Fiona McIntosh Interview

November 15, 2009 at 2:20 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sorry. A day late, but got it here.

New authors are adding their unique takes on Fantasy to the genre all of the time. Fiona McIntosh is a bestselling Fantasy author from Australia. Many of her excellent books have been published in the U.S. since 2005. I thought I would share this interview I did with her a few years ago with readers again.

Debbie Ledesma: First, for readers that might not be familiar with your books, could you tell us about your books?

Fiona McIntosh: I write “great, big, fat fantasies”. I’m about to commence my third series and my second series, The Quickening, will launch in the U.S. in early 2005.

My first trilogy is Trinity – an epic good vs bad tale where the lines get blurred at the close of the story with its bittersweet ending. It’s the tale of a man’s journey to discover his true identity and the reason for his strange, undetectable powers in a time when Inquisitors are roaming the land to stamp out all sentients. This series has many layers – it’s about friendship, loyalty, betrayal and redemption. Its brutal and filled with magic. There’s a wonderful villain to loathe passionately of course and at its core is a touching love story but the breakneck pace of the prose means readers agree that it is a “rattling good adventure which fulfills all the requirements of fantasy” as one reviewer put it. “Wow! Fiona McIntosh wastes neither time nor words in Betrayal. Not for the reader who wants a sedate, bed-time read – once they open this one up, they’ll be hanging onto their hats!” The books comprise: Betrayal, Revenge and Destiny.

The next series is The Quickening, a darker tale with a disturbing magical backdrop. General Wyl Thirsk’s life takes a frightening turn following an encounter with a witch at her trial and subsequent burning. Again the pace is relentless as Wyl’s woes intensify with the sinister nature of Myrren’s Gift. The books comprise: Myrren’s Gift, Blood and Memory, Bridge of Souls.

DL: How did you decide to become a writer?

FM: I had no conscious plans to be a writer and yet I learned from my mother just recently that at five years I announced I would write books one day – destiny maybe? Perhaps although I believe I’ve fallen into thi ¥s new line of work, it’s more likely that this has been a lifetime’s journey and that I’ve always been headed towards this goal. This is especially so if I look back over my career because everything I’ve done has always involved the written word from being PR manager for an international airline to publishing a travel magazine with my husband.

DL: Does writing a travel magazine help inspire your writing or change it in any way?

FM: Yes. I’ve been trained over 20 years to write short, punchy sentences and I notice that I often fall into this same style in my creative writing. Just habit probably and quite a good one to have. It makes the pace of the tale rattle along and prevents long, rambling prose. Also when you write for any publication which is going to be read by the public, you have to produce work which is not embellished with elaborate, florid language. It needs to be simple and convey quickly the gist of your story Æ, be it a cruise on the Mediterranean or exploring the Pyramids, walking down an avenue in Paris or taking tapas in Barcelona. Sights, sounds, smells, all come into it but user friendly language that everyone from a teenage travel consultant to an old experienced pro of 40 years in the business will understand and enjoy. The same goes for my books. I have readers who are 13 and I have readers who are 83 and they come from all walks of life and all levels of education. I approach my work as a journalist approaches their article in the daily newspaper – everyone must be able to understand it and read it with ease. It is important to me that language never gets in the way of the story. One other point I think which is not connected with the writing itself but the production of the novel. When you work for any periodical, you have been trained to having your work edited from very young editors. I’ve never been shocked by scr ¨awls in the margin or requests to shift around chapters or delete great chunks from the ms. And deadlines. I’m so used to working to a deadline in magazine publishing that I’m not daunted by the notion of having to create a first draft of a novel in 10 weeks or so. I prefer the pressure of a deadline or nothing gets written!

DL: What authors, Fantasy or otherwise, influence your writing?

FM: Guy Gavriel Kay is my great benchmark. His work can actually derail me as much as inspire. I read his work sometimes and wonder why I’m bothering to even try and follow this path and on other occasions I just flip through Tigana – my favourite book of all time – and it gives me this adrenalin rush and that I can produce books to charm a wide audience. His is great writing and I just want to keep reaching for a similar richness of world, language, characters and above all, storytelling. The other author who constantly inspires and influences me is Robin Hobb. I adore her work and her characters have kept me company for many years now in stories I’ve never wanted to end. She wrings out my emotions and the power in her stories just carry me away. Fitz and the Fool have to be two of the best characters in fantasy and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to getting a bigger kick out of seeing her name on my than my own. I should mention the work of Sharon Penman (historical fiction) who has brought medieval history alive for so many readers. She’s a great writer and storyteller so I just give myself over to her and she transports me back in time and I can learn plenty from her work.

DL: Why did you choose the Fantasy genre?

I was a fantasy lover anyway. I had read a lot of the other popular fantasy series available and with nothing grabbing my attention I decided that instead of looking for something worthy to read, I would write something I wante ≠d to read. Betrayal was the result. Even after six novels I still feel I have a long way to go to be anywhere near as good as my favourite books and writers but that’s what drives me to keep striving. To be honest though, I never really climbed back through the wardrobe in childhood – one I’d crossed into Narnia, I didn’t want to return. Fantasy is where I feel most comfortable and I thrive on the fact that I can just let loose with my imagination and make things up as I go along. I’m not constrained by real life. Plus, I can’t help but love the traditional European medieval setting and fantasy works so well in this structure.

FM: Are you planning to branch out into other genres?

