Search This Blog

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Continuum 11 - The GoH Speech

In case you were not at Continuum or just missed it, here's R.J Anderson's GoH speech, which I, alas, missed! But I've now read the transcript on RJ's site and it was as wonderful as people have told me. Don't hang around here, go read it NOW and then buy one of her books - I'm currently reading Ultraviolet - which she mentions in the speech - in ebook and finding the premise fascinating. Synaesthesia as a spec fic element - Imagine that! (I did once have an idea for a short story with synaesthetia as an element, but never wrote it and it wasn't like this one)


Friday, June 26, 2015

What I'm Rereading Right Now!


Yesterday I got a craving for some alternative universe Richard III fiction. I'd just finished reading my first Philippa Gregory novel, which I bought on iBooks when it was going cheap. I admit I enjoyed it and the author had the sense to end it before her heroine, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, mother of the Woodville tribe, started losing her husband and children. I've only ever read Rosemary Hawley Jarman tales with Jacquetta shown as a hag and a witch, an elderly woman instead of the middle-aged matron who had only recently had her last child, so it was an interesting change. Mind you, Gregory's heroine does have the Sight and has to keep refusing to do magic for people, having seen what happened to the herbalist who taught her the trade. And in the last scene, as Edward and her daughter are approaching the house, she is cheerfully grabbing a bottle of love potion out of storage... I'm not sure I'll read any more of her books, but I liked this one.

So. The craving. In past years I was reading one Richard III novel after another - Jarman, Sharon Penman and others - and the trouble with reading historical fiction about real people is that you know how it's going to end. It's particularly hard with Penman's novel because you keep saying, "No, Richard, you idiot! Don't pardon the bastard! He'll come back and bite you!" and of course, he does pardon the baddie... So it was a joy to read John M Ford's alternative universe novel, The Dragon Waiting, in which the world is just that bit different - nearly everyone is a pagan, due to something that happened hundreds of years ago, the Byzantine Empire is still around and running part of France and magic is real, so things might conceivably turn out differently, for England and for Richard.... And no, I'm not going to tell you how it ends. Read it.

I hauled out an old, battered copy I rescued from my dying library when a new government closed down my old school, and started rereading and found that I had forgotten enough to be able to enjoy it all over again. I might do a proper review when I've finished.

Meanwhile, I'm having a ball!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Warlock's Child Part 2: An Interview With Sean McMullen

The Warlock's Child Part 2: An Interview With Sean McMullen

And here is Part 2 of the interview with the authors of The Warlock's Child! This time, I'd like to welcome Sean McMullen to The Great Raven. I have known Sean since before we both made our first sales - and here he is, writing bestselling books! We were both members of a writers' group, then Sean persuaded me to join the SCA and learn how to fight properly so that I'd write better fight scenes. Pay attention to his answers below, because Sean does his research - thoroughly! 

GR: What gave you the idea for The Warlock's Child? 

SM: This is Paul’s question, mostly. Paul wrote the original story, Deathlight, for a YA anthology years ago. Deathlight more or less covered the same ground as Books I and 2 of The Warlock’s Child. When he started expanding the story into a novel he called me in as a collaborator. My main ideas were adding the dragons, and making Dantar’s sister Velza a major character.

GR: How did you work on it as a team? For example, did you plot it all out in advance and decide who did what, or did you work like the authors of Logan's Run, who had one person write while the other paced up and down waiting for his turn?

SM: Paul wrote an outline draft, then I expanded on some areas and added new bits of detail and story. I suppose that means we followed the Logan’s Run model, because we took it in turns to work on whatever was currently in the works.

GR: When I read a book with two names on the cover I wonder who wrote what. Can you tell us - unless it's a secret?

SM: It’s very complicated and tangled. This is largely because Paul had written about 35,000 words centred on Dantar when I invited me in, but when I expanded the series I enlarged the role of his sister, Velza, as well as adding the dragons as a vital part of the story arc. This meant that a lot of my extra text got interspersed into Paul’s text, while some of his text had to be changed because there were now dragons and an older sister on the scene for the plot to take into account. Don’t try to disentangle our contributions to the text, it’s padded cell territory.

GR: The characters are in their teens, but it seems to be aimed at younger readers - why is this? 

