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Flappers With Swords: Tansy’s Blog Tour

Posted by tansyrr on May 28, 2012

I recently embarked upon a boutique blog tour, to celebrate the international Kindle release of my Creature Court Trilogy. I had great fun talking about history, women, and some of the crunchier (and occasionally, sillier issues I came across while writing the Creature Court series, and fantasy fiction in general. I thought I’d put the links up here as well.

If any new readers discovered me and my Kindlicious editions of the Creature Court books in recent weeks, do let me know! These things make authors very happy.

Much gratitude to everyone who has written a review for the Creature Court books on Goodreads or Amazon, and an extra special multitude of thanks to the many awesome bloggers who let me borrow their space & their readership to help get word of my books out there. You all rock!
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Authors and Public Speaking, Book Launches, e-books, Genre Writing, Promoting your Book, Research, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Margo Reveals What it’s like inside a ROR Crit Week!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 6, 2012

From Margo …

A Deepening ROR—a wRiters On the Rise workshop, from the inside

That's where we were circled in red

First there’s a bit of foreplay. Someone pipes up online: “When’s the next ROR?” Someone at the other end of the country: “I’ll have a novel draft ready by about January; how’s everyone else set?” And all the ROR-ettes speak up one by one, with their first or later drafts that are in synch, or the obligations or health issues or financial limitations or lacks of work-in-progress that’ll keep them away this time.

ROR meets roughly every 18 months to 2 years; I haven’t been able to get to the last couple of retreats but when this one was mooted, I decided that I had a chance, if I went hell for leather during November-December, of getting a super-rough first draft of my colonial NSW fantasy written for ROR’s perusal for the end of January workshop.

Tansy and Andrew scoped out Steele’s Island Accommodation; we discussed timing and settled on the weekdays 30 Jan-3 Feb, because the place is booked out with weddings most weekends.

All went quiet for a while. I dealt with Sea Hearts copyedits and proofs, wrote stories for Twelfth Planet Press, judged the Australian/Vogel’s Award, wound up my time on the Literature Board talked at the Brisbane Writers Festival, launched two other writers’ books, day-jobbed 3 days a week and, by the looks of the calendar, dined with a lot of different people. Clearly I didn’t scratch myself; there wouldn’t have been time.

On 1 November I started writing the draft of Formidable Energies. I registered with Nanowrimo, because I wanted some company, and besides, they have this neat graph that you can use to track your progress against the ideal path towards the 50K words. I like a neat graph, and I’d never make one for myself. Generally I’m not wordcount obsessive; this time, though, I definitely had to achieve a book’s worth.

It was lonely, exhilarating, hilarious, keeping up the pace, papering over the chasms in my research, blithely charging on, jumping in and out of the story, going from jam scene to jam scene and ignoring any bread-and-butter bits, but trying to keep it coherent enough for my ROR friends to be able to see what I was getting at, the nature of this beast.

I didn’t have the know-how, about Celtic gods, about Irish language, customs, culture and history—and only a 20-year-old history degree to help me with the convict ships, penal law and early colonial Sydney. I researched as I went just so I could picture enough setting in which to tell the tale. Perhaps this research was the most fun. I prowled around the State Library, requesting old travel books on Ireland and copying useful pages onto the iPad. I learned so much during that month—but most of all I learned what huge gaps existed in my knowledge, and the enormous job I might have on my hands if I ever went at the research properly.

And I knuckled down and wrote. Here’s my completed Nanowrimo graph, to give you the bare bones of the story of my month:

I was happy with that. I booked my ticket to Hobart. I wrote on for another 2 weeks into December, and managed a draft of 45K, which took the story from (what I imagined was the) beginning to (one possible) end. Manuscripts began to fly between email boxes. I did what pulling-together of the draft I could, wrote some explanatory/apologetic notes to cover the worst breaks, trailings-off and confused bits, took a deep breath and sent it off to my ROR-mates.

There was a flurry of communication as we sorted out accommodation moneys. Then came silence as we read each other’s drafts; that’s a lonely stage too, that one, keeping your opinions to yourself, addressing comments to an unresponsive screen, worrying that you haven’t quite captured what you felt about this character or that piece of plot logic, or that you haven’t phrased it helpfully. Weeks, it takes, reading five novels and assembling meaningful critiques.

Departure date loomed. I anguished a bit more over my reports, then saved them, printed them out for good measure and started packing.

The view up the estuary

Steele’s Island Accommodation: the perfect place for a writers’ workshop. Huge spaces for meeting and lounging in, more rooms and beds than we could fill, even with half our families along. Outside, a river-beach to stride along to the sea, a wooded hill across the water, waves and mountains in the distance, weather pouring across the sky. Only a few distant holidaymakers reminded us that there was a world beyond ROR. And the landscape showed that this was once an extremely popular place to feast on oysters. We kept to that tradition, at least.

Steeles Island Midden

But aak!, Formidable Energies was scheduled for the first critique session in the morning, and I hadn’t thought about it for six weeks—how would anyone’s comments make sense to me? So after the welcome dinner, deep into the first night and early in the morning I went over it again, reacquainting myself with its wild ambitions, its flights of fancy, its longueurs and its pathological avoidance of any form of action on the part of its main character.

Then on the Tuesday morning, all those weeks of solitary work suddenly blossomed into community, and made perfect sense. My story, which had seemed so stale and stuck, sketchy and hopeless, suddenly loosened, lightened and took flight on contact with the possibilities brought to it by my colleagues. From feeling as if I couldn’t progress without wearing amounts of research and tedious clunky plot-making, I went in the space of 2 hours to being excited about the many, many ways this story could go, the means by which I could get my main man moving, the significance I could bring to the powers plaguing him, both in Ireland and the new land. I saw the way forward; I saw several ways forward. I couldn’t wait to get back to the ms. and try out these ideas.

Just as good, if not so directly personally affecting, were the rest of the critique sessions. I would come out of the 2 x 2-hour sessions almost unable to think straight, I’d absorbed so much as I listened to Rowena, Richard, Dirk, Tansy and Maxine’s encounters with the same manuscripts. They’d responded so differently – or they’d felt the same, but phrased their response so differently, or come up with some completely ingenious solution. It was thoroughly absorbing to watch other RORers’ novels fly apart under each critiquer’s hands and then be brought back together in new ways.

Thank you so much, ROR-ettes, for the time and thought that went into your reports. Thanks for the privilege of reading and considering your works in progress. Thanks Tansy and Andrew for finding Steele’s Island, Dirk for the wonderful food, Daryl and David for radiating calmness, Steven for tourist-ing on our behalf, and Raeli and Mima for providing an understorey of questions, songs, sand-sweeping, fruit-eating and general play.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Authors and Public Speaking, Book Launches, Dialogue, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Point of View, Research, Story Structure, World Buildng, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Part Two of Ian Irvine’s 41 ways to Keep Readers Reading

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 3, 2011



The first part of this article dealt with suspense from the viewpoint of characters and their problems. This part looks at ways to create suspense using plot and structural elements.


Plot is made up of the hero’s successive actions get what he wants (i.e. to solve the story problem) and the opponent’s corresponding actions to stop him. To build suspense to an explosive pitch at the climax of the story, each new action by the hero needs to be blocked by his opponent, and either fails or leads to an even bigger problem – until the climactic scene where the story problem is finally resolved one way or another.

19.  Make the story problem clear. A surprising number of manuscripts fail to set out either:

  • What the hero’s real problem or goal is;
  • Or the nature of the obstacle or antagonist that’s trying to stop him achieving this goal;
  • Or only do so many pages into the story.

The real story doesn’t begin until the hero formulates a goal and takes action to get it (see Cleaver, Immediate Fiction). Until this happens there can be little suspense or story interest, so make the hero’s goal clear as early as possible.

20.  Put the hero at a disadvantage. Examples:

  • At the beginning, the hero may not know how to solve her problem; or may not understand what the real problem is (e.g., she’s mistaken about her real enemy);
  • She lacks the skills to solve her problem (e.g. needs magic but doesn’t have any; has a gift for magic but doesn’t know how to use it);
  • She has critical personality flaws, e.g. her obsession with gaining justice for her murdered mother blinds her to vital friendships; his violent past leaves him paralysed with guilt; his racism leads him to refuse the aid of the one person who can help him;
  • She’s handicapped physically, mentally, emotionally or socially.

