The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Well, I was born in Vancouver, Canada, but at the age of 2 moved to my mother’s homeland of England. We stayed there for a while, then eventually shifted again — back to my father’s homeland, Australia. And aside from a 3-year stint of my own in the UK, after university, that’s where I’ve stayed – in and around Sydney … aside from some pretty regular globe-trotting. I did most of my primary schooling at Hornsby Heights public, then high school was split between Asquith Girls and Galston High.
My Bachelor of Arts degree was done at what used to be the Institute of Technology (now the University of Technology) – Hugh Jackman’s old stomping ground! Pity I was ahead of him … *g* I followed that up some years later with a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature (or Kiddy Litter, as I call it). I was offered a place in a Master’s Degree for Creative Writing at the University of Western Sydney, but the course convenor was such a pretentious snob about genre literature that I told her to shove it. At this point no plans for any future degrees, but I guess you never say never.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
A writer, a writer and a writer. I mean, I flirted with other ideas like English/History teacher (my favourite subjects) or veterinarian (because I love animals) but underneath it all, for as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. A storyteller.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I would never be happy. And now I am.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Well, in no particular order …
At university, where I majored in Creative Writing, I was young and nowhere near ready to write novels. I’m a classic late bloomer in that respect. But I remember in one elective, I think it was Writing for Children, we were given an exercise where we had to write 3 vignettes, a single scene each. One of the things I wrote about was the time my guinea pig was killed by a visitor’s child, who ignored me when I said don’t pick him up. She did, she dropped him, she broke his back and he died. I was maybe 8 or 9. So I wrote about that, and the comment came back from the lecturer that I’d made her cry, I’d made her professional writer friend cry, and that no matter what happened in my life I must never give up writing because I had a gift. Regardless of the turmoil and doubts I experienced in the years that followed, her expression of faith in me was a small bright light of hope.
Many years later, while I had the bookshop, I was still struggling to make the writing dream come true. I got involved with what was then the Del Rey Online Writers Workshop (now the SFF Online Writers Workshop, and highly recommended). I submitted two pieces of work, both from early drafts of what were to become The Innocent Mage and Empress. The Innocent Mage piece was selected as runner-up Editor’s Choice best fantasy, and the Empress piece was subsequently selected as Editor’s Choice best fantasy. Both of those independent assessments of my work kept me going at a time when I despaired of ever being published.
The third big event is actually a combo job — Stephanie Smith’s championing of me at HarperCollins Voyager, leading to my first fantasy publishing contract for the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology. That first contract was truly life-changing, because it was an unarguable expression of belief in my worth as a storyteller. I have no words to express what I owe Stephanie. Flowing on from that was the offer from Orbit UK to publish those books. This is what I mean when I say so much of the publishing game is luck. A number of other international publishers had passed on the books, and at least one wanted me to rewrite them first. Again, I began to wonder if I’d ever be published anywhere other than Australia/New Zealand. But then Tim Holman put his faith in me, and that’s when my career really pushed on. Again, there are no words to express what I owe him and the whole Orbit team.
And here’s one more — the books that changed my writing most are the Lymond Chronicles, by the late, great Dorothy Dunnett. She showed me a different way of writing, and taught me more than just about anyone about the power of emotion and character in story and how point of view informs the narrative.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Now you’re just stirring shite … *g*
Okay. No. I don’t think books are obsolete. They’re a particular kind of storytelling, a unique experience for the imagination, a very intimate conversation between storyteller and audience. Only books give you a theatre of the mind, can take you somewhere else no matter where you are, with the turn of a page. The only way books will become obsolete is if we let them, if we permit that storytelling venue to be discarded, forgotten — or if we so continue to degrade our standards of education in schools that all we produce at the end of the process are classes full of barely functioning illiterates. Who then go on to write books that are all but unintelligible.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
This new book, The Falcon Throne, is the first in a series called The Tarnished Crown. It’s epic historical fantasy, the most ambitious story I’ve ever tackled. Frankly, it scares the crap out of me. Possibly because of my theatre background I tend to think of my books as acts in a play. That means each book, while having self-contained elements and story/character arcs, also pushes the greater narrative forward. There is an overall beginning, middle and end to the series, and each novel is part of that journey. In keeping with the subgenre of epic historical fantasy, there’s politicking and warfare and necromancy and romance and death and family dynamics, love and loss, triumph and tragedy. None of the characters emerge unscathed from their adventures, nobody ends up with clean hands or an unsullied conscience. But that’s not to say it’s a dystopian or nihilistic story. I believe history shows us that even in the darkest times there are people of honour and courage and integrity, who make living worthwhile. My faith may get a bit battered from time to time, but I do believe in the ultimate worth of humanity – and that’s what I try to explore in my fiction.