Yes, but not yet. What would I write? I would love to write a psycho thriller or some crime but I just don’t think I’m wired correctly for these genres. I love to read them, of course and because I tend to write without a plan I think I’d be a woeful crime or thriller author. I’m sure you’d have to know the end and be able to work backwards. Most likely I’d tackle a saga of sorts – a bit like a huge family story.

DL: Do you use any mythology sources for your writing?

FM: Not deliberately although in The Quickening I have borrowed from a medieval Bestiary to capture the idea of creatures of myth. I’ve used them in a similar way to the signs of the zodiac or Chinese calendar. Everyone belongs to one of these creatures depending on when they are born. It’s a very small piece in book one but it certainly gives a wonderful insight into the culture of the region of Morgravia. I also definitely draw heavily on the good v evil concept which always form my favourite stories anyway but I’m teaching myself to blur the lines. Guy Gavriel Kay did it brilliantly in Tigana. Until you knew Brandin the wizard, he was a totally evil guy. Then when you met him he was charming and charismatic, he loved the heroine passionately and you felt his keen sorrow at the loss of his son. The magical element of mythology is also something most of us fantasy writers will lean on at some stage, as well as drawing on the stories of gods and mortals. Wonderful stuff.

DL: What do you think is the important function of Fantasy?

FM: Pure escape Ä would be my first thought. The world today often feels as though it’s falling apart – so much doom and gloom and now we live in an age of such terrorism, it’s even more frightening. I often want to hide from reality and I’m sure others agree. Where better to lose ourselves than in make believe lands where the violence might be there but we know it’s not real … and some hero, reluctant or otherwise, is going to find a solution and deal with the baddies. Why do we love Frodo, Aragorn, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, even Arnie? The same reason a lot of us love fantasy – particularly the more traditional ones where the good guys, against extraordinary odds, win out in the end. From childhood we’ve all listened to fairy stories and this goes back to primitive times when people sat around a campfire and told old stories to keep the culture, language, etc alive. Our he Øarts respond to these tales of great adventure and magic.

DL: Which characters are harder to write, the heroes or the villains? Which of your characters is your favorite and why?

FM: I love villains. They’re always interesting and tend to be much easier to craft. You can let your imagintion run riot as to how far you’re prepared to let them go. It’s obviously important to build a picture for your reader as to what makes this villain tick. He or she can’t just be bad for cruelty’s sake or for a plot device. Readers like to know what motivates them.

Now it’s the heroes who are tricky because they need to be a bit larger than life anyway and they always seem to be doing “the right thing” even if they are a little flawed or dented. It’s trying to create a ‘real’ person who is that driven and that decent that they put their life on the line for others and/or for a cause. You don’t come across heroic people in everyday life (even though people like the Salvation Army, etc are!) so creating a hero takes a bit of a leap of faith for the writer and he/she needs to emerge slowly and build into this reliable person whom the reader is going to trust and really care about. Reluctant heroes are the most enjoyable for me to write. I like the fish out of water situation and having to discover what these people can achieve when they’re up against extraordinary odds and crisis points.

Favourite character is a hard one. In my first series it was Cloot. I liked his pithy humour, his incredible loyalty and love for Tor and his selflessness. He was the true hero for the trilogy.

In The Quickening, it’s very hard not to like Wyl. Of course he’s so many people but the person who is Wyl beneath the guises is a courageous, strong-willed young man who is required to live on his wits through terrible circumstances. He has to sacrifice so much. The character I can’t help but love a little is Romen Ko‘reldy – he’s a man to win women’s hearts. A laid back fellow with a sardonic manner. Very cool, quite fatalistic really. I hated him dying (oops that’s a spoiler isn’t it?).

DL: Do you attempt to influence the way people view society through
your writing, and if so do you believe Fantasy can have an impact?

FM: No, I definitely make no attempt to influence anyone. My books are just really good stories to get carried away on. No one could ever mistake them for driving a message. I do believe fantasy could be used to influence, though.

DL: Does living in Australia influence you in your writing?

FM: Not at all. I love Australia and being an Australian but I’ve got the colour green in my soul. I like muted, soft landscapes with drizzly weather and mist on lakes. I love meadows and alpine forests, rolling hills and peasanty villages and ale-swilling inns. I like Autumn and Winter, castles, sword fights, the clank of armour and medieval courts.

DL: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

FM: Stop talking about it and do it. There are no rules. Write instinctively.
Write everyday. Set an achievable daily word count which suits your lifestyle.You don’t HAVE to know your characters, how your story ends or even where it’s going. Just write – and see what happens. Read a lot-know your genre but also read widely outside of the genre you want to write in. You’ll learn heaps. Join a writing group/reading group and tune in to what people have to say. You will learn so much from listening to readers and what turns them on about certain books. Mix with fellow writers – published or otherwise – they will inspire and motivate you.
Invest in a really good dictionary and a thesaurus. Pay attention to world around you – notice how a tree bends in the wind or what a cloud really looks like; listen to how people speak and their mannerisms; watch animals, watch documentaries, meet lots of people.

DL: What books or stories are in your future?

FM: Well, my third series has a working title of Percheron and this will have a far more exotic setting than my previous two which I don’t doubt will be a challenge. Increasingly I find I want my fantasies to not be brimming with magic wielders (as in my first series) but to have a strong magical element and then rely on a good story of human struggle. Story ideas nag all the time. Percheron has come out the strongest but there’s another idea at the back of my mind and all I see is a single scene of a man in a dungeon. That’s it – that’s all I have and yet it persists and I suspect it will blossom and flourish over the next year or so. G

DL: Thank you very much Ms. McIntosh for this thoughtful interview.

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