toxic emotional baggage. For those who have tasted a degree of invisibility in their own lives, and indeed for anyone looking to add a different and interesting twist to their fantasy, such heroes are thrilling in a way the standard teen protagonist with his/her tight abdominal muscles and unstoppable powers is not.

When I heard Gillian was about to celebrate the release of another novel, in fact the release of two more novels – this year alone! – I had to know more. So I inveigled her into appearing on this blog…

Mary: Welcome, Gillian. I’m glad to have you here on the blog, as I needed to ask you a question. I feel like every time I turn around, you’ve published another book. Haven’t you had at least three new publications this year? Are you a demon of productivity or is this just me losing track of time?

Gillian: It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve had a lot of publications this year. Two novels (The Time of the Ghosts is the second) and a hefty non-fiction book (The Middle Ages Unlocked), plus articles.

Effective-Dreaming-small-coverAll the articles are brand new and shiny, but everything else is fifteen years of hard work reaching the outside world. I have more contracted, too, and four novels and my academic book will be published in 2016 and 2017.

Until last year most of these books were being looked at by various publishers. They would be looked at for between eight months and eight years (seriously, a particular publisher held onto one of my manuscripts for eight years!) but all the fiction was taken on by a small Aussie publisher last year. The two non-fiction books (one published this year and one for next) are different publishers.

It’s all a bit strange, when I stop to think about it, but I don’t have time to stop and think, so that’s fine. I haven’t actually sold my soul to the Devil, nor do I write that quickly. My next date for an unwritten novel to be with my publisher isn’t until April 2017, in fact, and I’ve already started researching it. It’s a vast number of novels (from where I sit, at least), but they’ve been fifteen years in the making.

The two novels this year are part of a sequence of three books set in Canberra. They are, due to the vagaries of the publishing world, #1 The Art of Effective Dreaming and #3 The Time of the Ghosts. #2 was Ms Cellophane, which is published by Momentum, so they won’t ever be marketed as three linked books. They’re only linked in theme, however:  I wanted to explore specific issues to do with different stages in life, with women’s lives, and with Canberra. They’re stand-alone books.

Mary: I am reassured to know that you haven’t written two novels and a hefty academic tome in the time it’s taken me to find an affordable place to live in London. Granted, it took me two years to do the latter… but still.

Having enjoyed Ms Cellophane, I look forward to hearing about those novels. I’m particularly intrigued by the ghost story (I love a good ghost story.) Could you tell me a little more about it?

Gillian: It’s not your normal ghost story. It’s about people and the baggage they carry, and some of that baggage is ghostly. The novel tells the story of a fairy tale moment in the life of Canberra. It’s a moment when the cultures and beings brought by those who moved here in the last two hundred years manifest. They’re our dreams and our nightmares: dreams and nightmares are dangerous.

Years ago, I gave a talk to guides at the Melbourne Jewish Museum. Most of them were over 75 and nearly all of them were women. We talked after my talk and I found out how much they did with their lives. They do so much volunteer work of so many kinds and yet they’re invisible to most Australians. I realised that in Australian culture the people who can best get away with secret super hero lives are elderly women. I wanted to read books about these women and their amazing lives: there weren’t any.

This isn’t just a story about ghosts, then, it’s a story of the amazing lives of adult women above a certain age. There are appropriate superpowers. And, because many of the elderly women I’ve spoken to since are optional extras in the life of the community and their family and friends don’t spend time together, I’ve focused on the friendships. Their lives with family are other stories entirely.

This is not a novel about how family deals with ageing relatives: it’s a novel about how ageing women combat evil. There are more cups of tea than there is derring-do, for none of the women I chatted with were up to leaping from rooftops and crying “Huzzah! Have at thee!” and attacking villains with swords or ray guns or shards of punishing light. Although there is a stockwhip…

Mary: I love this idea of our baggage being costly. It’s true on a very deep level, I find, with or without the supernatural element. And I absolutely approve of ageing women with superpowers! I look forward to developing a few myself. (The power to quell bigots with my icy stare. The power to make Good Things Happen. The power to not give a flying beep about what anyone thinks. My model in all this is Dame Maggie Smith.) It looks like The Time of the Ghosts will be one for me.

