In the past 5-6 years I’ve read more fantasy novels than in all the previous years of my life. I think all of us could really get into fantasy novels (just look at how popular the movie equivalents are) as long as we are introduced to the genre by the right author. For me that author was Robin Hobb, followed by a heavy dose of Jennifer Fallon.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about, the right fantasy author is different for every person depending on what fantasy trope you dislike most (hot tip for any new fantasy writers out there; females whose only purpose is to be rescued is not a good selling point for a book).
Now that I can see the possibilities of fantasy, I can look past the tropes that I dislike and see the rest of the story. For me it is the ‘nearly Earth’ thing. When an author throws strange food names into a sentence, without describing that food and not having it sufficiently different from, say, an apple, I get ripped out of the novel and think ‘Oh, that’s the author telling me we are not in our world’. I already know it is a fantasy novel, I know it is not real world history, I don’t need people to be eating limots and greegaws to tell me that.
Worse still is the momos running with the elephants and the description of the momos being exactly that of zebras. You either have to name all the animals the same, or all different, or make them different animals. Don’t just randomly change a cat into a pipaw if your dogs are called dogs. A pipaw has to shed its skin or something different if in all other respects it looks like a cat. If not, it’s a cat.
None of the examples I’ve given above are actually taken from the books that inspired these comments. I don’t want to identify them because other than these crazy near-world things I’ve really liked them, so I don’t want to seem to be bagging them. As I said, I’ve learned to look past it and see the promise of a great story instead.
But before you all jump on me and tell me that fantasy novels should be allowed to change names, I have to say that I whole-heartedly agree, so long as it is done well and with purpose.
I read a great book last year where people drank something called Karv, the description of it made it clear it wasn’t coffee and it wasn’t tea, and by the end of the book I desperately wanted a cup of it myself. That is a good way to introduce other worldly things without the author hitting me over the head and putting a neon sign around the words NOT EARTH. That’s the mark of good fantasy world building.
I must make a confession now. Before Adelaide Writers’ Week 2012 kicked off I had not even heard of most of the writers, let alone read them. Unlike the last festival where there were numerous authors of books I had loved, this year I had very little idea about what to expect.
I occasionally found myself sitting at a table talking writing with someone, we would both excuse ourselves to go to the next event, and I would find the person I was talking to was the writer I was going to see. That’s a bit embarrassing.
But oddly enough I managed to get something out of this festival which I did not get out of the last one, something more important; I wasn’t so hungry to hear validation of my own writing process.
When writers spoke of starting their novels with no plan (my process) I didn’t find myself sighing in relief. I was not intrigued by those who spend a whole year planning every step of their novel before they wrote the first word, nor was I perplexed by those who wrote different bits of a novel, out of order as their first draft and their second draft was to put them all together in the right order and write the joining bits. I know enough authors now to know that these are all common novel writing processes. For that knowledge I am grateful.
Writers week 2012 also brought a bunch of wonderful gifts to me. I met a lot more authors this time around, spending evenings with some of them thanks to my wonderful guests from Melbourne. I also discovered a bunch of writers whom I would otherwise have never heard of. So my pile of books to read has grown by 5 more tomes, and my credit card has suffered yet another tax deductable hit (if I could just earn something to deduct tax from).
So yet again the week was surreal, and inspirational and wonderful and you can bet that I’m booking my holidays in for the same time next year as now (thankfully) it has become an annual event. If you didn’t get to this year’s event, book it into your calendar for next year, you will be glad you came.
Paul Haines, one of Australia and New Zealand’s most amazing, confronting and talented writers lost his long and courageously fought battle with cancer on Monday. I consider myself blessed to have known him.
I will always remember my first meeting with my Melbourne writers group, SuperNOVA and how generous and supportive everyone was. Paul was one of those wonderful people. Over the years he has helped with my writing, teaching me things I never knew and taking me to dark places I was too scared to tread. I was privileged to read his award winning stories before they had even been picked up by publishers, and got to ask all those questions I’m sure any reader of a Haines story wished they could ask.
I think by far the most terrible, and fantastic, and gut-wrenching piece that Paul has ever written was his true tale about the battle he fought so hard and for so long. I’m sure many of us thought he was actually going to win, after all, if anyone could beat cancer it would be Paul.
So enough of my writing, please read Paul’s blog and pass it on, I’m sure it will be an award winner too some day.
Paul, you are missed, thank you for all that you have given us, and all that you gave me.
Today I’m actually pre-writing my post because on Sunday I’m going to be drowning myself in the inspiration of the Adelaide Writers’ Week –I just hope the Clipsal cars are not too noisy to hear all that inspiration (note to Adelaide government –there are actually 50 other weeks in the year when there is no arts festival or fringe festival on in Adelaide which could ably embrace the NOISY Clipsal car race).
Last time I went I loved the writers week; being exposed to writers I had never heard of, seeing writers I had adored speak of their own struggles and twists of good fortune and just generally being around people who love reading and writing. It is a wonderful event which is (gratefully) free –perhaps the organisers took into account the average income of most writers in Australia when they were first planning it?
This year I’m going to be lucky enough to be attending with two friends who are also writers, so not only will I be inspired by the writers’ week, I’ll be able to keep talking about it after the events are over with others who are just as excited about writing.
If you are not able to make it to Adelaide for the event (which is entirely possible because of the hideous traffic congestion we are currently having due to a certain noisy street circuit race) do not fear, the ABC will be streaming the sessions on a special digital radio station set up for the festival.
Otherwise, get down to the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden March 3-8th and find a little inspiration of your own.
See you there!