21.  Increase the pressure in unpredictable ways (for details, see the references, especially Lyon):

  • Test the hero’s abilities to breaking point. Take away her friends and supporters, undermine her assets and any options she’s relying on, block her escape routes, cut the deadline in half, devalue her strongest beliefs or the things she most cares about. Anything that can go wrong, should go wrong – not just for her, but for everyone;
  • Give her more simultaneous problems than anyone can handle, so she makes damaging mistakes. Distract her with an unexpected sexual attraction. Have disagreements escalate out of control. Give her an impossible dilemma that will trouble her for ages.;
  • Thwart her at every turn. If she’s relying on aid, information or some object or talisman, have it fail to appear, or be stolen, lost or destroyed when it’s almost within her grasp. If she has a vital talent or skill, rob her of the ability to use it when she needs it most;
  • Arouse suspicion about some of her friends or allies, or use dramatic irony (see (23), below) to make readers suspect them even if the hero does not. Have a trusted ally betray her, desert her or go over to the enemy;
  • Foreshadow her fate or peril, to the audience and other characters even if not to herself. Use mysterious documents or eerie settings or symbols to create uneasiness, or show that things are not as they seem;
  • Have the hero lose contact with her mentor; injure the hero; use forces of nature (weather, fire, flood, difficult terrain) to block her;
  • Plant red herrings. Have the hero jump to false conclusions that lead her in the wrong direction or to make disastrous mistakes, or to fall into a trap. Have failures caused by misunderstandings or poor communication;
  • Set the action within some greater conflict (cultural renaissance, political drama, social upheaval, war, religious persecution) or tailor social institutions to make everything more difficult (paranoid government, martial law, police state, secret society);
  • Create an emotional time bomb (something vitally important to the hero) then, at some critical time, have it destroyed or lost;
  • Lull the hero (and readers) into a false sense of security by having things go too well for a scene or two, then create a disaster;
  • Show the hero thinking over past events and seeing something she missed that’s worrying or ominous. Or, when it’s too late, coming to a dreadful realisation.

22Create conflict with everyone and everything.

  • With the opponent – see (4) above;
  • With family, friends and allies – see (10) above;
  • With people the hero meets on the way – they may be hostile, unreliable, treacherous, incompetent or give false or incorrect information;
  • With the setting (see 25) below, including landscape, weather, culture, politics, bureaucracy, religion;
  • Inner conflict – see (22) below.

23.  Create inner conflicts and dilemmas.

  • Give the hero impossible challenges or agonising choices that test his courage, skill & moral fibre;
  • Force a good man to make invidious choices, e.g. between informing on his corrupt mother or betraying his country;
  • A girl sees two friends in danger and can only save one. How does she decide whom to save and whom to let die?
  • Make the hero choose between strongly held ideals (duty/honour, family/justice). Force a pacifist to fight. Require a reformed drunk to drink.

24.  Use dramatic irony (i.e., your readers know something vital that the characters aren’t aware of):

  • The heroine is enjoying a glass of wine by the fire, unaware that the killer is looking in through the window. She’s not anxious, but readers are on the edge of their seats;
  • The hero doesn’t realise that he’s got things disastrously wrong, but it’s obvious to the reader (and perhaps to other characters, too);
  • Write some scenes from the villain’s viewpoint so readers can worry about the trap closing on the unsuspecting hero;
  • A character bears vital or troubling news but events conspire to delay (or prevent) its delivery to those who need to know.

25.  Use the unknown to create anxiety.

  • Set a scene where some terrible disaster or tragedy once occurred. The place need not necessarily be dangerous, but fear of the unknown or the past will make it seem so;
  • Arouse fear of some danger the character has to face – this could be a real-life danger (fighting a monster, swimming a flooded river) or an uncanny one (spending the night in a ghost-ridden graveyard);
  • Or an everyday ordeal (a daunting interview; meeting the girlfriend’s parents; sitting a difficult exam).

26Put your hero in a perilous place. Analyse your scene settings and work out how you can change them to heighten tension:

  • Move the scene to a dangerous or unpredictable place. Instead of a park, use a derelict factory, a minefield or a sinking ship;
  • Make an everyday place seem dangerous, e.g. the hero must race across a rugged landscape in a fog;
  • Change the scene from day to night, good weather to bad, peace to riot or war, or put the hero in the middle of a plague epidemic.

27.  Create mysteries. As noted above, mysteries and puzzles create suspense both because the hero has to work them out and because the reader wants to know the answer.

  • How did the disaster occur?
  • How did a good man (or company, or nation) take this fatal step into crime, addiction, insanity or war?
  • Is this document true, or a despicable lie?
  • What do these clues mean?
  • Why is this device or talisman here and how is it used?

28.  Design puzzles. These can either be intellectual or physical:

  • Intellectual – riddles, conundrums, paradoxes, illusions etc;
  • Physical – how do I get in or out? Locked room mysteries. Puzzles requiring dexterity.

29.  Leave issues and crises unresolved (especially at chapter or scene endings) and tension will rise because readers long for the resolution. Uncertainty and anticipation are interlinked and create suspense:

  • Uncertainty can be heightened with unexpected twists, sudden reversals and shocking disasters;
  • Foster anticipation by having the characters set out their goals, then by using omens, portents and foreshadowing to arouse unease about the goals being met;
  • Within scenes, heighten reader anticipation by using distractions and interruptions to delay longed-for meetings, confrontations, resolution of an important event, delivery of vital news etc.

30Use reversals. Reversals of the expected are used to break expectations, clichés and repetition.

  • Lead your readers in a particular direction in order to create expectations about the outcome, then throw in a reversal that breaks the expectation. This heightens readers’ anticipation, and thus suspense, because they have no idea what’s going to happen now.
  • Scour your story for clichéd character types, plot elements, emotions, dialogue, action and reactions, then use reversals where appropriate to break the cliché.
  • Do the same where you find repetition of character types, plot elements, emotions, dialogue, action and reactions.

31.  Secrets. The existence of a secret creates suspense because readers want to know the answer:

  • Rarely, a big secret can form the suspense backbone for a whole novel, such as: Who was the traitor? What happened to the money? The secret has to be developed throughout the story by drip-feeding clues that heighten the secret rather than revealing it;
  • Smaller secrets can be used to heighten suspense within scenes, e.g. the Hogwarts letter withheld from Harry Potter in the first book of the series, and the mysterious event (the Triwizard Tournament) which people keep alluding to early in the fourth book.

32Use subtext (see Lyon for details). Subtext is ‘everything hidden from the awareness or observation of non-viewpoint characters’. Subtext based on rising tension will create suspense. Some sources are:

  • The hero’s physical state, feelings and emotions: e.g., tears forming, sexual attraction or lust, concealed hatred, a need to throw up;
  • Hidden agendas, i.e. the character’s private thoughts, intentions and plans;
  • In the natural environment: a red glow over the forest, the ground shaking, the call of a wild beast;
  • In the built environment: a patch of oil on the stair, a pram on the edge of the railway platform;
  • Other characters’ behaviour or body language: man sharpening a dagger, child playing near a cliff edge.

33.  Turn a dramatic event into a question. Beware of having the event completely answer a question or resolve a problem, as this undercuts suspense. Instead, have the event raise more questions, which draws out the suspense:

  • For small events, draw out the answer over a few sentences or paragraphs. E.g., policeman knocks on the door late at night. Instead of revealing upfront that the man’s wife is dead, draw out the mystery about how the crash occurred and what’s happened to her;
  • For major events, the resolution can be drawn out over pages or even chapters;
  • Scour the story for questions that deflate suspense because they’re answered too soon, and draw out the answer.

34.  Make it worse.

  • There’s no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse, and you should take every opportunity to do so. But why would you want to?
  • Because character is revealed not in good times but in adversity. The worse you can make it for the hero, the more his true character will be revealed by what he does, the more the reader will worry about him and the greater the suspense.


Readers read to identify with the characters and live their stories, suffering the ordeals the characters go through, worrying about them and dreading that they’ll fail to achieve their goals, yet hoping and praying that they’ll succeed. At the end, readers want to see the characters resolve their problems, and long for that tidal wave of relief when all the dramatic tension and suspense built up through the story is finally released. To build suspense, the novel needs careful structuring to:

a)      Clearly present the hero and his goal to the reader in the beginning;

b)      Portray the hero’s increasingly difficult struggle to defeat the adversary and achieve the goal;

c)      End scenes and chapters in ways that create reader uncertainty and anticipation (see (28) above; and

d)      Show how the hero achieves his goal (or not) at the climax, then satisfyingly release all the built-up tension.