I’m still amazed by the fact that you have four more novels slated to be published before 2017, as well as academic work. Could you tell me a little more about these future releases?

Gillian: It’s four by the end of 2017, if that makes things a little less intimidating. The order isn’t yet final, but the novels are:

Secret Jewish Women’s Business: where a feminist discovers that her heritage is not quite what she thought. It’s the precursor to my short story Impractical Magic.

Chocolate Redemption: a teacher takes a year off to write a novel. A young woman sets up shop as an apothecary in an alternate world. This story contains cats and chocolate and contains more snark than adventure.

Poison and Light: In our future, Earth has been depopulated. An artist finds a haven on a distant planet where eighteenth century Britain and France is so admired that it informs almost everything. It’s a dangerous society and she is hampered by PTSD. How will she survive?

After Empire: An empire dissolves suddenly due to losing its technology. Penin, a town on the far edge of that vast empire, has to survive. This is my committee novel, because in my history studies I discovered that certain societies use committees at times like this (Benjamin Franklin was a committee man!), and I wanted to see what one would be like.

Middle-Ages-Unlocked-326x500Mary: That sounds tantalizing. I admit to being intrigued by your feminist’s journey of self-discovery. And committee science fiction sounds like something of a thought experiment, reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin or Doris Lessing. Is it?

Gillian: All my novels are thought experiments. The committee one is based on Australian and US history. I love stories about collapse of empires, but I wanted to write one that reflected what was more likely to happen, given a particular scenario. If technology collapses, how do people get by?

This is set in one of the first worlds I ever created, and I have other countries and their histories lurking, maybe waiting for another novel. One with fewer committees and more magic gardens, maybe. Although After Empire might be one of two set in Penin: my publisher has suggested that he wants to know what happens next with this one and with Poison and Light.

This is my fault. I like the idea that my characters have lives outside what we see in a novel, so I never close things off entirely. Readers come up to me and say “I know what happened to Character A in Langue[dot]doc 1305.” I have been given four different theories for one character, so far. I’m collecting alternate timelines. Whether I write these sequels depends on whether readers let me know that they want them.

Mary: You look set to be very busy over the next few years, which begs one last question. Where can your readers hope to find you to discuss these alternate fictional timelines? Will we find you at any upcoming conventions?

Gillian: I got to SF conventions when I can. My next one is Conflux, which is where The Time of the Ghosts will be launched. There will be honey cake… If you’re at a SF convention and you see me, ask me if I have any chocolate or sweets. I generally carry them for those in need.

Otherwise, you can find me in various teaching places and online. My teaching is mostly in Canberra, but I’m going to Eurobodalla later this year, and to Sydney next year. Watch my blog and look for me on Twitter or Facebook if you want to see me in person, for I generally make announcements prior to events. I claim that it makes it easier for people to avoid me. I’m Gillian Polack on Facebook and @GillianPolack on Twitter. I have a writerly blog and webpage at http://www.gillianpolack.com which is young but slowly growing.

Mary: Thank you so much for swinging by the blog today, Gillian! It has been a pleasure and an honour to speak with you, as always. Here’s to the success of The Art of Effective Dreaming and The Time of the Ghosts as well as your other upcoming projects.

What Gillian has to say about herself: I have a doctorate in English and another in History and an MA in Medieval Studies and have four novels published. While I like to claim that the second doctorate is purely for cosmetic purposes (so that people can make puns about my name, for instance, which they do, since I am now Dr Dr GP and a Dr Who fan which makes me the Three Doctors and explains much) it’s actually a change in career. While I’m still a practising historian, the writing and editing and the teaching of writing and its various tools are the centre of my life.