So, to be a little more specific, The Falcon Throne is about three struggling dynasties sharing a common past. In the duchy of Harcia, Aimery frets over what will become of his land and his people when he dies and his heir, Balfre, is made duke. His lack of trust in his older son is the catalyst for events that are destined to change his duchy – the known world – for ever. To Harcia’s south, beyond the buffering stretch of land known as the Marches, lies the duchy of Clemen. Its duke, Harald, is not loved. Desperate to end his tyranny, his barons seek to overthrow him, placing his bastard cousin on the throne – and in doing so set Clemen on a dark path. And across the narrow Moat, in the Principality of Cassinia, the widowed duchess of Ardenn fights to protect the rights of her daughter, Catrain, who should follow in her father’s footsteps and rule their duchy like any son born. But the alliances she’s made in order to see that done will have lasting repercussions for every nation within her reach.
And so the opening gambits of the greater game are played ….
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
An enormous emotional satisfaction. Relief that they’ve not wasted their money. I just want readers to get caught up in the story, to believe in and feel for the characters, to get the kind of buzz from the tales I tell that I get from the stories I’ve enjoyed over the years.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Again, it’s a combo. My parents. My father was born at the tail-end of the Great Depression, and grew up during World War II. He grew up in very very tough circumstances, and he worked his arse off, and became hugely successful in two different careers. Never once did he look for hand outs, or blame other people for the fact that he lacked many many advantages. He just put his head down and worked for what he wanted, through all kinds of challenges and setbacks. And even though he’s been successful, he’s never let success change him. There’s not an ounce of pretension or snobbery in him. He takes people as he finds them, no matter who they are or where they come from. As for my mother, even though her background was less challenging, she too has always worked really hard and, like Dad, has never let success change her. She’s unfailingly compassionate and generous, giving to others whenever they need. When it comes to living a decent life, I couldn’t have asked for better role models.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To sell more books. To be a writer who helps change the oft-frustrating impression that women can’t write epic fantasy, that only men understand heroism and mateship and war. To inspire other writers who worry and wonder if they’ll ever be good enough.
Don’t ever assume you’re owed anything. Publishing is a business, so be businesslike. The most important element of the game is the reader. If they love your work, if they hate your work, they’re right. You don’t get to decide what a good read is for someone else, even when it’s your own work in question. Never ever forget that your job is to tell an entertaining story. Get down off the soapbox and don’t lecture. Never be satisfied, always look for ways to challenge yourself, to improve your craft. Welcome constructive criticism. Don’t be precious. And when the going gets tough, stop, take a moment, and fall in love with story all over again. Reconnecting with love of story will help you through the roughest patches.
Karen, thank you for playing.
by Karen Miller
The start of a major new epic fantasy series from the internationally bestselling Australian author of The Innocent Mage.
Nobody is innocent. Every crown is tarnished. A royal child, believed dead, sets his eyes on regaining his father s stolen throne. A bastard lord, uprising against his tyrant cousin, sheds more blood than he bargained for. A duke s widow, defending her daughter, defies the ambitious lord who d control them both. And two brothers, divided by ambition, will learn the true meaning of treachery. All of this will come to pass, and the only certainty is that nothing will remain as it once was. As royal houses rise and fall, empires are reborn and friends become enemies, it becomes clear that much will be demanded of those who follow the path to power. A major new epic fantasy begins.