35.  Structure the beginning to create suspense (see Brown for details):

  • Create a hero who is both sympathetic and interesting (see (1) and (2) above);
  • Set out the story problem (i.e. the hero’s goal) clearly, and why he must pursue this goal;
  • Reveal the obstacle (the adversary or force that’s trying to prevent the hero from achieving his goal);
  • Twist both the characters and the goal to break stereotypes, freshen the story and surprise the reader.

36Tailor the hero’s actions to heighten suspense: In each scene, the hero faces some problem related to her goal. The actions she takes to solve the problem should either:

  • Partially succeed, though worryingly (she finds a clue to the murder, but following it will lead her into greater danger);
  • Succeed but lead to a bigger problem (he kills the giant spider but now another hundred are hunting him); or
  • Fail and make the problem worse (she breaks into the enemy’s fortress to steal the documents, but they’re not there and now she’s trapped).

37.  Vary the hero’s fortunes to maintain and heighten suspense throughout the story.

  • If every scene runs at fever pitch and ends disastrously, the law of diminishing returns sets in – the reader becomes desensitised to the drama, and suspense dies;
  • Instead, alternate tense action or drama scenes with calmer ones, and end a few scenes with the hero succeeding, and with moments of peace, happiness or hope. Variety in endings maintains suspense because the reader knows the success is only temporary; the opponent will never give up trying to defeat the hero;
  • To heighten suspense, make the hero’s failures progressively worse, and his dark moments bleaker, towards the climax.

38.  Sequence the antagonist’s reactions to progressively heighten the hero’s troubles.

  • Look at each scene from the antagonist’s point of view and ask how he can make things worse for the hero. What action will cause the hero the most trouble, and what’s the worst time it can occur?
  • To heighten suspense, make these troubles progressively worse towards the climax, until it seems impossible that the hero can win.

39.  Heighten critical scenes. Identify the key events in the story (those moments of intense drama that are also turning points) because they need to be carefully set up and treated differently (see Lyon). Key events can be positive (love scenes, celebrations at war’s end, the award of prizes or honours) or crises (murders, defeat in battle, guilty verdicts, terrible realisations). Build suspense by:

  • Foreshadowing the coming event to raise worrying questions and create reader anticipation. This can be done via characters thinking about or debating the possibility (e.g. of war), and making plans and preparations for the worst, as well as by omens, foretellings, signs and symbols;
  • Writing a small scene or moment which hints at the coming critical scene (a burning house hints at the violence and ruin of war); a shouting match foreshadows the murder to come;
  • Then a reversal – a moment that’s the opposite of the coming critical scene. E.g., in a trial, the overconfident defence lawyer has a lavish lunch with friends before returning to hear a shattering guilty verdict; immediately before the joyous wedding, the couple have a furious argument; the soldier relaxes with his family before going to bloody war. This contrast makes the critical scene far more powerful;
  • In the critical scene, use all the dramatic techniques at your disposal to raise the scene to a higher peak of suspense than anything that has gone before;
  • Afterwards, make sure the hero emotes about all that has happened, reviews how the event has made his problems worse, and reformulates his plans.

40.  Climax, Resolution and Endings.

  • Vary your scene endings to maximise suspense. Some scenes should end at moments of high drama, many with unanswered questions, several with shocking twists, a few with emotional completion, and some with no more than a wry observation or pithy phrase.
  • The climax of the story, where the greatest obstacle is overcome and the hero’s story problem is finally resolved one way or another, is the biggest of all the critical scenes and must coincide with the highest point of tension and suspense.
  • If the greatest tension occurs in a scene before the climax, the ending of the story will be anticlimactic and the reader will feel let down.
  • If the story’s resolution is weak, contrived, over too quickly or in any other way fails to match the build-up of suspense to the climax, readers will be bitterly disappointed;
  • In most novels, all the key questions will be answered by the end, and the resolution provides a sense of completion plus the blissful release from suspense that readers are waiting for. Some stories may end with a dilemma, however – the main story has been resolved but there’s still a question raised in the reader’s mind about what choice the hero will make.
  • Stories which are part of a series should resolve most of the story questions at the end, but the overarching series question (e.g. will Harry Potter defeat Lord Voldemort) remains and creates ongoing suspense until the series ends.

41.  In editing.

  • Review the story scene by scene, rate each scene out of 10 for its level of suspense, then plot the sequence of suspense ratings. Ideally the graph should be a zigzagging line rising progressively to the climax of the story, then falling away in the resolution.
  • Does the story have flat periods with little suspense? Insufficient breaks from high suspense? The highest suspense occurring before the climax? Suspenseful moments that are too quickly resolved? Critical scenes where the suspense is too low, too brief or too similar to other scenes? A powerful climax ruined by a weak resolution? Work out how to fix these problems.
  • Common scene problems that lower suspense include: lack of a clear goal for the scene; stakes too low; lack of an obstacle or weak obstacle; too little conflict; too much thought or talk and not enough action; too much action and not enough thought, emotion or reflection; no twist or disaster at the end (see Lyon for a detailed analysis).
  • Analyse your characters (see (2) above). Can you modify or change certain character traits to vary the kinds of suspense in the story, and to heighten it in key scenes?



Bell, James Scott (2004). Plot and Structure. Writer’s Digest. Probably the best book on the topic of plot and structure.

Bell, James Scott (2008). Revision and Self-Editing. Writer’s Digest. Also a great book; a wealth of practical info and examples.

John D Brown (2011). Key Conditions for Reader Suspense (27-part article).  An excellent series of articles.

Cleaver, Jerry (2002). Immediate Fiction. St Martin’s Griffin. No one has ever explained the craft of storytelling more clearly or simply.

Kress, Nancy (2005). Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint. Writer’s Digest. Excellent book on these topics.

Lukeman, Noah (2002). The Plot Thickens. St Martin’s Griffin, New York. Terrific chapters on characterisation, suspense and conflict, a lot of stuff I’ve never thought of before.

Lyon, Elizabeth (2008). Manuscript Makeover, Revision Techniques no Fiction Writer can Afford to Ignore. Perigee Trade. In my view, the best book on revision and self-editing.

Maass, Donald (2009). The Fire in Fiction. Writer’s Digest. He identifies the problems his agency sees over and over again in manuscripts and tells you how to fix them. A fantastic book.

Truby, John (2007). The Anatomy of Story – 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Faber and Faber. A fascinating and insightful book.

Vorhaus, John (1994). The Comic Toolbox. Silman James Press. Not just the best book on comic writing, but better than all the others put together.

About me: I’m an Australian marine scientist. I’ve written 27 novels, including the internationally bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence, an eco-thriller trilogy about catastrophic climate change, Human Rites, and 12 books for children, most recently the Grim and Grimmer humorous adventure fantasy series.

My next epic fantasy novel is Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realm, to be published by Orbit Books in Australia in November 2011, and in the US and UK in April 2012.

For more on my books, including covers, blurbs, reviews and the first chapters of all of my novels and my 2 novellas, see my site.

To say Hi or get a quick answer to your questions, please pop over to my Facebook page.

For more on writing and publishing, see my blog

Posted in Characterisation, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Point of View, Research, Story Structure, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

LIBERATOR – Giveaway Competition

Posted by richardharland on May 4, 2011

Big surprise for me this morning – my author’s copies of the French edition of Liberator arrived in a huge parcel PLUS author’s copies of the German edition. I knew the French edition was neck-and-neck with the Australian, but I thought the German was a long way off. The UK edition won’t come out until July, and the US is due early in 2012.

Here’s a quick blurb on the book before we get to the competition —-
Liberator is the largest juggernaut in the world, 3 km long by 1 km wide, a vast mountain of metal rolling across land and sea. Unlike the Russian, French, Prussian and Austrian juggernauts, it has been freed by revolution, and the slave-class of Filthies are now in charge. They’ve even changed its name from Worldshaker to Liberator. But the other reactionary juggernauts see it as a threat to their world-domination, and, when Liberator calls in at the Botany Bay coaling-station, they converge to attack.