Find out more about Gillian on her website: www.gillianpolack.com

I’ve been lucky enough to be interviewed twice by fellow authors in recent days. This time, Sue Bursztynski, author of ‘Wolfborn’, has kindly asked me to stop by her blog ‘The Great Raven’ to answer a few questions about my writing process. There are some other very interesting authors interviewed, including Sue herself, so check out their answers, too.

Thanks, Sue!

The very kind Ashley Capes of ‘City of Masks’ fame has interviewed me for his site. News about past and present books. Check it out.

Thanks for the chance to chat, Ashley!

http://www.cityofmasks.com/blog/mary-victoria-interview

 

My oh my. I think I’ve broken my own personal record for length of time spent away from this journal!

Much has transpired in the past six weeks. We found a new house, bought it (that sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just two word’s worth to describe a great deal of palaver) and finally moved in as of last week. We’re now installed in the lovely town of St Albans, just twenty minutes north of London by train out of King’s Cross, platform 9 ¾ of course.

It wasn’t easy to leave the boat. De Jelte tugged on our heartstrings and emptied our pocket book as only true love can do. She is now in good hands, however – I have visited and seen what the new skipper is up to below decks. Some fine renovations are going down.

I will very much miss our friends on the island – what a community that was, and is. Writers, artists, carpenters, travelers, businessmen – a slice of London life at its best, an oasis in the wilds of Brentford. If you’re reading this, Lot’s Aiters, please keep in touch!

Work-wise, I’ve entered the last lap on the WIP that is IP. It has to be the last lap because of the Frankfurt Book Fair, which insists on happening in October rather than a more personally convenient time of, say, January. Never mind. Deadlines help me focus and the ms will either cut it or it won’t. I’m having fun, either way.

Is it allowed to have fun while writing to a deadline? Is it a Bad Sign? Must we always suffer in order to produce something worthwhile? I do hope not.

I’m moving. Again. And in the midst of it all, the WIP is still IP. Rewrites abound, but in the meantime I shall leave you with a verse written by a nonexistent young woman in my unfinished novel. You may guess her name:

In the story, I’m just a girl

Hades plucks out of a field

and carries off to Hell in his black chariot.

Demeter, my mother

wanders the world in search of me,

cursing the poor earth barren with her grief

until she finds me lying under it.

I was invited to participate in the Next Big Thing meme by the most excellent Helen Lowe.  I thought, “Fabulous – any excuse to find out what some of my fellow authors are up to!” I’ve asked several ‘River’ anthology writers to the party, as well as other friends, because… well, see no.2 below.

The rules are simple. I answer ten questions about my current project, then tag five other authors. They post their own answers the week after mine, tag more authors, etc., etc. So without further ado, here I go…

1) What is the working title of your next book? 

‘This Bare Island’.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book? 

I wrote a short story for an anthology called ‘River’, a version of the Daphne and Apollo myth set in twentieth-century Cyprus. The world of the short story called out to me and I knew there was more material there waiting to be used.

3) What genre does your book fall under?  

Can you imagine falling under a genre? “Oh no, six tons of Fantasy just fell on my head!” Seriously, I hate boxes and labels in writing. I suppose you could say this book was contemporary lit with an edge of magical realism…

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 

If there was a movie version it would probably be a low budget French/German co-production filmed entirely in Montenegro. So the actors would be fresh-faced unknowns who later make it big in Hollywood, giving the film its one and only claim to longevity.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Caught between East and West, ancient and modern, Cyprus is a crossroads – a portal between the worlds, where a homeless spirit may sometimes slip through, unnoticed.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

Represented by an agency, I hope!

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?  

I’m still writing it. I began it more than a year ago, but in my defense I sold a house, moved continents and bought another home in the interim.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

I love tapestry stories weaving many different tales into one. ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell and ‘The Saddlebag’ by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani are good examples, but there are many books using this device with greater or lesser success. I like the idea of building up a picture of a particular reality through multiple points of view.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?  

I was inspired by my own memories of growing up in Cyprus, though the book isn’t autobiographical and the characters are pure invention. Of course, the places are real, from the abandoned ghost town of Varosha to Limassol Zoo. I used to live on Economou Panayides street, and I beg my neighbour’s forgiveness for modeling one character’s house on hers, with its high hibiscus hedge.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? 