SM: Younger readers like to see what they are in for when they get a bit older, so they look for older characters to identify with and emulate. Usually they will look for characters about four or five years older than themselves, but I have had twelve-year-olds turn up at my signings with an armload of Greatwinter or Moonworlds novels – which are definitely adult books. I honestly can’t remember ever meeting a child who preferred younger characters in fiction.

GR: Though it's set in your own world, given the particular technology on the ships, for example, which historical era did you imagine when you wrote it? And who did the research?

SM: Roughly speaking, early Middle Ages. Ships with catapults and rams were in use for about fifteen hundred years by then, and flame throwers had been around for a few of centuries too. The research  … well, I did my PhD in this area, I have spent time as a sailor on other people’s yachts, and because I’m descended from a Bounty mutineer I have read a lot about life on sailing ships. All this was a good reason to set a lot of the series aboard ships – I did not need to do much research.

GR: It can't be much fun to be the child of the villain. It's also an unusual situation, unless your name is Luke or Leia Skywalker. What made you think this might work?

SM: This is one of the many lessons for kids that we built into the series. You can’t choose your parents, but you don’t have to be like them. How many kids are out there whose parents are doing time, or have done time? Quite a few, I should imagine. How many kids just think their parents act reproachfully over some things? Quite a few more, probably. Kids need to be reassured that they are allowed to go their own way, and that they are not destined to grow up to be just like mum or dad. That said, Darth Vader does wear a great outfit, you have to admit it.

GR: This series reads like a novel broken up into parts - is this the case? If so, will you consider, at some stage, publishing it as one book?

SM: That structure was deliberate. The series was consciously written to be accessible to reluctant readers, yet exciting enough to hold the attention of accomplished readers. Following on from that, a 100,000 word book is going to look a bit daunting to an eleven year old reluctant reader, so Paul thought that six novelettes of around 17,000 words would be a better way to present the story. Individually the books look really manageable, and when you reach the end – Oh no, something exciting happens in the next book, so you’d better get it and keep reading. On the other hand, if some huge publisher comes along with a proposal to bundle it into one novel, I think that would also work really well for the more confident readers.

GR: Have you had much response to this series from children so far?

SM: The first book came out less than three months ago, but already the responses we have heard from kids in signings and seen in reviews have been splendid. Generally they think it’s a fast, exciting read and they love the characters. Nobody has said that it’s difficult to read, which is exactly what we were aiming at. I don’t know if you rate sales as a response from children, but the books have been selling well above expectation, and even gone into multiple print runs. Ford Street Publishing is also running a writing and illustrating competition based on The Warlock’s Child, and readers have been very excited about that. The deadline is 1st August. If anyone who is fifteen or younger wants to enter, details are available from the Ford Street website.

GR: A general question for both of you. You have both been known for writing for adults and have turned very successfully to writing for children and teens. How did you decide to make this change - and how has it worked out for you?

SM: Terry Pratchett gets the blame for me. I read Only You Can Save Mankind in 1993, and I found it incredibly engaging for a book that was clearly written for older children and teenagers. I empathised with the characters and really liked the philosophy behind the book, so I did what every author does when faced with something seriously impressive: I started experimenting with my own YA fiction. The young readers certainly like what I write, and I thoroughly enjoy writing for children and teenagers. They are at a very exciting time of life, so there is infinite scope to tell exciting stories.

GR: If The Warlock's Child ever becomes a movie, no limits (you can have a time machine to collect young actors from the past if you wish), whom would each of you cast in the lead roles?  

SM: I think Edward Furlong as he played John Connor in Terminator 2 (1991) would be pretty close to Dantar. Dantar has to be resourceful, brave and funny, while also being convincing as an older child who has a lot to learn. I think Furlong did a great job with all that as John Connor. An actor for Velza is a lot harder. She has to be seventeen, dynamic, brave and assertive, yet a little vulnerable and uncertain of herself too. Caitlin Clarke as Valerian in Dragonslayer (1981) played a girl of about that age pretending to be a boy, and she ticked all the right boxes to play Velza. Maisie Williams and Dakota Fanning could certainly handle the role too. I know you did not ask for adults, but I’d also nominate Mark Strong as Captain Parvian, Charles Dance as Calbaras and Benedict Cumberbach as King Lavarran. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Warlock's Child: An Interview with Paul Collins

A few days ago, I sent the following interview questions to Paul Collins and Sean McMullen, authors of the Warlock's Child series. I haven't heard from Sean yet, so his answers to the questions will be published separately, as Part 2. Interesting to hear from Paul that the dragons were Sean's idea! And - goodness, that there was a school where the books outpolled the amazing Andy Griffiths in the YABBAs! Read, enjoy, and if you have any questions of your own, write them underneath and I will pass them to the authors to answer on this web site.