On board Liberator, fear and paranoia are building up day by day. Mysterious acts of sabotage and murder have turned the Filthies against the remaining members of the old ruling class, including Col Porpentine and his family and friends. Even Riff, the girl Filthy who seemed to care for Col, is now embarrassed to be seen with him. As extremism grows, a charismatic leader comes to the fore and a radical political coup launches a new kind of tyranny.

…… OK, that was actually my first attempt at a blurb, not the one that appears on the book.

Now for the COMPETITION! Since it’s a steampunk world, of course there have to be corsets in it.
(i) ONE FREE SIGNED COPY of LIBERATOR to the best entry on “My Favourite Corset” (no more than a couple of sentences/short pithy paragraph) You have to choose one out of the selection below and say why. The first three are male (men used to wear corsets, like Queen Victoria’s majordomo in Liberator) and the next three are female (and Lye, the charismatic leader in Liberator, has her own special reason for wearing a corset)

Enter by pasting in a comment. The corsets are

Go to it! Be inventive! Cross-dressing is allowed and encouraged (Queen Victoria wouldn’t mind). And when you’ve done with those images, there’s still ——
(ii) ANOTHER FREE GIVEAWAY COPY to anyone who comes up with the best description of “My Own Design of Corset, Much Superior than the Selection Above”.

Strap yourself in! Get waisted! Enter the competition by pasting in a comment.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Book Launches, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Fantasy Genre, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book, Steampunk, World Buildng, Writing for Young Adults | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

Tall Ships and Balloon Travel, what are they really like?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 21, 2011

As fantasy writers we’ll often write about sailing ships, but how many of us have actually done this? Louise Curtis tells us the deep down and dirty on sailing ships and ballooning.

Travelling Tales

As speculative writers, we often borrow from other periods of history. We love to imagine riding horses through bushland, wearing steampunk outfits , or cooking peculiar food . I love to research by doing, so here’s some information that may be useful in your stories.



Tall Ships

When I was young enough, I sailed on the Young Endeavour, Australia’s sail training vessel, in order to research pirates. My hair has never been more disgusting. Ships are windy – all the time. I also found chunks of solidified salt in my hair, like giant mutant dandruff. Because someone needs to be on watch at all times, I was so exhausted I often slept in full wet weather gear, shoes, and metal harness (which we were required to wear on deck at all times, in case we needed to climb one of the masts to furl a sail). My legs were purple with dozens of bruises from climbing around everywhere, knocking into things, and bracing myself with my legs while my hands were busy hauling ropes or just holding on. The ship was usually heavily slanted to one side, and in decent weather the waves hit the bowsprit and washed across the deck – physically lifting anyone who was located too far forward.

Square sails only work if the wind is almost directly behind you, but triangular sails work a little like airplane wings, so they’re more useful in a variety of conditions. Either way, you’ll probably need to tack (turn from side to side in long zigzags) to get the best results. That means hauling on lines to turn the spars/yardarms (the beams holding up the sails), furling (tying up) some sails and unfurling others. As a rule, you open the middle sails and then the outer sails. The large triangular jib at the front of the Young Endeavour is extremely heavy, and pulls from one side to the other with a loud bang. “Luffing” is when a sail is flapping, due to being positioned incorrectly.

About 60% of people get seasick, especially women. It usually lasts a few days, but often reappears in harsh weather. I was fairly sick – enough that when I started throwing up it felt fabulous (at least, for a few minutes – until the next bout started building). If you throw up overboard, it’s important to notice which way the wind is going. (The “head” is nautical-speak for toilet because on square-rigged ships the wind MUST come from behind – so crewmen went to the bathroom by the figurehead at the front, thus protecting everyone else.) When I was no longer sick, I climbed up the mast to furl a sail. It was raining, and there were delays with another girl. The mast moves around a fair bit. . .

My stomach rebelled; my skin went hot and then cold; I called out “chunder!” (short for “watch under” – another gift to our language) and. . . I did. The people below me were fairly safe thanks to the wind; I was later able to observe an orange streak across the sail at a 45 degree angle.

While I was sick I barely ate (the worst thing about seasickness is knowing that you’re ON the sea – surrounded), but dry salty biscuits were like manna from heaven. To me, the ship always smelled of wet wood and vomit. I could always hear creaks and moans from the wood, especially below decks. We worked very hard to keep everything shipshape, especially since it rained often (which inevitably got inside and had to be mopped up). The rope rails all around the ship were constantly decorated with clothes we were trying to get dry.

The movement is quite like riding a train – but irregular. In heavier weather, it’s more like a turbulent plane ride, complete with stomach-grabbing lurches and odd sideways twists. If someone falls overboard, it is very difficult to get them back. At night, it is virtually impossible.

After ten days at sea, I was fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been. We always wore gloves while hauling on the ropes, but my hands still toughened up a fair bit. The navy staff showed us a video of a guy (a real person, but by no means a normal one) clamping the outside edge of a square sail between his fingers and sliding down it superfast that way.

Further reading: For a great range of pictures (or to apply to go on board if you’re young enough) visit The Young Endeavour website

An Account of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson is a great book (some of it is very difficult to get through; other parts are as vivid as only an eyewitness account can be – it was first published in 1724).

Hot air balloons

The first hot air balloons were successfully flown in the late 1700s, but hydrogen balloons (although more likely to explode) were quickly found to carry much more weight – sometimes dozens of people. The “envelope” (balloon part) was made of silk or paper with rubber varnish on the inside(today’s envelopes are made of nylon), but the baskets were always wickerwork.

The most surprising thing is the calmness of the ride – even taking off and landing (although apparently it’s quite common for the basket to tip over – more socially awkward than actually hazardous, I think). Many animals have been taken aloft, but it has been found that horses bleed from the nose at altitudes humans find comfortable.

There is absolutely no wind and no sound (except when the burner is on). It was so smooth that I felt confident that I could serve a cup of tea without spilling a drop. My partner described it as being “like a plane ride, but with all the advantages and none of the disadvantages”. It was indeed very like the first or last few moments of a plane flight, when the whole world is spread out beautifully – still close enough to see all the details. It is almost impossible to be frightened at all, because the silence and lightness of the balloon makes flight feel like the simplest and most natural thing in the world.

Balloons can’t be steered. Really. In my own flight, we missed about four different landing sites, all of which we could clearly see. The side vents (operated by ropes) can turn the balloon to face a different direction, but that’s about all. The top vent is useful for a fast descent.

The modern gas-fired burner makes a popping noise, immediately followed by a scchhhhh sound. It isn’t generally on longer than a few seconds, but the radiating heat on the top of my head was uncomfortable during take-off preparations.

The smell is of gas, and of the land beneath (including plant smells). We often drifted along so close to people below that we could comfortably call out to one another. Dogs barked and ran around. Kangaroos ran away.

Modern balloons take about ten people, plus the pilot in a separate compartment (with a few venting ropes, and several gas canisters). The basket and envelope are attached laying flat on the ground (it takes some time to lay out the balloon, but it’s rare for the ropes to be tangled – our pilot walked around inside as it was blown up to check them). A large fan half-fills the envelope, and then the burner is used to heat and expand the air while more is blown in. The envelope stands up more and more, and eventually pulls the basket upright (at which point the passengers climb in over the side – and there is still a rope attached to the truck as a precaution). The filling process took about half an hour.

The pilot radioed for clearance, and then used the burner heavily. Suddenly we drifted away – unable to tell the exact moment we left the ground. Within fifty horizontal metres, we were above the trees.


Further reading: The Aeronauts by Time/Life Books – a very fun read and beautifully (sometimes morbidly) illustrated. I included the funnest sections (and more on my own balloon experience) in today’s Daily Awesomeness blog.


Thanks to Louise Curtis for sharing her insights with us!

Posted in Creativity, Research, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

Coming back to that Manuscript …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 5, 2011

Sally from the VISION Writers list asked for a post on:

‘How to find your way back into a story when you’ve been away for awhile’? With either the writing or re-writing process. I think skilful, seasoned writers might probably say – don’t leave in the first place! But life just happens, sometimes. And it feels like the story grows a tough hide in the meantime, that’s hard to pierce through and get back inside of. Tried and true ways to get back inside?’

Sally, this really hit a nerve with me.

I’ve spent since July last year working on The Outcast Chronicles trilogy that was written 6 years or more ago. Normally, if I come back to something, I’ll read it from beginning to end, let it brew for a bit, then tackle it once I have a vision for the whole thing. But because this was a complete trilogy of 500 pages each book, I couldn’t do this. So I re-read the synopsis (spelling plural?) and plunged into the clean up rewrite, while also bearing in mind the requests from my editor, based on his reading of the synopsis.