Bits of this book keep breaking out in verse, like Prince Herbert in Monty Python’s ‘Holy Grail’. I try to beat them back into prose-shape but they’re stubborn. Actually, that’s more of a warning than a draw for readers. Beware of poetry! If you’re lucky, none of it will make it past the final edit.

There we are! Now I get to tag five other authors. They are:

1. Tiffany Trent, author of ‘the Unnaturalists’

2. Brenda Cooper, author of ‘Mayan December’

3. Joyce Reynolds-Ward, author of the ‘Netwalk’ sequence

4. Barbara Else, author of ‘The Travelling Restaurant’

5. Gillian Polack, author of ‘Life Through Cellophane’

And last but not least, although she has already participated in the meme, I’d like to point you to Alma Alexander’s entry as well. Apparently, she already tagged me… last August. It has taken this long for me to figure it out. Oy…

Looking forward to hearing from everyone!

A while ago, I had the honour of participating in a celebration of Women’s History Month over on Gillian Polack’s blog. I’ve now crossposted the entry here along with my other collected blatherings. For what is a journal without blather?

Speaking of which, I’m only 4000 words further on in my wip than I was two months ago. That, however, isn’t as disastrous as it sounds, as the other 50000 have been completely overhauled and rewritten in the intervening time. This is how I like writing: patchwork style, laying out some portions of the book, going back to rewrite, missing chapters, going back to add them… so much more satisfying than plodding through in linear fashion.

It’s a luxury, perhaps, born of not having to work to a deadline. It’s also the only way I could have worked this year, considering everything else going on – and yes, I’ll be posting about that soon, too. Change is good.

The title of this entry comes from a post-it note written to myself at about 11:30 pm last night, after getting out of the shower. I don’t know about you other writing folks, but I often work out plot points in the shower. Then I write notes to myself so as not to forget the incredible amazing genius breakthrough before my next writing session (which may be days away, as I work during school hours and only during school hours.)

Anyway, I was cleaning up the desk this morning and came across the mysterious pink post-it announcing “she waits”. It’s a good thing I still have a vague idea of who is waiting, where, why and when, because as genius breakthroughs go, that’s pretty darned cryptic.

Faced with oracles of such obscurity, I at any rate begin to extrapolate wider meanings. They leave the realm of fiction and scatter willy-nilly into everyday life. Suddenly, “she waits” becomes the watchword for my whole existence. I am indeed waiting. I have been waiting for a while.

This oracular waiting is no merely passive state, of course. It involves meticulous preparation, planning and perseverence. This is a fisherman waiting for the right conditions to fish. While he waits, he repairs nets, cleans the boat and patches the sail. But it’s all done with one eye on the horizon and a little furrow between the brows. Should I chance it tomorrow morning? No, look at that bank of cloud. Maybe the next day, then. Meanwhile, there are these nets.

I have quite a few tasty blog morsels planned for you guys in January. This is good, because not only do we all need tasty morsels in our lives, but also because they’ll be the last on offer here for a while. I’ll be heading back to my writing cave again in about a month’s time – ie, there will be far fewer blog posts from February onwards, due to a Pressing Need to Complete the New Book (a chronic malaise afflicting writers, or so I’ve heard.)

I suspect, however, that there will be relatively few posts here even after that ms is complete. The new book is not related to COT, and merits its own blog. Maybe. If you’re good. I’ll post links to such a thing, if it eventuates.

So this month’s series of posts is going to be a swan song for the regular Chronicles of the Tree journal, though the site will remain operational and any COT-related news items shared. Meanwhile, even in the absence of another book blog, never fear – I’m available on email (you can find the address under ‘Contact’) and always try and answer promptly.

As for the future – it is bright. It may not resemble anything you or I could expect, but it will be interesting, and hopefully not in the sense of the Chinese curse.

2012, I think, will be a year of Master Chaynges. (RIP Russell Hoban.)