And don't forget to get your entries done for the Ford Street competition! 

GR:  What gave you the idea for The Warlock's Child? 

Paul: Many years ago Pearson published a couple of anthologies called Picture This. They sent me two photos and asked me to write a story around the pictures. One was of footprints going across wet sand. And so I pictured a fantasy world set on an island. The island gets invaded, and on it went. The story was complete, but I knew it had many avenues to explore. And so I wrote a novel from it.

GR: How did you work on it as a team? For example, did you plot it all out in advance and decide who did what, or did you work like the authors of Logan's Run, who had one person write while the other paced up and down waiting for his turn?

Paul: Basically, I wrote the first draft. I then thought itd be great to publish as a series rather than a single novel. Problem was that I didnt have time. So I approached Sean McMullen and he came up with sub-plots  in fact, the dragons werent in my first draft. Sean created that entire thread, which became the dominant part of the series.

GR: When I read a book with two names on the cover I wonder who wrote what. Can you tell us - unless it's a secret?

Paul: Hard to tell, Sue. I think Sean wound up writing more words than me, because the dragon scenes became dominant. You could say I wrote the initial plot and what I think was a passable book, but Sean took it to a new level.

GR: The characters are in their teens, but it seems to be aimed at younger readers - why is this?

Paul: Kids always read up, not down. So if its pitched at 11-year-olds, then the characters have to be 12+. As an aside, the original novel was called Broken Magic. But before we could get the series out another author took that title!

GR:Though it's set in your own own world, given the particular technology on the ships, for example, which historical era did you imagine when you wrote it? And who did the research?

Paul: I didnt actually pitch it in any era  most fantasy from what I can see is medieval. Sometimes authors make certain distinctions. For example, in The Quentaris Chronicles Michael Pryor and I decided we werent going to have gunpowder, so no cannon, muskets, etc. The Warlocks Child was not so strict.

 GR: It can't be much fun to be the child of the villain. It's also an unusual situation, unless your name is Luke or Leia Skywalker. What made you think this might work?

Paul: A kid isnt the only evil one involved. But on this subject, I think the scariest movies are where kids are the evil ones. Adults we expect to be evil. Kids we dont.

 GR: This series reads like a novel broken up into parts - is this the case? If so, will you consider, at some stage, publishing it as one book?

Paul: As Ive mentioned, it was originally a novel. Sean dismantled it into six parts. And yes, we have a version that could sell as a single book. Wed like to see if we could get this published in the US.

 GR:  Have you had much response to this series from children so far?

Paul: Weve had a huge response so far. Sales-wise through the shops has been good  in fact The Burning Sea has gone into two reprints, the sequel, Dragonfall Mountain, one reprint. Not too bad considering they only came out a couple of months ago. I believe The Burning Sea out-polled Andy Griffiths latest book in the Yabbas at Tucker Road Bentleigh Primary School. Several book clubs have already bought the first two books.

GR: A general question for both of you. You have both been known for writing for adults and have turned very successfully to writing for children and teens. How did you decide to make this change - and how has it worked out for you?

Paul: I spent many years writing adult (mostly SF&F) short stories, but knew that I could never make a living from it. In the early 80s I had two YA books contracted by an educational publisher called Parteach. Unfortunately they disappeared leaving me with two contracts but nothing else. At that time it was the closest Id come to getting an actual novel published. So I figured I should persist writing for kids. The Wizards Torment was one of those manuscripts, and HarperCollins published it in 1995. It took another few years to find a publisher for the other book Parteach had contracted, and that was The Earthborn, that TOR published in 2003. The latter became a trilogy. In between those two books I had quite a few others published. So by then my reputation was that of a writer for children. Ive dabbled in the adult sphere a few times, notably with two collections and the horror novel The Beckoning (Damnation Books).

GR: The Warlock's Child ever becomes a movie, no limits (you can have a time machine to collect young actors from the past if you wish), whom would each of you cast in the lead roles? 