This has proved really challenging, with major changes happening, books ending in different spots, sub plots taking on large significance and one character’s age changing.  All of this had a roll-on effect and I’ve been riding the roller coaster of reworking the trilogy ever since.

So I asked the ROR group for their input and Nicole Murphy, author of the Secret Ones series volunteered her tips for getting back into a manuscript.

Nicole Murphy - Photo courtesy Cat Sparks

Nicole says:

In terms of having breaks in the writing – that’s one of the reasons I left a mentally-intensive job (journalism) and went into a mentally easy job (supermarket). At the checkouts I had to concentrate, but when I was wandering about putting up stock or tidying up displays, I often found myself working through where I was up to next in the story, so when I did get the chance to sit back down I knew where I was headed next.

For editing I have to leave the story alone – I can’t edit straight away, I need the break in order to look at it objectively. Only requires a few weeks, but necessary. I’ve got a bad habit of only seeing what I think should be on a page, rather than not what’s really there if I look at it again too soon (my English teacher used to go spare over this).

One thing I like to do (which is easy when you’re working on a series) is when I’m putting one book down, I work on drafting/editing another. It keeps me in the world, but not engaged with those characters (except in a minor way) or with that part of the storyline. However, this often leads to insights and understandings about the book I’m not working on that helps me when I come back to working on it – a good thing.

Otherwise, I have a series of things I use to get back into the story. One is to re-read and re-discover the story. You’ll sometimes here people say ‘don’t read what you’ve written, keep writing’ but sometimes you need the reminder. I use some meta-documents such as scene outlines and colour charts to help me look at the book objectively and see where its flaws and weaknesses are.

One more thing – I think we can get so caught up in the idea of ‘I’m a writer and I have to keep writing, regardless of what happens’ and to a certain extent, that’s true, particularly if you get a contract. But I also believe that there are times when life just says ‘Dude, settle – give yourself a break, you’re doing fine and it will all work out’. I had a couple of years where I barely wrote a word of fiction (it was all in my work at the newspaper) and I just trusted that it would work out. Sure enough when the time was right, I picked up the trilogy again (after a four year break) and sold it two years later. So find what works for you and do that.

Richard Harland, author of the hugely successful Worldshaker series says.

Good question, Sally, and I love your metaphor of the hide that grows on the abandoned story – like skin on hot milk when you let it go cold. You’ve already undercut my first response, which would be, Don’t leave it behind in the first place. For me, more than a week away means a major struggle to get back into the groove; more than a month away, and I usually end up rewriting everything I’ve already written. I think the story, world and characters are like a dream at the back of my mind; and if I go away for too long, they fade like a dream too.

So my first advice would be, try to add a tiny bit to the story every day or every second day, even if it’s only a sentence or a single short paragraph. Keep it turning over, keep it alive in your mind. Failing that, I guess all you can do is re-read and hope to recapture the thread. But it’s a huge drag!

And Margo Lanagan four times World Fantasy Winner (I love saying that!) and author of lots of things, but Tender Morsels is most recent, says:

1. Read what you’ve written, right through. Make marginal notes about what you MIGHT do, ideas for scenes, bits of dialogue you hear, atmospheres you feel from the existing material. Also, it’ll be very clear, as you read, where chunks are missing/overwritten. Mark these places. You might be able to jump right in at this point, but…

2. If you still haven’t got a handle on the story after the read-through, consult the scrapbook you made for it. If you didn’t make one, assemble one now; for a short story, a double-page spread might be enough, or even a single picture, if you find the right picture. Try and be relaxed and open while you put this together, ready to approach the story from a number of different angles. This step might get you going again, but…

3. Still tense and panicked? Hold the story and the pictures in your head while you do something mechanical (washing dishes) or physical (swimming laps). Focus on entry points for one or more scenes, either old scenes that you’re now repairing/rewriting, or entirely new ones that are going to drag the story off in a different direction. Just gently prod your imagination to work on some bit of the story, doesn’t matter what bit. I’d be very surprised if you haven’t got going by now, but…

4. Tell yourself, ‘I’ll just finish off THAT scene,’ or ‘I’ll just write TWO PAGES’. Sit down and write. Have a number of places-to-start at your fingertips, so that if that scene doesn’t work you can jump in again from another direction.

5. Keep going. The rest is doggedness.


I’d have to agree there is a very large component of Determination. It has been like a sauna here in Brisbane. I’ve been sitting at the computer with heat radiating off the screens, a wet washer on the back of my neck, writing. As long as I meet my page quota each day I’ll be OK.

So there you are, Sally. Hope this helps.

Anyone else have tips for how they get back into a manuscript?

Posted in Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Point of View, Research, World Buildng, Writing Craft, Writing goals | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Meet Richard Harland

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on January 18, 2011

A man of many waistcoats, Richard Harland is a great raconteur. (If you ever have to do a reading at an SF Con, try not to be slotted in after him). A writer of SF, fantasy, horror, mystery and the fantastical for all ages there doesn’t appear to be much that Richard can’t do.

Richard’s give away is rather quirky …

In an alternative 19th century, juggernauts are vast mountains of machinery rolling across the ground, one for each Imperialist nation.

The British juggernaut is Worldshaker.

The French juggernaut is La Marseillaise.

The Russian juggernaut is the Romanov.

The Prussian juggernaut is the Lebensraum.

The Turkish juggernaut is the Battle of Mohacs.

Worldshaker appears in Richard’s novel of the same name, and the others appear in the sequel, Liberator. The Italian and American juggernauts haven’t yet appeared. Think up a name for them (only one for each). Best name for the Italian juggernaut wins a copy of Worldshaker, and another copy goes to the best name for the American juggernaut.

Leave your suggestion in the comments section.

The French juggernaut, La Marseillaise.

Q: Worldshaker and its sequel Liberator are set in a delightful steampunk world. Worldshaker has been very successful and you did a World Tour (the UK and the US) last year to promote the book. Were you surprised when Worldshaker hit such a nerve with the reading public?

Front and back cover of Liberator, by Oscar-nominated film director Anthony Lucas

Well, I was surprised by the level of enthusiasm from my Australian publisher (Allen & Unwin), then blown away by the size of the advance offered by my American publisher (Simon & Schuster). That made me realise they expected great things from Worldshaker, and, yep, it’s all coming true. I was lucky to have written exactly the right book at exactly the right moment—quite by accident. Worldshaker was my mechanised version of a Mervyn Peake-like world, which just happened to be the same as steampunk. About as steampunky as a novel could get, at the very moment when the steampunk fashion was starting to take off.

The fact that Worldshaker and the soon-to-be-released Liberator are also the best novels I’ve ever written isn’t so accidental. I think steampunk is the genre I was born to write! I look back on my earlier novels, and I can see steampunky elements creeping into them here, there and everywhere.

Q: Is there a third book based on the adventures of Riff and Col?

Or maybe Septimus and Gillabeth, along with Riff and Col? As soon as there’s something to announce, it’ll be announced first on Ripping Ozzie Reads!

Q: The Black Crusade was a sequel to the Vicar of Morbing Vyle and won the Golden Aurealis in 2004. These are very quirky books. Are you ever tempted to revisit this world and characters?

No, those were cult novels, and I fitted the writing of The Black Crusade in between other writings. With my steampunk novels selling so well, I can’t see myself finding time to produce another gothic cult book—and I don’t have any ideas for one either.

Q: There are four books in the Wolf kingdom series for upper primary. What prompted you to develop this series and will there be more stories?

I was asked to produce a quartet of short children’s fantasy books, along with Ian Irvine, Kim Wilkins and Fiona MacInstosh. For me, it was the perfect opportunity to develop a fantasy world with wolves, which have inhabited my dreams ever since I was a kid. I finally wrote wolves out of myself with the Wolf Kingdom books, so no, no more in the series. The fourth book wraps up the story once and for all.

Q: You have a wonderful resource on your web site, 145 pages of writing tips. You must get lots of great feedback from aspiring writers. Did it take a long time to put together?