Paul: Age appropriate, I see them as . . .
Calbaras: Christopher Lee
DantarElijah Wood
Velza: Angelina Jolie
Marko: Michael Caine
Arrissa: Wynona Ryder 
Avantar: Sean Bean 
Merikus (voice): Mel Brooks.

The mind boggles at the image of these actors in the roles. Thank you, Paul. Looking forward to hearing from Sean.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ford Street Competition For Kids!

I received the below information from my lovely publisher, Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing. It's a fan fiction/art competition for the under 15s and should be well worth entering. Unfortunately, I received this as a Word document, so couldn't reproduce the pictures of the prizes. Paul says he will send me the JPEG versions, and meanwhile here are the details. You'll have to trust me, the prizes look gorgeous! Pity I'm too old to enter.

The Warlock's Child

To celebrate the first three books of The Warlock’s Child being released, Ford Street Publishing is running a competition for readers fifteen years and younger.

ARTWORK: The best colour illustration of a dragon from any of the first three books in the series (The Burning Sea, Dragonfall Mountain and The Iron Claw).

STORY: The best story of 500 words or less featuring any two characters from the first three books in the series.

Judges will include Marc McBride (cover illustrator for The Warlock’s Child and Deltora Quest) for ARTWORK, and authors Paul Collins and Sean McMullen for STORY.

PRIZES (in both categories):
First Prize: a leather-bound dragon notebook (just the thing to carry on quests), an autographed set of all six books of The Warlock’s Child, and publication of the winning artwork and story in ‘OzKidsinPrint’.
This entry will include the art and story in the magazine’s own story and art competitions.
See (*)
Second Prize: A Celtic dragon backpack
Third Prize: a dragon T-shirt

DEADLINE: Entries must be submitted (that is postmarked or emailed) by the 28th of July, 2015.
Submissions may be electronic or postal, but submissions arriving after 1st August 2015 cannot be considered.
Postal: Ford Street Publishing
162 Hoddle Street
Victoria 3067
RESULTS: Winners will be announced on the Ford Street Publishing website at on the 10th of August, 2015.

RULES.    .  .

Only one entry per person in either category
You must be fifteen years old or younger on the date of submission.
The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
Remember to include your age, email address and postal address with your submission!
(*) The publisher reserves the right to publish or not publish the winning entries, regardless of the decision of the judges

Sunday, June 14, 2015

An Interview With George Ivanoff: The Gamers Trilogy

A confession here. I've known fellow Ford Street writer George Ivanoff for many years. We met in Star Trek fandom. George has gone on to be able to make a living from his writing, unlike most Australian writers. Now that he has made it to the YABBA shortlist, I thought it more than time to celebrate some of his work, and let you, dear readers, know what great stuff us coming out from Ford Street Publishing. The books mentioned are all available online, including ebooks from the Baen web site.

Your Gamers trilogy began as a short story in Ford Street's Trust Me! anthology. It was on the theme  "where do computer game characters go for their holidays?" How did you come up with this idea? And did it ever occur to you at the time that it might make the basis for a novel?

It all started with a documentary on the ABC. I was channel surfing and came across a doco about computer gamers gathering together in a massive warehouse to play games. What struck me about the interviews was that so many of the gamers talked about playing exciting games full of death, destruction and adventures, but then spoke about how dull and boring their lives were. It made me think about what sort of games would be played by computer game characters whose lives were filled with death, destruction and adventures.

At the time it was just a short story. I never considered expanding the idea into a novel until fellow-author Meredith Costain suggested it. 

2. When you did begin work on the trilogy, how did you plan it out? Did you know right at the beginning how it would end? 

When I started on Gamers Quest, I assumed it would be a stand-alone novel. So I just planned the one story. Of course, I knew what the consequences of that story would be. So when I was asked to write a sequel, it was just a matter of structuring a story around those consequences.

Writing Gamers Challenge was a bit different in that I was hoping I’d get to write a third book. It just seemed logical in my mind that the story would now be a trilogy. In the first book the two main characters, Tark and Zyra, don’t realise that they’re characters inside a computer game. So it’s a journey of discovery for them. In the second book, they know they’re in a game and they want out. It seemed only natural to me, that there should be a third book in which they did get out.

So while writing Gamers’ Challenge, I was planning for a third book and seeding things.

When I eventually got the go ahead for Gamers’ Rebellion, I was all ready to go.

3. Tell us a bit about your main characters, Tark and Zyra. How did you create them? Were they perhaps inspired by any other characters - or anyone you might know in real life? 

They weren’t inspired by anyone in particular. In the short story, they were intended to be clichés. What I did work at in the novels was progressing them from being stereotypical programmed games characters, to real teenagers. In the end, I wanted then to be typical teenagers in an atypical situation.

4. Tark and Zyra speak in a rather strange manner (we eventually find out why). What did you have in mind when you were devising their speech pattern? 

Initially in the short story, their speech patterns were meant to simply designate them as lower-class game characters. I was trying to play with clichés. In the novels I went on to develop this further… and the way they spoke became an important part of them overcoming their programming and becoming real.

5. Did you play any computer games on which, perhaps, The Game in your trilogy is based? (Or did you play some as research?)

As a teenager, my game of choice was Space Invaders (yes… I’m old). I played a few text based adventure games as well. But the game in the novels came about because I was amazed at the complexity of some modern games — too complex, I might add, for me to get my head around. I tried to take things a step further — a multi-world, virtual reality game. But right from the start, I knew it would be more than just a game, that there would be an ulterior motive behind it all. I finally got to reveal all that in the third book. 

6. When I was reading the trilogy I noticed some rather cheeky references/tributes to such things as Dr Who. What were some other tributes you paid? 

I’m kind of obsessed with pop culture and inserting pop culture references into my books. Each of the Gamers books has references to Doctor Who, because that is my biggest pop culture obsession. The other two major references in the Gamers books are Star Trek and William Gibson’s amazing cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.

7. You wrote another Gamers story for Ford Street’s second anthology, Trust Me Too!. How does this story relate to the novels?  

“Gamers’ Inferno” is a stand-alone story set inside the game. It has a completely new set of characters and is set in a game-world that doesn’t feature in the novels. I love the Gamers world that I created for the books, and this story was a chance to play in another part of it.

8. How have kids responded to these books so far? 

Response from kids has been great. They particular seem to love the villain in the first book, the Fat Man. He is an over-the-top cliché. And he was a huge amount of fun to write. While I aimed these books at myself as a 14 year old, they have been more popular with a younger audience of about 10-13, which I think is interesting.

9. I know you've done four Choose Your Own Adventure style books recently, of which one is on this year's YABBA shortlist (congratulations!) How difficult is it to write this sort of book? (Our Year 8 students had to write their own for English and it looked pretty hard to me!)

Actually, I’ve done eight You Choose books so far. Four came out last year, two earlier this year and another two are due for release in August.

These books are a lot more difficult to plan out. Rather than simply writing an outline, as I did for the Gamers novels, I plotted these out on a whiteboard. But because the planning was done in so much more detail, the actually writing was a lot simpler.

I am over the moon about the YABBA shortlisting. Unlike other judged awards, this one is voted on by kids. It is so exciting because the book has been nominated by my target audience.

10. What are you working on right now? 

I’m working on a new four-book adventure series that will be published by Random House Australia in 2016. I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything more about them, as they haven’t been announced yet. But I’m having a lot of fun researching and writing them.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New On My Cyber Bookshelf

I have just finished Reading Laurie Halse Anderson's first novel Speak, which I downloaded at the Reading Matters conference the other week. I thought it very good and might consider reading it online during Banned Books Week this year, as it has been banned and challenged, for what good that did(a million sales, I believe!).

This week I downloaded Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye, after someone mentioned it on their blog. I had forgotten how good it was.

I'm reading my first Phillippa Gregory book, The Lady Of The Rivers, about Jacquetta, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville. It was going very cheap on iBooks this week, so I thought, why not? And it's interesting to read a version of her story that is told sympathetically - mostly, she only appears as the manipulative and nasty old lady. Right now, in the novel, she is fifteen and reluctantly about to witness the death of Joan of Arc, whom she had considered a friend when Joan was imprisoned at her great-aunt's castle.

Other new downloads are Robinson Crusoe(from Project Gutenberg) and Gillian Polack's new novel The Art of Effective Dreaming and Laurie Halse Anderson's Untraviolet, which looks to be an interesting read.

Back to the reading!