It took ages! Whenever I get feedback from writers who’ve been helped by the site, I feel it was all worthwhile, but at the time I was cursing myself for not doing any writing of my own for four whole months. The site just grew and grew, and I couldn’t stop until I’d covered every angle of becoming a speculative fiction writer—good writing habits, action, setting, dialogue, characters, story, momentum, style and getting published. It was 145 web pages in the end—I think it comes to 160 pages if you print out the download. And then there were all the little humorous pics to create and insert:–like …

Q: You have won in many different sections of the Aurealis Awards: best fantasy short story, best horror novel, best children’s/illustrated fiction, along with the Golden Aurealis for best in any category. All of this must have pleased your publishers. Were you ever afraid of diluting your reading public, working across so many genres and ages?

I’ve been indulged, hopping from sub-genre to sub-genre and readership to readership. It’s good for keeping the creative juices flowing, but it’s not good for building a loyal readership. Now I have to face the hard necessity of really developing a name in one particular area—which luckily coincides with the fact that I’ve finally discovered my very favourite area—steampunk!—just at the moment when there’s a growing readership for it.

I’ll still keep hopping about with short stories, though.

Q: There are the wonderful Ferren and the Angels series, Sassycat (which my son loved and read over and over) and the Aussie Chomps book, Walter wants to be a Werewolf. Do you just have so many ideas you can’t stop them bubbling up?

Ideas have never been my problem—I’ve always had plenty of them. My problem was turning ideas into words, and words into finished books. I had writer’s block for 25 years, when I couldn’t finish a single novel I started writing. Which now means I have a backlog of ideas as well as all the new ideas that keep coming. I’m planning to live to about 100—I reckon I should run out of ideas for novels clamouring to be written round about then.

Q: I read your Eddon and Vail series and really enjoyed it. It was SF, mystery and a love story all woven into one. It didn’t get the attention it deserved. Was this because it was such a mix of genres?

Yes, and bad timing. The market for SF was declining in Australia when the first Eddon and Vail book (The Dark Edge) came out, so the idea was to sell it as murder mystery as well as SF. That was no cheat, it really is both. Trouble is, you can get a murder mystery story to work for an SF audience, but you can’t get murder mystery fans to swap over to an SF setting.

Q: When Marianne and I approached you back in 2005 to see if you’d like to join ROR, you agreed and have been part of the group ever since. Did you find ROR helped you in developing or directing your writing? And if so, in what ways?

One of my greatest mistakes during my 25 years of writer’s block was that I was too proud to show unfinished or less-than-perfect work to anyone else. Now I’m mad for feedback—and there’s no better feedback than from a group of fellow-writers, all reading one another’s novels. The ROR group is very professional, very committed, very serious and—importantly–very tactful. (No raging egos!) And great guys too, even apart from writing!

Q: What are you currently working on?

I’m still doing the copyediting and final revisions on Liberator, which comes out in April (US), May (Australia, UK)—and perhaps as early as March in France. (Germany and Brazil will be later.)

The UK cover of Liberator, by Ian Miller

The (always very different) over for the French edition of Liberator

I’ve been working on short stories at the same time—not-so-short, novella-length stories, actually. There’s a re-worked Beauty and the Beast in The Wilful Eye, ed. Isabelle Carmody and Nan McNab; a steampunky, 19th century, supernatural story in Ghosts by Gaslight, ed. Jack Dann; and a story still without a final title for Anywhere But Earth, ed. Keith Stevenson.

I think I might write more short stories before the next big project. Over the last couple of days, I’ve been inspired by Ellen Datlow taking “The Fear” for her US anthology, Year’s Best Horror; the sale of another story to an American magazine; and the sudden realisation that the cupboard is almost bare—I have only one story still waiting to find a home.

Q: At ROR we always do our realistic goals and our dream goals. So what are your realistic goals and what are your dream goals?

My dream goal is to have a movie made of Worldshaker. That’s a dream with realistic elements, because there’s a Hollywood director who wants to make it and a top scriptwriter currently seeing whether she wants to script it. But anything to do with Hollywood is still a far-off dream until it happens.

My hopefully realistic goal is to see Worldshaker and Liberator sold to Japan. They love gigantic machines in Japan—I want them to love juggernauts!

My most realistic goal is to get more and more steampunk clothes. I just had a birthday a couple of days ago, and my presents included an aviator helmet and another old-fashioned waistcoat to add to my collection (23 so far …).

Don’t forget to enter Richard’s give-away. Question at the top of this post. Leave your suggestion in the comments section.

Meanwhile,  you can find out more about Richard at Or, for the US, and for the UK, His free guide to writing fantasy and speculative fiction is at

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Awards, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Publishing Industry, Steampunk, World Buildng, Writing for children, Writing for Young Adults, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , , | 27 Comments »

Meet Rowena Cory Daniells …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on January 11, 2011

Rowena Interviewed by Marianne. Watch out for the give-away question at the end.

Q: Tell us a bit about your current trilogy, King Rolen’s Kin? How is it different from your earlier T’En books?


KRK is a rollicking fantasy. You just jump on the magic carpet and it sweeps you away. I’ve had lots of people tell me they started reading one evening and didn’t stop until they were finished, and had to go to work the next day!

The T’En trilogy was about a clash of cultures. It explored trust and overcoming prejudice. The KRK trilogy is more of a traditional fantasy. A kingdom is in peril, there’s forbidden magic, the heir resents his twin who is more popular than him, there’s feisty princess who doesn’t want to be married off, and a prince who has been sent to serve the church because he’s cursed with forbidden magic. But it is really about friendship, trust and believing in yourself, so the core elements are similar in both trilogies even though the settings diverge.

Being a bit of a nerd I love inventing societies. I’m always reading about other cultures and collecting obscure bits of information. For instance, did you know that there is a New Guinea tribe where the women cut off a knuckle from a finger each time a family member dies. By the time the woman are very old they have a hardly any fingers left. I find this fascinating. And I don’t mean this in a frivolous way. Think what it says about love and sacrifice.







Q: Heroic fantasy is enduringly popular. What role do you believe it plays in peoples reading lives? What attracts you to it as a writer?

Heroic fantasy presents us with a world as we would like it to be, as opposed to the world as it is. We live in a world where politicians make promises that aren’t core promises and terrorists kill people who are going about their daily lives, then run away and hide.

Faced with a reality where shades of grey abound, who wouldn’t love epic/heroic fantasy? The good guys set out to right a wrong. They might not be perfect but they try. They overcome obstacles and, in the end, they succeed so the world is a better place!

Q: Many people believe that publishing a first novel is the Holy Grail and that after that it all gets much easier. What would you say to them?

I belong to a couple of shared blogs, MGC and ROR. From hearing about the experiences of these other generous and talented writers, I know the publishing industry is an arbitrary reward system.

You can write a good book and jump through all the hoops to get published, then editors leave, lines get cancelled and bad covers kill sales which means all your work goes down the drain and you have to start all over again.

Really, you write because you love writing. If you don’t expect fame and fortune, you won’t be disappointed. Then when readers email you to say they enjoyed your books it’ll be a thrill!


Q: You won several awards for your debut adult fiction novel The Last T’En. What affect did that have on your career? What is your opinion of awards in general? Do they serve a purpose?

It’s always nice to win awards. It’s like this big hand reaching down out the sky, patting you on the head and saying, There, there. You really can write.

I know that the Children’s Book Council wins or short listings are great for sales. Libraries buy the CBC books, and they get used in classroom (which is the holy grail of children’s book sales), all this makes your publishers really happy. I don’t know that genre awards make a big difference to sales, which is really the bottom line for your publisher.

But it is really nice to win an award. In Australia we have the Aurealis Awards, which are peer awards. The entries in each speculative fiction sub genre is read by a panel of dedicated readers who agonise over their decisions. (I know because I’ve been involved in the process). The AAs have been going for fifteen years now and everyone in the genre knows about them. The wider community is less well informed, but then most reporters would not know what a Nebula or a Hugo is, and these US awards have been around for 44 and 71 years respectively. So I suppose it is evidence that SF still being ghettoised to a certain extent. The only other genre that cops more flack is romance, yet it is by far the largest selling genre.

Which brings us back to awards and sales. The readers decide what they like, but only if they can find the books. An award should help draw the reader to the book.





Q: Can you tell us in a little detail what future projects you have planned?

Currently, I’m working on The Outcast Chronicles. This is a family saga fantasy about a group of mystics, who are banished from their homeland. It follows four key individuals as they as they struggle with misplaced loyalties, over-riding ambition and hidden secrets which could destroy them. Some make desperate alliances only to suffer betrayal from those they trust, and some discover great personal strength in times of adversity.