Monday, June 08, 2015

Continuum 11 - Home From The Con

Queen's Birthday Weekend means, for me, Continuum. I've been to every one, even been on the committee of one, though I haven't done that in some time. It's a LOT of work. I'd rather just be on a few panels, usually about YA fiction, in which I can use my knowledge of what kids are reading and why. It's over for another year, but I've joined next year's already.
Rebecca Anderson

As it happens, this year's international GoH was R.J Anderson(Rebecca), who is a YA novelist, though most of the panels she was on, she used her knowledge of this stuff as a parent rather than a writer, to talk about other people's books. I think that's nice. I missed her GoH speech, which I'm told was excellent, because I was spending a bit of time with my mother before going into town. I hope someone has recorded it.

These conventions are always good, the only problem being which panel to attend because there are four streams, all worth attending. 

Gillian Polack on the Fantastic Foods panel 

But there are also people you don't see except once a year, and you try to catch up with them if you can - well, I certainly do, usually via lunch or dinner. I couldn't do dinner this time because Saturday I had a play to attend, then dinner at a restaurant with my family afterwards(the play was North By Northwest, which I wasn't missing for anyone!). Sunday I always go to visit my mother, along with my sister. But I managed a couple of lunches and enjoyed the company. The first lunch was with my friend Anne Poore, a wonderful harpist who brings her instrument to every convention. Unfortunately, her concert was on Sunday evening, when I was with my family, but I have heard her play. At Swancon, some years ago, she did a jam session with the GoH, Charles De Lint, and his wife, Mary Ann, both of whom are musicians(they met when he was giving her mandolin lessons). It turned into an impromptu concert in the hotel foyer.

I also met some of the folk who were at last week's Reading Matters conference. One of them was Ellie Marney, the author of some YA novels about a teenage Holmes and Watson in modern Melbourne. (Watson is a girl). Of course, Ellie was on the Sherlock Holmes panel and she also did one with me. Before she left, on the Sunday, I got her to sign a copy of the third book for my book club student Kaitlyn, who read her first two in manuscript form and is a huge fan. Kaitlyn will hopefully be pleasantly surprised when I give it to her this morning. 

I saw Margo Lanagan, author of some wonderful fantasy, on the way out last night, with my friend Gillian Polack, who is a historian and a writer herself. Margo greeted me by name. I know we've met, but only briefly, a long time ago. I must be memorable; other people I've only met once, briefly, seem to know me. Some give me a hug! She did stop to chat with Gillian, who knows her better than I do, then Gillian and I went off to catch a tram. She lives in Canberra, but her family live here and on the same tramline as mine. It was great to catch up.

To my mild surprise, I won a raffle prize - I entered because it raises money for the next convention. The basket of goodies I received after the other two had chosen the ones with the real goodies, had some ginger tea which I will enjoy drinking, a con bag from Craftonomicon, a pair of very strange plastic chopsticks with tiny figures inside them, a novel, a couple of manga books and two DVDs of anime movies. I'm not really into manga, but the kids at my school are and fortunately they were both volume 1 of their respective series. So that goes in the library. One of the movies had some names I knew, so I will watch it before deciding if I'm giving it away. The tote bag will always come in handy.

I arranged some interviews and guest posts for this site before I left. We'll see how it goes.  

All in all, I had a very good time and met up with some good friends I don't see often.

Next year's GoHs have been announced, both local, but I know them, both YA folk. The two Chans, Queenie and Kylie. Queenie Chan should be good value for money. She is a manga artist whose books are hugely popular in my library.

I've only read one book by Kylie Chan, White Tiger, which I reviewed here when it came out. It was a good idea and well written, but, I felt, needed chopping by about a third. I thought at the time - and still think- that the publishers made her stick in a whole lot of stuff to make it fit into a trilogy. I suspect nobody these days tells her what to do, since she has become a big name. 

Anyway, that's for next year! 

Friday, June 05, 2015

Tanith Lee And Me

I first discovered Tanith Lee when I was still living at home, working at my first job. The local bookshop, Sunflower, was run by a delightful couple, Brian and Noreen Ormsby. Brian was a fellow spec fic fan. One day, he pushed a book into my hands. "It's a new writer. Read this, it's great!" 

It was Tanith Lee's The Birthgrave. It turned out to be about a woman who has been lying asleep under a volcano for a long time. She doesn't know who she is, not even her own name, but she has powers, as she discovers. She is fleeing from a being known as Karrakaz, until she finds out... Well, I'll leave you to find out for yourself. I loved the way this regular heroic fantasy turned suddenly into science fiction! Would I love it today? I don't know, it has been a long time and I've rather gone off fantasy, or rather, I am very picky about what fantasy I read, much more picky than I was then, but I'm glad I gave that one a go, because I wouldn't have, today. In a day when you don't get this kind of fantasy much under 600-700 pages, it's strange to realise it was only about 300. There were sequels, but it was not at all today's Fat Fantasy Trilogy.

And so began a long and happy love affair with the works of Tanith Lee. I must have read about twenty of her adult books and some of her children's books - I didn't care for the later adult books, and discovered other writers, but some glow like gems in my memory. There were her short stories. I particularly remember the story in which a demon lord can't understand why humans don't love snakes as he he creates cats, which are just snakes that have fur and can be cuddled. Can you think of a better way to describe cats? And there was the story set in India, about a couple who have gone through an arranged marriage. Neither of them is an oil painting. But when their train is stopped in the middle of nowhere, something happens that lets each of them see the other's beautiful soul - and this effect is permanent. They live happily ever after.     

And her delightful anthology of twisted fairytales, Red As Blood. Snow White as a vampire - her stepmother is trying to save her soul. Little Red Riding Hood as a werewolf... Well, read it. 

There was Sabella, which was set on an old-style Mars, the kind writers used to create in the Golden Age of SF. The heroine is a vampire who survives as a prostitute. But she's more than a vampire, as she discovers. She isn't undead, she's born that way, but again - more than she seems...

Does anyone remember Blake's 7? It was a British SF series of the 1970s/early 80s. It still has its fans, young ones as well as old, and a search on YouTube will find some fan made episodes. Tanith Lee wrote two episodes, Sarcophagus and Sand. She became something of a fangirl of Paul Darrow, the handsome actor who played antihero Avon. This led to a delicious novel called Kill The Dead, which became the one Blake's 7 female fans hunted down to read. I have a copy somewhere. The hero, an Avon-like ghost hunter, is called Parl Dro. Yeah. :-) (It's dedicated to "Valentine" - Mr Darrow's middle name)He travels with a thief and musician called Myal Lemyal, who is based on Vila, another character from Blake's 7. It's not her best book, but is great fun. 

The Silver Metal Lover is set in a world in which robots are metallic, but otherwise human in every way. They even seem to follow Asimov's Three Laws, though those are not mentioned - everyone these days uses the Three Laws and forgets, or doesn't know, where they come from. And these robots are better than humans. Humans don't like the competition. So they are recalled, including the beautiful silver man with whom the teenage heroine has fallen deeply in love... That one had me almost in tears and if it doesn't make you at least sniffle, there's something wrong with you. 

But my all time favourite of her writing is the pair of books that have been published under one cover as Drinking Sapphire Wine. This one is set in a distant future in which you can literally change your body to any shape you want. You can be a big hulking man one day and have yourself reshaped as a tiny, beautiful woman the next. If you get killed, you can be brought back, no problems. Your parents might be two men the next time you visit them. You can live a life all for fun if that's what you want. In fact, you're encouraged to do that by the machines who are running the world. The one thing you can't do until you reach a certain age is anything meaningful, like a job. Our heroine - who does occasionally become a man - has become frustrated and wants to do something meaningful with her life - but when she insists on being given a job before her time, she discovers that even those are dull and meaningless, eg pushing buttons that would push themselves if you failed to do it. She does something that finally gets her exiled - and then the story really begins.. 

This is a writer we're all going to miss very much. See, it wasn't just the storylines, which were great. It is the fact that all her books have human beings - or sort-of human beings - with human problems. She didn't write fantasy about an elf, a long lost prince, a couple of dwarves and a sorceress on a Quest. And if she had, it would have been about the people, not the Quest.

If you haven't read any of her work, go and get it(but check the publication date - the most recent are not as good).

 You won't be sorry.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Tanith Lee Is No More!

Rats! I just read about it this morning - lucky I get the Tor newsletter or I might have gone a long time without hearing about it. 

Tanith Lee, the Queen of fantasy, has been gone since May 24 and the world is just a bit emptier for it. Two fantasy giants, however different, gone in a few months - no, it 's too much for me. Just too much.

I will post more when I can get my head around it a bit more. But I will be very disappointed if there isn't some form of tribute to her at Continuum this weekend, though with my luck it will be tonight or tomorrow night, when I won't be there.

Stand by.