As soon as I hand this trilogy to my publisher, I need to start on the new King Rolen’s Kin trilogy. I’ve had so many emails from readers wanting to know what happens next, that I’ve already started planning the next three books, while finishing the current series.

Q: You’ve been involved in many, many projects in the creative industries over the years; running countless workshops and pitching forums to help others. How do you know when to draw the line and say, I must have time for my own work? What advice would you give others about finding balance?

I’ve enjoyed all the projects I’ve worked on and, over the years, I’ve met lots of wonderful aspiring writers and lots of generous, inspiring professionals. Many of these aspiring writers have become published. Now that I’m working (I lecture on story, scripting, storyboards and animatics), as well as writing (and renovating the house), I’m struggling to squeeze in the time to complete the books I have under contract. Yet, I LOVE writing.

I think the best thing you can do, is realise that without writing (or what ever creative outlet is your passion) you won’t be a happy balanced human being. You need to be kind to yourself. Imagine that you are your best friend. If your BF was doing all the things you’ve been doing and running her/himself into the ground, what advice would you give them? Now, give that advice to yourself and take it.

There is no shame in looking after yourself. After all, a lot of people depend on you and you need your emotional and creative well to be replenished so that you have something left to give.

Q: What would you like to have achieved in ten years time?

Finish renovating the house. LOL. It’s a bit like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge, by the time you finish at one end, the other end needs to be painted again.

Apart from that, I would love to be living quietly somewhere with my DH, and writing away, knowing that the books I write are all under contract and readers are looking forward to them.

In reality, I will probably be run ragged between my six children and their kids. But I like a challenge!








My give-away is a set of King Rolen’s Kin trilogy (If you already one or two of the books I’ll fill the gap with the missing book/s).


My question is: If you could take a holiday in an invented secondary world, where would you go and why?

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Publishing Industry, Research, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Back story, the bane of the SF and Fantasy Writer.

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on November 6, 2010

We’ve had a request this week from Sally, who would like to:

‘see a post about how to feed in back story without swamping the narrative drive and tension’.   ‘

We writers of speculative fiction spend so much time building worlds, with distinct societies each with their own  history then we try to write about the people who live there. This leads to the dreaded info-dump. The people who live in the writer’s invented world already know their customs and history. How is the writer going to convey this to the reader?

If you’re Tolkien you won’t worry, you’ll put it all in, including the poetry you wrote about events that happened a thousand years ago.

But this is hardly ideal. The modern reader wants ‘bang for their buck’ they want to be swept away on an adventure, not to be lectured.Since I am always having trouble with this one I asked the ROR team for their insight.


Richard Harland says:


One method is for the author simply to tell what happened.

Five years ago, Denny had had an affair with …
The house had been inhabited by drug gangs, and a brutal murder had occurred just months before Vee and Lorrie moved in …

If you kicked off your first chapter with a dramatic scene, telling some backstory could be a way of starting your second chapter. Old-fashioned, but simple and economical.

For a writer nowadays, the obvious method for feeding through a backstory is to have a main character remember the past. It’s effective so long as it doesn’t look like a cheat. The only thing worse than a character standing in front of the mirror and thinking about his/her appearance is a character standing in front of the mirror and remembering about his/her past life and recent history. So corny and clichéd!

Please, can we have a character’s memories genuinely prompted by something that happens, something that’s said? And when they are prompted, can they look like genuine memories rather than a plot synopsis?

When we remember past events, we rarely run through the full story—this-led-to-that-led-to-the-other—which we already know. We zoom in on the emotionally charged highlights and the bits that are relevant to us right now.

I reckon backstory memories often seem more plausible when they’re questions rather than statements. We don’t pore over the detail of past events merely to re-state them to ourselves, but we do when we’re puzzled or uncertain about what happened. We might run through the whole chain of cause and effect if we’re trying to spot something that doesn’t gel, something that doesn’t make sense to us.

For the rest of this article see Richard’s free writing tips here and here.

Dirk Flinthart says:

Backstory and exposition is some of the toughest material to work into a decent narrative. It’s especially difficult in speculative fiction, where your story may depend upon some element which is entirely impossible in the world as we know it.

I think that the real trick isn’t fitting the stuff in. I believe it lies in knowing how much to leave out.

The joy of reading is that it’s an interactive, constructive process. The readers literally rebuild the narrative in their minds as they work through the story, and it’s that process of engagement, that act of rebuilding which constitutes the most engrossing and rewarding part of reading a story. The very best stories leave you full of questions and suppositions afterwards, imagining what might have happened next, or what might have occurred ‘off-screen’ at crucial moments in the plot development.

The point I’m making is that every time we provide backstory, we take away from the reader an opportunity for creation, for real engagement, for ownership of the story. Every time the author says canonically: “C happened because A and B happened first, in that order”, we eliminate the rest of an infinite alphabet of possibilities that the reader might well find more intriguing than our own.

Naturally, there are times when backstory is necessary. But in practice, it’s usually far less necessary than new authors imagine.

If you must incorporate backstory, in practical terms there are at least three ways to manage it without too much slowing. Of course, you can always step out into the professorial, explanatory storyteller POV beloved of the Tolkien school of writing, but unless you’re lining up to churn out a thousand pages or so, that’s probably not your best bet. (Still, there’s a market for it, obviously!) But if you’re interested in keeping the story moving, the easiest way to incorporate necessary backstory is to have one of your characters deliver it. There are three ways to consider this.

1) None of the characters knows the information, but they have to find out: In this case, discovering the backstory becomes an integral part of the story. Clues are delivered. Information can be obtained, but uncovering that information is a quest in itself, an obstacle to be overcome before the plot can be fully resolved. Think about crime fiction: scenes of interrogation, examination, detection, and so forth. The trick is to remember the old rule: every scene requires conflict of some sort – so if your characters are just going to go to the library to look up old land deeds, for example, someone else should get there first and steal the critical information, or lose it in the vaults. Or perhaps the information is kept secure, and it has to be stolen. There are as many ways to carry this out as there are stories, but it can be remarkably effective.

2) One character knows the information, and can tell another, or act on it. And once again, the key here is to incorporate the delivery of information into the action itself. Absolutely do not have your characters sitting in a bar, drinking quietly, saying things like “Lo, it is written that during the final days of the Fornikarr Imperium the dread tantric master Duu-phuss the Lightly Endowed forged the now-legendary Three Dildoes of Fire at the command of Empress Booblatooie the Ninth…”

It’s acceptable to have one character ask a simple question for a reasonably simple response. It’s even acceptable to have one character deliver vital information to another at a necessary time. But dialogue doesn’t move the plot or develop action, so as a rule, if you can have your characters taking action while the information is passed on, you’re better off. Take the ridiculous lines above: if there was a bar fight going on, involving one of the minions of the enemy, the character delivering the information will have to keep it to a minimum, perhaps shouting it in bursts between clobbering bad guys – or whispering it nervously while the villains stalk the room, seeking their victims. Either way, we’ve got something going on, not just expository dialogue.

3) Both characters know the information, and the reader needs to know it too: This is at once the most interesting, challenging, and dangerous situation. This is the place where new writers start having characters say things like “As you know…”, which is a horrible concept. How often do real world people go around telling each other things that both already know? You’d sound like a pompous idiot if you tried to explain to someone that you’d arrived in “…a motor car, which as you know is a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine requiring refined petroleum products to operate…”

The joy of this situation for the writer is that it presents not just a hazard, but a real opportunity. If you’re using POV well, you can actually leave out the information, except for appropriate references in dialogue. Taking example above, you might have one character say to the other “… sorry I’m late. Ran out of petrol.”  Naturally, in this real world, the only response to that would perhaps be derisive laughter. But a reader who knows nothing of  cars and petrol now has the opportunity to wonder, and imagine for herself what ‘petrol’ might be.

Done well, this approach greatly strengthens the verisimilitude of the work, making the setting more intriguing and believable, and likewise strengthens the characters as part of that setting. When I edited the Canterbury 2100 anthology, for example, I had three separate stories from different authors, each of which explained why there were wolves running around England in 2109. However, the point of the anthology was to have characters telling oral stories to one another, and as editor, I realised that for the people of 2109, wild wolves would be an accepted fact of life. Explaining them would be like explaining ‘cars’ to you or I. So I very simply cut away all explanation of the wolves, and just left them in the stories for readers to wonder at – and to realise that this was a world in which wolves were a commonplace.

Some of the best examples of this technique come from writers like Cordwainer Smith, or more recently, Terry Dowling. Both of them, in constructing their fantastic worlds, have been quite willing to use evocative names and images without fully explaining them for the readers. We’re left to marvel at concepts like the Congohelium, or Underpeople, or Dowling’s land-sailing ships, all of which are simply accepted by the characters, and integrated easily into the narrative.

This is easily my favourite way of delivering backstory, and when I see it used well, it never fails to draw me into a narrative, and leave me wondering about the implications and the histories left unspoken by the author. The effect of this minimalist delivery is so strong and profound that it illustrates in the best possible way the old saw that ‘less is more’ – and in the case of backstory, the more you can leave to the imagination of the reader, the stronger your tale will be!


Posted in Editing and Revision, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Crossing Genres for Commercial Publication (Cross-dressing Styles using Advanced Editing Strategies for Any Genre)

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 31, 2010

The effervescent A A Bell has the first book of a new series out. Since Ms Bell has managed to sell a series ‘Diamond Eyes’ with a science fiction premise (with mystery and a whole pile of other things) I asked her how she managed to cross the genres. Take it away:

PS. Watch out for the give away question at the end.

Greetings fellow speculators!

Rowena has posed me with a doosie regarding how to get away with crossing genres in commercial fiction – a question which Richard Hatch (Apollo, Battlestar Galactica, original ’78 version) also raised with me during his recent visit to Australia, because it’s a question that’s also rife throughout the film industry.

“Lots of people have been saying that SF is dead… [but] you have combined SF with a paranormal element in a contemporary setting… how did you integrate the SF elements into the contemporary story?”

Specifically, how did I combine the seven genres of paranormal fantasy, science fiction, poetry, military action, crime, romance and psychological thriller without precipitating a toxic sediment?

To understand, first, I’ll have to argue that SF is not dead – from my perspective it’s morphing/maturing beyond the “pure” genre of science fiction into speculative fiction (the new meaning for SF[1][1]), in a way which offers room for a natural blend of genres which must also complement each other uniquely for each story. Effectively, this permits a wider scope for wider technologies and invites more possibilities and opportunities to cross-dress our genres. Whereas SF – the old definition – seems more to me like an emperor with new clothes; still out for all the world to see, but only those of us who are attuned to what it was can recognise it for what it is now, and as such, it’s infiltrating other genres en masse. Personally, I’ve secured contracts for 7 novels in 7 years under various pen-names (not counting numerous short stories), all with major publishers and all with strong SF elements – the strongest being Diamond Eyes, which scored a 3 book deal in one contract – and yet none have been reviewed as science fiction.

And it’s not just my take on it, because Diamond Eyes (which provides a new slant on time travel, offers a fresh take on ghosts and mentions a physicist who uses two math formulae to “prove and double-prove” the existence of God) is being pitched by the whole marketing machine as fantasy, while being reviewed as a psychological thriller or paranormal romance/crime/espionage thriller. I think one of the main reasons for this level of infiltration, is because the SF elements are all organically embedded within the setting and the “make-up” of the characters– literally drawing as much attention as the shade of the heroine’s sunglasses – while each of the new “fantastic” worlds seen by the main character are what command centre stage every time she opens her eyes.

In our own fast-changing world, which is already rife with “fantastic” opportunities and “tomorrow technologies” is it any wonder that such elements are so readily accepted in the environment of a wider story – often even expected – by a market that can still shy away from health food if we label it health food? To many people, it seems that science fiction sounds more like “homework” while fantasy sounds like a “holiday”, and yet how many wouldn’t go anywhere on holiday without their mobile phone, ipod or laptop?

There’s a lot to learn from others who’ve already passed this way – writers who’ve successfully lured skittish readers and viewers into loving their stories, regardless of the SF elements.




For example, my old neighbour has to be one of the top ten most recalcitrant science fiction haters in the history of the known universe, and yet he also loves:

  • James Bond, Mission Impossible, Iron Man, Spy Kids and anything else that’s dressed up with “tomorrow technology.” Arguably, even CSI, Burn Notice, MacGyver and others which stretch the abilities of current technology or human capabilities, or crunch time-lines, can also be lumped in with fiction that features scientific-based extrapolations.
  • The Stepford wives, dressed up as a “comedy thriller” where all the perfect women in town are robots… hello? Robots!
  • The Lake House, marketed as drama, fantasy and romance for Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, when the central idea is time travel. Hmmm…
  • Eureka, marketed as a comedy-crime series for TV about a laid-back sheriff who plays good shepherd to a “little town with a big secret”… i.e. top-secret town full of mad scientists and their wacky inventions… yep, definitely no chance for science fiction there either.
  • The Big Bang Theory; an almost fatally hilarious comedy TV series that’s basically a nerdy version of neighbours, laced with some of the wittiest takes on scientific facts and theories I’ve ever heard. Every episode is blatantly named after a formula or theory but there’s no sign of SF as a genre in the advertising pitch! Oh, and 3 of the 5 main characters are physicists, while the forth is “just” an engineer for the international space station. Sure, he only designed and built the lavatory, so mankind really could “go” where no man has gone before, but still… space is space, right?
  • And what about Numb3rs? Pitched as crime, drama, mystery and thriller – anything but fiction with science, yet the DVD covers and credits are all dripping with scientific formulae! And for any aliens who just landed, that 3 in the title, is not a typo. Never an episode goes by that we don’t get at least one full-on heavy-duty fully-foreshadowed science/math lesson, and it’s delivered so cleanly as an organic part of the main character’s “make-up” that even my neighbour can spot a pattern of murders in the news nowadays and say “Oh yeah, the cops are gunna need the hot zone equation for that. It’s like a lawn sprinkler…”

Let’s face it, even Star Wars is pitched to the contemporary market nowadays as action, adventure, fantasy and last of all, sci fi. It’s just a royalty saga in space now.

In each case, it’s not the scientific concepts or exotic settings that attract and maintain attention. It’s the people with problems.

I know some industry observers are deeply concerned that this still presents evidence of writers being forced to “mainstream” the genre, dumb it down or bring it down to earth (large E as well as small). And as an author who’s been asked to tone down or eliminate the science in a previous series under another pen-name in order to keep the series “focused” on the situation comedy and crime, I can fully appreciate how frustrating it can be. At times, it can even kill creativity stone dead. But I also think it gives us the chance to smarten up, take a closer look at what’s really important to the characters and their situations while also reaching a much wider readership/audience.

Best of all, I didn’t have to compromise my craft to achieve publication. Quite the opposite. By using advanced editing strategies, the work morphed completely into something new and more exciting, and yet the same with all the wrinkles smoothed over and agendas hidden more stylishly. Strategies such as:

  • re-vision-ing the original vision into something more commercially viable
  • re-framing through a new style of narrator
  • re-fielding, re-toning and re-moding the expanse, style and mood of the work
  • re-layering the text, subtext and metatext, and…
  • re-voicing the narrator from overt to covert…

… to name a few. I also rebelled and cranked up the SF elements for Diamond Eyes, which allowed me to revel and play with more exciting new concepts as well as fresh takes on old ideas. It took me ten years, and despite all the years of scratching my head, tearing out my hair and staring at screens, overall, it was really liberating. So many more unwritten rules for each genre, and yet so much more freedom to bend or break them.

Visionaries will always see the real deal. And we can still appreciate the hardcore “pure” SF genre inside such stories, no matter how they’re dressed, so long as they come with the same proviso as ever, I think; that they’re strong on people with problems, not just plots on planets (even if it’s just this planet.)

At least, that’s my two cents.

[1][1] Encompassing all speculative genres such as fantasy, horror, supernatural, science fiction and sci-fi, and yes there is a difference.

Give away question:

Mira Chambers, Bennet Chiron and Gabion Biche are the names of three characters from the Diamond Eyes trilogy.
Mira is an abbreviation, Chiron is a mythical character and Biche is from a lost language, but how did you pronounce Mira, Chiron and Biche, the first time you saw their names?
E.g., Rowena, would be row-ee-nah
(We’ll leave the competition open until Sunday 7th of November 6pm. Then A A Bell will pick a winner and I’ll announce it on Monday 8th November).

Posted in Book Giveaway, Book Launches, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Pitching, Publishing Industry, Visiting Writer, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »